Why Does Air Force One Go Dark Before Landing?

Air Force One going dark before landing is a spectacle that captures public fascination whenever the President’s plane prepares for touchdown. If you’ve seen footage of it, you may be wondering- why does Air Force One kill its exterior lights right before landing? In short, there are two key reasons.

First, turning off the lights is a security precaution to make it harder for potential attackers to target the plane as it comes in for landing. Second, it’s meant to minimize disruptions and distractions for the pilot during a critical phase of flight.

Background on Air Force One protocols

When it comes to Air Force One, the iconic aircraft that transports the President of the United States, there are certain protocols that are followed to ensure the safety and security of the President.

One of these protocols is the practice of going dark before landing, which refers to turning off exterior lights on the aircraft. This article will delve into the history and use of the Air Force One call sign, as well as the usual lighting protocols followed by the aircraft.

Air Force One call sign history and use

The call sign “Air Force One” has a rich history that dates back to the 1950s. It was first used during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wanted a distinct call sign for the aircraft carrying the President.

The term “Air Force One” is now commonly associated with any aircraft carrying the President, but it is specifically used for the Boeing VC-25, which is the current model of Air Force One.

When the President is on board the aircraft, it is referred to as “Air Force One,” regardless of the specific aircraft type. This call sign is used to communicate with air traffic control and other aircraft, indicating that the aircraft has the highest priority and must be given special attention and clearance.

The call sign “Air Force One” is instantly recognizable and has become a symbol of the President’s presence and authority.

Usual lighting protocols for Air Force One

One of the striking features of Air Force One is its sleek and imposing appearance. However, when it comes to landing, the aircraft adopts a different approach. As part of the usual lighting protocols, Air Force One goes dark before landing.

This means that exterior lights, such as landing lights and navigation lights, are turned off. The purpose of this is to maintain a level of security and keep a low profile during the landing process.

Turning off exterior lights helps to minimize the visibility of the aircraft and reduce the chances of it being easily identified or targeted. It is worth noting that Air Force One is equipped with advanced navigation and communication systems that allow it to safely land even without exterior lights.

The highly trained pilots and crew are capable of executing precise landings, ensuring the safety of everyone on board.

Reason 1: Security Precaution

A vulnerable time for any aircraft

When Air Force One approaches its destination and prepares to land, it becomes a vulnerable target. As one of the most recognizable planes in the world, it is of utmost importance to ensure the safety of the President and other passengers on board.

Going dark before landing is a security precaution taken to minimize the risk of any potential threats.

During this critical phase of the flight, the aircraft is particularly susceptible to attacks or attempts to gather intelligence. By turning off exterior lights and communication systems, Air Force One reduces its visibility and makes it harder for adversaries to track its movements.

Makes plane harder to track and target

Going dark before landing makes it more challenging for anyone trying to track or target Air Force One. The absence of external lights and communication signals makes it difficult for radar systems and other surveillance equipment to detect the aircraft’s exact location.

Furthermore, by minimizing the plane’s electronic emissions, it becomes less susceptible to electronic warfare, including jamming and hacking attempts. This additional layer of security helps protect the aircraft and its occupants from potential threats.

According to a report by National Geographic, going dark before landing is a standard procedure for Air Force One and other high-profile aircraft. It ensures the safety and security of the President and the nation’s leaders during their travels.

Reason 2: Reducing Distractions for the Pilot

Landing an aircraft, especially a large one like Air Force One, requires immense focus and precision. Any distractions during this critical phase can have serious consequences. That’s why the decision to go dark before landing is made – to minimize potential distractions for the pilot.

Landing requires focus and precision

Landing an aircraft involves a series of complex maneuvers and calculations. The pilot needs to carefully monitor the speed, altitude, and trajectory of the plane to ensure a safe touchdown. Even the slightest distraction can disrupt their concentration and compromise the landing process.

Going dark before landing helps eliminate unnecessary distractions and allows the pilot to fully focus on the task at hand.

Lights could be a distraction

The lights on Air Force One are not just for aesthetics; they serve important purposes such as navigation, communication, and safety. However, during the landing phase, these lights could potentially be distractions for the pilot.

Bright lights from inside the aircraft or external lighting systems can create glare or reflections that hinder the pilot’s visibility, particularly during nighttime landings or in adverse weather conditions.

By going dark, the pilot can reduce the chances of any distractions caused by lights and ensure optimal visibility during the landing process.

It’s important to note that these measures are taken to prioritize safety and ensure a smooth landing for Air Force One. By minimizing distractions and optimizing the pilot’s focus, the chances of a successful landing are significantly increased.


In review, Air Force One extinguishes its exterior lights right before landing for two key reasons. First, it makes the plane harder to track and target, acting as an important security measure. Second, it minimizes distractions for pilots during the demanding landing sequence.

So the next time you see the iconic aircraft going suddenly dark at the end of a flight, you’ll understand the reasoning behind this eye-catching ritual.

Air Force One’s practices naturally capture public intrigue, but they all serve important purposes. The pre-landing light shutdowns are just one small part of the broader security apparatus that keeps the President safe while using Air Force One.

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