GCA DONATION FOR UPGRADE OF CAF's “IKE'S BIRD” | Gulf Coast Avionics Skip to content
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Gulf Coast Avionics is donating the Garmin avionics to upgrade for the Commemorative Air Force’s “Ike’s Bird,” the smallest “Air Force One”


The upgrade project will deliver state-of-the-art touchscreen technology and
ADS-B compliance to the last airworthy example of the six L-26B Aero Commander 560 piston twins that served as “Air Force One” during the Eisenhower administration.


Lakeland, FL (July 15, 2019)  — Rick Garcia, President, and CEO of Gulf Coast Avionics, announced today that the company is donating the avionics and engineering to complete a Garmin avionics upgrade, including ADS-B compliance, for the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) L-26B Aero Commander aircraft. Affectionately known as “Ike’s Bird,” it is the last flying piston-twin to ever serve as “Air Force One.”

“We are extremely proud to have the opportunity to take part in this vital effort to develop the avionics upgrade for this truly unique and historic aircraft,” Garcia said. “It may be the smallest airplane to ever wear the designation of Air Force One, but any aircraft, which carries the President of the United States plays a large part in the history of aviation and our country.”

“The CAF and GCA are far more aligned than some may think,” stated David Oliver, Chief Operating Officer, Commemorative Air Force. “We are both dedicated to seeing the next generation succeed. Our mission is to Education, Inspire, and Honor through flight. We are deeply committed to keeping these historic aircraft flying and would not be able to do that without the support of companies like Gulf Coast Avionics.”  

“The CAF strives to maintain authenticity with these historic airplanes, but there is also very practical reasons to update to today’s avionics. The CAF wants to fly and share these great airplanes well into the future,” stated Gerald Oliver Aircraft Director for the Ike’s Bird Program. “With the advanced Garmin avionics provided by GCA, we will be able to maintain the safest flight possible for our passengers and better secure the aircraft for future generations.”  

Gulf Coast Avionics all-Garmin next-generation upgrade includes:

• Garmin GTN750 COM/NAV/GPS with 6.9” TFT Touchscreen display

• Garmin GTX345 All-In-One ADS-B Transponder with wireless connectivity to the Garmin Pilot app

• Garmin GNC225A NAV/COM

• Custom-built wiring harnesses

• Design, installation and technical support.

“While it no longer serves our country in an official capacity, this special Aero Commander still proudly wears its U.S. Air Force White House livery, representing its very important role in our country,” Garcia said. “Its primary mission is to honor our veterans by providing Victory Flights for Veterans who may otherwise find it difficult to climb into and out of ex-military aircraft.”

About “Ike’s Bird.”

As the story goes, back in 1955, the original factory drawing for Aero Commander, serial number 55-4638 was titled “Ike’s Bird,” and the name stuck. The government ordered 15 twin-engine Aero Commanders. A fleet of six Commander L-26s were assigned to the White House and used exclusively by President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, Cabinet and government officials, Secret Service, family and White House staff. The airplane has the distinction of being the smallest aircraft ever to carry the “Air Force One” call sign.  ​

Many stories recount occasions when President Eisenhower, a pilot trained in World War II, would take the controls of the Aero Commander and enjoy the opportunity to fly. ​

In 1960, “Ike’s Bird,” 55-4638 was declared surplus and sold out of Air Force inventory.  After that, it was used in a variety of training and freight hauling capacities and until it eventually fell into disrepair. The aircraft was purchased by Scott Main of Fort Lauderdale, FL in 1997. He spent many years restoring the plane back to pristine condition as an original L-26B White House aircraft. 

In 2019, the aircraft was acquired by the Commemorative Air Force, which proudly displays the airplane at airshows, tour stops, and special events around the country. The general public purchases rides on this authentic Air Force One. Ride proceeds, along with donations to the Victory Flights for Veterans program will go to support free flights for veterans as a way to honor their service to our nation. 

For more information about “Ike’s Bird,” visit: www.ikesbird.org

About the Commemorative Air Force
The Commemorative Air Force is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Dallas, and the recognized leader of the Warbird Movement—the effort to preserve and honor American military aviation history. Since it was founded in 1957, the CAF has accrued 170 historic aircraft—the largest collection of vintage military aircraft in the world. Educational outreach programs impact an estimated 20 million Americans each year thanks to over 11,000 volunteers who support the CAF nationally and overseas. The Commemorative Air Force honors the men and women who built, maintained, and flew in American airplanes during World War II. The organization believes that is best accomplished by maintaining the airplanes in flying condition; taking the airplanes to the people, allowing them to experience the sight and sound of the aircraft in flight. For more information, visit www.commemorativeairforce.org.




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