An air traffic controller and LRC reader supplies some very important perspective on the matter of Robin Fleming, the glider pilot who learned that he had nearly been shot down for violating what was described to him as a secret “no-fly zone” over a South Carolina nuclear plant.
“As an en route air traffic controller, I deal with special use airspace on a daily basis,” observes my correspondent. “There are Restricted areas, usually bomb ranges used by the military that private aircraft are not allowed to penetrate, and there are also Prohibited areas, which no aircraft is allowed to enter at any time (exceptions are made for presidential transport). These areas are published on aviation charts. What Mr. Fleming may have inadvertently penetrated was a Temporary Flight Restriction. TFR's are not published on charts, but they are most certainly NOT secret. It's not published on charts, but it is published in Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMS.”
Fleming was ordered to land his glider, and once on the ground was surrounded by at least a dozen law enforcement vehicles. He was handcuffed and detained for more than 24 hours on suspicion of “breach of peace,” before being released after he demonstrated that he had not violated any regulations or intruded into protected airspace.
The air traffic controller who contacted me suggests that all of this was probably a result of panicky over-reaching by local law enforcement officers who have been steeped in alarmist rhetoric over the supposedly unremitting terrorist threat.
“My spider sense is telling me that there was no published TFR over the power plant at the time, but local law enforcement were presuming that anyone getting close to the plant, even by error, is a terrorist threat,” he suggests. “I'm guessing that in the 24 hours he was held, folks realized that that there was no TFR in effect, and that they had no basis for action as long as he was in compliance” with other regulations.
It’s worth remembering, as well, that Fleming was held until after he promised not to sue the valiant defenders of the sacred Homeland for kidnapping him at gunpoint – after making preparations to blow him from the sky.