No, Air Force One has not made Lincoln its permanent home.
The modified white Boeing 747-200s with the blue stripe down the side and "United States of America" stenciled across their bodies look very similar to the ones that ferry around the president, but they perform a different — yet equally vital — role.
"We get mistaken a lot for Air Force One," said Lt. Col. Derek Ligon, deputy commander of the 595th Command and Control Group. "It's what's inside the aircraft that's essentially different."
The E-4B planes, as they are called, operate as airborne command centers, ensuring the U.S. military can keep operations and the chain of command alive if the United States were to come under a nuclear attack.
The four E-4B planes will be based in Lincoln for the next 18 months as part of the $150 million Offutt Air Force Base runway reconstruction project. They join OC-135, RC-135 and WC-135 planes that do intelligence, reconnaissance and electronic-attack missions.
Those planes are part of the Air Force's 55th Wing, which is headquartered at Offutt. The E-4B planes are part of the 595th Command and Control Group, which is part of the Global Strike Command based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Ligon said the Lincoln Airport is ideally suited to hosting the planes, which can carry 300,000 pounds of fuel and weigh as much as 800,000 pounds total.
He said it's "unusual" for a commercial airport to have sturdy-enough pavement and long-enough runways to support the heavy planes.
"That's why Lincoln is good, because it can support that," Ligon said.
While 2006-2007 is the last time Offutt planes made the Lincoln Airport a temporary home due to runway work, the E-4B planes did a short stint in Lincoln in the spring of 2019 after widespread flooding left part of the Bellevue base underwater, including their hangar.
Ligon said the planes flew out of Lincoln for two to three months then while the Air Force waited for floodwaters to recede and made repairs to facilities.
Nick Cusick, chairman of the Lincoln Airport Authority, said the timing of the relocation worked out very well because commercial flight numbers have declined at the airport due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's not like they're fighting for runway time," he said.
Cusick said it's not clear whether the relocation will have much of an economic effect on Lincoln, but it is providing a long-term boost to some of the airport's facilities, which the Air Force spent nearly $40 million to upgrade.
What's more important, however, is the Lincoln Airport having the capability and the willingness to accommodate the Air Force planes, he said.
"I think for me the biggest thing is being able to partner with the military and with Offutt," Cusick said.
Ligon said the Airport Authority, the city of Lincoln and the state have all been great partners in working to accommodate the relocation, which has been in the works since 2014.
He said he and most of the members of the Air Force joined because they wanted an adventure. While they may fly all over the world, many never venture much beyond the Omaha area and see other parts of Nebraska.
Coming to Lincoln, Ligon said, "is an opportunity to see another part of Nebraska for a year and a half, and it's another adventure."
Nick Cusick, chairman of the Airport Authority, said the board expects to use half its available tax levy, 1.75 cents. At that rate, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay an extra $35 a year.
Gov. Pete Ricketts symbolically "reopened" the Lincoln Air Force Base at the city's airport during a ceremony Friday in which the Offutt Air Force Base's 55th Wing was formally welcomed at the airport's Air National Guard base.
For the past five months, a fleet of construction equipment has been swarming over Offutt’s 2-mile runway, chewing it to bits. The $198 million runway project is about one-third complete and is still expected to wrap up in the fall of 2022.
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An E-4B aircraft takes off as another is prepared by Air Force personnel on Thursday at the Lincoln Airport.