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What Happens When The President Comes To Town – A Pilot’s Perspective

In the 6 years that Obama has been in office, I’ve never really paid attention to his travels until now, and not because he’s visiting the nearby Cooperstown Baseball HOF, but rather because his visit changed my normal flying routine. Ever wonder what happens to pilots and the airspace around us when the President comes to town? Here’s the lowdown…


Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

A couple of days back it was gorgeous weather so I decided to take the airplane up for a quick spin, but when I got to the hangar… BIG surprise. Parked outside were the three Marine Chinooks painted in Presidential colors that had flown over my son’s baseball game the day before!! I tried to swipe my security badge to gain access to the hangar but it suddenly wasn’t working. Next thing I know an armed guard opens the door with this inquisitive look on his face and I can instantly see why my security clearance was revoked. Inside the main hangar were the two Blackhawks that accompanied the trio of Chinooks I saw in the air, both also painted in Presidential colors too with crates of gear with the Presidential seal emblazoned on them, all cordoned off to disallow passage.


photo: JP Wing

The Air Force has set up shop right in the corner of the airport where I needed to be! At first I thought my planned flight was a goner, but the nice guard escorted me through the hangar to where my airplane was parked so I could get to it. There were military personal and vehicles crawling all over the place moving unknown gear out of giant C-17s that kept flying in and dropping it off. All of this because the President decides to tour Cooperstown and of course Air Force One is bearing him there by way of Griffiss.


Keith James

Needless to say amidst the mayhem I got my airplane out and was cleared to fly around overhead for awhile along with the C-17s and a C-130 who decided to join the fray, that’s some BUSY airspace!! After landing, I decided to find an alternate route instead of bothering the MP that had ushered me in the first time. What fun! But that was days ago…


Keith James

This afternoon, the President is supposed to arrive at Griffiss in his nice white and blue ride and then likely take the fleet of choppers to Cooperstown (as there is no airport there). Lest you think I’ll be able to get anywhere NEAR that like I did earlier, think again! Whenever the Pres goes anywhere, all flight operations are grounded as the airspace for a GREAT distance around him instantly becomes a no-fly zone. If I so much as shoot off a model rocket (not joking, they really say that), my license will be revoked at the very least. Here’s what the flight restriction looks like around us right now on an aviation map:


Keith James

Obviously the two large light red-shaded circles (with two tinier red circles inside) represent the No-fly zone, Griffiss is in the middle of the top one and Cooperstown is in the middle of the other, each stretching outward 30 nautical miles (that’s as far as Syracuse is from here) and going straight up to 18,000 feet. These ‘temporary flight restrictions’ as they’re called aren’t active right this second, but will go active (bright red) later on when the leader of the free world is actually in them. Thankfully you can still walk and drive in these areas, but MAN. Sucks to be a pilot when dignitaries swing on by. Here’s some closeups of the above map:


Keith James

Without going into too much detail you can see the inner red shaded circle representing the inner sanctum of the No-fly Zone and in the middle of that is the two-mile runway at Griffiss (one of the few strips in the US where the space shuttle can actually land because it’s so long). The yellow blobs are Rome and Utica respectively, the tiny light blue dot right above Utica is where I’m sitting writing this blog…


Keith James

The tiny yellow blob in the center of the other No-fly zone is Cooperstown and you can again see the smaller red shaded circle indicating the inner No-fly Zone. Once the President departs, these No-fly zones will disappear with him and life will go back to normal. Play ball! Now to go hang out at the airport and see if I can catch a glimpse of AF1 landing later!! I shouldn’t complain, this is never gonna happen again in my lifetime and it was cool to be somewhat close to the action in a way that most don’t…

Next: Video Of Your Author Flying At Griffiss

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