In a follow-up piece to our recent article on the ballooning costs of the Air Force One replacement program, we have exclusive photos of the first of the two 747-8i airframes slated to be converted into new Air Force One aircraft—designated VC-25Bs—taking to the air for the first time since being stored in Victorville, California. In our previous piece, we noted that there was action around this aircraft, indicating that a flight may be near.
The 747-8i, FAA registration number N894BA, flew directly from the Southern California Logistics Airport to Lackland AFB's Kelly Field Annex in Texas—the same place where depot-level maintenance and modification occurs on the Air Force's 747-based VC-25A and E-4B fleets. The transformation and entry into service for both 747-8i aircraft is now slated to cost $4.68B. The entire program, including infrastructure costs such as a new hangar at Andrews AFB to house the two jets—the existing hexagon shaped, bunker-like Air Force One hangar is only slightly too small—will bring the total program cost to $5.3B.
The planes were once intended to be delivered to a Russian airline, but that never happened after it went bankrupt. As a result, supposedly President Donald Trump himself negotiated a bargain deal on the orphaned jets from Boeing, although evidence to support that claim doesn't exist and the growing price tag of the Air Force One replacement program overall makes it all that much more questionable.
Also, some have posited that buying aircraft that were already built to standard airline specifications may end up actually costing more to convert them into VC-25Bs compared to just ordering new aircraft as some modifications and provisions for certain unique systems, electromagnetic hardening, and wiring could not have been made on the production line and now they need to be retrofitted. Considering that a brand new 747-8i costs roughly $400M, the aircraft themselves were never a massive part of the overall program's cost.
It has been set for years that the aircraft would be transformed into VC-25Bs at Boeing's Global Support Services facility at Kelly Field Annex, in San Antonio, Texas. Now that this process is about to begin, a real risk of cost growth exists, even though it would be astonishing considering the two aircraft are already looking to be the most expensive aircraft ever built.
Regardless, a process has officially begun that aims to give birth to new Air Force One aircraft to replace the existing 747-200 based VC-25As that are approaching 30 years in age and becoming harder to maintain as first generation 747s of a similar design have all but disappeared from the skies.
We will keep you posted as the process unfolds.
Here are some more shots of the departure from Victorville:
Author's note: A big thanks to our contributor Matt Hartman for grabbing these great shots of the future Air Force One.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com