Both air forces have been exchanging personnel since 1971 in a move designed to maximise the Special Relatuonship. As it grew, it has led to RAF pilots flying, co-piloting and crewing classified American U2 and B2 Spirit stealth bombers , capable of carrying 16 2,400lb B83 nuclear bombs. Now, an RAF Wing Commander has been earmarked to join the elite cadre of military aviators which fly the US’ Commander-in-Chief and his most senior officials.
US presidents, senior cabinet officials and VIPs have a fleet of 15 converted civilian aircraft at their disposal for official visits, including two VC-25s – the military variant of the Boeing 747 – which take turns serving as Air Force One.
They boast a private office, conference room, passenger seating section, medical suite, and a communications hub upgraded after the 9/11 terror attacks, and can be refuelled in the air.
There are also converted 757s used by senior members of the cabinet such as the Secretary of State, two smaller converted 737s and seven Gulfstreams. All have been modified to incorporate specialised communications and flight equipment and VIP staterooms.
Apart from Air Force One, a presidential visit may involve a 757 to carry journalists and a C-17 Globemaster transport plane tasked with flying the president’s motorcade.
The fleet is run by 89th Airlift Wing, based at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, which employs 80 handpicked pilots and 89 flight attendants.
Pilots must have at least 2,500 hours of flight time and be experienced in flying fighter jets or other military aircraft to be considered.
Sources say the officer, who has not been named, will begin his attachment by flying or co-piloting some of the other aircraft in the fleet before being placed on the reserve list for Air Force One.
The presidential planes carry two reserve pilots on board at all times, in case the flight crew become incapacitated.
While flying Air Force One is usually routine, its pilots faced unprecedented challenges on 9/11.
As the twin tower attacks unfolded President George W. Bush, who had been in Sarasota, Florida visiting a school, was rushed on to the plane with his passengers.
As they started to take off at 9:55 a.m., they received a false alert that someone with a stinger missile might be positioned at the end of the runway.
Pilot Col Mark Tillman took off in the opposite direction at a steep angle.
President Bush’s policy advisor Karl Rove later revealed: “He stood that thing on its tail—just nose up, tail down, like we were on a roller coaster.”
Last night a senior source said: “This plan has been in the pipeline for a long time and now it appears that the green light has been given on both sides of the pond.
“The Wing Commander chosen for this job has previously served a number of years in the US as an so is well acquainted with how the US Air Force operates
“The exchange programme has grown considerably in both scope and depth since 1971. This really is a symbolic culmination of a four-decades-old and deep-rooted exchange programme between the USAF and RAF founded on trust.
“It will mark an historic moment for the RAF, which celebrated its centenary two years ago.“