Let’s go back a few years, to let’s say sometime in February of 1974. Private Robert Preston, US Army decided to drive his car to his hanger where he worked. Preston was an Army helicopter mechanic. He worked on the famous Bell UH-1 “Huey”. Preston decided to jump in one and start it up, this begin’s a story of a legend. He would later tell the media he just wanted go for a flight cause he loved it. Preston departed towards the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which inspired him to form a crazy plan. Landing on the White House Lawn.
Landing at the White House isn’t that simple. Not everyone is authorized to just land there. Before the night was over Preston would be engaged by Secret Service, cause a Maryland Police helicopter to crash and survive to tell the story.
When Preston departed his base, a guard notice the UH-1 departing unauthorized. The guard went in to check the flight logs, realizing that there was no record of any flight plan for that evening and that the pilot hadn’t made any of the required pre-flight radio calls.
As Preston flew around people tried contact him but there was no call, no one was sure where he left, until two restaurants called the Police to report a low flying helicopter. As the police scrambled to figure out who the pilot was, Preston was on his way to the Capital.
At the White House, Secret Service agent Henry Kulbaski received the report from the Maryland police of the stolen helicopter, as well as another one from D.C. police that the helicopter had been spotted heading toward the White House.
Kulbaski was trained, as were all Secret Service agents, to shoot at aerial intruders. However, exactly when and how they were supposed to do that was left up to the individual agent – in this case, Kulbaski. Unable to reach his superiors by phone, and unwilling to risk the lives of innocent civilians should the agents manage to shoot the helicopter out of the sky, Kulbaski was at an impasse. In the time he spent deciding, however, Preston descended upon the White House, hovering a few feet off the ground…
“Everybody just stood around looking,” Preston later said in court, and after 10 minutes he decided that “if they weren’t going to do nothing I was going to leave.” As he lifted off again, Kulbaski gave the order, if it came back, shoot it down. People were now aware of Preston’s joy ride, Maryland State Police deployed helicopters to chase the Huey down. Preston was almost knocked out of the sky a few times as the 20-year-old amateur pilot was pitted up against several decorated Vietnam combat pilots working with the police. After realizing he wasn’t going to win, Preston decided that giving himself up would be best. Though, he realized, if he gave himself up to the Army he’d be put in the stockade. Looking around, he decided there was only one person he’d give himself up to, President Richard Nixon himself. Once again Preston flew his UH-1 back to the White House, As Preston attempted to land on the lawn, the floodlights turned on, and the Secret Service fired, blasting half-dollar-sized holes into the side of the helicopter. Buckshot hit Preston’s foot, and the copter almost crashed, but in the end, it settled, just 100 feet from the White House’s front door. Upon exiting the Huey Preston was tackle by Secret Service. Preston asked to speak to President Nixon who at the time was out of town.
Despite the trouble he had caused, and the panic he had inspired, Preston got off with relatively little. He was charged with unlawful entry to the White House grounds, a misdemeanor carrying a possible six-month jail term, and a $100 fine. However, he instead gave himself up to military officials in exchange for the charges to be dropped.
In the end, the military court-martialed him, giving him two months in a military prison, and a general discharge. Today, Robert Preston remains the only person to penetrate White House airspace, and live to tell the tale.