Local pilot accidentally enters president’s restricted air space

Coast Guard helicopter escorts Milton man back to Eagle Crest Aerodrome after taking flight
November 7, 2023

Story Location:
Ealge Crest Aerodome
29763 Eagle Crest Road
Milton, DE 19968
United States

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden spent some more time at their North Shores home this past weekend.

Arriving late Friday evening, the president attended mass Saturday afternoon, but otherwise they didn’t do much. However, their mere presence means a list of security measures is in place, and a local pilot and his passenger got a firsthand experience of those restrictions when they decided to take a plane ride from Eagle Crest Aerodrome the morning of Nov. 4.

Milton-area resident John Chirtea has been flying as a private, single-engine land pilot for nearly 70 years.

“This is the first time anything like this has ever happened,” he said Nov. 5, the morning after the incident.

Every time the president is on the move, the Federal Aviation Administration issues a temporary flight restriction notice, which limits activity in the air space above the president’s location. When at his North Shores home, the space covers most of Sussex County.

Chirtea was flying Buttercup, his 1965 Alon A2 Aircoupe. He was in the air for 30 minutes or so when all of a sudden he noticed a large, orange Coast Guard helicopter off his wing. He said he knew about the temporary flight restrictions in place for the Dover area, but hadn’t seen one issued for the beach area. 

“It was a mother of a helicopter, flown by Homeland Security pilots,” he said, adding he knew something was up as soon as he saw the helicopter. “I knew what the problem probably was.”

Chirtea, who lives off Eagle Crest Road, in one of the homes with a hanger attached that allows pilots to taxi to the airport’s runway, said he and the helicopter attempted to communicate, but he couldn’t hear what the pilot was saying, so he told them he was flying back to Eagle Crest and the helicopter followed him. Upon landing, one of the officers exited the helicopter and asked for Chirtea’s pilot and driver licenses. Chirtea didn’t have them on him, so he went home to retrieve them. Upon his return, about 15 minutes later, the helicopter was taking off because it was low on fuel. Shortly afterward, three officers showed up in an SUV. There was about 45 minutes of conversation, but it was cordial and then they left, said Chirtea.

Almost immediately, the rumor mill about a pilot flying with a TFR notice in place began to circulate among the local pilot community. Chirtea said one person reached out and thought it was a joke after he was told.

Using a website called FlightAware, which tracks plane flights, Chirtea showed the route he took. Taking off from Eagle Crest, the plane’s path heads toward the Broadkill Beach area before heading north, where it begins to go in circles, before heading straight back to Eagle Crest. The circles, said Chirtea, are where he’s showing his passenger how to fly the plane.

There were reports that fighter jets were scrambled and flares were used, but as far as he knows that wasn’t the case, said Chirtea. There have been incidents when that’s been done in the past, but he isn’t aware of that happening in his case, he said.

“That probably would have happened if I had headed south instead of north,” said Chirtea.

Chirtea said it’s a little inconvenient for the local pilots when the president is in town, but he doesn’t mind. The president gets blamed for everything else, so he’s allowed to have some time to relax every now and then, he said.

Chirtea said the bottom line is that he messed up and it was totally his fault.


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