The demise of a “northern” urban legend regarding the possible whereabouts of the original Air Force 1.
You really do have to love a good urban legend.
They can be very intriguing, make for great conversation, and can be embellished to point where fact, if any, becomes completely intertwined with fiction.
Remember the old expression, that “curiosity killed the cat?” Unfortunately in this case, curiosity killed a very good urban legend.
For more years than I can remember, there was a DC-4 – or so I thought - parked on the tarmac, adjacent to the terminal building at the Yellowknife Airport.
It was an interesting old aircraft, not so much because it was – well – old, as there are plenty of vintage aircraft continuing to operate throughout the Yellowknife area, but the unique paint job, and the rumors surrounding it, made it stand apart from the crowd.
The most intriguing rumor was that it once belonged to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and/or President Harry S. Truman, and was the forerunner of what we know today as Air Force 1.
Now as to what it was doing on the tarmac in Yellowknife for all of those years, that’s where the legend begins to take shape and grow.
Someone mentioned that it was on a secret mission in the Yellowknife area, where it ran into some mechanical problems. The story goes, that rather than bring in the parts and effect the repair, and thereby run the risk of word getting out that the President’s aircraft was up to something in the Canadian Arctic, the US Government simply decided to leave it there.
A person I met at the airport told me with great conviction, that the Canadian Government impounded the plane because we were mad at the Americans for one reason or another. When asked about the precise nature of the dispute, and what the Presidential aircraft was doing in Yellowknife in the first place, he became rather short on details – and conviction.
Yet another version, and my personal favorite, was that the plane landed in Yellowknife for fuel, but unfortunately the crew did not have the funds to pay for it. Not being the least bit impressed with the fact that belonged to the President of the United States, airport officials in Yellowknife impounded it, until such time as they settled their account.
Why they didn’t arrange to settle up, rather than leave it parked there for over for all those years was never adequately explained.
What served to further enhance the legend was that any time we attempted to get close enough to take a picture, we were told that it was parked in a restricted area, and immediately escorted back into the terminal building.
As with all urban legends, someone eventually comes along and spoils things for everyone by debunking it – and in this case - you can blame me.
During one of my visits to Yellowknife in the late 1990’s, it noticed that the aircraft was no longer in its usual place. With my curiosity now thoroughly piqued, I enlisted the help of Steve Loutitt, Regional Airport Manager for the Slave Region, in the hope that he might be able to shed some light on the situation.
Steve had also heard a rumor that it was the Presidential aircraft, known as the “Sacred Cow,” which had transported Roosevelt once, and then Truman for the first 27 months of his administration.
He also found information confirming that the “Sacred Cow” had been transported to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio by truck in 1983.
Steve contacted the Air Force Museum, and they were kind enough to respond, with the result that this wonderful old urban legend came crashing back to earth faster than a North Korean rocket.
In summary, this is what we now know:
- It is not the “Sacred Cow.
- It is a DC-6A/C-118A, not a DC-4.
- It was originally delivered to the USAF sometime between 1946 and 1958, and was subsequently declared surplus in 1974.
- Northern Air Cargo out of Fairbanks, Alaska then acquired it in 1987.
- It was flying the air show circuit – with an entirely new paint job - as recently as 2007. Photos can be seen at the following Airliners.net link:
- In 2011, its FAA number was de-registered, and at this point, your guess is as good as mine as to what became of it.
There is an excellent picture of this aircraft while in Yellowknife, taken by Bob Garrard available on Airliners.net, at:
In retrospect, I have to admit that perhaps some mysteries are better left unsolved…
Special thanks to Steve Loutitt, Regional Airport Manager, North Slave Region, DOT, Government of the Northwest Territories, and Brett Stolle, Manuscript Curator, National Museum of the US Air Force, for their help in retiring this once great “northern” urban legend.