An unusual visitor at Nellis Air Force Base: Obama’s Air Force One, world’s most heavily defended plane

Being the base of the Red Flag, Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, is used to host U.S. and foreign combat planes quite frequently.

However, the Air Force One is a quite rare sight at Nellis too.

The following picture depicts the Air Force One landing there on Aug. 21, 2012. President Obama went to Las Vegas to  discuss education and spending with members of the local community.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

The Air Force One is a highly modified Boeing 747 designated VC-25 by the U.S. Air Force. Most probably, the two examples of the plane are the most heavily defended aircraft in the world.

Although much of the self-protection suite is classified the aircraft is known to be fitted with active electronic counter measures, that are able to jam enemy radar frequencies as well as IRCM (Infrared Counter Measure) systems needed to divert heat seeking Infra Red missiles by disturbing their guidance systems.

The one in use on the AF1 is the AN/ALQ-204 Matador produced by the BAe Systems. Such system protect the plane from both IR air-to-air and ground-to-air (MANPADS – Man Portable Air Defense Systems) missiles.

The plane is also equipped with chaff and flares dispensers: the first type is used to divert radar-guided missiles, while the flares are high-temperature heat sources ejected from the aircraft’s dispensers to mislead the missile’s heat-seeking targeting system: since the burn temperature is hotter than that at the engine’s exhaust the burning flares attract and deceive heat-seeking missiles fired at the aircraft.

Chaffs are similar: they are small pieces of aluminium (or any other glass fiber) that generate a radar return (or multiple returns) thus hiding the aircraft from the enemy launching platform and missile radars.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.