U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post, commonly known as ‘Doomsday Plane’, took part in the flying exercise. The four E-4Bs are operated by the 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron of the 595th Command and Control Group located at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska. The E-4B, which serves as the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) and is a key component of the National Military Command System for the president, the secretary of defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently transferred from Air Combat Command to Air Force Global Strike Command.
The Boeing E-4B series are specially modified from the Boeing 747-200B for the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP) program. The E-4B offered a vast increase in communications capability over the previous model and was considered to be ‘hardened’ against the effects of nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear blast. Hardening the aircraft meant that all equipment and wiring on board was shielded from EMP. The E-4B fleet has an estimated roll-out cost of approximately US$250 million each. In addition to the purchase and upgrade costs, the E-4 costs nearly $160,000 per hour for the Air Force to operate.
The Boeing E-4B is capable of operating with a crew up to 112 people including flight and mission personnel, the largest crew of any aircraft in US Air Force history. With in-flight aerial refueling it is capable of remaining airborne for a considerable period, limited only by consumption of the engines’ lubricants. In a test flight for endurance, the aircraft remained airborne and fully operational for 35.4 hours, however it was designed to remain airborne for a full week in the event of an emergency. It takes two fully loaded KC-135 tankers to fully refuel an E-4B. The E-4B has three operational decks: upper, middle, and lower.
The aircraft was to provide a survivable platform to conduct war operations in the event of a nuclear attack. Early in the E-4’s service, the media dubbed the aircraft as “the doomsday planes”. When a President boards the E-4, its call sign becomes “Air Force One”. The E-4B also serves as the Secretary of Defense’s preferred means of transportation when traveling outside the U.S. The “cocked” or “on alert” E-4B is manned 24 hours a day with a watch crew on board guarding all communications systems awaiting a launch order (klaxon launch). Those crew members not on watch would be in the alert barracks, gymnasium, or at other base facilities.