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Obama returns to White House after final Air Force One ride

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama didn't just say farewell to the nation. He said goodbye to Air Force One, too.

Obama's roundtrip to his Chicago hometown, where he delivered the speech, marked the 445th time that he's flown aboard the familiar, eye-catching blue and white U.S. government airplane with the presidential insignia emblazoned on the side, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. The plane goes by the call sign "Air Force One" whenever the sitting president is on board.

But no more for Obama. Tuesday's flight was almost certainly the last one for him before he leaves office in nine days, on Jan. 20.

Obama's first Air Force One flight came a few weeks into his presidency, when he flew to Williamsburg, Virginia, on Feb. 5, 2009, to address a meeting of House Democrats.

"It's pretty nice," Obama said of the aircraft after he stepped aboard for the first time.

Since then and up until Tuesday, Air Force One flew 2,799 hours and six minutes with Obama as a passenger, or the equivalent of 116 days, Earnest said. The destinations include 56 different countries and 49 states, with Maryland as the sole exception. It fits a category of its own, as the presidential jet is housed at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Prince George's County, Maryland.

Obama spoke as recently as last week about his affection for Air Force One. For one thing, he doesn't have to take off his shoes as most commercial air travellers are required to do.

"Of all the privileges of this office, and there are many, I will miss Air Force One," Obama said at an Armed Forces farewell ceremony in his honour.

By tradition, Obama is still entitled to one more flight aboard a government aircraft, and that will take place moments after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office. It just won't be referred to as Air Force One in that instance because Obama will have ceded the title of "president."

The White House has yet to say where the Obamas plan to fly for vacation, but the president recently told Oprah Winfrey that the destination will be "someplace warm."

Before the flight to Chicago, Obama spent time with the members of the Presidential Airlift Group, the Air Force personnel who take care of Air Force One.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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