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Special Air Mission

VC-6 "Lady Bird"
VC-54 "Sacred Cow"
VC-118 "Independence"
VC-121 "Columbine II/III"
VC-135 Command Support
VC-137 "Air Force One"

VH-1N Marine-1
VH-34 Choctaw
VC-3 Martin
VC-4 Gulfstream I
VC-11 Gulfstream II
VC-20 Gulfstream III/IV
VC-25 Air Force One
C-32 757-200
C-37 Gulfstream V
VC-143 Challenger 604

VH-3 Marine-1
VH-53D Sea Stallion
VH-60 Marine-1
Recapitalization (PAR)

VXX Vertical Lift Aircraft
VH-71 Marine One
VH-92 Superhawk

Special Air Mission [SAM] aircraft provide safe, comfortable, and reliable air transportation for the President, Vice President, Cabinet, members of Congress, and other high-ranking American and foreign dignitaries. Flying worldwide, SAM aircraft represent the highest level of DV travel and must meet stringent schedule and protocol requirements under intense media scrutiny. The 89th Airlift Wing provides this service with 17 aircraft dedicated to the SAM and 15 helicopters supporting federal emergency requirements.

SAM is especially essential in wartime when diplomacy and negotiation become critical elements of national security strategy. World events may, at any given time, require the nation's leaders to be dispatched simultaneously on diplomatic missions around the world. Physical and communications security are integral to the mission. SAM passengers conduct highly sensitive business while en route, and their objectives must not be compromised. Mission protocol dictates the use of civilian airports almost exclusively. Because SAM aircraft are the official transportation for leaders of the United States Government, they are a highly visible symbol of the United States of America. National pride dictates these aircraft portray the highest American standards. SAM mission areas may be divided into the following categories:

  • Presidential Mission: A mission directed by the White House to transport the President of the United States or members of the First Family.
  • Special Air Mission: A mission operated by the 89th Airlift Wing by direction of the USAF Vice Chief of Staff (CVAM). Primary passengers are the Vice President, Cabinet secretaries, and senior officials of the Executive Branch, as well as Congressional delegations and foreign senior statesmen.
  • Helicopter Special Mission: The mission of the 1st Helicopter Squadron is to provide emergency helicopter transportation for officials of OSD, JCS, the Services and civil departments of the federal government to relocation sites during a national crisis.

Presidential air transport began in 1944 when a C-54 Skymaster -- the "Sacred Cow" -- was put into service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then came the "Independence," a VC-118 / DC-6 Liftmaster, which transported President Harry S. Truman during the period 1947 to 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled aboard the "Columbine II" and "Columbine III" from 1953 to 1961. Mrs. Eisenhower christened it Columbine III in honor of the official flower of Colorado, her adopted home state A 1953 incident where Eisenhower's aircraft was "Air Force 8610" and an Eastern Airlines plane was "8610" created the need to devise a unique call sign. The call sign "Air Force One" was classified during the '50s to identify not only the president's plane, but when he was aboard. In September 1961, it became popularly known when it identified President John F. Kennedy flying aboard his C-118.

In 1962, a C-137C specifically purchased for use as Air Force One, entered into service with the tail number 26000. It is perhaps the most widely known and most historically significant presidential aircraft. Tail number 26000 is the aircraft that carried President Kennedy to Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963, and returned the body to Washington, D.C., following his assassination. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into office as the 36th president on board the aircraft at Love Field in Dallas. This fateful aircraft also was used to return President Johnson's body to Texas following his state funeral Jan. 24, 1973.

In 1972 President Richard M. Nixon made historic visits aboard 26000 to the People's Republic of China in February and to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in May.

The SAM fleet is a diverse mix of long, medium, and short-range aircraft, suitable for both large and small passenger loads. Logistics support for SAM aircraft is a combination of military and contractor support. Aircraft maintenance is handled by an Aircraft Generation Squadron and a Maintenance Squadron, as well as CLS for the C-9, C-20, C-32, and C-37. Supply support is a coordinated effort between Base Supply for the H-1, and Contractor Operated and Maintained Base Supply (COMBS) for the VC-25, C-137, and C-20.

