Dick’s blog: F-15 v. Cherokee

The Labor Day weekend was a busy one over our house. Back in the good old days, when the traffic pattern at the Frederick (Maryland) airport was perpetually full, general aviation airplanes filled the sky overhead. With air traffic down, that is no longer true. This Labor Day there was a lot going on but it involved F-15s, probably from some state’s Air Guard.

Camp David airspace
P-40, the most-violated airspace in America.

Because of the proximity to 9/11, and because the President was at Camp David, they had air cover like I haven’t seen in a long while.

Our house is 18 miles from Camp David, as the crow flies. A jet fighter circling in a standard rate turn at 250 knots goes over our house every eleven minutes. That has been the norm for quite a while when the President is in the camp but, starting on Friday, there was one every five and a half minutes. In other words, there were always at least two F-15s up there.

They used to use somewhat quieter F-16s and circled at an altitude in the low twenties. The F-15s are either a whole lot louder or they were flying lower.

Friday afternoon, my wife and were sitting on our deck, enjoying adult beverages, when a truly ear-splitting noise erupted from the sky. It was louder than an earthquake (two in the past year) or a tornado (one a couple of years ago). The noise could mean only one thing: afterburners.

I deduced at the time that a general aviation pilot had flown into the prohibited airspace around Camp David. This was verified by a news report that an F-15 had chased down an offending Piper and forced it to land at Martinsburg, West Virginia.

The prohibited airspace around Camp David is much larger when the President is there. This started not long after 9/11, or ten years ago.

This airspace, whether large or small, is the most violated prohibited airspace in the country, by far. It has happened hundreds of times. Every time, it gives general aviation a black eye. It was especially worse this time because big brother had said that small airplanes could be a terror threat and, as it will do, the media beat that dead horse to a pulp.

The main question that comes to mind is what action the FAA should take against a pilot who violates this well-known and widely-advertised prohibited airspace? Me, I’d throw the book at the pilot. What do you think?

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26 Comments

  • It’s all too easy to think, “there but for the grace of . . . . ”

    But that cannot be an acceptable answer. Missing a TFR. What else can we chalk up to “oh, well, pilots will be pilots?” Tying up the CTAF at your local airport with non-critical chatter? Sneaking a “peek” below the MDA on a scud-filled day? Taking off above max gross weight and out of balance? All things that you might get away with, but might be deadly.

    Professionalism is what I understand as one of the key traits that let us live to be old people who gave up flying, not middle-aged ones who either made a smoking hole somewhere, or had the FAA take the keys away. It is what will finally start to improve the (somewhat deserved) tarnished safety record of GA. And we must insist on it from all of our brethren.

    If you can’t take 5 minutes to get a briefing, or to check NOTAMs, you are not being serious. And you better be serious if you wish to be a true aviator.

  • The rule is the rule and should be enforced. Now that said, it’s a stupid rule that doesn’t diminish any threat and should be modified to be relevant or eliminated.

  • I agree with Rich that it’s a stupid rule.

    If a certain senator happened to violate the airspace, he’d get a slap on the wrist.

  • Sorry Rich and Al, but Peter has it spot on. The rules are there for everyone’s safety and not checking or choosing to ignore NOTAMs suggests the Pilot in question should consider if he has the right mindset.

    The Pilot is lucky that the F15s only guided him down. They do have alternative methods available.

    • I can’t recall where I heard it, but this statement is germane to the ever-larger, ever more-stifling security efforts: “Fear a government that fears its people.”

  • I agree that checking the notams is important, but as one who had an airplane at VKX (Potomac–one of the DC 3 Airports) and who had 6 months of government dithering before we could fly again, I retain a seething dislike of the philosophy the TSA seems to take: Security for the sake of security, reality be damned!

  • If the TSA randomly put marks on the freeway and made it a rule that you had to check on your computer before driving to know where they are and that anyone that drove over them would be in violation, that would be a rule too. Would you be if favor of violating those drivers Richard?

    Maybe if they made it a rule that Jews should be deprived of all property, civil rights and eliminated with the “final solution”, that could be a rule too. Would you be in favor of that rule also? I think we have already been down that path.

    Point is, there are good rules and bad rules. I believe that successful societies can discern the difference and make corrections. Putting a 30 mile no-fly circle around a person that only 51% of the people erroneously voted for is a bad rule.

  • Not taking sides but the 30 mile circle came into being after 9/11, long before those people “erroneously” voted for the current president.

  • I agree 100% Dick. If these pilots were violating TFRs as some sort of civil disobedience, that would be one thing. But this is just ignorance–no excuses.

    • When I fly I always look for the graphical depictions of TFRs, and keep in touch with ATC whenever possible for a little help with anything I’ve missed, but for me trying to hash through NOTAMS and get something useful is quite a chore. I’ve made it a habit to look at them, but have missed things simply due to the poor method of delivery. Does anyone have a system they use to actually get the useful information out of the NOTAMS without reading several hundred notices about taxiway lights at every airport within 50 miles of your route?

