How can Air Force One, or similar planes, be “hardened against a nuclear holocaust” yet still be light enough to fly?


Pretty much everything I’ve ever seen that’s been “hardened against a nuclear explosion” on the ground is like 15 feet thick of steel, lead, and concrete. Yet Air Force One is supposed to be able to survive a nuclear blast (I’m guessing not literally right on top of, but nearby and radioactive).

Wouldn’t something thin-skinned like an airplane, by it’s very nature by unable to be shielded from a nuclear blast/radiation?

In: 1

They say “hardened against nuclear” they mean the critical electronics are hardened to survive against the EMP that would be generated by a nuclear blast. The actual plane would not survive a direct hit.

for aircraft this is meant in the sense that its onboard electronics are rated and shielded to be able to handle the massive EMP wave nuclear weapons can cause, whihc is important for an aricraft to stay on the air and said aircraft is supposed ot act as a mobile command center with the necessary players on board to authorize nuclear weapons(meaning its part of nuclear statregy around ensuring retaliatory capabilites.).

“Hardened against a nuclear Holocaust” probably isn’t the technical description of what’s been done to the jet, just a marketing/PR thing.

There are a few things you can do to protect the occupants of a jet from the edges of a nuclear blast. Obviously no plane or even surface level building is going to survive a direct strike, so there’s no point in trying that. Instead you defend against what you can. The skin of the aircraft and insulation inside the walls are going to offer decent radiation protection. Air filtration and sealant can protect from radioactive fallout getting into the cabin. Electrical shielding can protect from the potential EMP or other electrical interference. Just being high in the air will probably protect you from the blastwave itself, outside of a certain radius. Taken together, Air Force One is more likely to survive being near a blast.

That’s not what “hardened” means in this case. What you’re thinking of is actual structural hardening for buildings and other structures to withstand the nuclear blast itself.

Air Force One is not built to actually withstand the force of a nuclear explosion nor the radiation from one. What “hardened” in this case means is that the electronic equipment on the plane is shielded to protect it from the electromagnetic pulse that’s generated by a nuclear detonation. All nuclear explosions create electromagnetic pulses that can fry electronic devices for many miles beyond the range of the explosion itself. This doesn’t require much weight at all. Obviously how Air Force One is hardened is classified, but the basic methods of protecting electronics from electromagnetic pulses simply involve thin metal shielding and designing circuits in a more robust way.

I just want to add, since the question has pretty much been answered, that “Air Force One” isn’t a particular plane. That’s the call sign of any USAF aircraft that the president is on at the time. If he jumped in an F-16, that would then be Air Force One. In the same way the presidential helicopter is usually Marine One.