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The Aero Commander was the smallest Air Force One, and the first presidential aircraft to Ike's Little Air Force One. It has only two engines, and the L-26C (U-4B) was also the first presidential aircraft to carry the familiar blue and white paint scheme.
Ted Smith, original designer of the Aero Commander, was a senior engineer for Douglas Aircraft during WW II. He designed the A-20 Havoc and the B-26 Invader. The lineage is obvious and many observers say the Commander is a miniature version of the B-26. Smith's Aero Commander was selected for Presidential service because of its excellent single engine performance, its robust construction, and the ability to operate out of a short grass strip such as Ike's farm strip at Gettysburg.
The L-26C, an Air Force version of the Aero Commander, was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1956 to 1960. Besides the President and his family members; Vice- President Nixon; President Elect John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy; heads of state and dignitaries from foreign nations; and the reverend Billy Graham, all used the small transport, primarily for Presidential visits at Ike's Gettysburg retreat.
The immediate need for such a craft was made necessary when Ike suffered a heart attack and required efficient and secure travel to his farm in Gettysburg, PA, just 70 miles from DC, where he spent several weeks in recovery. At the time, suitable helicopters had not been developed for the task.
During the several years of extensive research of Ike's Little Air Force One, Aero Commander Super 680, Colorado Springs artist and historian Rick Broome devoted hundreds of hours to research. This included visiting with experts throughout the United States. A short visit with Ike's grandson David Eisenhower confirmed some of the stories from the rich history of this unique version of Air Force One.
This L-26C Aero Commander was found in an aviation salvage yard by the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame artist Broome in 1988. Later the Air Force changed the designation to U-4B. The presidential aircraft is an essentially stock 1956 Super 680 Aero Commander.
For his original painting "Ike's Air Force One Aero Commander" the Colorado Springs artist flew to the actual location and took aerial photos guaranteeing the accuracy of the moment. In the painting, the artist depicted Ike flying the aircraft from the right seat with Colonel Draper in the left seat, which actually happened on various occasions.
According to Air Force documentation, Ike's aircraft had been scrapped in 1977. Finding the missing Air Force One was a major victory for history.
Upon attracting national media attention this history motivated the owner, Mr. Bill Duff, to accurately restore the aircraft to its original condition.
The actual airplane now sits in the Special Collections Air Force One display in the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB.
Stated artist Rick Broome, "I wanted to capture the President flying the aircraft for the beauty and history of the scene. We now produce very limited editions of this original painting so like- minded aviation collectors can own a copy of this historic painting."
President Eisenhower is shown with his presidential pilot Col. William Draper.
Rick Broome spent hundreds of hours researching, meeting with members of the Eisenhower family, traveling to Ike's Presidential Library in Kansas, making trips to the Farm in Gettysburg, and finally visiting an airplane graveyard in Denver, CO, where Broome's identification and rescue of the craft resulted in the perfect restoration and display of the actual plane, where it resides at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.
FOTPAM's version of Ike's Little Air Force One, an Aero Commander Model 520, joined the museum collection at Fox Stephens Field in 2005. Bearing Serial Number 109 out of a total of 150 model-520's built. November One One Lima is soon to be repainted blue and white to accurately represent "Ike's Little Air Force One." Built in 1953 and totally restored in 2000, N11L flies regularly for the museum.
FOTPAM's Air Force One Staff Car and Vietnam era Air Force Ambulance on the way to Barksdale AFB Defenders of Liberty Air Show. Accompanied by its Air Force One Staff Car, Ike's Little Air Force One will make a one of a kind airshow and public events display.
1951: At the time, there was not another plane on the market similar to the Aero Commander. The Aero Commander also had an unprecedented margin of safety relative to other aircraft due to its single engine performance capabilities. The Aero Commander was capable of taking off, flying and landing on a single engine while maintaining a high degree of stability. To prove this, and to enhance market recognition of the plane, in May of 1951, the Company successfully completed a flight from Oklahoma City to Washington DC loaded to full gross weight with one propeller removed from the plane. This was a first for the aviation industry and a strong demonstration of the asymmetric control and responsiveness of the Aero Commander.
In 1955, the US Air Force selected the Aero Commander as the personal transport for President Eisenhower due to its "exceptional performance characteristics." The Aero Commander was the first light twin engine aircraft considered safe enough for use by the President. The US Air Force ordered fifteen Twin Commanders, two of which were placed in the service of the White House. In 1957, the Twin Commander broke the distance record for general aviation aircraft by flying a distance of 1,504.74 nautical miles from Guatemala City, Guatemala to Oklahoma City.