If the world was to descend suddenly into a large-scale nuclear war, one of the safest places you could be is aboard an aircraft – specifically, the US Air Force's E-4B (nicknamed: the "doomsday plane"). Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.
The (almost) six-story tall plane contains 18 bunks, six bathrooms, a conference room, briefing room, galley, battle staff work area, and executive quarters. There are three decks, four massive engines, and space for a 112-strong crew.
The E-4B is actually a modified Boeing 747. The interior design has been described as utilitarian and dated, with a distinct lack of windows and an (almost exclusively) antiquated electronics system.
As one crew member explained, there are no digital touch screens in sight. Instead, it has been designed with analog flight instruments. If there was ever a nuclear war, this would be safer – digital technology would be damaged as a result of the electromagnetic pulse that comes after a nuclear explosion. Analog technology, however, is less vulnerable to this kind of attack.
Impressively, the plane can stay in the air for several days at the time and is able to refuel while still in flight, with the help of another aircraft. On top is a dome-shaped structure (a “radome”), which stores many of the plane's 60-something satellite dishes and antennas, used to communicate with ships, subs, aircraft, and landlines that could be anywhere on the planet. But, disappointingly, most of its capabilities are classified.
So, who is the lucky owner of this craft? According to Amanda Macias of CNBC, who got an insider peek at the doomsday plane, it is used to shuttle the secretary of Defense from place to place. Most recently, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan went on a week-long trip to Asia.
“[T]he plane is basically a flying command center,” one Pentagon spokesperson told Macais. The secretary has access to unclassified and the highest form of classified communication systems aboard the plane, “So, he’s never out of the loop,” said another.
There are currently four E-4Bs in the Air Force’s fleet, with one alert and ready to go at any time. (In 2017, a tornado took a kick at the fleet, knocking all but one out of service for three months.)
According to Macais, these doomsday planes have been in operation since 1980 – and are due to retire by 2039.