Statecraft: Trump Unveils New Air Force One Livery

June 13, 2019

THE FIRST TIME I saw it was in the fall of 1992, walking along the Revere Beach seawall in the company of our family Weimaraner. It approached from the northeast, head on, lumbering down the coastline. My initial though was Aer Lingus. The afternoon sun had turned blue into green, the forward fuselage taking on the distinctive mossy hue of the Irish national carrier, whose 747s were a regular sight at Logan. But then, as the jet swung closer and into profile, green went blue and I could see, clearly and with some astonishment, that it was Air Force One.

The plane passed less than a thousand feet overhead, then sank past the hills of Beachmont toward runway 22L. I remember it fishtailing slightly — a wobble and a yaw — and silently chuckling. Not even the President’s plane is immune to the push of a good crosswind.

It was a handsome sight. One thing that has always pleased me about Air Force One is the modesty of its livery. Conceived by the famous industrial designer Raymond Loewy during the JFK administration, it’s a look that has gone mostly unchanged for six decades. And for good reason. If you ask me, Air Force One is easily the most elegant state aircraft in the world. The current version, a modified Boeing 747-200 (there are two of them, actually), carries virtually the same markings as the old 707 it superseded: the sweeping forward crown, the Caslon typeface and simple tail hash. The old-timey window stripe and subtle gold highlights, in concert with a couple of judiciously placed flags and the Presidential seal, give the plane a dignified, statesmanlike demeanor. It’s patriotic in the best sense of the word: proud but a little humble.

Then, last summer, Donald Trump announced his intentions to change Air Force One’s livery. He wants to change it because of course he does. Declaring the plane’s robin’s egg blue under-trim a “Jackie Kennedy color,” Trump said he’d prefer something “more American” instead.

Understandably, this made a lot of people nervous. While the paintjob could stand some updating, this is a man whose aesthetic leans heavy on the gold and gaudy — more Saddam Hussein than Jackie Kennedy — and isn’t remotely humble. The resulting scheme was bound to be garish.

Among those who found the idea distressing were U.S. Air Force Brass, countless Americans with good taste, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “Why would anyone want to discard an Air Force One design that evokes more than a half-century of American history?” asked Beschloss in Axios magazine. “Every time you see that blue trim and the words ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ spelled out in the same typeface as an early version of the Declaration of Independence, it brings back JFK landing in Germany to speak at the Berlin Wall, Richard Nixon flying to China, Ronald Reagan stepping off the plane to see Gorbachev in Iceland, and a thousand other scenes of Presidents in our past.”

This week, a new design was revealed. On Wednesday, in an interview with ABC News, Trump held up a poster showing a revised Air Force One, in a livery timed to debut with the delivery of two replacement 747-8 aircraft, on schedule for 2024.

Seeing the headline, I held my breath. I was ready for all manner of over-the-top Trumpian fanfare: star-spangled banners, angry eagle talons, fireworks, maybe a portrait of the Donald himself on the tail. But when I clicked and took a look, I almost couldn’t believe it. It’s completely inoffensive. Boring, but inoffensive.

The fuselage is navy blue across the bottom, with a bold red cheatline riding above. The “United States of America” font appears mostly unchanged. I’m a huge fan of old-fashioned cheatlines — that’s the horizontal striping that runs across the windows — and this one is handsome.

Is it better than the design we already have? No. And if a change was really necessary, any of a dozen other designs would have been better. But it’s respectful, dignified, and it could have been a lot worse. Indeed, one doubts that Trump himself had much or any input, other than to sign off what, most likely, was created by a team somewhere.

The biggest negative is the tail. A jetliner’s tail design is arguably the most critical part of any livery, and here they didn’t even try. There’s nothing there. Just a too-big flag. I recommend a simple tweak to the existing tail instead. Turn the blue hash mark (what do you call that thing?) to red, and there you go. The blue bottom, meanwhile, is too heavy and too rigidly defined. The blue should curve as it meets the forward wing root, similar to the Kennedy hue that’s there today, then reverse-taper beneath the tail. See my rendering, below. I’ve also added a nose swoosh.

Like it or hate it, there’s no guarantee this thing will ever see the light of day. No sooner did Trump show his poster on television when U.S. House of Representative Democrats passed an amendment requiring Congress to approve any changes to Air Force One’s design. Trump himself could well be out of office before the new 747s enter service, and the whole thing could easily be scuttled.

Trump, though, told ABC’s George Stephanopolos that he’s doing this “for other Presidents, not for me.” Maybe, but nonetheless Congress is doing the right thing. This shouldn’t be any President’s call. Air Force One belongs to the nation, not to the President, and its livery shouldn’t be subject to the whims of whomever is holding office at the time. (A Fox News host said, on air, that the amendment was passed by Democrats “because they hate freedom.”)

