Ed Friedrich, KITSAP (WA) SUN
24 February 2016
BANGOR – Who's flying drones over the Bangor submarine base? The Navy wants to know.
On Feb. 8, a drone was seen flying above Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and reported by a civilian employee, spokeswoman Silvia Klatman said.
The airspace above the base is designated as "prohibited." It's illegal and hazardous to operate there without permission and coordination of authorities, according to the Navy, which is investigating.
"It's our intent to support the investigation and prosecution of this reported act, and any others that may occur, in coordination with civilian law enforcement," Klatman said. She wouldn't provide more information while the investigation is ongoing except to say the Navy is committed to the security of its infrastructure, people and neighbors.
Agents interviewed neighbors outside the fence last week, said Al Starcevich, whose family's 110-year-old homestead on Olympic View Road is pinched between the base and Hood Canal. He told a couple of men in suits that he hadn't seen anything unusual. The drones were reported at night.
"It could be a hoax, but worst-case scenario, it could be clandestine, a foreign government, a cell," Starcevich said. "The creepy thing is they're only doing it at night. What are you going to see at night unless you have an infrared camera?"
Kitsap Drones owner Joe Sullivan hasn't heard from the Navy or about drones over bases.
"I keep up on all the drone news," he said. "Every drone pilot I know knows that all of Bangor is a no-fly zone."
On Friday it became much easier to track down drone owners, he said. A regulation kicked in requiring all drones of more than 0.55 pounds be registered with the FAA.
Drones can fly at night, at least for now. In fact, they can go farther in the dark because it's easier to see their green and red flashing lights, Sullivan said. They must always remain within the pilot's sight.
The FAA designated the airspace above Bangor as "prohibited" in May 2005 at the Navy's request. No aircraft, including drones, can fly from the surface up to 2,500 feet. Besides the base itself, the area extends to the water across Hood Canal and the Navy-owned portion of the Toandos Peninsula.
Security forces are supposed to shoot down violators but have yet to do so, said Doug O'Donnell, chief pilot at Avian Flight Center at Bremerton National Airport. NCIS agents have shown up at the airport, looking for planes they claim were too low.
O'Donnell said he recommends that pilots keep a comfortable distance above 2,500 feet to prevent confusion from trackers on the ground.
Bangor is home to eight of the Navy's 14 ballistic-missile submarines. Each can carry up to 24 missiles with multiple nuclear warheads.