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FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLIC RELEASE:
Eisenhower, JFK presidential helicopter now displayed on Camp Mabry
AUSTIN, Texas - A VH-34 Choctaw Helicopter, which served as Army One for Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, is now on permanent display on Camp Mabry’s parade ground as part of the Texas Military Forces Museum's collection. The helicopter was assigned to the Texas Army National Guard after retiring from federal service and used by Texas to transport dignitaries, including President Lyndon B. Johnson when he was in the Lone Star State during and after his presidential service. The helicopter, resplendent in its Army One markings, is now displayed on Camp Mabry’s parade ground and can be seen from the southbound lanes of the MoPac Expressway or viewed up close from the post’s walking track.
In 1958, helicopter service for the president was formalized with the Army and Marines sharing the responsibility. One unit from each service was assigned this important duty – the Army’s Executive Flight Detachment, flying out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and the Marine’s HXM-1 (helicopter experimental) Squadron, operating out of Quantico, Virginia. When the president rode in an Army helicopter the aircraft call sign was “Army One,” when he rode with the Marines, the call sign was “Marine One.” The two services shared the presidential mission until 1976 when it became an exclusive Marine task.
Both the Army and Marine units assigned to the president initially flew a converted CH 34 designated as a VH-34 (VIP transport). This Choctaw model featured an upgraded passenger interior, improved instrumentation and navigation equipment, emergency flotation devices and primitive air conditioning. The unique two-tone paint scheme of the helicopter was the result of an effort to keep passengers cooler by using white paint to reflect sunlight. This practical adaptation became such a distinctive feature of the president’s helicopters, however, that the scheme was retained even after technology rendered the reflective white top unnecessary.
The VH-34 displayed here served presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy as Army One. Numerous cabinet officers and foreign heads of state rode in the helicopter as well. In 1962, the VH-34 was retired from presidential duty and replaced with the Sikorsky VH-3. At that time, this VH-34 was transferred to the Texas Army National Guard, which used it to fly dignitaries until it was retired from active duty on Nov. 7, 1972.
Discovery and Restoration Effort
After leaving active service, VH-34 (71726) eventually wound up in outside storage at Edwards Air Force Base where time and weather wore down the helicopters exterior and equipment. In 2013, Col. Rick Adams of the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, was touring the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edward’s during a break in his unit’s mobilization training for overseas deployment. During a conversation with the museum’s director, Col. Adams learned about the famous but neglected VH-34 that had served three presidents and the Texas Guard. Adams contacted Jeff Hunt, director of the Texas Military Forces Museum, at Camp Mabry, who recognized that this important piece of Presidential and Texas Guard history needed to be brought into the Texas Military Forces Museum’s collection. A request to transfer the helicopter from Edwards AFB to Austin was approved.
The VH-34 arrived at Camp Mabry in early 2014 and has undergone an extensive multi-year renovation at the post’s Combined Support and Maintenance Shop #2. Master Sgt. Kirk Smith spearheaded the first phase of the restoration until his retirement, and at times work on the project was slowed or halted as deployments and mobilizations diverted key personnel to other vital missions, but the dedicated soldiers of CSMS #2 continued the effort with indefatigable determination until the helicopter was ready to move onto the parade ground. Once there, the experts at DLC Aircraft Restoration took over and gave the VH-34 its presidential paint scheme and markings. An interpretive panel displaying information on the helicopter along with photos of President Eisenhower, Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy, was recently installed.
All outdoor exhibits at Camp Mabry are open to the public from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. The Texas Military Forces Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 – 4. Admission to the museum is free. Camp Mabry is open to the public. Adults will need to show a valid ID, such as a driver’s license or passport to enter the post. The museum’s website is www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org
VH -34 Choctaw
Produced by the Sikorsky Aircraft company and best known as the CH-34 Choctaw, this aircraft was the last U.S. military helicopter to use a piston engine. Deployed in an anti-submarine role by the U.S. Navy it was designated the HSS-1 Seabat (later changed to SH-34). As a transport helicopter in Navy, Marine and Coast Guard service it was known as the HUS-1 Seahorse (UH-34) and in the Army as the CH-34 Choctaw. Although it saw only limited use in Vietnam due to its vulnerability to ground fire, the Choctaw rendered solid service in non-combat roles with the Army, Navy and Marines into the 1960’s, and was flown by the National Guard, Army and Marine Reserves into the early 1970’s.
It was in its capacity as a presidential transport, however, that the Choctaw performed its most notable missions. On July 12, 1957 Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first sitting president to fly in a helicopter. The utility of moving the chief executive by air, rather than motorcade, as well as the Cold War requirement to rapidly relocate him to a safe location in the event of a nuclear attack, quickly made helicopters essential White House assets.
Length: 56 feet 8 inches
Height: 15 feet 11 inches
Rotor diameter: 56 feet
Weight (empty): 7,900 pounds
Engine: Wright R-1820 Cyclone
Maximum speed: 173 mph
Range: 182 miles
Ceiling: 4,905 feet
Number Built: 2,108
The mission of the Texas Military Department (TMD) is to provide the Governor and the President with ready and trained forces in support of the citizens of Texas and State and Federal civil/military authorities at home and abroad.
The Texas Military Department is commanded by the Adjutant General of Texas, the state's senior military official appointed by the governor, and is comprised of the Office of State Administration (formerly the Office of the Executive Director), the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), the Texas Air National Guard (TXANG) and the Texas State Guard (TXSG).
For more information about the Texas Military Department visit our Website at https://tmd.texas.gov.
Texas Military Department Public Affairs
P.O. Box 5218, Building 10
Camp Mabry (Austin), Texas 78703