Saturday, December 26, 2015

First Air Force One being restored 62 years after near miss

TUCSON- Today our nation's president traverses the world in Air Force One, a flying fortress, equipped with the most advanced technology available. Just over six decades ago, a designated aircraft for the leader of the free world, didn't even exist. That is, until our 34th President narrowly missed a disaster in the sky.

Prior to the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President's flew on Air Force planes used to fly V.I.P.'s around. There didn't appear to be a need for an Air Force One, until there was a near miss over the skies of New York.   

In 1953, President Eisenhower was on board an Air Force, Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation called the Columbine, heading in for a landing in New York City. Brad Holliday, Dynamic Aviation Project Manager, said, by chance, another aircraft with the same flight number happened to be landing at the same time.

"For a period of time air traffic control was not aware it was dealing with two aircraft."

Back then, military V.I.P. aircraft were identified by it's serial number. The Columbine's was 8610, the same flight number as an approaching Eastern Airlines commercial flight.

"The confusion was resolved before any accident took place," said Holliday. "But it was classed as a near miss and after that incident the Air Force and the White House worked on a unique call sign which became Air Force One."

The Columbine, the country's first Air Force One, would serve President Eisenhower through 1954, before being replaced by a newer aircraft. It remained in the presidents fleet, flying various dignitaries around the globe before it was retired in 1968.

More than 40 years later, after being used for parts and almost scrapped, Dynamic Aviation is on a mission to restore the Columbine back to it's original glory.

Brad Holliday said the plan is to completely restore the interior of the plane exactly as it once was and to return the Columbine to it's original flying condition, turning the very first Air Force One into a flying museum.

"The intent is to have it fully functional, fully operational, fly to air shows and other presentation events so that the public can see it," said Holliday. "The only Air Force One aircraft that is not in a museum."

There are currently two Air Force One's. The Boeing 747-200B's have now been in service for 25 years. They are supposed to be replaced by new aircraft sometime after 2023 at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

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