Rotorcraft Update: Pilot punctures space shuttle no-fly zone

 - May 29, 2008, 9:45 AM

It’s on the sectional. It’s been the subject of notams dating back decades. And yet it always seems that when NASA is about to launch yet another space shuttle, somebody blunders into the no-fly area extending for miles around the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in east central Florida. On December 4, it was a Bell 214 that strayed into the no-no zone a few hours before the 5:45 p.m. (EST) liftoff time of the space shuttle Endeavor. Piloted by a lone 67-year-old man, the helicopter was quickly intercepted by a U.S. Air Force F-16 and escorted to a landing in a field near Christmas, Fla., located about 25 mi west of KSC. The intercept was part of an extensively beefed-up security program instituted by NASA since September 11, a new plan that includes a larger 35-mi no-fly zone surrounding the shuttle’s pair of beachfront launch pads during liftoff operations. According to local authorities, the pilot had recently purchased the helicopter in Florida and was ferrying it back to his home in Washington state. He maintained he was unaware of the flight restriction. Authorities declined to identify the aviator, who was detained until after the dusk launch, then allowed to proceed on his journey.