11 Places Planes Can't Fly Over in the U.S.

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From the obvious to the controversial to the mysterious, here are 11 places in the U.S. over which taking a plane just won’t fly.

1. George Washington's Home // Mount Vernon, Virginia

Restriction: Surface to 1500 feet above Mean Sea Level.

I cannot tell a lie: Flying over Mount Vernon, the home of the Father of our Country, is a big no-no. The wooden mansion, built for George Washington between 1758 and 1778, has endured much wear over the years, and in an effort to prevent further damage caused by vibrations from overhead aircraft, a no-fly zone was established around the airspace above the National Historic Landmark. As a result of this restriction, even aerial photography of the home is rarely allowed.

2. and 3. Walt Disney World // Orlando, Florida and Disneyland // Anaheim, California

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Restriction: 3000 feet above ground level.

Restrictions on airspace are sometimes made on a temporary basis, usually at places where a great many people congregate (like the Super Bowl). And perhaps no place attracts larger crowds with more frequency than Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. After the September 11 attacks, Disney successfully had a “temporary” no-fly zone restriction slipped into a nearly $400 billion federal spending bill in 2003, which established the restricted airspace over its Anaheim and Orlando theme parks. The restriction remains in place to this day, and has faced legal challenges from a Christian group, the Family Policy Network. The group has argued on free speech grounds for the right to use the airspace to tow banners behind small planes in opposition to Disney’s unofficial but popular annual “Gay Days.”

4. Bush Family compound// Kennebunkport, Maine

Restriction: Surface to 1000 feet above Mean Sea Level.

The Bush family compound is located on a peninsula known as Walker’s Point in the scenic southern Maine town of Kennebunkport. The home has been in the family for over a century, and is the summer residence of former president George H.W. Bush. Over the years many important people have been through its doors, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, and it has been the scene of numerous Bush family weddings. Given the sensitive nature of the compound, and the frequency with which both former presidents Bush and their families still visit, the airspace above the compound is restricted to aircraft.

5. Pantex Nuclear facility // Amarillo, Texas

Restriction: Surface to 4800 feet above Mean Sea Level.

The Pantex Plant is a high-security nuclear facility located about 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas. Its mission is “to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile." The facility dismantles excess nukes, keeps tabs on our existing ones, and maintains cold-war era missiles that are still knocking around after all these years, and therefore there is a ten-mile no-fly zone around it. As you might expect, the site is also closed to the public.

6. Washington, D.C.

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Restriction: Surface to 18000 feet above Mean Sea Level.

After the September 11 attacks, the airspace over our nation’s capital became some of the most highly restricted in the world. The Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security together established concentric no-fly areas around Washington D.C. The outer ring of this boundary, known as the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) requires any aircraft entering the space to identify themselves. Within that zone exists a smaller area of 15 nautical miles around Reagan International Airport called the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ). They don’t mess around in that FRZ, either. In 2005, the pilot of a Cessna 150 aircraft was just five miles from the White House before it was greeted by the sight of an F-16 fighter jet dropping flares in its field of vision to send a signal it had wandered into unfriendly skies. Oops.

7. Camp David // Thurmont, Maryland

Restriction: Surface to 5000 feet above Mean Sea Level.

Countless photographs of U.S. presidents in windbreakers have been taken at Naval Support Facility Thurmont, better known as Camp David, a presidential retreat and meeting place going back to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The compound has frequently played host to presidents’ families and visiting dignitaries, and numerous high-profile pacts have been struck at the retreat over the years, including the Camp David Accords, a peace deal between Egypt and Israel brokered in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Due to the high-profile nature of the visitors and activities at Camp David, the airspace above the private compound has a three-mile no-fly zone around it.

8. Kennedy Space Center // Merritt Island, Florida

Restriction: surface to 5000 feet above Mean Sea Level, adjustable to unlimited with notice.

Florida’s “Space Coast” is a popular spot for space fans to see a rocket launch, but the only view you’re going to get is from the ground. Merritt Island houses NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Due to military and NASA activities on and around the island, airspace around the island is restricted to all civilian and commercial air traffic.

9. Area 51

Restriction: Surface to Unlimited.

Located in the western United States desert is the fabled Area 51. Its precise location is either in Nellis Air Force Range in Nevada or Edwards Air Force Base in California, but airspace above the general area is restricted to all aircraft, military and civilian. (Cue The X-Files theme.) Area 51 became the stuff of legend after the so-called Roswell Incident, and is allegedly where a recovered alien space ship was stored after crashing in New Mexico in 1947, spawning legions of alien enthusiasts. The Air Force says it uses the area to test new military technology, and declassified documents from 2013 revealed that the U-2 Spy Plane Program in the 1950s and '60s was worked on at the base. The spot of nearly empty desert boasts air space that's more restricted than that of the nation's capital.

10. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness // Northern Minnesota

Restriction: Surface to 4000 feet.

This million-acre expanse of pristine wilderness runs 199 miles along the Canadian border. The area’s nearly 1200 lakes, dramatic views of glacier-carved canyons, and untrammeled natural beauty make it a paradise for outdoor adventurers. President Harry Truman established the no-fly zone over the area back in 1948 and we thank him for it.

11. Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay // Georgia

Restriction: Surface to 3000 feet.

Another bit of restricted airspace we can safely file in the “no duh” category is the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. This base houses the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet’s Trident nuclear-powered submarines, ballistic and guided missile submarines, and the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT)—which is essentially a missile factory. The base’s functions include maintaining, overhauling, and modernizing the sub fleet, including its weapon systems. Despite the heavy artillery housed here and a strict no-fly zone, over the last decade pilots have violated its airspace eight times and there have been four crashes within the base’s borders.

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November 18, 2014 - 11:00am
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