Alan Meloy, an amateur photographer and airplane enthusiast in Sheffield, England, inadvertently exposed highly sensitive presidential travel plans when he spotted Air Force One outside his kitchen window.
“I literally stepped out, and I could see a trail coming towards me and thought let’s have a look at what’s on the end of that. And then I looked through the viewfinder and thought this is worth photographing, it’s not just a normal airliner,” Meloy told CNN.
Perhaps the most recognizable aircraft in the world — with its distinctive blue-and-white color scheme — Air Force One was en route from Washington, D.C., to Iraq on a presidential Christmas night journey to visit U.S. troops in Iraq.
From about 25 miles away, Meloy says he quickly recognized the aircraft as a VC-25, one of two modified Boeing 747-200 jets in existence.
The planes are designated for exclusive use by the President of the United States, or POTUS, and alternately serve as what is commonly known as “Air Force One.” (Technically, though, any aircraft that carries POTUS carries that designation.)
“Fortunately for us Yorkshire inhabitants he was traveling with the curtains shut and lights out so won’t have noticed us looking up at him,” he wrote.
Former Secret Service Agent Jonathan Wackrow says that while the incident didn’t amount to a security breach, it did highlight a new concern going forward.
“In the age of social media, this highlights a new vulnerability that the Secret Service and military have to be super mindful of in the future,” Wackrow says. “You’re charting new territory with the inclusion of social media from a threat perspective and from an awareness perspective, and future planning is going to address that.”