Photos: Air Force One at SEA

This blog post contains photos and video from U.S. President Joe Biden’s April 21-22, 2022, visit to Seattle, posted in the order in which they were taken. Interspersed within the imagery is the story of why this event was especially meaningful to me, both personally and professionally. -Annie

On the evening of Thursday, April 21, I got to experience something extra special… something I feel like I’ve been waiting for my entire life. On behalf of my blog, The Great Planes, I was granted White House press credentials to cover the arrival of President Joe Biden aboard VC-25A, better known as “Air Force One,” into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I was among roughly a dozen other local journalists (mainly television news reporters and photographers) who were perched atop a platform roughly four feet high, situated on the airfield just next to where the big, beautiful presidential jet would soon park. This was my first time seeing Air Force One, so naturally it was a very special day for me as an aviation blogger and photographer. But as an aviation historian, this particular airplane and the legacy of presidential air transport has always been of interest to me, and in fact, played a large part in how I got to where I am today.

Next January will mark the 80th anniversary of U.S. presidents relying primarily on Boeing and heritage company airplanes. The first time a sitting president traveled by air was in January 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew to Casablanca, Morocco, on a Boeing Model 314 Clipper flying boat operated by Pan American Airways. The Model 314 was the “jumbo” of her time and the original Queen of the Skies – the “Grandmother” of the Boeing 747, if you will. Over the next two decades, the presidential fleet was continually upgraded and included military versions of the Douglas DC-4 and DC-6, designated VC-54C and VC-118A, respectively. In these designations, the “V” stands for “VIP” and the “C” for “transport.” The VC-54C was the first airplane specifically built for use by the President of the United States, and was nicknamed the “Sacred Cow” by Roosevelt.

In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower broke the mold when he assumed office and brought with him a customized Lockheed Constellation, designated VC-121E. In fact, it was that airplane in that year that became the first to use the “Air Force One” callsign. In 1954, he upgraded to a Super Constellation. Toward the end of his second term, the administration acquired the first of three customized Boeing 707-120s, designated VC-137A, bringing the presidential fleet into the Jet Age. Although President Eisenhower often flew aboard the 707s – known as SAM (for Special Air Mission) 970, 971 and 972 – he still relied primarily on his Super Constellation. The U.S. Air Force “Special Air Mission” provides air transport for the sitting president and other high ranking officials. Whenever the president is on board one of the airplanes, that flight assumes the callsign “Air Force One.”

In 1962, John F. Kennedy became the first president to fly in a jet designed and built specifically for presidential use. The airplane – SAM 26000 – was the first of two highly modified Boeing 707-320Bs, designated VC-137Cs, to enter service. The second aircraft, SAM 27000, entered service in 1972. These two VC-137Cs were the first presidential planes to sport the iconic blue and white Raymond Loewy livery, still worn on today’s presidential 747s. SAM 26000 is perhaps best known for its role in one of the most tragic events in American history. On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy flew on SAM 26000 to Dallas, where he was assassinated. Lyndon B. Johnson was then sworn in as President on SAM 26000 before it departed for Washington, D.C., with Kennedy’s body on board.

The VC-137C served as the primary presidential airplane until 1990, when the VC-25A – a modified Boeing 747-200B – was introduced. The 747 first flew in 1969 and over the last 50-plus years has served in a multitude of roles, both civil and military. However, I think most aviation professionals would agree that the 747’s most famous role in history has been that of “Air Force One.”

I began my career with Boeing toward the end of 2017, and shortly thereafter I attended a presentation by our senior corporate historian, Mike Lombardi. I was fascinated with the stories he told and did whatever I could to stay in touch with him, thinking maybe, just maybe, one day I’d be fortunate to join his team. In the summer of 2018, I was reading about Boeing’s rich history of transporting U.S. presidents, and realized that the 747 was getting close to taking the reins from the 707 as the longest serving “Air Force One” airplane. I put pen to paper and did the math, down to the day. One could take a number of different approaches to these calculations, but I chose to base mine on delivery date.

The first VC-137C was delivered to the U.S. Air Force on Oct. 10, 1962, and the first VC-25A on Aug. 23, 1990, meaning nearly 28 years (or 10,179 days) separated the two dates. I calculated that July 7, 2018, marked 10,180 days since the first VC-25A was delivered. That was it. July 7, 2018, would be the day when the 747 would become the longest serving presidential aircraft. I excitedly shared my findings with Mike, and the rest, as they say, is history. I was fortunate to join Boeing’s Historical Services team the following year, and there’s been no looking back.

I’ve been running this blog and social media accounts by the same name for five years now, and never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take me this far. I found out that my application for press credentials was approved just hours before President Biden’s arrival into Sea-Tac. Upon my arrival at the press check-in location, I was instructed to empty my bags and lay everything out across the pavement so that the Secret Service could inspect it and the security dogs could sniff it. I was patted down from head to toe, then instructed to repack my bags, before being escorted onto the airfield. The anticipation was almost as exciting as the arrival itself. The weather wasn’t great – temperatures hovered around 50 degrees and rain clouds lingered for most of the afternoon. In fact, just moments after Air Force One’s 5:11 p.m. PT arrival, it began to drizzle, and it slowly grew into a steady shower. By the time the fanfare had come to an end, I was completely unphased by the fact that I was soaking wet and freezing cold. I was actually much more concerned about my camera equipment than I was about myself.

