Air Force One: About The Production

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Principal photography on Air Force One began September 16 in Columbus, Ohio, at Rickenbacher Air National Guard Base Base - which stood in for Germany's Ramstein air field. There, the filmmakers executed an enormously complex aerial stunt involving the 747 that was doubling for Air Force One. "That sequence at Ramstein was probably one of the most difficult scenes I've ever done," admits director Petersen. "It involved an air base at night with the 747 we were using as Air Force One and an escort of six F-15s. The 747 was trying to land while there were 20 or 30 helicopters, troops and many types of military vehicles on the tarmac and everything is moving. It's difficult enough to shoot with just a 747."

The cooperation of all four branches of the United States Military, along with National Guard units in Ohio and California, was instrumental to the production. Their technical expertise and equipment lent the movie an authenticity that is rarely seen.

"We get a number of requests from producers with Hollywood films and we scrutinize those carefully because we feel it's very important that they are as authentic as possible," says Air Force General Ron Sconyers. "On this one, we actually called the producers to see if they would be interested in having some Air Force support. Because this picture was officially sanctioned, we've let them use Air Force bases and equipment not normally made available to Hollywood."

Included among the equipment that the military contributed were six F-15 fighters from Eglin AFB in Florida, an MC-I30E Talon from Hurlburt Field in Florida, a C-5A transport from Travis AFB, California, a C-141 Starlifter from McGuire AFB, New Jersey, two UH69 Blackhawk helicopters from both the Ohio and California Army National Guard, and a pair of C-130 cargo planes, one each from the Ohio Air National Guard and California Air National Guard. Approximately 250 military personnel were employed to maintain and operate all the equipment including 20 military ground vehicles.

The 747 that stood in for Air Force One in all the exterior shots was a rented passenger plane. It took a crew of ten people on round-the-clock 12 hour shifts four days to paint the huge aircraft to replicate the Presidential transport.

Principal photography also took place in Cleveland where parachuting stuntmen landed on the roof of Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra. Other filming was done in Mansfield, Ohio, at the now closed Mansfield Reformatory where The Shawshank Redemption was shot. Cast and crew then moved to Los Angeles and the Sony Pictures lot where the bulk of the production continued inside a full-scale replica of Air Force One that was built on Stage 15 - the largest film stage in the country and the site on which Dorothy walked the Yellow Brick Road in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.

"One of the problems about working in a confined space is reinventing the visual components so they don't become too repetitive," notes Ford. "Thanks to Wolfgang and Michael Ballhaus, I think that was very well accomplished. I had the good fortune to have recently seen Wolfgang's re-cut of Das Boot and what he's able to do is manipulate the tension in new and interesting ways that always turn it back to human behavior. He also always brings a moral context to the stories he tells. I find that fascinating."

Ford, Petersen and production designer William Sandell had the privilege of a guided tour of the real Air Force One while the President was vacationing in Wyoming. They were not allowed to take photos, nor were they shown all of the plane for security reasons.

"The 747 we built had three levels, all built to exact size," explains production designer William Sandell. "We worked from drawings, whatever official photos we were given and any published photos we could find in newspapers and magazines. At the eleventh hour, we were granted a tour of Air Force One, a Godsend to the design process. We designed the look of each level to reflect the mood of the script: cold and austere blues and grays for the upper level, which is the nerve center of the plane, and warm grays and beiges for the middle level, where the business of the Presidency takes place. The mysterious lower level was designed to be very dark and foreboding, an almost spooky place, with a nod to Das Boot."

Assembling the sets was a monumental undertaking requiring hundreds of craftspersons working around the clock. The structure was constructed upon giant gimbals with an hydraulic system that rocked individual sections to simulate turbulence.

Additional filming was done in Russia and Washington, D.C.


First used for North Atlantic mail service in 1939, the Boeing 314 was upgraded for passenger service as the 314 Clipper. Only twelve of these were built, one of which, nicknamed "The Flying Hotel," flew President Franklin D. Roosevelt to strategic meetings, including one with Winston Churchill in Casablanca during the second World War. In 1944, President Roosevelt flew aboard the first official Presidential airplane, a Douglas C-54 (DC-4) Skymaster craft called "The Sacred Cow."

