The rule has always been: get too close to the boundary line into Area 51 and trouble closes in on you, including the possibility of arrest.
It’s an interesting conundrum that a person can be subject to legal repercussions for trespassing in an area that, until 2013, the U.S. government didn’t even acknowledge existed.
The Air Force is now very concerned about people flying unmanned aircraft, drones too close to the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). It has asked the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners to amend the Unmanned Aircraft Ordinance by adding a rebuttable presumption of illegal intent to the operation of unmanned aircraft within two miles of the NTTR.
In other words, if someone is flying a drone within a 14-mile radius of the NTTR, the Air Force wants that to be considered an action performed “with illegal intent.”
The high desert town of Rachel is about five miles north of the border line, but not included in the no-fly zone.
At the January 16 commission meeting, Rachel resident Joerg Arnu appeared at a public hearing to explain his position.
In his prepared remarks, he noted that he is presently making aerial videos of historical places in that area and seeking to put signage up so that tourists who come into the Sand Spring/Penoyer Valley areas to fly drones, or even go hiking and camping, will be able to see clearly defined boundaries.
Arnu felt that adding another two-mile buffer to the no-fly zone and no-entry zone would greatly impact the amount of tourism in Rachel. “Some [areas] are fenced, some are not.”
He said the existing ordinance makes sense with the current boundaries being clearly marked, but adding two more miles would then assume any person trespassing is guilty unless he/she can prove no illegal intent.
“The new boundary is not marked on any map,” Arnu noted, “or on the ground, making it much more difficult to a person to know if they have trespassed until apprehended.”
He said even consumer-grade drones are not equipped to spy and cannot take useful pictures at the 12-mile limit. Furthermore, he noted, any enemy probably already has much better photos of the NTTR in hand.
He said the flight altitude for drones by law is set at 400 feet and there are other existing restrictions about interfering with air operations.
Arnu asked the board to deny amending the ordinance as requested by the Air Force, “because extra calls to the test site by law enforcement would be generated for no good reason, and the existing no-fly zone is easy to understand and more than sufficient.”
Others also voiced the opinion that the Air Force does not need to add another two miles.
After hearing all the discussion on the matter, the issue died on the table for lack of a motion.