By John Olmstead, Fleet Readiness Center East
CHERRY POINT — Fleet Readiness Center East marked the end of an era when artisans recently boxed up the last T58-GE-400B presidential helicopter engine and shipped it out to U.S. Marines who provide transportation to the president of the United States.
The current version of the presidential helicopter FRC East supports, the VH-3D Sea King, is scheduled to be replaced by the newer VH-92A presidential helicopter in 2021.
The maintenance, repair and overhaul center aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point has worked with the presidential helicopter program, also known as the Gold Plate Program, for more than five decades. Based on FRC East’s experience and reputation for quality products, the program is already in motion to transition the depot’s support to the VH-92A, according to officials.
“I am very proud of FRC East’s long history of supporting the Presidential Helicopter Program,” FRC East Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Nieto said. “Our workforce has supported this very important mission with a great deal of pride and distinction. We are looking forward to supporting the new platform.”
FRC East began working with the presidential helicopter in 1967, when the organization was known as the Naval Air Rework Facility. The General Electric T58-GE-8C engines produced at the facility powered the VH-3A version of the Sea King helicopter in support of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, which provides executive transport of the president, vice president, cabinet members and foreign dignitaries.
The VH-3A helicopter was a modified version of the Sikorsky H-3 Sea King antisubmarine helicopter designed to provide short-range helicopter transportation to the president.
In the years since it was introduced, the program has transitioned through two engine upgrades before adopting the T58-GE-400B in 1985, which is the configuration still in use today.
Many of the aviation maintenance professionals who have worked with the Gold Plate Program said the importance of the mission gave them a great sense of pride and accomplishment.
“As a mechanic, when you build something, watch it get tested and pass inspection and watch it go out and do what it’s designed to do – that’s satisfaction,” said Charles Morgan, a pneudraulics systems mechanic who started with the program in 2005. “It’s the pride knowing that you had a part in the helicopter that’s flying the president.”
Dan Smith is a logistics specialist who has been with FRC East since 1983 and with the presidential helicopter program since the early 1990s. He retired from FRC East in 2016, but was asked to come back in 2018.
“I’ve worked for five different presidents,” he said. “I was honored to come back to the Gold Plate Program. I got to meet new people, some of them the sons of fathers I used to work with.”