The C-9 fleet is flown at less than half the C-9 aeromedical evacuation fleet utilization rate. An engine hush-kit program is underway to allow the aircraft to meet FAA Stage 3 noise compliance requirements. The UH-1N aircraft are modified helicopter gunships using 1960's technology. They surpassed their useful service life of 20 years by 5 years and have not had a structural upgrade/overhaul.

The SAM fleet, with the exception of the VC-25 and C-20, is tasked to its limit and is costly to operate. The 89 AW achieves almost perfect mission reliability worldwide through the increasing expenditure of time, effort, and money on maintenance and spare parts fabrication.

While they can deliver their distinguished passengers anywhere in the world, the cost of guaranteeing their high-reliability rate continues to increase. With modernization, almost every aspect of SAM can be improved. A study of the SAM is determining the lift requirements and will provide a baseline for future fleet modernization decisions. A modernized fleet will incorporate improvements in range, payload, maintenance reliability/supportability, and the ability to operate independent of ground support equipment.

The current fleet is limited from transiting certain airfields due to FAA/ICAO noise restrictions and is required to stop for fuel on a standard transAtlantic mission. Additionally, communications capabilities differ widely among aircraft and between aircraft types, reducing the spectrum of communications available to the DV party while en route. A modernized SAM fleet will enable operations into more airfields with fewer stops at less expense than can be currently realized. The UH-1N is also range limited and cannot complete all of its assigned missions under instrument meteorological conditions. As AMC looks to the future, many modernization alternatives will be considered, including the upgrade of existing systems or the purchase/lease of new aircraft.

A replacement program for the C-137, the C-32A, began delivery in FY98. Te C-9A fleet will require modernization in the near future, and the Command should study the feasibility of including the SAM C-9Cs if the specialized airlift fleets are not consolidated. The C-20 fleet is undergoing modernization. All C-20Bs and C-20Hs will receive communications and avionics upgrades. A portion of the C-20B fleet will be replaced with the C-37A. A Statement of Need has also been validated to replace the UH-1N helicopters.

Special Assignment Airlift Mission (SAAM) are aircraft operated by units other than by the 89th Airlift Wing to satisfy a requirement needing special pickup or delivery at locations other than those established within the approved channel structure; or to satisfy a requirement needing special consideration because of the number of passengers, weight, or size of the cargo, urgency, or sensitivity of move-ment, or other special factors. These missions are designated:

  • PHOENIX BANNER. A SAAM supporting the President of the United States.
  • PHOENIX SILVER. A SAAM supporting the Vice President of the United States.
  • PHOENIX COPPER. A SAAM supporting the United States Secret Service (USSS) when not supporting the President or Vice President.

Standby force definitions are expanded as follows when constituted in support of PHOENIX BANNER or PHOENIX SILVER missions:

  • BRAVO Standby. Aircraft and aircrew capable of departing 3+00 hours after notification for C-130, C-141, and C-17 and 3+45 hours for C-5.
  • ALFA Standby. Aircraft and aircrew capable of departing 1+00 hour after notification for C-130, C-141, and C-17 and 1+45 hours for C-5.

To support short-notice PHOENIX BANNER and PHOENIX SILVER missions, AMC maintains C-141 aircraft and augmented aircrews on standby at various locations. Specific missions may require standby C-5, C-17, or C-130 aircraft. When the cargo load requires a C-5 (HMX-1 helicopters), a C-5 will be used to back up the mission. Aircraft selected to fly these missions must meet the highest standards of reliability and must not have an uncorrected history of repeat or recurring malfunctions. Missions are extensively coordinated and any delay has serious effect on mission support. PHOENIX BANNER, SILVER, and COPPER missions are of high level interest and must get special attention in accordance with established CLOSE WATCH procedures. Any problems that affect the mission will be immediately brought to the attention of the TACC Command Center for AMC controlled assets or theater AMOCC (theater controlled assets).

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:35:36 ZULU