Fleming, glider pilot who spoke on unfair arrest, dies

July 18, 2013

Robin Fleming, the glider pilot who shared the story of his unwarranted arrest and detention after a legal overflight of a nuclear power plant, has died.

Fleming, a member of the Soaring Society of America and AOPA, flew and instructed out of Bermuda High Soaring in South Carolina. He held a state record in soaring and achieved the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Diamond Badge in March 2012. He shared his passion for aviation with friends and strangers, and touched the lives of many within the aviation community. He died July 3 after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Fleming began flying at Bermuda High Soaring about 10 years ago. When Fleming did not return one evening in 2012 from a cross-country flight, his friends at the gliderport were first concerned for his safety, then baffled that someone as careful as Fleming had been arrested, and then outraged as the conditions of his arrest became apparent and he was charged with breach of peace. Fleming was held overnight in a cell without a clear idea of what he had allegedly done.

The charges were dropped, but he decided to share his story with AOPA to bring the issue to light and make sure no other pilots would be subjected to a similar ordeal. AOPA has urged the Department of Homeland Security to educate law enforcement agencies and infrastructure facilities about aviation and to review all security programs for similar facilities, but to the frustration of many of the pilots at Bermuda High, has seen no meaningful action from the department and its agencies; the association continues to press the issue.

Fleming later filed suit against the energy company and Darlington County, S.C.

Fleming’s interest in aviation began when he was a child, building and flying radio-controlled airplanes. He spoke with enthusiasm about soaring, relishing the constant series of decisions that go into a successful flight, and was eager to share his passion.

“Robin was a dear and sweet man,” said Jay Campbell, a friend and fellow glider pilot who flies out of Bermuda High. “He would do anything for anybody.  He taught Bible studies on Sunday morning and soaring lessons on Sunday afternoon. He competed in high-level soaring contests and mentored fledgling cross-country soaring pilots. In the words of one club member upon acknowledging Robin's death: ‘Romeo Foxtrot One has caught a booming thermal.’ Amen.”