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Severe winds toss airplanes at D.C. airportSevere winds toss airplanes at D.C. airport

Pilots need special clearances to fly to and from Potomac Airfield near Washington, D.C.—but tornadoes don’t.

A twister apparently touched down at the in-town field in the late afternoon on Saturday, May 31, and severely damaged or destroyed at least five airplanes tied down. The destructive winds were fickle, pummeling some airplanes while leaving others untouched a few feet away.

The winds also peeled up the roof on one hangar and knocked metal doors off their tracks at others.

“There was some heavy rain and some pea-sized hail for a few minutes before the wind picked up,” said Bill Judge, an RV-8 owner who was at the airport at the time. “The wind lifted about a 10-foot section of roof off the hangar where I keep my airplane. I’m not sure if it was a tornado or a powerful microburst. But it was very powerful and very sudden.”

Aircraft owners came to the airfield on Sunday morning to inspect damage and pick up belongings.

Ed Knott, whose Cessna 172 took the brunt of the storm’s impact, said he felt like he had lost a friend.

“This airplane flew so well, and it was so forgiving,” said Knott, a 10-year private pilot who owned the Cessna 172 for the last six years. “I took good care of it, and it took good care of me.”

Knott said he plans to replace his airplane as soon as possible with another Cessna 172, and he’ll keep it at the 2,600-foot strip south of the capital. Potomac is in the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone, where pilots are required to get clearances before coming or going. But Knott said he doesn’t mind the security steps.

“I absolutely love this little airport,” he said. “I’ve flown here since 1998...and it’s great. Everything is maintained so well. The grass is manicured. It’s such a nice place to fly.”

David Wartofsky, the owner/manager at Potomac, blamed the storm on the driver of an Audi convertible who parked with the top down.

“If he had simply put the top up, none of this would have happened,” Wartofsky quipped.

The storm struck while Wartofsky was in the maintenance hangar, and the roof  “peeled back like a banana,” he said. “Five minutes later, the rain had stopped, and an hour later, the sun was shining.”

Wartofsky said physical damage to the airfield was minimal.

“We're extremely lucky,” he said. “No one was hurt. Damage to the airfield was minor, and most of what was damaged is insured. It could have been a lot worse.”

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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