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Air Force One Lands in Denver

by Joe Verrengia (08/23/08).

The last 100 yards were the toughest.

On Tuesday, Steve Cannaby’s careful re-creation of Air Force One was just a short taxiway from the gates of Denver’s INVESCO Field at Mike High where Barack Obama will accept the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. But like many journeys, there were a few unexpected twists and turns at the end.

The full-scale Air Force One replica is part of the American Presidential Experience, the largest traveling exhibit of presidential memorabilia. The exhibit will be at INVESCO Field from August 22 through August 29. WorthPoint is a sponsor of the event.

Visitors to the exhibit also can bring campaign buttons and other political collectibles to be evaluated by Worthologists Thom Pattie, Tom Carrier, Jim Warlick and Christopher Kent and even sell their collections in daily auctions.

But first, Cannaby had to get his airplane in place. He and his driver, Donald Snare, jumped out to assess the obvious problem. After cruising 540 miles of prairie, when they arrived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, the long truck loaded with half of a commercial airplane could not negotiate three tight corners into the stadium’s Parking Lot D.

It didn’t help that the twisty access ramp was landscaped with several trees. Stadium crews also left an obstacle course of a forklift, mobile generator and hydraulic lift in their only path.

Oh, and then there were the half-dozen television networks and papers, such as The Denver Post, there to record the aircraft’s arrival under a broiling August sun.

But no pressure . . .

Cannaby and Snare rummaged in their truck and did a quick reconnaissance of the neighborhood. Within minutes, they had scavenged an assortment of lumber scraps and assembled a trio of small ramps over traffic islands and concrete curbs. Snare revved his diesel and rocked the flatbed back and forth. Soon he had executed an effective—if not exactly textbook—25-point turn into the parking lot that is designed to handle the vehicles of 76,125 Broncos fans who cram the stadium.

But, apparently, not a jetliner.

The replica of Air Force One after it arrived Tuesday at Denver’s INVESCO Field’s Parking Lot D.

It was a sweaty conclusion to an otherwise agreeable ride across the Great Plains. Cannaby loves seeing the faces of other drivers when they glance over and realize they are passing something that looks like . . . but can’t be . . . but must be . . . a famous aircraft like Air Force One.

And then, they wonder, “Why is it on a truck? And, why is it cut in half?”

“They’re stunned. They just do a double take,” Cannaby said.

“You can see families in their cars. Everybody looks. Somebody dives into the backseat, and things start flying. You know they are trying to find their camera.”

Cannaby is president of Nu-Tek, which repairs gyros and other aircraft instruments. But he also creates aircraft replicas and simulators as a commercial hobby. His firm completed the Air Force One replica in a month.

The Denver journey started from his factory in Augusta, Kan., a rural town east of Wichita. On Sunday, Cannaby hosted a party themed like a state dinner at the White House for his friends and supporters. They didn’t leave until 11:30 am on Monday. The truck followed Interstate 35 north to Salina, Kan., where it turned west on I-70 toward Denver. Their route was limited to just a few miles of local streets in Denver because the oversized load straddles two lanes.

The convoy rolled at speeds up to 65 mph. But they stopped frequently for promotional events, video opportunities and rest stops.

In Salina, the local chamber of commerce held a reception to mark the aircraft’s passage. They parked at the local Wal-Mart where a gawker caused a fender-bender accident.

“The guy kept looking back at the airplane,” Cannaby said. “It was like bumper cars.”

Steve Cannaby, president of Nu-Tek, speaks to the media at Denver’s INVESCO Field moments after his replica of Air Force One arrived by truck from his factory in Augusta, Kan.

The aircraft simulates the Boeing 707 that was used as Air Force One starting with Richard Nixon. George W. Bush was the last president to ride on it as it was flown to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California to be decommissioned.

In reality, it is a Boeing 727 that was used by the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign. Cannaby said the aircraft has the same interior dimensions and cockpit features as a 707, so the replica is accurate.

The aircraft was in service until May as a charter jet for the Los Angeles Lakers and other NBA teams. Cannaby acquired it, sliced it just in front of the wingspan and gutted the interior. With the help of curators at the Reagan Library, his team re-created interior elements of Air Force One, including the cockpit, staterooms and communications center.

Besides the aircraft, the American Presidential Experience is displaying one of 25 original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Harry Truman’s Lincoln limousine, a full-sized replica of the Oval Office and a variety of memorabilia ranging from shoes, chairs and other personal effects of several presidents, including those of Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson.

WorthPoint CEO and founder, Will Seippel, will join the Worthologists at the event.

Please visit our American Presidential Experience special feature page for more information and stories about this exciting event.

Joe Verrengia is a WorthPoint writer writer who lives in Denver.

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