It’s the most recognizable aircraft in the
world, a Boeing 747 jet with the iconic blue and white paint scheme, seal of the President
of the United States displayed prominently on its sides. Air Force One as it is commonly known is a
symbol of the American President and the power of that office, and has visited every continent
except for Antarctica. It is currently however an aging plane, with
it and its backup twin having been in service since 1987- quite the lifespan for a modern
airplane. Now the United States finds itself in need
of a new Air Force One, and even before he officially took office now-President Donald
Trump famously protested the staggering price tag of $3.2 billion dollars over twitter for
Boeing’s contract to produce two replacements of the presidential plane. That single errant tweet ended up costing
Boeing millions as its stock plummeted due to uncertainty over the future of a contract
that had been in place since 2015. Three point two billion dollars is quite the
sum, and for months President Trump claimed the figure was absurd and that he would get
a better deal. Ultimately he would quietly authorize the
original contract with Boeing, and in fact the total sum would increase to nearly four
billion dollars for the two planes. But why in the world are these two planes
so expensive? The first thing to consider is that the total
cost of the Air Force One upgrade program is not for the planes themselves, but rather
for research and development, procurement of the actual aircraft, and for all of the
many high tech systems on board. This price tag includes upgrades to just about
every facet of the aircraft, and most of the money sink is not on the plane itself, but
rather the multitude of extremely high tech and classified hardware that rides inside
it. A large part of the price tag goes towards
the defensive systems aboard Air Force One meant to keep the President of the United
States safe while in the air. Large jets such as the Boeing 747 that Air
Force One’s unique air frame is based on can be quite easy targets for enemy fighters,
but Air Force One has many tricks up its sleeve to ward off an air attack. Firstly, a hostile interception of Air Force
One is already an extremely improbable event. Its flight plan is calculated well in advance
of any Presidential visit, and is always designed so that friendly air assets are never far
away. Typically Air Force One’s flight path will
be shared with friendly nations, whom will have air assets of their own on standby in
case they need to respond to an emergency and lend their assistance. Any hostile nation wishing to take a shot
at the big plane will first have to get through an emergency response force of allied fighters. If no friendly air forces are available though,
then carrier battle groups can be propositioned along Air Force One’s flight route in order
to lend air support if needed. Given the global reach of America’s navy and
air force, air support is never far from the President. If a hostile plane manages to avoid being
intercepted though, Air Force One has several defensive measures to protect itself. Although these measures are kept highly classified,
some are well known, others can be speculated on, and others can be guessed at from what
can be seen physically on the plane’s body. It’s known for instance that Air Force One
can defend itself against attack with chaff and flares. Chaff is nothing more than highly radar reflective
material packed into a canister which is then shot out the back of the aircraft. The canister explodes, filling the sky with
radar reflective material which can confuse any weapon system using radar to lock on to
the plane. Flares on the other hand are designed to counter
heat-seeking warheads on enemy missiles, and work by being expelled from the body of the
aircraft and burning at extremely high temperatures. The missile’s heat-seeking warhead then changes
targets from the plane’s hot engines to the brightly burning chaff, exploding harmlessly
away from the aircraft. Modern anti-aircraft missile systems however
are getting smarter all the time. So too though are Air Force One’s defenses. Missile launch warning receivers are located
on the tail, and likely on the front of the plane as well, and can track missiles in flight
by identifying the ultraviolet exhaust signature that the missile’s rocket motor puts out. This system is already in operation in many
special-forces support aircraft, though their hefty price tag for now prevents them from
being widely adopted by the rest of the US’s air fleet. These high tech trackers though can accurately
feed targeting data to a rumored defensive measure of Air Force One- a high-energy laser
which can heat the head of an incoming missile and detonate it in-flight. Air Force One is also equipped with an AN/AAQ-24
Nemesis Directional Infra-Red Counter Measures system, which fires flashes of concentrated
infrared energy at incoming missiles in order to damage or confuse the targeting optics
of a missile. This is similar to the Matador IR countermeasure
system that is installed on the tail and behind all four engines, and also emits infrared
pulses at incoming missiles in order to prevent attack by heat-seeking missiles. Long rumored, but never confirmed, is a belly-mounted
anti-air missile system with limited capacity to destroy incoming enemy aircraft. The aircraft is also equipped with several
electronic countermeasures meant to jam or spoof enemy radar. Pulse emitters on the aircraft can confuse
enemy radar by sending back a radar pulse that either blocks the receiver outright or
mirrors the return frequency, confusing the radar operator as to the true distance, size,
and elevation of a target. As with most electronic warfare aircraft,
