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​The Air Force is expected to buy two mothballed Boeing 747-8i aircraft to serve as the basis for the new Air Force One, the service acknowledged on Aug. 1, 2017. Shown here is picture of a Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which currently serves as Air Force One when the President is on board. White House photo.

—John A. Tirpak

The Air Force is in the final stages of buying two mothballed 747-8i aircraft in storage in the Mojave desert to serve as the basis for the new Air Force One aircraft, the service confirmed Tuesday. A USAF spokeswoman said the Air Force is in final negotiations and expects “to award a contract soon,” but could offer no details. However, USAF and industry sources said a contract bluetop announcement could come as early as this week.

According to Defense One, the two aircraft were originally ordered by the now-defunct Russian airline Transaero. When it went bankrupt in 2015, Russia’s Aeroflot airline bought up most of Transaero’s assets, but declined to follow through on the 747-8i order. After the jets were built, Boeing flew them to the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. The facility is a boneyard that stores both decommissioned aircraft as well as those built but awaiting delivery, and some that are owned by leasing companies.

The “book value” on a 747-8i is about $380 million, and industry sources told Air Force Magazine the Air Force would be getting a “deal” on the aircraft, which, though they have been in storage, are not technically “used” since they were never operated in airline service. The jets are painted white and have never had any airline livery painted on them, nor have they ever been in the custody of Transaero or Aeroflot. The two jets do have passengers seats installed, which would have to be removed for Air Force One remodeling.

Boeing’s original plan called for 747-8s to be built fresh for the Presidential Aircraft Replacement program, and neither the Air Force nor Boeing could immediately say whether buying already-built aircraft could or would accelerate the PAR program.

A Boeing spokeswoman said the deal “is focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer.” Though she could not comment on the pacing of the project, a reprogramming request from the Air Force in July suggested that it could take delivery of the jets in December of this year. The program is expected to cost over $3 billion through 2022.

Defense One reported that Transaero ordered four 747-8is, but Boeing built only two of the aircraft. FlightGlobal reported that the four-jet deal was worth $1.5 billion.

The Air Force’s purchase seems to lock down the Air Force One fleet at two airplanes. The original PAR concept called for having three; one to fly the President, one fly-along spare, and one available for depot maintenance or as a second spare. The existing Air Force Ones are 747-200s that date back to the 1980s.

The PAR program merely starts with the aircraft. The bulk of the cost of the program will come in hardening the aircraft to survive electromagnetic pulse, in the extensive communications equipment needed to keep the President connected to the armed forces and other branches of government, in uprated engines, and in defensive equipment needed to help the jet evade missiles. The interior of the aircraft, which are somewhat larger than the two existing jets and feature an extended dorsal “hump,” will be fitted out with staterooms for the President and his family, an elaborate galley, work areas for White House staff, and seating for Secret Service, journalists, and other travelers.


See also: The Next Air Force One from the June 2016 issue of Air Force Magazine.