Air Force One photo op incident

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This picture of the plane during the photo op was released by the Department of Defense. See also the original unaltered photo.
The Mount Rushmore Air Force One image

The Air Force One photo op incident occurred on the morning of April 27, 2009, when a Boeing VC-25 (a Boeing 747 military variant used as Air Force One when the president is aboard), followed by a U.S. Air Force F-16 jet fighter, flew low and circled the Upper New York Bay, site of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. President Barack Obama was not on board the aircraft during the incident. Although the planes were engaged in a photo op and training exercise, the citizens of New York and New Jersey had not been informed in advance, and some thought it could be the makings of a terrorist attack similar to the September 11 attacks. Some people ran out of buildings and panicked in the streets. Some buildings ordered evacuations.[1]


The flyby was approved by Louis Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, to update the previous image of the aircraft flying over Mount Rushmore. Fran Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush, said the flyby was "crass insensitivity." She also said, "I'd call this felony stupidity. This is probably not the right job for Mr. Caldera to be in if he didn't understand the likely reaction of New Yorkers, of the mayor."[2] The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, said that the flyby "defies the imagination." Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) said the Federal Aviation Administration not telling the public about the flyby in advance "borders on being either cruel or very, very stupid." President Barack Obama did not know about the flyby until after it happened, and he stated, "It was a mistake. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again." Although the city's police department had been notified in advance, they had been instructed not to tell the public.[2][3]

Caldera said of his actions, "Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision... While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."[4]

CBS News's New York City affiliate WCBS-TV obtained a memo from the Federal Aviation Administration's James Johnston saying that the agency was aware of "the possibility of public concern regarding DOD (Department of Defense) aircraft flying at low altitudes" in and around the city.[5] However, the agency demanded total secrecy from the city's police department, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the mayor's office, and threatened federal sanctions if the secret was revealed.[6]

Air Force officials estimated the cost for the photo shoot mission to be around $328,835, but stated that "the hours would have been flown regardless, and the expenses would have been accrued on a different mission".[2]

The day after the flyby, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said that the incident would be investigated by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.[7] Gibbs also said that President Obama was "furious" about the flyby. However, Gibbs did not answer reporters' repeated questions about whether or not Caldera would lose his job. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that the idea for the flyby originated in the White House Military Office.[8][9] Gibbs also stated, "Because this was a training mission, the only people on that plane were Air Force personnel."[10]

On May 4, 2009, the White House told reporters that the publicity photos taken during the flight would not be shown to the public.[11] Two days later, the White House reversed course and told reporters that the publicity photos taken during the flight could be released soon.[12] On May 8, 2009, the photo was released and it was reported that Caldera had resigned.[13][14] In his letter of resignation,[15] Caldera told the president that after the incident he was no longer able to "effectively lead the White House Military Office" due to the furor over the incident.[16] On July 31, 2009, 146 photos and related documents were released through the Department of Defense's Freedom of Information Act procedures.[citation needed]

In August, the Associated Press reported that the Air Force used the social networking site Twitter to track the negative public reaction to the incident.[17] Caldera's replacement, George Mulligan, was announced on October 16, 2009.[18]


  1. ^ Sataline, Suzanne; Rockoff, Jonathan D. & Conkey, Christopher (April 28, 2009). "A 'Classified' Photo Op Turns Into a Soaring Blunder for the White House". The Wall Street Journal.
  2. ^ a b c Rao, Mythili & Henry, Ed (April 28, 2009). "'Furious' Obama Orders Review of NY Plane Flyover". CNN.
  3. ^ Muskal, Michael (April 28, 2009). "Obama Calls Plane's Manhattan Photo-Op 'a Mistake'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 30, 2009. Retrieved April 28, 2009.
  4. ^ Winter, Michael (April 27, 2009). "White House Sorry for NYC Flyover". On Deadline. USA Today. Archived from the original on May 1, 2009.
  5. ^ Johnston, James J. "Flight Notification- New York City -Statue of Liberty Photo Op, Upper New York Bay / Newark Bay on April 27, 2009, 10:00L. (amended 4/23)" (PDF). FAA Air Traffic. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 26, 2012 – via
  6. ^ Kramer, Marcia (April 29, 2009). "FAA Memo: Feds Knew Flyover Would Cause NYC Panic". New York: WCBS-TV. Archived from the original on March 18, 2010.
  7. ^ "Review of New York City Flyover Ordered". United Press International. April 28, 2009.
  8. ^ Shear, Michael D. & Tyson, Ann Scott (April 29, 2009). "Official Who Approved Air Force One Flyover May Be Fired". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Morrell, Geoff (April 28, 2009). "DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon" (Transcript). United States Department of Defense.
  10. ^ Gibbs, Robert (April 28, 2009). "Press Briefing By Press Secretary Robert Gibbs". The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. Archived from the original on May 4, 2009. Retrieved May 4, 2009.
  11. ^ Post Staff (May 5, 2009). "Phantom Air Farce Pictures". New York Post.
  12. ^ "White House Plans to Release Plane Flyover Report, Photo". CNN. May 6, 2009.
  13. ^ Hornick, Ed (May 8, 2009). "Official who OK'd Air Force One Jet Flyover Resigns". CNN.
  14. ^ "Air Force One Photo Released. Was It Worth It?". NY1. May 8, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "Text of Caldera's Resignation Letter to Obama". FindLaw. Associated Press. May 8, 2009. Archived from the original on May 11, 2009.
  16. ^ Zeleny, Jeff (May 8, 2009). "After Flyover of Air Force One Backup, Military Office Director Resigns". The Caucus. The New York Times.
  17. ^ Lardner, Richard (August 10, 2009). "Air Force Used Twitter to Track NY Flyover Fallout". Google News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 13, 2009.
  18. ^ McMichael, William H. (October 20, 2009). "Replacement Named after 747 Flyover Fiasco". Military Times.

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