AUSTIN, Texas – The LBJ Foundation has raised millions of dollars and planned a pavilion at the LBJ Presidential Library for the Air Force One jet on which Lyndon B. Johnson took his presidential oath.
Only one problem: The historic Boeing VC-137C aircraft is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, and that museum won’t part with it.
Now a bureaucratic tug-of-war is underway for the iconic plane, with leaders in Texas and Ohio enlisting their congressional delegates to carry their case up the military ranks to the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of defense.
“We do not want an adversarial fight, but we want to make our case as to why that plane should be relocated to Austin,” said Tom Johnson, the LBJ Foundation’s chairman emeritus and also a former LBJ assistant. The museum could lend the plane to the foundation, he said: “We would love for it to be a permanent loan.”
The LBJ Foundation — a nonprofit that supports the LBJ Presidential Library and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas — believes the plane would attract thousands of visitors to the Austin campus.
Tom Johnson points to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif., which averaged about 250,000 visitors a year before acquiring the Gipper’s Air Force One in 2005. Now that library sees 350,000 visitors a year, said Melissa Giller, communications director for the Reagan Foundation.
Both of LBJ’s daughters said this week they support moving the plane to Austin. Luci Baines Johnson said the plane has a “magnetism and attraction” and would be “an incredible teaching tool.”
“It would movingly express our story to generations of schoolchildren for whom we are part of the past,” she said.
She said her father circled the globe in that plane on a 1967 trip that included a visit to Australia. LBJ also flew home to Texas on the plane at the end of his presidency, she said.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force notes the plane’s history is much bigger than LBJ, though: It was the first Air Force One, created for John F. Kennedy with a color scheme partly designed by his wife, and it served eight commanders in chief through Bill Clinton.
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.