Air Force One is the call sign for any fixed-wing aircraft that the President of the United
States may happen to be in at any given time. Should the aircraft happen to be a
rotary-wing aircraft, it is referred to as 'Marine One'.|
Special thanks to Mark Wroth who, while researching this very issue, came across several documents of use to clarify somewhat.
A Federal Aviation Document indicates that any aircraft containing the President of the United States ("POTUS") inherits the callsign of that service, plus "One". For example, an army aircraft would take the callsign "Army One," while a navy aircraft would be "Navy One." (Please note that both of these callsigns have rarely been used - generally, the air force and the marines accept responsibility for POTUS air transport.)
It is of value to note that according to this FAA document, the president may also be onboard a civilian aircraft, in which case the callsign would be "Exec One" - and, for curiosity's sake, the president's family travelling on board ANY aircraft would cause that aircraft to use the callsign of "Exec One Foxtrot."
In short, Marine One is the likely term for a rotary aircraft that the President would fly in, however, that is only due to the fact that rotary aviation support for the whitehouse is currently tasked to VMX-1, which is a Marine unit.
There have been, over time, many different helicopters used for the President's transport. These include the Bell UH-1 Huey, the Sikorsky CH-3 Sea King, The Sikorsky CH-34C Choctaw, The Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight, The Bell 47-J Sioux, and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. Aircraft alphanumerical designations are typically modified to 'VH' from 'CH' to reflect the VIP role of the aircraft.
All of the presidential rotary aircraft are flown by pilots of HMX-1, a marine squadron dedicated to presidential support. Marine Helicopter Experimental Squadron (HMX-1) was established at MCAS Quantico on December 1st, 1947, Colonel Edward C. Dyer commanding. Its mission was to develop techniques and tactics for the various uses of helicopters in amphibious operations. Ten years later HMX-1 becomes the Helicopter Squadron for the personal transportation needs of the President of the United States.
In 1957, President Ike Eisenhower began asking about the use of rotary aviation as a means of presidential transportation. Because of a difference of opinion between the Air Force and the Navy, President Eisenhower decided to leave the decision with the Secret Service. They concluded that helicopter travel would be as safe a method of transportation as the traditional wheeled motorcade, and The Air Force was instructed to purchase two Bell UH-13-J helicopters for use by the President. The White house also contacted Sikorsky to design a helicopter for the President's personal use.
On July 12, 1957 President Eisenhower flew from to Camp David aboard one of the Bell UH-13-J helicopters and became the first Chief Executive to travel via helicopter. This was the start of almost weekly flights to either Camp David or to Ike's Gettysburg farm. Flights to the farm first flew to Camp David, where a strobe light placed in top of the barn at Gettysburg guided the copters to the farm.
See Also: H-13 Sioux
The Bell UH-13-J is the military designation for the Bell 47-J "Sioux". First manufactured in 1945, the Sioux carried two passengers, had a cruising speed of 90 mph and a range of 250 miles.
After their White house assignment, the two UH-13-J were used to transport high-ranking Department of Defense personnel. In July 1967 both were transferred to the Smithsonian. The craft that President Eisenhower used to make the first helicopter flight is at the Paul E. Garber facility. The other Bell UH-13-J is on loan to the Air Force Museum Dayton, Ohio.
On January 1, 1958, the US Army Executive Flight Detachment, Davison US Army Air Field, Fort Belvoir, VA was activated. They, along with the Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) US Marine Corps Air Station Quantico, Virginia, were given the primary mission of the emergency evacuation of the President, his family and other key government officials. After satisfying this mission these units furnished helicopter transportation for the President and others.
In January 1958 both the Executive Flight Detachment and HMX-1 were using the Sikorsky CH-34-C as their primary helicopter. First manufactured in 1958 the CH-34-Chocktaw is the Military transport version of the Sikorsky S-58. The CH-34-C has a crew of two and can carry twelve passengers. A cruise speed of 95 mph and a range of 270 miles.
See Also: H-34 Chocktaw
In 1963 Sikorsky CH-3 helicopters joined the H-34's at HMX-1 and the Executive Flight Detachment. The CH-3 is a modification of Sikorsky's S-61 design. First developed for the Navy as the SH-3 "Sea King". The first flight of the CH-3 was on June 17, 1963. The CH-3 can carry 25 fully equipped troops, but is best known for use in rescue missions in Vietnam where it gained its nickname the "Jolly Green Giant". The CH-3 has a cruising speed of 150 mph with a range of 465 miles.
See Also: H3-H Sea King
In the 1970's the Sikorsky H-34-Cs were replaced with Bell UH-1-N. Developed primary as a Medevac helicopter. The medical service had much to do with the original design and the UH-1's width was an exact fit for Army litters. By 1970 a larger version of the UH-1-D would carry 11 passengers. had a cruising speed of 115 mph, had twin engines and was capable of cruising on one - the UH-1-N. (Lesser dignitaries were transported in the single-engine UH-1-D)
See Also: UH-1 Huey
The Executive Flight Detachment was disbanded in 1973, and HMX-1 took over all helicopter operations for the White House.
A Modified VH-60N is the primary helicopter flying as Marine One today. First manufactured in 1974, the VH-60N is a variant of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. The VH-60N has a crew of three, a cruise speed of 150 mph and a range of 580 miles.
See Also: UH-60 Black Hawk
The Rotorhead has also come across a picture of a Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight in Presidential livery.
See Also: CH-113 Labrador
or CH-46 Sea Knight
Thanks to William mcMillian MSGT (USMC Ret) for contribution of information to this page.
Thanks to Zane Adams for contributing this image.
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