Presidential Mobility – Air Force One | Reagan Library – Simi Valley, CA
There’s something about Air Force One that fascinates and draws attention. Even a retired version of the plane at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley attracts nearly half-a-million visitors a year. Download this episode and enjoy a private tour we received while honoring President’s Day.
Recording date – February 12, 2018
John Lehne: It technically flew seven different presidents. President Reagan put the most mileage on it. I don’t know what the exact number of that mileage is, but he definitely flew a great deal on this plane much more so than any other president. This was the aircraft that took him to Germany for the famous “tear down this wall” speech. Anything that was classified or I guess you’d call “secret” that was all removed prior to our obtaining the aircraft. There are no escape pods. There are no hidden guns or bombs or anything else that can be released from the aircraft, so there’s nothing like that and a lot of that are the fantasies in Hollywood that they portray in movies.
Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of these fine United States – Southern California. I’m Tom Smith, and in honor of President’s Day, we are sitting underneath Air Force One at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Tom: Okay. And that is John Lehne who’s the building facilities manager here for the Ronald Reagan Foundation, which runs the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
John: Correct. We are part of the library… the foundation actually supports the library. The library is actually run by the government, National Archives Administration. The Air Force One pavilion, which we are sitting in right now with the Air Force One plane, is operated by the foundation. So this is a little unique part of the library.
Tom: So there you have it for the specifics. But what the exciting part is, literally I’m looking up at the belly of Air Force One and it’s a pretty cool thing. We got some really neat pictures. John was nice enough to walk me through the plane, little private tour, got a couple of pictures. I wasn’t able to sit in President Ronald Reagan’s office chair, but I did sit at the conference table and that was pretty darn neat. So, John, thank you so much for that.
John: You’re very welcome.
Tom: So it’s funny the question on I think everybody’s mind is, okay, where’s the escape pod? And I already asked John that question… I already asked John that question off mic. He said that’s actually the second question that I get asked the most and the first is actually, how did this plane get in this building? And when you come here to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Air Force One pavilion, you can see a really cool pictorial story that’s told on how actually the building was kind of built around the plane.
John: Yes. What they did is they put the superstructure, the building up. The plane had flown in a little prior to that, and they disassembled the plane, towed up here in pieces, except for the fuselage was one solid piece. They did the superstructure of the building, pulled the plane and the pieces into the building and literally put the plane back together inside the building. Stripped the plane, repainted it, shrink wrapped it, and then they finished the building around the plane. When they were done with the building, they unwrapped the plane, cleaned it up, polished it up, and then put it on display. So it was almost like the ultimate ship in a bottle type of construction.
Tom: And the plane landed actually at San Bernardino International Airport.
John: Correct. It flew out from Andrews Air Force Base and landed here in California and then it was trucked from that airport, from the San Bernardino Airport to Simi Valley and ultimately here to the Reagan Library.
Tom: And there’s a really cool picture taken from a helicopter, or overhead, a very tall crane where you see the fuselage of the plane next to the wings of the plane next to the dirt mounds that are going to be the building being built.
John: Right. It basically was brought up and the pieces of the aircraft, the fuselage and the wings and all the major pieces and components were put in a dirt area that is now the parking lot behind the building.
Tom: And this particular plane, the tail number–John was giving me a bit of an education on Air Force One overall–the tail number of this plane that we’re sitting underneath is 2700…
Tom: I’m sorry, thank you, 27,000 is the tail number and there is actually a number of other planes that were used as kind of Air Force Ones but the other…this one didn’t actually fly Kennedy?
Tom: Twenty six thousand flew Kennedy.
John: Correct. There was another… This is a Boeing 707. And it is, as you said, tail number 27000. It went into service in 1973. The first president to fly on board was President Nixon. The previous 707, which is infamously the one that flew Kennedy back from Dallas, was tail number 26000. That aircraft is on display at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
And if you come to visit the Reagan Library in the Air Force One pavilion, we have a huge mural that, actually, we’re sitting right across from right now, that has a pictorial history of all of the Air Force One aircraft or I should say the other way around. All the aircraft that were called Air Force One because Air Force One is a call sign. It’s not a particular aircraft. So any aircraft that the president is flying on that the military is operating is Air Force One. Again, anybody who’s listening who is in another branch of the military, yes, that’s true. If it’s run by the Air Force, it’s Air Force One. If it’s run by the Navy, it’s Navy One and so on.
Tom: Okay. So this probably never happened but trivia question, sitting president happens to hop on a Cessna in somebody’s ranch in Montana and fly not too far or whatever, what’s the official call…?.
John: Well, you’re right that wouldn’t happen, but there is actually on the mural there’s a very small DC10 up there United DC10 and everyone always asks, why is there a commercial aircraft up there? During the energy crisis back in the 70s, President Nixon flew onboard a “commercial flight” to prove that he didn’t have to use Air Force One and spend all the extra fuel and time and everything. That was probably one of the most secure commercial flights ever happened, but it could happen that he was on any other aircraft other than an Air Force aircraft, they would probably use if it was a commercial aircraft would probably use the call sign Air Force One. I don’t know that for fact. But I do know when President Bush landed onboard the aircraft carrier for his famous Mission Accomplished speech, that was Navy One because it was a naval aircraft.
Tom: When it comes to an expert on Air Force One here at the Reagan Presidential Library, that person is you.
John: There are probably a couple of us we could put the word expert on but since I am the building and facilities manager for this building, since the plane is in the building, I take a certain amount of pride on making sure I know a lot about the plane as well.
