Marine Helicopter Squadron 1

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown
U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired

Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 (HMX-1) is unique in the Marine Corps because it has several distinct missions and at least three different chains-of-command providing guidance and tasking.

HMX-1 was the first Marine rotary-wing squadron. It “stood up” at Marine Corps Airfield Quantico in Virginia on 1 December 1947 and has been located there ever since. Its activation was the first operational move that started a revolution in Marine aviation and tactical doctrine.

The squadron, initially manned by seven officers and three enlisted men, quickly grew and mustered 18 pilots and 81 enlisted men when the first helicopters, Sikorsky HO3S-1s, arrived. These first primitive machines carried only the pilot and up to three lightly armed troops, but they formed the basis for testing helicopter doctrine described in Marine Corps Schools operational manual Phib-31. Eventually, HMX-1 received a mix of early model helicopters with the addition of Piasecki HRP transports and Bell HTL trainers to test doctrine before the Korean War.

On 8 May 1948, HMX-1 pilots flew from Quantico to Norfolk, Virginia, to board the escort carrier Palau (CVE 122). The fly-on operation was described by HMX-1commanding officer Colonel Edward C. Dyer as a “complete shambles [with] sailors running all over the place in mortal danger of walking into tail rotors, and the Marines were totally disorganized as well. It was complete bedlam, there was no organization and no real system [in place].” By the next day, however, the Navy and Marine Corps were using the same basic ship-board flight operations procedures practiced today—circular lines delineated danger areas as well as personnel staging areas and approach lanes. Five days later, the HO3S-1s delivered 66 men and several tons of equipment to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina’s Onslow Beach during command post exercise Packard II.

The following year a similar exercise employed eight HRPs, three HO3Ss, and a single HTL. During Exercise Packard III, the HRP “Flying Banana” troop transports were carrier borne, the HTL was loaded on an LST for command and control, and the HO3Ss stayed ashore as rescue aircraft. The HRPs brought 230 troops and 14,000 pounds of cargo ashore even though choppy seas swamped several landing craft and seriously disrupted operational maneuvers. Many consider this superb performance to be the key factor in the acceptance of the helicopter as a viable ship-to-shore method, thus paving the way for the integration of rotary-wing aircraft into Marine aviation.

In 1957, HMX-1 acquired an unexpected mission— transporting the President of the United States. Helicopters were only considered for emergency situations until President Dwight D. Eisenhower used an HMX-1 Sikorsky HUS Sea Horse helicopter for transportation from his summer home on Narragansett Bay. After that, Marine helicopters were routinely used to move the President from the White House lawn to Andrews Air Force Base, the home of presidential plane “Air Force One.” That transport mission became a permanent tasking in 1976 and continues to this day.

Currently mustering more than 700 personnel, HMX-1 is the largest Marine Corps helicopter squadron. It is divided into two sections. The “White” side flies two unique helicopters—both specially configured Sikorsky executive transports, the VH-3D Sea King and the VH-60N Seahawk. The “Green” side provides basic helicopter indoctrination training for ground troops, tests new concepts and equipment, and assists the Marine air weapons and tactics squadron. Unlike any other Marine squadron, HMX-1 answers to three distinct chains-of-command: the Marine Corps deputy chief of staff for air at Headquarters Marine Corps; the White House military office; and the operational test and evaluation force commander at Norfolk. Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 was not only the first such Marine unit, it also currently holds a unique place in naval aviation.

3 thoughts on “Marine Helicopter Squadron 1

  1. My understanding of the “X” in HMX is that it means Experimental. The author of this article denies that. My question then is “What does the “X” mean?

    Was this author a member of the unit?

    • HMX-1 is the acronym which refers to Helicopter Marine Experimental to describe its original mission to determine the airworthiness of rotor craft which were being asked to transport weapons and, later, troops.

  2. John, great catch, you are correct. Here is an updated explanation of the “x” marking. We have removed it from the above article.

    “X” does stand for experimental. This from HMX-1 Home Page:

    Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) was established 1 December 1947 at Marine Base Quantico, Virginia, as an experimental unit tasked with testing and evaluating military helicopters when rotary wing flight was still in its infancy. Founded to test tactics, techniques, procedures and equipment, HMX-1 has since then, become synonymous with helicopter transport of the President of the United States.

    In 1957, rotary wing movement of the President, Vice President, and other important personnel originated, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower – away on vacation – was urgently needed back at the White House. What would have been a two hour motorcade trip was reduced to a seven minute helicopter ride. On that day, HMX-1 earned its most prestigious of missions – direct support of the President.

    In addition to Presidential and VIP support, the “Nighthawks” of HMX-1 maintains the role as the primary Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) unit for Marine assault support helicopters and related equipment. Indeed, the same pilots and aircrew supporting the President are often testing and evaluating aircraft and systems used by the Fleet Marine Forces. HMX-1 aircraft and Marines also support the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in the development of helicopter tactics, techniques and landing force equipment, as well as for student demonstrations and helicopter indoctrination. The squadron currently operates a fleet of “White Top” VH-3D “Sea King” and VH-60N “White Hawk” and the “Green Top” MV-22B “Osprey”.

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