|A C-32A on final approach|
|National origin||United States|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
|Number built||C-32A: 4; |
|Developed from||Boeing 757|
The Boeing C-32 is the United States Air Force designation for variants of the Boeing 757 in military service. Two variants currently exist, filling different parts of the military passenger transport role. The C-32A serves the Special Air Mission role, providing executive transport and broad communications capabilities to senior political officials, while the C-32B Gatekeeper provides clandestine airlift to special operations and global emergency response efforts.
The primary users of the C-32A are the vice president of the United States (using the call sign "Air Force Two" when aboard), the first lady, and the secretary of state. On rare occasions, other members of the president's Cabinet and members of Congress have flown aboard the C-32A for various missions. The aircraft also occasionally serves as Air Force One in place of the larger VC-25A when the president is traveling to domestic destinations that cannot accommodate the larger Boeing 747-derived presidential plane.
Little is known of the activities of the secretive C-32B, whose existence is not officially acknowledged by the Air Force. Outfitted for utility rather than luxury, the heavily modified aircraft were acquired to support the U.S. State Department's Foreign Emergency Support Team, but have ties to U.S. Special Operations, and the Intelligence Community as well.
The C-32A is the military designation for the Boeing 757-2G4, a variant of the Boeing 757-200, a mid-size, narrow-body twin-engine jet airliner—that has been modified for government VIP transport use, including a change to a 45-passenger interior and military avionics. A contract was awarded in August 1996 for four aircraft supplemented by the smaller C-37A and later C-40 Clipper to replace the aging fleet of VC-137 aircraft. The first plane was delivered to the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland in late June 1998. Two more aircraft were acquired later.
The C-32As are painted in the blue and white livery, vertical stabilizer flag, and prominent "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" cheatline markings developed by Raymond Loewy for President Kennedy. The design is shared with most Special Air Mission aircraft. The aircraft have appeared with tail numbers 98-0001, 98-0002, 99-0003, 99-0004, 09-0015, 09-0016, and 09-0017. All of the C-32A's are fitted with Pratt & Whitney PW2000 (military designation F117) engines, which are also used on the C-17 Globemaster III. The planes are also fitted with winglets for added fuel economy.
Throughout the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations, the interiors of the C-32As were slowly refit with more luxurious accommodations, at a cost of $16 million per aircraft. Officially, the work was requested by the Air Force, and is being completed by a division of Boeing at Air Force facilities in Oklahoma. The retrofit includes upgraded and refurbished interior elements throughout, new carpets, lighting, leather seats and wood tables in place of cloth and formica, a complete painting and cleaning, and the replacement of the double-seat configuration with a triple-seat configuration, aft of Door 3. The refit is controversial, with critics describing the spending as "posh" and "wasteful" and an effort to create "flying palaces", noting that the aircraft are well into the back half of their service lives. The War Zone observed that the spending appears to have little to do with the ability of the aircraft to accomplish its mission, noting that the C-32A's have been continuously upgraded with improved communications, avionics, and countermeasures throughout their service lives without criticism.
The four C-32As are operated by the 1st Airlift Squadron of the 89th Airlift Wing. They are available for use by the vice-president (using call sign Air Force Two), the first lady, and members of the cabinet and congress (using SAM callsigns). They are also used by the president (using call sign Air Force One) if the destination is too small to support the larger VC-25A.
Several C-32A's have suffered non-life threatening equipment failures during VIP flight operations which lead to aircraft returning to Andrews Air Force Base prematurely. In 2018, first lady Melania Trump and Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar were aboard a C-32A flying to Philadelphia when smoke filled the cabin shortly after takeoff. Journalists aboard reported being given wet towels to shield their faces from the smoke, and the flight returned to Andrews without further incident. In 2021, vice president Kamala Harris was aboard a C-32A en route to Guatemala when the aircraft was forced to make an emergency return to Andrews over an unspecified equipment failure which delayed the trip but left all passengers and crew unharmed.
The Trump administration included $6 million in its 2018 federal budget proposal to study replacements for the aging C-32A. In June 2021, Pentagon leaders in the new Biden administration cut funding for the study from its fiscal 2022 budget request. Said Air Force General Jacqueline Van Ovost, head of Air Mobility Command, the C-32A is still "a very capable aircraft... right now, we are not moving forward." Instead, the Air Force redirected the comparatively small amount of funding to research and development contracts for three American startup companies: Exosonic and Boom Supersonic, which are developing supersonic passenger jets; and Hermeus, which is developing a hypersonic passenger aircraft. Budget documents state the revised investment “will bolster evaluation and maturation of advanced high speed transport scale aircraft with potential to expand the defense industrial base and serve as C-32A replacements at the appropriate time.” All three programs are many years away from delivery of production aircraft.
The C-32A is not planned to leave Air Mobility Command service until 2040, however discussion of the aircraft's age has continued, prompted by high profile reliability issues. For the duration the C-32A will remain in the fleet, the Air Force will not pursue investment in the airframe beyond already planned modifications, according to the service's fiscal 2022 budget request. Boeing (the sole producer which can fulfill Buy American Act purchasing restrictions for government passenger aircraft) has neglected the middle of the market since the 757 was discontinued in 2000, repeatedly shelving upgrade plans since 2014. In 2021, the company announced a clean sheet reevaluation of the plans for a successor aircraft, slated to enter service in the late 2020's. As of 2021, the only midmarket aircraft built in the United States is the Airbus A220 (formerly Bombardier C-Series), jointly produced in Canada and Mobile, Alabama.
