A view of Air Force One on the runway.
After the original Air Force One, a C-87A Liberator Express nicknamed Guess Where II, was deemed unsafe for presidential use, this Douglas C-54 Skymaster, nicknamed Sacred Cow was introduced for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It was equipped with a radio telephone, sleeping area, and elevator for President Roosevelt's wheelchair.Thomas D. McAvoy—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A view of Air Force One on the runway.
Faded color photograph of the Independence in flight.Date: ca. 1947 The Independence
President Dwight Eisenhower’s private plane
British Royalty, Royal Tour of the United States, pic: October 1957, Washington, USA, HM, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured alongside US, President Dwight Eisenhower at the airport welcome
Air Force One
AIR FORCE ONE REAGAN
Barack Obama,
Airplane Takeoffs And Landings At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
This Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental jetliner, the first VIP-configured aircraft, rolls out for an undisclosed customer for takeoff from Paine Field in Everett, Washington
After the original Air Force One, a C-87A Liberator Express nicknamed Guess Where II, was deemed unsafe for presidential
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Thomas D. McAvoy—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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See Air Force One's Transformation Over 70 Years

Huge gray warships used to be the primary way the United States showed its flag around the world. But there was only one problem with that: such flag-waving was limited to seaports, and the vessels’ bristling guns carried a decidedly military message.

In recent decades, the United States of America has waved its flag from the tail of Air Force One, the modified passenger plane that ferries the President and key pieces of his entourage around the globe. Its gleaming fuselage, with its white and light-blue livery, declares the American chief executive is in town, tending to the nation’s business.

Unlike warships, it can deliver the President to any city with a decent airport, at home or overseas, inland or otherwise. And its weapons—defensive in nature, consisting of electronic jammers, designed to thwart attacks, and flares fired from the plane to divert heat-seeking missiles—are hidden from public view.

Read next: Check Out the President’s New Airplane

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