Saturday, October 1, 2011


I had the remarkable opportunity to serve as a pilot in Marine Helicopter Squadron-One.  When I checked into the squadron on 17 April 1972 I was the youngest and most junior officer, a First Lieutenant, on board!  I think our C.O., Lt/Col. Richard Kuci, was a bit concerned about the kid who escaped the boonies of Cherry Point, N.C. and  showed up driving a Lotus!  Lucky for me,  he never found out I was stopped for speeding on my way north to Quantico and had to drop a bit of cash with the local sheriff to continue on my way.


As most people know HMX-1 is known best for its glamor mission of providing all helicopter transport for POTUS (President of the United States).  However, there are other very important missions  which include Research and Development of systems and tactics relating to rotary wing aircraft, providing transport for lesser dignitaries such as the Vice President, Foreign Dignitaries,  Admirals and Generals of all kinds.  In addition we got the exciting flying involved in providing helicopter support in combat training for new  Second Lieutenants attending the Marine Cops Officers Basic School in regular fleet combat type aircraft.  One day you could be flying the president, who in my day was Richard Nixon, from the White House Lawn to Andrews Air Force Base where he boarded Air Force One.  The next night you might be flying a CH-46 inserting a squad of Marines into a dark and tiny LZ in the tihck forests west of Quantico.  "Spit and polish" to "down and dirty" in 24 hours!
Unlike every other Marine Squadron where there is only one type of aircraft assigned, HMX-1 had four different types and a couple different models of one.  While I was there I was an Aircraft Commander and Post Maintenance Test Pilot in the CH-46, SH-3, and the UH1E twin engined Huey.  I also sometimes flew as copilot in the CH-53 Sea Stallion - the first bird to fly over 200 MPH.  Flying the huge and cumbersome "53", to me, was like driving a pig!  There was never time for anything to become routine!

A quote I recently heard from a current HMX-1 Commanding Officer was: "This Squadron is a group of unremarkable Marines performing a remarkable mission."

I will be relating many of my memories of my tour with HMX-1.

A look at this video will prepare you for the sea-stories that will follow.

Official Photo of Marine-One leaving the White House

Unofficial shot of an alert bird going out for its daily exercise.
Every co-pilot on Marine-one was required to have minimum of 1,000 flight hours.  Because I had spent my previous year flying a desk at Cherry Point I was bit short of flight-time;  I was assigned to fly every mission possible so I could quickly become qualified as a Presidential Co-pilot.   I then went through "Saturation Training".  At the time the country  was  living under the threat of the H-Bomb and the Cold War.   There is nothing quite like being jarred awake by a siren and  lights flashing on - jumping into your flight suit and boots- running down the stairs and running to one of the three aircraft which were being towed from the hanger.  Anyway,  the result is a heart rate of around 185 B.P.M. and the realization that you are now  awake and flying an aircraft at about 150 feet  and 130 knots over Haines Point  in route to the designated pick-up point!  We joked about the black tire marks our birds would make on the Washington Monument as we cranked in a sharp steep turn headed for the Capitol building.

As you know "the bomb" never went off but we were all ready to play our part in the ridiculous scenario should it have! 

It has a different feeling in the black of night - barely awake from a sound sleep - before the SAS, stabilization equipment, warms up and comes on line!

In addition to the normal activities of flying my experience was made more memorable by the stresses and variables created in the White House due to the Watergate Scandal.  I remember a friend flying John Erlichmann and HR Halderman to Camp David where the President fired them!  I flew the President and Pat Nixon back to the White House Lawn late the night after he fired Special Watergate Prosecutor, Archibald Cox.  The President's world was crumbling and I could see the weight in the way he and his poor wife walked alone from the aircraft across the lawn to the White House.

 Enough for now. .....More later

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting reading these memories, Hale. I'm glad you're writing them down and sharing them.