Subsequent to Roosevelt's death and in the aftermath of World War II, commercial aviation took fantastic leaps forward. The DC-6 (C-118) Liftmaster brought new comfort and safety to air travel and one of its line was dubbed "Independence" after the hometown of its primary passenger, President Harry S. Truman. The plane transported Truman from 1947 through 1953.

The DC-6 was replaced in the Eisenhower administration by Lockheed designed C-121s, named "Columbine" I, II and III, which flew the President around the globe through the middle of 1961. It was 18 feet longer than its predecessor with much greater range and speed.

In September of 1961, President John F. Kennedy inaugurated the first Presidential plane to be called "Air Force One." It was a Lockheed C-118 which was replaced by the first commercial jet airplane, the Boeing 707, specifically purchased for use as Air Force One in 1962. It was often referred to in military circles by its tail number, 26000. It was 26000 that transported Kennedy to Dallas on November 22, 1963 and that carried his body back to Washington, D.C. following his assassination.

Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as 36th President aboard 26000 at Love Field in Dallas.

Approximately 10 years later, this same aircraft was used to transport his body home to Texas following his state funeral on Jan 24, 1973. 26000 also flew President Nixon to China in February of 1972. Tail number 27000 replaced its well-worn predecessor and, on Oct. 19, 1981, carved its place in history when it flew former Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter to Cairo for the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The current model, VC-25A, tail number 28000, came into use in September of 1990 under the administration of President George Bush.

Along with the American flag, The White House and Mt. Rushmore, Air Force One is internationally recognized worldwide as a symbol of the United States of America.

Housed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Air Force One undergoes daily maintenance, regardless of whether the plane is preparing for a trip, returning or has been resting in the hangar. Every 154 days, the craft is taken apart and subjected to intense investigation. Because the 747 is now in use across the world, Air Force One has an emergency repair support network accessible to every port.

Air Force One is truly an air-borne presidency. It is designed to transport the President and the Oval Office across the country and across the world. The craft features a Presidential suite complete with TV, VCR, and two couches which convert to full twin beds for the President and the First Lady. Adjoining this private, informal room is a dressing area. This is the first Air Force One to include both full twin beds and a shower.

Air Force One contains two galleys wherein 100 meals can be prepared with the same requirements as in the White House for the crew, dignitaries, staff and the First Family.

The largest conference room aboard Air Force One, which resembles the Cabinet Room in the White House, holds a table with seating for eight, slide and motion picture projector and retractable wall maps. A staff room seats three and can be converted into an emergency medical center. Another conference room is for foreign dignitaries and allow the privacy necessary for international decision making. However, portions of Air Force One do resemble a commercial 747; 34 seats are available for security personnel, adjacent is a resting area for flight crew and lavatories. There are six lavatories in total on the plane.

Air Force One is equipped with the most secure open and closed voice transmission center in the world. The telecommunications aboard can communicate privately anywhere, including astronauts on the Space Shuttle or the crew submerged in a nuclear submarine. Included in this advanced center is a cryptographic system for deciphering classified messages and air-to-ground/ground-to-air facsimile connections.

Along with advanced communication capabilities, Air Force One has the most advanced security measures of any aircraft. Two weeks before travel, an advance team is sent to handle all logistics, including threat assistance measures and the coordination of press, military and communications. The plane is protected against EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, which would result in either an air-borne or ground nuclear explosion. Equipped with the most sophisticated tactical counter-measures of any U.S. aircraft, Air Force One has, essentially, the capability to fly itself. The modified Boeing 747-2 can take evasive maneuvers on auto-pilot allowing it to withstand an in-air attack. In addition, Air Force One can be refueled in air.

All of the amenities and technological details aside, what perhaps is most amazing about Air Force One is that there are two planes, not just one. Tail numbers 28000 and 29000 are always ready and available for service.

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