Restricted airspace

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Phil Kirby reports from washington

A few days ago I was lucky enough to see the Space Shuttle Discovery, atop a specially modified 747, perform several fly-bys over Washington, DC’s famous landmarks; an event given great fanfare in the American press and deservedly so. For me, it initially brought to mind the opening scene of Robert Wise’s pacific classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which the benevolent alien Klaatu lands his own spaceship on the Washington Ellipse (just south of the White House), having first swooped over the National Mall to the wonderment (and terror!) of the Washingtonians below. The spectacle was also unusual for another reason, though, and one that I could not put my finger on at first. After a while I realized that it was not just the shuttle itself that seemed out of place, but what it was doing. In my time in Washington I’d never seen a plane fly over the centre of the city like that. The flight paths to Ronald Reagan and Dulles airports are obvious and busy, but, for Discovery, the sky was clear; a spotter plane from NASA its only company. Since 9/11, of course, air space over Washington has been severely restricted;the official name for this no-man’s land being the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). To breach its perimeter is to invite the attentions of Andrews Air Force Base and, perhaps more pointedly, to scramble its F-16 fighter jets. It’s a reminder, too, that the exercise of security over space needn’t always be accomplished with walls and barriers. Nor even be visible at all.

Phil Kirby

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