Friday, September 02, 2011

On the Way to Camp David

Marine One lifts off from the White House. A presidential helicopter, with President Obama on-board, made an emergency landing en route to Camp David today. A White House spokesman said that "bad weather" forced the president to switch to a motorcade, but there were no reports of threatening conditions in the Washington, D.C. area at the time (Wikipedia photo).

With today's grim jobs report, President Obama decided a little more R&R was in order, so he boarded Marine One for a weekend a Camp David.

But not even the helicopter flight went right, capping a particularly bad week in a presidency that has been filled with them.

According to ABC News, Marine One was forced to land due to "bad weather" before reaching the Presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains.

In a highly unusual maneuver, President Obama’s 30 minute flight to the Presidential mountain retreat at Camp David this afternoon was diverted to an undisclosed landing somewhere in the Washington area and a motorcade assembled to drive him to the Maryland site. White House press secretary Jay Carney tells ABC News a “bad weather call” was made before the President and his younger daughter Sasha even boarded the aircraft.

Carney says they have now arrived safely at Camp David. It remains unexplained why the President would be allowed to board Marine One knowing that the landing site on the mountain was experiencing weather making a landing difficult.

Quite predictably, the "transparent" administration didn't inform the White House press corps about the change in travel plans. The media first because aware of the motorcade from military officers at Camp David, which is actually a U.S. Navy installation.

More puzzling are the weather conditions that prompted Mr. Obama's switch to a motorcade. At the time Marine One departed for Camp David, there was no precipitation across the region. Temperatures in Washington were in the mid-70s at the time, with a southeasterly wind at 10 mph, according to

Call it a hunch, but there is the possibility that the forced landing was the result of mechanical problems and not mechanical issues. While Presidential aircraft are among the best-maintained on earth, they are not immune to the problems that plague "ordinary" helicopters and jet. If there were any sort of technical issue developed during the flight to Camp David, Marine pilots would be under orders to get their chopper--and the Commander-in-Chief--on the ground, as quickly and as safely as possible. It's a given that the Secret Service (along with the military) have identified emergency landing sites along the various routes to Camp David.

But there is one problem with that scenario. When Marine One lifts off from the White House, it is joined by other choppers from HMX-1, the USMC squadron which provides rotary lift for the President and other VIPs. Why didn't Mr. Obama simply switch to another helicopter, which offered the same capabilities as the one transporting him to Camp David? So far, the White House has remained silent on that question. However, we should note that if there were concerns about the same problem surfacing in other presidential choppers, the entire fleet would be grounded.

Another--albeit remote--possibility is some sort of threat (perceived or actual) along the flight route. All helicopters that operate as Marine One have advanced self-defense equipment, but even those systems don't provide complete coverage against advanced man-portable SAMs like the Russian SA-24 "Igla S." That sort of threat would definitely put Marine One on the ground. But there have been no recent threats of that type inside the United States, only general concerns about MANPADS fron Qadaffi's arsenal winding up on the arms black market.

Which bring us back to the question: if it wasn't the weather, then why did Marine One make that unscheduled landing today?


Corky Boyd said...

It may also be a security issue, given the closeness to 9/11.

The precautions taken on Marine 1 are extraordinry. In the 1960s all fuel for it was hand strained through a chamois cloth(it was a time diamond dust in fuel was thought to be a threat). While times have changed, I don't think maintenance issues are a problem, but items do fail.

GATC said...

This is ancient history. I remember seeing "W" land at the Maryland State Police helo pad (at the end of Frederick Municipal Airport)three weeks in a row back in the spring of 2003 due to fog at Camp David. There was never any media hype for those events. They just closed the access roads for a few minutes, locked-down our building, everyone jumped into black suburbans, and that was it. Except for a few black vans with DC plates that appeared a few minutes before hand and a couple of Frederick police cruisers at near-by intersections, most folks didn't have a clue what was going on. Probably a life-changing event for a "community organizer" but no big deal when the adults are in charge.