Flying OVER Washington, DC

What are the CURRENT rules regarding flight above the nation’s capitol? Have they been relaxed recently? I work downtown, and when I get a chance to relax I can go to the building’s rooftop for a break. I get to watch airliners arrive or depart DCA. An occasional medevac chopper will fly by to the north of us. On rare occasions, a news or police chopper will fly overhead. Sometimes you even get to see the choppers used as “Marine One” flying around!

Since September 11th, I can honestly say that I have not seen a small GA aircraft flying ANYWHERE within sight of the city. Uh… that was until last week! On Friday, we had a departmental meeting on the roof, and we all noticed a Cessna circling overhead - just to the north of the prohibited areas of the National Mall and the White House. He made three left-turning circles as we were expecting (kinda hoping) to see F-16s make a sudden appearance from out of nowhere, but they never showed and the plane left the area peacefully (don’t remember which direction he flew away). Again, today, I saw a small Cessna - perhaps the same plane - flying away from the area to the northwest… The weather was good in both instances, so I’m thinkin’ both planes were flying under VFR.

Would this have been a government plane, a private plane with special permission, or maybe a plane filed IFR and taking liberties with doing a few loops hoping not to be noticed by controllers…?

I’d say he was at about 2,000 feet both times…

they must be very serious about keeping people out if they are putting these lasers in

I think that’s just a cost saving maneuver, so they don’t have to keep sending fighters up to intercept Cessnas.

Famous last words: "OOOooooooh! Loooook at the pretty red and green lights down there! Lets go over for a closer look! "

Followed by: AHHHH!! I’m BLIND!!! What the hell?! Oh Jesus, somebody help me, I think we’re going–SPLAT!! (right into a national landmark)

Wouldn’t it make more sense to send up a blackhawk or some kind of helicopter, verses a fighter jet that would stall way before it could get to the speed of a cessna?

Yes, if we were talking about a private industry entity. However, we are talking about the government. It impresses the hell out of the idiots, er, elected representatives, to see a fighter attacking a Cessna 152.

Actually, they have sent Black Hawks after some lower performance planes in the past. Anything less than 120 is apparently a real bear for the fighters.

I remember a while back that they evacuated all the government buildings for a GA aircraft. Fighters escorted them to a field.

I don’t know but I do know it’s fun to watch planes land @ DCA in bad overcast and rainy conditions. I think its Runway 1 that the planes have to land over the Potomac right? I love watching them turn back and forth to miss the landmarks because of the flying regualtions.

The original question never got answered.

There is an ADIZ covered the entire extent of the Washington / Baltimore Class B airspace. There is a flght restricted zone with a 7 mile radius centered on the DCA VOR.

There are special rules for VFR entry to the ADIZ and the airports located inside it. There are about 8 entry points around the ADIZ with VFR squawks required and contact with ATC required - this can cause significant delays for pilots in time of high ATC workload. Flying IFR the ADIZ is seamless.

VFR / IFR entry into the FRZ requires pre-approval by the feds, completion of security training and learning the secret handshake, disclosure of which causes you to lose the right to enter the FRZ.

Those are the rules simply - for more info go to and click on the Securiy Resouorces on the right side of the page.

Thanks for answering! :smiley:

Well, I just saw another (perhaps the same) single-engine Cessna flying over the city. It looked like he came in from the north-northwest, and I’d swear he flew right over the prohibited areas and then started circling over the eastern side of the city - about where THE US CAPITOL building is. From my vantage point, and my inexperience at judging such distances, he may have been circling farther east of the Capitol, but it was certainly damn-near to it! And I KNOW he was flying over the prohibited areas on initial penetration of the city limits. No sign of any kind of military aircraft though…

I have heard that the Civil Air Patrol is often used for defense training missions to simulate pilots straying into forbidden airspace. Perhaps this plane is such a plane on such a mission. I ran back to my desk to check FlightAware to see if the plane shows up in tracking, but it doesn’t. It stands to reason if it is a CAP flight since CAP planes are blocked from tracking in FlightAware.

Anyway, this makes three times in less than a year that I’ve seen a plane liesurely flying around over the city. All three times I hoped and expected to witness some type of military interception, but it never happens. If it is a CAP flight doing a defense training exercise, or just a pilot doing some sight-seeing, I’d say the military sorely lacking in its ability to identify and locate suspect aircraft and defend the capitol city of our nation.

Any other possible explanations for a small, single-engine Cessna flying over the area?

Local and state law enforcement often use single engine props for a multitude of missions.
DEA, ATF, and FBI come to mind.

I don’t know about the plane you’re seeing over D.C. but the Washington State Patrol has a couple of Cessna 206’s packed with all the gear you normally hear about in a police helicopter. Makes sense as it’s a much faster, cheaper and roomier platform. It may be some type of law enforcement patrol or security plane you’re seeing.