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Marine Helicopter Squadron 1
Hmx1 official insig.jpg
HMX-1 insignia
Active December 1, 1947 - present
Country United States
Allegiance United States of America
Branch United States Marine Corps
Type Medium Helicopter Squadron
Role VIP Transport
Operational Testing and Evaluation
Part of Headquarters Marine Corps
Garrison/HQ Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico
Nickname "Marine One"
Tail Code MX
Colonel Matthew G. Glavy[1]
Keith B. McCutcheon

Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), "The Nighthawks" based at Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico, Virginia, is responsible for the helicopter transportation of the President of the United States, Vice President, Cabinet members and VIPs. When the President is aboard, the Marine helicopter uses the call sign "Marine One." In addition to its VIP transport role, it is also tasked with operational test and evaluation (OT&E) of new flight systems for Marine Corps helicopters.



In 1946 General Roy S. Geiger observed the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll and instantly recognized that atomic bombs could render amphibious landings difficult because of the dense concentrations of troops, ships and material at the beachhead. The Commandant of the Marine Corps convened a special board, the Hogaboom Board, that recommended that the Marine Corps develop transport helicopters in order to allow a more diffuse attack on enemy shores. It also recommended that they stand up an experimental helicopter squadron. HMX-1 was commissioned on December 1, 1947 and based in MCAS Quantico, Virginia because of its relative proximity to the Sikorsky and Piasecki plants in Connecticut, and to the Marine Corps schools where most of the original personnel would come. They operated the Sikorsky HO3S-1 and the Piasecki HRP-1 and saw their first test of capabilities in May of that year when five squadron aircraft transported 66 Marines from the deck of the USS Palau (CVE-122) to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. While the test aircraft could only carry three Marines each and required multiple trips it did indicate the possibilities of the concept.[2] In 1948 the Marine Corps Schools came out with Amphibious Operations - Employment of Helicopters (Tentative) or Phib-31 which was the first manual for airmobile operations. The Marines used the term vertical envelopment instead of air mobility or air assault. HMX-1 performed the first ship-to-shore movement of troops from the deck of an aircraft carrier in an exercise in May of 1948.[3]

President George W. Bush surveys the damage from the May 2007 Tornado Outbreak from a VH-60

After the start of the Korean War, four HMX-1 helicopters were attached to VMO-6 and sent to help the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter in 1950. They were used for battlefield observation and control as well as medical evacuation and the rescue of fliers.[4] During the Chosin campaign they were used for liaison between the different Marine units strung along the western edge of the Chosin Reservoir. The requirements of the Korean War exceeded the Navy's training requirement thus HMX-1 was pressed into service as a training command for the first few years of the war. They trained the nucleus of pilots that would form HMR-161, the first Marine helicopter transport squadron.[5]

On September 7, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was vacationing at his summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, when his immediate presence was needed at the White House. Typically, the return trip to Washington, D.C. required an hour-long ferry ride across Narragansett Bay to Air Force One, followed by a 45-minute flight to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, and a 20-minute motorcade ride to the White House[6].

Realizing the urgent need for his presence in Washington, President Eisenhower directed his staff to find a faster way to Air Force One. An HMX-1, UH-34 helicopter was on Aquidneck Island in case of an emergency and could be used to fly the President to his awaiting aircraft. President Eisenhower approved the idea, and after the 7-minute flight a precedent was set[6].

Shortly thereafter, a naval aide to the President asked HMX-1 to evaluate landing helicopters on the south lawn of the White House. Preliminary assessment and trial flights concluded that ample room was present for a safe landing and departure. Formal procedures were finalized and HMX-1 began a long career of flying the President of the United States to and from the South Lawn and Andrews AFB, the home of Air Force One[6].

Initially this function was shared with the Army. In 1976, the Marine Corps was assigned the sole responsibility and mission of providing helicopter support to the President, worldwide. Today HMX-1 also supports the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and all visiting Heads of States in the Washington, D.C. area[6].

