On February 25th, the VC-25B program began modification on the first of two Boeing 747-8 aircraft that will travel the globe representing the United States of America. VC-25B, the next “Air Force One,” is a program to design, modify, test, and deliver two aircraft replacing the current VC-25A and will serve as a flying White House for the next thirty years.
Known everywhere by the call sign “Air Force One” when the President is on board, the VC-25B will ensure safe, secure, worldwide transport of the President. While airborne the President can execute the duties of Commander in Chief, Head of State, and Chief Executive. The program is managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Presidential & Executive Airlift Directorate.
The first phase of aircraft modification involves cutting out large skin and structure areas in both the forward and aft lower lobes of the aircraft and then installing two newly manufactured superpanels. The superpanels contain structural upgrades and cutouts for the VC-25B lower lobe doors including internal airstairs for mission requirements.
Personnel from both Boeing and Air Force VC-25B Program Office team began the first day of modification with a Foreign Object Debris (FOD) sweep through the modification facility and both aircraft to ensure the work area was free of debris. This is a daily practice in the facility as part of the program’s “Start FOD-Free, Remain FOD-free” motto.
During the opening shift brief, Chris Ahsmann, Boeing Vice President and VC-25B Program Manager, emphasized to the Boeing workforce “work diligently while following our practices of first time quality, safety first, and security of the aircraft”. David Moenter, VC-25B Mission Systems Program Manager, further addressed the team, “You are here as the best of our country, you represent all Americans in the work you have before you to transform these two bare 747s into the aircraft that will proudly represent our country around the world.”
Following ferry flights in spring 2019 to the Boeing modification facility, Boeing prepared the two aircraft for modification start by removing the commercial interiors, engines, auxiliary power units, and numerous secondary system components. Additionally, Boeing placed a sophisticated jacking and crib mechanism under each aircraft to reduce structural stress for the initial modification phases.
“Air Force One is a symbol of our nation that is instantly recognizable worldwide”
Said Brig. Gen. Ryan Britton, Air Force Program Executive Officer for Presidential & Executive Airlift. “This is an exciting time as we take the initial steps to create these unique aircraft that the team and I brag are the most important aircraft in the world.”
The VC-25B modifications to the 747-8 aircraft will include electrical power upgrades, a mission communication system, a medical facility, executive interior, and autonomous ground operations capabilities. The work is being performed at a Boeing facility in San Antonio, Texas. The new aircraft are expected to begin operations in 2024.
“Our program motto is Pride of the Nation!” said Col. Kevin Massie, VC-25B Program Manager and Senior Materiel Leader. “We are focused on solid design and first-time quality to ensure we deliver full capability on schedule. The program office team, Boeing, suppliers, and stakeholders are all highly motivated to be building this very-recognizable airplane that will represent our great country for the next 30-plus years.”