Previous version referred incorrectly to the helicopter that carried Richard M. Nixon from the South Lawn of the White House after he resigned the presidency in 1974. It was piloted by an Army crew and therefore was designated Army One, not Marine One.
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Cost Nearly Doubles For Marine One Fleet
Vendrasco attributed the problems partly to an attempt to speed up the normal development process by three years. "There was just a slow start out of the gate," she said. "And schedule is money."
The White House has insisted the project go forward. "We took a look at what is the best thing to do for future presidents but also looking at it from a cost-benefit analysis," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "The consensus was future presidents need a new helicopter. The current ones need to be replaced."
Johndroe said President Bush has no personal stake in the project because the helicopters will not be ready until after he leaves office.
Presidents have had helicopters at their service since 1957, when Dwight D. Eisenhower bristled at how long it took to get from a New England vacation getaway to an airport during a crisis. Over the years, sightings of presidents boarding Marine One on the White House lawn have produced memorable moments, perhaps most famously Richard M. Nixon's two-armed, double-V departure after his resignation in 1974.
Many of the White House helicopters have been in service since that era. The current fleet includes 19 aircraft -- 11 Sikorsky VH-3D Sea Kings and eight VH-60N Black Hawks -- and the oldest have flown presidents for 33 years.
The squadron also serves the vice president, defense secretary, Navy secretary, visiting heads of state and other officials. So many helicopters are needed because the president typically travels with two or more when he flies, with the extras ferrying staff and Secret Service, serving as backups and playing decoy. When a president makes multiple stops, additional sets of helicopters must be airlifted to his next destinations.
On Friday, for instance, Bush went to New York for an economic speech. He climbed into Marine One on the South Lawn, and two other helicopters accompanied him on the 10-minute flight to Andrews Air Force Base, where he boarded Air Force One for the trip north. At John F. Kennedy International Airport, another pair of helicopters waited to fly him into Manhattan.
Although the Marines maintain the craft with painstaking care, they occasionally break down. In 2006, for example, Bush accepted the resignation of his press secretary, Scott McClellan, during an emotional moment on the South Lawn, and the two then strode to Marine One to fly off together. But the helicopter would not work, and they had to get off and take a car.
Then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. grew aggravated with the aging fleet's problems in 2002, and he launched the effort to develop a new model with a post-Sept. 11 upgrade. Although Lockheed Martin does not make helicopters, the Navy chose it over longtime contractor Sikorsky Aircraft because the company's European partner had a three-engine model that seemed a logical off-the-shelf base for a new presidential helicopter. But modifying the EH101 has proven so complicated that the company is essentially building a new helicopter.
The first five helicopters are due in 2010, a year behind schedule, although the White House made compromises on the requirements to cut costs and speed delivery. Twenty-three more-sophisticated versions are to follow, at which point the current fleet and the first five craft would be retired. But the most recent target date of 2015 for these additional choppers has slipped to an unknown date.
The problems with the second batch have prompted the Pentagon to issue a stop-work order until it determines what to do and Congress provides more money. The Pentagon conducted a review of the project and considered 35 alternatives, but "none of these options meet the full set of White House requirements," Young said.
Britain last year bought six standard EH101 helicopters for about $57 million each -- roughly one-seventh of what it will cost the United States to buy the same aircraft and retrofit it for the president. Critics say that sort of mission creep has become too common. "If it was going to cost $11 billion in the first place, somebody should have said so," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), whose district includes Sikorsky's headquarters, said the drastic changes in the helicopter make it a whole new aircraft, so it should be rebid. After all the twists of this project, she said, "We ought to start over."