The commander in chief is pushing for a radical overhaul of presidential air travel by demanding that the next generation of Air Force One replace the color scheme from luminous ultramarine to a “more American” splash of red, white, and blue. Trump refers to the current planes as having “Jackie Kennedy colors,” which suggests that he finds them too feminine. It is true that they evoke the streamlined modernism of the high Cold War era. The current subdued look of Air Force One dates to the early 1960s, created by industrial designer Raymond Loewy and approved by John and Jackie Kennedy.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss is aghast. “Why would anyone want to discard an Air Force One design that evokes more than a half-century of American history?” he asked in an interview with Axios. “Every time you see that blue trim and the words ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ spelled out in that same typeface as an early version of the Declaration of Independence, it brings back JFK landing in Germany to speak at the Berlin Wall, Richard Nixon flying to China, Ronald Reagan stepping off the plane to see Gorbachev in Iceland and a thousand other scenes of Presidents in our past.”
Beschloss’s argument is pure nostalgia. Design is not a timeless art, but meant to be functional and reflect changing taste. Jackie Kennedy’s own extensive efforts to restore and redesign the White House were guided by a belief that presidential spaces were not meant to be fixed, but needed to evolve to reflect changing needs. Her design sensibility did evoke the past, but with modern stylization.
Redesigning Air Force One is truly in keeping with the spirit of the Kennedys and other presidencies. To be sure, Trump’s redesign of Air Force One likely would be gaudy and embarrassing. But that just means future presidents can make further changes in the post-Trump era.