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Aboard America's Doomsday Command and Control Plane

American's four National Airborne Operations Center planes, each a militarized Boeing 747-200 called an E-4B, offers senior military leaders the most complete and sophisticated airborne communications platform in the world.


  • American's four National Airborne Operations Center planes, each a militarized Boeing 747-200 called an E-4B, offers senior military leaders the most complete and sophisticated airborne communications platform in the world.
  • (Credit:
  • Daniel Terdiman/CNET)
  • OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- I've always loved 747s and just about everything about them. But the one I'm on right now, known as the Doomsday plane, has a very different -- and very somber -- purpose than most of Boeing's iconic jumbo jets.
  • Formally known as the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), this is an E-4B, the plane that America's military leaders would use as an airborne command and control center in the case of a nuclear war or other very serious conflict.
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  • Actually, there are four of the planes, each identical to the others, and all based out of this Air Force Base just south of Omaha that is also home to United States Strategic Command. Though nominally 747-200s -- the same as Air Force One -- the E-4Bs have been outfitted with what is likely the most complete and sophisticated spectrum of communications equipment ever flown.
  • And they have to be, since America's military leadership would rely on the plane to command the country's forces if Doomsday ever happens. As Col. Brien Baude, one of the NAOC team chiefs, told me when I asked him about the communications capabilities, "If there's someone out there with a radio, we can talk to them."
  • I've come to Offutt as part of Road Trip 2013, and having been to many different military installations in the past, including going deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, I was expecting to take the Doomsday plane in stride. But little can prepare you for being aboard an aircraft that was designed to enable top military brass to conduct a nuclear war from the skies.
  • Always on alert
  • Despite its primary purpose, the world has changed enough that no one is particularly worried that a nuclear war could break out at any time. Still, there is never a moment when one of the E-4Bs isn't on ready alert. That means the plane's crew is stationed at a barracks near the tarmac and can have the plane ready to take off with a moment's notice. Baude wouldn't say exactly how long it would take to get airborne but insisted that the crews are trained to be fast enough to "meet our needs and ensure survivability."
  • More from Road Trip 2013: Midwest tech
  • Check out the latest from Daniel's trip to discover some of the best tech spots in America's heartland.
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