Dear PoPville – Anyone Know Why the Marine One Helicopter Frequently Flies Over Columbia Heights?


Photo by PoPville flickr user JosephLeonardo

Dear PoPville,

My two-year-old son loves helicopters, and I guess we watch them like people in rural or suburban areas might watch for birds. In doing so, I was very surprised to note that the president’s helicopter, Marine One, (or a helicopter that looks just like it) frequently flies over Columbia Heights. Do you or any of your readers know why?

Here’s the birdwatching data: Probably once a week, I will see a single Marine One helicopter (dark green bottom, white cap, sometimes flying low enough I can see “United States of America” on the side) flying over Columbia Heights. Occasionally we see two. Most recently I saw a single helicopter Jan. 7th at noon, right over my house on Harvard Street. I’m pretty sure it’s not President Obama traveling, at least not most of the time — the helicopter sightings do not always match up with his travel schedule and I think he always travels with 2 helicopters.

But what *are* they doing? Is there a Marine One parking lot or service station somewhere beyond Columbia Heights? Do the pilots just love to fly the friendly DC skies?

36 Comment

  • fueling up – they also regularly practice landings (touch-n-gos) – from MD

  • Some are likely going to and from the Naval Observatory to pick up Biden.

    • Certainly not going to the Naval Observatory. Not the right direction, there is no landing spot there. How about going to / from Camp David.

    • Certainly not going to the Naval Observatory. Not the right direction, there is no landing spot there. How about going to / from Camp David?

  • there was a bit about this on the radio this morning…they’re doing more fly-overs to measure the radiation levels in certain parts of the city to monitor in case of dirty bombs. I can’t remember all the details but this is why there are more choppers visible lately

    • The radiation scanning helicopters are the smaller (Bell?) helicopters with the ugly paint jobs and pods on the sides.

      Not the Marine One painted Sikorskys.

  • PS that copter inthe pic is a Chinook, not Marine One

    • That’s a sea knight (CH-46) not a chinook (CH-47)

    • It’s not Marine One, or even a helicopter the POTUS flies in. However, it is a helicopter within the HMX-1 fleet that contains Marine One. It’s probably just some pilot getting in flight hours on a nice day.

    • Technically it’s only “Marine One” while POTUS is on board… and Marine One will never be by itself. There will be at least 1, often 2 decoy choppers flying alongside that are exactly the same except they do not have POTUS on board…

  • Columbia Heights is also directly in the flight path of the President’s helicopters. When they drop off or land at the White House, the come in from the south, and take off to the north (up 16th street). You may be seeing them after they just dropped off or picked up the President.

  • Sapping our precious bodily fluids.

    • Thanks for the link. That explains the helicopter I heard earlier this week, flying so low that I really wondered if the next sound I heard was going to be a crash.

  • CNN has a news story about them scanning the city for radiation. Its available on their website. The story is titled: Taking to the air on hunt for dirty bomb threats

  • Technically, isn’t it known as Marine One only when it’s on official presidential business?

    • Sure, but “a Helicopter painted with Marine Helicopter Squadron One colors and of the correct model to be suitable for presidential transportation” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it :-)

      - not OP

  • That helicopter in the pic is a marine helicopter but not the same as marine one, its a Chinook.
    Also I believe there are close to 30 identical helicopters in the ‘Marine one’ Fleet. Not really called marine one unless president is aboard. when the president is preparing to leave the white house lawn there is the helicopter that he is actually going to be in on the ground while 2 other identical helicopters fly around the city just biding time til the president is ready to take off. When he takes off the other two swoop down low close by the white house and they all three rise together so any bad guys would have a very difficult time figuring out which one he’s on. Any time you see three of them flying in a row that is when the president is aboard.
    Also as earlier poster pointed out it could be almost anything from a VIP tour to touch and goes, The radiation Helicopter they showed on TV last night looks more like a police helicopter.

    • Well, you’re mostly right, but there are several different kinds of helicopters in HMX-1. The president usually travels in a Sea King or a Blackhawk, but they also fly Chinooks and maybe still Hueys, although they are usually used for lesser dignitaries or large groups, in the case of the Chinooks. I grew up near Camp David, and you could always tell the President was coming or going because there were three choppers. One by itself was the VP, a cabinet member, a foreign head of state, or just no one.

  • Recently when the Prez was returning to the WH, I noticed all three of his helicopters were being separately escorted by another military helicopter. Wondered if it was because he was flying lower than normal due to low clouds.

    I notice a lot of helicopters fly directly at the Old Soldier’s home, wondering if it’s because of the big radar array up there.

  • I am thinking they are flying in brass from the area military bases in MD, like Ft Meade and NSA, to the Pentagon to deal with the change in CIA and DoD leadership.

  • I’ve been wondering about these for years. They usually appear to fly in large circles, and sometimes there’s more than one.

  • I’ve always wanted to see the prez get into or out of Marine One – I just never seem to be around the White House when it happens!

    • I play softball on the Mall and have seen him land several times–I think he likes to get home in time for dinner with Michelle & the kids. It’s always been right before a game at about 6pm.

  • I’d like to get a VIP tour in a Marine One fleet helicopter. Preferably during Cherry Blossom week.

    Not being a foreign dignitary, I wonder how big a donation I’d have to give…

  • From someone in the know…..

    If it is Presidential (only time it is called Marine One, VP it is called Marine two, other dignitaries it is just called a copter) there are three of them The other times it is another dignitary, VP, head of a Cabinet or Military Head. They often will fly from their home base of Andrews to other locations, often other bases including Camp David in MD. If you draw a line on the map, Andrews AFB and Camp David are almost a diagonal line across the city from Bloomingdale – Columbia Heights. Contrary to popular belief they don’t always pick up straight from the White House Lawn : )

    The Wikipedia article is pretty close to actuality.

    • Incorrect, person in the know. HMX-1 (the parent fleet for Marine One) is based out of Anacostia and Quantico, not Andrews. Air Force One is based out of Andrews.

  • I always assumed it was Marine 2, taking Biden up to the Naval Observatory. What I’ve noticed is that they frequently fly by twice, which I assume is because Biden frequently forgets his house keys.

  • They “park” the HMX fleet usually at Bolling or Andrews, Quantico for big maintainence.
    I used to get a huge kick out of seeing it when I’d visit my husband at Quantico, and I still see it frequently at Bolling when I’m there.

    They might have been flying in people from Ft Meade or elsewhere because of Karzai’s visit. But, they do practice a lot in a variety of weather. Enjoy it – it’s, to me anyway, one of the fun things about DC!

  • I always assumed it was bigwigs ferrying to Walter Reed.

  • I live near 16th street and we watch TV using an antenna. I noticed that when the helicopters fly over, the tv signal jams and the picture on the screen freezes until the helicopter is gone. Not sure if it’s just interference from the physical presence of the helicopter, but I like to think it’s a sophisticated radar-jamming device.

  • If it’s just flying past, it could be any number of dignitaries.

    I think what you’re referring to is the fact that at times, the Marine One style helicopter circles the area for a while before leaving. I’ve been on the mall before when the President lands, and he comes in with three helicopters from different directions. My theory is that he’s probably most vulnerable when landing. So two are decoys, and the helicopter over Columbia Heights is just circling waiting for his helicopter to come in to land before joining them for the approach.

  • This post and comments are one of the reasons I enjoy this blog!

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