Air Force One is maybe the most recognizable single airplane in the world. The US President’s ride is a stylish and sleek Boeing 747 with an iconic blue paint job. Why is it blue, and why this particular shade of blue?
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The Kennedy administration picked the current paint colors used on presidential aircraft in the early 1960s. Famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy helped pick the design, which was intended to project an image of a president that is not overtly military-oriented. This intentional branding of the plane was a form of international diplomacy—everything the President does is analyzed, and even small things like the paint job of his airplane matter.
Related: Who Pilots Air Force one
What is Air Force One?
The term “Air Force One” is often misused to describe an aircraft. It’s actually a call sign, and it is used by any US Air Force-operated aircraft carrying the President. Likewise, when the US Marines carry the President in their VIP helicopter, the call sign is similarly “Marine One.”
What most people think of as Air Force One is the current presidential airplane—a heavily modified Boeing 747. The Air Force designation for the plane is the Boeing VC-25A.
How Many Air Force One Planes Are There?
The 89th Airlift Wing of the US Air Force is responsible for the President’s travel and other VIP movements. It’s based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, very near Washington, DC.
For the President’s use, the 89th Airlift Wing operates two VC-25A aircraft. Their tail numbers are SAM (“Special Air Mission”) 28000 and SAM 29000. They’re based on the Boeing 747-200 airframe variant, and they entered service in 1990.
The 89th also maintains other aircraft for VIP movement. For example, they have four Boeing C-32As, variants of the Boeing 757 airliner. These are most often used for the Vice President. When they’re aboard, the aircraft goes by “Air Force Two.” Occasionally, however, the planes are used for presidential travel. For example, President Joe Biden took his first “Air Force One” flight aboard a C-32A—not the typical VC-25A.
Air Force One’s Livery
The paint scheme and colors displayed on an aircraft are known as her livery. The word comes from the uniforms that servants or officials wear. It is broadly used now to refer to the paint schemes used on a company’s vehicles.
All aircraft owners like to shake up their plane’s livery occasionally. Most major airlines have gone through a redesign in the last decade or so, usually after mergers and accusations, but occasionally just to freshen their brand’s image.
History of the Air Force One Paint Scheme
Before the VC-25A 747s of today, the Presidents used several different aircraft for their travels.
The first dedicated aircraft was a Lockheed C-121 Constellation named Columbine II. It served as Air Force One while carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 onward.
The C-121 “Connie” was the last propeller-driven Air Force One. The jet age was booming, and obviously, the President of the United States needed a jet! President John F. Kennedy inaugurated the jet age of presidents with a new Boeing 707 in 1962.
The modified 707 was tail number SAM 26000 and served until 1972.
The paint scheme of SAM 26000, which entered during Kennedy’s presidency, lives on to this day. John and Jacqueline Kennedy requested the services of famed designer Raymond Loewy to help them pick the new livery.
Both Kennedys disliked the paint scheme that the Air Force had used on Eisenhower’s Connie. The color schemes that Boeing proposed for the 707 used standard military designs that used red and orange markings and block-type lettering.
They wanted a design that was beautiful while also projecting a less militaristic image.
The final design features a muted robin’s egg blue and white color scheme. The font used on the side of the plane, spelling out “United States of America,” closely matches the one used in the printing of the Declaration of Independence.
The Loewy and Kennedy design has proven iconic and has helped make Air Force One one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world.
Trump’s New Air Force One Design
President Donald Trump brought Air Force One’s paint job to international headlines in 2019 when he announced that he believed it was time for a change.
The aging VC-25As are scheduled to be replaced by the Air Force. The replacement aircraft, a pair of more modern 747-800 aircraft dubbed the VC-25B, will enter service in 2024.
Trump announced he intended to paint the planes in more patriotic colors and showed mockups and drawings with a red, white, and blue color scheme. Instead of the robin’s egg blue color, a deep navy was favored that closely matched the US flag.
But with the election of President Joe Biden, Trump will not be picking the next color scheme. According to news sources, the Biden administration will pick the paint scheme when the time comes. Since the planes are still in the production process, the choice will not need to be made for several more years.