During my recent trip to D.C., I was walking from the Washington Monument towards the Lincoln Memorial when I started to notice a constant stream of commercial airplanes flying low over the Lincoln Memorial, then disappearing out of view.
I became curious about this, and after a bit of research figured out what was going on.
In this post you’ll learn why you see so many airplanes flying low over the Lincoln Memorial and where they are headed.
BONUS for aviation geeks: I found a video from the cockpit of an actual landing A320 following this exact flight path. I’ll leave it at the bottom of this post.
The Busy Skies Above the Lincoln Memorial
The TL:DR answer is that the Lincoln Memorial is situated right by a common flight path for arriving airplanes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), located about 3 miles away.
The River Visual Approach
Washington D.C. is home to some heavily restricted airspace due to security requirements for the nation’s capital. There is a special flight rule area (SFRA) around Washington D.C. to protect the White House, Capitol, and government buildings.
Arriving aircraft often follow a flight plan called the River Visual Approach for DCA Runway 19. Basically, the pilots follow along the Potomac River and then bank right to land at the airpot.
I found the above flight route map on the FAA website. I’m not sure if it’s still up to date, but it does a good job at showing the route. I marked the general area of the Lincoln Memorial with the Red Arrow so you can see where it is in relation to the airport.
In addition to the security concerns around this airspace, flying over the river also allows for noise abatement, so the sound of the constantly arriving planes do not disturb residents.
A View From the Cockpit
From the Lincoln Memorial, you can see the planes descend, but then they disappear out of view behind some trees.
This video shows the completion of the flight path and landing at Runway 19 at DCA.