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June 8, 2011

Video: On Board the US Air Force Doomsday Plane

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Diane Sawyer gets an unprecedented look inside the E-4B Nightwatch, aka the Doomsday Plane. It’s a heavily modified US Air Force version of the Boeing 747-200 airliner built to keep the nation’s command and control structure operational from the air if ground bases are rendered useless by an attack, nuclear or otherwise.

Similar to the VC-25’s used for the President, it is one of the few airliner-based aircraft capable of airborne refueling. The jet’s maximum airtime between ground maintenance is classified, Capt. W. Scott Ryder, commander of the so-called National Airborne Operations Center, tells Sawyer, but he does reveal it is measured in “days.” Sawyer also interviews Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who often uses the plane for his frequent trips overseas.

Other amazing E-4B features:

  • 5-mile coil of wire antenna spooled in the rear which can be deployed to transmit coded messages to US Navy submarines under the sea
  • Fuselage walls containing thermal radiation and electromagnetic pulse shields to protect occupants and circuitry from nuclear and electromagnetic attacks
  • Dedicated on-board maintenance crew which flies with the plane wherever it goes
  • Heavily armed soldiers to protect the plane whenever it lands
  • Control and communications stations for dozens of intelligence and military command officers
  • Secure links to any phone line in the world

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  • Nightwatch is the nickname of the *type*; the mission is (or used to be) called “Kneecap” (properly: NEACP; the National Emergency Airborne Command Post).

    Since 1994, it’s been renamed NAOC.