Air Force One Isn’t the Only 747 With a President Onboard
Boeing Co. received a lifeline for its sales-challenged 747 jumbo jet when United Parcel Service Inc. agreed to buy at least 14 freighter versions. The company has warned that the program could be at risk and halved production this year, to six annually.
One bright spot for the 747-8, the newest and largest version, is the U.S. Air Force, which chose it to transport America’s commander-in-chief. The president currently travels aboard two heavily modified Boeing 747-200 aircraft, which are military jets with the designation VC-25. However, when the president steps aboard, the call sign changes to Air Force One.
While the Pentagon plans to replace those planes with two of the newer version in 2024, what many may not know is that the U.S. is hardly the only country to make the famous plane the transport of choice for its head of state.
Here are seven other countries with their own version of Air Force One.
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the world’s wealthiest people and passionate about both cars and airplanes. Among the royal fleet, the sultan has a 747-400 and often flies it himself, a fact noted by President Barack Obama during a 2013 state visit.
China's president typically travels abroad on a Boeing 747-400, one that has been converted from commercial use. Most of the 747s are flown by Air China. In 2002, that country reportedly found more than two dozen listening devices aboard a government-owned 767 that had been sent to a refurbishment center in San Antonio, Tex. The plane had been planned as a presidential transport but was converted to commercial use.
When they travel abroad, India’s prime minister and president fly an Air India 747-400 operated by the Indian Air Force. When either is aboard, the call sign is Air India One. The government plans to replace the 747 for transporting heads of state with two Boeing 777-300ERs, acquired from Air India, dedicated full-time to VIP transport.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has two Boeing 747-400s that fly in tandem to transport the prime minister, emperor, and other high-ranking government officials. When airborne, the planes’ call signs are Air Force One and Air Force Two. Japan is replacing the 747s with new Boeing 777-300ERs in 2019, after 28 years with the 747s.
The kingdom operates four 747s, including the SP “special performance” version, which was built until 1989. The 747SP is the shortest version of the 747, and the reduced weight afforded a longer range for its era, more than 7,000 nautical miles.
The Republic of Korea has a 747-400 for presidential travel.
United Arab Emirates
The royal families of the Emirates fly aboard several 747s, including the latest 747-8. The first orders date to 1989.
A Yemen Airways 747SP used by the government was destroyed by fire following a gun battle at the airport in Aden in March 2015. War-racked Yemen replaced it with a Boeing 757.