The U.S. Air Force said it awarded Boeing a $600 million contract modification on September 12 to design a new Air Force One configuration on two commercial Boeing 747-8s. The contract follows an award the service made last month to purchase the 747s, which had been ordered but never delivered to bankrupt Russian carrier Transaero.
The contract modification calls for Boeing to complete preliminary design work to incorporate a mission communication system, electrical power upgrades, a medical facility, an executive interior, a self-defense system and autonomous ground operations capabilities, the Air Force announced on September 13.
“Following the award of the contract to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft, this contract award is the next major step forward toward ensuring an overall affordable program," said Maj. Gen. Duke Richardson, the service’s Presidential Airlift Recapitalization (PAR) program executive officer.
The Air Force said it is working with Boeing on a follow-on contract modification for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase, which will continue the program through detailed design, aircraft modification, test and delivery of two mission-ready presidential aircraft. These will replace the two current VC-25A (Boeing 747-200) presidential support aircraft.
Plans call for awarding the EMD contract modification next summer, the Air Force said. Previously, the service has said that modifications will begin in 2019, with initial operational capability of the new Air Force One scheduled for 2024.
In 2015, the Air Force said it would contract with Boeing to deliver up to three new mission-modified 747-8s to replace the VC-25As. But as president-elect in December, Donald Trump called for cancelling the PAR program, saying in a tweet that its cost was “out of control.” The Air Force and the White House then negotiated ways to reduce the cost of the program, which included eliminating the capability of new Air Force Ones to refuel in flight, Defense One has reported.