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Museum leaders want to snare latest Air Force One for collection

The largest collection of historic American presidential planes in the world are inside a new $40.8 million hangar at the National Museum of the Air Force.

But one jumbo jet with a future parking spot in the hangar hasn’t arrived yet: Museum leaders hope to snare a Boeing 747-200 better known as the current Air Force One when the president is aboard.

The new 224,000-square-foot building, which opens Wednesday, was designed with the idea of landing the high-flying presidential prize.

“We made the doors wider on purpose kind of thinking down the road there’s a big airplane out there that we want to get in here,” said museum historian Jeff Underwood.

The final decision won’t be made until the jets are retired within a decade.

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Air Force One in the house?

Underwood said the museum has “a pretty good shot” at landing one of the two VC-25s, as the Air Force designates the planes.

“We have been making sure that the Secretary of the Air Force and others in Congress and the press understand how important it is to add either one of those aircraft to this great collection of presidential aircraft we already have,” Underwood said. “It’s very important to the museum because it continues the story that we’ve already started.”

If the museum did not get the jet, he said, “it means we’ve left a gap for historians and visitors and curators and the museum people a hundred years from now.”

Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs in Washington, D.C., expects the Air Force will follow the long-standing practice and policy and bring a VC-25 on its final flight to Wright-Patterson.

“The presidential aircraft are a big draw and they’re very popular exhibits,” he said. “We certainly could expect that it would boost attendance.

“There is an economic value in promoting heritage tourism and increasing visitors to the Dayton region does add economic value and create jobs,” he said.

Richard Aboulafia, a senior aerospace analyst with the Virginia-based Teal Group, said a newer Air Force One would “definitely be a draw for tourists” and “make Dayton an even bigger must-see” for aviation buffs.

“And I can’t really imagine many other museums having the space, or any other museum taking precedence for one,” he said in an email Friday.

But outside interest in the planes remains. Last year, a Chicago Tribune columnist urged the Air Force to permanently land one of the two current presidential jets in the Chicago region to honor President Barack Obama’s legacy in the White House. Chicago also is home to the corporate headquarters for aircraft maker Boeing.

Wright-Patterson, meanwhile, has a presidential aircraft program office that manages the Air Force initiative to put the replacement Boeing 747-8s in the skies by 2024.

Texas vs. Ohio

In 2013, the stand-off to keep the Boeing 707 best known as “JFK’s Air Force One,” or SAM 26000, pitted the Air Force and the Ohio congressional delegation against an attempt by Texas lawmakers and foundation representatives backing the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. LBJ supporters were prepared to spend millions of dollars to bring the iconic jet to Austin.

The jet flew President John F. Kennedy’s body back to Washington, D.C., after his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination in Dallas. And the blue and white plane with the presidential seal was the place where then Vice President Johnson, a Texas native, was sworn in as president immediately after Kennedy’s death.

Texas backers lost the fight to corral the plane. The jet will stand as one of the centerpieces inside the new hangar Wednesday, part of a collection of 10 presidential aircraft.

They are a lineage from the past tied to some of the most famous names of the 20th century: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

The historic aircraft start with the propeller-driven Douglas VC-54, dubbed the Sacred Cow, or the first airplane designed to be a presidential transport and which carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today, the timeline stops with the more modern Gulfstream Aerospace C-20B business jet that last flew President Bill Clinton.

“This is the only place in the entire world where you can see such a holistic collection of aircraft that covers the entire history,” said Christina Douglass, a Presidential Gallery project manager.

“Our number one priority is the preservation of these aircraft,” she said. “It’s such a unique collection that exists nowhere else in the world. Our goal is to make sure they are here for many years to come.”

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