Air Force One may soon get its first new paint job since the Kennedy years — here's what it was like on JFK's version of the presidential airliner - We Are The Mighty
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Air Force One may soon get its first new paint job since the Kennedy years — here’s what it was like on JFK’s version of the presidential airliner

The Pentagon’s latest budget request, released on Monday, revealed a new paint scheme for Air Force One, which some observers say looks a lot like President Donald Trump’s own private jet.


The new red, white, and blue paint job would be a change from the light blue color scheme designed by President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in the 1960s and which has appeared on every presidential aircraft since.

On October 19, 1962, Boeing delivered a highly modified version of the civilian 707-320B airliner with the serial number 62-26000. It would be tasked with Special Air Missions and get the call sign “SAM Two-six-thousand.”

It was the first jet aircraft built specifically for the US president, and when he was on board the call sign changed to “Air Force One,” which was adopted in 1953 for use by planes carrying the president.

The SAM 26000 would carry eight presidents in its 36-year career — Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — as well as countless heads of state, diplomats, and dignitaries.

Below, you can take a tour of the SAM 26000, which is now on display at the National Museum of the Air Force and which one Air Force historian said could justifiably be called “the most important historical airplane in the world.”

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The forward aircraft entrance on the Boeing VC-137C.

National Museum of the US Air Force

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Looking forward from the flight deck.

National Museum of the US Air Force

At Kennedy’s request, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and industrial designer Raymond Loewy developed a new paint scheme for the plane.

Source: US Air Force

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Looking forward from the pilot’s seat.

National Museum of the US Air Force

In addition to the blue and white colors they picked, the words “United States of America” were painted along the fuselage, and a US flag was painted on the tail. Kennedy reportedly chose the font because it resembled the lettering on an early version of the Constitution.

Source: US Air Force, Michael Beschloss

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Looking forward from the copilot’s seat.

National Museum of the US Air Force

In June 1963, the plane flew Kennedy to Berlin, where he delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “I am a Berliner,” speech.

During the flight into Berlin, “The Russians put MiGs (fighter planes) up on both our wings so we would stay in the corridor over East Germany to West Berlin. They didn’t want us to spy,” said Col. John Swindal, who became commander of Air Force One at the start of Kennedy’s presidency.

Source: US Air Force

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Looking at the copilot’s station from the pilot’s seat.

National Museum of the US Air Force

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Looking back into the cockpit from the copilot’s seat.

National Museum of the US Air Force

That afternoon, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson helped staffers pull the the casket into the rear of the plane, where seats had been removed to make space. Johnson was sworn in as president on the plane prior to takeoff.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, who worked as a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, was one of the crew members who helped remove seats to make room for the casket.

“We served a lot of beverages (Scotch) on the way back,” Hames said in 1998. “It was a long ride back to Washington. Nobody wanted to eat. Mrs. Kennedy was in shock. She still had on the blood-stained clothes.”

Source: CNN, The New York Times

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Looking back into the cockpit from the pilot’s seat.

National Museum of the US Air Force

“You can stand on that spot where President Kennedy’s casket came in — you think about the horror of what was going on and the shock of what happened,” Underwood said. “You can look forward toward the nose of the aircraft and know that’s where the transfer of power took place, and you can see where Mrs. Kennedy sat near the body of her slain husband.”

Source: CNN

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The starboard side of the flight deck.

National Museum of the US Air Force

After takeoff at 2:47 p.m., Swindal, Air Force One’s pilot at the time, took the plane up to the unusually high altitude of 41,000 feet, which was the aircraft’s ceiling.

Source: The New York Times, US Air Force

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The port from the flight deck.

National Museum of the US Air Force

“He didn’t have any idea whether this was part of a large conspiracy,” Swindal’s son said after his death in 2006. “He wasn’t going to take any chances with a new president in the plane.”

Source: The New York Times

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Looking aft from the flight deck into the cabin.

National Museum of the US Air Force

The SAM 26000 played a prominent role in the presidencies after Kennedy as well.

In 1998, retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, said the SAM 26000 “was so much faster that we had less time to prepare meals, but we got the job done.”

Kennedy was a “great person for soup. It was a comfort food for him,” Hames told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998. “President Johnson was kind of different. He told me that any beef prepared aboard Air Force One had to be well done. He didn’t care for rare beef the way the group from New England did.”

Nixon “ate fairly light … cottage cheese,” Hames said. “President Ford ate almost anything, but he was in such a short time.”

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The left-hand section of the forward galley.

National Museum of the Air Force

In 1964, Johnson invited reporter Frank Cormier and two colleagues into the plane’s bedroom for an improvised press conference. Johnson, who had just given a speech under the hot sun, “removed his shirt and trousers,” while answering their questions and then “shucked off his underwear” and kept talking while “standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis.”

Source: CNN

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The right-hand section of the forward galley.

National Museum of the Air Force

In 1970, the plane shuttled Henry Kissinger, then Nixon’s national security adviser, on 13 separate trips to secret peace talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris.

Source: US Air Force

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Looking into the communications station.

