Flying Air Force One: A Firsthand Account


Here's something they don't tell you in journalism school: When you make it to the plum White House beat and get to ride on Air Force One, don't stand under it for very long if you don't have to. Why not? So you don't risk losing your hair to the radiation emitted by the top secret technology hidden in the wings of the aircraft.

Slideshow: Air Force One Over the Years

Thankfully, I still have my hair, courtesy of the friendly Air Force mechanics who tipped me off.

I have covered the presidential beat since 1993 for United Press International, New York's Daily News and now the Kiplinger Washington Editors. Over that span I've flown more than 250 legs on Air Force One -- from China to Egypt. It's a sweet ride indeed.

There is no other aircraft in the world like Air Force One. Worldwide, the iconic plane is one of the most recognizable beacons of freedom and symbols of America's reach, might and enterprise.

In the U.S., the arrival of Air Force One and the president at the scene of a natural or manmade disaster -- be it Lower Manhattan after 9/11, Oklahoma City after the massive truck bombing of a federal building or Aurora, Colo., in the wake of the movie theater shootings -- draws the nation's attention and inspires Americans to give generously to people at a time of need.

Naturally, the plane is the pride of the Boeing fleet, as several employees of the giant jet manufacturer have boasted to me over the past two decades.

From the president's private suite in the front of the plane, to the press compartment and galley at the tail, Air Force One is the most comfortable military aircraft in the world -- even with the pilots' penchant for flying through turbulent, albeit safe, weather.

Inside "the flying White House," there is plenty of work space, including conference rooms that double as card parlors and lounges. The plane also features a fully equipped emergency room (which I experienced firsthand on a trip to Southern California).

Everyone aboard gets a first-class seat (our news agencies, not the taxpayers, pay our first-class-equivalent fare), the meals hover between healthy and comfort food, and first-run movies are available on demand in every compartment. Moreover, guests who fly with the president are given souvenirs, such as boxes of M&M candy adorned with the presidential seal and signature, plus certificates documenting their travel on the plane.

As much as reporters loved to whack President Bill Clinton in the media, he loved to routinely stop by the press compartment and chat with reporters. Sometimes he would stay and chat for what seemed like the entire flight. We learned much and shared the knowledge we gained with our readers.

Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, didn't think much of the press corps, and neither does President Barack Obama, with both often hiding far away from inquisitive reporters.

The largest celebration that I recall aboard the plane had to be on the flight from Andrews to New York on Jan. 20, 2001, when it was no longer Air Force One. No longer president, Clinton was being flown home at the end of his second term. A special press pool was selected for the flight and I made the cut, or at least my newspaper did.

The hour-long flight from Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington, D.C., to New York City turned out to be a series of teary-eyed toasts marking the end of Clinton's presidency. It was clear to all of us on board how much he had loved his job -- and how much Clinton loved his rides aboard Air Force One.

"The experience took on a life of its own because we worked there, we played there. We slept there," Clinton said of the jet in the book Air Force One, written by my colleague Ken Walsh, another of the frequent fliers who have traveled aboard the world's most famous aircraft.

Sometimes the work included having to report on less than flattering circumstances involving Air Force One. President George W. Bush's half-hour flyover from the comfort of the plane to review the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina cast him as detached from the reality of the catastrophe. Five years later, Bush would admit the error. It was not his or Air Force One's finest moment.

And when a senior Obama administration aide ordered Air Force One to fly over the Statue of Liberty for a taxpayer-funded photo op in the spring of 2009, the stunt did more than waste tax dollars to the tune of the $178,000 or so per hour it costs to operate the plane. It scared New Yorkers who saw the low-flying plane and flashed back to the horrible morning of Sept. 11, 2001. "This [incident] was just plain stupid," a senior White House official told me when, as the White House correspondent for the Daily News, I broke the story that the director of the White House Military Office was being fired because of the flyover debacle.


View Comments (0)

Recommended for You

  • Tycoon buys 30 Rolls-Royces for Macau hotel

    A Hong Kong tycoon has placed the biggest ever order for Rolls-Royce cars, agreeing to buy 30 Phantoms to chauffeur guests at a luxury resort he's building in the global gambling capital of Macau. Stephen Hung's $20 million purchase surpasses the 14 Phantoms bought by Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel in…

    Associated Press
  • Wondering How You Could Save on Home Insurance?

    Get a quote from Farmers Insurance and discover how you could save. Speak with an agent to get the knowledge you need to make an informed decision.

    AdChoicesFarmers InsuranceSponsored
  • Before You Buy Alibaba, Check Out 4 Top China Stocks

    Before You Buy Alibaba, Check Out 4 Top China Stocks While investors gear up for Alibaba Group 's (BABA) hotly anticipated initial public offering, don't forget about other Chinese stocks that are worth keeping an eye on. Today's Young Guns Screen of

    Investor's Business Daily
  • Tycoon's arrest sends shock wave through Russia

    Tycoon's arrest sends shock wave through Russia MOSCOW (AP) — The arrest of a Russian telecoms and oil tycoon has sent shock waves through the country's business community, with some fearing a return to the dark days of a decade ago, when the Kremlin asserted its power by imprisoning the country's…

    Associated Press
  • "The Retiree Next Door": How successful retirees stretch their savings

    "The Retiree Next Door": How successful retirees stretch their savingsBy the time she hit her late 40s, Toni Eugenia wasn’t sure she would ever be able to retire. Eugenia, 56, a pharmacy technician who lived in Houston, was nearly $200,000 in debt and

    Yahoo Finance
  • Costco Stores in Canada to Stop Taking American Express

    “The credit card relationship between American Express and Costco Wholesale Canada will not be renewed when it expires” on Dec. 31, the company said today in an e-mail to Canadian customers. The message was attributed to Lorelle Gilpin, vice president of marketing and membership for Costco…

