Within a few days both the President and the Vice President visited Huntsville. When I heard of the planned visit I immediately wanted to go see the airplane that he would take to Huntsville. So I made a plan to catch the plane just after landing. I started following the published Whitehouse plans for the visit and studied the NOTAMs (Notice to All Airmen) that was published for the visit as well. There were a few restricted zones for various times one was centered on the Huntsville International Airport and the other was centered around the Von Braun Civic Center.
Excerpt from the actual published Presidential TFR NOTAM:
AL..AIRSPACE HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA..TEMPORARY FLIGHT REGULATIONS, AIRCRAFT FLIGHT OPERATIONS ARE PROHIBITED WITHIN AN AREA DEFINED AS 31NM RADIUS OF 344224N0864016W (RQZ197005.7) SFC-17999FT MSL EFFECTIVE 1709222300 UTC (1800 LOCAL 09/22/17) UNTIL 1709230215 UTC (2115 LOCAL 09/22/17). WITHIN AN AREA DEFINED AS 10NM RADIUS OF 343829N0864624W (DCU094008.2) SFC-17999FT MSL EFFECTIVE 1709222300 UTC (1800 LOCAL 09/22/17) UNTIL 1709230015 UTC (1915 LOCAL 09/22/17). WITHIN AN AREA DEFINED AS 10NM RADIUS OF 344330N0863436W (RQZ145005.2) SFC-17999FT MSL EFFECTIVE 1709222330 UTC (1830 LOCAL 09/22/17) UNTIL 1709230145 UTC (2045 LOCAL 09/22/17). WITHIN AN AREA DEFINED AS 10NM RADIUS OF 343829N0864624W (DCU094008.2) SFC-17999FT MSL EFFECTIVE 1709230100 UTC (2000 LOCAL 09/22/17
This basically says, from 6:00pm to 9:15pm on Sept 22nd to from the surface (ground) to 18,000 ft altitude with a 31nm (nautical mile) radius all airplanes are restricted. Then it lists a few other areas with a 10nm radius with similar times. This tells pilots of small airplanes to stay away, stay FAR away. Most light aircraft don’t fly higher that 18,000 ft and at that altitude it requires an instrument flight plan. So these TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) NOTAMs are the legal notices required by the FAA that all pilots WILL follow. If they do not obey they will be met in the air by an F-16 to escort you out of the area, then you will probably have to answer a few questions for some guys wearing black suits…
This Video shows that process and how often fighters are scrambled to protect these TFRs!
I was on a mission to see Air Force One (AF1) so I loaded the kids up and went on a search to get a picture of the plane. The Secret Service, police, airport security, SWAT, etc. were all there making a pretty good keep out zone around the airport. I was able to get to the perimeter fence of the airport on the Cargo (East Side) near Wall Trianna highway in the parking lot of the old Navistar building. It was about a half mile away from the plane but it was there and you could see it faintly resting underneath a nice Alabama sunset! I snapped a few pictures but none were that great because of the low lighting and distance which were really testing out my iPhone’s camera and paltry 2X zoom…
Grainy picture of Air Force One at HSV
So it was not the Air Force One that everybody thinks about, it was Air Force Two. It’s a highly customized version of a commercial Boeing 757-200 with military designation of C-32, check out the Fact Sheet curtesy of the USAF. The Air Force One is typically associated with the highly customized version of the Boeing 747-200 with the military designation of VC-25, check out the USAF Fact Sheet.
Typically, when a sitting US president is on an aircraft it uses the callsign Air Force One. A minor detail, it actually goes by the force that is operating the aircraft i.e. Marine One, Navy One, Army One etc. There has been a relatively recent case when George W. Bush flew on a S-3 Viking to the USS Abraham Lincoln and used the call sign of Navy One while he was on board. The C-32 is usually used as the Vice President or First Lady’s airplane. The president does use this aircraft from time to time.
I am not sure why the C-32 was used on this visit… The Huntsville International Airport can handle heavy 747s, actually just prior to the President landing an Atlas Air Cargo 747-8 landed loaded with cargo which would have likely been heavier than the presidential 747-200. So I’m puzzled as to why he would have used one of the 4 C-32s rather than one of the 2 VC-25s? Maybe explained in this article, The President’s Secret Air Force.
Vice Presidential Visit:
After the sitting president visited the Rocket City, now we had to get the VP convinced to visit. I’m not sure how that all worked out as it was an on/off/on again type thing. But none the less the VP planned a visit to the Redstone Arsenal to visit NASA Marshall Space flight Center (MSFC) and the US ArmyAviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) and then he had another planed stop in Birmingham for a political rally. So again, since I saw the non-standard Air Force One, I must see the typical Air Force Two… So i followed my previous plan and checked the NOTAM on the TFR. This time it was a bit smaller TFR.
Excerpt from the actual published VP TFR NOTAM:
AL..AIRSPACE HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA..TEMPORARY FLIGHT REGULATIONS, AIRCRAFT FLIGHT OPERATIONS, TO INCLUDE REMOTE CONTROLLED AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS ARE PROHIBITED: WITHIN AN AREA DEFINED AS 3NM RADIUS OF 344048N0864100W (RQZ197007.4) SFC-2999FT AGL EFFECTIVE 1709252030 UTC (1530 LOCAL 09/25/17) UNTIL 1709252345 UTC (1845 LOCAL 09/25/17).
This was a relatively small TFR with a 3nm radius around the HUA airport. So I hatched a plan, albeit a last minute plan. I was headed home form a meeting at Research Park and I remembered that he was planning to leave around 6:45 pm that Monday. I looked at the clock and it it was about 6:15 so I switched lanes and made a dash for the Redstone Army Airfield hoping I could get there before they locked it down with Secret Service. I get to the turn off for the airfield and I hit a road block, literally I was the first car stopped at the roadblock. I was too late!
But I did get a really good shot at the motorcade as they were returning to the Airfield. I knew I had to find a better location to view the plane. So I went on the search for a good spot. I drove all around the north side of the arsenal hoping to get a glimpse of the airplane. then it hit me I could catch it take off!
I changed plans, and headed for the horse stables at the north end of the airfield in hopes that it wouldn’t be blocked by security. I was right! I slipped in there and parked at the back of the stables. I waited for a while maybe 5 min or so then I heard the engines spool up, I was excited and I got out my iPhone and switched into video mode…
My video I captured of Air Force Two as it is climbing out of Huntsville.
Air Force Two, C-32 climbing out during a beautiful sunset!
So I finally got what I was after and it all happened during a really pretty sunset. I couldn’t have been happier that I got a chance to view both an Air Force One and an Air Force Two with in days of each other and all in my local area! I still hope to capture a real 747 Air Force One one day… Soon!