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The first head of state or government to receive official and dedicated air transport was the British Monarch. In 1928, two Westland Wapitis were delivered to No. 24 Squadron at RAF Northolt for the express purpose of the transportation of the Royal Family. Between 1929 and 1935, Edward, Prince of Wales, purchased 13 aircraft. Although the RAF maintained at least one of these aircraft for a time the Prince of Wales eventually became solely responsible for the aircraft.

When the Prince ascended to the throne in 1936 as Edward VIII, The King's Flight was formed as the world's first head of state aircraft unit.This unit initially used the King's own de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide; however this was replaced in May 1937 by an Airspeed AS.6J Envoy III.

In the U.S., prior to World War II, overseas and cross-country presidential travel was rare. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to fly in an aircraft while in office. During World War II, Roosevelt travelled on the Dixie Clipper, a Pan Am-crewed Boeing 314 flying boat to the 1943 Casablanca Conference, in Morocco, a flight that covered 5,500 miles in three legs.

The first dedicated aircraft proposed for presidential use was a C-87A VIP transport aircraft. This aircraft, number 41-24159, was re-modified in 1943 for use as a presidential VIP transport, the Guess Where II, intended to carry President Franklin D. Roosevelt on international trips. The Secret Service subsequently reconfigured a Douglas C-54 Skymaster for duty as a presidential transport. This VC-54C aircraft, nicknamed the Sacred Cow, included a sleeping area, radio telephone, and retractable elevator to lift Roosevelt in his wheelchair. As modified, the VC-54C was used by President Roosevelt only once, on his trip to and from the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

Currently The US president uses one of two identical Boeings’ 747.

Air force One

21 Squadron SAAF was first formed on 8 May 1941 in Nakuru, Kenya, as a bomber squadron flying Maryland medium bomber aircraft. 21 Squadron SAAF was disbanded on 10 September 1945 only to be reformed in 1986 as the SAAF’s VIP Squadron. At their new home AFB Swartkop they were equipped with a Vickers Viscount and three Douglas Dakotas. The squadron acquired Hawker Siddeley HS-125 in 1970 and Swearingen Merlin in 1975. In 1985 the squadron moved to AFB Waterkloof.

In 1983 the Viscount was transferred to 44 Squadron and the Merlin was sold in 1985. Two Beech KingAir 200Cs were acquired, but one was later sold and the other aircraft transferred to 41 Squadron the HS-125s were disposed of in 1999. The squadron currently flies a fleet of jet aircraft. The two Dassault Falcon 50s were acquired in 1982 and 1985, the two Cessna 550 Citation IIs acquired in 1983 and the Dassault Falcon 900 which joined the fleet in 1992.

In January 2003 the squadron received the new presidential Boeing BBJ named “Inkwazi” , Zulu for fish eagle. The BBJ hasn’t been used much in the last few years by Pres Jacob Zuma , opting rather to charter lager aircraft from operators within South Africa and on occasion from neighbouring countries.

The Presidency has requested that a Boeing 777 be purchased to replace the BBJ at an astronomical cost to the tax payer.


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