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One of the Things President Obama Will Miss After Leaving Office Is Getting Ready for an Upgrade

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"It’s a great plane. And I’ll miss it."

Air Force One is readying itself for a much-needed upgrade.

But it's not one that will come quickly. In fact, the presidential hopefuls currently campaigning for the White House likely won't get to enjoy it unless they're re-elected for a second term. Even still, the New York Times reported that some estimates put its completion as far out as 2023.

According to the Times, the Defense Department is expected to sign a contract soon for new planes to fly the president — two Boeing 747-8s. In January, the Air Force announced that it had picked the 747-8 to replace the VC-25 747-200B, originally purchased during the Reagan era and first used by George H.W. Bush.

Air Force service members salute as President Barack Obama departs on Air Force One for a trip to Roseburg, Ore. to meet with families of victims of the shootings at Umpqua Community College, Oct. 9, 2015, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP/Evan Vucci)

"The presidential aircraft is one of the most visible symbols of the United States of America and the office of the president of the United States," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement at the time. "The Boeing 747-8 is the only aircraft manufactured in the United States when fully missionized meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission, while reflecting the office of the president of the United States of America consistent with the national public interest."

Boeing also says on its website that the 747-8 can fly the length of three FIFA soccer fields in one second — the plane's own length being about the size of one-half of a field. At its tallest point, the plane reaches as high as a six-story building.

With four GEnx-2B engines, it's considered quieter and more fuel efficient than some of its counterparts.

Earlier this year, the 747-8 was cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration for extended operations of 330-minutes, making it the first four-engine plane with such approval.

But there are some president-specific requirements the 747-8 outfitted as Air Force One will also have. According to the Times, it will be modified to make it "capable of midair refueling, hardened against the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion and almost certainly equipped with defenses to deflect heat-seeking missiles."

Boeing 747-8 (Image source: Boeing)

The White House website goes into more detail describing some of the features of an Air Force One plane:

Inside, the President and his travel companions enjoy 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, including an extensive suite for the President that features a large office, lavatory, and conference room. Air Force One includes a medical suite that can function as an operating room, and a doctor is permanently on board. The plane’s two food preparation galleys can feed 100 people at a time.

Air Force One also has quarters for those who accompany the President, including senior advisors, Secret Service officers, traveling press, and other guests. Several cargo planes typically fly ahead of Air Force One to provide the President with services needed in remote locations.

One Boeing 747-8 without all the presidential bells and whistles costs about $356.9 million. The Air Force's announcement earlier this year did not detail how much the new fleet of Air Force One aircraft will cost, but the Wall Street Journal noted at the time that last year the military appropriated $1.65 billion for two jets. The Times pointed out that just flying Air Force One for an hour costs $180,000.

Though James said the current fleet of presidential aircraft perform well, parts are becoming harder to come by, making maintenance more challenging. Thus, "it is time to upgrade," she said.

"Air Force One" can actually describe any plane carrying the president. It's simply a call sign, but it has become "standard practice to refer to specific planes that are equipped to transport the Commander-in-Chief," according to the White House.

According to the Times, the plane is one of the things President Barack Obama has said he'll miss about holding the office.

"It’s a great plane. And I’ll miss it, too," Obama said while campaigning in 2012.

This story has been updated to correct the number of engines on a Boeing 747-8.

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