Widespread Airplane Grounding Was Due To U-2 Spy Plane Flyover "Overloading" Air Traffic Computers

One of the more peculiar news from last week was the grounding of all flights for several hours at numerous airports in the Southwestern United States and the grounding of planes bound for the region from other parts of the country.

As so often happens when there is no specific reason at the time, the error was blamed on a computer "glitch" - the computer problem at a Federal Aviation Administration center slowed the journeys of tens of thousands of arriving and departing passengers at LAX.

Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California, John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas were among other facilities affected by the order to keep planes grounded.

And that would have been all we heard of it had it not been for some additional digging by NBC which on Saturday, citing unnamed sources, reported a U-2, a Cold War-era spy plane still in use by the U.S. military, "passed through air space monitored by the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center and appears to have overloaded a computer system at the center."

From Reuters:

Computers at the center began operations to prevent the U-2 from colliding with other aircraft, even though the U-2 was flying at an altitude of 60,000 feet and other airplanes passing through the region's air space were miles below, NBC reported.


Sources told NBC News the U-2 plane had a U.S. Defense Department flight plan. "It was a 'Dragon Lady,'" one source told NBC, using the nickname for the plane.


FAA spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford would not comment on whether the computer problem at the agency's center on Wednesday was caused by a U-2 flight.


"We aren't confirming anything beyond what we already said about it being a software issue that we corrected," Lunsford said in an email to Reuters.

Which probably will be the last we hear of it, even if this clarification raises additional questions: such as

  • Was the US department of defense spying not on foreign countries, and judging by recent events in Ukraine there certainly is a lot of spying to be done, but on the western US?
  • Are US air traffic controllers unquipped to think vertically?
  • What happens to airplane traffic when the Amazon drone army is unleashed?

All question we are sure will be answered in due course.