WASHINGTON — The paint scheme for the next Air Force One will remain largely the same as the current version of the presidential aircraft, but with a slightly deeper shade of light blue instead of the current robin’s egg blue.
The Air Force said Friday President Joe Biden has selected the Boeing-made VC-25B’s new livery design, bringing to a close years of debate across two administrations.
The VC-25B’s engines will also use the darker blue from the aircraft’s cockpit area, instead of the robin’s egg blue on the engines of the VC-25A, the Air Force said. And the VC-25B will not have a polished metal section, because the alloys used for the exterior of the Boeing 747-8 airliners that are being adapted into the presidential aircraft do not allow it.
Former President Donald Trump wanted the new presidential aircraft to ditch the robin’s egg blue and white color scheme in place since the Kennedy era, and instead adopt a darker red, white and blue design.
But Trump’s idea proved controversial — and not only for aesthetic reasons. The Air Force said in Friday’s release a thermal study found the dark blue in the Trump administration design would add heat in some environments, and would require more Federal Aviation Administration qualification testing for several of the airplane’s commercial components.
When Biden assumed office in January 2021, his administration downplayed his interest in redesigning the Air Force One paint scheme.
But by June 2022, the administration had decided to drop the red, white and blue paint plan, citing the additional engineering, time and cost it would require. Part of that decision was based on the temperature issue.
In its release on Friday, the Air Force said a decision on the Air Force One livery had to be made by this year to give Boeing enough time to carry out engineering, certification preparation, and supplier selection activities.
The two airplanes were originally expected to be delivered in late 2024, but the program has fallen years behind schedule.
The Air Force said Boeing is expected to deliver the first VC-25B in 2027, and the second the following year — well into the next presidential term.
Andrew Hunter, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told Congress in May 2022 the aircraft would be two to three years late.
Hunter told lawmakers a Boeing subcontractor had been unable to finish the job of making vital modifications to the plane’s interior, which largely led to the “significant delay.” Boeing had brought on other subcontractors to make those modifications, and had taken on some of the tasks itself, he said.
This means the Air Force will have to keep flying the current Air Force Ones for several more years. The service said in its release it is able to operate the VC-25A until the new planes are delivered.
The Air Force selected Boeing’s 747-8 for its Presidential Airlift Recapitalization program in January 2015. But in December 2016, then-President-elect Trump criticized the cost of the program and threatened to cancel it.
The Trump administration and Boeing negotiated, and in July 2018, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract for the presidential aircraft the White House said was far lower than the original proposal.
In an April 2022 earnings call, Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun expressed regret over that deal and suggested the company should not have agreed to the Trump administration’s terms.
As Boeing modifies the 747-8s into the new Air Force Ones, it is adding into each plane a medical facility, a self-defense system, a mission communication system, an executive interior, autonomous ground operations capabilities and electrical power upgrades.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.