‘That’s how scuff marks on the shiny bare aluminum on the outer skin of VC-137C Air Force One were removed back when I was a pilot in that wing,’ Ron Wagner, former pilot in the 89th Airlift Wing (the “Presidential Wing”).
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy became the first President to fly in a jet specifically built for presidential use — a modified Boeing 707. Over the years, several other jet aircraft have been used, with the first of the current Boeing 747-200B (designated VC-25A by the Air Force) aircraft being delivered in 1990 during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
On Oct. 10, 1962, Boeing delivered to the US Air Force (USAF) a highly modified civilian Boeing 707-320B (designated VC-137C) airliner, serial number 62-6000. This Boeing VC-137C was the first jet aircraft built specifically for use by the President of the United States. During its 36 year flying career, it carried eight sitting presidents and countless heads of state, diplomats, dignitaries and officials on many historic journeys known as Special Air Missions (SAM).
Bearing the unique call sign “SAM Two-Six-Thousand,” this aircraft illustrated the Air Force’s commitment to providing safe, reliable and comfortable air transportation for the president and other key personnel to locations anywhere around the globe. Whenever the president was onboard the aircraft, the call sign changed to “Air Force One,” a special designation established in 1953 to avoid confusion with other aircraft in flight.
At the request of President Kennedy, a new paint scheme was developed by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and famous industrial designer, Raymond Loewy. In addition to the vibrant blue and white colors, the words “United States of America” were emblazoned in tall letters along the fuselage and an American flag was placed on the tail. These distinctive markings reflect the stature of the Office of the President and serve as a highly visible symbol of American prestige.
How did you remove scuff marks of the Air Force One’s shiny livery?
‘I was a pilot in the 89th Airlift Wing (the “Presidential Wing”) at Andrews Air Force Base. Part of my training to become certified to fly “Special Air Missions” (SAM)—which are White House missions—was a tour of “SAM Supply,” which is a special warehouse on Andrews.
‘They had all the leftover crystal, china, and silverware, from various administrations and the leftover carpet as well. Jacqueline Kennedy had designed new carpeting and so they made a lot of it, assuming that JFK would be in office for eight years. Unfortunately, his service was cut short. Lady Bird kept the Kennedy carpet, but Pat Nixon wasn’t about to trod on the Kennedy carpet, which left SAM Supply with many factory-mill rolls of Mrs. Kennedy’s carpet.
‘The warehouse also held all the food prep supplies for cooking in the aircraft gallies. We turned a corner in the food section, and I saw several shipping pallets of “Gold Medal Enriched Flour,” and my first thought was, “Wow, Gerald Ford really likes baked goods!” But there was far too much flour for baking.’
‘So, I asked, “Why so much flour?”
‘The answer was that the bare aluminum on the outside of Air Force One was so highly polished that they used baking flour as an abrasive to polish it. Anything more abrasive than flour would scratch the pristine shine they had.
‘And they said that “Gold Medal Enriched” was the best for polishing.
‘So, that’s how scuff marks on the shiny bare aluminum on the outer skin of 27000 and 26000 were removed back when I was a pilot in that wing.’
[In December 1972 SAM 26000 became the president’s backup aircraft when the Air Force acquired another Boeing VC-137C (serial number 72-7000)].
‘They were so shiny I could comb my hair in the reflection on the side.
‘And back then I had hair to comb! I can’t comb my hair using either one of them anymore—they’re not shiny enough and I don’t have enough hair left.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force