Gary Oldman's (Ivan Korshunov) chilling performance earned him the nickname "Scary Gary" during production, however he did not stay in character between the scenes. Director Wolfgang Peterson called the filming experience 'Air Force Fun' because of how comedic and genial Oldman would be off-screen. He also said that Oldman would suddenly return to the menacing film persona like a shot. Harrison Ford has since named Oldman as his favorite on-screen nemesis.
One day during filming, two F/A-18 fighters appeared and radioed in a surprised report that the plane they'd been asked to identify was Air Force One and there were bullet holes in it. (They were actually decals). The air traffic control center in Los Angeles knew about the filming and was able to set them straight.
The final sequence where a cable is extended from an MC-130 to the 747 was filmed near California's Channel Islands. Paul Bishop flew the 747 in formation within a few feet of the MC-130. The camera plane, a modified B-25, had a top speed of about 230 mph, so the sequence was filmed at about 200 mph and the 747 had to be flown with flaps extended. This sequence is a nearly a shot-for-shot copy of a similar air to air rescue involving an MC-130 and a Boeing 747 in Airport 1975 (1974).
Randy Newman was originally hired to provide the film's score. However, Wolfgang Petersen felt it was too serious to the point of being unintentionally funny. Jerry Goldsmith was hired at the last minute and had only 12 days to come up with an alternative score. (Newman later recycled some of his rejected score for Toy Story 3 (2010).)
In the beginning of the movie the president rides in the motorcade back to the plane, when in fact the United States is the only country in the world that transports its presidential motorcade vehicles to whatever country the president goes to.
Although there are two specific 747s used and maintained by the Air Force for the president's use, the "Air Force One" designation is the air traffic control sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States (with Army, Navy, Marine, or Coast Guard aircraft being referred to as "Army One", "Navy One", etc., and civilian aircraft being referred to as "Executive One").
Harrison Ford went before the MPAA and appealed to have the movie re-rated to PG-13, but they refused. The attempt was apparently inspired by the successful appeal to re-rate Clear and Present Danger (1994), also starring Ford.
The subplot of the Secretary of Defense trying to assume control of the White House over the Vice President, was inspired by former Secretary of State Alexander Haig. After Ronald Reagan was shot, Haig incorrectly insisted that he was in control of the White House, because then-Vice President George Bush was in Texas. The Secretary of State is actually fourth in the presidential line of succession, behind the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate.
The sequence set at Ramstein AB, Germany, was filmed at Rickenbacker International Airport, Columbus, OH. Because the aircraft had to be visible even though the scene was supposedly taking place at night, a small amount of sky light was required; this restricted filming to two 15-minute intervals each day, at dusk and dawn.
After Randy Newman's score was rejected, director Wolfgang Petersen hired Jerry Goldsmith to compose the replacement score. The task proved too daunting in the time available, so Goldsmith brought in Joel McNeely to write music for several sequences based on the themes he had already prepared for the film. After the film was released, Goldsmith publicly stated he would never accept a replacement score assignment again.
The usual Air Force One is one of two modified Boeing 747-200s. To represent it, the filmmakers rented and repainted a Boeing 747-146, which had originally belonged to Japan Air Lines, from the cargo carrier American International Airways (AIA). The paint job cost $300,000. The 747s pilot, Paul Bishop, also came from AIA. See also the goofs entry.
On the DVD commentary for the movie, director Wolfgang Petersen noted that he likely would not have made the film after the 9/11 attacks. The film features hijackers who seize the plane carrying the President of the United States and his family, but he (an ex-soldier) works from hiding to defeat them.
The outdoor nighttime shots of the military invading Radek's palace were filmed in Cleveland, Ohio. The building that is supposed to be Radek's palace is actually Severance Hall, home to The Cleveland Orchestra. In some shots, you can see part of adjacent Case Western Reserve University's Thwing Center - a student union consisting of a glass atrium between two brick buildings.
Scenes depicting the interior of Radek's Palace were filmed inside the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio. The U.S. team runs down the stairs in front of the statue, all in the Courthouse lobby. There is also a scene in a narrow hallway that was filmed in the Courthouse Law Library.
Having Harrison Ford watch a Michigan football game is likely an in-joke, as the real President Gerald Ford went to Michigan, and TV news in the 1970's frequently showed clips of him watching Michigan games.
When a dummy was put on the cable, the 747's bow wave blew off its coat and tie. Rather than put the plane's engines at risk, the filmmakers decided to use special effects for all shots of the people on the cable.
The football game that the presidential staff taped for President Marshall is actually the September 12, 1992 game between Michigan and Notre Dame in South Bend. The game was not a 14-13 win for Michigan, but a rare 17-17 tie. Prominent Michigan players found in the video footage include then-future pros Elvis Grbac and Ty Law.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
After successfully rescuing the President, the MC-130 pilot jokingly says that "Liberty 24 is changing call signs. Liberty 24 is now Air Force One." Technically this is an actual fact. Air Force One is the name of any aircraft that is carrying the President at that time. Theoretically, if the President was in the rear seat of a fighter plane, that plane would be Air Force One. This also depends on what branch of the military the aircraft belongs. The helicopter the President flies in is designated "Marine One" as the US Marine Corps are in charge of the aircraft. If The President flies on a Navy aircraft it'd be called "Navy One". Since the United States Air Force maintains the President's plane it's designated "Air Force One".
Wolfgang Petersen's commentary and some other stories on the movie say that the original script explained that Secret Service Agent Gibbs had been a CIA Spook and had lost a lot due to the end of the Cold War so was angry at the US Government and knew the terrorists from his CIA days. It was decided it took too long to tell so it was cut from the script.