Original ‘Air Force One’ Flies Again

While Air Force One made headlines carrying President Obama and his family to Havana this week, another Air Force One – the first one – also made an unlikely flight.

The four-engine, propeller-driven Lockheed Constellation that President Eisenhower used from 1952 to 1954 flew from Marana Regional Airport in Marana, Ariz., to the Mount Pleasant, Texas, headquarters of the Mid America Flight Museum.

The museum is working with Dynamic Aviation, the Bridgewater, Va., company that bought the 1948 Constellation that had languished in the desert being picked over for parts since 2003.

connie2
The Lockheed Constellation that served as the first Air Force One for President Dwight D. Eisenhower needed lots of work before returning to the sky.

Dynamic said it is taking the plane to its Virginia base and will restore it to full flying condition so it can travel to air shows.

Known initially as Columbine II, Eisenhower’s airplane once came close to colliding with another airliner because air traffic controllers confused their similar-sounding radio call signs. Eisenhower’s pilot decided to use the call sign Air Force One to avoid confusion from that point on. The name stuck.

Powered by four Wright R-3350 engines that generated 2,500 horsepower each, the Constellation was the pinnacle of piston-engine air travel in the 1950s. But the jet age was coming, and airlines soon phased out the “Connie” and other big prop planes in favor of jets like the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.

airforce12
The Boeing 707 cut a handsome figure in the late 1950s. For the record, the Kennedy administration was responsible for giving the plane its Raymond Loewy-designed paint job.

Indeed, Eisenhower decided Air Force One urgently needed an upgrade when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev began traveling to meetings in a sleek Tupolev Tu-104 jet that made the Constellation look a bit clunky.

tu104
Russia’s speedy Tu-104 jetliner began plying the skies when other nations were still using piston-engine transports.

Ike was responsible for commissioning the specially built Boeing 707 version of Air Force One, which stayed in service until the first President Bush switched to the 747 model still in use today.

 

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