Air Force One can spot jam in order to completely block out one radar frequency and completely
blind a radar, though modern radars are able to operate on multiple frequencies and are
thus resistant to this technique. The plane however can also jam multiple frequencies
at once, although the more frequencies it tries to jam the less effective the jamming
is. The plane however can also focus all of its
power on jamming a single radar at all frequencies, although this leaves it vulnerable to other
radars that it cannot respond to. Given that Air Force One is never far from
friendly forces, this shouldn’t be too big a concern. Another major part of the expense of Air Force
One is its communications systems. The President of the United States is the
head of the most powerful military force in the world, and needs to be able to communicate
with every single element of that military no matter where in the world he is flying. Designed as a flying White House, the plane’s
communications gear allows the President to wage a full-blown war if need be from the
air, and he can even order America’s fleet of deeply submerged ballistic missile submarines
to launch their nuclear weapons against an adversary. A big part of the almost $4 billion price
tag is going towards upgrading communications equipment. During the September 11th attacks, President
Bush remained airborne for most of the day, and was in constant communication with the
Pentagon and civilian leadership. On numerous occasions however he experienced
bad connections and dropped calls, and now a big investment has been made to ensure that
this never happens again. Designed to operate even in a nuclear environment,
the plane is shielded against the electromagnetic pulses released by nuclear detonations. Normally an EMP blast would destroy electronics
across an area even greater than that directly affected by the nuclear explosion, yet Air
Force One is capable of withstanding such a blast and keeping the President connected
to the rest of the military. A recent news report on the expense of Air
Force One highlighted that the refrigerators alone cost $12 million dollars, causing much
uproar amongst the taxpayers who are footing the bill for these aircraft. Yet as it turned out, these refrigerators
cost so much because they were designed to in essence be the most reliable in the world. Because Air Force One may need to operate
for weeks at a time in case of extreme national emergency, the plane keeps three thousand
meals on board at all times, and this requires a lot of fridge space. The refrigerator must not fail, or else all
that food would spoil and leave the President and his entourage with nothing to eat in case
of disaster. Another major expense of Air Force One though
is the presence of a full-blown operating theater inside the aircraft. Just in case the American president ever suffers
a major health event, rather than be treated at a local hospital he will be rushed to Air
Force One, which will immediately depart and set course for the nearest American military
base or airport. While in flight, a doctor- which is always
aboard the aircraft- can convert one of the meeting rooms into an operating theater and
perform any number of emergency medical procedures. The new model Air Force Ones are also rumored
to be equipped with tele-medicine units, which would allow surgeons anywhere in the world
to operate directly on the President via secure connection and using robotic appendages on
the aircraft itself. New engines round out the list of upgrades
to the new Air Force Ones under design by Boeing right now. These new engines offer much improved performance,
and have increased the range of the aircraft by almost one thousand miles, from 6,735 nautical
miles to 7,730 nautical miles. That would allow the big plane to fly almost
a third of the way around the world in just a single tank of gas. Though not officially confirmed, the new Air
Force Ones are also believed to be capable of mid-air refueling, much like the current
models are. In essence, this makes their range almost
unlimited as long as a friendly tanker is available to top the big plane up. Being one of the best serviced aircraft in
the world, and with engines that have to withstand reliability tests far more strenuous than
normal aircraft, Air Force One is believed to be able to fly for at least a week non-stop
without needing maintenance. The new engines aren’t just more fuel efficient
though, they’re also much greener than the current engines- which is good news because
air travel is a significant source of pollution. Raw power hasn’t been compromised for fuel
efficiency or reduced greenhouse gas emissions though, as the new Air Force One’s speed is
known to be faster than the current Air Force One, which has been recorded flying at mach
.85. Just how much faster though is unknown, although
some speculate that it will be capable of breaking the sound barrier which would be
quite a feat for such a massive aircraft. Operating the new Air Force Ones won’t come
cheap though, and there’s no expected decrease in the average $200,000 per flight hour price
tag that comes from flying the planes. That massive cost doesn’t just come from jet
fuel, but from the inevitable maintenance and repair needed to keep these planes in
tip top shape. While the US military maintains all of its
aircraft in the best possible shape at all times to ensure their reliability, no single
other aircraft- except for perhaps its fleet of B-2 bombers- are so well taken care of. Given that the President may need to take
to the air and command the United States’ military in the midst of a nuclear war, it’s
no surprise that so much time and money is spent on maintaining the two presidential
planes. If you liked this video and want to see more
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