On July 16, 2009, Marine One flew with an all-female crew for the first time, as the final flight of the first woman to fly the president: Major Jennifer Grieves.[7]


A VH-3D Sea King flying over Washington, D.C.

The first official presidential helicopter was the VH-34 Choctaw, beginning operations in September 1957, and replaced by the VH-3A beginning in 1962. In the late 1970s, the VH-3As were retired and replaced by the upgraded VH-3D. The current fleet is made up of the VH-3 Sea King and the VH-60N "WhiteHawk", which entered service with the squadron in 1988.

The V designates the aircraft as configured for use by VIPs. The Executive Flight Detachment is the only Marine Corps unit to operate these Sikorsky aircraft. The VH-3D is capable of transporting 14 passengers while the VH-60N seats 11 passengers. Both helicopters require a pilot, copilot and crewchief and the VH-60N's crew also includes a communications systems operator. Because the VH-60N folds easily for loading into an Air Force C-5 Galaxy or a C-17 Globemaster III it is ideal for overseas assignments. The Marines can prepare a VH-60N for a C-5 load in less than two hours[6].

Due to the uniqueness of the VH platforms, all pilots and maintenance personnel assigned are trained by Sikorsky factory-trained instructors. Depending on the Military Occupational Specialty, these schools range from 1 to 5 months and are taught at the squadron. Sikorsky technical representatives then provide a watchful eye as the Marines operate and maintain the helicopters[6].

HMX-1 was scheduled to receive 23 new Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel helicopters to replace the current fleet. However, in April 2009, it was announced that the Kestrel program was no longer included in the Defense budget.[8][9]

HMX-1 also operates a small number of CH-53E Super Stallions and CH-46 Sea Knights for utility purposes, and will be replaced with CH-53Ks and MV-22B Ospreys, respectively, by 2017.[10] These aircraft also share the HMX-1 dark green livery.

Executive Flight Detachment

A Military Working Dog searches luggage in front of a CH-46 used for utility support

The presidential and VIP flights are conducted by "Whiteside," the Executive Flight Detachment. Most activities of Whiteside are directed by the White House Military Office. Whiteside, although based at Quantico, Virginia, operates extensively out of an alert facility at Naval Support Facility Anacostia in Washington, D.C.

Operations by "Greenside," which is the rest of HMX-1, include operational test and evaluation, such as with the V-22 Osprey, a vertical take-off and landing tilt-rotor aircraft, and support of exercises and training evolutions for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

VIP transport helicopters can be distinguished from their counterparts by the white paint at the top of the aircraft, leading to the nickname "white tops."

Interestingly, the "X" in its squadron designator originally stood for Experimental, emblematic of its original mission of testing new helicopters and flight systems. However, as its operational role in VIP transportation overshadowed its OT&E role, the "Experimental" moniker was dropped, although the squadron designator was left unchanged.

Marines who fly in the Executive Flight Detachment may be eligible for the Presidential Service Badge after a certain term of service.

See also




PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

  • Chapin, John C. (2000). Fire Brigade: U.S. Marines in the Pusan Perimeter. Washington D.C.: Marine Corps Historical Center.  
  • Dorr, Robert F. (2005). Marine Air - The History of the Flying Leathernecks in Words and Photos. Penguin Group. ISBN 0-4220-725-0.  
  • Mersky, Peter B. U.S. Marine Corps Aviation - 1912 to the Present. Annapolis, Maryland; Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1983. ISBN 0-933852-39-8.
  • Rawlins, Eugene W. (1976). Marines and Helicopters 1946 - 1962. Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters Marine Corps.  
  • Shettle Jr., M. L. (2001). United States Marine Corps Air Stations of World War II. Bowersville, Georgia: Schaertel Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-964-33882-3.  
  • Brent, P.T. (February 2009). ""Marine One"--Welcome Aboard". Leatherneck Magazine (Quantico, Virginia: Marine Corps Association) (Feb 2009): 18–21. Retrieved 2009-04-04.  

External links

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