The Flying White House

Presidential airplanes, past and present.

(U.S. Air Force / NASM)

JFK Air Force One

(Cecil Stoughton, White House)

With the John F. Kennedy administration, a Boeing 707-353B airliner became the new presidential transport, and the call sign “Air Force One” entered popular culture. The aircraft served for 35 historic years, carrying JFK to Berlin, West Germany in June 1963 for his famous speech, and, tragically, serving as somber transport for the slain president on November 22, 1963. Merriman Smith, UPI’s White House reporter who was riding in the press car behind the president’s motorcade, received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on that day. Smith was one of two journalists allowed to fly back to Washington, D.C. aboard Air Force One. Read his account of Lyndon Baines Johnson being sworn in on board the aircraft. In his book Air Force One, National Air and Space Museum curator Von Hardesty describes the preparation of the aircraft: “The idea of placing the corpse of the slain president in the hold of the aircraft was rejected out of hand. The only alternative was to place it in the rear passenger compartment, which required some instant hands-on redesign of the relatively small space. A partition was removed, along with four seats, to allow the casket easy entry and placement. It took no small amount of energy to move the nine-hundred-pound bronze casket up the narrow ramp into the compartment, where it rested across from the galley. It would be here that Mrs. Kennedy chose to seat herself, surrounded by a host of her husband’s former staff, for the long flight home.”

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus