No Drones on Base, Says MacDill Reminder on Facebook

U.S. Air Force photo
U.S. Air Force photo

TAMPA -- With drones likely popular on Christmas and Chanukah gift lists, officials at MacDill Air Force Base are reminding people who live and work there not to fly them on base.

Base officials Thursday morning posted a warning about drones on MacDill's Facebook page.

"Are you thinking of buying a drone for the holidays?" the 6th Air Mobility Wing's public affairs office posted. "You may want to rethink this gift idea. As drones increase in popularity and decrease in price, it may be tempting to purchase a drone as a gift for the holiday season. While it may be fun to own a drone, drones are not allowed to operate on MacDill Air Force Base."

The warning wasn't issued out of any particular safety concern, said Terry Montrose, a spokesman for the wing.

"We were just warning parents before they spent the money on drones for their children that drones are not allowed to operate on MacDill," he said.

The posting notes that under state law, "drones are considered an aircraft and are prohibited from being flown on military installations because manning a drone in the nation's airspace automatically makes it a part of the U.S. aviation system."

Base officials also posted the Federal Aviation Administration's rules on drone operations, which include knowing the airspace requirements, flying below 400 feet and within visual line of site, never near groups of people, stadiums or sporting events, near five miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities, near other aircraft or emergency response efforts or under the influence.

MacDill, which operates 16 KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets, has already had at least two close calls involving drones, according to FAA records.

On April 17, the crew of the KC-135 was about 10 miles east of the base on a landing approach when it reported a drone flying 20 feet under the aircraft, according to FAA records.

The incident appears to be the closest drone-piloted aircraft encounter among those listed for the region in the FAA database.

And on March 3, a drone crash was reported by air traffic controllers near a base perimeter fence. There was no property damage, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.

Tech Sgt. Ali Rose, a 6th Air Mobility Wing spokeswoman, confirmed that a drone crashed outside the perimeter gate but had no additional details.

There are drones on base. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration houses "Puma" models, hand-launched aircraft with five-foot wingspans and an "MD4-1000 Quadrocopter," with four propellers.

While NOAA plans its drone operations from MacDill and has pilots at the base, the unmanned aircraft are not flown directly from the base but moved to other locations for use.

In their Facebook posting, base officials also pointed out that earlier this year, the Florida Senate passed a law prohibiting the use of a drone to capture an image of privately owned property or any person with the intent to conduct surveillance without written consent.

MacDill is a strategically vital base as home to U.S. Central Command, which runs military operations in the Middle East; U.S. Special Operations Command, which synchronizes the global war on terror; Special Operations Command Central, which has command and control of special operations forces in the Centcom region; two Air Force refueling wings; the Joint Communications Support Element; and dozens of other mission partners.

"Having a drone is not illegal, but residents should be aware of the rules governing drones before making a purchase," the Facebook posting states.

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