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President helps launch pavilion for Air Force One

first_imgSIMI VALLEY – With President George W. Bush at her side, former first lady Nancy Reagan turned to the crowd Friday and waved, then climbed aboard Air Force One for the first time since her husband left office. The gleaming Boeing 707 remained stationary, mounted above the cheering throng, the star of a spectacular new exhibit dedicated by Bush, his wife and Mrs. Reagan at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. To the strains of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Symphony’s “The U.S. Air Force” (“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder …”), the trio led an entourage that toured the pavilion, which opens to the public Monday. “There’s no more fitting place for it to be,” said Reagan fan Corrine Clement of Las Vegas, Nev., one of about 750 invited guests. “It’s an aircraft as big as the man himself.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Friday’s ceremony was dampened by a heavy blanket of fog that shrouded the surrounding mountains and spoiled the vista from the pavilion. In fact, Bush had to travel from West Los Angeles by motorcade rather than helicopter because of the weather. But the day was a triumph, with Bush speaking of Reagan’s trip aboard the plane to Berlin, where he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 to tear down the wall. The aircraft took Richard Nixon to the Middle East and Gerald Ford to the Far East, traveling a total of 445 missions for seven presidents over three decades. “I am proud to stand in this magnificent pavilion that is now home to a celebrated symbol of democracy and freedom,” Bush said. “You know, across this nation, Americans can visit many great memorials to the cause of liberty – from a statue in a busy harbor whose arm carries high the flame of freedom, to a quiet field in Arlington filled with rows of white tombstones, to a mountainside in the heartland carved with the images of America’s great leaders. Each evokes a sense of awe and wonder. “But none can soar at more than 500 miles an hour, carrying freedom’s message across oceans and continents.” Nancy Reagan, wearing a light-brown suit, was radiant, sharing some memories aboard the plane her husband boarded for 211 journeys, logging more than 631,000 miles – more than any other president before him. She thanked the pilots and crew members who celebrated a reunion at the dedication. “This achievement is yours as well,” she said. Lt. Col. Steve Chealander, Reagan’s military aide, said stepping aboard the plane, known by its tail number, 27000, was “very nostalgic.” “It smelled the same, it looked the same,” he said. “It was awesome.” The $31 million, three-story, 87,000-square-foot pavilion, an architectural marvel, sets the plane as if it’s in flight. The 707 faces a huge glass window overlooking the mountains of western Simi Valley. The exhibit also includes a Marine One helicopter, the president’s motorcade and an Irish pub Reagan visited. The “flying White House” is filled with artifacts from the Reagan years, 1980-88, including the former first couple’s flight jackets, handwritten letters and the president’s favorite jelly beans. “President Reagan would be very thrilled with this because it’s the fulfillment of a dream,” Chealander said. “He feels this should be shared with everybody because this is their White House, their presidency. “It could not be better. It looks like it’s taking off, fully restored in its original form. Everything you see inside is authentic.” Visitors enter the plane where seven presidents who used it as Air Force One boarded, a door marked on both sides with the presidential seal. The pavilion marks “the realization of Ronnie’s dream,” Mrs. Reagan said. “As visitors climb the stairs to the door of this airplane, I hope they will feel as Ronnie and I did every time we arrived on foreign soil in faraway countries or returned safely home to American shores – grateful for our many blessings.” The 707 served presidents from Nixon to Clinton, the latter using it as a backup to the Air Force One ordered by Reagan. Nancy Reagan told the crowd that the couple’s last trip aboard came after Reagan left office in January 1989, and the couple headed home to California. “I can still see Ronnie, peering out the window in our cabin as he watched Washington disappear against the landscape,” Mrs. Reagan said. “It was overwhelming,” said Lee F. Simmons, a steward on two planes used as Air Force One, serving presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. Presidential aircraft are only dubbed Air Force One when the president is aboard. Attending the dedication were Reagan family friend Merv Griffin, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and wife Gayle, and members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation, including Elton R. Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks. Simi Valley Mayor Paul Miller said Friday’s ceremony was a great tribute to one of America’s greatest presidents. “This is a great symbol of his legacy, this airplane,” he said. “I’m so excited.” Fred Ryan, chairman of the board of trustees for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, said the exhibit is more than a retired aircraft. “The purpose of this new museum is not history called past, but to inspire future generations of American leaders,” he said. “It’s a symbol of American strength, and the awesome, global responsibility of the president of the United States.” The Ronald Reagan Foundation raised the $31 million through private donations. The fundraising efforts were completed earlier this week with a $10 million donation from Boone Pickens, a Texas oil and gas executive. Angie Valencia-Martinez, (805) 583-7602 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more

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