April 24, 2023

Why So Many Airplanes Fly Low Over the Lincoln Memorial

By Paul William

April 24, 2023

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links which means I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through them.

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.

flight sim plane over Washington DC mall Lincoln Memorial showing DCA airport to the right
To give you the best descriptive view, I flew around this route in my Flight Simulator game. The nose of the airplane is currently pointed toward the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pool. Off the right wing of the airplane you can see the Pentagon, and then Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

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.

River Visual Approach Washington DC, past Lincoln Memorial

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

An actual A320 approach following the River Visual flight path in Washington DC. The plane is just above 500 feet altitude when it passes the Lincoln Memorial on its left hand side.

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.

Wrapping up

Hopefully now you understand why so many planes are flying low over the Lincoln Memorial.

Now, the only thing left to do is pull out your camera and snap a few photos yourself!

And hey, if you’re looking for some patriotic words to go with your snaps, be sure to check out my new piece on 76 Washington DC Captions for Picture-Perfect Patriotism!

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