It’s been 45 years since President Dwight Eisenhower became the first standing U.S. President to fly aboard a helicopter, a 60-min hop in a Bell UH-13-J that did much to validate public and private faith in rotorcraft as a form of VIP travel. Since those days, Presidents have logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours aboard the rotorcraft flown and maintained by U.S. Marine Corps squadron VMX-1, all of which carry their own individual designations but are all known by the callsign Marine One when the President is aboard. Two incidents involving possible mechanical problems with the aircraft selected to be Marine One took place last month, a concurrence of events not within our recollection.
On the evening of April 30 at Andrews Air Force Base, President Bush had to transfer between the modified Sikorsky VH-60B Sea Hawk assigned for his use that night by VMX-1 to a backup VH-60B. The helo in question was seen to belch black smoke from one of its engines after the President disembarked from an uneventful 15-min hop to the south lawn of the White House. On April 17 Bush flew back to the White House aboard a backup helicopter from Lexington, Va., where he had made a speech to cadets at Virginia Military Institute, after the original Marine One suffered a mechanical failure in its hydraulic system.