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The US Air Force Is Buying Abandoned 747-8s for Use as the Next Air Force One

Aug. 01, 2017
4 min read
The US Air Force Is Buying Abandoned 747-8s for Use as the Next Air Force One
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Update 08/04/2017: The Air Force has confirmed that it will indeed convert the two 747-8 aircraft into the next Air Force One, and will disclose the purchase price at a later date.

Air Force One is the pinnacle of American prestige, a universally recognizable symbol of the power of the United States. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the next incarnation of the iconic airplane will not only be an aircraft bought secondhand by the Air Force, but one that was originally produced for an adversary of the US — none other than Russia.

The current jet for the president is a Boeing VC-25, a 747-200B passenger variant that had been heavily retrofitted to be Air Force One. The current two examples aren't exactly new — they've been in service for almost 30 years. The Obama administration developed plans to replace the aging aircraft, eventually deciding back in 2015 on the Boeing 747-8.

Air Force One (Boeing VC-25). Photo courtesy of Carsten Koall/Getty Images.

However, with costs climbing beyond $4 billion, President Donald Trump famously tweeted that he was unhappy with it, prompting Air Force officials to seek alternatives.

According to Defense One, the Air Force may have found a good deal by buying a pair of Boeing 747-8 jetliners that have already been built but are currently sitting abandoned in the Mojave Desert. Their intended customer? A now-defunct Russian airline called Transaero, which ceased operations in 2015.

In an email to TPG, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said that service officials are "working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and expect to award a contract soon."

While the specific value of this contract is unknown, the military is expected to get a good deal on the aircraft, as Boeing has been looking for a buyer since Transaero's bankruptcy two years ago.

“We’re still working toward a deal to provide two 747-8s to the Air Force — this deal is focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer,” Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson said in a statement.

The two aircraft in question, N894BA and N895BA, were ordered by Transaero back in 2013 when it was still Russia's second-largest carrier. Boeing built two of the four 747-8s the airline ordered prior to its bankruptcy, and decided to store them as it looked for alternative buyers. According to FlightAware, the two aircraft have been parked in storage since late February in Victorville, California — a hot and dry location that minimizes corrosion damage to the airframe.

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There are a few reasons we think this may be a good deal for both parties. For the Air Force, this deal lowers the airframe acquisition costs, which should be welcome news to the president. Remember, even though these are undelivered aircraft that have been abandoned by an airline, they're brand new jets, which have barely flown save for flight tests. Also, once the transaction is complete, the Air Force can immediately begin retrofitting the planes with the necessary state-of-the-art defense and communications equipment. For Boeing, this represents a quick and easy way to rid itself of two $380 million aircraft which otherwise would just continue depreciating over time.