National Museum of the Air Force

In February 1972, the SAM 26000 flew Nixon to the People’s Republic of China for his “Journey for Peace,” making him the first US president to establish ties with the Communist-run country.

Source: US Air Force

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The communications station.

National Museum of the Air Force

As Nixon exited the plane in China, a “burly” aide “blocked the aisle” to keep staffers from following Nixon, Kissinger said later. Nixon didn’t want anyone messing up his photo with the Chinese premier.

Source: CNN

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The communications and forward seating, seen from the forward galley.

National Museum of the Air Force

Three months after ferrying him to China, the SAM 26000 took Nixon on an unprecedented visit to the Soviet Union.

Unsuccessful presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey was reportedly given a ride on the plane by President Richard Nixon, according to retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin. During the trip between Washington and Minnesota, Humphrey made 150 phone calls to tell people he’d finally made it aboard Air Force One.

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The president’s private suite.

National Museum of the Air Force

During a week of meetings with Soviet leaders, Nixon reached a number of agreements. One set the framework for a joint space flight in 1975. Another was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), which contained a number of measures to limit the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, US Air Force

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The other half of the president’s private suite, with the door to the lavatory.

National Museum of the Air Force

In December 1972, the plane was relegated to backup duty after the Air Force got another Boeing VC-137C with the serial number 72-7000.

Source: US Air Force

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The president’s private lavatory.

National Museum of the Air Force

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The sink and countertop in the president’s private lavatory, with a stow-away seat.

National Museum of the Air Force

In October 1981, it took former presidents Carter, Nixon, and Ford on an uneasy trip to Egypt for the funeral of President Mohammed Anwar Sadat, who had been assassinated a few days before. Then-President Ronald Reagan did not attend because of security concerns.

Source: UPI

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A seat in the back of the president’s private lavatory.

National Museum of the Air Force

Secretary of State Alexander Haig, as Reagan’s official representative, took the stateroom, leaving other officials with regular seats. The former presidents were “somewhat ill at ease,” Carter said later.

Source: CNN

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The state room aboard the VC-137C SAM 26000.

National Museum of the Air Force

“It was one and only time that I’d seen three presidents and two secretaries of state standing in line to go to the men’s room,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin, who manned the radio on the flight. Things were also tense among staffers on the trip. They reportedly bickered over who got bigger cuts of steak at dinner.

Source: Ronald Kessler, CNN

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Seating in the state room.

National Museum of the Air Force

But it was Nixon, whose resignation in 1974 led to Ford taking office, who “surprisingly eased the tension” with “courtesy, eloquence, and charm,” Carter wrote later. Carter and Nixon’s interaction on the plane led to them developing a friendship.

Source: Douglas Brinkley

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The state room aboard the VC-137C SAM 26000.

National Museum of the Air Force

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The presidential staff area aboard the VC-137C SAM 26000.

National Museum of the Air Force

It left the presidential fleet in 1990, but continued to carry government officials on official trips.

Source: US Air Force

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Seating in the presidential staff area.

National Museum of the Air Force

Before the Gulf War started in 1991, it took Secretary of State James Baker to talks with Iraqi leaders about the invasion of Kuwait.

Source: US Air Force

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Seating and office equipment in the presidential staff area.

National Museum of the Air Force

Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern who became embroiled in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, flew on the plane during a trip to Europe with Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Source: CNN

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VIP seating.

National Museum of the Air Force

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VIP seating.

National Museum of the Air Force

The Boeing 707 that was acting as Air Force One got stuck in the mud at Willard Airport in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The SAM 26000, waiting nearby as an alternate, was called in to pick up the president.

Source: CNN, CNN

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The sink, countertop, and storage space in the presidential galley, located at the rear of the plane.

National Museum of the Air Force

The SAM 26000 was officially retired in March 1998, after logging more than 13,000 flying hours and covering more than 5 million miles. While it made more 200 trips in 1997 alone, the lack of parts for the plane as well as its high exhaust and noise levels led to its retirement.

Source: CNN, The Cincinnati Enquirer

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The oven and stovetop in the presidential galley.

National Museum of the Air Force

Then-Vice President Al Gore took the plane’s final flight, traveling from Washington to Columbia, South Carolina. “If history itself had wings, it probably would be this very aircraft,” Gore said after the trip.

Source: CNN, The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Crew seating, located next to the aft aircraft entrance at the rear of the plane.

National Museum of the Air Force

In May 1998, the plane arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. In a nationally televised event, the Air Force retired the plane and turned it over to the National Museum of the Air Force.

Source: US Air Force

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Lavatories at the rear of the airplane, both vacant.

National Museum of the Air Force

In 2013, with the imposition of mandatory budget cuts called sequestration, the Air Force ordered the museum to save money, which led the museum to shut down the buses that took visitors to the plane.

Source: CNN

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The aft aircraft entrance

National Museum of the Air Force

By 2016, however, the plane had become a centerpiece at the museum, with a prime location in a million hangar that opened that summer.

Source: NPR

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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