Here you have President Obama boarding the Air Force One for the first time ever, with some really awesome insider footage. I love when the Commander-In-Chief meets the Presidential airplane's Commander for the first time:
"You're exactly what I want the pilot of Air Force One to look like. You look like Sam Shepard [the actor who played Chuck Yeager] in The Right Stuff," the President says. Indeed he does. And he could have been Yeager himself, as only the finest pilots-with more than 2,000 hours in the cockpit throughout the world and a perfect record-can be on command of this plane.
The pilot has to be really good because he has to be able to dodge every single bullet for the President. Since Air Force One rarely has fighter escort, the plane depends on its own in case of an attack until the cavalry arrives (I don't know why it doesn't have escort, but hey, I guess the Secret Service knows better). Back in 1974, for example, the pilot had to execute some extreme evasive actions when four combat airplanes intercepted Air Force One in Syria's airspace. They weren't in danger, however: They were just unannounced escorts sent by the always-friendly Syrian government.
The habitual Air Force One is an specially-prepared Boeing 747, a 231-feet long 400-ton airplane with a cabin area of 4,000 square feet. Two of them were ordered during the Reagan administration-Nancy decorated them personally-and since then they have been going through plenty of retrofitting, including the addition of attack countermeasures (which are classified), encoded digital communications (28 lines in case of wiretapping, plus 59 non-encrypted), and electromagnetic impulse (EMP) shielding, in case the United States suffers a nuclear attack.