Ike’s Commanders

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An interesting and unique warbird from the 1950s was in attendance at 2015's EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A close relative to history's smallest Air Force One, this Aero Commander VL-26B was part of an order of Air Force executive transports, and is now owned by Scott Main.  He and his wife put their aircraft on display, it being the only flying example of its type.  The aircraft is painted in its' original blue and white color scheme, the likes of which is still used today on the U.S.'s fleet of executive transports. The Air Force utilized 15 L-26 Twin Commanders (some sources state 16) that were purchased in 1955.  The premier executive transport of its day, the basic type was ordered when President Dwight Eisenhower was confined to his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm while recovering from a heart attack.  The Twin Commander was the only multi-engine transport capable of operating out of "Ike's" 2,200 foot grass runway.  When he went home to recuperate, key government officials shuttled to and from Washington DC (under 100 miles) to conduct the nation's business for a short term, using Twin Commanders. The Air Force originally ordered 13 VL-26B (later L-26B and then U-4A in 1962)  and two L-26C (later U-4B) aircraft in 1955.  The latter pair were to be for presidential and secret service use, and the rest for executive/staff transport.  As the pair of -Cs weren't immediately ready, one source cites that a demonstrator aircraft was initially used as an additional L-26. After recuperation, Ike and the First Lady often travelled to his farm aboard the L-26C.  The L-26Bs were in demand for trips from large bases to smaller field facilities, where the short field and unimproved runway capabilities of the Twin Commanders were useful. The designer of the Twin Commander was Ted Smith, whose dossier included major experience with both the Douglas A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader World War II bombers. Work on the light twin began in the 1940s; the prototype's first flight occurred in 1948. He would later design the Ted Smith TS-600 Aerostar, among many civilian aircraft. The L-26B series was similar in design to the civil AC-560A transport, equipped with 280 horsepower Lycoming engines.  The more powerful L-26Cs were versions of the civil AC-680 with a pair of 340 horsepower engines.  In 1962, all remaining L-26s in service were re-designated as U-4s.  The type had a rather short service life, as helicopters gradually took over the role of short-range presidential and staff transport.
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