Fleet of luxury jets costing taxpayers millions

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Fleet of luxury jets costing taxpayers millions
The ABC7 I-Team uncovered a fleet of luxury aircraft that circles the globe on the taxpayers' dime.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team uncovered a fleet of luxury aircraft that circles the globe on the taxpayers' dime.

The planes look like mini Air Force Ones, but the I-Team reports that "Air Force Too" is a $100 million taxpayer-funded mission that flies military brass and government officials to meetings around the world, and sometimes people who don't even work for the government.

The I-Team discovered this plane parked at Midway Airport last May, and launched an investigation to see what it was, where it came from, and how it got here in Chicago. It's taken this long to get some answers.

It's a $70 million plane, based at Hickam Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

"First class, luxury transportation," said Lt. Col. Adam Lochmann.

There are 12 planes in all nationwide shown off in Pentagon videos, and YouTube plane spotters have captured the fleet flying around the world. This weekend one delivered home hostages from North Korea.

Maj. Dave Ericson flies VIPs on these aircraft around the world at a cost to taxpayers of $17, 389 an hour. He's at downstate Scott Air Force Base where VIP fleet logistics are directed.

According to records obtained by the I-Team, the same aircraft that was at Midway this spring flew First Lady Michelle Obama from Honolulu to Maui during her January vacation. Another plane in the fleet took Mrs. Obama and adviser Valerie Jarrett back to D.C.

"I'm not really at liberty to say if that cost is worth the money," said Major Ericson. "I have no stake in how much it costs, just getting from point A to point B."

"I think the average taxpayer is asking, why is that necessary? Are there other ways to get these people from point A to point B?" said Rey Lopez-Calderon, Common Cause Illinois.

From Hawaii this spring, a U.S. congressional delegation was flown to Japan and then South Korea and finally China. The group included Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock, who posted a photo of himself on his Instagram page surfing before boarding the plane in Hawaii, and then in this selfie taken during the trip on the Great Wall of China.

Air Force records list the cost to taxpayers for this flight alone at $138,000, but at $17,000 an hour, it would actually be much more.

"Wow! Over six figures for a flight is, just on a gut level as a citizen, it doesn't seem to make sense to me. That's shocking," said Lopez-Calderon.

Records the military provided us for that Asian trip listed congressional staffers, a capitol police officer and even an attending physician, but blotted out their names and the names of likely congressional spouses.

"This would be an area where commercial transportation might be more advantageous to consider," said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Borling.

"I can't really get in the mind of Congress but what I will say is that I don't think the interiors are really that luxurious at all," said Maj. Ericson. "It's not a whole lot better than Southwest."

Names were also blacked out on other records we were given, but on some of the documents the I-Team found that they were just covering up the names of general's wives, leading to questions about why non-officials don't find their own transportation.

"I think there's a habit of just blacking out as much as you can, but for something like this, it just seems kind of convenient, that they're blacking out names of family and friends. I'll be honest, I'm imagining them having a big party in the sky on my time, on my money, so it infuriates me as a citizen," said Lopez-Calderon.

A spokesman for Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock declined to comment on the use of these government jets. As for the plane saw at Midway last May that prompted our investigation, Air Force officials claim no top brass was onboard, and that it was just a training mission returning from DC to Hawaii. They insist every VIP flight is carefully vetted to make sure the trip can't be done some other way.