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It’s personal at the U.S. Air Force museum

I’ll probably never get to ride in Air Force One, but at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, I got to do the next best thing: walk through aircraft that have served as primary air transportation for past presidents.

In most aviation museums, you stare at planes from outside and often from below. But in the Presidential Gallery in this museum, visitors can enter and explore airplanes that have carried our nation’s leaders.

The term Air Force One wasn’t in use during the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations, but the museum has the presidential aircraft from that period. Exploring each aircraft gave me a sense of how far aviation has come; even presidents of the mid-20th century had it rough compared with the comforts of flying today.

Perhaps the most sobering part of the collection, though, is a Boeing aircraft that served Air Force One when John F. Kennedy was assassinated and carried his body back to Washington from Dallas. Walking through the cabin, I saw where Kennedy’s casket was loaded into the cabin and the spot where Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president before the plane left Love Field.

The presidential gallery is in a special hangar on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and is accessible to museum visitors via a shuttle service from the main facility.