DAYTON, Ohio -- Retired Air Force Col. James Swindal, now 80, rose from his seat on the runway and snapped a crisp salute as a veteran Air Force One was wheeled into position for its retirement ceremony Wednesday morning.
"Just beautiful," he said as the blue-and-white plane gleamed in the sun at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. "She's still beautiful." The Boeing 707 known as 26000 (pronounced two, six-thousand), which carried every U.S. president since John Kennedy, will go on display in late June at the U.S. Air Force Museum.
It arrived promptly at 10:15 from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and was ushered out of service by an audience of media and Air Force VIPs, including Col. Swindal. He picked up the plane from Boeing's Washington state factory in 1962 and piloted it through 1965.
The 707's last pilot was Lt. Col Loail Sims, 43, who landed the plane Wednesday after three ceremonial passes over the runway behind the museum.
"It was an honor," Lt. Col. Sims, a member of the Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews, said of the landing duty. "There was a lot of media attention, so I didn't want to float it or bounce it. "This is everybody's favorite airplane. It has an unmatched history. It's good to take on the road because it doesn't break a lot. This is a bittersweet day."
The plane, which has logged more than 5 million miles, is remembered best as the one that carried President Kennedy's remains from Dallas to Washington after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
It also served President Johnson on trips to Vietnam during the war and President Nixon on historic peacemaking missions to China and the Soviet Union in 1972, the final year 26000 was the primary presidential aircraft.
It was put into secondary service in December 1972 but still carried presidents from time to time, reclaiming the call sign Air Force One reserved for the plane carrying the nation's chief executive.
Wright-Patterson officials gave the plane and its crew a warm welcome.
Said Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Metcalf, museum director: "The American people have a strong emotional attachment to this plane." It will join eight other former presidential aircraft in a museum display.
Brig. Gen. Arthur Lichte, commander of the 89th Airlift Wing, presented related items to the museum: an Air Force One guide book for ground service, a flag and coin carried on 26000's last state mission in March and a cigar box emblazoned with the presidential seal that belonged to Lyndon Johnson.