Added to 17 February

1974 – Private First Class Robert K. Preston, US Army, a helicopter pilot who had washed out of training, crept across the tarmac at Fort Meade, Maryland, and boarded a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter.  The aircraft was unarmed and, as was usual, was kept fueled on the flight line.  With the practiced hand of his training, he quickly went through the start up sequence.  Without clearance, he pushed in the power, pulled up on the controls and took off into the night.  For a time, he orbited the base at night, enjoying the view and hovering over base housing.  Finally, bored with this, he set out for a new destination — the White House.  When PFC Preston arrived in Washington, he took a flight down the Anacostia River, turned north at the Capitol Street Bridge and then flew directly to the White House.  It was about 1:00 am.  At first the Secret Service was somewhat miffed.  He buzzed the White House itself and then hovered overhead for six long minutes.  At the time, policy was that they would not fire on a helicopter or other aerial intruder if it might endanger innocent bystanders, and so they waited.  Finally, he flew down the South Lawn and landed about 100 yards toward the south fence.  The Washington Monument towered in the background and he remained there on the ground for a minute.  Two Maryland Police helicopters that had flown down from around Baltimore hovered nearby.  Suddenly, PFC Preston took back off into the night skies and the police gave close pursuit.  An extended tail chase ensued at low level.  In fact, it turned out that PFC Preston was indeed quite an expert pilot after all, as he managed to not only outmaneuver the two helicopters at ever turn but even managed to drive one down in the process.  The second helicopter broke off but stayed nearby after what officials called, “a modern day dogfight”.  PFC Preston returned to the White House once more.  It was nearly 2:00 am and he had led the officials on a prolonged chase — certainly, his fuel was running low.  This time he flew up to the Washington Monument, hovering at seven feet of altitude along the base for a bit before flying back straight north onto the White House’s South Lawn.  There too he hovered just a few feet over the grass and it seemed to officials that this time he might be preparing to make a dash to crash into the building.  The second Maryland Police helicopter set down quickly between him and the White House as Secret Service agents moved toward the helicopter.  Then, without warning, they opened fire with handguns and shotguns hoping to cripple the helicopter.  They also fired and hit PFC Preston with a shotgun blast, injuring slightly.  He landed the damaged helicopter at once — though it seemed also that the damage from the gunfire had knocked the aircraft out of the sky, leaving the Secret Service to conclude that it had downed the helicopter.  Once on the ground, the Secret Service and Maryland Police rushed in.  PFC Preston jumped clear and fought them hand to hand, though he was badly outnumbered.  It wasn’t long before he was subdued, however.  Handcuffed, he was taken into the White House for questioning before being transferred to Walter Reed hospital for treatment for his light injuries — mainly shotgun pellets.  The following day, when being escorted into a police car, he was smiling.  When asked why he had flown back to the White House a second time, he said that he knew it was wrong to fly over the White House so he had flown back “to turn himself in”.  The Secret Service ordered psychological testing.  Ultimately, all civil charges were dropped and he was left to the military court system.  In the end, PFC Preston had proven two things — first, he was a pretty darn good helicopter pilot after all; and second, that he was certainly not up to the moral and ethical standards of the US Army.  He was sentenced to a year in prison.


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