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Get Ready for a New Air Force One

by John Reed on April 11, 2012

Yup, the Air Force is moving to buy a brand new pair of big jets for the president. Well, whomever is president at the end of the decade, anyway.

We mentioned (tweeted) this last September when Air Force Secretary Michael Donley mentioned that the service will look at buying a new presidential transport in the next decade. The Air Force has been looking to do this for a while now, but in light of numerous acquisition priorities and difficulties it faced with them (think the CSAR-X, KC-X and next-gen bomber. Oh, don’t forget the Marines’ cancelled VXX presidential helo program.) in the last decade, the effort never really got of the ground.

Apparently, the service outlines its intent to buy two new airliters to replace the iconic Boeing 747-based VC-25s that began carrying the president in 1990 and 1991. Remember, their Boeing 707 predecessors served from the early 1960s until the 1990 as the president’s airplane, so this timeframe for replacement makes sense. One of the biggest reasons for replacing the current VC-25s is their lack of power compared to newer versions of the 747 (c’mon, you know the next Air Force One is going to be made in the USA).

From Defense News:

Current and former military sources have said power demands are straining the two quad-engine jetliners due to the aircraft’s extensive communications equipment and other systems. Newer Boeing aircraft feature engines with thousands of pounds of more thrust than those on the current Air Force One aircraft.

The inclusion of a VC-25 replacement in the aviation plan comes at an interesting time, since recapitalization of Air Force One is typically directed by a president in a second term.

George W. Bush’s administration had tried to get the ball rolling on Air Force One and Marine One helicopter recapitalization before the end of his second term in the White House.

Barack Obama is up for re-election in November and, particularly during recent government bailouts of shaky corporations, has been highly critical of executive use of corporate jets.

Shortly after Obama took office in 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled the helicopter effort following a severe spike in costs attributed to the piling on of White House-mandated requirements.

The Marine One replacement effort has been restarted though a program called V-XX, but is not supposed to begin operating until 2023, according to the 30-year aviation plan.

Following Obama’s harsh corporate jets comments, the Air Force put the VC-25 recapitalization plan on hiatus, with internal plans of replacing the current aircraft later this decade, according to the current and former military sources.

Since then, the service has been conducting low-level research and development of Air Force One-type systems, without identifying a specific airframe, these sources said.

Boeing has expressed interest in pitching its new, larger 747–8 as an Air Force One replacement. In September 2011, EADS North America said a VC-25 replacement did not fit its U.S. business model.

Since Boeing will likely be the only bidder in the competition, the Air Force has considered requesting bids for the integration work of sophisticated communications equipment.

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