Chuck Hoeppner knows the inside and outside of the SAM 26000 better than most.
The retired Air Force master sergeant and former flight steward flew on the historic blue and white Air Force One jet on missions with three American presidents, globetrotting with President Gerald Ford to China and President Ronald Reagan to Berlin, Germany and places beyond.
“The first time I flew on Air Force One, it was like, I’m really on Air Force One,” said Hoeppner, 69, of Indian Head, Md. “When you did trips with the White House, you got to do some very, very unique things.”
Saturday will mark a more modest but important move for the Boeing 707, designated as a VC-137C in the military: The four-engine jet is set to be towed across the tarmac at Wright-Patterson to a long-awaited $40.8 million display hangar filled with dozens of historic jets and aerospace artifacts at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Museum leaders do not have attendance projections but expect the expansion will bring more visitors based on the calls and emails coming in, spokesman Rob Bardua said Thursday. The new building, set to open June 8, will showcase historic planes — most notably the SAM 26000 — and record-breaking experimental aircraft such as the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber and the X-15 hypersonic rocket plane that flew into space.
Those have been out of public sight since last October as curators prepared to move the artifacts out of a restricted-access hangar, which typically attracted less than 100,000 visitors a year.
Last year, the museum had a steep decline in overall attendance with 859,780 visitors. By comparison, 1,146,087 patrons visited the sprawling museum in 2014, figures show.
The first officially designated presidential plane, the Douglas VC-54C nicknamed the Sacred Cow — the place President Harry Truman signed the document that created the Air Force — also will be moved Saturday.
Weather permitting, Sacred Cow is set to roll around 9 a.m. and SAM 26000 will follow around 10 a.m. Rain or snow could delay the move until Sunday, Bardua said. Outdoor bleachers are set up to let the public watch the airplanes roll into their new hangar.
WHIO meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs forecast a mostly cloudy, cold Saturday morning with temperatures in the 20s and gusty winds between 15 to 20 mph. A few flurries or a passing snow shower could pop up, she said.
“Anyone that is planning to attend this event should dress warmly with plenty of layers,” she said.
For Christina Douglass and Brett Stolle, museum presidential gallery project managers, the aircraft moves mark the culmination of two years to prepare for the June 8 opening of the museum expansion.
SAM 26000 — short for Special Air Mission — flew eight presidents around the world and is perhaps the most famous Air Force One plane in history because it flew President John F. Kennedy’s remains back to Washington, D.C., after his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination in Dallas, Texas. Immediately afterward, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president in a cramped cabin aboard the jet.
“This air frame is unique in our collection in the sense that it allows people to feel what we call the power of place,” Douglass said. “It’s that thing you get when you stand in a very historic place where something very significant happened. It’s sort of like getting goosebumps when you are standing on a battlefield at Gettysburg or holding an artifact in your hand.”
Wright State University graduate students and museum restoration crews meticulously cleaned the interior of both planes. Crews installed new Plexiglas barriers along inner aisle ways, reinforced “diamond” flooring and energy-efficient lighting to prepare for the masses, Stolle and Douglass said.
“We’re passionate about presidential airlift and we know the public is as well,” Stolle said.
Airmen with the Joint Base Andrews, Maryland-headquartered 89th Airlift Wing, tasked with transporting presidents and high-level dignitaries, have buffed and shined the exterior of SAM 26000 in two recent trips to Wright-Patterson, Douglass said.
“They have a very long and proud history accomplishing one of the most highly visible missions in the United States Air Force,” she said. “They desperately wanted to be here to make sure these aircraft look spectacular for the grand opening event.”
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