The airplane that revolutionized U.S. politics and helped JFK win the White House.

The Convair 240 Caroline was the first private aircraft ever used by a candidate during a presidential campaign. Historians credit the airplane—purchased by Joseph Kennedy for $385,000 in September 1959 and named after John F. Kennedy’s daughter—for giving the young senator a logistical edge during his run for the White House. “Kennedy won the nomination and the election by the thinnest of margins,” says Bob van der Linden, curator of air transportation and special purpose aircraft in the National Air and Space Museum’s aeronautics department. “His campaign manager attributed the win—particularly winning the primary in West Virginia—to the Caroline. The airplane enabled Kennedy to campaign in West Virginia and other closely fought states much more quickly—often on the same day.”

“As a child in the 1960s, I knew how unusual it was to travel in a private plane,” Caroline Kennedy tells Air & Space Quarterly. “So it was always a treat when my cousins and I had the chance to fly on the Caroline. I felt very special because the plane was named after me, and it played such an important role in my father’s campaign. I recall flying with my cousins to Hyannis Port for Thanksgiving and other family trips. We were allowed to have Coca-Cola and snacks so it was very exciting for all of us. It was a great honor when the Smithsonian accepted the Caroline as part of its collection, although we were sad that our travels had come to an end.” 

The Caroline was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1968. It is currently stored in Building 22 at the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland.

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