Will Trump Be Satisfied With Plans for a New Air Force One?
President-elect likes luxury and has criticized plane maker Boeing
by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
In over a year of campaigning, president-elect Donald Trump talked vaguely about his desire to expand and improve the U.S. military. We can expect Trump’s administration to work on solidifying these plans after his inauguration in January.
However, Trump will inherit responsibility for a host of existing defense programs, including a project to build a new, technologically-advanced Air Force One. In January 2016, the U.S. Air Force announced it would hire Boeing to build up to three “presidential mission ready” 747s.
“This aircraft must not only safely transport the president of the United States, but also enable the president to perform the duties of head of state, chief executive and command-in-chief while enroute to its final destination,” one contract document explained.
As such, the Air Force doesn’t expect to get the new planes until 2024. By then, even if Trump wins a second term, he would soon be out of the White House.
This might not work for America’s new leader — a failed airline executive, aviation enthusiast and outward narcissist who repeatedly talks about having only “the best” things. Trump clearly likes luxury and he openly criticized Boeing specifically during his campaign.
Since 1944, the Pentagon has kept at least one aircraft on hand dedicated to hauling around the president and his staff. When America’s top official is on board, the crew refer to the plane as “Air Force One.”
As of 2016, the Air Force possesses two Boeing VC-25As — derived from the 747–200B airliner — available for these missions. Boeing and the White House are both understandably tight-lipped about the planes’ various equipment.
It’s safe to say the aircraft have state-of-the-art communications devices, defensive gear and other equipment. According to the White House, the planes have their own medical bays and doctors on call in case of emergencies.
The crew of 30 can tend to the needs of more than 70 passengers. Kitchen staff can feed up to 100 people at once if necessary.
Unfortunately, the planes’ are getting old. Boeing delivered both aircraft to the Air Force in December 1990.
Now, the Pentagon wants Boeing’s newest 747, the –8 version, as the base for the next Air Force Ones. Most importantly, these jets have improved engines.
As of the 2016 fiscal year, the VC-25 costs over $180,000 to fly per hour — more than the B-2 stealth bomber. Additional fuel-efficient motors could help trim those expenses.
With four General Electric Next-generation powerplants, Boeing claims the VIP version of the 747–8 can fly 8,000 miles without having to stop for gas. Like the older VC-25s, any new planes will undoubtedly have the ability to refuel in flight.
On top of that, one can expect any updated Air Force One to have better radios, radars and other systems. As of July 2016, the Air Force was still ironing out the details.
“As we understand more about how to meet the detailed requirements, we can make deliberate choices to lower the cost and risks to the program,” Air Force Col. Amy McCain, the head of the project, told the service’s reporters. “The information from these studies is essential for us to make informed decisions on the design and modifications to the 747–8 aircraft.”
On Sept. 29, 2016, the Air Force gave Boeing $25 million specifically for some of the aircraft’s “classified requirements.” By that point, the defense contractor had netted more than $168 million in total for the program.
The Pentagon declined to disclose how much it expected to pay per plane. Boeing has stated that civilian 747–8s with all the VIP modifications cost in excess of $360 million. The Air Force hopes the new presidential airplanes will last three decades.
Even though they might not arrive until after Trump leaves office, it’s reasonable to assume he will have input on the new Air Force One, its features and Boeing’s production timeline. Pres. Ronald Reagan ordered the two VC-25s before he departed the White House in January 1990.
Reagan never got a chance to fly in one of these Air Force Ones while he was alive. After his death in June 2004, one of the planes brought the former president’s remains to Washington, D.C. so they could lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Building.
To note — Trump hasn’t had a say in buying new Air Force Ones so far, but he’s definitely accustomed to a certain style. During the 2016 election campaign, Trump traveled around the country on his own private jet.
In a nod to the presidential jets, media reports dubbed the unique Boeing 757 “Trump Force One.” Smaller than the 747, the $100 million jet can carry less than 45 passengers.
While the plane might not have any encrypted radios, anti-missile decoys or emergency facilities, it has things Air Force One lacks. The most notable accouterments are real gold accents and fixtures everywhere, coupled with wood paneling.
“You’ll notice the seat belts, as well as everything else are 24 karat gold plated,” Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller explained in an official walk-through video. “The guest room … is completely wrapped in wood.”
Not surprisingly, the Trump family crest is on headrests, pillows and other parts of the jet. We imagine the president’s bedroom on Air Force One isn’t lined with gold silk and a bedspread to match.
Though hardly spartan, Air Force One’s interior is distinctly less luxurious. Trump’s tastes may be more in line with Boeing’s demonstration 747–8, aimed at wealthy, private customers.
Now, it may seem tongue in cheek to suggest that Trump’s lavish lifestyle could have an impact on the next Air Force One. But this is a president-elect reportedly trying to figure out how to avoid living in the White House as much as possible.
“Mr. Trump, a homebody who often flew several hours late at night during the campaign so he could wake up in his own bed in Trump Tower, is talking with his advisers about how many nights a week he will spend in the White House,” according to The New York Times. “He has told them he would like to do what he is used to, which is spending time in New York when he can.”
There’s a certain precedent, too. When Boeing started work on the VC-25s in the 1980s, then First Lady Nancy Reagan helped design the interiors. A longtime California resident, she wanted the style to evoke an image of the American Southwest.
Trump could even conceivably demand changes because he disagrees with Boeing’s business practices. In stump speeches, the president-elect soundly criticized the company for deals in China and Iran and its stance on the U.S. Import-Export Bank.
“Boeing is building massive plants in China,” Trump declared at a February 2016 rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Boeing has a production facility. “Be careful … in two years after their plants are built, and you find out you’re losing — not going to happen if Trump is president, that I can tell you — but be careful.”
The aviation firm clearly felt the sting of being called out by name. After Trump won the 2016 election, Boeing issued a statement trying to smooth things over.
“We congratulate president-elect Trump and newly elected members of Congress and look forward to working with them,” Paul Bergman, a spokesman for Boeing’s commercial arm, said in a Nov. 9 statement. “U.S. companies can … preserve American leadership in national security.”
Of course, since the Pentagon oversees the whole program, it’s possible Trump will leave it to his “best people” to figure it all out. As with many defense contractors, Boeing’s stock price has continued to steadily increase since the election.
After Jan. 20, 2017, we may get to finally see how real the rift is and if Trump’s thin-skinned temperament will have any impact on projects like the next Air Force One.