Most people know that the US President frequently travels aboard Air Force One, which is the name given to any Air Force aircraft that carries the president. You may not know that the US Marines have their own special transport for the commander-in-chief.

Marine One is the name used for any aircraft operated by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) to transport the president. Traditionally, Marine One is a helicopter, such as the Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King or the VH-60N.

With how much coverage each president receives during their time in office, it is surprising that we rarely hear about Marine One, which led me to learn more. Here are a few interesting facts that I uncovered about Marine One:

  • “One” is the call sign for any military aircraft carrying the president
  • The aircraft carrying the vice president receives the “two” call sign
  • The call signs were first used in 1953 with “Air Force One”
  • Each branch of the military has transported the president in an aircraft
  • There have been many “Air Force One” and “Marine One” aircraft

This is just a sampling of what I learned. Here’s everything you would want to know about Marine One.

History of Marine One

“Marine One” is a call sign given to any USMC aircraft that transports the president. There is no one specific “Marine One.” In fact, there are about 19 helicopters that may receive the call sign.

On a typical flight, the Marines deploy five to six identical helicopters as decoys. The helicopter carrying the president receives the Marine One call sign. 

The use of the call sign started in 1953 during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term in office. The 34th president flew on a Lockheed VC-121A-LO aircraft operated by the US Air Force. The plane was nicknamed the “Columbine II” and given the call sign “Air Force One.”

Lockheed C 121 Constellation Columbine II
Editorial Team Lockheed C 121 Constellation Columbine II

President Eisenhower flew exclusively on Air Force One until 1957. On September 7, President Eisenhower was staying at his vacation home in Newport, Rhode Island, but his presence was needed in Washington to handle the Little Rock Nine situation occurring in Arkansas.

The Governor of Arkansas had ordered the National Guard to prevent nine black students from attending Central High School in Little Rock. This came three years after the US Supreme Court called for the desegregation of all schools. 

The typical trip from Newport to Washington, DC involved an hour-long ferry trip across the Quonset Point Naval Air Station where Air Force One waited. This was followed by a 45-minute flight to Andrews Air Force Base and a 20-minute drive to the White House.

Needing a faster way to reach the White House, President Eisenhower traveled on a Bell UH-13J Sioux operated by the USMC. The helicopter allowed for a direct flight. When Eisenhower reached the White House, he directed the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the desegregation ruling.

Bell UH 13J landing on the West Lawn of the White House.
U.S. Air Force Bell UH-13J landing on the West Lawn of the White House.

After the trip, President Eisenhower continued to ride on helicopters flown by Marines for short trips, including trips to his summer residence in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania is a short distance from Washington, DC when traveling through the skies. Flying on Air Force One was not efficient for the short trip. The area also lacked an airfield with a paved runway for the aircraft. A helicopter provided the perfect solution.

The USMC stuck with the call signs used by the Air Force. The helicopter carrying the president was called “Marine One.” Shortly after, the Marines started using the White House South Lawn as a landing location for Marine One.

While a helicopter was more efficient for shorter trips, it lacked amenities. Unlike Air Force One, Marine One did not have air conditioning or toilets. This eventually changed, but years after Eisenhower left office.

From the late 1950s to 1976, the USMC and the US Army shared the privilege of flying helicopters transporting the president. The Marine One call sign was used for flights operated by the Marines while “Army One” was used for flights operated by the Army.

In the following years, US presidents have traveled on aircraft from almost every branch of the military. Along with the Air Force, Marines, and Army, the president has traveled with the Coast Guard, National Guard, and Navy.

The call sign of the aircraft carrying the president always has a “One” preceded by the branch of the military, such as “Marine One.” 

Who Flies Marine One?

Marine One is flown by members of the Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) flight crew. HMX-1 includes over 800 marines. Along with transporting the president, HMX-1 is responsible for the transportation of the vice president, heads of state, Department of Defense (DoD) officials, and various VIPs.

Every branch of the military has an aviation division, including the Marines, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. HMX-1 is the first helicopter squadron of the USMC.

After observing the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1946, General Roy Geiger decided that the Marines needed dedicated transport helicopters. Geiger determined that the Marines needed a safer method for landing on enemy shores during an atomic attack.

The HMX-1 squadron was commissioned in December 1947. It was based at the Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF) in Quantico, where it remains based today. The location was chosen due to its proximity to the Sikorsky and Piasecki aircraft plants in Connecticut. Quantico is also near the Marine training bases.

During the Korean War, HMX-1 helicopters were used for battlefield observation, medical evacuation, and rescue missions. After the Korean War, the squadron returned to Quantico and soon began ferrying the president to his summer residence.

Colonel Virgil D. Olson was the first presidential helicopter pilot and the commander of the HMX-1 squadron. He is also credited with the decision to paint the tops of the helicopters white.

Marine helicopters are traditionally solid green. Due to the distinct appearance, the Marine One helicopters soon earned the nickname “White Tops.” 

What Kind of Helicopter Is Marine One?

The Marine One fleet currently includes Sikorsky VH-3D Sea King helicopters and VH-60N helicopters. 

Sikorsky VH 60N White Hawk
Eric Denison Sikorsky VH-60N White Hawk

One of the more interesting facts about Marine One is that it is not one helicopter. It is any Marine helicopter with the president aboard. 

The first Marine One was a Bell UH-13J Sioux, which was soon replaced by the Sikorsky UH-34 Seahorse. The UH-34 was developed by American aircraft manufacturer Sikorsky in 1954. It was originally intended as an anti-submarine warfare helicopter for the US Navy.