Friday was equally exciting. I was able to spend the morning airside at King County International Airport (Boeing Field) to watch a fleet of four MV-22 Ospreys and two VH-60N Whitehawks – part of HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One or “Marine One”) – depart for Auburn, Washington, to pick up President Biden. I then zipped down to Sea-Tac to cover Biden’s arrival on Marine One, and subsequent departure on Air Force One. The afternoon ended up being quite eventful, as a suspicious vehicle at Sea-Tac caused the prompt relocation of the 747 to the middle of the airfield, where the fleet of helicopters met it. Biden was swiftly transferred to the airplane, before it and the support helicopters departed to the south. Air Force One was headed cross-country to Philadelphia, and the Marine One fleet was going back to Boeing Field where it would spend one more night. All support equipment had left the Seattle area by lunchtime Saturday.

Everything about the President’s visit was exhilarating and inspiring. Until Thursday, I had never in my life seen a sitting president in person, and had never seen so much security in one place. I am eternally grateful for this unique opportunity and I truly hope you get even half the satisfaction from seeing these photos as I did taking them. Cue “Hail to the Chief.”

Thanks and Giving

It’s hard to believe that another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are (thankfully!) past us too. Now, for the good stuff.

Today is Giving Tuesday, a “global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.” The movement began in 2012 and almost a decade later is still going strong.

Personally, I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m happy and healthy, working my dream job in a city I love, and surrounded by the greatest family and friends (and fuzzy friends!) on Earth. With that, I feel it’s my duty to give back, and I’m very grateful to be able to do so.

I just wrapped up my second annual fundraiser, and am so proud to announce that thanks to the kindness of those who helped spread the word and those who purchased 2022 The Great Planes calendars, we raised $750 for Los Angeles-based Pet Rescue Pilots! I am beyond thrilled to have been able to make this donation on behalf of myself, my family, my friends and my fellow Av Geeks, on this Giving Tuesday.

Friends… I can’t stress enough the importance of giving back. If you’re in the position to do so, I highly encourage you to give your time or money to an organization near and dear to YOUR heart. And if you don’t have one in mind, consider showing some love to my friends at Pet Rescue Pilots.

Again, thank you so much. May your hearts be full and your holidays warm!

Help animals in need, order a 2022 TGP calendar!

I love aviation. Whether it’s flying, taking photos of airplanes, or watching aviation-themed movies – it’s something that brings me great joy. 

I’m also a huge animal lover. I’ll always go out of my way to help an animal in need, and in fact it was my love of animals that led me to become a vegetarian five years ago. I grew up with cats and dogs – all rescues – and today I couldn’t imagine life without my two best friends: Beans (top) and Buddy.

One of my all-time favorite animal-related experiences was back in my hometown of Minneapolis in 2014, helping to kick off the Animal Humane Society (AHS) “Community Cats” program. Community Cats works to improve the lives of free-roaming and feral cats and reduce the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy cats that are not suitable for adoption.

The program was already in the works when I stumbled upon a litter of kittens outside the parking garage of my Loring Park apartment. Working with AHS, I was able to safely live-trap all of the kittens, who were subsequently spayed/neutered and adopted, as well as the mother, who was spayed and then released back into the wild – the first of roughly 250 cats to be released in the program’s first five months.

You can read more about my experience with Community Cats on page 16 of the Spring/Summer 2015 Animal Tracks magazine.

Last year, I sold calendars featuring my aviation photography, with 100% of the profits going to Wings of Hope – we were able to donate $1,000! Since it was such a success, I figured we needed to do something again this year, which is why I’m selling 2022 calendars with 100% of the profits going to Los Angeles-based Pet Rescue Pilots, a fantastic organization that flies pets out of shelters and brings them safely to rescue groups, fosters and forever homes.

Calendars are $25 each and available to order through Monday, Nov. 15. Please, if you’re able, support this great organization and help get these animals to their forever homes!

Buy a 2022 The Great Planes calendar now

An afternoon with the legendary Bob Parks

As a World War II veteran, an incredibly talented artist, an esteemed aviator and a genuinely good person, Bob Parks is a legend.

Born in 1926, Parks enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces at age 17 after graduating high school. He served as a crewmember in a number of different aircraft, from trainers to transports and bombers. After being discharged from the military in 1945, he attended Duke University and also received his pilot’s license. He then joined The Boeing Company where he worked in a number of positions over the course of nearly 50 years, including as a production illustrator on the XB-52.

Throughout his remarkable military and aviation career, Parks was constantly sketching or painting. His artwork garnered much attention throughout his life and today is on display in a number of different corporate offices and museums across the country, including the prestigious Smithsonian.

Additionally, Parks was commissioned to do illustrations for Ernest Gann in Flying Magazine and perhaps most notably for the author’s famous book, Ernest Gann’s Flying Circus.

I had the pleasure of meeting Parks and his lovely wife Judy in their Seattle-area home last week, where a handful of current and former Boeing employees had the chance to look through dozens of Parks’ drawings and paintings, including landscapes, portraits and — of course — airplanes.

I also got to sit down with him and hear stories about the inspiration behind many of his paintings. The amount of thought and detail that went into each one of them is unreal… from the color of the sweeping sands in the Sahara Desert to the chamois cloth used to filter out whatever junk was in the aviation fuel — every detail needed to be just right.

I purchased two stunning prints: one of the famous Boeing 367-80 or “Dash 80” and one of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser — the latter appears in Ernest Gann’s Flying Circus.

I can’t say enough good things about Bob Parks. I am eternally grateful to have met him and to now be able to call him a friend. Parks is, of course, part of the “Greatest Generation,” and after spending an afternoon with him… I certainly know why.