Tag Archives: VC-25

Air Force One for sale!

Unfortunately, the title does not refer to the famous highly modified Boeing 747s (designated VC-25 by the U.S. Air Force) that is used by President Obama as these planes have undergone many upgrades, and will probably serve the U.S. Administration for a long time before being retired and replaced.

Nevertheless, if you have 50,000 USD in your pocket you may buy a plane, that used Air Force One and Air Force Two callsigns.

The auction is to start on May 15.

Image Credit: aviationlive.org

What plane are we talking about?

The VC-9C with N681AL registration, flying in the 89th Airlift Wing from February 1975 until September 2005.

Why use DC-9 when you have the 747? Well it was the short runways that 747 could not land on that were the reason for using the former.

When it comes to the Air Force One callsign, in fact any airplane the president is aboard takes over this name.

The media professionals did not like the DC-9 at all, due to the uncomfortable seats. They were nowhere near as comfortable, and the journalist cabin was not as spacious as in the original 747.

If you plan to buy a plane and inspect it before bidding you can leave 50,000 USD deposit and go to the Phoenix/Mesa Gateway.

If you do not have sufficient funds, you may buy something cheaper, e.g. 1983 Cessna 182 Skylane, with an entry price of $100. All auctions are available at the General Services Administration website.

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

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The (not-so) secret Air Force One trip to Afghanistan

Hiding a large aircraft is not easy. If such plane is the world’s most famous Boeing 747, the undertaking will be even more challenging.

As you already know by now, President Obama arrived in Afghanistan on May 1 at 10.30PM (Kabul time), to sign a strategic-partnership agreement with President Hamid Karzai. His “surprise” visit took place on the first anniversary of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The VC-25 (military designation for the presidential Jumbo) landed in the darkness of the night at Bagram airfield, one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

Even if we don’t have any specific detail about the Air Force One flight, we can assume the aircraft used the same precautions used on visits to other dangerous spots around the world (as reported by accompanying journalists and military analysts):

  1. steep descent and “aggressive turns” during the last part of the flight to prevent a predictable flight path that could ease targeting attempts
  2. fake radio callsign since take off, in order to mask the flight to all the Air Traffic Control (ATC) agencies encountered enroute
  3. use of two almost identical VC-25s
  4. accompanying /preceding cargo planes to sequence arrivals in such a way to mask the AF1 between airlifters
  5. fighter escort (when needed)
  6. strict security measures for embedded media

All of the above, while at Washington DC everyone is pretending the President is in the White House.

A screenshot of the bogus White House Schedule for May 1, published on the WH’s website.

However, all such “countermeasures” are not always enough to keep the travel secret.

Bogus callsigns and transponder codes, used during Bush’s trip to Baghdad in 2003 (as explained by Col. Mark Tillman, former AF1 pilot), can be noticed and arise suspicion among the community of aircraft enthusiasts that track all military and civilian air traffic with commercial off-the-shelf and/or freely available tools (among them LiveATC.net, the same Internet radio feed that gave the opportunity to hear the comms of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft over NYC and Washington DC).

Fortunately, deceiving terrorists or insurgents is usually easier than fool an aviation geek into believing that the one he has just heard on a radio is not the Air Force One crossing the ocean enroute to a secret place, but a routine ferry flight.

British Prime Minister to use new RAF tankers for future overseas visits after embarrassing trade trip with Boeing plane

The Royal Family and senior UK politicians may consider using one of the RAF’s “Voyager” Airbus A330 tanker aircraft for future foreign trips after a rather embarrassing trade trip to Indonesia caused a huge row.

David Cameron and his aides made the trip during the Easter period to drum up trade for European built Airbus planes (11 Airbus 330 aircraft for Garuda Indonesia airlines) using a “rented” Boeing 747. Insult was added to injury when it emerged that the lease was given to Atlas Air, a US based company, and the plane used for the journey was owned by Sonair, an Angolan carrier banned from European Union airspace over safety concerns.

David Cameron poses in front of a Garuda Indonesia Airlines Airbus during a visit to Jakarta Airport (Photo by Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Cameron’s advisors were quick to point out that they usually charter British Airways or Virgin Atlantic for foreign travel, but both airlines were busy Easter holiday and were unable to support the trip.

