On a hot, sunny day in 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had just delivered a stump speech during his campaign for the presidency. According to white House reporter Frank Cormier’s book “LBJ: the Way He Was,” once on board Air Force One, the President started taking questions about the economy from the press. In the middle of the QA session, Johnson took off his pants and shirt, then “shucked off his underwear… standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis” as he continued talking.
The U.S. Air Force 707 code named Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, referred to as Air Force One while the President is on board, has a long and storied history.
President Johnson swore into office aboard Air Force One
After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, Johnson was sworn in aboard SAM 26000 by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the only woman to swear in the President of the United States.
Kennedy’s body was returned to Washington from Dallas on board
Kennedy’s body was ferried back to the nation’s capital with his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, accompanying him. A portion of the plane’s wall had to be torn down to make room for the casket. The same plane performed a high-speed flyover over Kennedy’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
Air Force One flew Nixon on his historic trip to China
In 1972, President Richard Nixon made a visit to Communist China, the first for a U.S. President, opening official diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China for the first time since the Nationalist regime fled to Taiwan in 1949. The division between Soviet and Chinese Communism combined with a thaw in U.S-China relations led to arms treaties with the Soviet Union.
Three former Presidents represented the United States in Egypt via Air Force One
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by the Egyptian military’s own Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli during a Victory Day parade. Islambouli was secretly a member of the Islamist extremist group Gama’a Islamiyya (Islamic Group). Islambouli emptied a full magazine into the Presidential grandstand, killing Sadat and four other dignitaries while wounding 28 others. The reason for the assassination was Sadat’s agreement to the 1979 Camp David Accords, a peace treaty normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel, brokered by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
In 1981, President Reagan sent Carter along with former Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon to represent the U.S. at Sadat’s funeral aboard SAM 26000. The three were old political rivals and tensions on the flight ran high, including a dispute over who received the biggest steak at dinner. According to Carter’s 2014 memoir, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” the tensions were finally broken by none other than Nixon, who “surprisingly eased the tension with courtesy, eloquence and charm.”
It flew two Presidents to their final resting places.
After LBJ’s death in 1973 and Nixon’s death in 1994, SAM 26000 flew the remains of the former Commanders in Chief to their respective homes and final burial sites in Texas and California.
This specific plane is no longer in use as the Presidential airplane. The current Special Air Mission is 28000, and is a Boeing 747 (more accurately a VC-25, the military version of the 747). The Presidential 707 (SAM 26000) which saw all this history can now be seen at the Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. President Reagan’s 707 (SAM 27000) can be seen at the Air Force One Pavilion at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.