WASHINGTON — It’s common for the Defense Department to tout the innovative contracting mechanisms or acquisition strategies to procure expensive weapon systems, but rarely does that involve one of the negotiators vowing to grow out his beard.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened in next-generation Air Force One program, which the Air Force calls Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization or PAR.

According to a rather unusual news release from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, which hosts the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s PAR directorate, the program office was having trouble figuring out how to drive costs down on the two Boeing 747-8 aircraft that will be heavily modified to become new Air Force Ones.

So James Patterson, a contract officer, decided to grow out his facial hair until his seven-person team reached a deal with Boeing on the planes.

“We realized early in the process that this was taking longer than we thought, and I decided I could probably grow a pretty sweet beard in that amount of time,” Patterson said. “We began to treat it as a team incentive and a way to mark the progress of the aircraft purchase. People would pass me in the hall and instead of asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ they’d say, ‘Oh are you going to shave the beard this week?’”

Patterson grew out his “pretty sweet” beard for a seven month period, according to Brian Brackens, a spokesman for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. 

On Aug. 4, Patterson and his team reached a deal with Boeing for two 747-8s that had been previously built for the bankrupt Russian airline Transaero but never delivered. The Air Force declined to release details about the cost of the aircraft or the savings, but the service was reportedly able to buy the aircraft at a discounted rate because they had been manufactured for another customer and were currently sitting in storage at Boeing’s expense.  

With a deal in hand, it was time for the beard to go. And because this is an Air Force program, it happened dramatically.

According to the news release, Patterson’s beard was publicly shorn at the contract signing ceremony. Maj. Gen. Duke Richardson, the PAR program executive officer, and Col. Dan Marticello, the PAR program manager, both officiated the event and helped shave off the beard.  A photo from the ceremony shows that the beard, while admittedly a good look, had yet to reach the luxurious lengths of those of Gandalf or Santa Claus.

Patterson’s beard may be gone, but work on PAR continues. The program office plans to award another contract to Boeing by the end of the fiscal year for the preliminary design review. Boeing will begin transitioning the baseline 747-8s to the Air Force One configuration in 2019, and initial operational capability is slated for 2024.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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