Tom: And it is very, very cool and thank you again for having us. So let’s go through the presidents that have flown on this plane starting with… Where did we start again.
John: President Nixon.
Tom: Okay, and Nixon flew it and then when was it in service and who flew on it?
John: It flew the entire…it was retired in 2001 and George W. Bush was the last president to fly on board. So it technically flew seven different presidents. President Reagan put the most mileage on it. I don’t know what the exact number of that mileage is, but he definitely flew a great deal on this plane much more so than any other president. This was the aircraft that took him to Germany for the famous “tear down this wall” speech.
Tom: A lot of history right there.
John: There is there is a lot of history behind it, and I like to tell people that you know this is a historical aircraft. It’s a historical military aircraft. We do not own it. It is on loan to us by the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force so the Air Force does own it, and they’ve given it to us on permanent loan. If you’re into aircraft or you’re into historical presidential travel, whatever it might be, this served a lot of different presidents. It wasn’t President Reagan’s plane, but he’s the one who put the most mileage on it if you want to put it that way.
Tom: Do you know how many Air Force Ones are in other presidential libraries?.
John: We are the only presidential library that has an Air Force One. There aren’t many Air Force One planes available period. There are few in some other aviation museums around the country, but there are very few Air Force One aircraft that are still in decent condition that can be put on display.
Tom: And again, we’re in the pavilion so let’s just talk about all the different… We have Air Force One, we have Marine One, we have a presidential limousine. Take us around the horn.
John: It comes in threes. We have three aircraft. We have three motorcycles. We have three vehicles. We have the, obviously, Air Force One jet. We have Marine One helicopter which is an older model A model helicopter that was built back in the 60s. Interesting side note, the current Marine One helicopters that President Reagan actually flew on are still in service. So hopefully, those will get retired one day, and we hope to get one. That would be a treat for us.
Tom: So he did not fly on that?.
John: No he did not fly…
Tom: I’m pointing to Marine One right now.
John: No, the one that we have he did not fly on.
Tom: Did any president fly on that one?
John: We know that President Johnson flew on it but that’s the only confirmed presidential use that that aircraft had. And then we have an F14, which is outside, that you probably saw as you came in. That represents the two F14s that were involved in an incident in… I believe that was in 1986 I believe it was. Yes, it was 1986 where they shot down a couple of MiGs. That’s not the actual aircraft because the two aircraft that were involved in that incident were destroyed. One was involved in a crash. The other one was chopped up for scrap. So that one is the right model; it’s an F14-A model. We painted it to look like a Fast Eagle 102 which is one of the aircraft that was involved in that incident. Then we also have, as you mentioned, we have a motorcade on display underneath the wing of Air Force One. We have a LAPD cruiser, two LAPD motorcycles. Those were donated to us by the LAPD Historical Society. We have one of the limousines that is on loan to us from the Secret Service. It is an actual limo that was used during the Reagan administration and then we have the chase car which is also on loan to us from the U.S. Secret Service. And that is the follow up car that would have been in the motorcade as well.
Tom: And now the limo, did Reagan ride in that?
John: I believe he did. I don’t have an actual manifest that shows that he did, but it was in service during his presidency.
Tom: And the presidential limos that we see while on the roads if you’re lucky or in documentaries, they’re more like tanks that are made to look like a vehicle. This actually looks like a look a, what does that, a Cadillac?
John: It is. It is actually based on a Cadillac frame. 1983 Cadillac, and it was first used in 1984. So it is based on an actual car heavily, heavily modified for armorment and bulletproof glass and the whole bit. The current limousines that they use are truck based and they nicknamed them the beast for a reason. They’re huge. And they’re… I don’t know the specifics on it. Most of that’s probably classified anyways. There are numerous documentaries and there’s probably a lot on the Internet that you can figure out what goes into those.
Tom: And then the chase car back here that we have, it’s basically a Suburban?.
John: Yeah, it’s an ’86 Chevy Suburban Silverado. Very minor modifications on that. It was mainly set up to house the security detail that went along with the motorcade.
Tom: And that was actually used as well?
John: It was, yeah.
Tom: So I asked John repeatedly off mic, but I’m going to do it again now that we’re on mic, the secret compartments on Air Force One, the secret technology on Air Force One?
John: Well, anything that was classified or I guess you’d call “secret” that was all removed prior to our obtaining the aircraft. There are no escape pods. There are no hidden guns or bombs or anything else that can be released from the aircraft, so there’s nothing like that and a lot of that are the fantasies in Hollywood that they portray in movies.
Tom: We are in that town, aren’t we?.
John: Yes we are.
Tom: John, thank you so much for having us, having me. It was really neat. If you’re listening to the podcast, check out the pictures on the website. I feel pretty special to have been able to sit in Air Force One and, John, thank you again for…
John: Welcome up here to the Reagan Library and we welcome all your listeners, too, as well. Check us out at reaganlibrary.com or reaganfoundation.com, either one, and check out the site and you can see the events that are coming up and what are available.
Tom: You have different exhibits that come and go throughout the year?
John: We have a lot of special exhibits up here. Famously, the Titanic exhibit just ended. Next week, we’ll be opening up a fantastic exhibit on Genghis Khan, and that will be here for a couple of months, and then I don’t know what the next exhibit in line is, but we invite everybody to come up and check out this exhibit.
Tom: John Lehne, thank you so much again. The building facilities manager for the Ronald Reagan Foundation here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Podcasting from underneath Air Force One, which is just really cool to say and really cool to look up and be actually here, I’m Tom Smith. This is iDriveSoCal. As always, thanks for listening.