BY MATTHEW A. GILBERT Contributing Reporter Overlooking the rolling hills of Simi Valley and perched atop concrete pillars 25 feet high, President Reagan’s Air Force One is nearly ready for its close-up. The Boeing 707 that has shuttled seven presidents through diplomacy, ceremony, wars and other crises and matters of state, is the centerpiece of the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library that is set to open this fall. Four years in the making, the Air Force One exhibit will include a recreation of a secret service motorcade, an accompanying Marine One helicopter and a flight simulator that will recreate three of the trips Air Force One has taken. “Currently the library is a two-hour experience. Once the pavilion opens, we are going to become a day destination,” said Melissa Giller, the library’s director of communications. “It changes how we view ourselves as a tourist destination. We also feel it changes the way we sit in the community,” A four-year effort The project has been underway since July 18, 2001 when the library first learned of the impending retirement of the aircraft. With help from Fred Ryan Reagan’s former chief of staff and chairman of the library’s board along with Nancy Reagan, the library secured the aircraft on a permanent loan from the United States Air Force Museum several months later. Then came the disassembly of the plane to prepare it for its 100-mile journey to the library. Measuring 152 feet long and 14 feet tall and weighing 60,000 pounds, transporting the fuselage along Southern California’s freeways was quite a feat. A hitching post was attached below the nose, and the fuselage was placed on two specially designed dollies that could rotate 90 degrees with hydraulics that raised or lowered. A 10,000 pound block of concrete had to be placed at the back of the tow truck to counter-balance the weight of the fuselage. The trip took six hours to complete. Late last year, the 87,500 square foot exhibit hall was erected, and the plane which had been housed in a temporary hangar moved in. Ground for the facility was broken in October 2003 and by September 2004 the structure could accommodate the plane which had been housed in a temporary hangar. Final preparations, including the development of exhibit information and the preparation of the aircraft’s interior are underway now. Since the plane originates from the 1970s, the d & #233;cor is modest compared with today’s Air Force One aircraft, which are Boeing 747 models. Still, visitors will be able to walk through the plane, experiencing it as its original passengers did, save for the flights. Once the $30 million exhibit opens Giller foresees attendance soaring at the library, which has already seen the number of visitors climb to nearly 500,000 last year with the death of Reagan. Previously, attendance averaged 200,000 visitors, but swelled to an estimated 300,000. “We expect those numbers to remain if not increase when the facility opens,” Giller said. Of the seven U.S. presidents who flew on the plane, Reagan used it the most taking 211 trips totaling 631,640 miles during his eight-year term. Former President Jimmy Carter who used the plane the second most frequently took 86 trips during his four-year presidency, accumulating 284,009 miles.