Quora

What Don’t Most People Know About Air Force One?

President Barack Obama waves as he walks off Air Force One in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Oct. 11.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

Answer by Ron Wagner, USAF pilot in presidential wing at Andrews Air Force Base:

When I received my special air missions certification as a pilot at Andrews Air Force Base, I got a guided tour of the secret places on base, like the SAM command post, which would soon provide me with mission support, and the SAM warehouse, which would provide me with logistical support. Here are some things I saw that took my by surprise:

Advertisement

The carpet. The SAM warehouse tour was amazing! I saw huge rolls of carpet and asked why there was so much carpet in storage. The answer was that every first lady gets to decorate Air Force One, and Jackie Kennedy had, of course, chosen a classy-looking carpet. But they can’t use the actual carpet the first lady chooses because it won’t be fire-resistant, so they have it duplicated as aircraft-certified carpet, which requires the purchase of big rolls.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Because they have so much, they regularly replace the carpet during a president’s term because they might as well use it up. They bought eight years’ worth of Jackie’s carpet. Tragically, little of it was used, and even 15 years later, large rolls of Jackie’s carpet was still stored in the SAM warehouse at Andrews.

Advertisement

Crystal, china, and silverware. The first lady also gets to pick out crystal, china, and silverware, which is gold-stamped or engraved with the president’s initials or signature. They buy plenty of it. But the 1960s and 1970s saw several presidents come and go unexpectedly, out of sync with the normally predictable election cycle. Four back-to-back short-term presidents left huge stocks of some really cool stuff.

Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t run for re-election, so we had plenty of LBJ leftovers at Andrews. Richard Nixon made a quick exit, which resulted in even more spare crystal, china, and silverware. Then Gerald Ford came and went quite quickly, and so plenty of Betty Ford’s designs were in stock as well.

Advertisement

The iconic paint scheme. Jackie came up with the idea to hire the most famous designer in the world, Raymond Loewy, to design a paint scheme for the new jet. Of course, he created the iconic paint scheme, which you know well, as does most of the world.

Advertisement

Gold Medal enriched flour. Jimmy Carter was president when I became a SAM pilot, so when we rounded a corner and I saw many pallets of Gold Medal enriched flour, in my surprise I said, Wow, I guess the Carters really like everything baked with Gold Medal enriched flour. But I can’t believe there’s enough baking on board Air Force One to need tons of it!

The reply I received was, No, that’s not for baking. That’s what we use to polish the skin on the planes. They are so finely polished that anything more abrasive than Gold Medal enriched flour would scratch the aluminum skin.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Being able to comb my hair in the plane’s reflection. When we got to the hangar for the tour of the planes, I did note that I could, indeed, comb my hair in the Gold Medal enriched flour shine on the side of Air Force One. Both planes shined like mirrors, which was truly an amazing thing to behold up close. You simply can’t believe the love and care that those planes get.

Thirty-five years later I visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, and took the cross-base bus ride to the presidential gallery to visit three planes from my days at Andrews. I almost cried when I saw 26000, which was the backup to 27000 by the time I got to Andrews. Now she is relegated to a drafty old hangar on the far side of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, adorned with dust and bird droppings rather than a Gold Medal shine. No one will comb their hair off her grayed old aluminum. But I no longer have any hair to comb anyway, so it’s OK!

Advertisement
Advertisement

The next year I was in Los Angeles and I simply had to go visit 27000 at the Reagan Library, hoping she would look a lot better. What a relief! She’s pretty darn shiny, although not as shiny as when she was flying presidents. I’ve been wondering if I should tell the Reagan Library about Gold Medal enriched flour.

What are some mind-blowing facts about Air Force One? originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora:

Advertisement