UPDATE 12-22-2022, 11:00 (UTC +3): This article was originally published while the events were still unfolding. It has since been updated with new information.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the United Staes on December 21, 2022, in a move that came as a surprise for many.
Zelensky’s first foreign visit since Russia invaded Ukraine, was announced on the morning of December 21, via the Ukrainian president’s Twitter account, which revealed that he was already on his way to the US.
Zelensky was still in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the evening of December 20, a site which has seen some of the fiercest battles during the war.
Zelensky was allegedly already on the plane in the early morning the next day, with his speech at the US Congress scheduled for the afternoon the same day.
But how is that possible?
Tracking the trip
While the flight route was never officially announced, Zelensky’s tweet openly stated that he was already on the way to the US.
But his mode of transportation was not disclosed, and the means by which Zelensky conducts his visits to the frontline have not been publicized.
However, approximately an hour after the tweet was published, at 8:15 CET (7:15 GMT), a US government Boeing C-40B took off from Poland’s Rzeszow airport (RZE).
The city, located not far from the border with Ukraine, has become an important logistical hub since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. With its rail and road links to Ukraine, it remains the final stop before entering the country for foreign delegations and military aid.
Polish TV network TVP24 published a picture of Zelensky at Rzeszow train station, adding that he had arrived in Poland by rail and departed from RZE.
The flight headed West through Polish, German and British airspaces, and was immediately associated with Zelensky’s visit. It briefly became the most-tracked flight on the popular flight tracking service Flightradar24.
Tracking services lost sight of the flight over the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 300 kilometers (180 miles) off the Scottish coast, where the coverage of ADSB receivers, feeding data to the services, ended. The flight appeared on the services again when it flew near the Canadian coast.
At approximately 12 AM EST the aircraft landed at Joint Base Andrews (ADW), a US Air Force base which also serves as the home base for the iconic Boeing VC-25 presidential aircraft, popularly known as Air Force One.
Сьогодні я – у Вашингтоні, щоб подякувати американському народові, Президенту та Конгресу за таку необхідну підтримку. А…Posted by Володимир Зеленський on Wednesday, December 21, 2022
ADW is where official flights to Washington DC usually land. It is located approximately 7,380 kilometers (4,586 miles) from RZE, a distance that took the aircraft less than 10 hours to travel.
The C-40B is a Boeing 737-700 BBJ business jet, modified with additional equipment, including protective and communication systems.
According to the US Air Force, it has a range of up to 9,260 kilometers (5,000 nautical miles), almost twice that of a regular Boeing 737. This puts ADW well within range to fly straight from RZE without needing to refuel.
The C-40B, registration 01-0041, which conducts the flight SAM910, was delivered to the US Air Force in 2005.
Much like the rest of the USAF’s C-40 fleet, it has been regularly spotted conducting US governmental flights. A slightly newer version of this aircraft, the Boeing C-40C, carried US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August 2022 during her controversial flight to Taiwan.