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JFK and his Campaign Plane: Caroline

by Charlie Collie
January 30, 2015

For any candidate running for President, the toughest question is how to reach voters in all fifty states.  In 1960, for a young Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy, the answer was simple:  A Convair 240 series aircraft purchased from American Airlines which the Senator named the “Caroline.”

     For any candidate running for president, the toughest question is how to reach voters in all fifty states. In 1960, for a young Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy, the answer was simple:  A Convair 240 series aircraft purchased from American Airlines which the Senator named the “Caroline.”

     It was JFK’s father who bought the plane for the tidy sum of $270,000. The twin engine craft was powered by Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engines and refitted to meet the rigors of the campaign with a full food galley, bathrooms, a bedroom and a work desk with a large map of the United States. Sixteen seats ran along the right side of the plane. The plane gave JFK and his staff the advantage of speedy, comfortable travel to win votes in all 50 states.  JFK would often invite reporters to join him in his campaign swings to key states.

     One of JFK’s favorite meals on board was Tomato Soup prepared by Chef Fred Decre. The Senator’s pilot was Howard Baer. The easy method of reaching voters through plane travel forever changed the way candidates travelled during political campaigns.  In all, JFK logged 255,000 air miles crisscrossing the country to meet the voters.

     1960 was a watershed year in American politics, the cold war with Russia was at its’ height, civil rights continued to divide the country, and a surprising new issue had emerged, a steep increase in the cost of living.  With 14 years of experience in the Congress, John F. Kennedy was up to the challenge.

     After Kennedy won the presidency, the “Caroline” continue its service in the Kennedy family shuttling family members on various business trips and vacations. The final reading on the “Caroline” odometer  (Tach Timer)  was 665,000 air miles.  In 1967, the Convair 240 aircraft was donated to the Smithsonian.  It was flown to Andrews Air Force Base for its final flight and then trucked to the Paul E Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland.

     In the late 1980s, a conservator and his crew cleaned the plane's interior and moved it to safety indoors.  The historic aircraft that JFK had used to win the presidency had been left outside in the elements for 20 years. The blue and white “Caroline” is now scheduled to go on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The 760,000 square foot facility is the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum annex. The center currently exhibits hundreds of commercial and war aircraft. Among the aircraft displayed is the Space Shuttle Discovery, and an Air France Concorde, the Gossamer Albatross, which was the first man-powered aircraft to fly across the English Channel, and the B-29 Super fortress, Enola Gay.  The center also houses a theater and a planetarium.  In 2009, the center had 1,186,493 visitors.

For more on the Caroline, visit the web site:



Charles Collie is a former reporter for a CBS television station in Ohio. Charlie and his family moved to Holliston in 1995. He is semi-retired and still enjoys writing about politics and current events.



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Comments (5)

From one of the links provided by Paul Saulnier:

After a 3 hour meeting on 12-6-1960 with President-Elect

Kennedy, President Eisenhower said he was" "overwhelmed

by Senator Kennedy's understanding of the world,

the depth of his questions, his grasp of the issues,

and the keenness of his mind.

- Charles Collie | 2/1/15 3:30 PM

I didn't know about Caroline's final journey into the Air and Space Museum.

Thanks Charlie for all the great information.

M. P.

- mary patch | 1/31/15 10:48 AM

very informative article. wish we had more of this quality of reporting.

- Anthony Stefanini | 1/31/15 8:29 AM

I have never heard of this plane but loved the story you wrote about it. Thanks. Nancy

- Nancy | 1/30/15 6:06 PM

Great article! I didn't know any of this, and the fact that the plane has been preserved was also welcome news. If you haven't visited the Udvar-Hazy annex, it's worth the trip. Really! It's huge, and holds some very impressive exhibits.

- Peter | 1/30/15 8:34 AM



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