Somewhere over Minnesota
Imagine you and a friend are flying along on a beautiful summer day. You are a passenger in his 4-passenger private plane. Something in your peripheral vision catches your eye. Glancing out the right windshield, you see an F-16 fighter jet. He’s rocking his wings in a very unhappy fashion. You know this cannot be good… You know something is coming your way, and you know this is only the beginning of a very unpleasant day…
It was June, 2006. Regarding the story above, my friend is actually a Civil Air Patrol pilot, as am I. We were assigned as a flight crew to simulate a practice interdiction for the Minnesota Air Guard. Since September 11, 2001 (9/11), private pilots have been advised of procedures that must be followed should the pilot inadvertently stray into temporarily restricted or other prohibited airspace. Since 9/11, areas around Washington DC are no longer available for personal flights in private planes, and these restricted areas are well marked on charts. However, wherever the President and other high government officials appear; temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) are put into place. Before flying, pilots are supposed to make sure they are aware of these restricted areas which can last hours or days and appear whenever and wherever these officials are in the air or on the ground. Private pilots, being people, and used to flying regular routes to wherever they fly, sometimes skip the step of checking for TFRs, only to fly into a temporarily restricted area.
When an airspace restriction is violated, attempts to contact the stray aircraft by radio are made. If the pilot’s radio is not monitoring the emergency frequency, is turned to an incorrect frequency, or is otherwise inoperable, it won’t take long to scramble a pair of nearby military jets. One will hang back, missiles armed and trained on the errant aircraft. The other will approach from the rear; slowly flying a circular pattern and signaling a procedure that insures the pilot will begin communications. In our scenario, we were to pretend our radio was not operable, and allow the jets to practice the procedures that would escort us to a nearby airport for landing and interdiction.
After making several passes around our aircraft, we heard on our actually operable radio, the all-clear that allowed them to break off and we were given the order to return to our base in Fargo.