Boeing Is Being Paid $84 Million Just For Manuals For New Air Force One Jet

Everything aviation is expensive. It’s just a fact. Everything military aviation is really expensive. That’s also an unfortunate fact. Everything military aviation related to flying the President is absolutely absurdly expensive. Another inconvenient fact. Yet it’s hard to swallow the price tag on the contract Boeing was just awarded by the Air Force for manuals for two new VC-25B Air Force One jets it is currently converting from orphaned 747-8i airframes. That price tag? A cool $84,000,000. 

Yes. You read that correctly. $84,000,000 for modified manuals to an upgraded airframe, the basis of which is in commercial service around the globe. 

We wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t lay the groundwork for just how unique the VC-25Bs will be compared to their commercial cousins. The aircraft will be outfitted with the most advanced defense countermeasures system on earth. It will be hardened against electromagnetic pulses caused by detonating nuclear warheads. It will have the most advanced secure airborne communications system of its kind and it will be outfitted with a unique interior, filled not only with creature comforts, but also with the subsystems needed to cool and sustain the people and the missionized equipment it hosts onboard. 

These aircraft are also likely to have unique areas of the 747-8i’s flight envelope explored for specific maneuvers that will be operationally unique to them, such as abbreviated, steep takeoffs and landings, and procedures for maneuvering the aircraft if it were to come under attack. Finally, the manuals, or at least some of them, will be secret, so they have to be developed and printed under those conditions, which is never a cheap proposition. 

Even with all that in mind, we are still talking about $84,000,000 worth of flight manuals here for two jets derived from an existing sub-type, which itself is derived from a design that has been flying for roughly half a century, which the VC-25B’s predecessor, VC-25A, is based on. So, it isn’t exactly unfamiliar terrain we are talking about here.

President Trump in front of one of two VC-25As that currently serve in the role of Air Force One. , AP

The contract award announcement reads:

The Boeing Co., Seattle, Washington, has been awarded an $84,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract modification (P00068) to previously awarded contract FA8625-16-C-6599 for VC-25B technical publications.  This contract modification is to modify commercial manuals, update with VC-25B-specific information and deliver integrated manuals for the VC-25B system.  This includes manuals developed by both Boeing and their subcontractors.  Work will be performed in Seattle, Washington, and is expected to be complete by Jan. 15, 2025.  Fiscal 2019 and 2020 research and development funds in the amount of $13,572,333 are being obligated at the time of award.  This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition.  The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity.

It is hard to really get one’s head around the fiscal scale of the Air Force One recapitalization program. the program’s total price tag, including things like new hangars and other ancillary items, comes in at $5.3B. The aircraft themselves will cost $4.7B, making them the most expensive planes ever made. This runs counter to the claims by President Trump that he personally slashed the cost of the jets. You can read more about this cost breakdown here

The entire program has become a hot topic during Trump’s first term in office, starting from before he was even inaugurated. You can actually see the briefing he was originally given on the program in this past War Zone exclusive. Later on, the cost became just one facet of the controversy. Trump’s move to change the aircraft’s historic livery with one he saw more fitting caused arguably even a bigger stir. Other elements of the program, including the fact that these new and highly expensive airframes won’t have aerial refueling capability like their predecessors, have also raised some eyebrows. 

VC-25B Air Force One in its new Trump specified livery. , DoD

As for the cost of the manuals, they seem almost unimaginably expensive, but the reality is that the documentation that supports military systems is anything but cheap.

For instance, structural repair manuals for the P-8 Poseidon cost the Navy $30M. A technical manual for the Husky mine detection vehicle cost nearly $14M. Still, $84M is a major chunk of change for documentation of anything, even the most expensive airplanes ever built. 

In the end, it’s just safe to say that every facet of moving the President around has become mind-blowingly expensive. 

Hat tip to Marcus Weisgerber for the heads up on the contract announcement!

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