The VC-118 was a military variation of the Douglas DC-6 commercial airliner. In 1947 USAAF officials ordered the 29th production DC-6 to be modified as a replacement for the aging VC-54C Sacred Cow presidential aircraft. The DC-6 was adapted as the Presidential aircraft and designated the VC-118. It differs from the standard DC-6 configuration in that the aft fuselage was converted into a stateroom; the main cabin seated 24 passengers or could be made up into 12 "sleeper" berths. The VC-118 was formally commissioned into the AAF on July 4, 1947, and was nicknamed Independence for the President Harry Truman's hometown in Missouri.
Probably the plane's most historic flight occurred when it carried President Truman to Wake Island on 15 October 1950 to discuss the Korean situation with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The idea was that President Truman would go out and confer with General MacArthur about the progress of the war in Korea and that he would meet him between Washington and Korea so that General MacArthur would not have to be away from the troops in the field for long. Truman went all the way to Wake Island instead of asking General MacArthur to meet him half-way.
The President traveled on the Independence. Other staff were on the Dew Drop, a Constellation plane which had been readied for Governor Thomas E. Dewey, had he been successful in the Presidential race in 1948. A third plane, a Pan American charter, carried about 35 selected representatives of the news media. This plane always preceded the others by about an hour, so that the press greeted us on the ground on each leg of the journey. A number of Secret Service agents arrived at Wake via the Press plane to augment the advance party which reached Wake Island the day before. The story that MacArthur kept Truman waiting at Wake Island while he directed his plane to circle is without foundation. General MacArthur and Ambassador Muccio had arrived the evening before, and were on the field awaiting the President in the early morning sunlight. Before departure the President presided over a brief runway ceremony awarding a fourth oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Service Medal to the General.
In May 1953, after nearly six years of White House service, the Independence was retired as a presidential aircraft and subsequently served several Air Force organizations as a VIP transport. The aircraft was retired for display at the museum in 1965. This aircraft is located in the Presidential Gallery on a secure part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 1977-1978 museum personnel restored Independence to its former presidential markings and eagle-like paint scheme.
Beginning in 1951, the USAF purchased 165 C-118A "Liftmasters" that were about six feet longer than the Independence. C-118As played a key role in "Operation Safe Haven" when 14,000 Hungarian refugees were airlifted to the United States in 1956-1957.
A VC-118A served as the official Air Force One for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The last propeller driven aircraft to be designated as the primary Presidential transport, the VC-118A was overshadowed with the introduction of the Boeing VC-137s. Both Presidents preferred the larger, faster jet aircraft for longer trips. The VC-118 was used primarily for short trips to airports that were too small for the big VC-137. John F. Kennedy needed to frequently fly to Hyannisport, Massachusetts with its short runway, the Air Force had to use a prop plane. The Douglas fit the bill well and stayed on with the Johnson administration to fly L.B.J. to his Texas ranch. Once the VC-137 became the primary Presidential aircraft the VC-118 was used as a back up plane and to transport lower ranking VIPs.
President John F. Kennedy's official aircraft, a VC-118, permanently transferred from Washington National in 1962, and Andrews officially became the home of "Air Force One." Andrews Air Force Base is a major military airfield just minutes from Washington, DC. Andrews is known for its special air mission -- the transportation of senior government and military leaders. Douglas VC-118 (DC-6) 53-3240 is on display at Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, where it now sports the same livery as Jackie Kennedy had had designed for SAM 62-6000.
VC-118 53-3229 [also a VC-118A], was assigned to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This aircraft had a particularly interesting second career after its retirement from the Air Force in 1975. For several years is flew for the USDA, and then for a succession of private companies. At one point in 1985 it was seized by the Guatemalan Federal Police. It retired to Tamiami Airport outside Miami where was later scrapped.
The US Navy operated four VC-118B aircraft, initially designated as R6D-1Z.
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