Presidential Helicopter Squadron
Author: Barry Fetzer
Can you imagine the “dog fight” that would occur today if the military services were competing for the honor of being the “Presidential Helicopter Squadron”? In many ways, life was simpler back in 1957 and in the early 1970’s, when the Marines, who had been pioneering use of helicopters in combat in Korea, got the initial “nod” and then ultimately won full responsibility for the job. I imagine each of the other armed services today would give their “eye teeth” to go back and have another shot at stripping the Marines from possessing the title of “Marine-1” and assuming “Army-1” or “Navy-1” responsibilities…or having a single “Air Force-1” and consolidating the fixed-wing “Air Force-1” with a rotary-wing “Air Force-1”. But so far, the Marines have had and continue to maintain a strangle-hold on the prestigious assignment. And we’re are not likely to let it go without a fight.
From History.com: “On July 12, 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to ride in the newest advance in aviation technology: the helicopter.
Although experimental military helicopters had been tested since 1947, it was not until 10 years later that a president considered using the new machine for short, official trips to and from the White House. Eisenhower suggested the idea to the Secret Service, which approved of the new mode of transportation, seeing it as safer and more efficient than the traditional limousine motorcade. The HMX-1 Nighthawks squadron put into the president’s service was initially administered jointly by the Army and the Marine Corps. In 1976, the Marine Corps took over all helicopter operations.
A photo of that first presidential flight. Courtesy National Air and Space Museum
During his second term, Eisenhower used a Bell UH-13-J Sioux to fly to the presidential retreat at Camp David and to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. According to the White House’s Military Office, presidents since Eisenhower have used the Sikorsky VH-3D, otherwise known as a Sea King, for travel both in the continental United States and abroad. Most presidential helicopter flights depart and arrive from the White House’s south lawn. The official presidential helicopter is always called Marine One, just as the official presidential airplane is always referred to as Air Force One. Marine One and a second decoy helicopter now accompany Air Force One on all presidential trips.”
President Eisenhower exiting an HMX-1 Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw. Courtesy US Navy.
According to the Marines.mil website, “Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) was established 1 December 1947 at Marine Base Quantico, Virginia, as an experimental unit tasked with testing and evaluating military helicopters when rotary wing flight was still in its infancy. Founded to test tactics, techniques, procedures and equipment, HMX-1 has since then, become synonymous with helicopter transport of the President of the United States.
In 1957, rotary wing movement of the President, Vice President, and other important personnel originated, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower – away on vacation – was urgently needed back at the White House. What would have been a two-hour motorcade trip was reduced to a seven-minute helicopter ride. On that day, HMX-1 earned its most prestigious of missions – direct support of the President.
In addition to Presidential and VIP support, the Nighthawks of HMX-1 maintains the role as the primary Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) unit for Marine assault support helicopters and related equipment. Indeed, the same pilots and aircrew supporting the President are often testing and evaluating aircraft and systems used by the Fleet Marine Forces. HMX-1 aircraft and Marines also support the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in the development of helicopter tactics, techniques and landing force equipment, as well as for student demonstrations and helicopter indoctrination. The squadron currently operates a fleet of ‘White Top’ VH-3D Sea King and VH-60N White Hawk and the ‘Green Top’ MV-22B Osprey.”
President Bush saluting as he exits his VH-3D Sea King near “ground zero” at the World Trade Center disaster site on 9-14. Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library.
And that VH-3D Sea King that’s shouldered the Marine-1 responsibilities so well—and has soldiered-on for so long—doing the job of flying the President? A new presidential helicopter is coming, per the below, courtesy of Seapower Magazine.
Marine Corps’ New VH-92 Presidential Helicopter Achieves Initial Operational Capability
Posted on April 26, 2022 by Richard R. Burgess, Senior Editor of Seapower Magazine, the official publication of the Navy League.
Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) runs test flights of the new VH-92A over the south lawn of the White House on Sept. 22, 2018. U.S. MARINE CORPS / Sgt. Hunter Helis
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine Corps’ VH-92A presidential support helicopter has achieved initial operational capability, according to the Department of the Navy.
The VH-92A, built by Lockheed Martin, has been going through testing and crew training and achieved IOC on Dec. 28, 2021. No announcement by the program office was made at the time. The IOC was announced in the Navy Department’s budget highlights book for fiscal 2023 which was published in mid-April.
The VH-92A reaching IOC was confirmed April 26 during a hearing of the Seapower subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee by Frederick Stefany, who is performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.
“We achieved IOC of the VH-92 — the presidential helicopter — and we are now starting the commissioning process with the White House to get that helicopter into the White House’s fleet,” Stefany said.
The presidential helicopter fleet is flown by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1). Currently HMX-1 flies the VH-3D Sea King and VH-60N Black Hawk helicopters.
The fiscal 2023 budget proposal funds the VH-92A program at $45.6 million and “continues developing product improvements for incremental incorporation to the VH-92A capability baseline to include enhancements to Wide Band Line of Sight [WBLOS] communication capability, cockpit upgrades, government furnished equipment, shipboard interoperability, software upgrades and commences developing product improvements for distributed network communications and vehicle performance enhancements.”
The planned fleet of VH-92As will include 21 operational aircraft and two test aircraft. Full operational capability of the VH-92A is planned for the second quarter of fiscal 2023.
Onward and upward!