  • There is probably no good excuse for violating the P40 airspace. The real problem is that P40 can grow and shrink. P40 should always be the same size and either be on or off. After thinking about it more – there is probably no legitimate reason for P40 or R4009 – just do away with them completely and issue a presidential TFR when needed.

  • I’m based at KHGR. If the current status of P40 was added to the local ASOS I think it would help to reduce the amount of violations. When in the air it is not an easy thing to check on the status of P-40.

  • It is my understanding that prohibited areas originally were mostly over hazards to pilot’s/planes (like artillery firing ranges) or extreme national security (capitol building). Now General Aviation pilots are prohibited from a lot of airspace as part of the theater called Homeland Security. I suspect that while the offending Cherokee (no examples of terroist use) was being escorted by the fighter (talk about using a sledge hammer to drive a finishing nail) airliners (have been involved in terrorist attacks) were still plying the skies through P40/R4009, rental trucks (used in terrorist attacks) were travelling along highways well within the 30 mile radius ring of the president. The government just wants to do something, even if it is wrong.

    In regard to TFR’s, check out the latest ones for POTUS’s visit to NC and VA. Who can figure that out? Probably no one so planes set on the ground afraid of an “escort.” After 9/11 economic concerns became “security” when Disney got a permanent TFR established over their theme park.(The real reason? They wanted control over all advertising within eyesight of the visitors and a TFR eliminated banner tows.) Soon after the NFL, MLB, NCAA and NASCAR followed suit. Not for national security, but for economic exploitation of a rule, promulgated by a government all too eager to accomodate them.

    End of Rant.

    • I agree. TFR’s should be used sparingly. Recently President Obama was in my area, and his TFR effectively shut down 6 airports. I understand that this is SOP in countries around the world, but if America is a ‘free’ country; shouldn’t we set an example by refraining from this type of abuse?

    • Excellent rant. And I agree . . . the rules are not at all based on actual threat/risk assessment. They are knee-jerk at best. The sad thing to me is that there probably are some very important safety lessons/actions that need to go into flight around events with large crowds, but we’ll have an impossible task learning now, won’t we?

  • I’m not sure what you mean by “throw the book at him.” If that means something rational like suspension of pilot privileges for a period of time, recurrent training on airspace maybe a couple of hundred bucks fine, then I agree.

    Whether the prohibited area is really necessary is another question. It does kind of seem like a speed trap.

  • Okay . . . about half the responses on here are classic Anti-Authority responses.

    I know it’s politically fashionable these days to pillory the government. That is perfectly FINE on Fox News, or at the ballot box. In the air, it kills people.

    I agree that the whole TFR/ “Security Level Burnt-Orange” / get wet-pantsed about what havoc I could wreck with my -172 (not bloody much, obviously) is insanity. There is a time and place to hash it out — it is haranguing your Congresswoman/man, Senator, and anyone else with actual authority. It is giving the honest narrative to your friends and family (and mightily bored they might get) of what “threat” general aviation really poses, and start to defuse the culture of whacked-out fear 9/11 still engenders.

    It is NOT in ignoring TFR’s, NOTAMs, or airspace regs. We cannot “pick and choose” which regs please us, and which don’t. We don’t have to like them, but I need to know that every other aluminum-driver up there with me is playing by the same rules. ALWAYS. If you don’t like it, take up golf.

  • I love the rhetoric. The answer lies within the rights of the military. When we fly through a military training zone, with permission/flight plan and authorization, those pilots likes to do a quick and tight formation flight with you (Nerve Wrecking I can assure you, when its a jet) or simulate dog fights around you at high speed, just sort of to encourage you to not do it ever again. The mystic lies in the Growl of the machine. These Pilots are all young guys and they need action (Deprived of it actually). So it is not without a bit of mischief they do what they do. They are sitting there waiting to swat a fly which violates their space. Mostly trigger happy as well. Any of you would have reacted the same at that age. When a Cessna violated a TMA jet airways channel here the other day, ATC gave him the mouth full. Fortunately he was heading into the beam at low altitude. This reprimand, I would say was necessary, you should know where Airways for Passenger Jets are and heed their requests. In general the ATC is always eager to assist you in aligning with actual air navigation rules and it helps if you are squaked. For Pilots who are flying on recreational or sight seeing tours, you are the worst threat to aviation. You have many excuses for not reading NOTAM’s and you have a baby when you have to fill out and file a flight plan. You have no Idea where you should look for alternative landing spots in case of emergencies and because you don’t fly often you probably would run out of gas short of the outer marker or pull at the yoke when stalling on airspeed. Guys, this is a tough sport and profession. Do what you have to do to make it safe for others even if you disregard your own life. And don’t fight the rules, it’s made for the safety of your passengers too!

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