ANDREWS-2019: A LOOK BACK and A LOOK FORWARD:
Editor: This is Part One of a two-part article about the Joint Base Andrews facility, tenant units, and their latest air show in 2019.
The weekend of May 11th 2019 was a special time in Washington, DC. No, it wasn’t something happening at the White House, or at the other House, or even at the Senate! It was the big Air Show happening down at what used to be called “Andrews Air Force Base” over by the east end of the Beltway on I-495, not too far from the Potomac River.
The base is now called “Joint Base Andrews” and ADW was able to muster up, counting the Hot Ramp and the Static Ramp, over 100 airplanes in 2019, if you counted everybody on the ramp and those that were part of the flying show. The big draw was of course having both the US Navy Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds, together for a joint appearance at JBA. That was the big reason why over 150,000 plane chasers showed up for each day on Saturday and Sunday. Supporting them were the Skytypers, the A-10 Demo Team, the Golden Knights USA SOC Jump Team, the “Class of 45” Warbird Demo Team, the Shockwave Jet Truck, the Heritage Flight, and of course, a few great stunt planes and lots more.
A LOOK FORWARD:
The Planes Based at Andrews Now, Their Missions; And The Planes To Be Based Here In the Future:
Andrews is a big base, a real big base. Joint Base Andrews is probably most famous for Presidential arrivals and departures on “Air Force One”, the well-known blue and white specially fitted out VC-25A, a Boeing 747-200B, with tail numbers 28000 and 29000, of the 89th Airlift Wing, based on the Andrews AFB side of JBA, the west side. There are two VC-25A’s here at Andrews; the reason for the two tail numbers. There are two new 747-8’s now being developed by Boeing, designated as VC-25B’s, that will soon replace the current VC-25A’s. President Trump initially ordered that the formal blue and white color scheme of the current VC-25A, developed by Jackie Kennedy in 1962, working closely with the famous designer Raymond Loewy, would be changed to be a bright waving red white and blue pattern with Stars and Stripes on the fuselage body. However, on February 10, 2020, it was reported in the Congressional newspaper “The Hill” via Air Force Magazine, that “The Pentagon on Monday revealed the final paint job plans for the revamped Air Force One presidential aircraft will be red, white and blue bands reminiscent of the planes in President Trump’s former airline (“TRUMP SHUTTLE”). The article also noted that “A final decision on the plane’s paint color and design isn’t set until 2021, however, making it possible that it won’t be changed if Trump fails to win reelection”. The two new planes will be formally turned over to the Air Force in 2024. Stay tuned to this channel for the latest on the new paint job!
Joint Base Andrews (ADW) has two active parallel main north-south runways: 01R / 19L at 9,756 feet and 01L / 19R at 9,318 feet. Originally opened in September 1942 as Camp Springs Army Air Base, the current base was formally established in 2009 when Andrews Air Force Base and Naval Air Facility Washington were merged. The name change also reflected the multiple cross-service units that are based here at Andrews. The “Air Force Base” designation is for the USAF operations, primarily the VIP 89th Airlift Wing, that are on the west side of the Base. Other military services are located on the east side of the field. The host unit at Andrews is the 11th Wing (11WG), assigned to “Air Force District Washington”, also known as the “National Capitol Region”, or NCR. The 11WG is responsible for maintenance, base support and emergency reaction rotary-wing airlift and other National Capital Region contingency response capabilities critical to national security. The 11WG, 811th Operations Group, 1st Helicopter Squadron, currently maintains and flys about 15 Sikorsky UH-1N Iroquois VIP blue “Hueys”. The unit will soon convert to the Boeing / Leonardo / Augusta-Westland MH-139A “Grey Wolf”, a customized version of the Italian AW-139, 84 of which are now being built for the USAF at the new Boeing facility at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE). The mission of the 16 new Andrews MH-139’s will be VIP transport but more importantly emergency evacuation of key US Government federal officials to local hardened emergency bunkers prior to a nuclear attack on Washington, DC.
The primary USAF transport unit at JB Andrews is the 89th Airlift Wing under the Air Mobility Command (AMC), 18th Air Force. The 1st Airlift Squadron under the 89th AW, operates the Boeing C-32A (Boeing 757-200 / “Air Force Two” for the VPOTUS) and the Boeing C-40B (Boeing 737-700C NextGen) and the Gulfstream-5 and the C-20A/B/C and H.
