The physical area that encompasses the Presidential section of HMX-1 is affectionately known as the ‘Cage’ due to the chain link fence, topped in sections with barbed wire, that surrounds or runs thru the hanger that houses the Presidential helicopter fleet. The goal of most everyone assigned to HMX-1 is to eventually be assigned to work in the ‘Cage’ since that means that you get to work on the Presidential fleet itself.
To get assigned to the ‘Cage’, one first has to be selected for duty with HMX-1. Next, one has to be granted a ‘Top Secret’ security clearance…a process that can typically take up to 6 months. Finally, one has to wait for a slot to open in the shop that you would be qualified for and you need to be selected over anyone else who also may be waiting for such a slot to open. In my case, all those conditions were met and a slot opened up during early 1974 at which point, I was selected and transferred to the ‘Cage’.
Even though it has been 40 years since I moved to the ‘Cage’, and I am sure that a lot has changed during that time, I feel that it would be a security violation to talk in a public forum such as this blog about a lot of the specifics relating to the aircraft and maintenance and flight procedures that were employed by the Presidential unit. Therefore, my comments and future posts related to my experiences with the ‘Cage’ will be general in nature.
The hanger that encompassed the main portion of the ‘Cage’ was most notable for the high gloss shine of the hanger floor! I have worked in or visited a lot of aircraft hangers over my life and have yet to find any with as many layers of gloss sealer applied to it as were applied to the floor of the ‘Cage’. The shine of the floor was rivaled only by the glossy shine of the paint on the Presidential birds themselves.
In the ‘Cage’, the ‘Metal Shop’ was referred to as the ‘Paint Shop’. Contributing to the ‘Paint Shop’ moniker were the facts that the bulk of our structural maintenance work was actually focused on maintaining the paint on the aircraft as opposed to doing much actual metal work and the fact that our shop was a small brick building which was nothing more than a glorified paint booth located outside the main hanger. That ‘Paint Shop’ became my work place until I completed my enlistment and left HMX and the Marines two years later in August of 1976.
During the time that I was assigned to the ‘Cage’, the primary aircraft flown by the Presidential unit of HMX-1 were the VH3A Sea King and the VH-1N Huey. Both are pictured here.
(Click on the photos to get a large image with higher resolution)
Here is a photo from June 20, 1974 that was taken outside the ‘Cage’ hanger. The two types of Presidential birds are on display in this photo. Also seen are the maintenance support personnel from the various shops located in the ‘Cage’. I am standing in the back, fifth in from the left (just to the left of the ‘United States of America’ on the VH3A).
Next ‘Marine One’ post: The ‘Paint Shop’