That time Air Force One Carrying President Clinton had one of its wheels stuck in the mud at University of Illinois Willard Airport

That time Air Force One Carrying President Clinton had one of its wheels stuck in the mud at University of Illinois Willard Airport

By Dario Leone
Jan 30 2023
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On Jan. 28, 1998, as Boeing VC-137C SAM 27000 Air Force One began its departure out of Willard Airport, the plane veered off the tarmac and got a wheel stuck in the mud.

On Jan. 28, 1998, President Bill Clinton visited the University of Illinois.

As Boeing VC-137C SAM 27000 Air Force One began its departure out of Willard Airport, the plane veered off the tarmac and got a wheel stuck in the mud. As reported by Smile Politely, it was a rather benign event for a plane, but since it involved the President, of course it made national news.

According to Alert 5, SAM 27000’s pilot revved the engines up fully trying to free the wheel, but it was not successful. As a result, SAM 26000, another Boeing VC-137C, was sent to pick up the President and others on board. The airport was closed and after a long wait, the presidential party was transferred from one plane to another.

Here’s a rather entertaining video of the event, from Flightstar’s YouTube channel:

Former airport staff members and former first responders gathered at Monical’s Pizza in Tolono 25 year later to share their stories of that day.

The then airport Fire Marshal, John Smith, explained that he learned more at the gathering than he otherwise would have known. He said that on the day of the incident, he was assisting the Secret Service while others were called in to help with security and to pull the plane out of the mud. It was a great opportunity for them to reminisce and fill in the little details that they may have forgotten over the years.

SAM 26000 was parked at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Peru, Indiana to serve as a backup and was quickly dispatched to Willar Airport from there. Clinton continued on his journey to La Crosse, Wisconsin, for an event and then to Washington, D.C.

Noteworthy this flight was also the last time that VC-137C SAM 26000 carried a serving president. Actually, this was the final presidential service flight of SAM 26000 and it was officially retired from the president’s fleet after that.

Former 89th Airlift Wing Pilot explains why Gold Medal Enriched Flour was used to remove Scuff Marks of the VC-137C Air Force One
Boeing VC-137C SAM 26000 at the National Museum of the US Air Force

The Boeing VC-137C SAM 26000 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 (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton) and countless heads of state, diplomats, dignitaries and officials on many historic journeys known as Special Air Missions (SAM).

On Oct. 10, 1962, the Boeing Co. delivered to the Air Force a highly modified civilian 707-320B airliner, serial number 62-6000. 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.

In a nationally-televised event, the USAF retired SAM 26000 to the museum in May 1998. After 36 years of providing service and accumulating more than 13,000 flying hours, SAM 26000 began a new career, educating thousands of visitors each year about USAF presidential airlift.

SAM 26000 is currently on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

VC-137
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Boeing VC-137C, 89th Airlift Wing, SAM 27000 “Air Force One”

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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