A VIEW FROM ABOVE
RotorDrone|February/ March 2021
Topping out the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge
David Tolsky
In construction, the “topping out” of a project celebrates the finishing beam being hoisted into place, usually at its highest position. A pine tree will be placed on this final piece, a tradition that can be traced back thousands of years, symbolizing the hope that the structure will be everlasting.

On August 7, 2020 Stuart Showalter of Hover Solutions got a call to provide aerial footage of a special ceremony. The placement of the final arch in the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Southeast Washington, D.C., was scheduled to commence on the morning of August 13. Stuart and his son, Remote Pilot In Command (RPIC) Nathanael Showalter, run Hover Solutions in Rockville, Maryland.

GETTING PERMISSION

As you might imagine, flying in Washington, D.C. airspace is no easy task. The senior Showalter noted, “The bridge is located deep inside the D.C. Flight Restricted Zone, along a major helicopter route and a secondary approach path to Reagan National Airport. It has a 200-foot altitude restriction for manned aircraft, and it’s right next to a National Park and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, a 905-acre military base!” He added, “Getting airspace authorization for this in any situation would be difficult. Now add to that, the event was scheduled to occur in six days!”

The fact that the bridge project originated from the Washington, D.C. Office of the Mayor and was backed by DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) immensely helped the Hover Solutions team. They spoke with Adam Jachimowicz of the HSEMA to work out the logistics of the flight. “We got the call because people know we have gotten over 70 authorizations to fly inside the DC Flight Restricted Zone in the last three years. All the government agencies that have to sign off on these permissions know us, too,” Showalter revealed.

With all the documentation secured from the various government agencies, Hover Solutions submitted their request for airspace authorization on August 10. Exactly one day before the event was scheduled, they received their approval documents.

UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES

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