An Insider’s Guide to Marine One: The President’s Helicopter

Jun 25, 2017

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If you were one of the 5.3 million people watching the season finale of Scandal last month, you might have missed one small detail that Hollywood omitted as Olivia Pope ran to meet the President boarding Marine One — the hurricane force winds. I will get back to this shortly.

What is Marine One, exactly? These helicopters are commonly known as “White Tops” because of their distinctive livery of green with a white stripe. Visitors to Washington, D.C. have a greater chance of seeing these vehicles than Air Force One or the President’s limousine. Why? Because there are actually several of these helicopters and together they form the Marine squadron known as “HMX-1.” And with such noticeable paint jobs, they are easy to spot flying around the Capitol region either picking up or delivering the President, running practice flights or just circling the White House as decoy helicopters.

Image courtesy of Brendan Smialowski via Getty Images.
Image courtesy of Brendan Smialowski via Getty Images.

When President Obama said that of all the perks he had in office, he’ll miss Marine One most, he was referring to the plush, quiet and powerful helicopter that lands in the backyard of the White House and makes routine transport comfortable and convenient for the Commander in Chief. On multiple occasions, he and his staff would use Marine One in order to eliminate motorcade-induced traffic jams around the country and the world.

That said, the Marine One that tourists may see in Washington, D.C. or along the East Coast is vastly different than the vehicle used by the President to fly overseas. This isn’t just because of the multiple decoys flying at any one time but because there are actually two primary models — the stub-nosed VH-3D (a Sikorsky Sea King) used around the home base and the slightly more bullet-shaped VH-60 (a White Hawk), which can be easily disassembled and shipped aboard a cargo plane to cities further afield.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. And yes, that’s Bill Nye.

In any scenario where Marine One is used, the President is afforded luxuries that your standard Manhattan executive won’t get, even on the most expensive commute. First and foremost, classified defense abilities and communications equipment ensure that the POTUS is always safe, informed and in command. POTUS is the only one, besides the pilot and co-pilot, with a forward-facing captain’s chair. His seat is within easy reach of drinks, snacks and tissues. Beyond that, the equipment on these giant crafts — which would otherwise be used to haul dozens of troops — has been replaced with elaborate soundproofing and plush powder blue carpeting and comfortable seating.

Image courtesy of Pool via Getty Images.
Image courtesy of Pool via Getty Images.

The result is a quiet ride inside for the leader of the free world, staff and security. No one in this helicopter will hear or feel the hurricane-force winds that surround any take-off or landing that would have knocked Olivia right over.

The author, Joe Mahshie, was the Trip Coordinator for First Lady Michelle Obama for two years. His job allowed him to travel on Air Force One and Bright Star, the official plane of the First Lady.

Featured image courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

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