National Harbor, home of Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center, MGM Hotel and Casino, and a whole lot more, got a special delivery in early October – the Air Force One Experience. The actual Boeing 747, a former Pan Am plane and then a cargo plane, has been transformed into a replica of the presidential aircraft, and it traveled by barge from Rhode Island, down the Atlantic, across the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Potomac, to its destination at National Harbor, where it will be open for visitors through the holiday season. It is part of The Children’s Democracy Project, an initiative to help find creative ways to bring American Democracy alive for children.
Our family thoroughly enjoyed the self-guided audio tour, which lasts about an hour. You need to download the app to a mobile device to hear the tour, so you might have to enable your hot spot for a kid to listen on an iPod or an inactive old family phone, which is what we did for our 10-year-old. The kids thought it was cool to hear it on their own device through the earbuds and headphones we brought along (they don’t have any of these for use, so be sure to bring your own). There are 35 short stops on the audio tour, both inside and outside the plane, and it’s chilly on the plane, so dress appropriately (if you’ll be walking along the Potomac from the Gaylord, you’ll want to bundle up anyway).
Here’s a bit of info provided to us about the plane:
The plane was developed in Rhode Island and is the brainchild of The Children’s Democracy Project, a for-profit developed by a group of businessmen who wanted to find creative ways to bring learning alive for children and to educate them on history, policies, ideas and processes in American Democracy through unique, hands-on venues that are non-partisan. Visitors will be able to tour the plane and enjoy a 60-minute learning experience via audio tour as well as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to feel what it’s like to be president on Air Force One.
The audio tour is narrated by United States (ret.) Chief Master Sergeant Howie Franklin who was a steward on Air Force One for almost twenty years, serving Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush (both presidents) and Clinton. Franklin, and other stewards who flew on Air Force One also served as consultants in the authentic recreation of the plane. Franklin toured the plane after its arrival to National Harbor, along with two other former flight attendants Becky Schulz (the first woman flight attendant on Air Force One), and Henry Brown who served three presidents as a flight attendant on Air Force One. “The Air Force One Experience brought back so many memories for me,” said Schulz. “It is amazing what they’ve done here.”
Brown, Schulz and Franklin walked through the plane and remarked on how much it resembles the actual Air Force One. The three had not been together in the 20 years since they last flew on Air Force One.
It took more than two years and 150 workers to transform the Boeing 747 and create the Air Force One Experience. The plane is approximately 63 feet tall (more than four stories high) and 232 feet long. It has a wing span of approximately 196 feet and weighs around 200 tons.
The front of the plane’s presidential quarters has been restored. There’s an exhibit hall in the back of the plane where visitors can see the inner workings of a 747, including overhead cabling mechanisms that turn the plane and the actual “black box,” (orange on this plane.) Since most U.S. airlines have retired the 747, known as the “Jumbo Jet” and “Queen of the Skies,” this is a rare glimpse into an icon for long-haul travel and aviation history, as well as America’s flying White House.
While the exhibit has been well received by those interested in history as well as aviation, the experience is particularly recommended for children, and discounted tickets are available for school groups. Tickets are $25.99 for adults, $15.99 for children ages 4 to 12 and $19.99 for seniors and military (check Groupon or Living Social for potential discounts). Ticket pricing excludes tax. A teacher’s guide is available on the Air Force One Experience website that can be downloaded and used in the classroom prior to a visit.
For more information, teacher’s guide or tickets, visit www.airforceoneexperience.com or call 844-302-1379.
The Air Force One Experience is now open for visitors at National Harbor and offers an audio tour from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily (801 National Harbor Blvd., National Harbor, Md. 20745,) until at least the first of 2019. It may remain for a longer engagement.