Plane & Pilot
Monday, August 1, 2005

A Chance Meeting

Sometimes reviewing the latest NOTAMs and TFRs isn’t enough

I tuned in the recorded AWOS at Skylark Airport in Killeen and was advised again that the “TFR will expire at 1515 local time.” By this time, it was 4:10 p.m., 1610 in military time, nearly a full hour after the TFR was to have expired.

As I landed, I saw an Army Blackhawk helicopter sitting on the ramp, gulped a few times, turned off the active and taxied toward it. Apparently, it had nothing to do with me, as the three khaki-clad men standing nearby motioned me away and toward the transient ramp.

Shortly after I pulled up in front of the FBO and shut down, a black government sedan drove out onto the ramp and two men in black got out and came over to the Mooney. They were courteous and instructed my wife and me to get out of the airplane. We did as we were asked, and after introductions all around, the lead Secret Service agent asked if I knew why I had been instructed to land.

I answered honestly that I had no idea, since the TFR had expired a full hour before. He knew nothing about TFRs or airspace, only that he was to investigate an alleged TFR incursion that had caused someone to scramble an F-16. He asked all the obvious questions—where was I coming from, where was I going, why was I flying adjacent to Fort Hood at that particular time, etc.—and I answered that I was complying with every regulation I knew of and that no less than four sources had suggested that the TFR had expired a full hour before the alleged incursion.

All the while, I was thinking that no matter if I was right, I could wind up being detained for quite a while if the Secret Service decided that I was a bad guy. Just as with the U.S. Customs Service, the Secret Service has virtually unlimited power, and if they decide to detain you without charges, they can do so.

Fortunately, it never came to that. He made a few cell phone calls and determined that someone (fortunately not me) had goofed. He acknowledged that the NOTAM had stipulated an expiration at 3:15 p.m. local and that my “incursion” hadn’t occurred until 4 p.m. Throughout the interview, he was courteous and friendly, and after his third phone call, he even acknowledged, “Well, you may not have done anything wrong after all.”


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