In tough economic times, Obama decides not to buy new helicopters

Jake Turcotte / AP photo
President Barack Obama has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to conduct a review of the presidential helicopter program. The cost of updating the presidential fleet has increased dramatically in the last three years. Each new helicopter has a price tag of $400 million.

Lead by example. That's how it's supposed to happen.

While the American people are cutting back -- not buying that new dishwasher or holding off on upgrading their Roomba or only going to Taco Bell once a week -- know this: President Obama is doing the same.

He's decided not to purchase 28 new helicopters.

Fiscal responsibility

The president announced this penny-pinching move at his "fiscal responsibility" summit yesterday.

It seems that updating the fleet of 28 new helicopters (who would have just one?) would cost $11.2 billion. That's $400 million a piece (an increase of $124 million per helicopter). Spare change when you compare it to the economic stimulus package passed earlier this month, but you've got to start somewhere.

Obama said he's asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to conduct a review of the helicopter situation, calling the increased costs "an example of the procurement process gone amok."


How'd the discussion start?

Well, first of all, rumors that Obama needs a new helicopter because he damaged the existing one when he hit his head on it are not true. Neither the president nor the helicopter was damaged. (You can see this story here).

The guy who wanted Obama's helicopter brought it up. Senator John McCain.

"Your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One,'' McCain told Obama. "Mr. President, we are going to have to make some tough decisions about not only what we procure but how we procure it.''

"Well John, I mean this,'' Obama replied. "This is going to be one of our highest priorities. By the way, I've already talked to Gates about a thorough review of the helicopter situation. ...The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me,'' he said to laughter. "Of course, I've never had a helicopter before....You know? Maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it."


Don't feel badly for President Obama though. It's not like he's flying in the equivalent of a '76 Pacer. But it's easy to see why he might want the new model.

Popular Mechanics reports that the new ones have a longer range. With three engines they can travel up to 350 miles compared to the current 100-mile range. The upgraded helicopters have sound- and vibration-reducing systems, missile protection, and seating for 14 passengers.

Plus, what would a helicopter be without a kitchen and a bathroom? True, like living in the Stone Age. But for these amenities, Obama's going to have to wait.

But everyone's gotta cut back.

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