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Reagan Library May Acquire Air Force One, Limo

History: A new facility would have to be built to house the Boeing 707 and car, Supervisor Frank Schillo says.

August 14, 2001|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is negotiating to bring a jet and limousine once used by the former commander-in-chief to the hilltop museum.

Ventura County Supervisor Frank Schillo said he was told last week that the library will acquire a plane that served as Air Force One during Reagan's two terms. Library officials refused to comment Monday.

Schillo said library foundation director Mark Burson told him the library is getting one of the 40th president's bulletproof limousines.

"They know they are going to get this stuff, and he was just giving me a heads-up because that would mean another facility up there to show off these things," Schillo said.

The county's planning department would have to approve any new construction because the Spanish mission-style depository of Reagan's papers and artifacts is built on 100 acres of unincorporated land near Simi Valley, the supervisor said.

Library Director Duke Blackwood did not return phone calls. Spokeswoman Melissa Giller would only say the acquisition is not confirmed.

But a spokesman at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland said Monday that a Boeing 707 used by Reagan is being taken out of service.

"As of today, there are plans to retire it," said spokesman Matthew Bates. But, he added, "we don't know the specifics as to when and where."

It is unknown who would pay for the plane and limousine, and whether their transfer would require approval by Congress or President Bush.

It was also unclear which aircraft the library would get because presidents typically have two jets at their disposal--one designated Air Force One and the other a backup. But Jerry ter Horst, a former presidential press secretary and author of a book about Air Force One, said Reagan usually flew in a blue-and-silver, 50-passenger jet that was used by four other presidents.

The modified Boeing 707 was first used by Richard Nixon in 1973 and continued service as Air Force One until it was replaced by a larger and more luxurious 747 in 1990 during George H.W. Bush's term.

Former presidential jets typically are used by other high-level White House dignitaries and, occasionally, by a first lady, Ter Horst said. The U.S. Air Force Museum outside Dayton, Ohio, houses some former presidential aircraft.

But the Reagan library's acquisition would be a first for a presidential library, he said. And that might not be a good thing, said Ter Horst, who briefly served under President Ford.

"Who can be called the rightful owner? The American taxpayer is the rightful owner," he said. "Why does he have a favored claim to it over Nixon, Ford or Carter?"

Information on which of Reagan's presidential limousines--the one he was pushed into by Secret Service agents after a 1981 assassination attempt or another one--also was not available late Monday.

The Reagan library has been a strong tourist attraction since its 1991 opening.

It houses more than 55 million presidential papers and artifacts. The museum includes a mock Oval Office, the 90-year-old former president's high school yearbook and a nuclear missile deactivated when Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987.

A 3-ton chunk of the Berlin Wall, painted with a colorful butterfly, is a favored attraction with visitors. But the public's fascination with Air Force One as a symbol of American power would make it an an even bigger tourist draw, predicted Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis.

"It's more people coming to visit our fine city," said Davis, who said he heard about the library's efforts to acquire the plane several months ago. "If they can accomplish that, it'll be one of the greatest presidential libraries in the country."

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