Private Pilot Nearly Shot Down for Violating ‘Secret No-Fly Zone’

by William Norman Grigg

Recently by William Norman Grigg: Lights, Camera, Entrapment! Homeland Security Theater in Portland

Last July, the Small Wars Journal published an essay co-written by retired U.S. Army Colonel Kevin Benson entitled “Full Spectrum Operations in the Homeland: A ‘Vision’ of the Future.” That article presented a speculative case study of domestic military operations to put down a domestic insurrection that would seize control of the unremarkable town of Darlington, South Carolina.

In the scenario painted by Col. Benson and his co-author, Professor Jennifer Weber of the University of Kansas, a militia inspired by the Tea Party movement seized control of Darlington’s municipal government, erects checkpoints “on major transportation lines,” and imposes a form of martial law in which “citizens who complain are immediately detained.” The governor of South Carolina invokes the Insurrection Act, leading to a “full-spectrum” response by the U.S. military.

Shortly after that essay was published, 70-year-old private pilot Robin Fleming learned that Darlington County – or at least the airspace above it – is already subject to a form of martial law.

Fleming, who belongs to the Bermuda High Soaring aviation club in Lancaster, South Carolina, went for an afternoon glider flight last July in Darlington County. His course briefly took him over the HB Robinson Nuclear Generating Station near Lake Robinson. As he was preparing to return to Lancaster, Fleming lost radio contact with the other members of the club. Hours passed as his friends imagined the worst. Finally they filed a missing aircraft report, and a search began. To their relief, Fleming contacted them – only to leave them horrified when they learned what had happened.

After Fleming passed over the power plant, he was ordered to land his glider, which he did as soon as prevailing wind currents permitted. Once he was down on the ground, Fleming was swarmed by law enforcement.

Fleming was informed that he had violated a “secret no-fly zone.” This was an entirely spurious claim: There is no such thing as a domestic "no-fly zone," secret or otherwise. That term, significantly, is used to describe aerial blockades imposed by the military – generally under the purported authority of a multilateral body, such as the UN or one of its regional affiliates – against a "rogue nation," such as Iraq or Libya. The Homeland Security Department apparently considers itself entitled to impose similar restrictions wherever it chooses, and do so without bothering to inform civilian pilots or make suitable notations on FAA-produced sectional aviation charts.

Despite the fact that he had done nothing wrong, Fleming was handcuffed, charged with “breach of peace,” and held for more than 24 hours before being interrogated by FBI and Homeland Security officials. The charges were dismissed after he showed the investigators that the zone wasn’t marked in aviation charts – but he was required to sign a document promising that he wouldn’t file a lawsuit against the officials who had illegally detained him. He later learned that local police officials had made preparations to shoot down his glider if he hadn’t landed as quickly as he did.

Fleming did nothing illegal – yet he was brutalized by people who had been prepared to kill him, and could have done so without consequences. Such is life in our Homeland Security State.