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New Presidential Jets Will Have Millions of Miles of History to Build On

December 27, 1987|HUGH A. MULLIGAN | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — To press, passengers and the President aboard Air Force One, certain truths are self-evident:

The smaller the country, the longer the national anthem.

Dropping in on a state fair, dedicating a dam, inspecting a poverty pocket indicates that it is campaign time again.

Congressmen flying back to their district to get within glad-hand range of a presidential speech means that Election Day is near.

Breaking out the long-stemmed champagne glasses signifies satisfaction in the main cabin at the election returns.

A Nixon Martini

A "perfect martini," hand-stirred by Richard M. Nixon, requires the best imported vermouth and an off-brand gin.

A seldom-varying lunch of cottage cheese garnished with lettuce, radishes, celery sticks and carrot shreds, all smothered in A-1 Sauce, confirms that Gerald R. Ford is aboard.

Grits for breakfast indicates that Jimmy Carter is presiding over the Oval Office in the sky.

The aroma of chili, meat loaf, macaroni and cheese and similar fare wafting from the galley announces that dinner is about to be served to Ronald Reagan. That is, unless Nancy Reagan is aboard, in which case the menu takes a nutritious turn in the direction of crab meat salad or a shrimp-and-avocado platter.

When the chief steward defrosts the lobster tails and filet mignon, everyone on board unwinds for the final leg of another journey.

Oracles Count Jelly Beans

These days, oracles at the back of the bus, where the 10-member press pool is crammed in near the aft galley, count the jelly beans in the big brass bowl and, from the sudden drop in demand, augur a lame-duck President.

But the big bowl still has to be bolted down so it doesn't disappear, the way the matches, cocktail glasses, towels, note pads, shaving cream, even an occasional pillow case, all decorated with the presidential seal, find their way into some senator's attache case or a photographer's camera bag.

But the big news for fliers on presidential aircraft is that after 25 years the White House jet is about to expand to jumbo size.

Boeing's Wichita, Kan., plant is fitting out a 747 with a presidential bedroom and bathroom, an enlarged oval office, a 14-place conference room, an emergency medical center, 10 work stations for speech writers and aides, all the latest communications equipment and state-of-the-spook-art decoding devices. Soon there even may be enough elbow room for a pool reporter to reach for a typewriter without knocking the cheese dip off the table.

Late 1988 Delivery

The first of two jumbos in the $250-million order will be delivered late in 1988, in time to taxi Ronald and Nancy into retirement at the Santa Barbara ranch without the Administration's being accused of seeking more deluxe transportation. A backup 747 will be ready a few months later.

The jumbos, 80 feet longer and three times as roomy, can fly 8,000 miles without refueling, compared to the 7,000-mile range of the 7O7s they are replacing. They can land on shorter runways, cruise 40 m.p.h. faster at 640 m.p.h. and accommodate 70 passengers and a crew of 23, contrasted with the current 47 passengers and 17 crew members.

Although not as lavishly appointed as the gilt and bejeweled flying throne rooms of Arab oil sheiks, the jumbos destined for the huge hangars at Andrews Air Force Base represent a giant step in chief executive air travel since Franklin D. Roosevelt buckled his seat belt aboard the four-engine DC-4 called the Sacred Cow, the first presidential aircraft, or when Harry S. Truman scared Bess and Margaret by having the pilot of his DC-6 buzz the White House while they were on the roof watching an air show.

President's Call Sign

Air Force One, by the way, is not an airplane. Ever since Dwight D. Eisenhower's Super Constellation, the Columbine II, almost got its control tower signals mixed up with an Eastern flight out of Washington, Air Force One has been the call sign of any Air Force plane with the President on board.

The big new presidential jets will have to log a couple of million miles before tracing in the changing skies of history the glorious and sometimes eerie contrails drawn by the 707s they are replacing.

Tail No. 26,000 joined the SAM Fleet--Special Air Missions--on Oct. 12, 1962. This is the plane that took John F. Kennedy to Ireland for tea in the widow Ryan's thatched cottage, to Berlin for his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

The Plane Kennedy Loved

On Nov. 22, 1963, it made the 13-minute hop from Carswell Air Force Base, Ft. Worth, to Love Field, Dallas, where a few hours later Kennedy's coffin was loaded into the tail section, now occupied by the press pool, while Lyndon B. Johnson in the forward cabin took the oath of office as the 36th President. The plane Kennedy loved, and which Jackie fitted out with fine bone china, made a low pass over Arlington National Cemetery as his body was lowered into the grave.

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