A pair of VH-3D “White Top” helicopters, referred to as Marine One while the President is on-board and used exclusively for White House executive airlifts, moved the Pope from JFK International to the Manhattan’s Wall Street heliport early this evening.

The Pope’s use of helicopters is nothing new, with the Vatican using specially outfitted VH-3s similar to Marine One for years before switching to the more modern Agusta Westland 139. These VVIP configured helicopters are painted white and operated by the Italian Government on behalf of the Vatican.

Yet with other options available, rarely does Marine helicopter squadron HMX-1 use its “White Top” VH-3D or VH-60N helicopters for any non-presidential airlift associated missions except for occasional high-level state visits. This appears to be one of them.

The use of what are the most meticulously maintained and most highly defended helicopters in the world comes as unprecedented security procedures have been put in place around Manhattan for the Pope’s visit.

In addition to the pair of VH-3Ds, one of which carried the Pope and the other acting as a decoy, a pair of MV-22 Ospreys, also belonging to HMX-1 were present at the Wall Street Heliport upon the Pope’s arrival. Another Osprey flew circles over the heliport likely providing security over-watch. Just like in Washington DC, the pope would use a Fiat 500 four-door compact car to make his away around New York when not riding in his Jeep Wrangler Pope-mobile.

Pope Benedict also flew on HMX-1’s VH-3Ds during his visit in 2008, landing at the same heliport and using the Presidential limousine to get around town.