We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
On Feb. 17, 1974, U.S. Army Private Robert K. Preston stole an Army helicopter and flew to the White House, landing on the South Lawn. Preston, angry that he had been passed over as an Army helicopter pilot, staged the landing to demonstrate his skill as a pilot. Preston stole the helicopter at 2 a.m. from Fort Meade in Maryland. Nobody seemed to notice the helicopter until it started hovering above the White House.
Preston landed on the South Lawn, but soon thereafter took off again, angling the helicopter on a return route to Fort Meade. Two Maryland Police Helicopters began following him, but Preston took his helicopter on a series of “erratic maneuvers,” making it hard for the Maryland Police to force him to land. Preston instead decided to return to the White House.
This time, the Secret Service was ready. They began shooting at the helicopter, with both submachine guns and shotguns. The helicopter was forced to the ground and “after a short foot chase” Preston was arrested.
President Richard Nixon wasn’t in the White House to witness the event, as he was traveling in Florida at the time. However, the event is believed to have inspired failed presidential assassin Samuel Byck, who tried to kill Nixon a week later by hijacking an airliner and crashing it into the White House.