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The 3 Tallest Obstacles In The USA

If you fly VFR, there are some seriously tall obstacles out there you should be aware of. Some pilots call towers and their long support cables "plane swatters." Here are three unusually tall obstacles you can find on your section chart.

1) TARS Balloons: 8 Locations (Up To 14,000' AGL)

Mistakenly flying into a restricted area doesn't just put you at risk for an FAA violation; it could lead to a potentially deadly mistake. Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) Balloons are filled with helium and can rise up to 15,000 feet while tethered by a single cable.

The primary mission for the balloons is to provide low-level radar surveillance along the southern border of the United States and Mexico, the Florida Straits, and the Caribbean. The radar assists federal agencies in a national drug interdiction program. "The secondary mission is to provide North American Aerospace Defense Command with low-level surveillance coverage for air sovereignty in the Florida Straits." Radar data is available to NORAD and CBP. Click here to learn about a pilot who hit one of these balloons.

TARS balloons can cause IFR OROCAs in otherwise flat terrain to soar above 18,000 feet.


2) KVLY/KXJB-TV Masts: Blanchard, ND (2,063' AGL)

About 30 miles northwest of Fargo, ND, you'll find a cluster of extremely tall communications towers. Completed in 1963 and stretching over 2,000 feet in the air, the KVLY-TV mast is the tallest structure in the United States. It was the tallest structure in the world until the Burj Khalifa exceeded it in 2008.

There's no special airspace around these towers, requiring pilots to maintain extra vigilance.


3) KXTV/KOVR Tower: Walnut Grove, CA (2,050' AGL)

15 miles south of Sacramento, you'll find another cluster of extremely tall towers. Built in 1986, the KXTV/KOVR Tower is the tallest structure in California and the third-tallest guyed mast in the world.

Franklin Field, a non-towered Class G airport lies just 3 miles to the northeast and uses right-traffic patterns for runways conflicting with the towers. Always check the pattern direction!


Use Your Sectional Chart

No matter what, always be 100% certain of your location in relation to nearby obstacles and terrain. Click here to read about some non-charted obstacles that aren't marked on your sectional.

What are the tallest obstacles in your area? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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