Pop quiz, hotshot: Who was the first man who held the office of United States President to fly in an engine powered aircraft? If you answered Richard Nixon, then I’m disappointed in you. But if you said the first President to fly was Theodore Roosevelt, then give yourself a high five.
It happened at the dawn of the golden age of aviation, a mere 7 years after the Wright’s monumental first engine-powered flight in North Carolina. President Roosevelt, a year removed from his two terms in office was out on the campaign trail for the republicans. He stopped off at the Kinlock Aviation Field in Missouri with then Missouri Governor Herbert Hadley.
After initially turning down an offer to fly in a Biplane piloted by Arch Hoxsey*, ace pilot and aviation teacher for the Wright Brothers, he was eventually convinced to go up. The whole event is captured here:
And it’s easy to see from President Roosevelt’s ear to ear grin that it was an incredible experience. Though he was the first President to fly, the the idea of an aircraft specifically for the President’s use didn’t come about until the Second World War, when Theodore Roosevelt’s distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt was serving as the 32nd President of the United States.
A C-54 Skymaster was converted into the Presidential Plane, and flew President FDR to such important events as the Yalta Conference. This particular plane was also used for a couple of years by successor Harry S. Truman, before a new plane was selected. The actual designation, ‘Air Force One’ didn’t come into use until an incident when President Eisenhower’s plane entered the same airspace as a commercial liner, and both planes were using the same call sign.
Since FDR, many planes have served at the pleasure of the President, including a Boeing 707 in the 60’s and 70’s, and currently, a Boeing VC-25, a highly modified military version of a 747.
There is speculation that the current model will be updated, possibly as early as 2017, so the President can continue to hit the skies in style.
*Arch Hoxsey was the first aviator to fly at night. Sadly, he died on December 31st 1910, at the age of 26, when he crashed after dropping from 7,000 feet trying to set a new altitude record.