How does the most powerful man travel around the world? Any way he wants. And in the case of the President of the United States (POTUS), he travels aboard one of two specially modified Boeing 747-200 affectionately known as “Air Force One.” Operated by the 89th Airlift Wing out of Andrews Air Force base, these fortified aircraft are tasked to transport President Obama and the White House staff all over the globe and allow him to execute the full powers of the Office of the President of the United States.
A few months ago President Obama had a town hall meeting in the San Francisco Bay Area, which meant only one thing, the orchestrated production of moving the POTUS was coming to town. A few days prior to his arrival, the forward staging teams bombarded the Bay Area to coordinate the logistics of the POTUS moving from one location to the next. C-17 Globemaster’s brought in two VH-60N Whitehawks as well as the President’s armoured limousines. Secret Service scouted out safe travel routes and swept buildings. Oh and did I mention all of the snipers?
As this was going on members of the media were coordinating with the White House Press Office to provide coverage of the Presidential visit. I was fortunate to secure one of the few spots at San Francisco International Airport to capture the arrival and departure of Air Force One.
Members of the press had to arrive hours before to be swept and cleared by the US Marshal’s before being allowed anywhere near the President. Bomb sniffing dogs passed through the television news vans and our camera bags. A separate team wanded us down with metal detectors and even the transport bus was searched.
But once that was cleared we were given specially marked credentials sent out to the press platform specially positioned for the members of the media. And then we sat there. And waited. And sat. And waited for hours. Understandably, we were sequestered for safety reasons (ours and the President’s) and led out there early in case Air Force One touched down earlier then scheduled.
As the arrival time neared aircraft movement at SFO, one of the nation’s busiest airports, came to an erie stop. Snipers were scattered on rooftops, emergency vehicles on standby, and a select few VIPs awaited to greet the President.
Secret Service had measured to the inch where the wheels of AF1 would stop. In the photo below, it’s the white mark on the ground to the left of the Secret Service Agent.
The VH-60N Whitehawk helicopters from HMX-1 were positioned just next to where AF1 would end up awaiting to whisk the President to his first stop.
After three hours of waiting, the Agents took up their assigned positions and the motorcade of armored cars rolled in. Our Press officer gave us the 5 minute warning. Air Force One was inbound.
The most recognized airplane in the world with it’s blue and white paint scheme was a mere moments from touchdown. Having seen Air Force One twice before I was still as excited as my first time. Every eye was focused on the approach end of the runways. And in a flash Air Force One was floating over Runway 28 right and greasing the tires at SFO. The President had landed.
With no other airplanes in between it and it’s parking spot, within minutes the VC-25, tail number 28000 was chocked and the air stairs were pulling up to the plane.
One of the interesting things is that the special modified 747 and it’s twin (29000) have a built in set of stairs in the front and back for when they are at airports that do not have the capabilities to support a large aircraft.
The rear stairs deployed and out came the press corp and other white house and military officials who were traveling aboard the aircraft.
The US Air Force VC-25’s callsign is SAM 28000, short for Special Air Mission, until the President is on board and then only does it become “Air Force One.”
As soon as the front door opens, President Obama appears and does a quick wave before he bounds down the stairs towards the awaiting crowd.
With Secret Service shadowing his every move, President Obama shakes the hands of his supporters.
But the man is on a very tight schedule. A few more greetings and he’s walking the 100 meters to the awaiting helicopters.
A sharp salute from the USMC soldiers and the helicopter is buttoned up.
The VH-60N Whitehawks started their engines in unison. Only once President Obama is physically aboard the US Marine Corp VH-60N is that aircraft known as “Marine One.”
Joining Maine One and the identical decoy “Maine One” helicopter are three USMC CH-53’s no doubt carrying the Presidential protective team. They lift off in unison and the two VH-60N’s shuffle their order while the other helos enter a protective formation.
And just like that the POTUS was gone. But left behind was the most powerful aircraft in the world. And one happy photographer.