One of the unique things about living in the area where I do is that President (of the United States, in case that wasn’t clear) frequently flies overhead. I live in Potomac, Maryland, which, along with many other parts of Montgomery County, lies pretty much directly between the White House and Camp David. There are probably some other locations around here that the President flies to, but Camp David is the main one I’m aware of.
Earlier today I was walking back from Montgomery Mall to retrieve my car after an oil change and I heard helicopter noises, so I happened to look up. Helicopters aren’t rare at all in the DC metropolitan area, and most people wouldn’t think twice, let alone look to see what it was. But I am something of a closet aviation enthusiast, so I always like to check out the airplanes and helicopters flying above me. Thus, I glanced up, expecting to see a traffic helicopter (very common around the Beltway), but I immediately realized I’m looking at President Bush.
There, flying in formation almost directly above me, were two Marine Ones, and a little ways behind them, two black Armed Forces helicopters, all flying in a straight line. The Marine Ones were painted in the familiar gray and blue paint scheme. There are two of them, of course, because one serves as a decoy (Is the president in the lead one or the tail one? There’s no way to know. It’s a guessing game). And all four of the helicopters are no doubt loaded with all sorts of anti-missile systems, and you can be sure that the black helicopters have some pretty substantial weaponry in them too.
I’ve had the President flying over me for as long as I can remember, as we’ve always lived in this area. I take it for granted; it’s something to be noticed for a few seconds and then forgotten about. I see it at least once each year. But I’m one of something less than 0.1% of Americans who happen to live in this flightpath and see this frequently — and of that 0.1%, I bet it’s less than 1% who actually notice the helicopters and know who’s in them. But once you’re aware of what you’re looking for, it’s very easy to spot the President flying overhead.
It didn’t use to be this easy to spot the President. Bill Clinton flew in a convoy of just two Marine Ones, and if you weren’t close enough to see the markings on them, you couldn’t be sure you weren’t just looking at some unrelated flight composed of two helicopters. But I’ve always seen Bush flying in a convoy of four (most likely a security upgrade following Rudy Giuliani’s favorite day ever), so there’s now no mistaking him. If you happen to be a tourist in the Washington D.C. area, know what to look out for — four helicopters flying in formation — and the chances aren’t bad that you’ll be able to spot the President in Marine One flying high above your head.