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Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes Paperback – May 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This peek inside the "flying Oval Office" comes courtesy of U.S. News and World Report's award-winning White House correspondent, who has logged more than 200 trips aboard Air Force One. To document the history and evolution of the "flying White House," Walsh (Feeding the Beast: The White House Versus the Press) interviewed more than 120 people, including the plane's crews and staff, plus past presidents and White House officials. Americans once thought presidents should "never stray from the United States," but FDR "changed the whole dynamic," becoming the first airborne chief executive when he flew to a secret 1943 meeting with Churchill in Casablanca. Truman, who used "the plane itself as a power tool," was the first to fly routinely, and Eisenhower was the first to travel by jet. The code name Air Force One was introduced in Ike's era after air traffic controllers confused Eastern 610 with the president's Air Force 610. JFK made the code name public, and his sleek new 707 "seemed to embody modernity itself" after Jackie Kennedy and industrial designer Raymond Loewy devised the now-familiar blue-and-white exterior. Focusing on the mystique and prestige of Air Force One and its ascendancy as a symbol of world power, Walsh describes key decisions made in the air, leaving a contrail of anecdotes about presidential behavior aloft, and concludes by detailing the dramatic events aboard the presidential jet on September 11 when the controversial decision was made not to return to Washington. 8 pages of color, 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Since Walsh started covering the White House for U.S. News & World Report in 1986, he has traveled on Air Force One more than 200 times. Franklin Roosevelt was the first of 13 presidents to have a personal plane; Roosevelt's was a prop-driven Pan Am airliner. Today's plane is a 747 with the latest technological advances, from communications to security. Walsh offers a history of the planes and an engaging look into presidential behavior aboard them. Eisenhower "slurped his soup directly from the bowl," and Jacqueline Kennedy brought fine china and oil paintings on board. Nixon, who found sleeping on the plane uncomfortable, stopped for the night so he could stay in a hotel. Walsh clearly favors Republicans: as he has it, Reagan was one of the twentieth-century's most influential as well as popular presidents; Johnson was petty, imperious, and demanding; and Carter was hopelessly naive and aloof. Readers who set aside this bias will find much to interest them. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (May 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786888199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786888191
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kenneth T. Walsh is a prize-winning journalist who has covered the White House since 1986, including the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Walsh has won the most prestigious awards for White House coverage and is former president of the White House Correspondents' Association. He is Hurst professorial adjunct lecturer in communication at American University in Washington, D.C. and appears frequently on television and radio. He also is a popular speaker who gives talks around the country and on cruise ships. Walsh has written five books.

A native of New York City who spent nearly a decade as a reporter and editor in Denver, Walsh is married to Barclay Walsh and they live in Bethesda, Maryland. They have two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Brian J. Barry on June 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This posting is made at the request of my father-in-law, Colonel E.F. Smith, USAF (Ret.). Colonel Smith was one of the first two presidential pilots, making every flight on the Guess Where II, Sacred Cow and Independence. He has been interviewed extensively by the Air Force Historical Research Center, and was featured on the History Channel's documentary concerning Air Force One. Colonel Smith reviewed the relevant sections of Kenneth Walsh's book, referring to flight logs where necessary. He made the following observations.
1. Page 44 contains a description of the Presidential Cabin on the Sacred Cow, saying that, "the room contained a single chair for the commander in chief, a small desk and a two seat couch. Across the narrow aisle were seats for seven..." Comment: The desk was a small table, I don't remember a two-seat couch, and the seven seats did not exist.
2. Page 44 further describes the trip made by FDR to Yalta, "Roosevelt flew on the Sacred Cow from Yalta to Cairo, where he boarded the Quincy." Comment: the flight was from Russia to Deversoir, an airport near the Suez Canal. The cruiser Quincy was in the Suez Canal, not at Cairo.
3. Page 50: Walsh says this about President Truman: "...and he brought guests with him whenever possible so they could spread the word about the rare honor of flying with the commander-in-chief." Comment: Truman had no such practice, as confirmed by flight log records that listed passengers.
4. Page 51: Walsh says that Truman asked to be told when Independence crossed over Ohio. He then made use of the bathroom and ordered the pilot to dump waste overboard-a "tribute" to his political enemy Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. Comment: This story is a fabrication.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bill Ritz on July 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ken Walsh deftly describes how aviation has globalized the personal reach of the American presidency with a fascinating, well-researched work full of anecdotes from the people who were there...the pilots, stewards, White House staff, reporters and others who flew aboard these magnificent airplanes. The anecdotes take the reader beyond well-known presidential history; rather, they illuminate the true personalities and unique characters that are each president and how each used the power of aviation to affect the lives of billions. It's a fascinating, insider's view of an airplane and how it has shaped modern world history.
Good stuff.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By myriam perrois on May 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
From Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, this is a look at the presidents as never seen before. The pages on Lyndon Johnson sizzle. I had enjoyed some of the recent scholarship on this president but must admit that the perspective in this book makes the man come alive, good and bad. The author pulls no punches, obviously has no favorites or allegiances other than history itself. Bill Clinton really comes alive and you can just see George W. with all his bravado and smart-talk-humor. This is one of those books that you will hate to finish. Revealing and mesmerizing!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David A. Howarth on May 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading Kenneth T. Walsh's newest book, "Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes". This book, I am happy to report, is as informative and articulate a reading experience as I have had in a long time. Mr. Walsh's long-time "insider" status as well as his exhaustive research and crisp, concise style of writing made this a thoroughly enjoyable read, start to finish.

The short history of aviation and it's effect on American history is truly remarkable, as Mr. Walsh reports. Over the few years it has taken for the jet age to develop, our executive branch has been relatively quick to recognize and tap the potential for extending democratic values and influence. Between FDR's first tedious and exhausting hop-scotch to Casablanca and George W. Bush's incredible split-second decision on board Air Force One the day of September 11, 2001, this book gives the reader some wonderful minute-by-minute reporting from the key people involved, right up to the presidents themselves.
Each of our presidents has approached the Ait Force One experience in their own unique way, thereby revealing a closer insight into their hearts and minds. This book details each, from Clinton's relatively relaxed and homey flying style, Johnson's bullying, to Nixon's brooding and self-obsessed genius. And for me personally, the detailed descriptions of each airplane's awesome power and capabilities imparted a sense of certainty and reassurance that our leadership is just as secure and in command at 35,000 feet and 700 mph as it has ever been in the White House or Camp David.
These airplanes and the phalanx of people who fly them have known more history than one could ever have even imagined. With this book, Mr. Walsh has brought American history buffs as well as casual readers like myself a slice of flying knowlege and experience not soon to be forgotten.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John G. Hilliard on December 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If you are expecting a hard-hitting expose about anything presidential then this is not the book for you. The author does a very good job of detailing out the Presidents from FDR that have taken flight via Air Force One or its predecessors. The book is very interesting and does a good job at what it covers. The book does not cover in any detail much about the plane except for overall basic facts. The real focus of the book is the men who road in the planes, not the planes. I find that the only issue I had with the book is that there was not enough detail of the actual plane, what the crew goes through to get it ready, the special planning for a trip and so on. Don't get me wrong, I rather enjoyed the book as it was a light easy to read book that provided some very nice stories about the Presidents who traveled in the plane.
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