- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

The 45-year-old helicopter that ferried five presidents as “Marine One” and was the stage from which President Nixon flashed peace signs when departing the White House in disgrace 32 years ago in August has arrived at its final destination.

The restored, 6-ton Sikorsky Sea King, the first helicopter employed by U.S. presidents, beginning with Eisenhower, has been placed on the helipad at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif., and today will officially open to public tours.

“On Nixon’s last flight out, he’d stopped in the cockpit, he and Pat. He was pleasant. It was a difficult time for him,” said Lt. Col. Gene Boyer, who flew the helicopter on many of its presidential missions and is called the “guiding light” of its restoration.

After Nixon left the White House, the helicopter — which also had been the “flying Oval Office” for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Ford — and the pilot were separated for 29 years.

“I finally found it in a parking lot at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, wrapped in plastic and subject to restoration,” said Col. Boyer, who helped take the shrink wrap off the aircraft and instigated the repairs at the March Air Museum in Riverside, Calif.

About 150 volunteers worked on the 73-foot helicopter for 21/2 years at a cost of about $20,000 — none to taxpayers.

“We spent five or seven people a day working on it and sanding it down,” said Col. Boyer.

Rudy Lerma, restoration manager at the March Air Museum, said the original seats and carpeting were in good condition, but the tail rotors, the transmission, and the doors where Nixon said his last goodbye were missing and the instrument panel was gutted.

The volunteers manufactured replacement parts, and “it looks beautiful,” Mr. Lerma said.

The helicopter, which is inoperable, was trucked to the site Wednesday. Today it will be celebrated with confetti, speeches, and awards.

“I’ve had over 3,000 flights for the White House, and about 600 with the president,” Col. Boyer said.

“You have to get that out of your mind, that you have the president of the United States on board,” he recalled. “It does get the blood pressure up a little bit. You just can’t worry about it.”

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