Celebrating Air Force One

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Fran and I recently watched a documentary film on our TV about the airplanes that have carried our President wherever he needed (or wanted) to go. Roosevelt was the first President to be flown to an important meeting; before that, they went by railroad or ship, because those new-fangled airplanes were considered too risky!

Roosevelt was flown across the Atlantic in a Boeing 314 Clipper (“flying boat”) to a conference in Casablanca in 1943. A ship was considered too dangerous because of German U-boats!

I saw two presidential airplanes at Wright-Patterson many years ago. I went aboard both planes; they were pretty spartan compared to today’s birds.  

President Truman came to St. Louis while I was stationed at Scott AFB in Illinois. I watched his motorcade go out the main gate from my barracks window, then went down to the flight line and took photos of his airplane. No security problem!

The next Presidential airplane was a Boeing 707 jet transport which served Presidents Kennedy through Clinton. This airplane got the familiar blue and white paint job designed by Raymond Loewy, famous industrial designer of the Studebaker etc.. The bird was also quickly modified by its flight crew with a hacksaw so that President Kennedy’s casket could be carried in the cabin, not in the cargo hold below. 

The new Boeing 747 was the next airplane selected. Three airplanes were then extensively (and expensively!) modified by the Air Force: two luxurious planes and one nicknamed the “doomsday” bird to be used as a command post, keeping the President safely airborne above any earthly conflict.

The designation “Air Force One” was born when President Eisenhower’s USAF Connie’s tail number matched an Eastern airliner’s flight number and a collision was narrowly avoided. The designation applies to any airplane or even a helicopter, but only when the President is on board.  

President Bush the younger took to the air in the Doomsday plane on September 11, 2001, when the WTC towers were destroyed and the Pentagon was attacked.

President Trump designed a controversial new paint scheme for the replacement 747s now under construction. Space is being saved at the Museum of the Air Force at Dayton, Ohio, for one of the well-worn airplanes being replaced. At least that one won’t go to the boneyard to be scrapped . . . 

I am proud to have been a part of the design team that created the Boeing 747. My part of the big bird was the most forward spar in the vertical stabilizer, linked to the fuselage to avoid a loss of the entire vertical stabilizer due to a wind gust, as had happened to a B-52 before the 747 existed.

Because of that event, a Boeing Vice President had decreed that the vertical stabilizer be linked to the fuselage, and that said link was to be good for a 25,000-pound load. The structural torque box was also made larger to better carry the flight loads.

The biggest gust load we were designing to put only a 9,000 pound load into the link, so I asked about designing the spar and link for only 9,000 pounds. Permission came back down from Boeing, and my redesign saved a lot of weight in the tail of the airplane. My thinking thus made a significant difference!

The TDB started its 95th year of publication as of February 1st. I don’t know whether Seth Vining Sr. or Carter Brown, who took out the first ad for his Pine Crest Inn and continued it, had any idea that their brainchild would not only survive, but prosper several generations of editors and publishers.

I was there, too, first as an employee in 1940 and later as a columnist. I cherish my friendships with the Vinings, both Sr. and Jr. and their wives Gladys and Bos; later Jeff Byrd, who started my tenure as a columnist; then Betty Ramsey, Kevin Powell, and now Jeff Allison.

Father Walter Bryan wrote that I must “expect” to help celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2028 when I will be 97 years old. OK, I “expect” to be there, Lord willin.’

Garland would like to hear from you at 828-859-7041 or garlandgoodwin7@gmail.com.

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