Homeowners, take comfort: Even the appliances on Air Force One break down. More than a quarter-century after they were installed, two of the refrigerators on the president’s plane need to be upgraded, and these specially designed “chillers” aren’t cheap.
The Boeing Co. was awarded a nearly $24 million contract in December to engineer the refrigerators for Air Force One, the Defense Department said. The two units being replaced came with the aircraft in 1990 and are no longer able “to effectively support mission requirements for food storage,” the Air Force said in a statement Saturday.
“The units were based on the technology at the time and designed for short-term food storage,” the statement said. “Although serviced on a regular basis, reliability has decreased with failures increasing.” Perhaps in anticipation of taxpayer sticker shock, the Air Force also said “the engineering required to design, manufacture, conduct environmental testing and obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification” were all included in the cost.
The contract — for $23,657,671 — says that work on the units is expected to be completed by Oct. 30, 2019. Air Force One must be able to feed passengers and crew for weeks without resupplying, according to the news website Defense One. According to the site, that would require storing about 3,000 meals in huge refrigerators and freezers below the passenger cabin.
Two galleys can provide as many as 100 meals at one sitting, according to the Air Force. Although the new units will use “available industry technology,” the Air Force said they would be uniquely capable of providing about 70 cubic feet of temperature-controlled storage — enough space to ensure crews will not have to restock them for “an extended period of time.”
The Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment Saturday night, and a Boeing spokesman referred questions to the Air Force. President Donald Trump has previously criticized the costs associated with the plane. In December 2016, about a month before his inauguration, he complained in a tweet that “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion.” “Cancel order!” he wrote. He later told reporters that he thought the costs were “ridiculous.” “I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number,” he said.
“We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.” Although the White House press secretary for President Barack Obama at that time, Josh Earnest, questioned the accuracy of Trump’s estimate, Air Force officials said they were proposing to spend $2.7 billion for research and development and planned eventually to buy two 747-8 aircraft, which normally cost airlines $350 million to $400 million apiece.
Beyond convenience — and refrigerated food — Air Force One carries an array of top-secret communications gear for conducting everyday business and for managing a global crisis while aloft. The Washington Post reported that after making his first trip on Air Force One in January 2017, Trump appeared to have softened his stance, calling it a “great plane.”