A common blessing among pilots is “May your skies be clear, your aim share, and your landings equal in number to your take-offs.” Indeed, there would generally be concern about any flight that took off but did not land. That is exactly what happened, however, to the most famous airplane in the world: Air Force One.
Air Force One is not the name of any single airplane. It is the designation given to any U.S. Air Force aircraft in which the President of the United States is a passenger. The aircraft most commonly used for this purpose are two highly-modified Boeing 747s, designated VC-25A. Prior to their implementation in 1990, the aircraft of choice was a modified Boeing 707, designated as VC-137C, Special Air Mission 27000 (SAM 27000).
It was SAM 27000 that was fueled up and ready to depart Andrews Air Force Base on August 9, 1974. The day before, President Richard Nixon announced his intention to resign the presidency. As he boarded the aircraft for his flight to his home in California, SAM 27000 became Air Force One.
The presidential aircraft departed Andrews Air Force Base shortly before 11:00 a.m. for the four-hour flight to San Clemente, California.
President Nixon’s letter of resignation was delivered to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at 11:35 a.m. At noon, Vice President Gerald Ford entered the East Room of the White House to be administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Warren Burger.
Colonel Ralph Albertazzie was the pilot-in-command of Air Force One for that final flight of the Nixon presidency. He broadcast the audio of Gerald Ford’s oath of office throughout the aircraft. Once it was done, there was a new Commander-in-Chief. Albertazzie recalled, “Air Force One was 39,000 feet over a point 13 miles southwest of Jefferson City, Missouri.” The time was 3 minutes and 25 seconds past noon. Albertazzie picked up his microphone and spoke to an air traffic controller: “Kansas City, this was Air Force One. Will you change our call sign to SAM 27000?”
Back came the reply: “Roger, SAM 27000. Good luck to the President.”
Nixon arrived in San Clemente, no longer President. He exited the famous aircraft, but it was no longer Air Force One.
Read more fun facts about Presidents.
Read more fun facts about aviation.