The US Has Four Doomsday Planes And The Government Doesn't Like Talking About Them

A quartet of winged nuclear war bunkers lies in wait for the worst. The crews call them "Air Force One When It Counts," and pilots refer to them as "doomsday planes" - the deadliest aircraft in the US military's arsenal that you have never heard of before.

Since the 1980s, the president has had this fleet of specially equipped aircraft known as the E-4B Nightwatch. The doomsday plane can launch land-and-sea-based nuclear ballistic missiles from the air, and it's the go-to mode of transport for the president in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, as the airship is reportedly more secure than Air Force One.

The plane might appear self-explanatory, but there is a myriad of unexpected things you don't know about the doomsday plane. It comes fashioned with an aerial command station designed to execute war plans of epic proportions. And it's titanic, weighing up to 800,000 pounds, featuring three decks and a supposedly retro interior. In other words, it's not your average airliner.


  • The E-4B Nightwatch Is More Intense Than Air Force One

    The doomsday plane is akin to a more advanced Air Force One. It's not merely a plane, but a strategically oriented military command center that can fly. The E-4B is an all-out warplane with a civilian wrapper.

    The massive $223 million plane is impervious to electromagnetic pulse, which is radiation released by an electric, radiated, or magnetic source. It has three levels and can weigh up to 800,000 pounds. The doomsday plane can reportedly reach speeds up to 602 mph, faster than a typical commercial aircraft.

  • It's Designed To Withstand Blasts From Nuclear Weapons And Asteroids
    Photo: Staff Sgt. Michael Haggerty / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It's Designed To Withstand Blasts From Nuclear Weapons And Asteroids

    The doomsday plane's equipment is so powerful that it needs an air-conditioning system to maintain a cool enough temperature to properly function. It also requires a trained team of tech analysts to troubleshoot the devices.


    The plane must have heavy-duty protection; its thermo-radiation shields can withstand the fallout from nuclear weapons and even asteroid strikes.

  • It's Expensive To Operate 

    During an apocalyptic event, the president, joint chiefs of staff, and defense secretary would board an E-4B at a top-secret location and take off. A 112-person crew would accompany them, as it takes many people to manage the aircraft and keep the presidential party safe. 

    Nightwatch, as the crew calls the plane, requires extensive labor to operate, which adds up in cost - about $159,529 per hour in flight.

  • It Uses Analog Equipment To Prevent Hacking
    Photo: Joshua Plueger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It Uses Analog Equipment To Prevent Hacking

    The E-4B uses traditional analog flight instruments, which are less susceptible to damage from an electromagnetic pulse blast. In addition, it is far more difficult for hackers to infiltrate the old-school communication systems and equipment.

    The doomsday plane is known as a "National Airborne Operation Center" for good reason: It's designed to communicate with anyone - on any device - from anywhere in the world.

  • There Is One That Runs 24 Hours A Day

    A doomsday plane is ready anywhere, anytime - in fact, one of them reportedly runs all the time. An aircraft from the secret fleet regularly travels with or in proximity to the president, especially on overseas trips.

    Another plane is on standby, with the engine running, 24/7 at the Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE.

  • It Reportedly Went Into Action On September 11, 2001
    Photo: Wally Gobetz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    It Reportedly Went Into Action On September 11, 2001

    On September 11, 2001, the same day as the terrorist attacks in New York City, an aircraft resembling an E-4B might have flown over the White House, as recorded by various news outlets and civilians.

    The US government has not confirmed why the plane might have deployed that day.