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Trump team weighs palette for red, white and blue Air Force One

The Air Force One transporting US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump land at the Caen-Carpiquet Airport in Carpiquet, Normandy, northwestern France, on June 6, 2019, upon arrival to attend D-Day commemorations. (Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The White House is pressing ahead with President Donald Trump’s demand that Boeing Co. paint new Air Force One jets red, white and blue, replacing the blue-and-white pattern used since the early 1960s.

The Air Force, which manages the $5.3 billion program to build two new presidential planes, hasn’t been given a formal request by the White House Military Office to abandon the color pattern originated under President John F. Kennedy. But the White House is “evaluating specific red, white, and blue livery (paint scheme) options,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Trump’s seemingly off-hand proposal a year ago on how to paint the new planes was among the quirkier examples of the president’s willingness to intervene in Defense Department projects — from pushing personally for reductions in the cost of the Air Force One replacements and the F-35 fighter jet to demanding that the Navy use old-fashioned steam-based catapults on its new aircraft carriers instead of a more advanced but occasionally unreliable electromagnetic system.

The planes are also used by the vice president and are designated Air Force One only when the president is on board. They will replace the aging sky blue-and-white Boeing aircraft that have become internationally recognized symbols when a president arrives in a U.S. city or a foreign destination, as with the president’s European travels this week.

A final decision on the paint scheme for planes isn’t due until 2021, so it’s possible the color switch might be abandoned if Trump loses his reelection bid next year. If Trump wins, it’s a close call on whether he’ll get to fly on one of the new planes: The Air Force now estimates the first jet will be ready by September 2024, four months before Trump would leave office, but such projects rarely remain on schedule.

The White House is pressing the Air Force to accelerate the plane’s initial availability to December 2023, according to a new program document. It also wants the full capability of both planes ready by April 2024 instead of the estimated February 2025, according to the document.

“We have been asked to consider all opportunities to deliver the new Air Force One aircraft as soon as possible while providing the safest, suitable, and effective aircraft to meet presidential missions,” the Air Force said in the statement. “We continue to look for every opportunity with Boeing to do this.”

Todd Blecher a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said the company had no comment.

The Air Force gave Trump credit in achieving “over $1.4 billion in savings” on the Air Force One project from Boeing’s estimates through talks with Dennis Muilenburg, the company’s chief executive officer. The president’s role was cited in the service’s first formal cost, schedule and performance report to Congress on the program.

The two 747-8 model aircraft will be modified at Boeing’s San Antonio, Texas, facility, to include an electrical power upgrade, dual auxiliary power units, communications, executive interior, military avionics and a self-defense system.

The 45-page program document, obtained by Bloomberg News, is known as the Selected Acquisition Report and labeled “For Official Use Only.” It also discloses some of the “reductions in capacity” that may have been made to reduce the cost of the planes.

The new Air Force One is now projected to carry a maximum of 71 passengers instead of a planned 87 and provide 70 simultaneous voice and data connections for mission operations instead of the planned 80. It’s projected to fly 5,900 nautical miles without refueling — which can be done in midair from a tanker plane — instead of the planned 7,100 miles.


© 2019 Bloomberg News

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