Update: Thank you to GEB reader Clare for tracking down this article which lead us to positively identify the aircraft in the 3D imagery as a Boeing E-4B, tail number 31677 as seen here and here. Also there is this YouTube video of it landing in Tallinn, Estonia. It is not one of the two Boeing VC-25’s normally used as Air Force One. It is used for transporting senior politicians, amongst other things. For more on the capabilities of E-4B’s see the Wikipedia page.]
Thank you to GEB reader Ryan for letting us know that what appears to be Air Force One has been captured in Google’s 3D imagery.
Is this one of the aircraft used as Air Force One?
Technically Air Force One is the call sign of any aircraft the President of the United States is on. So, given that the President wasn’t on this aircraft at the time it can’t technically be called Air Force One. However, it may be one of two aircraft currently used as Air Force One. It does appear to be the correct model of aircraft, or at least very similar, but the paint scheme is wrong and although we were unable to read the tail number it does not appear to be either 28000 or 29000 that are the tail numbers of the current aircraft used for Air Force One.
Based on comparison with historical imagery, the 3D imagery appears to have been captured sometime between February 2013 and March 2014. We can see the same aircraft in the same spot in historical imagery dated February 11th, 2013. In the image dated March 13th, 2014 we can see, in the neighbouring spot, an aircraft that does have the correct paintwork for Air Force One.
The 3D imagery was captured at McConnell Air Force Base, which is primarily used for air refuelling and airlift and the fleet of Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers can also be seen in the imagery (both 3D and historical).
According to Wikipedia, Air Force One is usually operated from Andrews Airfield, Maryland. There, in an October, 2012 image, we can see what appears to be both the Aircraft used as Air Force One:
And other aircraft with “United States of America” painted on the side:
And going through historical imagery we can find other examples:
Aircraft that previously served as Air Force One are kept in the National Museum of the US Air Force. However, they are kept inside a hanger so they cannot be seen in Google Earth. You can, however, see them in the Google Maps version of Street View or in a Street-View-like virtual tour created by the Museum.
We can see some other interesting aircraft at the museum that have been captured in 3D:
There are also some interesting markings on the runway, whose purpose you can learn more about in this post
The USA is not the only country to designate specific aircraft for the sole use of the head of state. Wikipedia has a list of such Aircraft for a number of other countries. If you are able to find any of them in Google earth imagery please let us know in the comments.
For the locations featured in this post download this KML file.