Whether Donald Trump is prepared to take-off on another bid for the presidency remains up in the air, but his fabled Boeing 757 is definitely getting off the ground.
According to flight data studied and analyzed by CNN and aviation experts consulted by CNN, Trump’s jet has spent several hours over the last week running pattern flights above a small airport in Lake Charles, Louisiana, likely testing various updated components before heading to the Palm Beach International Airport, where it arrived Wednesday evening. Trump has previously indicated that the plane would be in Louisiana for repairs.
The plane’s arrival in West Palm Beach comes less than three weeks before the 2022 midterm elections and with the political world on constant watch for Trump to announce another run for the White House. While Trump’s world has felt under siege with multiple investigations and legal actions open against him, the return of so-called “Trump Force One” to its home base could provide a jolt to Trump’s fans.
The arrival of the plane at the airport that’s just 15 minutes from Mar-a-Lago is a significant indicator that not only is it airworthy – the 31-year-old jumbo jet had been idle for the four years of Trump’s presidency and many months afterward – it may be getting prepped to assume its former life as Trump’s biggest campaign prop.
CNN has reached out to a representative for Donald Trump for comment on the plane’s activity and has not yet received a response. The plane appeared to be in use Saturday as Trump traveled to Texas for a rally, according to a tweet from Trump aide Dan Scavino Jr.
Trump’s jet has twice in recent days made a series of short flight loops at varying altitudes, taking off and landing at Chennault International Airport in Louisiana. Some of the flights lasted less than 10 minutes, according to the data, and did not go beyond altitudes of 3,000 feet. Others were longer, 20 to 30 minutes, at altitudes ranging from 9,000 to 23,000 feet.
“It is common after a plane has had upgrades – or other new equipment or general avionic tweaks – for pilots to make a series of test flights to ensure safety and function,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The series of passes at different altitudes, such as the ones completed in Louisiana, are indicative of standard checks.”
That the plane, which Trump purchased in 2010 from the late Microsoft founder Paul Allen, has been improved to the point of taking flight is a recent development. In March 2021, CNN was first to report Trump’s once omnipresent 757 was sitting idle on a tarmac at a small New York state airport with one engine shrink-wrapped, mechanically grounded. It remained just north of New York City at Stewart Airport in New Windsor, New York, for several more months before it was flown to Louisiana on November 1, 2021, according to flight tracker information obtained by CNN.
That flight was presumably made with an engine worthy enough for the plane to obtain a Special Flight Permit – or “Ferry Permit” – from the FAA, multiple experts told CNN. The permits allow registered planes to be approved for flight. According to FAA data, a reason for granting a ferry permit is for an aircraft to fly to a location where “repairs, alterations, or maintenance are to be performed, or to a point of salvage.”
CNN has requested a confirmation of the ferry permit issued for Trump’s plane, which is owned by DJT Operations LLC, from the FAA and has not yet received the information.
A standard passenger Boeing 757-200 series has about 228 seats. Trump’s custom 757 features 43 seats – along with a main bedroom, guest suite, dining room, VIP area and custom galley. Trump has mainly flown to-and-from various destinations on his much smaller, eight-seater, 1997 Cessna 750 Citation X. That plane does have a small Trump-family crest painted on the fuselage but lacks the giant Trump name on its outside.
According to flight records, when Trump is not on the Citation, he typically flies on chartered planes belonging to other people.
Yet in July of this year, the 757, a regular backdrop for Trump’s campaign appearances and rallies during the run-up to the 2016 election, was featured in a slick video posted by Eric Trump to social media. That video featured the 757 getting a new paint job at a hangar in Louisiana.
“She’s back,” he wrote.
In the caption of Eric Trump’s Instagram post of the video, the former President was quoted teasing the rebirth of his beloved private plane, saying the sparkly new exterior tune-up done so “Trump Force One” – the plane’s nickname – could be “back to the skies in the Fall of 2022, or maybe sooner.”
The reveal of the new paint job showed a fresh, gold “TRUMP” on the fuselage, and a new addition of an American flag on the tail. The paint job was completed in 26 days, according to Tyson Grenzebach, of Landlocked Aviation, who in a July interview with Louisiana Radio Network said his company did full “scuff, sand and paint” on Trump’s plane.
Though the interior, exterior and – as of Wednesday – the sky worthiness of Trump’s 757 appears to be updated, according to experts who spoke to CNN, the purpose of getting the plane ready for some sort of grand reveal near the midterms or a campaign announcement has yet to be confirmed by the former president.
For Trump, the plane is one of his prized possessions. He oversaw the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars’ worth of renovations done to his prized possession shortly after he took ownership; any metal in the plane’s interior – lights, seat buckles, handles, latches, knobs – was plated in 24-karat gold.
In March of last year, following CNN’s story about the 757, Trump did release a statement confirming his plane was in “storage” and getting repairs.
“When completed, it will be better than ever, and again used at upcoming rallies!” wrote Trump wrote at the time.
CNN’s Greg Wallace contributed to this report.