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The E-4B, a variant of the Boeing 747B airliner, is operated by the USAF as its AABNCP (Advanced Airborne National Command Post). Its purpose is to provide an aerial platform and command center for the US leadership in the event of nuclear war. Dubbed the 'Doomsday Plane' in popular jargon, the aircraft is kept in readiness to carry the President or others in the chain of leadership known as the NCA (National Command Authority), during the initial hours or days of a general conflict. During an attack on US soil, some leaders would be taken to an underground command post in Virginia while others would go aboard the E-4B to direct American Forces.

Four E-4Bs are assigned to the 1st Airborne Command & Control Squadron, part of the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. The practice of keeping a detachment with one E-4B on alert at Andrews AFB, Maryland, a short helicopter trip away from the White House, was discontinued in the late 1980s.

The E-4B uses the size and bulk of the familiar 747B airliner fuselage to accommodate the President (in his role as Commander-in-Chief of US forces) and key members of his battle staff on its 4,620 ft2 (429 m2) main deck, partitioned into five operating compartments. These are the flight crew section, NCA area (roughly a flying equivalent of the White House Situation Room), a conference room, battle staff area, and C3I (command, control, communications and intelligence) area. This main deck is 185 ft (56.4 m) in length, with a maximum width of 19 ft 6 in (5.94 m). A second deck provides a rest area for mission personnel.

This 'war readiness aircraft' is equipped with nuclear thermal shielding, hardening against EMP (electromagnetic pulse), LF/VLF (low frequency/very-low frequency) radios, and extensive satellite communications equipment. Included is equipment to tie into commercial telephone and radio networks to broadcast emergency messages to the general population. The current E-4B also has an SHF (super-high frequency) system with antennas housed in a distinctive dorsal blister. Every component of the aircraft, including engines, avionics and wiring, has been optimized for maximum flight duration.

On its awesome mission, the E-4B cruises typically at 580 mph (933 km/h), is refueled in flight, and meets a requirement to be capable of staying aloft for 72 hours. In actual war, even this duration could be extended to a full week. Like the Presidential VC-25A, which is the other Boeing 747 derivative in the inventory, the E-4B's sustainability aloft is limited only by oil lubricant of its engines. Power is provided by four 52,500-lb (233.53-kN) thrust General Electric F103-PW-100 (CF6-50-E2) turbofan engines.

Today, the E-4 mission is identified as NEACP (National Emergency Airborne Command Post), inevitably pronounced 'kneecap' by those who work on the aircraft.

The E-4 was developed to meet a requirement known as 481B for an airborne national command center. On 28 February 1973, a contract was awarded to Boeing for two E-4A airframes, with a third following soon after. The E-4A made its first flight without mission equipment on 13 June 1973. The sophisticated internal fit was added by E-Systems and the first E-4A was delivered in late 1974.

The E-4B version, with improved accommodations, upgraded engines and SHF system, commenced delivery of the fourth airplane in the series on 21 December 1979. This first E-4B entered service in December 1980, and the three remaining aircraft were subsequently upgraded to E-4B standard. Early plans for a total fleet of six aircraft were eventually reduced to four.

Despite the thawing of the Cold War, the USAF is expected to maintain its fleet of four E-4Bs (73-1676/1677; 74-0787; 75-0125), which has accumulated an impressive safety record in more than a decade of operations.


Configuration Options: the E-4 is configured as an AABNCP (Advanced Airborne National Command Post; its upper deck serves as a crew rest area; the main deck holds the President (as Commander-in-Chief of US Forces) and his battle staff in five compartments: the flight crew section, the NCA (National Command Authority) work area, a conference room, battle staff and C3I (command, control, communications and intelligence) area; the aircraft is shielded against EMP.

Advanced Airborne National Command Post (AABNCP): the E-4B cruises typically at 580 mph (933 km/h) at 32,000 ft (9754 m), is refuelled in flight, and meets a requirement to stay aloft for 72 hours; in a nuclear war, this duration could be extended to a full week. The E-4B's sustainability aloft being limited only by oil lubricant of its engines.


Boeing E-4B
Wing: span 195 ft 8 in (59.64 m); aspect ratio 6.96; area 5,500.0 ft2 (510.95 m2)
Fuselage and tail: length 231 ft 4 in (70.51 m); height 63 ft 5 in (19.33 m); tailplane span 72 ft 9 in (22.17 m); wheel base 84 ft 0 in (25.60 m)
Powerplant: four General Electric F103-GE-100 rated at 52,500 lb (233.53 kN) thrust
Weights: maximum take-off 800,000 lb (362874 kg)
Fuel and load: internal fuel 331,565 lb (150395 kg)
Speed: maximum level speed at 30,000 ft (9145 m) 602 mph (969 km/h)
Range: ferry range 7,830 miles (12600 km); mission endurance without in-flight refueling 12 hours, and with in-flight refueling 72 hours
Performance: cruise ceiling 45,000 ft (13,715 m); take-off distance less than 10,820 ft (3298 m); landing field length 6,920 ft (2109 m) at maximum weight
Inventory: 4
IOC: December 1980


Air Combat Command

55th Wing  1st Airborne Command & Control Squadron    Offutt AFB, NE    E-4B

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Copyright 2008 Tony Rogers