The Beginnings of Presidential Flight

It’s no secret that U.S. presidents and vice presidents have spent their fair share of time in Western North Carolina, many of whom have arrived by air into our fair region. Over the years, Asheville Regional Airport has welcomed a number of White House occupants (not to mention White House hopefuls), including last autumn’s visit by President Obama. In fact, one of our favorite sights is the massive Air Force One 747 parked on the AVL ramp.

Air Force One

Air Force One parked at AVL (October, 2011)

It was this sight that got us thinking about the history of Air Force One, and it just so happens that today is the 102nd anniversary of the first presidential flight. On October 11, 1910 the spectacle-clad Theodore Roosevelt boarded an early Wright Flyer at Kinloch Field (now Lambert-St. Louis International Airport) during a county fair and took a short flight in view of the crowds. Granted, he was no longer holding office as president (he’d been succeeded by William Howard Taft), but the occasion is in the history books as the first flight by a United States president.

It was the other Roosevelt (Franklin, that is) who first flew in an aircraft while holding down the top job in our nation’s capital. Ever since that time, U.S. presidents have taken to the skies as part of their duty to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,” as the oath of office puts it.

Many different types of aircraft have been used for presidential detail, but it wasn’t until the Reagan administration that the 747 took over the job. In the 1990s, during the George H.W. Bush administration, two VC-25A planes were added to the fleet. Presidents have also flown in Marine One (a Blackhawk or Sea King helicopter), Navy One (a Lockheed Viking), and various other airborne machines.

“An interesting bit of trivia is that if a president was onboard a Cessna 152, that plane — or any other plane occupied by the president — would be given the call sign ‘Air Force One,’” said Jeff Augram, Chief of Asheville Regional Airport Department of Public Safety. “And, it’s not designated as ‘Air Force One’ until the president is on board.” Jeff has worked with both the Air Force and the Secret Service on many of these high profile visits, and has even been on board a presidential 757 aircraft.

Air travel has changed (and improved!) a lot in the last 100 years, and presidential planes are no exception. To learn more about Air Force One, check out the History Channel’s Inside Air Force One fact sheet, or watch the National Geographic special.

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