- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

A small airplane strayed near restricted airspace over the District last evening and could not be reached by radio. But unlike during a similar incident two weeks ago, city officials said notification systems worked.

Master Sgt. John Tomassi, a spokesman for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said two F-16 fighter jets were sent up about 6 p.m. from Andrews Air Force Base to intercept the Cessna C-320, which was flying without any transponder signal over Montgomery County.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the plane had no radio contact as it flew on the fringes of the restricted zone. One of the jets fired a flare to warn the pilot, Sgt. Tomassi said.

?He responded and followed the fighters in and landed,? he said.

The Cessna was escorted to the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, where it was met by authorities.

The U.S. Senate, which was in session at the time, briefly recessed just after 6 p.m. Members were not told the reason for the recess until a 6:07 p.m. text page from U.S. Capitol Police notifying them that “an unidentified aircraft violated the restricted airspace and was escorted out of the area.”

The House of Representatives was already in recess awaiting 6:30 p.m. votes.

Unlike May 11, when a Cessna violated airspace and closed within three miles of the White House, there were no evacuations.

That plane breached the Flight Restricted Zone, a 16-mile radius around the Washington Monument. The FAA announced yesterday that it had revoked the license of Hayden L. Sheaffer, 69, the pilot involved in that incident.

The FAA said yesterday it had issued the emergency revocation because Mr. Sheaffer “constitutes an unacceptable risk to safety in air commerce.”

The student pilot with Mr. Sheaffer, Troy Martin, 36, who had logged only 30 hours of flight time, had control of the small Cessna single-engine plane when it was intercepted and forced to land in Frederick, Md. The two men were flying to an air show in North Carolina.

The Air Defense Identification Zone, which was violated in last night’s incident, is a much larger area around Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The roughly 2,000-square-mile area is restricted to private pilots unless they have a special transponder code with automatic altitude- reporting capability. Pilots also must maintain two-way radio communication with air traffic controllers.

A Metropolitan Police representative in the Homeland Security Operations Center notified the city’s Emergency Management Agency, which sent text messages to city officials detailing the unfolding incident about 6:15 p.m.

“It was a lot better than learning about it from CNN,” said Alan Etter, a D.C. fire department spokesman.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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