Aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of at least 300,000 pounds add the word "Heavy" to their callsign. (Example: Lufthansa 415 Heavy in this video.) The current Presidential 747's have a maximum takeoff weight of 833,000 pounds. Yet, it flies (when the President is on board) with the callsign "Air Force One", not "Air Force One Heavy."

Why not?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ 100% purely anecdotal and probably not true, but: I had an instructor (retired controller) tell me he knew the guy who caused the rule change. This guy was working AF1, kept calling him "heavy" as required by the book, the pilot (an Air Force major) got offended and by the end of the day there was a new rule saying AF1 should not be called "heavy." It would be interesting to pore over old versions of the 7110.65 and see when the rule was added. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Mar 16, 2021 at 14:45

2 Answers 2


FAA JO 7110.65 Section 4 Radio and Interphone Communications specifically states that the "heavy" designator should not be used:

e. When in radio communications with “Air Force One” or “Air Force Two,” do not add the heavy designator to the call sign. State only the call sign “Air Force One/Two” regardless of the type aircraft.

  • 21
    $\begingroup$ @Nij I was under the impression the call sign of an aircraft is "Air Force One" if and only if the POTUS is on board. $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2017 at 9:30
  • 18
    $\begingroup$ @Angew: Not "an aircraft", only some aircraft: the call sign of any and all US Air Force aircraft that the president is currently on, is "Air Force One", only for the time the president is on it. (See the final climax of the eponymous Harrison Ford movie for a heavily dramatized but surprisingly accurate example – the only realistic second of the entire movie.) If it is a US Marines aircraft, the callsign is "Marine One" instead. For a US Navy aircraft, it is "Navy One". For a commercial aircraft, it is "Executive One". $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2017 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ A good example - when it was made very obvious - is how the plane flying Pres. Richard Nixon changed it's call-sign in mid-flight from "Air Force One" to SAM27000 (it's "real"/normal call-sign) at noon, when Nixon's letter of resignation took effect and Ford became President. Also the same system for "Marine One" - the helicopter... and if the President was on a navy-ship (or I assume a navy-plane), it would be "Navy One". $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2017 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Nij I seriously doubt the lack of heavy designation has anything to do with security. If that were the case why give the president his own call sign at all? If subterfuge was necessary they would simply leave its designator as it is when he's not on it and not paint it with special livery. The whole idea of the AF1 designator is to indicate its protected status. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Feb 25, 2017 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ @digitgopher do you think when AF1 flies, they let other planes get close enough to be in its wake? As for what ensures no other aircraft gets close, I'm sure the Air Force fighter jets that fly with it provide a good enough deterrent :P Edit: Here's an article mentioning the FAA is investigating a plane that came within 3 nautical miles of AF1 this month. $\endgroup$
    – BruceWayne
    Feb 26, 2017 at 4:20

The purpose of the "heavy" designator is create situational awareness because of its wake turbulence. There are also different separation requirements when following a heavy aircraft. Since all air traffic around Air Force 1 is likely to be heavily controlled, there's no need to call out that it's a heavy.

  • $\begingroup$ Also worth noting that there's only one aircraft of it's kind to worry about at a time. It's like tacking qualifiers onto a space shuttle on re-entry. $\endgroup$
    – bobsburner
    Jul 26, 2020 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ -1. Air traffic around busy airports is always "heavily controlled" but the "heavy"/"super" suffix is still used. What source do you have for the claim that AF1 receives any additional separation? $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Jun 22, 2022 at 23:47
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead You should not be asking for a source when the answer is common knowledge. aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/1689/… $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2022 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Anon nothing in those answers, and nothing in the 7110.65, gives any indication that it is against the rules for an aircraft to be operating closer than 4NM of AF1 (but still 3NM or greater), wake turbulence considerations aside. Once you have a Heavy, Large or Small operating directly behind AF1 and 1000ft (or fewer) below, wake turbulence must be considered and more separation is required. Hence the purported benefit of the "super"/"heavy" designator—situational awareness for the pilot following—would still be applicable. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Jun 23, 2022 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ @randomhead Read the link again. $\endgroup$ Jun 24, 2022 at 0:02

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