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Washington, D.C.

White House Helipad

Disks are rolled out onto the south lawn to absorb the impact of Marine One's wheels like giant coffee coasters. 

There aren’t many tourist sights in Washington, D.C. that can match watching the President land on the White House south lawn in a “white top” Marine One helicopter. It’s a loud, masterfully choreographed routine that exudes pomp and spectacle.

The helicopter itself is arresting. The Marine Corps has a fleet of dozens of customized presidential choppers that are decked out with cutting edge communications equipment and defensive countermeasures. One of the more iconic variants is a modified Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, a huge helicopter that was originally designed to hunt Russian submarines.

Marine One typically approaches from the south, roaring up the Potomac and hooking around the Washington Monument. At the southwestern corner of the White House it descends over a huge flowerbed shaped like a Times New Roman number “1”.

Landing a tractor-trailer sized helicopter on the tight confines of the White House grounds isn’t an easy feat. Constant helicopter landings would trash the lawn so staff roll disks out onto the grass to absorb the wheels’ impact like giant coffee coasters. A highly specialized team of Marine pilots continuously train at the delicate act landing on the tiny, temporary helipad.

Know Before You Go

The best vantage point is the fenceline on E Street NW. Timing is unpredictable, but the president frequently travels from Washington to Mar A Lago on the weekends, so Friday evening is a good bet.