Airspace Activism

Own your 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?

Read the interview about the project at We Make Money Not Art

Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian and Dr Alison J. Williams met through a collaborative project called "Interventions” at Newcastle University. Alison is an ESRC Research Fellow in geography working on a three-year project called ‘The Geographies of Military Airspaces’. Within this she has interviewed a number of serving military aviators about their experiences of flying. Nelly is a designer, interested in how we can use design and science in our everyday lives to make them more thrilling, creative and passionate.


This project is based on Dr Alison J Williams' research into the geographies of UK military airspaces. These spaces are hidden zones of military control and power projection. They are used by UK military air forces to train and prepare for combat situations. 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 and deactivated 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 in order to be able to safely fly through them.
The idea behind this project is to creatively use interviews conducted with a number of UK military pilots and navigators. At the heart of these interviews was a concern to uncover the hidden geographies of military airspaces through discussions on how these users perceive and imagine the complex geometries of the spaces through which they fly, and whether they have an instinctual ability to generate three-dimensional images in their minds. These interviews illustrated how airspaces are enacted through the movement of aircraft through them. The research considers how this renders airspace as performed, with the mechanical and human elements of aviation enacting individual airspaces. The foci of this project are therefore on making these invisible spaces visible to a broad audience, to make this expert knowledge more widely accessible to a non-expert audience, and to illustrate the performances that enact airspaces.

Enacting the invisible

This project seeks to make these invisible airspaces visible. It achieves this through the construction of a vertical object that empowers us to take back control of these spaces reserved for military purposes.
During the early years of aviation aircraft flew at a relatively low altitude. However, laws existed that gave land-owners 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 battle over payment for access to these spaces.
More recently, wind farms have become a contentious issue. Environmentalists 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 military dislikes wind farms because they create no fly-zones in the sky, because of their production of radar white noise, which prevents aircraft flying over them.
This project synthesises these ideas, proposing an activism approach the focuses upon the idea of being able to generate and enact your own airspace though the deployment of a personalised wind farm. This creates a form of mechanical imperialism, through the enablement of the control of an individual airspace. The project involves the creation of both the wind farm and an audio locator that amplifies the sound of an aircraft engine, thus developing a focus upon an augmented reality which is enacted through the enabling of the wind farm owner to hear an aircraft at distance and erect the wind farm in time to prevent the aircraft flying overhead. 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?

September 2010

In collaboration with Dr. Alison Williams at Newcastle University.