June 15, 2009 - Marine One
This helicopter may look vaguely familiar. In fact it is one of three identical helicopters reserved to fly the President, Vice President, other US officials, and foreign dignitaries. They are operated by the HMX-1 "Nighthawks" Squadron of the U.S. Marine Corps. Whichever of the three carries the President has the call sign "Marine One".
Maj. David Kirk is Meg's nephew, and one of the Marine One pilots. Needless to say, we were excited when we received news that he would be staying near O'Hare airport while President Obama was in town to address the AMA convention. David is in his fourth and final year in the squadron and we were not certain that we would get the opportunity to see these helicopters while he was still one of the pilots.
In case there's any doubt I did NOT take the photo at right, but swiped it from Wikipedia. I DID take those above. There seemed to be a plethora of mechanics tools in the hangar. David assured me that those were not for Marine One and the President's ride is reliable.

While I was not allowed to take photos inside, I was allowed to sit in Barack's chair (more on that later). I noted that the President smokes (although I'm told that he's trying to quit) and apparently drinks diet Coke. As the leader of the free world, I hope he treats himself to a Dr. Pepper once in a while.

David was not flying one of the "whitetops" on this mission. He piloted one of the three support helicopters which were parked out on the tarmac.

I was allowed to take photos of these inside and out. As you can see these birds are strictly military issue. They are stark and totally utilitarian and seemed to be designed for flexibility. The hold can be used for cargo, personnel, or both. Hopefully there is a good degree of reliability designed in there as well.

We all had some fun exploring, but Meg and I were particularly glad just to visit with David.

"Exploring" included some time in the cockpit for Meg, Jennifer, and Paul. I got one good "Top Gun" shot of Jennifer. I tried to have her give me a thumbs up, but I don't think she noticed.

They seemed to have fun, but it was difficult to get good photos from outside. The sun was so bright that the glare became impossible. I had to make some adjustments to these shots in Photoshop.

Here's a few artsy shots of the chopper outside. I'm sure it's totally dull to David and the other pilots, but it's unusually cool to the rest of the world.
Support Helicopters
Pimp His Ride
I believe the designation of the presidential helicopters we saw is the VH-3D, but newer, smaller VH-60N "Whitehawks" are also used as Marine One copters. A program to provide newer VH-71 "Kestrel" units was canceled by President Obama in April, 2009.
The military, utilitarian nature of these machines is evident upon seeing the inside. I noted above that I had the opportunity to sit in the President's seat in the helicopter. If you've ever flown in coach class, you've had a more comfortable seat. Although we can all appreciate the need for austerity at this point in time, it would seem that the President of the United States should have a helicopter seat that's at least comparable to business class.

I suggest that if we don't have the cash for an entire new presidential fleet of helicopters, at least we can upgrade the current models somewhat. To that end I've presented a Photoshop suggestion of how President Obama might consider pimping his ride.

Since this image was quite a bit more trouble to produce than I originally intended, there was no time to provide an animation of the "low rider" suspension version. A simple bouncing of the front end wouldn't be too difficult, but animation of the rotor blades flexing, the resulting shadows, and expansion/contraction of the undercarriage lighting would take some serious time. We'll have to leave that for later.

Driver's License Required
Chopper Art