The last time the Air Force bought a new passenger jetliner for the president was 1972, and First Lady Patricia Nixon would have none of it. She did not like the plane's interior and demanded renovations that ultimately cost taxpayers more than $1 million.
The Air Force again is buying a new Air Force One. This time, however, White House officials promise that neither Nancy Reagan nor anyone in the administration will be ordering last-minute changes in the Boeing 747 that is to become the presidential jet in November.
"I can assure you that when this one is delivered, everyone is going to say, 'Yep, that's what I signed on to,' " said James C. McKinney, head of the White House Military Office.
If his assessment survives, it will be a victory of sorts for a former presidential aide who probably will never set foot inside the new plane.
But then, Michael K. Deaver, former White House deputy chief of staff, probably would not be too happy with the huge green aircraft being outfitted at a Boeing hangar in Wichita, Kan. It has too many seats.
Deaver, the longtime confidant of President and Mrs. Reagan, was portrayed at his recent trial on perjury charges as being horrified at how the Air Force, which maintains presidential jets, was designing the plane in 1985.
For one thing, Deaver expressed concern that far too many White House staffers would be allowed to travel with the president. That would only increase logistics problems for the White House, he said.
Deaver, who was paid $250,000 to lobby for the Boeing plane, successfully urged former White House colleagues to create a committee to advise the Air Force on how to design the interior. Deaver maintained that he wanted to prevent a recurrence of the Nixon incident.
Boeing, as it turned out, became worried about Deaver's desire to trim the passenger space on the plane. That, after all, was supposed to be a big advantage of the 747 compared with the smaller McDonnell Douglas DC10, Boeing's main rival in the highly competitive bidding to produce a new Air Force One.
The Boeing plane that won the competition in 1986 will be a model with more seats than Deaver wanted. It is expected to seat about 23 crew members and 80 passengers, compared with the 10 crew and 59 passengers carried by the current Air Force One, a Boeing 707, according to Boeing.
The new plane, which is to undergo extensive testing before receiving its presidential paint, is scheduled to make its first presidential trip in November, carrying Reagan to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for Thanksgiving at his Santa Barbara ranch. A second 747, to serve as a backup, is expected to be delivered in May 1989.
The planes were purchased under a $249.8 million contract that calls for Boeing to outfit them with a suite of offices and secret communications gear and to train the crew in everything from fixing meals to maintaining engines.
Adding the two planes will cost taxpayers $391 million, which Air Force officials said includes the cost of a huge new hangar under construction at Andrews Air Force Base.
"We didn't buy this airplane to set a new tone for the White House," McKinney said.
Still, the new plane probably will mean goodbye to refueling in such places as Anchorage and Guam, where the current 707 has had to stop on long trips.
But it could also mean hello to some airports, such as Charleston, W.Va., where runways are too short for the 707. While the 747 can use a shorter runway, it needs wider taxiways, which could rule out use of some airports where the current plane can land and take off, McKinney said.
Although White House officials are reluctant to discuss specifics, they said the 747 could fly nonstop from here to Tokyo. It can be refueled in the air, a procedure that McKinney described as more of a "safety feature" than a device to be used regularly while the president is aboard.
"The basic layout of this airplane is basically unchanged from the 707," he said. "There are just more seats in each compartment."
The plane will contain presidential quarters -- "where he lives," McKinney said -- work space for office staff and conferences, and separate areas for senior staff members, guests, the Secret Service and the news media. It also will contain a small medical facility and a compartment where the crew can rest.
According to testimony at Deaver's trial, White House officials were especially eager to obtain a newer jet that could travel farther without refueling and carry "hardened" communications gear -- electronics that would not be ruined by the electromagnetic waves generated by a nuclear blast.
................. AIR FORCE ONE
................. CURRENTLY IN USE .......NOW ON ORDER
Aircraft: ....... modified Boeing 707 ....modified Boeing 747-200B
Range: .......... about 6,500 miles ......about 8,000 miles
Top speed: ...... about 600 mph ..........about 640 mph
Accommodation: .. 59 passengers, 10 crew .80 passengers, 23 crew
Wingspan: ....... 145 feet, 9 inches .....195 feet, 8 inches
Length: ......... 152 feet, 11 inches ....231 feet, 10 inches
SOURCES: Jane's All the World's Aircraft, Associated Press