#TBT: Eisenhower takes flight from the White House South Lawn

#TBT: Eisenhower takes flight from the White House South Lawn

(CNN) – During his visit to London, President Donald Trump will rely heavily on Marine One, the presidential helicopter, to shuttle him around. This reliance on a helicopter comes almost exactly 61 years after the first presidential trip on that particular mode of transportation.

It was July 12, 1957, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower — an Army general who was no stranger to flight — climbed into a Bell H-13J helicopter and flew to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. Yes, the most famous proponent of the interstate highway system was also the first sitting president to opt for a helicopter over a motorcade.

Helicopters had been in use by the US military since the 1940s, but until Eisenhower’s flight, had only been on standby for use by the White House in case of emergency. Before the Secret Service trusted the relatively new mode of transport with the president’s life, the military ran several exercises and transports of lower-level personnel.

Luxurious, the H-13J was not. It wasn’t a standard military plane, there was one pilot and it could only fit two or three people. It was chosen because of its stellar safety record. Seating in Eisenhower’s helicopter was slightly upgraded from the standard model, but it wasn’t the Marine One we see today.

Despite that model’s low, $33-an-hour operating cost and the total $201,000 purchase, which included multiple helicopters and parts, the decision to invest in helicopters for fiscally minded President Eisenhower faced criticism.

According to the White House Historical Society, a Wall Street Journal article pointed out that, while flying to National Airport from the White House took about five minutes, driving there only took about 10 minutes. (Those were the days.)

“It is nice too that the President can save time even if he is having trouble saving the taxpayers’ money,” the article stated.

While Eisenhower went on to favor different models and alternated flights between Army and Marine Corps resources, he became accustomed to the convenience helicopters offered. He utilized them during international visits and introduced foreign leaders like Nikita Khrushchev to his ride (in the sky).