TCS Daily

Air Force One Lands At The Reagan Library

By Edward B. Driscoll - September 30, 2003 12:00 AM

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley California hosts a 3.5 by ten foot segment of the Berlin Wall. If all goes according to schedule, in mid-2004 it will open a pavilion that houses the Air Force One that flew President Reagan into Berlin, where he gave his legendary "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" speech. The aircraft, sporting tail number 27000, was Reagan's primary Air Force One, in which he logged 631,640 miles and 1,288 hours of flying time. It also flew Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter to Cairo in 1981, to represent the US at the funeral of Anwar Sadat. In 1986, #27000 was used to take Reagan to Reykjavik for his summit meeting with Gorbachev, in which Reagan refused to bargain away SDI, and in so doing, began the disintegration of the Soviet Union.


When the two modified Boeing 707s that served as Air Force One were replaced by a pair of even more heavily modified 747s in 1989, the 707s eventually became backups, and used for jaunts to runways where the much larger 747 couldn't land.


Eventually, #27000 was decommissioned in the summer of 2001. "In July of 2001, word got out that the US Air Force Museum was going to get the retired aircraft," Melissa Giller, the library's director of communication says. "The Air Force Museum already has #26000 on display, and they were looking to see if someone else might perhaps want #27000. They were looking at both us and the Smithsonian, and when we got word of that, we actively sought after it.


"The story goes that President Reagan once said that he wished that his library could have his main Air Force One. So with that, and since we had the room, and the Smithsonian didn't, the US Air Force thought it would be a great fit for us."


In 1962, President Kennedy took delivery of the first Air Force One, #26000, a modified Boeing 707 dubbed VC-137B by the USAF. Originally, the plane had a complex, Air Force-designed paint scheme of silver, white and orange. But Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned the great industrial designer Raymond Loewy to come up with a new design that would be more diplomatic in appearance, promoting the United States, but without military insignia. Loewy's motto had long been that great design is a result of simplifying (and he had styled the Coca Cola bottle, the Pennsylvania Railroad's classic five gold pinstripe paint scheme, along with several locomotives for the PRR, and the handsome Studebaker Avanti, among his numerous other designs).


#27000's Final Journey


Conceptually, Air Force One may be a great fit for the library, but actually fitting a 153-foot long aircraft into the library is no easy matter.


After it landed in San Bernardino International Airport on September 8th, 2001, the plane sat hangared for two years, until its wings were removed by Boeing volunteers, and it was transported on June 20th 2003, by truck and trailer to the library, 102 miles away. "It actually got here at about 5:00 a.m. on the 21st", Giller says, "because we left San Bernardino at about 11:00 at night so we wouldn't impede traffic on the freeways -- it was only going about 25 miles per hour!"


And it currently sits at the library in that state, with its wings detached, and all pieces cocooned in blue-colored thick plastic weatherproof wrapping, a few hundred yards away from a temporary viewing area that helps to advertise the coming attraction.


Designing the Pavilion


To ultimately protect the airplane, as well as provide yearlong access for visitors, the library hired the Los Angeles architectural firm of Clinger Spina Associates to design an enormous hanger-like pavilion around the plane, with the firm of Hathaway Dinwiddie to perform its construction.


Clinger Spina won the design bid because of two novel features included in their three-story design. First, they elevated the 707 on pedestals. "A 707 is a very low plane" Giller says, "and by putting it up on pedestals, you can now actually walk underneath the plane. Now you're seeing it at every angle: you're walking below it, you can see above it as you're coming in, and you get to walk around it on the mezzanine. And we thought that was a really great approach."


CSA also designed a catwalk that will take visitors around the exterior of the plane in a half-circle, around to its cockpit, to the aircraft's main cabin door, where visitors can then inspect the interior of the plane. "You will enter at the cockpit level, you will tour through the whole plane, and then you'll exit at the end. We haven't exactly come up with exactly how it's going to happen, but we're doing our utmost to not partition so much of it off that you can't really get up close. We have to be careful about the communication boards, and all those kinds of things -- we obviously don't want people touching, because we want to preserve them, but if you put a huge sheet of Plexiglas up, you feel like you're not getting a good sense of things. Right now we're working on how to best show the plane as you're touring through it, so that you do feel up close and personal with it."


Below the catwalk, the main floor will feature a variety of exhibits, including Reagan's 1982 presidential limousine. Giller says it will be surrounded with "with similar makes of police cars and other chase vehicles that would have been used for presidential motorcades."


The bottom floor will house a Marine One helicopter retired after over 20 years of service (although never actually used by Reagan, it's representative of the types of helicopters the Marines employ for this duty).


Giller estimates that "when we're all said and done", the cost of the pavilion, including exhibits, will be approximately 25 million dollars. "It is completely being funded through private donations, and we're currently about a third of the way there."


Original plans also called for an F-15 fighter to be housed inside the pavilion, but instead, it will be placed outside.


Air Force One has been both widely praised as a symbol of America, and berated as a sign of a bloated Federal bureaucracy punch-drunk from spending too many taxpayer dollars, but it's a part of American history. It seems fitting that its final home should be in the Presidential Library of the man who put it to good use, ending the Cold War.


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