SAM 26000 may be "the most important historical airplane in the world," said Air Force historian Jeff Underwood. It supported a mission to open U.S relations with China and flew to secret Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War. But it's probably most closely tied to President John F. Kennedy, who first used it in 1962.
First lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the president exit SAM 26000 in Texas in November 1963, just hours before the president would be assassinated. Five months earlier, the plane had flown Kennedy to Berlin, where he delivered his historic "I am a Berliner" address.
This is likely the most famous photograph ever taken aboard any presidential aircraft. Hours after the attack -- and shortly before SAM 26000 left Dallas -- Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president with the first lady at his side. Federal Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath, the only woman ever to do so.
The president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was anxious to board the plane after it arrived. Shown here with the first lady, RFK "leaped up" the airline stairs in a rush to console Mrs. Kennedy, according to historian Steven Gillon. He "pushed his way down" the aisle past President Johnson "without saying a word." Johnson "fumed that Kennedy would board the plane without even acknowledging him," Gillon wrote in "The Kennedy Assassination, 24 Hours After."
President Johnson is seen here meeting with Sens. Mike Mansfield, left, and J. William Fulbright, far right. All presidents aboard Air Force One used it to multitask. For example, at a 1964 campaign stop, LBJ gave an impromptu press conference on the plane while he changed clothes.
In 1972, SAM 26000 ferried President Richard Nixon to Beijing on a groundbreaking mission to open U.S. relations with the People's Republic of China. The aircraft was welcomed by a 350-man Chinese military honor guard.
In 1981, Nixon and fellow ex-presidents Gerald Ford, left, and Jimmy Carter, right, flew SAM 26000 to the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. (Also attending: former first lady Rosalynn Carter.) They felt "somewhat ill at ease" together, wrote Carter years later. Then Nixon "surprisingly eased the tension," Carter recalled. The men bonded. The trip resulted in a long friendship between bitter election rivals Carter and Ford.
Many aviation enthusiasts, aircraft geeks and history buffs see the jet as a national treasure. As Vice President Al Gore put it when he last boarded it in 1998: "If history itself had wings, it probably would be this very aircraft."