See Air Force One’s Transformation Over 70 Years

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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.

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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
Faded color photograph of the Independence in flight.Date: ca. 1947 The Independence
In 1947, Sacred Cow was replaced with Independence by President Truman, who named it after his hometown. The Douglas DC-6 Liftmaster's nose was painted as a bald eagle.Truman Presidential Library
President Dwight Eisenhower’s private plane
President Eisenhower added Columbine II, a Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation, to the Presidential fleet in 1953.William J. Smith—AP
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
Columbine III, and two smaller Aero Commanders, joined Eisenhower's Presidential planes. Popperfoto/Getty Images
Air Force One
Special Air Mission 26000, a Boeing 707, went into presidential service under the Kennedy administration. SAM 26000 stayed in service through Bill Clinton's administration until 1998. Wally Nelson—AP
Although SAM 26000 remained in service throughout the 1990s, it was replaced as the primary executive aircraft by SAM 27000, the same model aircraft, in 1972. Pictured here is President Ronal Reagan on SAM 27000.TSGT Michael J. Haggerty—AP
Barack Obama,
In 1990, SAM 28000, a Boeing 747 was introduced to the Presidential fleet.Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP
Airplane Takeoffs And Landings At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
SAM 29000, also a Boeing 747, remains President Obama's primary transport aircraft.Raymond Boyd—Getty Images
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
In January, 2015, it was announced that a Boeing 747-8 will take over as the newest member of the Presidential Fleet known as Air Force One.Anthony Bolante—Reuters

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