"It's pretty nice," he told House Democrats Thursday in an after-dinner speech here. "Thank you for giving me a reason to use Air Force One."
The president spoke after a 31-minute maiden voyage on the specially outfitted 747 that will be his airborne home and office for the next four years.
Moments before taking off from Andrews Air Force Base, Obama visited the press cabin in the rear of the plane to show reporters his Air Force crew launch jacket, his name stitched on the breast.
"What do you think about this spiffy ride?" he asked reporters. "It's not bad."
It's the kind of impression the massive blue-and-white plane makes wherever it goes.
Obama said he'd been a guest on the plane with former President George W. Bush — though he couldn't recall on which of the two identical 747s in the Air Force's presidential fleet. Before his inauguration, he also flew from Chicago to Washington on one of the fleet's smaller jets. But it wasn't called Air Force One then — the moniker is used only when the president is on board.
Obama was clearly impressed finally to have the full experience.
The helicopter ride from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base also got the nod. "Very smooth, very impressive," Obama said, adding that the view is "spectacular."
"You go right over the Washington Monument and then you kind of curve in along the Capitol," he remarked.
The flight from to Williamsburg, Va., was a brief one. Just time enough for an onboard meal of a cheeseburger and fries, according to aides.
The purpose of his maiden journey outside Washington was to push his economic rescue package through Congress, a telling choice for a president who took office at a time of deep economic uncertainty.
"He's saying that he's willing to go anywhere and talk to anybody in order to get a recovery and reinvestment plan that moves this economy forward," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Departing from the South Lawn, Obama broke from tradition as he boarded Marine One, the presidential helicopter. He seemed to stun the Marine standing at attention by reaching out to shake his hand. The Marine obliged, shaking the president's hand before returning to a steady salute.
Then at Andrews, Obama climbed the stairs and headed straight on the plane — without the traditional wave to onlookers.
As for other recent presidents, George W. Bush's first flight as president may sound familiar. Two weeks after his swearing-in, and following the bitter 2000 recount battle, he went to a resort near Pittsburgh to talk to skeptical Democratic lawmakers. The subject was his tax cuts.
For Bill Clinton, the first flight was to Detroit for a televised town hall meeting, a format seized on during the 1992 campaign. Calling on the first questioner, Clinton said: "I suspect this is going to be about, well, 'It's the economy, stupid.'"
In 1989, Bush's father, a former Navy pilot, took his first Air Force One trip as president to the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. Long before his son's notorious "Mission Accomplished" speech, Bush spoke on an aircraft carrier — about wasteful military spending.
Ronald Reagan, at 69 the oldest man to assume the presidency, took a more leisurely approach. His first out-of-town trip was by helicopter to a restful weekend at Camp David in Maryland. His maiden Air Force One trip was to California — and a restful weekend at his ranch in the Santa Ynez mountains.
Presidents invariably reveal their personality on board.
The garrulous Clinton would restlessly roam the jet, chatting with aides and reporters or sitting down to play hearts. The younger Bush usually stayed put up front and hardly ever saw the press compartment; aides had warned him offhand remarks there could cause trouble.
It's an open question whether Obama will continue visiting reporters as his administration hits the inevitable turbulence.
Also unclear is when the new M&Ms will arrive. Air Force One has long stocked boxes with the presidential seal and facsimile signature. But stewards said those bearing the new president's signature are still likely months from arriving.