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  • Writer's pictureThom Patterson

Three reasons why a new paint design for Air Force One is nuts

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

Proposed Air Force One livery
An artist's rendering of President Trump's new livery design. (ABC News/The White House)

Editor's note: Thom Patterson is a former CNN senior producer who's been writing and reporting about aviation for more than a decade. Follow him on and on both Instagram and Twitter @thompatterson.

Air Force One is often referred to as a “flying White House.” So let me pose a question: Would the United States ever consider painting the White House another color? Not likely. It's the White House. It's white.

In a way, that’s what President Donald Trump is proposing.

In a TV interview airing Wednesday, Trump showed ABC News a drawing illustrating his plans for a new red, white and blue paint scheme for the presidential fleet. (Trump first announced his new color scheme last year.)

1. It would be embarrassing

Air Force One jets have been sporting their current colors for more than half a century. I mean, it’s kind of like suddenly deciding to redesign the American flag after 243 years, by changing its red stripes to blue.

Or, to put it another way, what if the U.S. added an entire new wing to the Pentagon, thereby changing its shape?

Ridiculous. Right? Perhaps to the point of being shameful.

Changing Air Force One's paint scheme -- often referred to as an airplane's "livery" -- would be an abomination.

“Abomination is right, for more reasons than you thought,” tweets fellow avgeek, Ian Kluft. “It’s just a variation of (President Trump’s) personal plane’s paint.”

Yep, Trump's colors do look somewhat similar the livery on his personal Boeing 757-200 (registration N757AF). Coincidence? You be the judge.

2. It's fine the way it is

Like they say: "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

(Newsflash: It ain’t broke.)

Trump told ABC News he wants the planes repainted to "look more American."

But if you take a close look at the current livery of the presidential fleet, it already screams USA. American flag graphics adorn the vertical stabilizers. The presidential seal is affixed near the front exits. A gigantic "United States of America" label stretches across most of the fuselage. In a word, it's HUGE.

In fact, changing the livery would undo 57 years of branding by 10 U.S. presidents before Trump. All those years of branding eventually built an aviation icon which is beloved around the world.

It's a brand that comes with a message: this jet represents unparalleled power based on military, economic and diplomatic strength.

Over the years the silver, white and sky blue design has become a symbol of freedom.

It all started in the early 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy hired a famous industrial designer named Raymond Loewy to create a special paint design for the first plane ever custom designed specifically for use as a presidential jet.

The four-engined Boeing 707-353B was given the military model designation VC-137C. The Air Force assigned this specific jet a code name: Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000. (As most people know, it's only called Air Force One when POTUS is aboard.)

SAM 26000
SAM 26000, a modified Boeing 707, retired in 1998. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

Over the next five decades Loewy’s livery became truly iconic.

Kennedy flew SAM 26000 to Berlin where he delivered his historic message of support denouncing construction of the Berlin Wall. Additional jets joined the U.S. Air Force SAM fleet. Twenty-four years later, another Boeing 707 (SAM 27000) flew President Ronald Reagan to Berlin to make history again with his “Tear down this wall" speech.

In 1990 under President George H.W. Bush, passengers aboard Air Force One got a lot more elbow room. The widebody era had arrived. Two Air Force VC-25As (modified Boeing 747-200Bs) entered the fleet, which had enough seating for many more members of the press corps and White House staff.

Those aircraft are still in service and need to be replaced.

They'll be swapped out with a pair of larger 747-8I models (Air Force designation: VC-25B).

3. It's already burned into our consciousness

So, after all this history, why should we change such a well-known brand?

It would be like McDonald’s repainting the Golden Arches red. Imagine "The Crimson Arches."

Or like Coca-Cola messing with its classic “Spenserian script” font. Would it be OK to change that font to, say... comic sans? Ha. No.

What if Apple removed the bite from that company’s well-known fruity symbol?

You get my point.

One of the current jets used by the president -- a modified Boeing 747-200B (Air Force designation VC-25A). (Photo: The White House)

There's still hope that someone will step in and stop the madness. Lawmakers have already thrown a wrench into Trump's plans by passing legislation requiring congressional approval before the color scheme can be changed.

Meantime, the new presidential 747s are expected to enter service around 2024 -- after the next general election -- meaning this ridiculous idea could very easily just evaporate into thin air.

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