It’s the president’s $223 million ‘doomsday’ plane and it’s on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, ready to launch at a minute’s notice.
The United States’ so-called Doomsday plane is a jumbo jet on steroids, set apart from other Boeing 747′s by its radiation-protected shell, 67 antennae and satellite dishes that can communicate with anyone on the ground, advanced heating and cooling systems and loads of other high-tech top-secret gear.
In the case of a national disaster, the plane’s four turbofan jet engine can fly for days without refueling and it can reach speeds of up to 620 miles per hour, whereas commercial planes can only fly up to 580 miles per hour.
Perhaps the most surprising fact about the ‘doomsday’ plane is its age. The aircraft was built more than 30 years ago in the 1980s, and still retains much of its technology from that era.
‘In the event of a disaster low tech can be very advantageous,’ a tech sergeant told the Discovery Channel, which is airing a special on America’s ‘doomsday’ plans this week. ‘The higher the tech, the more electronics. [When] you rely on more parts, it’s more susceptible to breaking.’
The plane has been modified and updated over the years with advances in technology.
Lt. Col. David Gaskill, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the president’s Doomsday plane, told U.S. Strategic Command in 2010 it is the ‘most technologically advanced airborne system in the world.’
The plane, which was last airborne during the terror attacks on 9/11, is designed to launch within five minutes in the case of a surprise alarm. Specially-trained technicians sleep near the plane in case of emergency.
But the Doomsday aircraft is only one slice of the United States’ plans for protecting high-ranking officials in the case of a national emergency.
The federal government also has a top-secret underground complex called ‘Mount Weather’ located 64 miles from Washington, D.C. in Virginia.
Buried 300 feet underground, the massive complex features 20 multistory buildings, water reservoirs, a sewage treatment plant, a hospital, a crematorium and a television studio where the president can keep the American people apprised of what’s going on.
The compound has enough supplies to last 200 personnel a month, but enough bunks for 2,000 people.
Former president Ronald Reagan made the country’s doomsday plan a top priority during his administration.
Reagan put his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfield, and then-congressman Dick Cheney in charge of his ‘continuity of government’ plan.
Rumsfeld and Reagan role-played doomsday scenarios as top level officials.
‘We would have a scenario that was a nuclear war,’ Jim Wink, who oversaw the role-playing and preparation, told the Discovery Channel. ‘Washington, D.C. would get wiped out. The president of the United States would be killed and the senior candidate out there would become the president.’
Wink said top-level cabinet officials would be secluded for up to three days during the exercises.
‘The way the exercises were carried out was in the utmost secrecy and they would tell no one — not even tell their wives — where they would be,’ said national security expert James Mann.
The annual budget for the U.S. doomsday plan is between $5 billion and $6 billion dollars.
Much of the country’s emergency preparation falls to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which also handles natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy.
Roughly 30 percent of FEMA head Craig Fugate’s job is dealing with the secret continuity programs, according to U.S. News and World Report.
The U.S. Air Force is also a key part of the plan. The Air Force has a a strategic command center dedicated to emergency preparation at its at Offutt Air Force base near Omaha, which houses four Boeing 747s designed to allow the president to govern from the air.