OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — Fortunately, it has never come to this. But if the United States ever found itself in the middle of a nuclear war, it would need the ability to get a command and control center off the ground and away from potential attack targets in just minutes.
That’s precisely what the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) is all about. A set of four E-4Bs — which are Boeing 747-200s modified to support the military’s doomsday communications needs — these planes were designed to allow the country’s most senior military officials to stay in charge and control during a nuclear crisis, or something approaching that level of seriousness.
The planes are based out of this Air Force Base, which is also home to U.S. Strategic Command, and was the longtime home of U.S. Strategic Air Command, just south of Omaha. CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman got a rare opportunity to look inside and out of one of the Doomsday planes as part of Road Trip 2013
Though there are four NAOC planes in the military’s fleet, all four are almost never operational at one time. Usually, at least one of the planes is being worked on. But even having three together at once, as seen here, is a somewhat rare event.
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The E-4B in the foreground is the one that, when this photograph was taken, is known as the “alert” plane. That means its crew is on a week-long alert and ready to go airborne within minutes, should such a situation arise. Which plane is on alert depends on many factors, among the most important of which is the maintenance schedule.
The planes are also sometimes used to flying the U.S. secretary of defense on international trips.