Chasing Presidents Upward

Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential plane, The Sacred Cow.

Long about a year ago, I walked into a Safety Meeting of the first shift machinists and looked around the room and said, “I’m sure your wondering why I asked you all here tonight. Years ago, one of you did something very bad…”

I saw one of the machinists mouth drop open. He called out, “MASH!”

Indeed it is a line from MASH, spoken by Hawkeye, one of the greatest characters played by one of the greatest actors- no I don’t care what side of the aisle he is on- Alan Alda. It must have tickled this machinist a lot because for the rest of my tenure he tickled me with historical anecdotes, trip advisories, quotes and interesting things to think about. Even after I left that company, he still sends me YouTube videos. And we recently made good on a six month plan to visit Wright Patt- or more specifically, the Air Force Museum.

It has been over a year since I last walked among the aircraft, but even if you have been there once, twice, three times- it is hard not to gasp at the sight of a Stealth Bomber in the hangar. We walked through the World War II exhibits. Having just completed As He Saw It by Elliott Roosevelt, I felt a great deal more educated on what I was looking at; plane after plane, engine after engine.

I am not a ‘car guy.’ I am not a mechanic. And I suppose my immediate circle has dwindled enough that I am surrounded by people who understand this and don’t mind. I think Grandpa Dale was always disappointed that I didn’t know how many cylinders any particular vehicle had. And that is even after seven seasons at Norwalk Raceway.

But I am remotely interested, and the Air Force Museum does an excellent job for us.

At the very end of the three hangars of spectacular feats of flight, sit the presidential planes. They have the Sacred Cow that flew Roosevelt. I couldn’t help but think that FDR could have died in that plane. He was kept alive by sheer will in 1945. Then the Independence for Harry Truman.

They allow you to walk inside these planes, but give you an opportunity to pass through a ‘test’ squeeze down below. Let me tell you, if you don’t fit through the test- a plexiglass channel that squeezed me enough to startle me. People were thinner back then, for sure, but they also have the entire plane outfitted in plexiglass so to not scuff the history. I don’t mind this. Planes are tight anyway.

Eisenhower chose a plane he named Columbine, after Mamie’s adopted state of Colorado. He liked Colorado, too, by the way.

And then the nation’s first Air Force One. Aviation aficionados will start their fingers tapping out an email to me explaining that the plane is only named Air Force One if the president is inside. I know this. But I am still calling this particular plane, Air Force One.

It was first used by President Kennedy. And of course, it is one of the dark symbols of those days following his assassination in Dallas. I still remember when NBC replayed the six hours of air time from the moment they went on the air to 8:00 or so. I remember the cameras fixed on the back of Air Force One, the commentator relaying that they were “struggling with the casket… struggling to get it off the plane.”

The rear of the plane, where the casket set, is extremely tight. I can understand it needed turned to point straight out the door and it was not easy. It is odd, to have stood in so many places around the country where our presidents stood. This one is hard.

It is well known to my readers that it was a conversation with my Grandma Great that sparked my interest in presidents, notably John Kennedy. But it was later, at my Grandpa Dale and Grandma Jean’s house, that I sat on the floor with The Torch is Passed sitting on my lap, looking at the photo story of the assassination and this… this awful plane.

Later that year, my Grandma Betty gave me her copy of the same book. She never took it out of the box it came in from the publisher.

Many presidents used the plane after the trip back from Dallas. (By the way, Lyndon used the car Kennedy was killed in for many years afterward. Now that is just awful.) But planes are hard to scrap and there was no need. It was retired, I believe, during Reagan’s administration.

There are some smaller jets to round out the presidential plane exhibit, and some neat things for the kids. I recommend a trip to this wonderful museum for anyone. From the Wright Brothers to Space, it covers everything, without making too much of a fuss that Ohio was at the forefront of so much of it.

National Museum of the US Air Force

By Eric Ebinger

Constantly feeding the passion of studying presidents with reading, writing and walking humbly in their footsteps. Constantly- except for the 50 hours a week I serve as Human Resources Manager for a wonderful manufacturing company in north central Ohio. 

Related Posts

Review: As He Saw It

Review: As He Saw It

by Elliott Roosevelt, Copyright 1946 I have struggled to write this review, as I finished the book two weeks ago. Not only from the standpoint that it is my first review and I want to establish what...

2? (Or 3?) Okay, 3.1

2? (Or 3?) Okay, 3.1

C3PO said it best, "Here we go again."He said it with a lot of emotion- for a droid. Not exactly looking forward to the journey, but on the journey nonetheless.I am closing a remarkable week. I...