Museum Builds New Hangar To Show Off Former Air Force One | KERA News

Museum Builds New Hangar To Show Off Former Air Force One

Jun 5, 2016
Originally published on June 6, 2016 8:33 am

A trusty Boeing 707 is inside a new home at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The plane has graceful lines of color: white, blues and gold. In large letters: "United States of America."

Nowhere does it say Air Force One — that call sign is only used when a president is actually on board. The permanent tail number is SAM (Special Air Mission) 26000. Historian Jeff Underwood used to pronounce the tail number, like you would say the number 26,000, but he was wrong.

"I was sharply corrected by one of the crew members," Underwood says. "He told me 'no it was the SAM two six thousand'. I learned my lesson I always refer to it as SAM two six thousand."

It's often called the Kennedy airplane, the one that carried the president to Berlin in 1963. Later that year, on Nov. 22, John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy flew to Dallas, landing at Love Field. He was assassinated in Dallas, his body flown, on this plane, back to Andrews Air Force Base.

We are on board Air Force One in the aisle, talking with the museum's Christina Douglass.

"So this is the famous photograph?"

"Yeah," Douglass answers. "As an archivist, this is what I do I look at photographs for a living."

We stand for a while — as visitors will always do — in the space where Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office. Jackie Kennedy stands next to him. And we can now — for the first time — imagine this scene in color. It has always been only newspaper black and white.

"To me this photo absolutely captures the tension, the abject sadness on Jackie Kennedy's face is right there," Douglass says. "Sort of see the reluctant determination of President Johnson."

"The Kennedy administration and the Johnson administration, they didn't like each other very much," historian Jeff Underwood says.

Underwood has talked with someone who was on the airplane and said they all did work together, especially when it was decided to remove a bulkhead and four seats so the president's casket could be carried inside the plane.

Underwood sets the scene: "They put the casket in here, on the floor, and on the flight back about where you and I are standing is where Mrs. Kennedy sat on the floor by the casket with her recently murdered husband, while just a few feet in front of us the high politics is going on, the transfer of power from the Kennedy administration to the Johnson administration."

This plane, as Air Force One, has been a moving piece of history. The Kennedy flights. Lyndon Johnson, he flew twice to Vietnam. Richard and Pat Nixon — their mission to China.

After 1972, SAM 26000 was a backup to the newer planes, and in 1998 made its final landing, in retirement, at the Air Force Museum here in Dayton.

In the past, you'd have to take a shuttle bus to go see it next door at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. SAM 26000 now is center stage at the museum in a new $40 million hangar. The opening is on Wednesday.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There a lot of perks to being president of the United States - you get your own chef, a really big house and a massive airplane that will fly you anywhere, anytime. Here's Martin Sheen as President Bartlet on the TV show "West Wing" boarding Air Force One, where his staff is waiting.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WEST WING")

MARTIN SHEEN: (As Josiah Bartlet) Good morning, everyone.

MARTIN: They're about to leave on a trip, and it's the president who calls the pilot in the cockpit.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WEST WING")

SHEEN: (As Josiah Bartlet) Do you want to see the best part of having my job? Colonel, this is the president. I'm ready to go.

MARTIN: That, of course, was a fictional Air Force One. NPR's Noah Adams got to check out a very real aircraft in Dayton, Ohio.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: Let's imagine a photograph of a gleaming old airplane, a trusty Boeing 707, inside a new home at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The plane has graceful lines of color - white, blues, gold. In large letters, United States of America. Nowhere does it say Air Force One. That call sign is only used when a president is actually on board. The permanent tail number is Sam 26000. Historian Jeff Underwood used to say the number that way, 26,000, but he was wrong.

JEFF UNDERWOOD: I was sharply corrected by one of the crew members. He told me, no, it was the Sam 26000. I learned my lesson. I always refer to it as Sam 26000.

ADAMS: It's often called the Kennedy airplane, the one that carried the president to Berlin in 1963. Later that year, November 22, John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, the first lady, flew to Dallas, landing at Love Field. He was assassinated in Dallas, his body flown on this plane back to Andrews Air Force Base.

So this is a famous photograph.

CHRISTINA DOUGLASS: Yeah.

ADAMS: We are on board Air Force One in the aisle, talking with the museum's Christina Douglass.

DOUGLASS: As an archivist, this is what I do. I look at photos for a living.

ADAMS: We stand for a while, as visitors will always do, in the space where Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office. Jackie Kennedy stands next to him. And we can now, for the first time, imagine this scene in color. It has always been newspaper black and white.

DOUGLASS: To me, this photo absolutely captures the tension - the abject sadness on Jackie Kennedy's face is right there. You sort of see the reluctant determination of President Johnson.

UNDERWOOD: The Kennedy administration and the Johnson administration, they didn't like each other very much.

ADAMS: Historian Jeff Underwood has talked with somebody who was on the airplane that day and said they all did work together, especially when it was decided to remove a bulkhead and four seats so the president's casket could be carried inside the plane.

UNDERWOOD: They put the casket in here, on the floor. And on the flight back, about where I - you and I are standing is where Mrs. Kennedy sat on the floor with a casket with her recently murdered husband, while just a few feet in front of us the high politics is going on, with transfer of power from the Kennedy administration to the Johnson administration.

ADAMS: This plane, as Air Force One, has been a moving piece of history. The Kennedy flights. Lyndon Johnson - he flew twice to Vietnam. Richard and Pat Nixon in their mission to China. After 1972, Sam 26000 was a backup to the newer planes, and in 1998 made its final landing in retirement at the Air Force Museum here in Dayton. In the past, you'd have to take a shuttle bus to go see it next door at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Now, Sam 26000 is center stage at the museum in a new $40 million hangar. The opening is this coming Wednesday. Noah Adams, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.