The primary C-20’s are the C-20A (Gulfstream III Biz Jet), the C-20B (an upgraded Gulfstream III) and the C-20H (a GIV-SP model). According to the 2018 “Air Force One” book by Mike Veronico and the late Bob Dorr, the Air Force at Andrews keeps three special C-20C’s “strictly out of the public’s eye”. These are three special Gulfstream IV’s (Serials 85-0049, 85-0050 and 86.0403). Per Veronico, they are “Emergency War Order” aircraft designed to move high-ranking federal officials quickly in the event of nuclear conflict and carries upgraded nuclear-hardened strategic communications equipment.
The C-20C’s at Andrews remain a “closely guarded secret” per Veronico. When asked about the C-20C, USAF officials told Veronico: “Our position is that we do not have any aircraft called a C-20C.” (!). The C-20C’s primary mission is to “ensure the survival of government leaders in the mist of a nuclear attack.” This survival program is euphemistically referred to as the “SENEX” program (RE: “Senior Executives”) and the C-20C’s at Andrews are sometimes referred to as SENEX airplanes (per Veronico). It has other acronyms, such COOP / COG – Continuity of Government Operations. It is assumed that the UH-1N Huey’s and these C-20C’s will work in tandem to get certain federal officials out of Washington quickly in time of impending nuclear war to the VC-25A or to the more remote Boeing E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post, known as the “Nightwatch” aircraft, also called “NECAP” for National Emergency Airborne Command Post, based at Offutt AFB, or to a local Continuity of Government Bunker. This used to be an underground government bunker at Greenbrier, WV, (abandoned after it was discovered by the Press a few years ago). Veronico states that there is a current COG Bunker, known as the “Alternate National Military Command Center” near Camp David, Maryland.
An interesting thing about these three special C-20C’s at Andrews is that they purposely have no digital “glass cockpits”. Instead the aircraft came equipped with analog instruments (round dials) that have changed little since the early days of aviation. The reason for the mechanical, rather than electronic instruments, is that the older gauges are invulnerable to nuclear weapons EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse), the blast of energy that comes from a nuclear detonation. These Gulfstreams also come with extensive but classified self defense systems.
It has also been reported that these C-20C’s are also meant to ferry a traveling President to safety during a crisis. The plane typically follow Air Force One, landing at an airbase or airport an hour or less from the President’s location. In the event of a war scare, that plane — not Air Force One — would pick up the Cpmmander-In-Chief and whisk him to one of a dozen ground command posts scattered around the country. It is not clear if one of these planes tag along in trail when the President travels on international flights. These three special classified C-20C’s have recently been assigned to the 99th Airlift Squadron of the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews. Per Veronico: “When at home at Andrews, the C-20C’s have a special hanger near Air Force One’s massive hanger and are rarely seen outside, except when flying”.
The 99th Airlift Squadron of the 89th Air Wing at Andrews flies the C-37 Gulfstream V: the C-37A, a Gulfstream V (Model GV, pronounced “G-Five”) and the special unmarked Special Ops C-37B, a Gulfstream G-550 (GV-SP). Also under the 99th AS / 89th AW is the “Presidential Airlift Group / Presidential Airlift Squadron, that operates and maintains the two equal VC-25A Presidential Aircraft, both a Boeing 747-200B, introduced in August 23, 1990, with tail numbers 28000 and 29000. When the President is on board it is designated as “Air Force One”. This designation applies to whichever aircraft the President is flying. When Trump flys to his Club at Bedminster, NJ, or to his Club at Mar-a-Largo, he usually uses the Boeing C-32A, a B-757-200, which would have the call-sign “Air Force One” if he’s on board. These planes are also known as “SAM” – “Special Air Mission” 28000 or 29000. Both VC-25A’s are housed together in a massive and highly secured hanger at the south end of Andrews.
These aircraft will both be replaced in 2024 with two new Boeing 747-8I aircraft to be known as VC-25B’s . Surprisingly, (“Defense One” noted on August 1, 2017) “That in an effort to pay less for the [VC-25A] replacement program, the USAF entered into a contract to purchase two of a bankrupt Russian airline’s (“Transaero”) undelivered B-747-8 Intercontinentals (I) from Boeing which was storing them in a Southern California logistics airport in the Mojave Desert to prevent corrosion.” On 27 February 2017, the White House announced a $3.9B Agreement with Boeing to modify these two unsold 747-8’s to replace the current VC-25’s two plane fleet. They are due to be delivered by 2024, color pending. It should be noted that since these planes are “orphaned 747-8i’s”, not new and are “Off The Lot”, so to speak, they will have 1,200 mile less range than the current original VC-25A planes, per reports. A 2019 report to Congress also revealed other deficiencies of the new planes, compared to the old, as a result of cost cutting measures: the “new planes” will have no aerial refueling capabilities; the jets will only be able to carry 71 passengers, down from a planned 87; they will only have communications equipment to support 70 simultaneous voice and data connections rather than a planned 80, all according to Bloomberg News.
