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How Air Force One Took Off More Times Than It Landed

We’re all familiar with the president’s personal jet, but can you think why it might have taken off one more time than it landed?

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A photo of Air Force One taking off in Las Vegas.
Count the takeoffs with me: one, two, three.
Photo: Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire (Getty Images)

Sure, something like the SR-71 is pretty recognizable, as is the Boeing 747. But if you’re looking to pinpoint the most well-known individual aircraft, look no further than the official jet of the U.S. president: Air Force One.

Since 1953, the name has been handed out to the plane carrying the President of the United States around, and in 1962 the name was joined by a bespoke aircraft created for the purpose. Back then, it was a heavily modified Boeing 707 that was earmarked for the task, but these days its the iconic Boeing 747 that wears the presidential colors and holds the name Air Force One.


But over its 70-year history, there’s a quirky stat that has followed the plane everywhere. Did you know that Air Force One has taken off more times than it’s landed? And no, you’re not forgetting any crashes, mid-air collisions or other nefarious incidents.

A photo of Air Force One landing.
Count the landings with me: one, two, three...
Photo: Bruno Vincent (Getty Images)

How can this be? Well, the story was brought to our attention by YouTuber Tom Scott, who shared the tale on TikTok.

According to Scott, Air Force One has had one more takeoff than it has landings since 1974. Back then, America was going through a switch in its leaders with Richard Nixon starting the year in office, while Gerald Ford ended it.

In the aftermath of Watergate, Nixon was forced to resign and handed power over to Ford, who took on the role of Commander in Chief on August 9, 1974. When the transfer of power took place, Nixon was already in the air aboard Air Force One, as you’d expect the president to be.

A photo of Nixon boarding Air Force One in 1974.
Nixon boarding Air Force One.
Photo: Wally McNamee/CORBIS (Getty Images)

But the fun thing about Air Force One is that it isn’t actually the name of the plane, mostly because there are usually several of them in use at once. Instead, it is the aircraft’s air traffic control sign whenever the president is onboard.

This means that when Nixon boarded the plane as president, it took off as Air Force One. However, the moment Ford was signed in as leader and Nixon was no longer in charge, the plane’s call sign changed. This meant that while it took off as Air Force One, it landed as SAM 27000.