augusta free press news

Violate this airspace

Stop the Presses column by Chris Graham

You’re out flying around the nation’s capital on a pleasant, sunny Sunday afternoon, minding your own business.

And then out of the blue (literally), an F-16 sidles up next to your Beech 35 – thinking you’re some sort of terrorist or something.


Very good.




Anyway …

Suddenly, you’re on the ground in Front Royal – and the Secret Service wants to talk to you.

And they look …

Really, really



So …

Um …

What can we learn from this, ladies and germs?

Aside from the fact that we continue a little sensitive to the issue of planes flying too close to certain locations in D.C.?

Well, we also learned – without a doubt – that the anti-terrorism measures that the federal government put in place in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania are still being executed to the letter of the law.



I mean, we can’t figure out how to get a counterterrorism department together … or get the FBI and CIA to end their urinating contest … or even get Tom Ridge an office with a desk and a phone (touch-tone, preferably, though he’d settle for rotary at this point) …

But we sure know how to scramble the fighter jets when Joe Schmo flies too close to the Lincoln Memorial.

Whoo boy.

For those who didn’t hear all the details on the incident that I’ve been babbling about for a couple hundred words now (need we remind you that we’re not making this up) …

Here’s …

The rest of the story …

According to published reports, the Air Force scrambled two fighter jets (whatever that means) shortly after noon on Sunday when the unidentified pilot of the aforementioned Beech 35 flew into restricted airspace around Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington.

Just in case there was an attack in the offing (it being a Beech 35, you know, the guy could’ve done some serious damage – to the row of hot-dog vendors lining Pennsylvania Avenue, for example, if not a pretzel vendor or two as well), the fine folks at Dulles International Airport suspended departures for 15 minutes.

The pilot (we’re efforting to get his name, and a report on how many black eyes he now has, as well as the number of broken fingers he’s suffered in the past couple of days) continued on his merry way, according to the reports – flying all the way to the northern tip of the Shenandoah Valley before landing at an airstrip in Front Royal.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the man did not appear to be interested in harming anybody with his violation of the Reagan airport’s airspace.

Even so, he was detained by Warren County Sheriff’s deputies for a friendly tete-a-tete with the Secret Service, the spokesman said.

(Wink, wink.)

As for an answer to the question that we posed above – What can we learn from this, ladies and germs?It seems the answer is clear.

If you really want to see the Lincoln Memorial, and you don’t want to have to fight your way into and out of the parking lot …

Take the Metro.

You might get mugged by vagrants …

(Make that you will get mugged by vagrants …)

But who would you rather mug you?

Some guy who wants $20 for a run to the liquor store?

Or another guy bucking for a promotion to an assignment in Dick Cheney’s underground bunker in a hidden, secure location?

You decide.


(Published 01-01-03)