The Man Who Landed a Stolen Helicopter on the White House Lawn

YouTube / YouTube

On February 17, 1974, Robert K. Preston, a private in the United States Army, stole a helicopter from Fort Meade in Maryland and flew it to Washington, DC, where he hovered over and around the White House before landing on the south lawn in order to prove his skills as a pilot. President Nixon and the First Lady were both out of town at the time, so they missed the overzealous young man's job interview. Check out NBC News' report of the event:

After "easily" stealing the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter from Fort Meade, Preston flew some 25 miles to the White House and landed "approximately 150 feet from the West Wing" on the south lawn. After no initial intervention from authorities, Preston took off but was chased by two Maryland state police helicopters. After evading their attempts to corral him, Preston returned to the White House where, this time, members of the Executive Protective Service opened fire as he buzzed overhead and forced him to land again on the White House grounds.

Preston, who was 20 years old at the time and served as a mechanic, had been upset since being forced out of an Army program for helicopter pilot candidates. He went on his joyride to, in his words, "get attention to the problem I had," and to prove his flying abilities.

Eleven days after his adventure, the New York Times ran this wire report on page 34, reprinted here in its entirety, with an elegantly understated headline:

Pilot’s License Revoked The Army private who stole a helicopter Feb. 17 and led police on an aerial chase ending on the White House lawn has lost his pilot’s license. The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday revoked the civil private pilot certificate held by Pfc. Robert K. Preston, 20 years old.

He was eventually sentenced by court martial to a year of hard labor and was fined $2,400.