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By Mae Slater on
 June 20, 2024

First Flight for New Air Force One Pushed to 2026

The first flight of the VC-25B, the next generation of Air Force One, has been delayed by another 16 months due to persistent setbacks in the program.

Interesting Engineering reported that the aircraft will now take its first flight in March 2026, reflecting Boeing's ongoing struggles and the unique challenges of the project.

Originally, the ground-based subsystem testing for the VC-25B was scheduled for last month. The program had anticipated the aircraft’s first flight to occur this November. However, continual issues have pushed the testing and first flight further into the future.

Boeing has updated the timeline, now expecting the first flight of the new Air Force One to occur in March 2026.

This reflects a significant delay from the initial projections and plans. The Air Force now anticipates the power-on step to be delayed until July 2025.

Officials have noted that the VC-25B program is now two to three years behind the revised 2022 timeline. These ongoing delays add layers of complexity to an already challenging project.

One of the most noteworthy impacts of these delays is the massive financial burden on Boeing. The company faces losses in excess of $2 billion from the presidential aircraft program alone. This is compounded by setbacks in other major programs, such as the KC-46A refueling tanker.

The unique agreement for the VC-25B, negotiated by former Boeing CEO Denis Muilenburg and then-President Donald Trump in 2018, has not been without its pitfalls.

“Air Force One, I’m just going to call a very unique moment, a very unique negotiation, a very unique set of risks that Boeing probably shouldn’t have taken,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun mentioned during an investor call.

Calhoun also emphasized Boeing’s commitment to delivering quality airplanes despite the high costs associated with the program. The acknowledgment of these risks underscores the precarious nature of the fixed-price agreement.

Impacts on Scheduled Deliveries

Although the first jet’s delivery is targeted for September 2026 with a year of margin, and the second for February 2027 with the same leeway, the actual impacts on these dates remain uncertain. Officials are continually navigating new challenges that could affect these timelines.

The schedule is set to be updated later this summer, providing further clarity on the program’s progress. However, the ongoing setbacks suggest that further delays could be possible.

The VC-25B program was initially slated for its first airplane delivery this year. This ambitious plan has faced numerous obstacles, pushing the delivery far beyond initial expectations.

Boeing has confronted a series of developmental challenges that have significantly impacted the VC-25B program. The Government Accountability Office noted last year that unexpected design errors had resulted in the suspension of wiring fabrication in March 2022.

In addition to design errors, the program has been marred by workforce disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, with competition for workers further hampering Boeing’s ability to stay on track.

The bankruptcy of a subcontractor involved in the project has also contributed to the delays. Such setbacks underscore the complex nature of developing a new aircraft to serve as Air Force One.

Another unforeseen problem has been related to security clearances. Some employees lacking proper clearances were found to be working on the program. This discovery has compounded existing challenges and demanded additional oversight and adjustments by Boeing.

The Government Accountability Office’s developmental report underscored these myriad challenges, painting a comprehensive picture of the obstacles faced by the program.

Despite these setbacks, Boeing remains committed to the project. The aim is to deliver a capable and reliable aircraft, even as the company navigates these complex challenges.

Conclusion

The VC-25B program’s first flight has been delayed until March 2026 due to ongoing setbacks and unique challenges.

Boeing’s financial strain exceeds $2 billion, compounded by difficulties in other major programs and unique risks from a fixed-price agreement.

Workforce disruptions, subcontractor bankruptcy, the pandemic, and security clearance issues have all contributed to the delay. Delivery of the first jet is now targeted for September 2026 and the second for February 2027, though future updates on the timeline are expected. Despite these hurdles, Boeing is determined to deliver a high-quality presidential aircraft.

Written By:
Mae Slater

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