Nixon’s Helicopter

A news item caught my attention earlier this evening,  which said that the helicopter on display at the Richard Nixon Memorial Library in Yorba Linda, CA was being taken to Chino for restoration and refurbishment, having been baking in the California sun for the last 9 years or so.

Richard Nixon boarding Army One, 1974

Richard Nixon boarding Army One upon his departure from the White House after resigning the office of President of the United States following the Watergate Scandal in 1974.
Photo by Ollie Atkins –  Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

This is another of those iconic images for the student of American history,  and not surprisingly even the helicopter has a story.  I tend to lump Sea Kings together, but this one is a Sikorsky VH-3A, Bureau number (BuNo)150617, indicating it was purchased for the US Navy or Marine Corps.   Sources say it was built in 1960, so it’s had a fairly full life. 150617 was in the presidential fleet from 1960 to 1976.  During its presidential service, the helicopter was known either as Marine One or Army One, depending on whether Marine or Army pilots were flying it.  I’m not clear what happened to it after that, but apparently in 2000 Nixon’s former chief helicopter pilot discovered it at a U.S. Navy museum in Quonset Point, R.I., “wrapped in plastic” minus its tail, and minus any rotor blades.   You can see the 2005 Chicago Tribune article about the rescue here.  Gene Boyer, the pilot, arranged the Sea King’s transfer to the March AFB museum for restoration in October 2005 and from there to the Nixon Memorial Library.

VH-3A BuNo 150617 at the Nixon Memorial Library, Yorba Linda, CA

VH-3A BuNo 150617 at the Nixon Memorial Library, Yorba Linda, CA in 2007. Uploaded by Geographer at English Wikipedia – CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Fast forward to 2016, and 150617  is seemingly looking a little tired, so as the library itself emerges after a major remodel,  the helicopter is going to be spruced up too.

Here are a couple of articles from the local media in southern  California which tell a brief story of the restoration:

The Army One helicopter that flew Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford is hoisted by a crane over a fence and onto a flatbed truck on Friday morning at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda. Photo by MARK RIGHTMIRE, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER (Orange County Register)


National Aviation Day (United States) – 19th August

“Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation in 1939 which designated the anniversary of Orville Wright’s birthday to be National Aviation Day. The proclamation may direct all federal buildings and installations to fly the US flag on that day, and may encourage citizens to observe the day with activities that promote interest in aviation.”   (

Thank you Wikipedia.   I’m not a US citizen (yet!) But as a bona-fide dyed-in-the-wool aviation nut,  I couldn’t let the day pass without making some aviation related comment.   This afternoon, I was sitting waiting for a medical appointment reading David McCullough’s excellent book The Wright Brothers and being amazed or fascinated by a few pieces of trivia I dredged up.  I then went browsing through Wikipedia for a picture of the Wright Flyer and although I found a couple, I saw a couple of much more interesting and touching snippets of information which I feel inclined to pass on here.

Firstly from The Wright Brothers,  I found out that:

  • Orville and Wilbur travelled to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 – it was one of the longest trips they had made from Dayton, Ohio at that point.
    I spent many happy hours (and still do) teaching a little bit about the “White City”  in my American History course,  and one semester the class read Erik Larson’s excellent book The Devil in the White City  about Daniel Burnham, the Director of Works of the Exposition, and H.H. Holmes, possibly America’s greatest serial killer of the age whose grim ‘hotel of death’ preyed on visitors and others in the Chicago suburb of Englewood.
  • While Wilbur was demonstrating the Wright Flyer III in Le Mans in 1908,  he met Louis Blériot.  It shouldn’t be a surprise,  but it was still fascinating to read.  It also highlighted the sheer amount of risk that Blériot‘s flight across the channel the following year represented.

From Wikipedia I found out the following about pieces of the flyer itself:

  • Portions of the original fabric and wood from the flyer traveled to the surface of the moon aboard the Apollo 11 lunar module. The pieces are on display at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

    Wright Flyer fragments

    Presentation plaque containing portions of the Wright Flyer transported to the Moon and back by Apollo 11.  (NASA)

  • Portions of original wood and fabric were taken by North Carolina native astronaut Michael Smith aboard the space shuttle Challenger on mission STS-51-L which as we know was destroyed on liftoff on January 28, 1986. The portions of wood and fabric were recovered from the wreck of the shuttle and are on display at the North Carolina Museum of History.
    Fragments of the Wright Fflyer taken aboard STS-51-L By RadioFan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    Fragments of the Wright Flyer taken aboard STS-51-L
    By RadioFan (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons

18th August 1940 – Hardest Day

The Hardest Day - Book.

My Copy of Battle of Britain: The Hardest Day. In my case this is the 1988 Arms and Armour Press reprint.

When Dr Alfred Price’s book Battle of Britain: The Hardest Day  was published in 1979 it managed to embed itself into the consciousness of aviation historians in much the same way that the Eighth Air Force became “The Mighty Eighth” after the publication of Roger Freeman’s seminal work in 1970.  Mention the date to any Battle of Britain aficionado and I’m sure at some point the phrase “hardest day” will be uttered.

Since today is August 18th I couldn’t resist the temptation to mark the anniversary although it boggles me to think that this is the 76th anniversary of the event.

In this phase of the Battle the Luftwaffe was still carrying out its attacks on British airfields. One of the attacks which took place on August 18th was the low-level strike on RAF Kenley in Surrey by nine Dornier 17s of the 9th Staffel of Kampfgeschwader 76 (9/KG 76) as part of a co-ordinated attack on Fighter Command airfields in the South of England.    Photographs of the wreckage of two of these Dorniers  frequently show up in histories of the Battle of Britain both in print and on the World Wide Web.   I don’t propose to be an exception to the rule and so I feature them here.

Dornier 17

Dornier Do 17Z-2 (F1+DT) of 9/KG 76 crashed at Leaves Green, Kent on August 18th 1940 after attacking RAF Kenley. Note that the Swastika on the aircraft’s fin has already been removed by souvenir hunters.


RAF aircraftman guard the remains of Dornier Do17Z-2 (F1+HT) shot down during the low-level attack on Kenley aerodrome, 18 August 1940. The aircraft crashed in Golf Road, Kenley at 1.20pm. Imperial War Museum

RAF aircraftman guard the remains of Dornier Do17Z-2 (F1+HT) of 9/KG76 shot down during the low-level attack on Kenley aerodrome, 18 August 1940. The aircraft crashed in Golf Road, Kenley at 1.20pm. (Imperial War Museum)

Battle Over Britain - Book

Francis K Mason “Battle Over Britain” Bourne End: Aston Publications, 1990

In his book Battle Over Britain (Bourne End: Aston, 1990)  Francis K Mason says “it has been affirmed that 18th August witnessed the hardest fighting of the entire Battle of Britain, but the postulation is debatable”  since the tempo of air combat, in Mason’s words “did not match that of the 15th and 16th”  as a result of disruption to the communications networks during the attack, and that the total number of British fighters engaged in combat on this day was surpassed  on at least half a dozen occasions.  (p.222)   Price in his introduction says his “hardest day” claim actually refers to the total number of aircraft put out of action in a single day on both sides, both in the air and on the ground.

Both Price and Mason agree that 18th August saw the defeat of the Stuka as an independent weapon since the Ju87 was not deployed in large numbers against England after this date.