Air Force One has been a symbol of America’s preeminent position as a global power in the aerospace industry for the last 60 years. The callsign, iconic blue-and-white livery and jet-powered aircraft used for the role have become as associated with the American presidency as the White House. However, a supersonic passenger aircraft has never served as the President’s official air transport. The U.S. Air Force is interested in partnering with a startup manufacturer to change that.
In 2020, the U.S. Air Force Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate signed contracts with three fledgling manufacturers, Boom Supersonic, Exosonic and Hermeus. Each of the relatively new plane builders is at a different stage of development. Hermeus has tested its Mach 5-capable hypersonic engine. Boom has built and is testing a one-third-scale demonstration plane. Boom is so far in development that United Airlines and American Airlines have contracts to order up to 110 Boom Overture airliners.
It’s not surprising that the Air Force would like to accelerate American aerospace development through financial backing. Also, the United States would have a new prestige aircraft to serve as Air Force One. The air warfare branch hopes one of the three startups will eventually supply the service with a gutted-out derivative of a fully-developed supersonic commercial airliner.
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The Boom Overture, scheduled to enter passenger service in 2029, has an extremely impressive spec sheet. Boom claims its airliner will have a cruising speed of Mach 1.7 or roughly 1,300 miles per hour and a range of almost 4,900 miles. The manufacturer is also aimed to operate the Overture on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel. However, the Overture would lack some amenities of the Boeing VC-25A, the current Air Force One.
The VC-25A, derived from a Boeing 747-200B, has a crew of 26 people and accommodates 76 passengers, including the President. The massive Boeing is fitted with a medical annex, two galleys and an entire private suite for the President, including a lavatory with a shower. Boom states the slender Overture will seat 80 passengers at most in commercial service. There is no way the Air Force could cram the current amenities into a narrowbody fuselage.
If purchased, the U.S. Air Force would have to completely refit the Overture to serve the needs of the President. The narrowbody aircraft would be equipped with a secure teleconference room, a meeting room, a private office for the President and a general seating cabin. The Overture would also be modified for aerial refueling and fitted with anti-missile countermeasures. Presumably, the flights won’t be long enough to sleep on.
The U.S. Air Force is retiring the Boeing VC-25A in 2025 for the modernized Boeing VC-25B. If the supersonic airliner fills the role of Air Force One, it won’t be until the 2030s at the earliest. Outside of the United States, supersonic travel has been used for state travel in the past. Concorde, jointly developed by Britain and France, was chartered on occasion to transport Queen Elizabeth II and the Presidents of France.