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Air Force One: Technology, Materials and Meatloaf!

Posted on March 7th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

Air Force one

(Source: The White House, www.whitehouse.gov)

Everybody likes an airplane story and Air Force is unlike all others and it has been in the news recently.  Traditionally, any Air Force aircraft carrying the President has been called Air Force One.  Since the middle of the 20th century, Air Force One refers to specific planes that are equipped to transport the Commander-in-Chief (Source: www.WhiteHouse.gov).  Being “equipped” is far more involved than that modest word suggests.  Presently, two highly customized Boeing 747-200B planes are outfitted to serve as Air Force One.

The first president to fly on a jet aircraft was President Eisenhower who went to Europe aboard a Boeing 707 in 1959.  The first specially equipped Air Force One was a Boeing 707 that debuted in 1962 during the presidency of John F. Kennedy.  At the time the single isle B-707 was the state of art for passenger air travel.  In 1990, the old B-707’s were retired and replaced with two new B-747-200’s.  The added space amounting to 370 square meters on three levels was more befitting of the demands of the late twentieth century world.  As US presidents began travelling long distances they had to have access to all the office accouterments of the White House while airborne.

In addition to the President and his companions, a relatively large entourage including the press travel on Air Force One.  The facilities on board of the B-747-200 include the following accommodations for a total of 70 passengers (Source: The Boeing Co., www.boeing.com/defense):

  • Conference/dining room
  • Quarters for the president and the first lady
  • An office area for senior staff members
  • Another office that converts into a medical facility when necessary
  • Work and rest areas for the presidential staff, media representatives and Air Force crews
  • Two galleys that can provide 100 meals at one sitting

According to the White House Air Force One is capable of refueling midair.  It has thus unlimited range and can carry the President wherever he needs to travel. The onboard electronics are hardened to protect against an electromagnetic pulse, and Air Force One is equipped with advanced secure communications equipment, allowing the aircraft to function as a mobile command center in the event of an attack on the United States.  The aircraft is equipped with a number of defensive capabilities that have not been disclosed for security reasons.

Plans are to replace the current Air Force One with the latest derivative of the venerable 747-airframe. By the time the new 747-8t enters service the old -200’s will be 30 years old – well past the retirement age of most airliners.  The new planes are even longer than the previous models at a length of over 76 meters and a wingspan of almost 69 meters.  Both -200 and -8 equipment have a maximum cruising altitude of 13.7 km.  The maximum range of 747-8 is 7,730 nautical miles almost 1,000 miles faster than the 747-200.  It has a whopping maximum takeoff weight just shy of 448,000 kg, almost 20% heavier than the 747-200 models.  In spite of higher weight 747-8 emits 16 tons less carbon dioxide per trip than the old planes.  It is both more fuel efficient and more environmentally friendly than the old planes.

Carbon fiber, graphite and other composites along with aluminum, titanium and stainless steel are used in the construction of the fuselage (Figure 1).  Nearly 70% of the weight of the 747-8 consists of new materials.  There is extensive use of carbon fiber in secondary structures, while the fuselage incorporates new advanced aluminum alloys throughout its length.  The suffix -8 pays homage to Boeing 787 (Dreamliner) because of the incorporation of some of its technologies in the new 747-8.

Construction materials of Boeing

Figure 1 Construction Materials of Boeing 747-8 Aircraft (Source: Boeing Co., www.Boeing.com)

There are roughly six million parts in a 747-8 fuselage riding on a massive main landing gear with 16 wheels.  Each aircraft contains approximately 250 km of wire and cable insulated with a variety of materials such as polyimide, fluoropolymers and even mica film.  In addition to connecting the functional parts of the systems in the plane separate wires connect each function of the passenger seats to control units.

According to the chief project engineer of 747, Bruce Dickinson, the wing design of the -8 is a completely new design (Source: FlightGlobal, www.flightglobal.com).  Indeed the wing shares little with the 747-400 other than its 35˚ sweep and incorporates new materials that help reduce weight.  Advanced aluminum alloys are incorporated in the wing and carbon composites are used for the trailing edge and raked tip.  747-8 flies on four Boeing 787’s (Dreamliner) GE engine optimized for the new plane.  The suffix -8 pays homage to Boeing 787 because of adoption of many if its advance technologies in the new 747-8.

Clearly, Boeing 747-8 is a magnificent replacement for the current Air Force One.  It is a major innovation on the nearly fifty year-old 747 airframe that has proven its reliability over time.  The plane is fuel efficient and environmentally less harmful than the previous models.  It has the size and range to accommodate presidential travels around the globe.  There have been discussions about alternative replacements for Air Force One including the much smaller Boeing 737 airframe and the B-21 stealth bomber developed by Northrop Grumman.  Neither has a significant chance of beating out the 747-8 in spite of controversy around the cost of the two 747-8’s.

And now to the meatloaf… Air Force One galleys and the White House kitchen strive to offer favorite dishes of the President and the First Family.  President’s Obama’s favorite dinner dish was salmon and broccoli, widely known as a healthy meal.  President Trump’s favorite dish is meatloaf, which is probably now served on Air Force One.  Suffice to say meatloaf is a polarizing dish because of strong pro and con views of its ingestion suitability.


 

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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