Trump also says the new 747-8s will be “much bigger” than the current, 747-200 variant. That depends on the definition of “much,” I guess. The 747-8 is 18 feet longer than the -200. The wingspan difference is just under 29 feet, or about fourteen feet per wing, which isn’t a lot when the total span is 225 feet.

Author’s design. Now that’s better.

Officially, “Air Force One” is merely a radio call sign, not the name of a particular aircraft. Any United States Air Force plane with the President on board is Air Force One. Normally this is the 747 we’re familiar with, but occasionally it’s a much smaller 757 or a Gulfstream jet. The President’s helicopter, operated by the U.S. Marines, is “Marine One.”

In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower’s modified Boeing 707 became the first aircraft to use the Air Force One designation. Prior to that, various propeller planes were supplied by the armed forces or contracted commercially for the job. In 1943, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to the Casablanca Conference in a Pan Am flying boat, the Dixie Clipper, celebrating his 61st birthday in the plane’s dining room. Roosevelt himself had created the Presidential Pilot Office to supply the President and his staff with air transportation.

Elsewhere heads of state and their officials do it similarly — or differently, depending. Some travel in standard military transports or will borrow jets from their country’s national airline. Others arrive in stylish airborne limos not unlike our Presidents. For reasons not entirely clear, when Kim Jong-un met with Donald Trump in Singapore in 2017, he arrived from Pyongyang in a chartered Air China 747.

During the 1990s at Logan, I remember, it wasn’t unusual to spot a Saudia Airlines L-1011 TriStar, chocked and secured for the weekend at the north cargo ramp. As the story went, members of the Saudi royal family would drop in for shopping junkets or to visit relatives at local colleges, making use of the huge jetliner the way one might borrow a company car.

 

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40 Responses to “Statecraft: Trump Unveils New Air Force One Livery”
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  1. Someone says:

    I see what you did with your design of the new 748 including that classic rollout style 747 tail with the orange ish red.

  2. Tazian says:

    All three look awful.

    >>>For reasons not entirely clear, when Kim Jong-un met with Donald Trump in Singapore in 2017, he arrived from Pyongyang in a chartered Air China 747.<<<

    The Chinese were concerned that the US would rummage into its bag of dirty tricks and attempt to sabotage Kim's aircraft and have him conveniently die in a plane crash – which could then be blamed on an ageing Soviet-era North Korean fleet.

    As North Korea's major ally, China provided the Air China 747, piloted by Chinese crew with a flight path that took it from North Korea and mainly over China before heading due South over Vietnam into Singapore. The aircraft was escorted by Chinese fighter jets whilst over China.

    Also, by substituting an Air China 747 for an ageing Air Koryo plane, the Chinese made it clear to the US that they too would be involved in any deal involving North Korea.

    It was all about security, optics and an implicit message to the US not to try anything funny on Kim.

  3. Ryan K says:

    Wasn’t that meeting in Singapore in 2018? I only ask because I was in Singapore in may last year just prior to the meeting. On a different note I think the modifications in your rendering are an improvement but honestly I think it should just stay the way it is. The aircraft has a beautiful subtlety to its design that is distinct and modest. I personally don’t feel everything American needs to carry the prominent red, white, and blue “brand”. Who knows, maybe I just hate freedom.

  4. CarlosSi says:

    The first 747 sports that same widget on the tail, actually.

    Only thing that looks odd is the huge, rectangular flag on the trapezoidal tail; maybe give the flag a bit of slant backwards (shaped like this: /=/ ) and it would look good even without the widget. At least it keeps those all-benevolent cheatlines, don’t it?

    Last thing I would do is make the red a bit darker. Otherwise I give it 8.5/10 .

  5. Susan Herin says:

    Normally I’m a stickler for tradition but I’ve always thought the old paint scheme was terrible. To start with, the two shades of blue clash terribly, no designer would ever pair those colors together. Also,the current colors feel wimpy and weak, definitely not strong and confident like the new color scheme. I love the new design! It’s beautiful and does America proud! I hope we see the new Air Force One design implemented sooner than later.

  6. Matthew says:

    I much prefer the new design over the Kennedy-era design. The powder blue is not attractive and has nothing in common with any other symbol of the United States. The red white and blue of the new design is simple, but elegant and immediately recognizable for its connection with America’s colors. That is, I see red white and blue and the USA immediately comes to mind without any thought. When I see the current Air Force One, I always think “Why is the American president’s plane such a weird color?”

  7. Captain Oveur says:

    Looks fine.

