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"One of the most powerful people in the world is on this airplane" does not seem like something you would want to broadcast, but "Air Force One" is effectively a code-word for that sentence. Why is it used? I would think that presidential flights would have inconspicuous call signs intended to attract as little attention as possible; maybe even fake airline call signs.

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  • $\begingroup$ It wouldn't be called "Air Force One". It would be, if anything, something like SAM12345. "Special Air Mission". And SAM12345 could be carrying anyone. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 9, 2023 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ @WPNSGuy so the President's plane's call sign isn't really Air Force One? $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Feb 9, 2023 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ Correct. Not anywhere public with air traffic control, anyway. AF1, Or Navy 1, Army 1, whatever...would be the name of the aircraft. But not the callsign used by ATC. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Feb 9, 2023 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ @WPNSGuy, that's simply not correct... 7110.65 2–4–20a7 $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Feb 9, 2023 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ The radio-telephony for the President flying aboard a USAF aircraft is, "Air Force One." $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Feb 9, 2023 at 20:12

2 Answers 2

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From Air Force One:

Columbine II is the first plane to bear the call sign Air Force One. This designation for the US Air Force aircraft carrying the incumbent president was established after an incident in 1953, when Eastern Air Lines 8610, a commercial flight, crossed paths with Air Force 8610, which was carrying President Eisenhower. Initially used informally, the designation became official in 1962.

So the original purpose of the "Air Force One" call sign was to distinguish the special flight from any other flight.

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    $\begingroup$ It's also worth noting that if the President is flying on a aircraft owned by the Navy, Army, or the USMC, the aircraft is referred to as Navy One, Army One, and Marine One respectively $\endgroup$
    – BryBuriya
    Feb 9, 2023 at 3:18
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    $\begingroup$ @ceejayoz but Eastern Air Lines got confused with Air Force? $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2023 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 Since 1953 there has been substantial improvement in standardizing radio phraseology to avoid such things (as well as procedural changes to how the President flies). It ain't perfect - youtube.com/watch?v=b26NcJCLZl4 is an example of similar callsigns causing an issue - but AF1 on today's computerized systems is gonna be a) clearly labeled on the controller's scope and b) flying with a TFR that forbids other aircraft from getting anywhere near. Eastern Air Lines 8610 today would discover an F-16 gesturing angrily in their direction rapidly. $\endgroup$
    – ceejayoz
    Feb 9, 2023 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @ceejayoz So it may not be as technically important these days, but we keep doing it out of tradition (which has been codified into law). $\endgroup$
    – Barmar
    Feb 9, 2023 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @BryBuriya But the only other one of those that's in common usage today is Marine One, usually a helicopter. Navy One has happened exactly once, when G.W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003. Army One has not been used since 1976. Coast Guard One and Space Force One have never been used. Executive One is used for civilian planes carrying the President - generally its only use has been for outgoing Presidents leaving the capital at the end of their term. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2023 at 18:48
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It's difficult to be inconspicuous when you'll also want all other aircraft to keep far away from AF1. Besides that, it's public information what countries the president is visiting. The only special case I can imagine is if the president made one visit to Ukraine. In this case they'll figure out the best way of not broadcasting any security relevant information in advance. Some world leaders have done it.

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    $\begingroup$ Specific example: washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2003/11/28/… - Air Force one used a false callsign, press embargoed, no TFRs. $\endgroup$
    – ceejayoz
    Feb 9, 2023 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ And on the plus side usually using the call sign makes it a little bit harder for everyone else to spot the fake one $\endgroup$
    – PlasmaHH
    Feb 10, 2023 at 19:46

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