Since it is at least weird that a business delegation trying to support Airbus planes sales uses chartered Boeings, Britain’s aerospace lobby group said that proposals were being drawn up to let Britain’s VIP to use one of the modified A330 airliners.

According to Reuters, Robin Southwell, head of the UK aerospace industry’s lobbying association and also head of Airbus’ parent company in the UK said: “he would propose the alternative use of the Royal Air Force jets when not needed for refuelling missions.”

Southwell compared the use of the 747 to a luxury car salesman turning up in a tatty used Jaguar when he said: “If you are trying to sell an Aston Martin to someone and you turn up in a used Jaguar and say that the Aston Martin is the best thing since sliced bread and then drive off in the Jaguar, it isn’t as smart as turning up in the model you are trying to sell.”

The RAF’s fleet of 14 leased Voyager aircraft can be used to refuel other aircraft or carry troops or casualties, pretty much the same as the current VC-10 and Tristar tankers. Voyager takes this one step further in that the refuelling pods under the wings can be removed to make the plane a little less military looking jetliner in RAF colours.

It has to be said that a Voyager in RAF low-vis grey will not look as stunning at President Obama’s VC-25As Air Force One or other European leaders’ Airbus based aircraft.

Anyway, before using them to support diplomatic lobbying, maybe the UK should try to use them to refuel its Tornado strike planes that experienced worrying leakage problems during recent aerial refueling tests.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this article.


Image credit: Martin Hartland

Forget any security concern and welcome Air Force One on Flightradar24!

In my article titled Would modern transponders have made the hijacked planes visible to radars on 9-11? about Mode-S and ADS-B usage I wrote:

According to an esteem by Flightradar24.com, around 60% of the civil airliners and only a small amount of business jets and military aircraft have an ADS-B transponder. This means that, although you will never spot a Stealth Helicopter nor Air Force One broadcasting its position, speed, altitude and route on the Web, you can still catch some extremely interesting  planes. As the evasive US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757), operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), used to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks.

I was wrong.

Although even the Flightradar24 FAQs confirmed that the Air Force One, the world’s most famous and important aircraft, should NOT be visible on their website, for a few seconds around 19.40UTC, the U.S. Air Force’s VC-25 (mil version of the B747), with registration 82-8000, transponder code 3614, advertised its position in the public domain while over Baltimore, descending through FL120 at 310 kts, heading towards Washington D.C. (for landing at Andrews AFB).

I don’t really know the reason for this quick appearance of the AF1 on FR24. A human error? A quick test? Hard to say. I’d expect the IFF Mode 5 with encrypted Mode-S and ADS-B to be paramount on the aircraft carrying the POTUS.

However, in the past I’ve witnessed some “doomsday planes” and other DoD flights shamelessly broadcasting on the Internet their position, altitude, track etc.

Let’s see what happens in the future. Maybe tracking Obama’s movements across the world will be possible. By means of a web browser….

Update Dec. 1, 2011: further investigation shows that the AF1 used genuine full ADS-B signal possibly triggered at the request of controllers for positioning purposes during descent to Andrews AFB.

Air Force One journey on September 11: no escort during the attacks, 11 fighters when the airspace was completely free of airliners

Here’s the second episode of the 9/11 series. The first one, titled US Air Defense response to the September 11 attacks: known and unknown facts described how the NORAD reacted to the hijackings. This article will explain the tour across the US of the Air Force One on that day.

At  09.57 LT on Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush leaves Sarasota Bradenton airport, Florida on board the Air Force One. The Presidential VC-25 performs a rocket-like climb immediately after take off and climbs without any fighter escort. The first fighters that the VC-25 encounters enroute to Barksdale are two (even if some reported three or four) 147th FW Texas ANG F-16s from Ellington IAP.