Recent reports have stated that the Air Force is very concerned about the reduced range and the loss of refueling capabilities in these new planes. This negative range feature creates a major problem in time of a nuclear war crisis in how to keep the President airborne for a maximum period of time without a forced landing for a lack of fuel. These reports now state that the President might have to transfer to a E-4B “Night Watch” C3 aircraft that has the greater range, has refueling capabilities, is nuclear hardened and has full C3 communications. There is also talk that an E-4B might have to accompany the new VC-25B’s on all major trips in case of such a nuclear emergency developing while the President is traveling. Reports state that the entire point of Air Force One is to be able to operate as a secure self contained airborne command center, not obviate the need for a second trailing aircraft – the E-4B “Night Watch” – due to inherent range and air-time limitations of the “new” VC-25B Presidential Aircraft.
The Other Units at Andrews:
Looking east across the runway from from the air show ramp, you can see the other units that are based on the east side of Joint Base Andrews. One of the largest is the 459th Air Refueling Wing / 756th Air Refueling Squadron of the Air Force Reserve Command with its fleet of Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers.
Right next door is the DC Air National Guard 113th Wing / 121st Fighter Squadron with their F-16C/D Viper fighters. The primary mission of the 113th FW is now as the Air Sovereignty Alert Detachment to protect the restricted air space around Washington, DC. A mix of active duty and AFRC pilots and and armed F-16 Vipers are in constant 5 minute Alert Status to launch-on-warning and intercept any unknown aircraft that intrude into the Restricted No-Fly Zone around the Capital. The 113FW is appropriately named the “Capital Guardians” and have a red tail band and a “DC” tail code.
The DCANG 113 FW also operate the 201st Airlift Squadron with C-38A Courier aircraft (Gulfstream G-100 / G-150) and C-40C aircraft (Boeing 737-700C NextGen transports).
The US Army Military District of Washington, Air Operations Group, Priority Air Transport Unit, is also on the east side of JBA with a number of their own C-37A (Gulfstream V) and C-37B (Gulfstream G-550 GVSP) both as VIP aircraft. The US Marine Corps., 4th MAW, MAG-49, Marine Transport Squadron Andrews (VMRG Andrews) is here with their UC-35 Citations (Cessna Citation Ultra Encore Model 560 corporate VIP Biz Jets). The US Navy is at JBA is at the Naval Air Facility, until 2006, a separate military base, with two flying units: Fleet Logistics Support Squadron One (VR-1) with C-37B aircraft (Gulfstream G500 / G550) and USN Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Five Three (VR-53) with their C-130T Hercules cargo aircraft.
Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) out of MCAS Quantico, VA, are constant transient visitors to JBA, either giving the President a ride over from the White House in his current Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King VIP “Marine One” helo so he can pick up his VC-25A B-747, or giving rides to other senior Federal Government officials or US Military senior officers rides to JBA. HMX-1 has a deployment of VIP helicopters stationed at Bolling Air Force (formerly Anacostia Naval Air Station), just down the Potomic River from the White House. These VIP helos stage out of Bolling prior to their pickups and bed down at Quantico. These specially marked transport helicopters RE known as “white tops” for their distinctive white-over-green color scheme. HMX-1 VIP helos at JBA include, besides the VH-3D, the Sikorsky VH-60N Seahawk “White Hawk”, the Boeing-Vertol CH-46E Sea Knight, and the Bell-Boeing MV-22B Tilt-Rotor. The Navy and HMX-1 recently evaluated VH-71A “Kestrel”, a version of the Eurocopter EH-101, as a replacement for the aging fleet of VH-3D’s as a new “Marine One”.
U.S. Navy Graphic, VH-92A
The Sikorsky S-92A helicopter, to be now called the VH-92A, was finally recently selected to be the the VH-3D replacement. In 2014 the Navy awarded Sikorsky a $1.24B contract to build the first six new Presidential helicopters based on the S-92. A 23 helicopter fleet is expected by 2023. The first VH-92A Presidential Helicopter made its maiden flight from the Sikorsky plant in Stratford, Connecticut on July 28, 2019. Test flights are now starting at JB Andrews.