80 Years Ago Today Franklin D. Roosevelt Became The First US President To Travel By Air For Work

Exactly 80 years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became America’s first head of state to travel on official business by plane. The 32nd President of the United States flew across the Atlantic for a secret meeting between himself and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

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Conference of Casablanca

The meeting discussed the strategy of the Allies and the possibility of opening a new beginning in Europe. Joseph Stalin apologized, saying that he could not attend because the battle between the Soviets and the Germans at Stalingrad required him to stay in the USSR. The meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill resulted in the “Casablanca Declaration,” which stated that for the war to end, the Axis powers must surrender unconditionally.


Fly to Morocco because of German submarines

President Roosevelt’s advisers did not want him to fly to the meeting. However, they concluded that German U-boat operations in the Atlantic made it dangerous for the President to travel to North Africa by ship. At 22:00 on January 9, 1943, the President and his entourage left the White House for Union Station in Washington, DC.

Pan Am Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper

From there, they boarded a train for the long trip down to Miami, Florida. On January 11, 1943, at 06:00, the President boarded the Pan American Airways “Dixie Clipper” Boeing 314 flying boat for the Atlantic crossing. Over the next few days, the plane stopped in Trinidad and BelĂ©m, Brazil, for refueling before flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Bathurst in the West African country of The Gambia.

Route map

Image: GCmaps

From Gambia to Morocco on Skymaster Douglas C-54

At the time, Gambia was part of the British Empire and was not involved in the war. From Bathurst, the President boarded a Douglas C-54 transport plane for the final leg of the journey to Medouina Airport (CAS) in Casablanca. In total, the trip took more than 50 hours, covering about 7,000 miles.

After the President’s meeting with Churchill, he boarded the USS Memphis, a light cruiser of the United States Navy, and sailed south to Gambia. In Bathurst, the President took the same trip aboard the Dixie Clipper back to the United States. Roosevelt celebrated his 61st birthday with a specially prepared cake during the flight home.


A special plane was built to transport the President

The President’s experience flying in a Douglas C-54 over the Western Sahara made a lasting impression. He also encouraged the head of the Army Air Force, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, to discuss a specially equipped plane for the President. The result was the Skymaster Douglas VC-54C known as the “Holy Cow.

Roosevelt used the plane to fly to the Yalta Conference on February 4, 1945. At the conference, Roosevelt met again with Churchill and, this time, with the leader of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin. The goal of the meeting was to determine how they would reshape and rebuild post-war Europe. President Harry Truman used the aircraft for the next two years.

The callsign “Air Force One” was first used in 1953 after a Lockheed Constellation carrying President Eisenhower entered the same airspace as a commercial flight with the same flight number.


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