Mr. President, put down that paint can.
News that President Trump wants to change the livery — the paint scheme — of the aircraft used as Air Force One represents yet another ill-considered change by the Disruptor in Chief to remake the presidency in his own image and change how America is viewed across the globe.
There are abuses and blunders by President Trump that deserve the nation’s attention more than a paint job. But this does matter. It matters because of what Air Force One — the Flying White House — stands for in representing the nation and in the history and constant ideals of the U.S. presidency.
It matters here because Everett, of course, is where the Boeing 747s that have flown as Air Force One are built. Boeing 747s have flown U.S. presidents since 1980, when the switch was made from Renton-built 707s. And the two new 747s that are now being prepared to replace the current two planes are likely to be among the last 747s ever built.
But since 1962, the presidential planes have always featured a consistent and instantly recognizable livery, white with two fields of blue with parabolic swooshes along the fuselage and the tail, the presidential seal on each side of the passenger cabin, the American flag on its tail and “United States of America” in large capital letters across the fuselage.
Trump, as part of the $3.9 billion order for the two new Boeing aircraft, wants a design scheme that “looks more American,” and isn’t a “Jackie Kennedy color,” several reports have said. Trump is said to favor a red, white and blue design.
Trump likely meant “Jackie Kennedy color” as a dig, but he’s got the wrong Kennedy.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy did indeed call in designer Raymond Loewy to help create the graphic design for President John F. Kennedy’s 707, according to a 2009 article by design author Phil Patton at AIGA, the professional association for design. But it was JFK who went with blue.
Loewy’s initial designs included red, white and blue. But Kennedy had already scuttled an Air Force proposal to use red and gold as “too imperial,” choosing instead from among Loewy’s suggestion two hues of blue, a light sky blue for the underbelly and engine cowlings and a darker “luminous ultramarine” for the upper portion of the fuselage and tail.
As important, the serif Caslon typeface used for the uppercase words, “United States of America,” was selected for its resemblance to the font used atop the Declaration of Independence.
Trump also is mistaken that Air Force One can somehow be made to look more American than it already does. “Iconic” is overused, but apt for Air Force One. Its look inspires patriotism wherever it lands in the United States, and it is the first symbol of America seen when it arrives in foreign nations. It is “American” because for more than 50 years it has served as the Commander in Chief’s flagship.
In seeking to redesign the exterior of the presidential planes to his personal preference — taste that typically favors glitz over gravitas — Trump ignores the history of Air Force One.
Air Force One’s livery was in use when the plane brought Kennedy to Dallas in 1963 and when Vice President Lyndon Johnson — the widowed Jackie Kennedy at his side — took the oath of office to become president aboard the 707. It delivered President Richard Nixon to China and President Ronald Reagan to Berlin to implore, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It protected President George W. Bush in the hours after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C., on Sept. 11. And it shuttled President Barack Obama to a record 21 countries — Russia and China among them — during his first year in office.
“Why would anyone want to discard an Air Force One design that evokes more than a half-century of American history?” presidential historian Michael Beschloss rhetorically asked Axios.
Perhaps it’s because Trump is keen to blot out any comparisons between himself and the presidents — Republican and Democrat, alike — who served before him. And those who will, none too soon, follow.