In 1953 a presidential call sign was established by the Eisenhower Administration. The call sign stemmed from for two aircraft – Eastern Airlines flight 8610 and Air Force 8610 – entering the same airspace and which could have resulted in a midair incident. The Air Force aircraft was, at the time, carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The first flight of a presidential aircraft with the call sign Air Force One was in 1959.
President Eisenhower used four propeller driven aircraft during his tenure, including two Lockheed C-121 Constellations – possibly one of the most beautiful aircraft to fly. The Constellation came about because in 1939 Howard Hughes needed a 40-passenger transcontinental airliner with 3,500 mile range so that his airline company Trans World Airlines could compete with Pan Am. He approached Lockheed, and the Constellation was born.
One of the presidential Air Force One Constellations, Columbine III (VC-121E 53-7885), was restored and transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1966 and placed on permanent display. The second Air Force One Constellation, Columbine II (VC-121A 48-610), was decommissioned and sold at auction. It has been stored since 2003 at Marana Regional Airport in Arizona.
The name adorning the nose of the Constellations – “Columbine” – was chosen by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower after the official state flower of her adopted home state of Colorado, the columbine. President Eisenhower also upgraded Air Force One’s technology by adding an air-to-ground telephone and an air-to-ground teletype machine.
Columbine II is in need of restoration. This is a great airplane with a storied past. Please contribute and help save this beautiful aircraft for future generations.