Reporting Alex DeMetrick
FREDERICK, Md. (WJZ) — President Barack Obama may have been taking a little time off over the weekend, but not the Air Force.
Jet fighters were scrambled three times as planes crossed into the restricted airspace above the presidential retreat at Camp David in Frederick County.
Alex DeMetrick reports it’s a no-fly zone that expands whenever the president visits.
Pilots who use the Frederick Airport know they are close neighbors to Camp David and its restricted airspace.
“Ordinarily it’s about three miles in radius,” said Chris Dancy, Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association. “When the president is there, it becomes 10 miles.”
This past weekend that larger zone was in effect. Despite charts and FAA warnings, three small planes crossed into it.
It is unclear why the planes crossed into the zone, but sometimes it’s as simple as the wind.
“A pilot might plan properly, have all the pre-flight information, but maybe the winds are a little stiffer than anticipated.” Dancy said. “They had planned to stay outside, but the winds are pushing them and they end up inside the area.”
Long before pilots enter Camp David airspace, attempts to warn them off are first made by radio. It that doesn’t work, jet fighters are brought in.
They scrambled three times this past weekend over Camp David.
“They will have the fighters join on your wing and escort you. If you still don’t respond, they have used flares before to get the pilot’s attention. They are bright flares that they fire ahead of your flight path. Pilots who have had the experience say it’s very disconcerting. Some have said it’s shaken they so badly, it’s all they can do to fly the airplane,” Dancy said.
Once on the ground, police and Secret Service take over, as they did during this earlier incident.
Like all previous Camp David airspace violations, no arrests or charges were filed. But the FAA can still punish.
“Most typical is an 80-day suspension of the pilot’s certificate,” Dancy said.
And without that certificate, there’s no flying.
There are GPS devices for planes, which automatically increase Camp David’s no-fly zone when the president is visiting.