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Big Upgrade for the Littlest Air Force One
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Big Upgrade for the Littlest Air Force One

Quick Airplane Geek Quiz:

Pres. Eisenhower with Air Force One pilot, Col. William Draper

What was the smallest fixed-wing airplane to ever perform the duties of “Air Force One?”

The answer is the venerable Aero Commander 560. If you knew the answer, then you are a true, Airplane Geek. Most people’s memory of the early days of Air Force One’s history begins with the Boeing 707 in the early 1960s. A few of you may even remember “Columbine II,” which was a Lockheed Constellation that served the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. In fact, the venerable Connie was the first to use the “Air Force One” callsign and is currently under a major restoration in Virginia with Dynamic Aviation.

This Aero Commander 560 joined the White House fleet along with five others in the mid-50s. From 1955 to 1960 they were used by the Air Force to carry the President, Vice President, First Family and other VIPs on shorter distance trips.

Original Photo of Ike's Bird from 1955-57 era

As the story goes, “Ike” loved to fly and often took the Commander’s left seat on these trips. That’s what earned it the nickname, “Ike’s Bird.”

Gulf Coast Avionics became involved with Ike’s Bird, when the Commemorative Air Force contacted us about providing avionics and engineering support for a panel upgrade. GCA’s owner Rick Garcia is very generous regarding doing what we can to help keep classic aircraft flying and help educate the next generation of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. This was a very exciting opportunity to play a role in keeping such a historic aircraft in the air.  

The avionics upgrade included an Aspen EFD 1000 Pro Electronic Flight Display, Garmin GTX345 transponder for ADS-B compliance, as well as a new GTN750 GPS/Nav/Com touchscreen unit and a Garmin GNC255A Nav/Com. We also provided all the engineering for the installation and systems integration.

Ike's Bird on the Ramp
Photo Credit: Scott Slocum

Today, Ike’s Bird still proudly wears the Air Force’s White House blue and white livery and is a big draw wherever it lands.

While the Commander has a unique place in aviation history with its own story to tell, it’s not done serving current and past members of the U.S. military. Another part of Ike’s Bird’s story is that the Commemorative Air Force uses it to provide Victory Flights for Veterans who may otherwise find it difficult to get aboard other ex-military aircraft. To learn more or help keep this piece of history flying, visit:

While all of us here at Gulf Coast Avionics is extremely proud of our involvement with Ike’s Bird, I think Rick put it best when he said, “It may be the smallest airplane to ever wear the designation of “Air Force One,” but any airplane that carries the President of the United States, plays a large part in the history of aviation and our country.”

Until next time, fly safely and have fun,



Thank you to the Commemorative Air Force and Scott Slocum for the photos.



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