The flight manual for new Air Force One cost $84 million
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Airplanes, like cars, have user manuals. That includes the Boeing VC-25B, also known as the future Air Force One. That is not news.
What is unusual is that the manuals for the future U.S. presidential jet are going to cost taxpayers $84 million. You read that right.
The Drive reported that Boeing was just awarded an $84 million by the U.S. Air Force to “modify commercial manuals, update with VC-25B-specific information and deliver integrated manuals for the VC-25B system.” That’s a slightly convoluted way of saying that Boeing and its subcontrators will take the existing manuals for the Boeing 747-8, and adapt them for its military version, the VC-25B.
A report from the Pentagon last year pegged the total cost of the VC-25B program at $5.2 billion for the two aircraft, including all the associated expenses. It’s not clear whether that includes those manuals. The figures are staggering, especially compared with the price of a 747-8 off the Boeing assembly line: according to the company’s list prices, two 747-8s would cost $836.8 million And the VC-25Bs weren’t even bought new: they were built for a Russian airline that went bankrupt, never delivered, and stored in the desert until the USAF picked them up to make into the new presidential transport.
The cost had been announced as $3.9 billion in 2018, but expenditures for all military programs have a tendency to balloon. These aren’t off-the-shelf 747s, either. Just like the current two Air Force Ones, 30-year old airplanes derived from an earlier model of the Boeing double-decker and called VC-25A, they must be modified extensively before they are delivered in 2024.
The VC-25Bs are undergoing serious modifications and will be outfitted with the most advanced defense countermeasures, among other things, making them unique compared to their commercial cousins — hence, the need for those new manuals. Government Executive said, “The technical manuals will include more than 100,000 pages with the specifications for flying the plane as well as fixing it, according to people familiar with the high-profile project.” (That’s $840 a page.) According to the contract notice, the manuals are expected to be complete by Jan. 15, 2025.
Sign up for our daily newsletter for the latest news.
Another factor that makes these manuals so pricey is the fact that some parts will be secret, so they have to be developed and printed under secure conditions. Military-system documentation tends to run on the pricier end. For instance, The Drive reminded us that the structural repair manuals for the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, a maritime-patrol jet derived from the 737, cost the Navy $30 million back in 2014.
Boeing has a PDF version online of one of the 747-8 manuals. At 126 pages, it’s a slightly more manageable read than the 100,000-page behemoth the Air Force will have to deal with — and unlike the VC-25B’s manuals, it’s free to download.
Additional reporting by Alberto Riva.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.