The next Air Force One is sitting in the Mojave Desert, report says

The next generation of presidential jetliners will reportedly be two modified Boeing 747 jumbo jets that were originally set for service with a now-defunct Russian airline.

Trade publication Defense One reported Tuesday that the Air Force was finalizing a deal with aerospace giant Boeing Co. to buy the two planes, which were initially ordered in 2013 by Russian airline Transaero.

The airline ceased operations in 2015 and never took ownership of the planes, which are now parked along with other retired or surplus aircraft in a “boneyard” in the Mojave Desert, according to Defense One.

Boeing has flight-tested the jets and had reportedly paid to store the planes in new condition while looking for a buyer.

A source close to the matter confirmed details of the Defense One story.

In a statement, Air Force spokesman Ann Stefanek said, “We're working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and expect to award a contract soon.”

The commercial jetliners will go through a number of updates — including installation of top-secret communications equipment and aerial refueling capability so the plane can fly for days without landing — before it becomes Air Force One.

Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson said in a statement that the company was “still working toward a deal to provide two 747-8s to the Air Force” and that the transaction was focused on “providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer.”

News of this deal comes months after President Trump criticized the cost of a new version of the iconic presidential jumbo jet, tweeting in December that its $4-billion price tag was “out of control.”

Trump later met with Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg, who told reporters after the meeting that the Chicago company would build the next generation of Air Force One for less than $4 billion.

The current Air Force One aircraft were ordered by President Reagan and delivered under President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Boeing’s 747 program has deep roots in Southern California. A Hawthorne supplier still makes the fuselage panels for the wide-bodied jet, though Boeing’s production rate has slowed over time to just six 747s a year.

samantha.masunaga@latimes.com

Twitter: @smasunaga

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