That’s extremely weird, a tactical mistake that has almost no explaination. Long before President Bush left the elementary school where it was reached by the news of the terrorist attacks, arrangements would have been made to protect the POTUS before and especially after he had boarded Air Force One. We should not forget that we are in the middle of an air attack. The US Air Defense is almost unable to distinguish a normal civilian flight from one that is going to be hijacked and used as a weapon of mass destruction. For this reason, the entire US air space is shut down and all flights other than military and emergency ones are ordered to land as soon as possible.

Incredibly, in such a critical situation, the most important US airplane is left with no protection even if there was enough time to arrange it:  on 9/11 there were two airbases (Homestead and Tyndall) in Florida with fighters on 24-hour alert, that could be scrambled in about five minutes and reach Sarasota before AF1 departed.

Some might object that pursuing and hitting a mobile target is far more difficult than crashing into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. However, at that time the US air space was not the safest place to be for the most important American citizen and the possibility of hijacked military planes or bizjets capable to intercept the VC-25 could not be ruled out.

As Col. Mark Tillman (pilot of the Air Force One on that day) recalls, initially, the AF1 was expected to go directly to its home base, Andrews AFB, located near Washington DC. The plan was to climb above any airliner in the 30K feet range of altitudes and go straight home. However, shortly after take off, the FAA ATC controller at Jacksonville Center called the Air Force One with the message:

“Air Force One, you have traffic behind you that’s descending into you. They are not talking to us and they are not showing off transponder”: a situation much similar to that of the hijacked planes. For this reason, the pilot performed a sort of evasive maneuver, flying westbound over the Gulf of Mexico: an airspace that it’s ringed by Air Force bases and it’s usually not used by airliners because of  many military training areas.

While Air Force One was overflying the Gulf of Mexico trying to escape a potential threat, the radio operator got a message from the Vice President at Washington: “Angel is next”, meaning that the Air Force One (Angel was at that time its classified callsign; the subsequent investigation found the original claim to be a result of miscommunication).

Few minutes later, Houston Center radioed another thrilling message:

“Air Force One, you have fast movers your 7 o’clock”.

Houston Center did not know who they were. They could be foreign nationals being trained in the US on Air Force or Navy planes, attacking “Angel”.

Eventually, the fast movers self-IDed as “Cowry 45”, a flight of two F-16s from Texas ANG, scrambled from Ellington, closing on their HVA (High Value Asset) at supersonic speed over the Gulf of Mexico: although some sources reported that airplanes were scramble from Tyndall, as said, the first aircraft to reach the AF1 were those of the Texas ANG.

“Cowry 45” intercepted the AF1 20 minutes after the alert scramble (after passing 90 minutes on “battle stations” waiting for the green light to take off), 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Finally escorted by fighter planes, Air Force One landed at Barksdale airbase at 11.45. One of the escort fighters stayed airborne to provide air cover while the other one also landed to refuel. To provide additional cover, Ellington launched two additional F-16s. While AF1 was taking off again from Barksdale at 01.30 pm, the F-16 orbiting overhead had to land to refuel as well, so three fighters escorted the POTUS to Offutt AFB, Nebraska, his next stop.

Air Force One landed at Offutt at 02.50 pm LT followed by its escorting aircraft.

It departed to Andrews AFB at 04.36 pm LT. A huge force was expected to meet the VC-25 and escort it across the country to Washington: four F-15s from Langley and four F-16s from Andrews along with the three Texas ANG F-16s that were miles behind it since they had taken off later and were struggling to catch up with the VC-25 flying at Mach .92.

However, to make their rejoin easy and give them the opportunity to make history (they were from Texas ANG, President Bush’s former flying unit) Air Force One performed a 360° turn after which it had 11 escort fighters: the F-15 were above it, the DC ANG F-16 on the left wing and the Texas ANG slightly behind.

Air Force One landed at Andrews AFB at 06.34 p.m. escorted on the very last part of the flight by two F-15s and one F-16s. Bush then reached the White House on Marine One helicopter, arriving shortly before 07.00 p.m. LT.

Concluding: Air Force One, the most important aircraft on the planet, flew without escort during the most tense moments of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when no (civil) plane could be considered “friendly” to such an extent the airspace had to be shut down, but it finally got an escort of 11 fighter planes (a bit too many?) when the airspace was completely free of any civil liner.

Images: US Air Force