Boeing Co. has won a nearly $600-million contract from the U.S. Air Force to begin preliminary design efforts on the next generation of presidential aircraft. The contract, awarded Tuesday, directs the Chicago aerospace giant to create an initial design that will incorporate a mission control system, a medical facility, electrical power upgrades, a self-defense system and autonomous ground operations capabilities into two existing commercial 747-8 planes that will serve as the next Air Force One aircraft.
The new Air Force One planes will replace the VC-25A aircraft currently used as the presidential planes, which have been used since President George H.W. Bush’s administration in 1990.
Boeing said in a statement that the contract was a “great step forward on the next Air Force One.”
The $600-million award is just one portion of the Air Force One contracts. After the initial design is completed, the Air Force is expected to award another contract modification next summer that will involve more detailed design, actual modification of the aircraft, tests and delivery of the planes. The jets should be in use by 2024.
The company won a contract last month to sell the two commercial planes to the Air Force. A Boeing spokeswoman said at the time that the aircraft were sold to the Air Force “at a substantial discount from the company’s existing inventory.”
Trade publication Defense One has previously reported that the two Boeing jumbo jets were originally set for service with a now-defunct Russian airline. The planes were ordered in 2013 by Transaero, but the airline ceased operations two years later and never took ownership of the aircraft.
The jetliners are now parked along with other retired or surplus aircraft in a “boneyard” in the Mojave Desert, according to Defense One. Boeing has flight-tested the jets and had reportedly paid to store the planes in new condition while looking for a buyer.
Late last year, President Trump criticized the cost of the next generation of Air Force One, tweeting in December that the $4-billion price tag to build newly designed planes based on the 747-8 for presidential use was “out of control.”