Bush's Visit Takes Wind Out of Antique Airplane Show

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 8, 2007

Nice day for a flight yesterday.

Unless you were headed to the annual Hagerstown Fly-In in an antique plane without a radio and your flight plan took you directly over restricted airspace in Maryland where President Bush was attending a memorial service.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, from about 9 a.m. to noon yesterday, a dozen planes crossed into the no-fly zone, a temporary restriction of 30 aeronautical miles on the airspace that included Camp David and Emmitsburg, the site of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

So the North American Aerospace Defense Command began dispatching fighter jets.

Four planes were escorted out of the area by F-16s, said Master Sgt. Anthony Hill of NORAD. They landed at nearby airports, where Secret Service agents followed up with the pilots, said Kim Bruce, a Secret Service spokeswoman.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said the agency will also interview the pilots. "They could face penalties including suspension of their pilot's license," she said.

Meanwhile, at the fly-in, some people were wondering where all the planes were. Suddenly there was a roar outside. Everyone was staring at the sky, where a little propeller plane was buzzing along, with an engine that sounds about like a Volkswagen, and a sleek fighter jet was flying circles around it.

It was hair-raising, said Tracey Potter, owner of Hagerstown Aircraft Services. "The F-16 is an evil, menacing scary sound, and at the same time -- amazing," she said.

The pilot had to be terrified, Potter said. "I can't imagine what the feeling would be when that fighter aircraft is screaming around you. If he decided to squeeze a couple of rounds off, he'd blow your airplane right out of the sky."

As it turns out, the fly-in, which benefits two nonprofit groups, the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, and offers free plane rides for kids, was happening at the wrong time and place.

At Hagerstown Regional Airport yesterday morning, an announcement explained to the crowd what was happening. Most people were amused, Potter said.

But some pilots were annoyed by the rules.

"I think these TFRs [temporary flight restrictions] are poorly coordinated, poorly publicized and not very effective," said Dennis Boykin, chairman of the Leesburg Executive Airport Commission, who avoided the event because of it. "It's not that I'm unpatriotic, not that I don't believe my commander-in-chief is special. I just don't understand what they're doing with all these bureaucratic regulations. They haven't convinced me there's a threat from these little airplanes."

Brown said that if the pilots had been using radios, they wouldn't have been in the no-fly zone to begin with. She said the FAA has worked closely with pilots' associations to reinforce the need to be aware of restrictions put in place for safety.

"Pilots are supposed to check the notices to airmen that we put out that are in effect for the area," she said.

The fly-in often brings in well over a hundred visiting aircraft. This weekend, about 20 planes visited, said Potter, who spent more than six months organizing the event, getting insurance, coordinating schedules and so on, only to learn about the temporary airspace restrictions. "It really killed our event. . . . It's a real kick in the head."

Then again, they did get one spectacular plane to visit, Potter said: The F-16 was the high point of the weekend, for sure.

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