EMMITSBURG, Md. (AP) _ Four antique airplanes headed to an annual charity event in Hagerstown were intercepted by very modern F-16 fighter jets and escorted out of the area, federal authorities said. It appeared that the pilots didn't know the President of the United States was attending a memorial service in the area.
President Bush was speaking at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, about 26 miles from Hagerstown. As per routine, the Federal Aviation Administration extended the no-fly zone, a temporary restriction of 30 aeronautical miles on the airspace that included Camp David and Emmitsburg. But several pilots headed to a benefit for the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Hagerstown Aviation Museum apparently were unaware of the restriction, in part because their antiques carried no radios.
A dozen planes flew into the area, causing the North American Aerospace Defense Command to scramble its fighters. Four of the antiques were escorted to nearby airports and forced to land. The others were warned off. Meanwhile, at the annual event, attendees were staring at an empty sky, wondering when the show was about to start. Suddenly, the crowd saw a Grumman Tiger, a propeller-driven four-seater built in 1976 buzzing along with a sleek fighter jet flying circles around it.
"It was hair-raising," Tracey Potter, owner of Hagerstown Aircraft Services Inc. told the paper. "The F-16 is an evil, menacing scary sound, and at the same time -- amazing," said Potter. "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."
Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said the pilots would not have had the problem if they had been using radios. She said all pilots have a responsibility to check the agency's notifications. The pilots, who were being interviewed by the Secret Service, could face penalties, including suspension of their license, Brown said.
Some who attended the event considered the appearance of a real-life military warcraft a treat. Others were not amused. ``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.''
Was FSS At Fault In Camp David TFR Incursions?
According to a report in the Federal Times, pilots who busted a temporary flight restriction last weekend over Camp David weren't alerted to the restrictions by flight service briefers... because the facility lost the Notice to Airmen.
That revelation came to light in a statement by Illinois Congressman Jerry Costello, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation, during a hearing into FAA oversight of privatized operations. The congressional hearing took a close look at Lockheed Martin's performance in the two years since it took over Flight Service Station duties from the FAA, as well as that agency's ability to regulate other private companies tasked with providing vital air safety functions.
Costello believes that the scrambling of F-16s to intercept pilots flying antique and vintage planes to the Hagerstown Fly-In is an example of Lockhead's less-than-stellar performance. Even though FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told reporters the pilots who entered restricted airspace could have avoided the incidents, had they had radios onboard, and checked the NOTAMS, the pilots had done just that. According to the Federal Times, Costello says pilots who contacted flight service before their flights were not told of the Camp David TFR--apparently the briefers had lost the flight notice!