In the movies, the most famous of which is “Air Force One”, starring Harrison Ford, Air Force One is shown to have an escape pod.
But is this reality, or are Hollywood writers once again exercising their artistic license for the sake of entertainment?
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Air Force One Doesn’t Have An Escape Pod
Despite what the movies show, Air Force One actually doesn’t have an escape pod.
There’s a rumor that former President Bill Clinton remarked on the detail of Air Force One having an escape pod after seeing the movie, “Air Force One”, at a White House screening.
Why an Escape Pod Would Be a Bad Idea
The reason why Air Force One doesn’t have an escape pod is because it wouldn’t be safe nor practical.
The escape pod would have to be pressurized and equipped with some powerful thrusters, given the high altitude that Air Force One flies at.
The escape pod would also need room to carry at least one Secret Service agent and, at the very least, the President’s military aide who carries the nuclear launch codes.
Some Planes Do Have Escape Pods
Only the Bell X-2, B-58 Hustler, XB-70 Valkyrie, F-111 and B‑1A Lancer have or have had enclosed escape crew capsules of some kind.
Many fighter jets, NASA research aircraft and some small commercial airplanes are equipped with ejection seats, though.
Air Force Doesn’t Have Parachutes Either
Along with no escape pod, Air Force One also doesn’t have onboard parachutes.
Due to the large size of Air Force One, the slipstream that is generated doesn’t make it possible to safely use a parachute.
Air Force One Doesn’t Actually Have Weapons
It’s logical to think that due to the importance of Air Force One and the fact that it transports the President, it would be equipped with weapons to defend itself in case of an attack.
In fact, Air Force One doesn’t have weapons, but is designed to withstand an air attack due to its advanced avionics and defenses.
Air Force One is outfitted with electronic counter measures (ECM) to jam enemy radar, and can also throw heat-seeking missiles off course by ejecting flares.
So, if attacked, while Air Force One can defend itself, armed fighter jets will be sent up to help to protect the plane and its passengers.
Air Force Isn’t Escorted By Fighter Jets
While fighter jets will be sent to help to protect Air Force One, the plane isn’t actually escorted by fighter jets.
It’s a rare occurrence because it is considered too dangerous to fly fighter jets in the airspace that commercial planes fly at, which is 35,000 feet, compared to the altitude of between 45,000 – 51,000 feet that fighter jets normally fly at.
There have been exceptions, though, such as after 9/11 when Air Force One was escorted by fighter jets almost all day.
Interestingly, in the event of a nuclear strike, Air Force One is designed to ward off electromagnetic pulses.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.