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On Board Air Force One

One of the perks of being the most powerful man in the free world is having a cool ride, and President Obama has it in Air Force One. The plane that's commonly referred to as the flying White House gets a once-over in National Geographic Channel's insightful special that details who and what it takes to make sure our government remains 100% efficient, even at 35,000 feet.

One of the perks of being the most powerful man in the free world is having a cool ride, and President Obama has it in Air Force One. The plane that’s commonly referred to as the flying White House gets a once-over in National Geographic Channel’s insightful special that details who and what it takes to make sure our government remains 100% efficient, even at 35,000 feet.

As big as a six-story building and a football field in length, Air Force One is a virtual luxury apartment in the sky. Meeting rooms, various communication devices, a couple of beds and a fully stocked kitchen are at the ready. If someone wants a filet mignon served medium rare at 3 a.m., it’s ready — and don’t worry about the tray tables being down.

NatGeo was given access to President Bush’s 2008 trip to the Middle East and what’s most interesting is the security the plane requires after touching down. As a symbol of the United States, the airliner would certainly be considered an easy target for terrorists. The first people who walk off the plane are a security team of sharpshooters who set up a perimeter around Air Force One and they remain there until it’s wheels up.

Special begins with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and how, with President Bush aboard and a crisis overtaking the nation, the plane circled over the Gulf of Mexico with jet fighters at its side when it was still unclear if there was a plot to shoot Air Force One down. Eventually the president ordered a return to Washington, D.C., and the only aircraft allowed in the skies over North America touched down at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland.

Another dangerous trip is featured, this one when Bush snuck into Baghdad for Thanksgiving in 2003 to serve meals to the troops. The plane had to land under the cover of darkness and take off before any of the hostile Iraqis knew he was there.

Insightful tidbits are many, including that there are actually two Air Force Ones, and they travel together in case the first plane suffers any type of mechanical failure. Somewhere between 70 and 80 people are on board for all trips, including chefs, administration officials and the White House press corps. Though the scribes don’t have many of the luxuries of others, it certainly beats flying coach on Continental.

Bush is interviewed about his thoughts on the plane and how it allows him to keep abreast of national and world events, but his comments add very little. Much more insightful are conversations with the pilot — Col. Mark Tillman, who just handed off the job to longtime co-pilot Col. Scott Turner who will fly Obama — and security officers.

Tech credits are strong, though the narration sometimes tries to amp up the drama when not much is there.

On Board Air Force One

National Geographic Channel, Sun., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.

Production: Produced for National Geographic Channel by Partisan Pictures. Executive producer, Howard Swartz; producer, Peter Schnall, Don Campbell; associate producer, William Kerr; coordinating producer, Whitney Johnson.

Crew: Director, Schnall; writer, Campbell; editor, Jeff Seymann. Running time: 60 MIN.

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