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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Doomsday’ plane that follows president arrives at Fairchild

An E-4B Boeing 747 checked into Fairchild Air Force Base Friday afternoon for what was described as a routine visit. Built exclusively for the Air Force beginning in 1974, the plane goes by other names: the National Airborne Operations Center, and “doomsday planes.” Here it flies over Witter Aquatic Center, in Spokane on Friday, June 8, 2018. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

It flew low over Spokane. It was big and officious. It read, in letters easily seen from the ground, “United States of America.”

But it wasn’t Air Force One. Instead, an E-4B built by Boeing checked into Fairchild Air Force Base Friday afternoon for a visit that was described as “routine.”

“They routinely come here,” said Scott King, a spokesman for Fairchild Air Force Base. “It is on Fairchild. I can’t tell you anything more.”

But the plane is anything but routine. The Boeing E-4 was built exclusively for the Air Force and also goes by another name, the National Airborne Operations Center. Soon after their introduction in 1974, the media began referring to them as the “doomsday planes” because they can act as a complete command center for war operations during a nuclear attack.

Only four were ever built.

The E-4s have three decks and are capable of carrying 112 people for both flight and mission operations. They can remain in flight for more than 35 hours, but are built to operate mid-air for a week.

The planes are stationed near Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, but travel a lot. They follow around Air Force One wherever the president goes.

So is Donald Trump here? Probably not. The 44th G7 Summit is taking place this weekend in La Malbaie, Quebec, and Trump is attending. Then, on Tuesday, he’s scheduled to meet with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore.

So perhaps the E-4 is preparing for that trans-Pacific journey? No one’s telling.

“Even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you,” King said.