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No-fly zones being entered

April 15, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

That's a military fighter jet flying next to me, Hank Rausch realized. Something's up.

Rausch, in his Piper PA-38 Tomahawk, had wandered into a restricted area: the air space above and around Camp David, the presidential retreat in Frederick County.

The fighter jet zipped by so its pilot could read the tail number on Rausch's plane, a way to figure out who he was.

If Rausch had flown the same course - Martinsburg, W.Va., to Lancaster, Pa. - before Sept. 11, his trip would have been less eventful.

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But after the terrorist attacks, when hijacked commercial jets became weapons, authorities immediately guarded airspace more tightly. The no-fly zone over Camp David, which is in Catoctin Mountain Park, was expanded from a minimum of 3 miles - or 4 miles on certain days - to 8 miles.

Rausch, who lives in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., tried to stay a half-mile outside the 8-mile perimeter that gusty October day. However, a Federal Aviation Administration pilot deviation report alleges that he was "about one mile inside."

Pilots entered the expanded no-fly zone over Camp David at least 60 times between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 27, 2002, according to FAA reports.

The Associated Press reported that America's six prohibited flight zones were violated at least 567 times between Sept. 11 and March 5. Camp David is the center of one of the six zones.

The P-40 no-fly zone, which is directly over Camp David, has a horizontal radius of eight miles. It usually extends 3,000 feet into the air, said Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman in New York.

Also, the radius is usually measured in nautical miles, he said. A nautical mile is about 6,076 feet. A statute mile is 5,280 feet.

In mid-January, The Herald-Mail filed a Freedom of Information request for all Hagerstown-area airspace violation reports since Sept. 11. The FAA released the reports in early March after blacking out whether violators were cited and all information about the pilots other than their names, certificate numbers and, in a few cases, their home bases.

The reports indicate that airspace violations were usually resolved when the control tower contacted the pilot in the air or another official reached the pilot after he had landed.

In about five cases, military jets may have been put on alert or called in to intercept the pilot or find out a tail number, as happened to Rausch.

"F-16 will intercept ...," a report for a Dec. 10 incident states. "No communications with the aircraft."

In that instance, the report says, the pilot had apparently violated the R-4009 airspace. The R-4009 is above and around the P-40 zone, Peters said.

"A track was started and a fighter intercept was called," a Nov. 9 report says.

Another pilot helped get the tail number.

"An active scramble was initiated," a Dec. 23 report says, referring to fighter jets getting ready.

The FAA did not provide reports on two incidents previously confirmed by Hagerstown Regional Airport Manager Carolyn Motz, both involving fighter jet patrols.

In November 2001, two military jets flew near a single-engine plane whose pilot was practicing takeoffs and landings just outside the no-fly zone.

In January 2002, a military jet intercepted a plane that flew into restricted airspace over Camp David and forced it to land at the airport.

A few FAA reports quote pilots who said they didn't know the no-fly zone had widened.

On Sept. 21, a pilot from Georgia flew over Hagerstown on his way to Morristown, N.J. He veered into the restricted zone as he changed course toward Lancaster, Pa.

"Pilot said he was unaware that P40 had been increased ...," a report states.

An Oct. 8 report on a Delaware pilot reads, "Airman does not believe briefer told him of the enhancement of the P-40 from 3-mile radius to 8-mile radius."

Two other pilots reported similar problems about a week later.

Peters said pilots are responsible for knowing about restrictions as they travel.

Before they fly, pilots call for Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMs, which are updates about flying conditions. Pilots can't assume they will get the NOTAMs they need; they must ask for them, Peters said.

Still, in one case, asking was not enough.

On Oct. 18, Lynn Hall of Isleboro, Maine, contacted his local control tower for NOTAMs and was told there were none. He was headed to Knoxville, Tenn., the next day.

Hall persisted, but was told again that there weren't any, he recalled during a telephone interview Friday.

The next day, as he took to the air after a stop in Altoona, Pa., Hall plotted his course. Suddenly, an air traffic controller said he was in a restricted place.

In his Cessna 182, Hall stayed out of the 3-mile zone, which he knew about, but not the 8-mile zone, which he didn't know about.

Hall said he was exonerated because his failed attempt to get the NOTAM he needed was recorded on tape.

Rausch, of Harpers Ferry, made light of his encounter with a fighter jet. He made up a T-shirt that says: "I got intercepted by an F-15 and all I got was a lousy interview with a Secret Service agent."

That's not what his FAA report says.

"He was identified by an F-16 who was vectored in. ... F-16 broke off and pilot continued to his destination. FBI called pilot after landing to discuss the incident."

Told about this, Rausch wasn't fazed. He said he's not changing his T-shirt.

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