Why is JCM Farming so Scared of Balloons?

Ballooning has to be one of the most picturesque and adventurous ways we have of flying. As far as displays of aviation beauty go, it's pretty difficult to top a fleet of multi-colored aircraft floating over the countryside on a clear day. As a glider pilot, I take a lot of pride in my ability to read the air and keep my plane aloft by working in harmony with the environment. I have to give more credit to balloonists though. They truly have to understand and work with the conditions around them to navigate safely, let alone getting somewhere on purpose.

I have to wonder why such a benign form of aviation scares JCM Farming so much that they've used lawsuits to put 13 ballooning companies out of business and are continuing to use legal scare tactics to bully aviators and neighbors in California's Coachella Valley.

I first noticed this issue in an article on MyDesert.com. It reports how JCM claims to have highly secret projects going on inside the 24' tall walls of their armed and guarded compound. The story was also picked up by LA's NBC affiliate.

In spite of JCM's claims that balloonists and others are flying dangerously low, the FAA has investigated twice and found nothing to be wrong. As long as the balloonists are respecting the minimum altitudes referenced in the 14 CFR, I don't imagine JCM has a leg to stand on. JCM is also reported to complain about the noise from the balloons' heaters. (No, as far as I can tell, they aren't joking.)

Though happy to complain about noise and the safety of low-flying aircraft, JCM has been asking for permission to have their own helipad. I don't think that anyone can reasonably argue that helicopters would be less loud or more safe operating on JCM's property than balloons are cruising above it at federally approved altitudes.

This would probably be made very clear in court, except that I'm not sure any of this fight has actually occurred in a court room. One company who tried to stand up to the JCM bullies has spend over $130,000 in legal fees and still hasn't gotten a day in court to actually address the issue.

A second mydesert.com article puts this argument in a different context. It asks: "Who is JCM Farming and What Are They Doing?" JCMs compound appears to be more heavily fortified that most US military bases. It sounds like JCM wants to prevent anyone from overflying this compound altogether. Believe it or not, that isn't a luxury enjoyed by many military bases. Usually, those with an airfield have at least Class D airspace up to 2500' AGL, though that rarely prevents aircraft from crossing over a base a little lower if needed. If a military base with sensitive or classified aircraft and systems can let people fly over it, why can't JCM?

I can't imagine that JCM Farming is doing anything important or sensitive enough that a balloon at 1000' poses them any kind of threat. A lot of reader comments on mydesert.com wonder if JCM's security concerns are related to the legality of their operations.

I have an idea: let's offer JCM Farming a choice. Either they a) get rid of this frivolous and unfair legal bullying or b) let's give them exactly what they want and put a TFR (emphasis on the temporary) directly over their ranch. Then, we'll park a UAV belonging to Customs and Border Patrol, the DEA or even the USAF in that airspace and have it take a look at what's going on inside the compound. If their claims are legitimate they should welcome the added security. If not, then perhaps their operations should be more closely investigated....

That's just my opinion though, what do you think?

For more pictures of JCM sinister airborne spies, visit mydesert.com's gallery.