Angel is Airborne: JFK’s Final Flight from Dallas

Written by Garrett M. Graff
Category: · History

Aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963—during one of America’s most searing, perilous moments—a government was formed and a presidency begun.

The 1,190-mile journey from Dallas to Washington on November 22, 1963, stands as the most famous Air Force One flight of all time. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson boarded the plane in secrecy, with few in the world aware that President Kennedy was dead, and then after taking the presidential oath, Johnson had 132 minutes to assemble his thoughts and a government before landing at Andrews Air Force Base and presenting himself to the cameras as the new leader of the free world.

While there are many individual recollections of the flight, there exist few comprehensive reconstructions of all that unfolded on the plane. Graff’s account of the flight—based on dozens of accounts of those on board plus more than 500 pages of archive documents as well as a recently discovered two-hour-and-22-minute audio recording of Air Force One’s radio traffic with Andrews on the day of the assassination—reveals that even amid one of the most dramatic presidential transitions in history there arose very human moments of envy, anger, bewilderment, and courage, as those aboard endured what would be for all of them the most difficult hours of their lives.

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