By Nina Odele

Coronado was such a magical place to grow up.  Of course, as little kids we didn’t know that back in the 60s a nd 70s.  We thought all kids everywhere had a whole Island Paradise to play in. Things were mostly on the quiet side here in our, then, sleepy little town.

Except for when one of the presidents of the United States came to visit.  Then there was stirring and buzzing on every square inch of our happy childhood playground!  Orange Avenue and 4th Street were cordoned off to normal traffic many hours before the heralded appearance of the very impressive shiny black Presidential motorcades.  I could almost feel the collective blood pressure of all my fellow residents rising in anticipation.  People would line the streets waving American flags and larger flags were proudly waving in the median strip all the way down Orange Avenue to the Hotel Del.  It was very much a parade-like atmosphere each and every time.

The Presidents I can remember rolling into our Crown City were:  Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Carter, and Bush Sr.

They all came by car as they had already been to various speaking engagements in and around San Diego.  Coronado was and is a popular relaxing retreat for our Country’s Presidents.  They spent as much time as they could unwinding here.  I remember when it wouldn’t be unusual to see Jimmy Carter jogging on the beach!  After 9/11 everything changed.  It was no longer safe for the motorcades to parade down Orange Avenue.   Even in our VERY military town. Terrorists ruined that tradition forever.

By the time Bush Jr. was in office, the safest way in was to fly straight to Naval Air Station North Island via Air Force One.  I lived right on Sunset Park.  One day I saw police cars driving onto, and lining up in the park — Not something you see every day.  Also, San Diego Police Mounted Patrol parked their horse trailers right in front of my house.  My humble corner was their official staging area.  As an ex-Mounted Officer (San Diego County Sheriff) myself, this was extremely exciting!  I grabbed my camera and went to go visit with them as they readied to form a barrier along the beach when the President flew in.

By this time, there were people gathering all along Ocean Boulevard.  Homeland Security was everywhere as well.  Everyone was finally in place.  I took to my perch on the upstairs balcony with my little 35mm camera at the ready, hoping to snap a photo of AF1 as she flew in.  I had no idea how close I’d be, but I was prepared nonetheless.

Suddenly, there she was, in all her glory! — Flying RIGHT over Sunset Park.  I began clicking away with my camera.  I couldn’t believe how close I was.  The jet itself was very impressive.  I remember thinking how quiet it was compared to the others that flew into North Island every day.  The whole thing lasted maybe 30 seconds, but I will never forget the experience!  It was pretty cool watching the motorcades in those earlier days, but nothing like almost being able to reach out and touch the belly of AF1.

Here are a few of the photos I captured from that awesome day:




Air Force One is the designation of any airplane that serves the President of the United States government.  The same planesare used by the vice-president but are called Air Force Two when he is aboard.  The presidential fleet consists of two customized Boeing 747-200B aircraft (military designation VC-25A) called SAM 28000 and 29000.

The name Air Force One was established after an incident in 1953, when Eastern Airlines flight 8610 crossed paths with the president’s plane, then called Air Force 8610, although the Air Force One name was not made official until 1962.

The first aircraft configured for presidential use was a C-87A (Liberator Express) called Guess Where II, but concerns about the C-87 safety record relegated it to use by senior members of the White House staff, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on her goodwill tour of Latin America.

In its place, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster (VC-54C) was configured for the president and nicknamed Sacred Cow.  It has a sleeping area, radio telephone, and an elevator to raise President Franklin Roosevelt into his wheelchair (but FDR used the plane only once).  This airplane is now housed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

In 1947, President Truman replaced the Sacred Cow with a Douglas DC-6 Liftmaster (VC-118) named Independence after his hometown.  Its nose was painted to look like a bald eagle.  Its aft fuselage was converted into a stateroom.  And the main cabin could seat 24 passengers or could be made up into 12 sleeper berths.  This airplane is now housed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force as well.

In addition to the Independence, Eisenhower used two Lockheed C-121 Super Constellations (VC-121E) called Columbine II and Columbine III and two small Aero Commanders.

In 1958, Eisenhower added three additional aircraft into the executive branch service.  These were Boeing 707 (VC-137) aircraft designated SAM 970, 971, and 972.  These were the first presidential jet aircraft.

During the Kennedy administration, SAM 26000, a Boeing 707 (VC-137) went into presidential service.  Influential industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, designed the new livery (the exterior color scheme) and the interiors.  President Johnson took the oath of office on board SAM 26000, and the airplane continued to serve presidents up to Bill Clinton until 1998.  It was replaced as the primary executive aircraft in 1972 by SAM 27000, another VC-137, which served until 2001.  This airplane is now housed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

In 1990, the two Boeing 747 (VC-25A) aircraft used today were delivered (having been ordered by Ronald Reagan).  The same livery was used, but the interiors were selected by Mrs. Reagan.

A new Air Force One is scheduled to go into service in 2017.  The likely candidates are a Boeing 747-8 and a Boeing 787.

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