This Average Looking Plane Was Literally Where The US Air Force Was Born

The Original Air Force One Was, known as Sacred Cow has a special place in US Air Force history.

In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first sitting US president to fly in an airplane. The aircraft was a Navy-owned, but civilian operated Boeing Clipper 314, the Dixie Clipper. General “Hap” Arnold, then commander of the US Army Air Force (USAAF), preferred that the president be flown by an Army Air Force’ aircraft and crew. The USAAF contracted with the Douglas Aircraft Company to build a military transport specifically for the special needs of the president.

Douglas VC-54C built specifically for President F. D. Roosevelt. (2016, USAF Photo)

The “OG” Air Force One

The Douglas VC-54C “Skymaster” was the first purpose-built presidential aircraft. The aircraft was officially designated “The Flying White House.” However, because the aircraft was heavily protected by security on the ground, ramp personnel often referred to the aircraft as the “sacred cow.” Overhearing the attendants working on the ramp, the name “Sacred Cow” was bestowed on the aircraft by the press.

Modifications to the aircraft included a conference room with a large desk. One special feature is an elevator behind the passenger cabin to lift Roosevelt in his wheelchair into the airplane. The aircraft could accommodate 15 passengers. As a security measure, the original serial number (displayed on the aircraft) was changed prior the Roosevelt’s first flight.

Special elevator to lift President Roosevelt in his wheelchair into the aircraft (Photo: Jeff Richmond).

Roosevelt used the “Sacred Cow” only once—on his historic post-WWII trip to the Yalta Conference in the USSR to meet with British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and in the USSR in February 1945. The trip to Yalta was Roosevelt’s only flight in the aircraft before he died two months later in April.

Post WWII meeting in Yalta, 1943. Left to right: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt, and Premier Joseph Stalin.

The Sacred Cow remained in presidential service during the early years of President Truman’s Administration. In 1947, the “Sacred Cow” became the “birthplace” of the United States Air Force when, aboard the aircraft, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 that established the Air Force as an independent service.

The sacred cow only flew for a few years

In 1947 military officials ordered a modified DC-6 (military VC-118) to replace the VC-54C “Sacred Cow.” Nicknamed “Independence” for Truman’s hometown in Missouri, this VC-118 had state-of-the-art communications equipment, a presidential stateroom in the aft fuselage, plus seating for 24 passengers.

You can tour the plane today

The “Sacred Cow” is on display and open for walk-throughs at the National Museum of the Air Force. It was recently transferred to the Presidential Collection in the new wing of the museum. Previously, the Presidential Collection had been crowded into a hangar at Wright-Patterson AFB.

President Roosevelt’s VC-54 presidential aircraft being transferred to the new wing of the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (2016, USAF Photo)

Seven (plus 15 passengers)
Engines: Four Pratt and Whitney R-2000 engines of 1,450 hp each
Maximum speed: 300 mph
Range: 3,900 miles
Ceiling: 22,300 feet
Weight: 80,000 lbs. (loaded)
Serial number: 42-107451 (displayed as 42-72252)

“The Flying White House,” a.k.a., the “Sacred Cow,” at Yalta, 1943.
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