History records that every one of them had something nice to say about it - and well they should have. President of the United States or not, Air Force One is a nifty perk.
"The prime perk," said J.F. terHorst last night at a party for him and retired Air Force Col. Ralph Albertazzie given by publishers Coward, McCann and Geoghegan of New York to celebrate their new book, "The Flying White House."
"I'm convinced," continued terHorst before a crowd of nearly 200 at the Mayflower Hotel, "that any president would rather have one than a vice president. It's much more useful and you can ride it more."
Eight presidents have proved that point since a Pan American Airways Boeing 314 was pressed hastily into service in 1943 to carry Franklin D. Roosevelt on his historic wartime mission to Casablanca. The trip was a flying first for an American President.
The book is a history of those eight presidents aboard their seven Air Force Ones, an idea which long fascinated publisher John Geoghegan.
"I always thought it would be interesting to know what happens inside that plane, who flew in it and why, and how it's become an instrument of government," Geoghegan said last night. "So when Ralph agreed to the project, we went looking for a writer.Somebody told me Jerry terHorst was available and it turned out that he was fascinated by the idea."
The team of Albertazzie and terHorst probably could not have been more of a natural. TerHorst was a veteran Washington journalist who served briefly as Gerald Ford's first White House press secretary. Albertazzie had commanded Richard Nixon's Air Force One for 5 1/2 years and flew him home to California the day he resigned as president.
Ron Nessen, TerHorst's successor and himself an author when he isn't hosting 'Panorama,' said he started to skim the book but ended up reading all night. The significance of presidential travel was hardly lost on him.
"Jerry and I share the view that Ford's Salzburg trip, when he stumbled coming down the steps, gave him the image of clumsiness which he never could erase," Nessen said.
Albertazzie, whose reputation for precision timing became almost legendary around the Nixon White House, said he decided it was of "historical interest" to calculate where Air Force One would be over the U.S. when Ford finished taking his oath of office back in the White House.
"We knew that when the chief justice told Gerald Ford he was president we would no longer be Air Force One. We were within a couple of miles of where we should have been - 13 miles southwest of Jefferson City, Mo., at three minutes and 25 seconds past noon," he recalled. He explains in the book how he radioed Kansas City to change the plane's call sign to SAM 27000.
"More and more," said Albertazzie, standing there in his business suit surrounded by former Air Force cronies, "the president's plane is an instrument of the president's power. Why, when that airplane shows up, that is the United States of America. When I was sitting up there in that cockpit, I could see the look on the faces of people down there on the ground waiting. That airplane has become symbolic of America."
The symbolism has figured prominently in changing the course of history, from John F. Kennedy's last flight home, to Henry Kissinger's secret trips for shuttle diplomacy, to Nixon's breakthrough to China.
Nixon never did make Albertazzie, now operator of a West Virginia truck stop, a general, although he had promised to on the trip from China. "When we said goodbye in California, he told me he was sorry about it, like so many other things he had left undone. He said we'd traveled a lot of miles together," said Albertazzie, looking around at other pilots in the crowd, like Col. Elmer Smith (USAF Ret.), who had co-piloted Gerald Ford's.
"I said I understood." CAPTION: Picture, From far left: Col. Ken Hesse, former Air Force One co-pilot; Col. Ralph Albertazzie, author of "The Flying White House"; Elmer Smith, former Air Force One pilot, and J.F. terHorst, co-author, by Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post.