RONALD WILSON REAGAN (February 6th, 1911 – June 5th, 2004)
I have wanted to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California for years and I am glad to say I finally made it there. The museum is a fantastic recollection on the life and career of Ronald Reagan, the former radio sportscaster (1932-1937), movie actor (1937-1942, 1945-1964), officer in the US Army Air Force – First Motion Picture Unit (due to poor eyesight he was not deployed overseas but between 1942 to 1945 his units released approximately 400 training films. He attained the rank of Captain in 1943), President of the Screen Actors Guild (serving 7 terms from 1947 to 1952 and in 1959. During his presidency he led SAG through the anti-communist Un-American Activities Hearings, “McCarthyism” and the Hollywood blacklist years. It was later revealed Reagan had been an F.B.I. informant against suspected communists during his time with the union), TV presenter/actor (including General Electric Theater 1954-1962 and Death Valley Days 1964-1966), 33rd Governor of California (1967-1975) and 40th President of the United States (1981-1989) representing the Republican Party.
Not everyone may have agreed with his policies (his economic policies aka “Reaganomics” for example have in retrospect been criticised) but Ronald Reagan was a life long opponent of Communism and someone who believed in a strong United States, including a strong military (according to information in the museum, in 1980 less than 40% of US divisions, air squadrons and ships were rated fully or substantially combat ready. By 1988 this was at over 80%). Ronald Reagan was instrumental during dark times in restoring pride in America, along with developing a more open relationship with the Soviet Union which ultimately ended the Cold War (1947-1991).
“Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead we changed the world.”
– Ronald Reagan during his Farewell Address to the Nation on January 11th, 1989.
“To Ronnie, Well Done, thou good and faithful servant”
– Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote these words in a condolence book following his death.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum covers his early life right through to his Presidency and life in retirement. Exhibits include historic moments during the height of the Cold War and various gifts presented to him throughout his career. There is also a full-scale reproduction of the Oval Office as it appeared during Reagan’s Presidency.
Within the museum you can also interestingly see the nice new blue suit (blood stains and all!) Ronald Reagan was wearing on March 30th, 1981, the day of a failed assassination attempt by John Hinkley Jr. in which he was shot just 69 days into his presidency. The bullet that struck him was actually a ricochet that lodged dangerously close to his heart (you can clearly see the bullet hole in the suit and next to it is an x-ray image showing where the bullet ended up). From his hospital bed Ronald Reagan was famously quoted saying to his wife Nancy: “Honey, I forgot to duck” and to his doctors prior to his surgery: “I hope all of you are Republicans”!
AIR FORCE ONE
An excellent annex to the museum is the grand Air Force One Pavilion. What a sight this is to walk in and be at the same level as this huge Boeing 707-320B (VC-137C) aka Air Force One, elevated on pedestals before you! The pavilion is huge and is faced by a massive floor to ceiling window that looks out onto the Simi Valley countryside. In addition Marine One, a Sikorsky VH-3A presidential transport helicopter is on display in the lower level of the pavilion (more on that in my next post).
Air Force One is literally the “Flying White House” fitted with advanced secure communications equipment (and electronic counter measures for defence) that allows the aircraft to operate as a mobile command center (any aircraft carrying the President is designated Air Force Once). This particular Boeing 707 VC-137C (tail number 27000 and formally known as “Special Air Mission 27000” or SAM 27000) was accepted by the USAF Presidential Airlift Group on August 4th, 1972 and served primarily in this role until replaced in 1990 by the larger and more modern Boeing 747-200B (VC-25A SAM 28000 and SAM 29000).
In 28 years SAM 27000 flew 1,440 sorties over 2.09 million kilometres (1.3 million miles)! The Boeing 707 VC-137C was not actually decommissioned from USAF service until 2001 though and flew 7 consecutive Presidents with the first being Richard Nixon in February 1973, followed by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Ronald Reagan was most associated with SAM 27000 though as he flew on it more than the other Presidents (1.03 million kilometres / 660,000 miles to 26 countries and 46 US states) and signed numerous important pieces of legislation along with writing many of his famous speeches aboard Air Force One. On September 8th, 2001 the aircraft was formally retired and presented to the Reagan Library at San Bernadino International Airport (it is on loan from the USAF).
Boeing assisted the library in disassembling the airframe over a 9 week period and the sections (fuselage, tail, engines, landing gear and wings) were transported by truck to the library in June 2003. The sections sat in the open atop the hill where the library is located while the Air Force One Pavilion was constructed. As soon as 2 of the walls and roof were up the sections of the Boeing 707 were moved inside on September 20th, 2004. 10 weeks later Boeing had reconstructed the aircraft while the rest of the pavilion was constructed around them! The aircraft was hoisted and secured on the pedestals and following 5 months of repainting and polishing her back to her former glory she was ready for unveiling on September 23rd, 2005 (just 4 years after being decommissioned). With former first lady Nancy Reagan present, the pavilion was opened to the public in October 2005 and Air Force One still gleams today.
You are not allowed to take photos inside Air Force One but I can tell you it was well appointed with offices, communications equipment and seating for 52 passengers plus the USAF crew. The aircraft looks much as it did during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and is well maintained inside and out.
Out of interest the blue and white livery with gold trimming of Air Force One was commissioned by John F. Kennedy the 35th President of the United States (1961 to 1963). My understanding is that his wife Jacqueline Kennedy hired designer Raymond Loewy to come up with the scheme (with input from the Kennedy’s) and it was first applied to SAM 26000 the first Boeing 707 (VC-137C) Air Force One used from 1962 to 1972 as a presidential transport. SAM 26000 was then kept as a backup presidential transport and was not retired from service until 1998 (today it is in the National Museum of the USAF Presidential Gallery in Ohio).
Prior to SAM 26000 the livery applied doesn’t seem quite so presidential. Although the 3 earlier Boeing 707-120 (VC-137B) aircraft used as Air Force One were later repainted in this scheme, they were originally red and white (serial numbers 58-6970 to 58-6972 known as SAM 970, 971 and 972 were ordered by President Eisenhower in 1958 as the first jet presidential aircraft and were delivered in 1959). The VC-137B ceased to be the primary presidential transport in 1962 when the newer VC-137C was introduced but they were kept in USAF service until the last were retired in 1998. The first one, SAM 970 can be seen today in Seattle at the Museum of Flight. This example flew Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and even Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev as a special VIP! SAM 971 resides at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona and my understanding it that SAM 972 was scrapped in October 1996.
A presidential motorcade is also on display below Air Force One. This includes a Reagan era 1984 Cadillac limousine and vehicles from the security detail including a Secret Service Chevrolet Suburban and a Los Angeles Police Department vehicle and motorbikes.
Outside sits a number of memorials and displays. The most important is the Ronald Reagan Memorial Site and nearby is an original piece of the Berlin Wall that he was so instrumental in getting removed during the Cold War (the wall divided East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989).
“Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
– Ronald Reagan standing in front of the Berlin Wall in 1987.
Near the Air Force One Pavilion sits a former US Navy Grumman F-14D Tomcat fleet defender. This represents some of the military actions authorised by President Reagan in the 1980’s to reinforce the message on the strength of the United States military.