Air Force One Move at Museum 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Sight

Restoration specialists tow SAM 26000 from the restoration hangar to the Presidential Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, March, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Restoration specialists tow SAM 26000 from the restoration hangar to the Presidential Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, March, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Snow and a biting windchill didn't deter Sidney C. Palomino and her 5-year-old son, Mauricio, from standing at the edge of a rope line Saturday to see one of the most famous planes in history emerge out of a Wright-Patterson hangar on a morning more like January than April.

She and her son were one of a handful of bystanders who got out of a row of cars and SUVs to face winter-like icy windchill while handlers towed a blue-and-white Boeing 707, best known as the Air Force One jet called SAM 26000, to a new $40.8 million home at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

"This doesn't happen every day," she said. "This is history. It's amazing and I definitely want my kids to see it and participate in it and be this close. It's a once-in-a lifetime thing and I'm excited they get to be here even though it's cold."

It's one of his favorite planes, explained Palomino, 33, of Sugarcreek Twp., as her son ate a snowball in his hand.

"Two years ago he was Air Force One for Halloween," she said. "He had a very elaborate costume. He absolutely loves airplanes so we had to come even though it was snowing and freezing cold."

Under gray clouds and a brief snow flurry, SAM 26000 -- a globetrotting jet that served eight presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton -- followed the Douglas VC-54C "Sacred Cow," the plane of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, into the sprawling new hangar.

The two planes were the latest -- and among the last -- to be hauled since last fall out of a restricted-access building behind the fence at Wright-Patterson that housed dozens of aircraft.

When the relocated display galleries open to visitors June 8, the planes will be in a crowded floor of more than 70 historic and record-breaking presidential, experimental and cargo planes, spacecraft, drones, rockets and missiles.

On average, the main museum complex attracts more than a million visitors a year, but less than 100,000 typically have a chance to see planes like SAM 26000, which flew Kennedy's body back to Washington, D.C. after he was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.

The 224,000-square-foot expansion will draw more tourists to the world largest military aviation museum, officials say, but they haven't given a projection. The new hangar will be the fourth major building since the museum opened in its current spot in 1971.

"We are sure we will see a big boost in attendance," museum Director John "Jack" Hudson said Saturday. "I can tell you that because we get lots of phone calls here along the lines of, 'Gosh, when are you going to open up that new building.'"

Among the most famous aircraft now inside the expansion are the C-141 Starlifter, dubbed the Hanoi Taxi, that brought American POWs home from Vietnam; the only delta-winged, XB-70 Valkyrie experimental supersonic bomber in the world; and the X-15 hypersonic rocket plane that hurtled aviators through the fringes of the atmosphere to touch space.

Assembling the pieces of the jigsaw-like arrangement of planes was a carefully timed choreography, according to Brett Stolle, a presidential gallery project manager.

"The aircraft could only come in one way and they could only come in a certain order," he said. "... The problem was managing the whole schedule to make sure each of the different pieces fell where they were supposed to fall."

SAM 26000 is perhaps the most famous of all. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president on the jet immediately after Kennedy's death and the plane flew Richard Nixon on the first presidential trip to China.

"It tells American diplomatic history," museum historian Jeff Underwood said. "It tells American political history."

Visitors will be able to walk inside four of the 10 presidential planes in the museum's collection.

Danny Franklin, 47, showed up Saturday with his 13-year-old son, Mark, to get a preview of what's inside the new hangar as they watched the two planes roll down the tarmac.

"It's nice to actually see it outside one last time before it goes back tucked in the hangar," the Fairborn man said. "This is probably the last time these planes will see daylight in my lifetime and probably his lifetime. It's something unique."

Daniel Bowen, 61, a retired Air Force crew chief of SAM 26000, also trekked to Wright-Patterson on Saturday.

"To me, it's kind of like an old friend," the Pendleton, Ind., man said. "You get to come back and spend time with her."

He donated to the museum archives a litany of presidential jet artifacts, from a blue maintenance uniform and matches to playing cards and trip books.

"My wife told me I need to clean the closet because I had so much stuff," he said.

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