Air Force One (Replica) Touches Down in Philly, Causes Traffic Jam

A replica of the fuselage of Air Force One will be on display at the Convention Center during the DNC. It caused a gaper delay on 76 Monday morning.

Air Force One replica at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

The Air Force One replica arrived at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Monday. (Photo: Dan McQuade)

If you saw Air Force One rolling down the Schuylkill Expressway this morning, you weren’t hallucinating. That really was a replica of the fuselage of the president’s jet coming down I-76 westbound and into Center City this morning.

So many people saw the fuselage, according to owner Jim Warlick, that it caused a gaper delay on the Schuylkill leaving the city today. “They said it caused a traffic jam this morning,” Warlick said. “People leaving the city saw it coming in and were slowing down and taking pictures.” As if Sam Clover doesn’t have enough to report already.

The fuselage, a replica of the Air Force One jet used between presidents Kennedy and Reagan, will be at the Pennsylvania Convention Center next week for the Democratic National Convention. Warlick, who runs American Presidential Experience, is also bringing a replica of the Oval Office and a limo Kennedy rode in before being shot and killed in 1963.

The displays are part of PoliticalFest, a celebration of U.S. political history taking place during the DNC next week. Today, Ed Rendell stumped for the seven-site event again.

“If you love politics and government, it’s going to be a wonderful trip through not only the past but also the present and the future,” Rendell said. “It’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience [for the DNC to be here]. … unfortunately, people from the area can’t get tickets to be in the building — that’s for guests, delegates and media. But, with PoliticalFest, they can experience the convention and have fun. Tickets for all seven sites are $15 for adults, $5 for kids and free for veterans and seniors.

But before PoliticalFest can begin, the Air Force One replica had to arrive in Philadelphia. It began its journey to Philadelphia last Friday from a warehouse north of Atlanta, said Warlick. He said it’s a “logistic nightmare” to get the plane around the country.

The plane replica needs special permits since it’s an oversized load. It has to avoid certain overpasses that it won’t fit through, so a route that goes off and on highways has to be mapped out. Some states require a police escort for the plane; others won’t allow it on the highway at all: The Air Force One replica had to take a route around Maryland because such an oversized load isn’t allowed on the state’s roads on weekends. It arrived in Lancaster on Saturday night and spent the rest of the weekend there before being towed into Philadelphia this morning.

Warlick says people get a kick out of seeing the plane replica roll down the highway on the back of a trailer. “People love it when it stops at a rest area or a truck stop,” Warlick said. “Everybody’s begging [the driver], ‘Don’t leave yet! I haven’t taken a picture!’”

Before coming to Philadelphia, the Air Force One replica was at the Tropicana in Las Vegas for about three months last year. (“You never want to spend 90 days living in a casino,” Warlick said.) Warlick was a political button collector when he was a kid, and also owns a White House gift store in Washington, D.C. After he was a vendor at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, he got the idea of exhibiting an Air Force One replica — and added to his collection the fake Oval Office to boot.

Warlick said the plane’s trip to Philadelphia went smoothly, despite the trouble of organizing it. He compared it to the last political convention his Air Force One replica appeared at: The 2012 RNC.

“Philadelphia’s easier to get through than down Fifth Avenue in New York,” Warlick said. Take that, Big Apple.

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