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Pentagon Develops Plan to Buy New Air Force One Fleet

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The Pentagon is considering buying a new fleet of presidential planes, known as Air Force One when the U.S. president is aboard.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday told at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Pentagon budget that it's time for an upgrade.

"There clearly is a need for a new presidential aircraft," Gates said. "We actually have some money in the budget in 2011 to begin looking at a new Air Force One. That money will clearly ramp up in the -- in the next few years as we move in that direction."

Air Force One, with its presidential seal and white and blue paint job, is one of the most recognizable symbols of the United States of America and is the first impression the president makes at every visit abroad. The presidential aircraft carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000. The Air Force designation for the plane is VC-25A.

Over the last 10 years, Air Force One has flown an average of nearly 200,000 miles per year. 

It is literally a flying office for the commander in chief for his delegation with advanced secure communications equipment. Just like a normal jetliner, Air Force One has a crew to fly the plane and attendants who prepare and serve meals and clean the aircraft. These crew members are carefully screened military personnel, with exemplary service histories.

But the fleet of planes now used to transport President Obama -- two highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft -- is aging. The first of the current aircraft were delivered 20 years ago during the administration of President George H. W. Bush.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., a member of the committee and a former aerospace executive, noted that there are fewer than 20 747-200s -- the commercial model Air Force One is based on -- still in service. Tiarht said the president's aircraft is nearing a point where the operation and support costs will exceed the value of the existing planes. 

Mike Emanuel currently serves as chief congressional correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1997 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.