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Was the boom absolutely necesssary?

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 20, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
August 20, 2010 11:07 pm

Last Tuesday’s sonic boom, a result of fighter jets rushing to intercept an aircraft during the Presidential visit, was a boon for the blogosphere, where comments were both topical and comical.

But it missed a couple salient points.

First, you have to wonder why it occurred at all. The presence of President Obama’s costly entourage of Secret Service agents, staff and assorted hangers-on, as well as the presence of Air Force One and assorted land vehicles utilized by the party, suggest money was clearly not an object.

That begs the question of why the alert airplanes, which stood ready to intercept any aircraft that wandered into the No-Fly zone, were so far away? Whether or not the planes were 6 or 10 minutes out (I have heard both), at Mach 2.5 that puts them at least 150 miles out and far beyond the No-Fly zone itself.

I welcome the reason why the F-15 interceptors were not at Boeing Field. This would have precluded the need to rattle the windows, nerves and 911 systems in the Greater Seattle area (Tacoma being the “Greater” part).It is also a fair argument that any aircraft moderately faster than a little prop plane (on floats!) could have succeeded in wreaking presidential destruction while the Portland-based fighter pilots were screaming over Western Washington with their hair on fire.

The second point is that the Presidential No-Fly Zone has communication gaps begin enough to fly, well, a floatplane through. Such air restrictions are announced to airline and private pilots via the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) system. These notices are disseminated by FAA pre-flight briefers, control towers and automated flight information systems. However, when an aircraft takes off from an uncontrolled airport and transitions an area that is normally unrestricted, the pilot may well be ignorant of any NOTAMs for that area. In such a case there is no requirement for a pilot to be briefed on any flight restrictions, and thus there is no violation by the pilot.

No doubt that’s what happened on Tuesday.

We have our government to thank for this situation, which started with a thinly veiled presidential visit (read fundraiser). Next, the government’s aviation loopholes permitted a pilot to take off and transition a restricted area because no requirement forced him to be briefed. The resulting boom could just as well have been the shock wave of angry residents.

Next time let’s just write Patty Murray a check. We’ll save money and our ear drums.

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