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Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. Since 1990, the presidential fleet has consisted of two specifically configured, highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft – tail codes Special Air Mission (SAM) “28000″ and SAM “29000″ – with Air Force designation “VC-25A”. While these aircraft have the call sign “Air Force One” only while the president is on board, the term is colloquially used to describe either of the two aircraft normally used and maintained by the U.S. Air Force solely for the president, as well as any additional Air Force aircraft used by the president.

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Air Force One is a prominent symbol of the American presidency and its power. The aircraft are among the most famous and most photographed in the world.

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Though Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president saw no major changes to Air Force One, the manufacture of the current 747s began during his presidency. Reagan ordered two identical Boeing 747s to replace the aging 707 that he used for transport. The interior designs were drawn up by First Lady Nancy Reagan, who used designs reminiscent of the American Southwest. The first aircraft was delivered in 1990, during the administration of George H. W. Bush. Delays were experienced to allow for additional work to protect the aircraft from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects.

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The VC-25 is equipped with both secure and unsecure phone and computer communications systems, enabling the president to perform duties while in the air in the event of an attack on the United States.

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When President Bush came to the end of his second term, a VC-25 was used to transport him to Texas – for this purpose, the craft was called Special Air Mission 28000, as the aircraft did not carry the President of the United States.

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One of the most dramatic episodes aboard Air Force One happened during the September 11 attacks. President George W. Bush was interrupted at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida after the attack on the World Trade Center South Tower in New York City. He flew on a VC-25 from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and then to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska before returning to Washington. The next day, officials at the White House and the Justice Department explained that President Bush did this because there was “specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets.” The White House later could not confirm evidence of a threat made against Air Force One, and subsequent investigation found the original claim to be a result of miscommunication.

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The presidential air fleet is maintained by the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. Air Force One usually does not have fighter aircraft to escort the presidential aircraft over the United States, but this has occurred. In June 1974, while President Nixon was on his way to a scheduled stop in Syria, Syrian fighter jets intercepted Air Force One to act as escorts. However, the Air Force One crew was not informed in advance and, as a result, took evasive action including a dive.

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On April 27, 2009, a low-flying VC-25 circled New York City for a photo-op and training exercise and caused a scare for many in New York. Fallout from the photo op incident led to the resignation of the director of the White House Military Office.

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The VC-25As are expected to be replaced, as they have become less cost-effective to operate. The USAF Air Mobility Command has been charged with looking into possible replacements, including the new Boeing 747-8 and the EADS Airbus A380. On January 7, 2009, the USAF Air Materiel Command issued a new requirement for a replacement aircraft to enter service beginning in 2017. On January 28, 2009, EADS announced they would not bid on the program, leaving Boeing the sole bidder, with either their Boeing 747-8 or Boeing 787 being proposed.

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United Airlines was the only commercial airline to have operated Executive One, the designation given to a civilian flight on which the U.S. President is aboard. On December 26, 1973, then-President Richard Nixon flew as a passenger aboard a Washington Dulles to Los Angeles International flight. It was explained by his staff that this was done in order to conserve fuel by not having to fly the usual Boeing 707 Air Force aircraft.

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On March 8, 2000, President Bill Clinton flew to Pakistan aboard an unmarked Gulfstream III while another aircraft with the call sign “Air Force One” flew on the same route a few minutes later. This diversion was reported by several U.S. press outlets.

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Other heads of state also have special aircraft assigned. See Air transports of heads of state and government for further details.

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