"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan", U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress.
Franklin Roosevelt's trip to Casablanca in January 1943. was not only the first Air Force One flight, but the first time a sitting president had ever flown internationally, and during a dangerous part of World War II, no less. Suffice to say, transporting the president to Casablanca for the first major Allied Conference was a bold undertaking, and a courageous effort on Roosevelt's part as well, given his overall state of health.
It may seem surprising that the U.S. Navy assigned this critical flight to a civilian airline, Pan American World Airways. At the time however Pan Am was the logical choice. It had established a distinguished service record bringing far flung destinations from the United States to Europe and the Far East within reach of world travelers. They were the dominant international airline and from the beginning were the vanguard of flying boat development.
The Boeing 314 Clipper, built exclusively for Pan Am, was hailed as the greatest prewar commercial aircraft and was the only flying boat large enough to span the Pacific and Atlantic routes, with a sufficient payload. (Pictured above is the actual aircraft President Roosevelt flew in: Pan Am's Boeing 314 "Dixie Clipper" NC18605)
January 12, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt boarded Pan American World Airways "Dixie Clipper" at Dinner Key, Florida on his 17,000 mile journey to reach Casablanca. Captain Howard Cone was the pilot "next in line", and was unaware of his important passenger until he approached the flight deck himself. Four days later, the "Dixie Clipper" and its shadow, the sister plane "Yankee Clipper", landed at the mouth of the Gambia River.
The historic WWII Casablanca Conference is remembered for the agreement by Allied leaders U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and England's Prime Minister Winston Churchill to adopt a policy of unconditional surrender from their Axis enemies.
Quoted and adapted from "The First Air Force One Flight: An African Odyessey" 2016, written exclusively for Pan Am Museum Foundation by Ron Marasco, former Pan Am Vice President Maintenance and Engineering, Board of Director member, Pan Am Historical Foundation, and author of "The 747: A Tumultuous Beginning"