Airplane Flies Close to Shuttle Atlantis

CAPE CANAVERAL ? A small classic aircraft came close toshuttle Atlantis on its Kennedy Space Center launch pad Tuesday but the FBIsaid its pilot was "lost and disoriented" and had no criminal intent.


The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating theincident, and NASA says it responded appropriately by scrambling a securityhelicopter to chase the single-engine aircraft.


"We didn't perceive that this was a direct threat tothe shuttle, based on our observation of the aircraft. But it was still somethingwhere apprehension was in order," KSC spokesman George Diller said.


The 1946 Aeronca Champ crossed into restricted airspace nearan inactive Titan rocket launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at11:15 a.m. and flew north past KSC's pad 39A, where Atlantis is being readiedfor a June 8 launch.


The FBI questioned pilot Michael Dunn, 41, of Port St. Lucieafter the plane landed at Ormond Beach Municipal Airport. Dunn told agents hestrayed off course and flew toward unrestricted airspace as soon as he realizedhis mistake.


"We are satisfied that there was no terrorist intent,no criminal intent and that he was lost and disoriented," said FBI SpecialAgent Chris Bonner of the agency's Daytona Beach office. "So we sent himon his way."


FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the incident is underinvestigation. Penalties for flying in restricted airspace can includesuspension or revocation of a pilot's license.

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Aerospace Journalist

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.