A plane on view at the U.S. Air Force Museum has an intimate connection to one of the nation’s greatest tragedies.
The Boeing VC-137C on display was the first jet aircraft built specifically for use by the President of the United States. During its 36-year flying career, it carried eight sitting presidents and countless heads of state, diplomats, dignitaries and officials on many historic journeys known as Special Air Missions (SAM), according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
This is the same plane that carried the body of President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated in Dallas, and taken back to Washington, D.C. on Nov. 22, 1963.
U.S. Air Force museum historian, Jeff Underwood said, “This aircraft tells so many stories and encompasses so much American history, Air Force history, air power history, world history, that it’s absolutely one of the most important American artifacts for the American people and for the world.”
When the pilot, Col. James Swindal got word of the assassination, he prepped the aircraft for a quick take-off once everything was in order.
Four seats in the rear of the plane were cut out to allow room for the president’s casket.
Sid Davis, a Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. radio reporter, was on the plane at the time when Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in. According to Davis, the ceremony was a total of 28 seconds with 28 people counted as witness.
“President Johnson’s first words after he took the oath was, ‘Let’s get airborne,’” Davis said. The Boeing 707 was able to set 30 speed records, including one in May 1963 with the fastest non-stop flight between Washington, D.C., and Moscow.
The plane is on view at the Air Force Museum in the Presidential Gallery. Guests can walk through the aircraft.