  • CNBC Anchor Calls Out Fed-Hater Bill Fleckenstein In Startling Shouting Match

    CNBC Bill Fleckenstein of Fleckenstein Capital appeared on CNBC's Futures Now program on Tuesday. Futures Now host Jackie DeAngelis came out swinging, asking Fleckenstein right at the top if he was willing to admit that he had misunderstood monetary policy. Sounding taken aback, Fleckenstein…

    Business Insider
  • Venture Capitalist Makes Case Against 'Shark Tank'

    If you watch the TV show "Shark Tank" as entertainment and not to obtain a startup education, you will be benignly inspired by fellow entrepreneurs. "Shark Tank" is a reality competition show that features entrepreneurs pitching business ideas to a panel of potential investors, referred to as…

    The Wall Street Journal
  • AARP® Auto Insurance Program from The Hartford

    50+? Request a free quote and you could save $404* on Auto Insurance from The Hartford!

    AdChoicesThe HartfordSponsored
  • Play

    Citi, Bank of America Offer Discounted Mortgages

    Citigroup and Bank of America will offer mortgages at discounted interest rates to help borrowers with low incomes or subprime credit. AnnaMaria Andriotis joins MoneyBeat. Photo: Getty.

    WSJ Live
  • Beanie Babies creator's sentence debated in court

    Beanie Babies creator's sentence debated in court CHICAGO (AP) — Federal prosecutors seeking to put the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies in prison for hiding millions in Swiss bank accounts told appellate court judges Wednesday that the toymaker's sentence of probation threatens to erode the…

    Associated Press
  • Apple to unveil new iPads, operating system on Oct. 21 : report

    The company plans to unveil the sixth generation of its iPad and the third edition of the iPad mini, as well as its operating system OS X Yosemite, which has undergone a complete visual overhaul, the Internet news website said. Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment. The iPad is…

  • Gilead Stock Is Falling On These Drug Setbacks

    Gilead Stock Is Falling On These Drug Setbacks Gilead Sciences (GILD) shares are backsliding Wednesday on news that the patient drop-out rate for hepatitis C drug Sovaldi is quadruple that of clinical trials. In addition, the biotech's Phase 2 study results

    Investor's Business Daily
  • Margaritaville casino owners seek bankruptcy

    The owner of Biloxi's Margaritaville casino has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday, only hours before a hearing where the landlord aimed to seize the property. The filing by MVB Holding LLC in U.S. Don Dornan, a lawyer for landlord Clay Point LLC, said the company had planned to ask…

    Associated Press
  • Don't care about Alibaba? Here's why it may matter

    When the Alibaba Group Holding prices its initial public offering Thursday, small businesses in particular will be watching. Founder Jack Ma -the former English-teacher-turned-dot-com billionaire-has touted his e-commerce platform as a way for smaller merchants to expand their international…

  • Hyundai Elantra: Features & Benefits Come Standard

    More interior space, alloy wheels standard, 145 HP. Explore all the features and benefits of the Elantra at the Hyundai Official Site.

  • Here's What Mark Cuban Wishes He Knew About Money In His 20s

    Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. Billionaire investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban is generous with his advice. When we asked him what he wishes he'd known about money in his 20s, he said:

    Business Insider
  • Top Analyst Upgrades and Downgrades: AEP, BHP, GE, Incyte, 3M, Tyco, Under Armour and More

    Top Analyst Upgrades and Downgrades: AEP, BHP, GE, Incyte, 3M, Tyco, Under Armour and More Stocks were firm on Wednesday morning ahead of the FOMC meeting outcome. Tuesday’s rally may have sparked higher interest again, and investors are looking for bargains

    24/7 Wall St.
  • SHOE COMPANY: Our CEO Just Disappeared And Most Of The Money Is Gone

    "and like that: he's gone." This is an actual headline from a company press release: "CEO and COO disappeared, most of the company's cash missing." (Via FastFT) In a statement, German-based shoe company Ultrasonic said its CFO,  Chi Kwong Clifford Chan, has been unable to reach the company's CEO,…

    Business Insider
  • Play

    Hilsenrath: Fed Still Sees 2015 for Rate Increase

    WSJ's Jon Hilsenrath discusses the Federal Reserve's decision to hold steady on interest rates, but the central bank foresees a rate increase by early 2015. Photo: Getty.

    WSJ Live
  • Boeing may have outfoxed Musk, but it could have bigger problems

    Elon Musk is arguably one of the greatest entrepreneurial minds of the 21st Century, but he was outsized an old school aerospace giant. Boeing won the bulk of NASA’s contract for a space taxi.  One of the other companies vying for the deal is SpaceX, the company headed by Tesla’s Musk, will get a…

    Talking Numbers
  • Billionaire Investor Says Chinese People Work Harder And Western Companies Could Face Deep Trouble After Alibaba IPO

    Michael Moritz, the chairman of VC firm Sequoia Capital, is a huge fan of Chinese internet companies and reiterated his enthusiasm for the Chinese market in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Wednesday. The billionaire investor described the Alibaba IPO as a “major landmark event” that is as…

    Business Insider
  • The New 2015 Sonata®: A Step Above the Competition

    There's a Sonata® that's perfect for you, and this is your chance to build it! Visit the Hyundai® Official Site to customize your 2015 Sonata® today!

  • 6 Things Debt Collectors Wish You Knew

    The work debt collectors do is not popular, and has become increasingly derided by those who don’t like what we do or simply don’t know the facts about debt collection. Too often, debt collection is painted with a broad brush to create a portrait that isn’t accurate, and doesn’t properly educate…