Air Force One and Ilyushin 96-300 PU in Geneva

F.For Planespotter, the summit between American President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin is the event of the year. Because two of the most famous and mysterious aircraft in the world can be seen at Geneva Airport on Wednesday: Joe Biden’s Air Force One and the Russian President’s Ilyushin 96-300 PU. The American machine, which is based on a Boeing 747-200B version, is probably the most expensive and best protected aircraft in the world thanks to many secret modifications. But the Ilyushin 96-300 variant is probably in no way inferior to it in terms of technology and complexity, despite its somewhat smaller size.

There are two copies of the American government aircraft. The two identical machines are called either Air Force One or Air Force Two, depending on whether the President or his deputy is on board. The 747-200B designated as type VC-25A are old-timers, they were built in the late eighties. The details of the technical special equipment are still largely unknown.

What is certain is that both machines are equipped with a state-of-the-art self-protection system that protects against terrorist attacks with rockets. Such systems can also be found in airliners or business jets of endangered personalities, government leaders or politicians, for example in the most modern government aircraft A350-900 of the Bundeswehr’s aviation readiness.

Several days without landing in the air

The Russian counterpart is also equipped with a state-of-the-art missile defense system. Putin even has the luxury of four identical government aircraft, all of which are based on the four-engine airliner Ilyushin 96.

There are four of them: Vladimir Putin's government aircraft


There are four of them: Vladimir Putin’s government aircraft
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Image: EPA

Air Force One can be refueled in the air to increase range. For this purpose, a tanker aircraft with an extendable tank nozzle flies in front of and slightly above the 747 and supplies the kerosene via an extendable line. The government aircraft could theoretically stay in the air for several days non-stop – although the oil consumption of the four engines means that three days and nights are the limit. So far, Air Force One has only been refueled in the air for training purposes and never when the President was on board.

In 2024 there will be a new Air Force One

In times of war or crisis, Air Force One and Two are airborne command posts. From there, the American president has access to all information from the military and secret services and can instruct them. The civil function of the aircraft: It is used by Joe Biden or Kamala Harris and their spouses to make their journey as relaxed as possible for visits abroad and summit meetings. There are bedrooms for the president or his deputy, as well as conference and relaxation rooms for the entourage as well as spaces for accompanying journalists. One of these rooms can be converted into an infirmary. The Air Force One crew consists of 26 people. A total of 102 people can fly in the machine. Other members of the flying presidential convoy are optionally a tanker aircraft and at least one transport aircraft with an armored limousine on board.

Biden is also likely to witness the commissioning of the new Air Force One, the VC-25B. Two 747-8Is ordered by an insolvent airline and completed by Boeing were not accepted. The American Air Force bought them. They are currently being converted into government aircraft at great expense. For the two new VC-25B, a purchase and conversion price of around four billion dollars was rumored. The first of the two machines could be ready for use in 2024.

For Geneva, the summit is a kind of déjà vu: an Air Force One landed here as early as 1985, but that was a Boeing 707 VC-137C. Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva – on neutral ground.

Janelle B. Smith

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