Military H-34s also provided sterling service outside the war zone. Beginning late in 1957, and continuing through the early 1960s, millions of people around the world witnessed H-34s transporting the President of the United States. This was the first regular use of helicopters in that role. Army and Marine Corps H-34s replaced the UH-13Js, which had pioneered Presidential helicopter transport. Another starring role of the H-34 was the recovery of the Mercury astronauts and their capsules.
The US Army Executive Flight Detachment was activated in 1958, and, along with the Executive Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMX-1), had the primary mission of emergency evacuation of the President, his family and other key officials. Their secondary, more visible mission, was the transportation of the President and others. Two Bell UH-13-J helicopters were purchased, and President Eisenhower became the first chief executive to be transported by helicopter.
The Bells were replaced by the larger and more capable Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw. Modified for VIP comfort and safety, they were redesignated VH-34s. The VH-34 had flotation device attached instead of skids; the devices are inflated for water landing. The executive VH-34 was the only Army helicopter fitted with flotation devices for emergency landings on water.
The VH-34 helicopters served as 'Army One' from 1958 through 1963 when the Sikorsky CH-3 was introduced. The Army Executive Flight Detachment carried Presidents from Eisenhower through Ford until the Detachment was disbanded in July 1976. The VH-34 on exhibit in the Aviation Pavilion of the Transportation Museum served as 'Army One' for President John F. Kennedy.