Last night I posted an item about weather conditions this past weekend in Paris, when Donald Trump joined other world leaders there, and on how rain and clouds affected helicopters, including Marine One.
(For the record, like “Air Force One,” “Marine One” isn’t a fixed name for any particular aircraft. Whatever Air Force airplane is carrying a sitting U.S. president is, at that moment, known by the call sign Air Force One. Similarly, whatever Marine Corps helicopter carries a president is Marine One.
(Air Force One famously has had one more takeoff than landing in its history. On his final trip away from Washington in 1974, Richard Nixon departed while still president, in a plane whose call sign on takeoff was Air Force One. He had already signed his resignation papers, which went into effect while he was airborne. At the appointed time, after Gerald Ford was sworn in, the pilot of Air Force One radioed Air Traffic Control and requested that the call sign be changed to SAM 26000 — Special Air Mission — which was its ID for the rest of the flight.)
My point in that post was explicitly not to second-guess military pilots or dispatchers who might have advised against Trump’s helicoptering to the commemoration site in the clouds and rain of that day. That’s their call, and they are paid (among other things) for their judgment. Rather, I was addressing two points:
First, that an initial line in some news accounts --that helicopters “can’t fly” in the rain—was just not true. Whether a president should prudently fly by helicopter during marginal weather conditions is of course a different question.
Second, I wanted to emphasize that White House plans for foreign travel always allow for the possibility of bad weather or other surprises. Thus any White House staff I’m aware of, including the one on which I worked long ago during the Carter administration, would have set up redundant contingency plans for getting a president where he needed to be. (After all, the other foreign leaders all managed to get to the site.) Part of the advance work for the trip would necessarily include thinking through how the president would reach his destinations, if the weather turned bad. I’ve been part of these meetings myself.
Now, reader responses, starting with one from a currently active Army helicopter pilot:
I am a UH-60 Pilot-in-Command in the United States Army, currently attending [an advanced training course].
In reference to your article linked below, I can see your logic and your point in this argument that WX conditions were permissive to IMC Flight and possibly VMC flight.
The issue I have is that I, as an FAA rated instrument pilot, flying within the Army's endless rules, probably would have declined to fly VFR during this flight, and therefore would have to fly IFR which, obviously complicates air traffic, and provides higher layers of logistics and coordination to get POTUS from an instrument rated airfield (certified for the President to land at) to the event ceremony.