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Joint Base Andrews News

NEWS | Aug. 21, 2023

VC-140B #89001 briefly returns to the wild blue yonder

By U.S. Air Force Major Scott Terra 89th Airlift Wing

Similar to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first series of powered flights in December 1903, culminating with Wilbur’s fourth and most successful attempt clocking in at 59 seconds and traveling 852 feet; civilian contractors and members of the 316th Civil Engineer Squadron traversed a similar distance when they moved the VC-140B JetStar static display from the passenger terminal, to its next destination, a newly constructed air park alongside the 89th Airlift Wing headquarters building at Joint Base Andrews, Md., August 17, 2023.

“This plane’s been here since I began my career, so it’s neat being part of such a big and challenging restoration project that will result in it continuing to be prominently displayed”, said Kirk Kessler, 316 CE Construction Management Chief.

The airplane began its life as serial number 1002/N329K and first flew on April 2, 1958. It is the second of only two pre-production prototypes of the Lockheed JetStar. The plane’s designer and chief engineer was none other than aviation giant Kelly Johnson.

Johnson is famous for leading Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects, more commonly known as the “Skunk Works”, and is responsible for producing cutting-edge airframes such as the SR-71, U-2 and dozens of others during the “Jet Age” of the mid 1950’s to early 1970’s.

With the JetStar’s aesthetics, reliability, cruise speed of approximately 500 miles per hour, and a range of nearly 3,000 miles, it was a huge success in the burgeoning civilian business jet market and sold with the numerical designator Lockheed Model 1329. Such luminaries as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and former President Richard Nixon, would come to use JetStars for their personal conveyance.

Realizing the versatility offered by the plane’s speed and short-runway takeoff and landing capabilities, the Air Force purchased approximately 24 of these aircraft, classifying them C-140A’s and C-140B’s. The A models were used primarily for communications systems testing and were flown extensively during the Vietnam Conflict, contributing significantly to Air Force navigational systems development.

The B models were assigned to the Military Airlift Command as personnel transports, with 6 being employed by the 89 AW for executive airlift operations. These aircraft were adorned with the distinctive blue and white, with gold trim paint scheme associated with the Special Air Mission assignment and given the exclusive designation of VC-140B.

Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Williams, flight mechanic, was on hand to observe the move. CMSgt Williams was a member of both the 1st Airlift Squadron and 99th Airlift Squadron from 1981-1994. He said the basic crew was: two pilots, one flight mechanic, and one flight attendant, with most missions being flown around the contiguous United States, Canada, South America and Central America.   

Williams noted how well the crews got along and how much pride they took in the level of service they provided, “We used to pack those planes so full we couldn’t get anything else in there, and we’d be off!”     

Retired Technical Sgt. Mike Evans, a former 99 AS flight attendant added, “If you could hotcup on a JetStar, you could cook on anything…had some amazing trips on that bird.”   

After decades of continuing to use 1002 for flight testing and research and development data collection, Lockheed donated the plane to Andrews Air Force Base in August 1983. The plane was then carefully prepared for static display, and appropriately adorned with the customary markings, symbolic of the JetStar’s long association with the 89 AW’s fleet of VIP aircraft.

The plane received its honorary tail number of 89001 in 1987, as part of a retirement ceremony commemorating more than 26 years of C-140 JetStar service to the Air Force. The event was attended by former 89 AW Commander, Colonel Leonard J. Augustine, Presidential Pilot, Col. Robert Ruddick, 1st Military Airlift Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Keith J. Urback, with Arizona Senator, Mr. Barry Goldwater, serving as keynote speaker.

Robert Spiers, 89 AW Historian stated, “While this most recent move was necessitated by the planned location of JB Andrews’ new fire station, as a historian, I’m just extremely appreciative that leadership lent total support to preserving this significant piece of aviation history and fixture of JB Andrews.”

Retired Lt. Col. George Macken, former 99 AS pilot, offered fitting final sentiments, “Long live the little bird” ‘a reference to the days when we were married to the 1 AS mission’.

Macken added, “I’m glad to see the good guys won out and the plane didn’t land on the scrap pile of history!”