A president’s plane sits at the Museum of Aviation
People looking to celebrate Presidents Day in Middle Georgia won’t find much in the way of related events, aside from store sales.
The holiday began to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, but now it is commonly viewed to remember the service of all U.S. presidents.
If there is a Presidents Day mecca here, it might be found in the back of a hangar at the Museum of Aviation. There sits a dusty blue and white jet that often served as Air Force One during one of the most critical periods of the 20th Century.
The Lockheed VC-140B Jetstar ferried President Lyndon B. Johnson on short trips while he was in office from 1963 to 1969. The plane was often used to transport Johnson to his Texas ranch, where unlike the big Air Force One, it could land on the short runway there. Johnson flew on it hundreds of times, said Mike Rowland, the museum curator.
It’s likely that on the plane, intense discussions were held about the raging war in Vietnam, the investigation into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the civil rights movement and the war on poverty, among other things.
“I wonder at times what were the conversations that happened on this plane,” Rowland said as he stood beside it. “What were the decisions that Johnson and others may have made while this airplane was taking them around?”
Although the plane is one of Rowland’s favorites in the museum’s collection, it has currently been pushed to the back of the Scott World War II Hangar to make room for the massive B-17 restoration. The VC-140 isn’t technically on display but it can be seen by visitors from a distance.
Rowland said there are plans to restore it but he isn’t sure when that will happen. The restoration will include a new paint job to make it correct to the Air Force One color scheme when it flew, which currently is not the case. The plane is blue on the bottom and white on the top, but that is supposed to be the other way around. The restoration also would add the presidential seal and other markings that are now missing.
Rowland also hopes to have the interior restored as it was when Johnson flew on the plane. Unfortunately though, the seats Johnson used were ripped out before the museum got the plane.
The other issue is that even when it is restored, a spot is going to have to be found to give it the prominence it deserves, Rowland said.
“We are currently almost bursting at the seams with airplanes,” he said.
Were it not for museum staff in the 1980s, the plane would likely be rotting away in an Arizona desert. It had been retired and sent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, known as “The Boneyard,” where retired Air Force planes are kept for parts. Some staff members knew of the plane and its historical importance and thought it should be saved. Rowland said museum staff worked with the Air Force and it was restored to flying condition and flown to Warner Robins. It has been at the museum since the mid 1980s.
There were other VC-140s that served as Air Force One during Johnson’s presidency, Rowland said, but the one at the museum was Johnson’s favorite and was the one he used the most often.