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White House Lawn Concerns Keep New Marine One Helicopters Grounded

The United States government has encountered a persistent problem with its new fleet of Marine One helicopters, a $5 billion program intended to modernize presidential transport. 

Despite the hefty investment, the helicopters are still unable to carry President Joe Biden due to the risk of scorching the White House lawn, as reported by Bloomberg.

The VH-92 Patriot helicopters, manufactured by Sikorsky, have demonstrated a tendency to burn the grass with their rotors and engine exhaust when landing. 

This issue was first identified during tests in 2018. 

As a result, these helicopters are currently restricted to carrying White House officials and Secret Service personnel, and can only land on paved surfaces. 

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Credit: DepositPhotos – (NEW) President of the United States Joe Biden delivers remarks on a possible default of the debt in a speech at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York. May 10, 2023. — Photo by thenews2.com

Meanwhile, President Biden continues to be transported by the older VH-3D Sea King helicopters, which do not pose the same risk to the South Lawn.

The transition to the VH-92 was part of a broader effort to replace the aging VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters that currently make up the executive transport fleet. 

These helicopters receive the Marine One callsign when transporting the president. 

To date, 20 VH-92 helicopters have been purchased from Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky’s parent company, under the modernization program.

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Credits: DepositPhotos – The White House. Washington, DC, USA. April 16, 2015. — Photo by a2gxe

In response to the lawn scorching problems, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted in a June 2020 report that the military had not yet demonstrated the ability to land on the White House South Lawn without causing damage. 

The report noted that the heat issues were primarily related to the helicopter’s auxiliary power unit and engine exhaust. 

Efforts to resolve the problem have included considering aircraft design changes, lawn surface treatments, and modifications to operational procedures to minimize risks to the landing zone.

By early 2021, the Department of Defense’s operational testing and evaluations office attributed the damage mostly to engine exhaust and discharge of aircraft fluids onto the grass. 

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Credits: DepositPhotos

Although the Pentagon’s 2023 annual report declared the VH-92 operationally effective for administrative lift missions after improvements to voice communications, it did not address the unresolved lawn issue.

A White House official emphasized that the agencies responsible for the helicopter program are committed to ensuring a safe and efficient transition to the new VH-92 fleet, stressing that the transition is driven by event readiness rather than a fixed timeline.

Sikorsky has also confirmed its ongoing efforts to find a solution, stating that it is collaborating closely with the Naval Air Systems Command to test and validate a landing zone solution that meets the operational requirements.

This ongoing saga highlights the complex challenges of updating presidential transport capabilities, balancing technological advancements with the practical necessities of preserving the iconic setting of the White House South Lawn.