On this day in 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes 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.
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.
Currently there are 19 helicopters, including Sea Kings and the UH-60 Blackhawk available for the president’s use.