Modification work begins on new “Air Force One”

The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) has announced that the first of two Boeing 747-8s to be modified to VC-25B standard to become a new “Air Force One”, has begun.

The announcement came via a press release on March 11, which detailed that work began on the first aircraft on February 25. The USAF’s VC-25B programme is being managed by the AFLCMC’s Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate, with Boeing conducting the work at its modification facility in San Antonio, Texas.

Once both aircraft have undergone the process, they will replace the USAF’s current “Air Force One” fleet, comprising two VC-25As – which are extensively modified Boeing 747-200Bs. The aircraft – serials 82-8000 (c/n 23824/679) and 92-9000 (c/n 23825/685) – are operated by the Presidential Airlift Squadron, based at Joint-Base Andrews in Maryland. The unit is expecting to take delivery of the new VC-25Bs in December 2024.

VC-25A [USAF/A1C Harrison Winchell] #1
Boeing VC-25A - serial 92-9000 (c/n 23825/685) - carries former President George W Bush's casket over the George Bush Library at the Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, in December 2018. The flyover formed a part of Special Air Mission (SAM) 41, which preceded the 41st President of the United States' state funeral. USAF/A1C Harrison Winchell

Brig Gen Ryan Britton, the USAF’s programme executive officer for Presidential and Executive Airlift, said: “Air Force One is a symbol of our nation that is instantly [recognisable] worldwide… This is an exciting time as we take the initial steps to create these unique aircraft that the team and I brag are the most important aircraft in the world.”

The two aircraft arrived at the San Antonio facility during spring 2019 and have since been prepared for the modification work. During this time, the commercial interiors, engines, auxiliary power units and numerous secondary system components were removed from the Boeing 747-8s. The two aircraft – registrations N894BA and N895BA – were originally part of an order of four aircraft placed by Russian-based airline Transaero in 2013, before it went bankrupt two years later.

The first phase of the modification involves large skin and structure areas in both the forward and aft lower lobes of the aircraft being cut out and replaced with newly manufactured “superpanels”. These panels contain structural upgrades and cut-outs for the VC-25Bs lower lobe doors, along with internal airstairs as requested in the mission requirements. Boeing has placed a sophisticated jacking and crib mechanism under each aircraft to reduce structural stress on the airframes during the initial modification phases.

VC-25A [USAF/A1C Daniel Hughes] #1
A VC-25A lands at Nellis AFB, Nevada, in August 2012 - carrying US President Barack Obama. USAF/A1C Daniel Hughes

After the first phase is complete, the 747-8s will be further modified with electrical power upgrades, a mission communication system, an executive interior and autonomous ground operations capabilities. The aircraft will also be fitted with countermeasures and other defensive aids, as seen on the current VC-25As.

Col Kevn Massie, VC-25B programme manager and senior materiel leader, said: “We are focused on solid design and first-time quality to ensure we deliver full capability on schedule. The [programme] office team, Boeing, suppliers, and stakeholders are all highly motivated to be building this very [recognisable] airplane that will represent our great country for the next 30-plus years.”