'The Secret History of Air Force One' Fits Many Fascinating Stories Into One Doc

Susan Young
Preview Railsplitter Pictures/History Channel

Air Force One has been a chariot for a new president, a hearse for a slain president and an escape pod for a disgraced president. It almost served as a spy plane against the Soviet Union and briefly became the seat of government post-9/11.

Monday's hourlong ode to the iconic aircraft weaves archival footage with insider interviews for an illuminating history. One participant: reporter Sid Davis, who covered the John F. Kennedy assassination and witnessed the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson on board Air Force One. "The room was stuffy, close to 100 degrees. You could hear the sobs of Kennedy staffers," Davis recalls in the special, noting that the widowed first lady entered not saying a word, "her right stocking saturated with blood."

Exec producer Jeff Cooperman notes one of his greatest challenges was fitting in so many fascinating stories. "We explain where the call sign came from, after an incident in 1954 [when President Dwight Eisenhower was on board] with an Eastern Airlines jet in the same space," he says. After Richard M. Nixon resigned and flew home in Air Force One, that call sign changed in midair the moment Gerald Ford was sworn in.

The first dedicated presidential aircraft, carrying Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in 1945, Air Force One bloomed into a symbol of America when Kennedy and wife Jacqueline teamed with designer Raymond Loewy in 1962 to create the sleek blue and white plane we know today. "There are so few bipartisan symbols we can all agree on," Cooperman says. "Who doesn't like Air Force One?"

The Secret History of Air Force One, Premieres Monday, February 18, 10/9c, History