The original Air Force One jet plane stands outside the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Its blue and white paint is pristine.
Its aluminum gleams.
Inside the Air Force One — the plane used by the U.S. president — faux wood paneling and typewriters take visitors back to the era of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.
But keeping a 60-year-old plane in good condition is no small task, especially in Seattle’s inclement weather. So a team of the top detailers in the country assemble every other year to clean and protect the $1 million airplane.
Craig MacKay, owner of Clean Planet Detailing in Woodinville, was one of the detailers selected for the task. Air Force One’s history and its size make it different from the cars and boats he normally details in his shop, he said.
"The biggest difference is just the scope, how big it is," he said. "Also, the fact that you’re dealing with a relic, an antique."
The detailers have to be especially careful since they can’t buy a replacement part if they damage something.
To surmount the challenge of the plane’s height, the detailers hover over it, suspended by harnesses, to polish and clean the top.
Too much cleaning could damage the plane, which still has its original paint and aluminum. So MacKay said he and the other detailers "take a really deft touch with our polishers" and apply protective coatings to the plane.
Renny Doyle, a master detailer who’s worked on rare automobiles and celebrities’ jets, assembled the team of 33 detailers, all of whom he’s trained at his detailing school, Attention to Details.
"We need a blend of people that are capable with their tools and capable with their minds," Doyle explained. MacKay fills both those roles, and also mentors other, younger detailers, Doyle said.
MacKay trained with Doyle after he left his 30-year career as president of Woodinville Lumber to turn his detailing hobby into a business.
"I’d always had an interest in cars and keeping cars looking nice, but never to the point of a profession," MacKay said.
This is the first time he’s worked on Air Force One — a job that took a week of long days for the detailing team, MacKay said.
"We met at 6:30 in the morning, were on the plane by 7:00, and were done by 7:00, so it’s been 11- to 12-hour days," he said.
He admitted the work can get tedious – for example, he estimates he spent at least 60 hours polishing the aluminum on the underside of the plane.
"Your arms get so sore, literally holding the thing for hours on end," he said. "But it’s a labor of love."
The plane will continue to need touch-ups as long as it’s exposed to the elements. MacKay said the detailers’ goal is to extend its life until someday it can be stored indoors.
"It’s mostly not making it look perfect, because it’s a 60-year-old plane," he explained. "Mostly it’s about preserving it."