Famous, powerful figures have criss-crossed the world in this notable machine. The vehicle served during some of the most tragic and tumultuous events in United States history. Now retired, the plane remains open to any curious visitor keen to wander through.
SAM 26000, the first jet-powered aircraft built for American presidential passengers, carried eight sitting presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton) in its 36-year flying career. It is popularly known as Air Forces One, though that name is technically only a call-sign for when the president is on board the aircraft in flight. It also transported other officials on Special Air Missions, or SAMs. The plane was adorned with its bright blue and white paint job at the request of Jackie Kennedy and designer Raymond Loewy.
Possibly the most poignant moment in the plane’s history was when it flew John F. Kennedy’s casket from Dallas back to Washington, D.C. Four seats had to be taken out of the cabin to make room for the assassinated president’s casket. That same day, Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in on the plane, making making it the backdrop for one of the most iconic photographs from that era in American history.
Throughout its career, the plane has taken presidents on many important visits abroad. It whizzed Johnson to Vietnam to visit U.S. troops stationed there. The aircraft carted Nixon during his “Journey for Peace” visit to China in 1972 and took Nixon, Ford, and Carter to the funeral of slain Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. In 1983, it even brought Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to the U.S. It continued carrying government officials and other important figures even after it was demoted from the presidential fleet in 1990.
The plane has been in the National Museum of the United States Air Force since 1998. It’s housed in the brand-new fourth building, which is connected to the other three buildings of the museum. Visitors are able to walk through the craft and can even view where the back bulkhead was cut out to accommodate Kennedy’s casket.