Airspace Activism
June 29th, 2010

Dr Alison J Williams & Nelly Ben Hayoun

Aerial Geographies

This project is based on Alison’s research into the geographies of UK military airspaces. These spaces are hidden zones of military control and power projection. They are used by the UK’s military air forces to train for combat situations. Their use is controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees the management of these spaces and creates the UK air charts, which depict the uses that airspaces can be put to. One of the fascinating things about these airspaces is that they exist in four dimensions; they are three-dimensional volumes of space that can be activated at different times. However, aviators only have two-dimensional air charts to look at to ‘see’ these spaces, so they have to be able to translate these mappings into three-dimensions in their minds to be able to fly safely.

The idea behind this project was to creatively use interviews conducted by Alison with a number of UK military aviators as a starting point from which we could question the nature of UK airspaces. One of the aims of these interviews was to uncover the hidden geographies of these spaces. This centred upon discussions on how these users perceive and imagine the complex geometries of the spaces through which they fly. Most significantly, these interviews illustrated the extent to which airspaces are enacted through the movement of aircraft through them. In this project we are interested in exploring how this renders airspace as performed, with the mechanical and human elements of aviation enacting individual airspaces. These ideas developed into the foci of this project, which are about making these invisible airspaces visible to a broad audience, enabling this expert knowledge to be more widely accessible to non-experts, and illustrating the performances that enact airspaces.

Photos by Nick Ballon

Enacting the Invisible

This project seeks to make the spaces through which aircraft fly visible. It achieves this through the construction of a vertical object that empowers us to enact control of these spaces.
During the early years of aviation aircraft flew at relatively low altitudes. However, laws existed that gave landowners ownership of the entirety of the vertical space above the footprint of their house, including the air. This led to a myriad of problems for aviators and landowners who became locked in legal battles over payment for access to these spaces.

More recently, wind farms have become a contentious issue. Environmentalists seemingly either protest their building in areas of natural beauty, or cry out for their erection to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels and nuclear power. The aviation community, however, dislikes wind farms because their production of radar white noise creates ‘no fly-zones’ in the air.

This project synthesises these ideas, to propose an activism approach that focuses upon the idea of being able to generate and activate your own airspace though the deployment of a personalised wind farm. The project involves the creation of both the wind farm and an audio locator. The locator amplifies the sound of an aircraft engine, which enables the wind farm owner to hear an aircraft at a distance and erect the wind farm in time to prevent the aircraft flying overhead. This creates a form of mechanical imperialism by enabling the control of an individual airspace.

Can airspaces be owned and activated by the public? What is the size of the airspace you can own? How can we employ wind farms in a way that disrupts conventional understandings of their use?

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