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Landing A Harrier On The Mall
Captain John Rahm Tells The Story
February 15, 2019

I
am a little embarrassed by the notoriety. It was just a landing that any Harrier pilot could have accomplished. But, I was chosen because I had an Air Show qualification and a lot of experience at unusual things.
john rahm
Colonel John Rahm, 1991
Most importantly, I had the confidence of my seniors. At the time, I was a Captain (O-3) with a lot of flight time and combat missions. They knew I wouldn’t “goon it up”. A Harrier landing at the National Mall was a huge public event. Any misstep would result in bad press. And, bad press equates to no funding. So, there was a lot a stake with the resultant pressures.

I had to brief every senior officer in my chain-of-command up to the two star general. Once I got to the two star, he took it from there into the pentagon for follow-on briefings. I received a personal waiver to fly into the prohibited airspace around the White House, Capital and monuments etc. That was a big deal. The FAA was less than enthusiastic about the initiative. Anyway, here is the rest of the back story.

​This was the Desert Storm National Homecoming in 1991. The Vietnam Vets were not welcomed home. This was fresh in everyone’s mind. So, the political leadership decided to have a parade and display of military equipment. Military equipment would be on display in National Mall between the Washington Monument and Capitol building, weekend of June 7, 1991. The week prior, I flew a Harrier to the small airfield at Quantico, VA and got a ride in a presidential helicopter to survey the area. I did not need, or want, a survey ride in a helicopter. However, I could not convince my leadership otherwise (if you can’t find the Washington Monument you’re having a really bad day!) So, I got the familiarization ride anyway.

john rahm
Captain John Rahm, 2019
​The Thursday before this weekend event, a back-up pilot and I flew two Harriers to Andrews Air Force base where we remained overnight. Early Friday morning I took off (solo), did a visual low approach at Ronald Regan National Airport, flew by the Washington Monument and landed on the Mall. I had talked to the air traffic controllers at National and they knew I was coming (prior phone coordination.) The combat engineers traveled from the air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina to install a 96 by 96 foot aluminum landing pad. Normally, landing pads are 72 by 72. But, since this was a big event, I got a big pad. There was a Landing Signal Officer with a radio to assist in talking me aboard. He was Keith Buchanan and now flies for FedEx.

Anyway, the Friday landing was uneventful and the jet remained there throughout the weekend for public viewing. We shook hands, signed autographs and kissed babies. It was fun although exhausting. I flew the Harrier out on Monday morning back to Andrews for fuel and return to Air Station Cherry Point.

​This photo, and all the famous photos, are of the departure on Monday morning (10 June 1991). Most were taken by official MacDonnell Douglas (Harrier manufacturer) photographers. Some of the original photos contain a DC policeman who was guarding the Harrier. He was “airbrushed out” to make it a military only photo.

It is said, everyone gets a few minutes of fame in their lives. This was my few minutes of famous.

It was a tremendous honor to represent Marines and our proud traditions.

Colonel John Rahm, USMC (ret.)

Colonel John Rahm on the ship back home after Desert Storm.
The famous view.
John’s landing target was a 96 ft square.
John’s landing was even turned into a motivational poster.
The John Rahm you’ll see in Oriental today, teaching sailing.

Captain John Rahm can be found in Oriental in 2019 teaching sailing at Bow To Stern Boating, plus he offers private sailing instruction.