  8. mitch says:

    Patrick, your suggested tail logo is essentially the same as the first 747,N7470, first flight Feb 9 1969.
    https://static.thisdayinaviation.com/wp-content/uploads/tdia//2015/02/tmof_boeing_747_002.jpg

    It’s been preserved at Seattle’s Museum of Flight

  9. Wel809 says:

    I welcome the change especially since Trump is not suggesting changing the current AO1 but the one that’s going to be built. I like Trump’s design; it’s appropriate and pleasant. The authors design is also beautiful, something about the added red that makes it look retro in a good way.

  10. Jim says:

    Looks like Drumpfh will NOT ride aboard this airplane as President . . . maybe his successor writes an executive order in the first 2 minutes of his administration: STOP THE PRESSES! Strip the paint and apply the same “elegant” scheme as in all previous models.

  11. JamesP says:

    I think the jet’s livery should not be changed. It projects stability and continuity.

  12. Eric says:

    Meanwhile a real king was a “guest pilot” on a commercial airliner for 21 years…

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/dutch-king-willem-alexander-reveals-he-was-klm-pilot-21-n761401

  13. Brent Breckenridge says:

    I say leave it alone.

  14. Paul Schnebelen says:

    An actual cheat line and no GMST? Obviously, nobody from an airline was involved in creating the design…

  15. Jim Paris says:

    Does it have gold bathroom fixtures?

  16. France Davis says:

    Seems to me that security has to be a top consideration today. Trump’s design makes Air Force One more visible from above or below…dark blue against a light sky and white against the ground or sea. The reverse is a time-honored way to make your aircraft less visible to potential enemies.

  17. Robert Randall says:

    As soon as I heard the news I thought, “I can’t wait to hear what Patrick Smith has to say about this”.

    Trump’s design is just too generic, and certainly is no improvement. It might be fine for a lesser job, like ferrying senators or other government employees. It has that “B” team look.

  18. Bryant says:

    Patrick your design looks like a mask and makes the plane look like a bandit ready to hold someone up.

  19. expatjouro says:

    Looks too much like an old British plane.

  20. Vidiot says:

    I edited a piece for TV news about this, and it included several tweets noting Trump’s design’s resemblance to an inverted N757AF, Trump’s own 757. I see even more resemblance to the Trump Shuttle livery or US Airways in the mid-2000s.

  21. Rod says:

    Upfront here: I think the US is a very aggressive country. So maybe all this red (Blood red) at the expense of blue is somehow appropriate.

    I always loved the Air Force One livery. But then I can say I fondly associate it with the JFK of the American University Peace Speech (whereupon he was promptly assassinated).

    Fooling with all that blue is fooling with JFK’s legacy. But perhaps, at this point, that legacy has been hopelessly buried.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fkKnfk4k40&t=917s

    • Mark R. says:

      Thank you for mentioning JFK’s June 10, 1963 speech at American University calling off the Cold War. If he had been allowed to stay President the alleged need to upgrade Air Force One would probably not exist, since a function of these planes is to be able to launch a nuclear war. Kennedy called for ending the nuclear arms race, signed the first treaty with the Soviet Union (to stop atmospheric nuclear testing), to withdraw from Vietnam, normalize relations with Cuba and even offered to convert the Moon race into global cooperation.

      “Why should our first voyage to another world be a matter of national competition?”
      – Kennedy at the UN General Assembly, Sept. 20, 1963
      http://www.jfkmoon.org has the full text

      • Patrick says:

        Yup. That was all too much for the MIC.

        And so it was taken care of.

      • mitch says:

        Marc, the VC-25 AF-1 747s could G-d forbid start the war, but the airplanes to run it would be the E-4 – 747’s are vintage 1974, even older than the VC-25
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_E-4

        According to Wikipedia “When the President travels outside of North America using a VC-25A as Air Force One, an E-4B will deploy to a second airport in the vicinity of the President’s destination, to be readily available in the event of a world crisis or an emergency that renders the VC-25A unusable”

        Scary stuff.

  22. Tom says:

    I like the new design, and I like Patrick’s too. I have to agree with the President’s comment about the “Jackie Kennedy” blue—that shade is getting a little tired looking and could stand updating, something a little bolder. Personally, I don’t think the red is necessary. A cheat line in a slightly different blue would look better, IMHO. As for the nose and tail, respectively, I’d skip the swoosh—it brings to mind too many of the current airline liveries—and I don’t have any problem with the bolder flag on the all-white tail.

  23. Simon says:

    Does it strike anybody else that this new livery perfectly illustrates how balanced and timeless the original Kennedy-era livery is?