US Marine Corps Sikorsky UH 34D Seahorse
cc0 US Marine Corps Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse

The UH-34 was a piston-engine helicopter with a top speed of 123 mph and a range of 250 miles. It was replaced by the more advanced twin-engine SH-3 Sea King, which was the first amphibious helicopter.

The SH-3 was also designed by Sikorsky and offered faster speeds and a greater range. It could reach speeds of 166 mph.

The Marine One fleet gained the VH-3D helicopters in 1978 and the VH-60N helicopters in 1987. These two helicopters remain the sole aircraft used by the Marine One squadron for transporting the president.

VH-3D Sea King
Editorial Team VH-3D Sea King

The VH-3D is an update of the SH-3 Sea King. The newer design had more powerful engines and new sensors. It could travel further and faster.

The VH-60N Black Hawk is a twin-engine medium-lift utility helicopter originally designed for the US Army in the late 1970s. It was introduced in 1979 and received several upgrades before joining the Marine One fleet.

Where Is Marine One Kept?

The Marine One fleet is based at the Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF) in Quantico, Virginia. However, the HMX-1 squadron also operates out of the Naval Support Facility Anacostia in Washington, DC.

When the president needs a ride, the helicopters travel to the South Lawn of the White House. The helicopter is always met by at least one US Marine in full dress uniform.

For long-distance trips, the President may use Marine One as a ferry to reach Air Force One. From the South Lawn of the White House, the helicopter flies to Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility in Maryland, which is where Air Force One is based. 

How Many Marine One Helicopters Are There?

There are currently 19 helicopters that are used as “Marine One.” However, the Marine One fleet includes a total of 35 different aircraft. The additional aircraft are primarily used as support for transporting personnel and cargo. 

Sikorsky VH 60N White Hawk Marine One at CPAC 2017
Michael Vadon Sikorsky VH-60N White Hawk- “Marine One” at CPAC 2017

The fleet is operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), which includes over 800 marines. Along with transporting the president, HMX-1 is responsible for the transportation of the vice president, heads of state, Department of Defense (DoD) officials, and various VIPs. 

The modern Marine One helicopters have been constantly updated to receive the latest technologies and enhancements. They have the latest ballistic armor, missile warning systems, and anti-missile defenses. 

The helicopters have also been upgraded for increased comfort. The helicopters now have toilets.

Due to the frequent updates, the helicopters gradually became heavier. The Marine One helicopters are now so bloated with upgrades that their operational capabilities are reduced.

How Much Does Marine One Cost?

The exact cost of the Marine One helicopters is difficult to determine, due to the frequent upgrades. However, the SH-3 Sea King that the VH-3D Marine One helicopters are based on cost $6.4 million each when they were manufactured in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The VH-60N is based on the UH-60 Black Hawk. The Black Hawk cost $5.9 million per unit when it was released in 1979. 

In 2014, the US government approved the development of a new fleet of VH-92 helicopters based on the VH-3D. The new Marine One helicopters are expected to cost $237 million each.

How Far Can Marine One Fly?

There are two main types of Marine One helicopters – the VH-3D and the VH-60N. The standard Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, which the VH-3D is based on, can travel up to 621 miles. However, the Marine One VH-3D is loaded with gear that may limit its range.

The VH-60N can travel up to 1,379 miles (1,199 nautical miles). This is significantly further than the range of the UH-60 Black Hawks that the helicopter is based on. Black Hawks have a maximum range of just 362 miles.

Up to five or six identical helicopters fly together during each trip. If the president is riding on a VH-3D helicopter, there are several other VH-3D helicopters in the sky. If the president travels on a VH-60N, the rest of the flight crew flies VH-60N helicopters.

The identical helicopters act as decoys. After takeoff, the helicopters repeatedly shift formations to hide the location of the president. 

How Fast Does Marine One Fly?

The VH-3D Sea King can travel up to 161 mph. As with the range of the helicopter, the speed may be slightly reduced due to the weight of the helicopter. The Marine One helicopters contain more gear and equipment compared to a standard VH-3D.

The VH-60N White Hawk has a top speed of 183 mph. The Marine One variation is known as the “White Hawk,” as opposed to the “Black Hawk” name given to standard UH-60 helicopters, which have a top speed of 222 mph. 

How Does Marine One Get Transported?

The Marines use the C-17 Globemaster or the C-5 Galaxy to transport the fleet of Marine One helicopters. The helicopters may need to be transported when traveling great distances, including domestically and internationally. 

Each C-17 Globemaster can hold two VH-60N Marine One helicopters or two VH-3D helicopters. The C-5 Galaxy can hold up to six helicopters, with a max carrying capacity of 261,000 pounds (118,387 kg).

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy Loading
Editorial Team Lockheed C-5 Galaxy Loading

How Do They Get Marine One Overseas?

When the Marine One helicopters are needed overseas, the Marines use a C-17 Globemaster or C-5 Galaxy transport plane. The president’s limousine is also carried on the transport plane.

The distance to any country across the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean is greater than the range of the Marine One helicopters. The trip from DC to London is about 3,662 miles. The distance from DC to Seoul, South Korea is over 6,000 miles.When traveling overseas, the President is likely to travel on Air Force One, which is currently a Boeing 747-200B. The Boeing 747-200B plane has a range of about 6,857 miles.

Related Posts

About the Author