New Air Force One Praised by Bush on His First Flight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Bush, a President who seems to think nothing of hopping aboard a jet to meet with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev (he's heading off to Helsinki tonight to do just that), had just finished touring his new Air Force One Thursday morning when he was asked whether he might test the plane's in-air refueling capability on a day trip to, say, the Persian Gulf.

He smiled, then cracked: "Stay tuned. Have plane, will travel."

Five years after it was ordered, a new Air Force One--a jumbo Boeing 747-200B with the chief executive aboard--headed off into the morning sky outside Washington, with those watchwords for a peripatetic presidency.

"It's marvelous in every way. Latest in technology, certainly. And very, very comfortable. It is magnificent," Bush said.

And well it should be. The airplane and a second, which is to be delivered in 1991 as a backup, cost a total of about $660 million--although the Air Force is paying $140 million each under a fixed-price contract that means Boeing must pick up the cost overruns.

The aircraft is indeed a flying White House: In addition to his work space, Bush has a lounge and bedroom with two, fold-down beds larger than twins (a pair of gray, fuzzy slippers with the presidential seal at the toes were planted beneath one), closet space (yes, close-space), and a shower.

Bonnie Newman, the President's assistant for management and administration, was the first to try out the shower, on a test flight to Hawaii. "It was a kick," she reported.

The airplane got its first presidential workout on Thursday--a 2,630-mile flight from Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington, to Topeka, Kan., and Tallahassee, Fla., where Bush spoke at Republican Party fund-raising events, and back to Andrews.

In the President's work space, there is a heavy wooden desk fit for a corporate chief executive and a swiveling beige leather executive chair.

Reporters on a brief tour of the aircraft spied the President reviewing a briefing book for the Helsinki summit meeting as he sat with his seat belt fastened across his lap.

"It's great," he said of his not-Oval office.

Farther back, there is a medical office, equipped with an operating table that folds down from a bulkhead. Magazines on a table impart the feeling of a more stationary doctor's office.

The lounge for the President and the First Lady at the front of the aircraft is decorated in browns and rust tones. A wall mural resembles the sky at sunset.

There is also work space, of course, for the presidential staff: computers, typewriters, a coffee maker and facsimile machines--for secure and non-secure transmissions.

And throughout the aircraft are televisions and VCRs. Showing in one of the two Secret Service cabins was "The Fabulous Baker Boys." In the press compartment, it was "Young Einstein." Other choices included "Look Who's Talking," "The Abyss," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Steel Magnolias," among a selection of at least nine films.

Bush has been said to be somewhat embarrassed by the apparent opulence of the aircraft.

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