An unarmed Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154 jet was seen flying as low as 3,700 feet over downtown Washington D.C. on Wednesday, as well as Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where Air Force One is maintained. The flight received prior approval from U.S. officials and is a part of a longstanding overflight agreement between a number of participating nations.
The Tu-154 carried no armaments, but likely did possess a full complement of intelligence gathering equipment, as authorized by the Treaty on Open Skies the United States first agreed to on March 24th, 1992. The treaty allows the agreement’s 34 signatory nations the right to conduct aerial observations of military assets possessed by other signing members. Whether or not the jet flew at such a low altitude in order to more effectively gather some kind of intelligence, or simply to send a message to the American people, however, would be difficult to ascertain.
“The aircraft will be large and may fly directly over the US Capitol,” said the alert released to Washington D.C. police prior to the Tu-154’s arrival. “This flight will be monitored by the US Capitol Police Command Center and other federal government agencies.”
By virtue of the Treaty on Open Skies, the Russian jet was authorized to fly through a sector of airspace known as P-56, which is the highly secure area surrounding the White House. It also overflew Camp David (the Presidential retreat), the Trump National Golf Course in Virginia, and Mount Weather – which is one of the U.S. government’s secure, and somewhat secret, fallout shelters.