Trump’s Air Force One Negotiation with Boeing
Past, Present & Future Air Force Ones
With typical fanfare, President-elect Trump “tweeted” the above message to the US’s #1 aerospace company. This is one style of dealing with such a purchase and it might be informative to recall a past similar transaction.
First, the present tense
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m going to negotiate the prices.” And Boeing’s CEO Mr. Muilenburg said that he is “committed to working with the new administration to control costs as they establish requirements for the new Air Force One to keep the program as affordable as possible and deliver the best value to American taxpayers.”
According to political pundits, the “tweet” was either factually incorrect or brilliant. For example, the Washington Post issued a long list of errors and a Fox analyst is quoted as saying that the President-elect was “’setting the tone from the top’ and making it clear that he would no longer tolerate government waste, bill padding from contractors, and the like.”
The current Air Force One
Technically known as VC-25, here is the list of operational specifications according to Boeing:
Crew: 26: 2 pilots, flight engineer, navigator, and cabin crew
Capacity: 76 passengers
Length: 231 ft 10 in (70.6 m)
Wingspan: 195 ft 8 in (59.6 m)
Height: 63 ft 5 in (19.3 m)
Max. takeoff weight: 833,000 lb (375,000 kg)
Zero fuel weight: 526,500 lb (238,800 kg)
Maximum speed: Mach 0.92 (630 mph, 1,015 km/h) at 35,000 ft altitude
Cruise speed: Mach 0.84 (575 mph, 925 km/h) at 35,000 ft altitude
Range: 6,800 nmi (7,800 mi, 13,000 km)
Service ceiling: 45,100 ft (13,700 m)
Additionally, the aircraft includes some unique add-on’s:
- electrical upgrades,
- backup power units,
- secure communications systems
- military spec flight and navigation control, including multi-frequency radios capable of
- air-to-ground, and
- satellite communications
- all of these components need to be hardened against electromagnetic plus waves
- stairs built into the doors
- handling equipment for baggage, food and all of the support materials needed
- the aircraft has been redesigned for aerial refueling
- a dining room, with a galley which can feed 100 people
- quarters for the president and first lady
- offices for staff,
- one cabin converts to a medical facility
- contrary to Escape from New York, Air Force One, Bermuda Tentacles and Big Game, there is no escape pod and parachutes
The future Air Force One
Because the existing B-747 USAF fleet is approaching its expected useful life, in January 2016 Boeing was awarded a contract to identify cost reduction opportunities in areas including maintenance, aerial refueling and communications. Then, on May 10,2016, the Air Force authorized Boeing, under the Air Force One contract, to begin preliminary design activities. Subsequent USAF to Boeing contract notices have further advanced the status of the project.
The prior Air Force One purchase
By 1985, the then Air Force One fleet, 2 Boeing 707’s (USAF designated VC-137) were also reaching their useful life limits. After an RFP process was complete, President Reagan purchased 2 Boeing 747-200Bs and Boeing began building the two aircraft. Though the VC-25s were expected to be ready to become the President’s fleet in 1987. It was decided that the planes were not properly designed to withstand an Electro Magnetic Pulse which emanates from a nuclear explosion, the delivery was delayed 1990, during the administration of George H.W. Bush.
Based on an informal conversation (some 20+ years ago) with the then White House Chief of Staff, Howard Baker, the EMP issue allowed him to revisit the contract. Senator Baker, who was an engineer and who owned an aircraft, quietly sat down with the folks in Renton, WA. Price and modifications were the subject of that quiet negotiation. A plane with all of the technical systems needed for an Air Force One, with a few unnecessary accouterments, with the EMP-hardened systems and with a lower delivered cost was the result.
President-elect Trump’s tweet may have broader implications, but there have been other methods to negotiate with Boeing for a modified Air Force One.