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LBJ's Air Force One staying in Ohio, military leaders say

Austin won’t be getting the Air Force One jet on which Lyndon Johnson took his presidential oath 50 years ago, as military officials said they plan to “permanently house” the historic aircraft in Ohio, despite brewing efforts by locals to move it the LBJ Presidential Library.

Officials with the U.S. Air Force wrote letters to federal lawmakers saying the military “is not considering the transfer of this aircraft to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum or to any other entity.” The letters, dated Jan. 17, were released Wednesday by the office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, one of the Ohio congressmen lobbying to keep the aircraft there.

The letters — released, coincidentally, on the 41st anniversary of LBJ’s death — appear to have taken the Austin institution by surprise.

“The LBJ Foundation has just received a copy of the letter from the U. S. Air Force and statements from Sen. Rob Portman and Congressman Michael R. Turner,” said Anne Wheeler, communications director for the LBJ Foundation. “We are evaluating the information and have no further comment at this time.”

The LBJ Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the LBJ Presidential Library and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, had secured pledges for millions of dollars and planned a pavilion for the library to house the Air Force One jet, the American-Statesman reported last week.

The LBJ Foundation said the plane would attract thousands of visitors to the Austin campus. Tom Johnson, the foundation’s chairman emeritus and a former assistant to LBJ, pointed to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif., which averaged about 250,000 visitors a year before acquiring Reagan’s Air Force One in 2005. Now that library sees 350,000 visitors a year.

Portman and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, both Ohio Republicans, each wrote the secretary of the Air Force earlier this month expressing concerns about reports to move the jet.

In a statement, Portman applauded “the Air Force’s assurance to permanently house this fixture of history at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.”

The plane, known in Air Force parlance as “Special Air Mission 26000,” was used as the primary presidential aircraft from 1962 to 1972. It was the first Air Force One, created for John Kennedy with a color scheme partly designed by his wife, and remained in the presidential fleet through 1990. The jet, a Boeing VC-137C, flew eight presidents and many other dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II, according to the National Museum of the Air Force.

The museum, which turned down the LBJ Foundation’s first request for the plane last spring, calls the aircraft the “centerpiece” of its Presidential Gallery, which includes the official aircraft of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, as well as five smaller presidential planes.
 

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