The 45-seat C-32B Gatekeeper provides airlift to the U.S. government's Gate Keeper (GK) mission, a special access program which provides clandestine support to foreign nations through unclassified State Department Foreign Emergency Support Team missions and classified special operations and intelligence missions. The aircraft are operated by two different units, the New Jersey Air National Guard's 150th Special Operations Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, and the 486th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The C-32Bs operate at the direction of the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, though when serving a civilian agency, approval for the use of the aircraft is on the recommendation of the committee of Deputy Secretaries of Defense with the consent of the Secretary of Defense. The development of the two aircraft emerged from the 2001 Air Force budget, where they were procured for $144.963 million to fill an Air Force request for transportation capabilities for the Foreign and Domestic Emergency Support Teams. The Gate Keeper mission predates the aircraft, which are successors to previous fleets based on other models of aircraft. The planes have been spotted throughout the world, including such locations as Area 51 and the Tonopah Test Range, as well as nearly every continent. The C-32B became known during the George W. Bush administration for unsubstantiated theories which circulated that they were connected to the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights, giving them the nickname “torture taxi.”
The C-32Bs serve as on-call global transport, and are variants of the 757, designated the 757-023A, which differ significantly from their VIP-carrying counterparts, outfitted with advanced communications and designed for ultra long-range capability. Most cargo must be stored in the rear of the aircraft as enlarged fuel tanks replace much of the below-deck cargo hold, extending the aircraft's unrefueled maximum range to 6,000 nmi (6,900 mi; 11,000 km). The craft also have an aerial refueling capability via an unmarked, unilluminated conformal Universal Aerial Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation (UARRSI) located atop the fuselage, 15 feet aft of the nose, 9 feet behind the cockpit windows, allowing the planes to remain airborne nearly indefinitely. The aircraft are also fitted with an aftermarket airstair allowing passengers to deplane without access to a jet bridge or stair truck, a heavy and uncommon modification in modern commercial size aviation. Around 2016, the aircraft were refitted with blended wing upgrades. Despite wing modifications, the C-32B's have never been retrofitted with the winglets added to the C-32A.
In 2014, the C-32Bs received audio and visual equipment upgrades, in addition to installation of upgraded satellite communications systems and secure Ku bandwidth communications management systems to replace commercial-grade Inmarsat installations, in use since 2002. Around the same time, the craft acquired an additional protruding faring on the roof of the rear of the craft. Similar modifications have appeared on the C-32As, the presidential VC-25A’s, the E-4B and E-6 “doomsday planes”, and the E-11A BACN. The protrusion reportedly houses Northrop Grumman’s Multi-Role Tactical Common Data Link (MR-TCDL), a Ka and Ku band telecommunications suite designed for war zones but which has proved to be just as relevant over a disaster zone as a battlefield. The system functions as a flying wireless router and server, providing communications where traditional communications infrastructure is unavailable. Budget requests show that around 2016 the cockpit avionics were upgraded to include heads up displays.
There are two C-32B aircraft as of 2021. At times the Air National Guard has appeared to deny the existence of one of the two aircraft. The 2012 edition of the National Guard's Weapons System Modernization Priorities report states "the 150th Special Operations Squadron of the New Jersey Air National Guard operates the C-32B from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ and is the only U.S Air Force C-32B", while successive editions through 2021 describe a need to support upgrades to two aircraft. The planes are generally painted gloss white, and lack any recognizable external markings other than serial numbers, although they have been spotted with "United States Air Force" emblazoned on the cheatline and the Air Force roundel on the tail section of the fuselage at times, and solely a small American flag on the same area of the rear fuselage at other times. There are no known visual differences between the two aircraft. Both planes are well known for adopting a range of different serial numbers on a regular basis to confuse their activities and numbers. Serial numbers appearing on the aircraft in the past have included: 00-9001, 98-6006, 99-6143, 02-5001, and 02-4452.
The true identity of the older of the two aircraft is MSN 25493/523, originally delivered to Ansett Worldwide as N59AW on 26 February 1993, it saw service with ATA airlines as 84WA before shuffling through private brokers, and ultimately being sold to the Air Force by the enigmatically named Kodiak Associates LLC in 2000. The later aircraft is MSN 25494/611, delivered to Avianca as N987AN on April 22, 1994, it passed through the hands of Raytheon E-Systems before Air Force purchase in 2001 Both aircraft are powered by Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, rather than the Pratt & Whitney PW2000 used on both the C-32A and C-17 Globemaster.
Sparsely marked white 757s equipped similarly to the C-32B include N119NA and N874TW, a pair of aircraft based at Richmond International Airport acquired by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015, both have since had their tail numbers removed, displaying only a small American flag. Others include N226G and N610G, a pair of aircraft operated by apparent L3Harris subsidiary L3 Capital, which have been observed operating with various tail numbers, previously marked only with the word "Comco".
mission avionics + satcom
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
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