Question: A friend told me a story about an airplane that intentionally landed on the lawn of the White House. That got us to wondering, have any U.S. presidents actually held a pilot certificate?
Answer: I think the story your friend recalls is about a Helio Courier, a STOL aircraft designed during the Cold War. There are variations on the story: one is that it was put down in the Rose Garden; another has it landing in the courtyard of the Pentagon. Both times it was a demonstration of the ability to win a military contract.
To answer your question about U.S. presidents holding pilot certificates, there have been three: Dwight D. Eisenhower earned his certificate during his time in the U.S. Army, George H.W. Bush was a decorated Naval aviator who served in World War II, and George W. Bush also held a pilot certificate before taking office.
It’s also worthy to note that first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, obtained a student pilot certificate in the early 1930s as she was good friends with Amelia Earhart. Roosevelt logged 35 hours in a Piper Cub. FDR supposedly had reservations about the pair flying together. It may have had something to do with the time they ducked out of a state dinner to go flying— still wearing their evening gowns.