  24. Jeff Latten says:

    Much nicer design, cap. It has flow. And you are 100% right about the original tail design. Whoever did that had no sense of dimension and proportion.

  25. Liam Yore says:

    Fun fact — while the protocol was that *any* fixed wing aircraft POTUS is aboard is “Air Force One”, and likewise any rotor craft is “Marine One”, in 2003, President Bush landed on the Abraham Lincoln in a Navy S-3 Viking. There was no way on God’s green earth that the Naval aviators were going to submit to using an Air Force call sign and so for that flight they were “Navy One” — the only time that call sign has ever been used. (That Viking was shortly thereafter retired from service and placed in a museum.)

  26. Dave O. says:

    The navy blue bottom/red cheatline looks remarkably like the logo for Fox News.

  27. Craig Blome says:

    You do know you’ve just redrawn the 747-100 prototype, right? 🙂 https://www.airlinersillustrated.com/product/n7470

  28. Andrew says:

    This is only semi-related, but how much do you know about the logistics of getting the presidential limousine and other related ground transport to Logan? When I was in the third grade, my class took a field trip to Logan- most of which, if I remember correctly, was centered on visiting the airport’s fire station. There was also the annual(?) inspection parade in which all of the airport’s snow removal equipment drove around to show that it was functional.

    All in all, it was a fun day, but my most vivid memory was that President Clinton was due in town that evening (ostensibly, I’d imagine, to preach to the choir on behalf of Al Gore ahead of that infamous 2000 election- it was autumn, and the election was imminent), and all of the cars for him and his entourage were lying in wait at the fire station. I’m sure we were told at the time, but this I don’t remember- how do they go about transporting these highly-specialized vehicles to the President’s engagements? How many moving parts are involved? How far ahead of time does this transportation take place?

    • Rod says:

      I can answer that. I spent five years working in an office with a fantastic view of the comings and goings at Geneva’s single-runway airport. Several US presidential visits during that time. All were preceded for days by fleets of C-5s (whatever) descending on the place with all the paraphernalia thereunto pertaining.

      It’s an incredible (and incredibly expensive) operation.

    • Eric says:

      When Obama was in office, Michelle and the kids would take ski trips to Aspen. Unfortunately Sardy Field couldn’t accommodate the First Lady’s aircraft so they landed at GJT and ran a motorcade up I-70 and Colorado 82. Complete with several Colorado state troopers, black GMC Suburbans, and even two ambulances. The entourage had a rolling road closure and various law enforcement closing off side streets in front of the procession. I happened to be going the opposite way when they passed by once. The upside of all this activity is that they were traveling much faster than the speed limit so at least it didn’t shut down the roads for very long.

  29. Mark Knapp says:

    Reminds me of one of USAirways’ schemes. Meh. Could be worse, but unoriginal and uninspiring.

  30. MikeO says:

    Hmmm. That red on the tail — doesn’t that qualify as a “swoosh”? I agree with you on the size of the flag. The whole thing reminds me of an old USAirways livery. The US airways tail might actually be better . . .

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Airlines_(US_Airways_heritage_livery)_Airbus_A321-231_N578UW_at_JFK_Airport.jpg

  31. Mark R. says:

    There are TWO 747’s that travel with the White House office. Maybe “Air Force One” is the call sign for the exact plane that is carrying the President, but they have a duplicate flying with the entourage in case there is a malfunction. Very expensive, even without the extra unnecessary painting.

    When Salvador Allende became the elected President of Chile, one of his first acts was to remove the Presidential portrait from all government offices. He said that was more suited to a monarchy than a civilian institution.

    • Ken Brown says:

      Great insight Patrick. I agree – I was expecting something MUCH worse, but why change at all?
      Is it just me or is the blue the same shade on his 757?

      • Paul Schnebelen says:

        Ken, according to the Intrawebs, Trump’s personal 757 is gloss black. As far as why he asked to change the paint scheme, he did it because he can – that’s just the way the Donald rolls. (My best guess would be that he decided that robin’s egg blue was too girly.) I agree with Patrick – the new scheme’s kinda dull, but I imagined a whole lot worse.

    • Rod says:

      Mark R.; “When Salvador Allende became the elected President of Chile, one of his first acts was to remove the Presidential portrait from all government offices.”

      Sounds like Allende. Though I guess he WAS head of state. One of the weird things about the US and France, say, is that you have a monarchical presidency, or rather an elected monarch.

      Strange indeed to walk into a US consulate or whatever and find the visage of Dubbya or Donald gazing down at you. That’s why I’m a monarchist. Or have some clawless worthy named president for purely symbolic and ceremonial purposes, as the Germans do.