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Story ID:10017
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Andrews Air Force Base Maryland USA
Person:John F. Kennedy
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By Fred Wickert

In January of 1963 I arrived at Andrews Air Force Base to become a member of Presidential Aircraft Security. The name of the unit at that time was the 1254th Security Police Squadron. A few years later that was changed to the 89th Security Police Squadron. At the time when I arrived the major air command that we were under was the Military Air Transport Service or MATS. A few years later that too was changed. It became the Military Airlift Command or MAC and our wing became the 89th MAW or Military Airlift Wing.

In early 1963 all of our aircraft were painted with MILITARY AIR TRANSPORT SERVICE the full length of the fuselage. On the tail were the letters MATS The tails were painted international orange and some of them were painted international orange around the body of the plane. The U.S. Coast Guard uses that international orange on their aircraft and the purpose is to make them easier to spot from the air should, Heaven forbid, they ever go down.

The Wing had just acquired a 1962 Boeing 707 C model fan jet to be used exclusively by the President, who at that time was John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy was not happy with the current paint job. There had also been an international conference about something in Geneva which was attended by President Kennedy. The Cold War was very much alive then and propaganda was important in international relations. Many heads of state attended the Geneva Conference. Whenever the President goes somewhere there is a backup plane that goes also. That is so there will be no delay for the President. If for any reason something goes wrong with his plane, there is a backup there to take over. This particular conference was important and lasted several days. The Secretary of State also attended with a different plane. In addition, still another plane acted as a courier and flew documents back and forth from Geneva to Washington, that it was not known when they left for Geneva would be needed. Therefore, several planes from the United States were there in Geneva.

The Soviet propaganda machine went in to high gear. The United States was highly criticized because of the markings on their aircraft. It was repeatedly reported all over the world that with all these international dignitaries who had flown to Geneva, only the United States had the words “Military” painted on their aircraft. We were therefore warmongers because we and only we had military markings on our aircraft.

That situation had to be changes as soon as possible because it was an embarrassment to our country. Those air planes had to be repainted as soon as possible. The Wing had three other Boeing 707’s in the fleet. They had been obtained in 1958 when Eisenhower was still President. These were the planes seen in Geneva. One had been there as backup to Air Force One, one had been there to transport the Secretary of State and the other had performed the courier runs back and forth to Geneva.

President Kennedy had not liked the paint job on his plane from the time he came in to office. He hired a famous designer to come up with a distinctive paint scheme for his aircraft. President Kennedy paid for this out of his own pocket. It was rumored that he had paid the famous designer $100,000 for it. The result is what you see on TV all the time because that paint job has been on all the Air Force One planes ever since.

That took care of the Presidents Airplane. Now, what about the other ones? Somewhere along the way someone got their signals crossed and there was a giant misunderstanding. The first of the three other Boeing 707’s was sent to the factory to be repainted, and with a couple of subtle differences the plane was painted the same as Air Force One. That one came back from the factory looking oh so pretty. Then a second one was sent to be repainted.

President Kennedy on most Fridays at around five P.M. flew to Key West in Florida to spend the weekend. Aircraft #26000 was parked on spot one at the terminal ready to go to Key West. Aircraft #58970 sat a short distance away on the parking ramp, also ready to go as the backup plane. It too had the new Presidential paint job.

Marine #1, the Presidents chopper, landed on the terminal parking apron. President Kennedy got off, walked to the steps of Air Force One and proceeded up the steps. He got half way up and froze. He had spotted #58970 sitting there with the same paint job as Air Force One. The distinctive paint job he had paid a famous designer to come up with for his air plane. President Kennedy was not happy! He asked about it and was told they thought he wanted it that way. He assured them he did not. They told him of the second one in the factory already half done. They asked if he wanted them to stop it. He paused for a minute and said no. Go ahead with it but only those three aircraft. He then reassured them that he was not happy.

President Kennedy had another plane, a C-118 four engine propeller driven plane, tail #3240 that was for getting in air ports where the runway was too short for the big jet. In those days jets were just coming in to use and many smaller air ports could not yet handle them. At a later time the Soviet Premier gave a pony as a gift to the President’s daughter Caroline. That aircraft was sent to Moscow to fly the pony named Macaroni back to Washington. #3240 was also painted with that two tone blue with white top paint scheme designed for Air Force One. At a later time President Kennedy was on a trip to Europe. While in Germany he bought 40 bicycles as Christmas presents. He sent # 3240 to Germany to bring those back to Washington also.

The other aircraft in the White House fleet still had the problem of having “Military” lettered on them. The new paint job for Air Force one
had a white top half. The tail was painted white with the American flag displayed on it and the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA were painted in letters a foot high for the length of the fuselage. Under the white painted top half the aluminum alloy of the remainder of the fuselage was polished to a mirror finish. It did not have the blue of the others but once painted that way were some very sharp looking air planes. The worldwide criticism of the United States for advertising “Military” on their planes was stilled.

As President Kennedy began to prepare for running for a second term, he was assassinated by a gunman in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President. When Lyndon Johnson was the Vice President he had a Lockheed Jet star assigned to him. It was Air Force Two. Johnson had a runway on his ranch and a small air plane. As President he had the runway greatly extended on his ranch and he ordered the Jet Star to be painted with the Air Force One paint scheme so yet another plane wore that distinctive paint job and the Presidential seal. He often chose to fly directly to his ranch rather than fly on the big plane to Bergstrom Air Force Base and then to his ranch on the helicopter.

As the late Paul Harvey would say, Now you know the rest of the story.

Photo #1 Air Force One parked on spot one at the terminal. Marine one parked close to Air Force One to drop off the President. Vehicles in foreground parked to right of back up plane.

Photo #2 Air Force One and Air Force Two parked in the hangar at Andrews Air Force Base.

Photo #3 Air Force One landing on runway.

Photo #4 Tail #2488 Jet Star President Johnson had painted the same as Air Force One after he became President. Prior to that it had been Air Force Two.

Photo #5 Air Force One blocked in spot one waiting for the President. You can see a back up plane in the distance on the left. It shows how President Kennedy could see it going up the steps.

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