You’ve just loaded your little family into your Piper Saratoga for a weekend vacation to the beach. An air of excitement has permeated your morning as you finish your walk around and ensure each family member is safely strapped in. You’ve gone to great lengths to ensure this trip will be a safe one. The aircraft has been properly serviced and you are 100% current and feeling your most proficient as you start the engine. The weather is beautiful, yet you remain focused for any abnormality that may arise.
About half an hour after takeoff, you finally settle into a comfortable rhythm as you are trimmed up at cruise altitude and thinking about the white sand beach that awaits you. That’s when you hear your excited five year-old shouting with glee on the intercom:
“Daddy, daddy! Look! A fighter jet!”
As you look out the left side of the aircraft, sure enough you see an F-16 overtaking you while slightly rocking its wings.
“Awesome!” You exclaim, “honey, get the camera out! The boys at the office will never believe this!”
If you are thinking that today’s your lucky day, think again…you’ve just been intercepted!
An election year brings an abundance of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) that require proper planning to avoid. Busting a TFR is bad. However, not every TFR bust will guarantee you an up close look at a fighter aircraft (believe me, you don’t want one under this circumstance!) TFR avoidance is the best policy and should always be your primary game plan. However, if you happen to find yourself in this situation, you need to know what to do as the intercepted aircraft. Here’s a quick primer to get you (and your passengers) out of harms way as quickly as possible.
- Acknowledge the intercept. Gently rock your wings by making small roll inputs in opposite directions with the flight controls.
- Notify ATC of the intercept and request instructions. If not in contact with ATC, tune your aircraft’s radio to 121.5, check in with your call sign and position from the nearest navaid or airfield. Listen for further instructions.
- If the military aircraft turns away from you, follow the intercepting aircraft until it rolls out of the turn. The heading on which it rolls out is the heading your are required to fly until another heading is indicated.
- If the military aircraft drops its landing gear, you are being ordered to land immediately. By following the fighter, you will be taken to the airfield at which you are ordered to land.
- Remember, the fighter may not be able to fly at your slow speed. If you see the fighter sharply break away in a climbing turn, remain on the previous heading and attempt contact either on 121.5 or the area ATC frequency. The fighter may just be repositioning so as not to overshoot your flight path. If that’s the case, he’ll be back, otherwise the intercept has been terminated.
The best source of information about what to do when intercepted is from the agency controlling the intercept, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). Their website has some very good information on airborne intercepts: http://www.norad.mil/GeneralAviation.aspx
Whatever happens in the air, you can expect additional action on your part once you’re on the ground. Upon landing you may be met by law enforcement authorities or you may be given a phone number to call. Whatever happens, be honest and open about your intentions and flight planning (or lack thereof) when interviewing with the appropriate authority. Follow-on actions will depend on the type of TFR. To get an idea of what actions can be taken against you, take a look at the text of the various TFR NOTAMs. Here’s an excerpt from a recent VIP TFR (FDC 5/9303):
PILOTS WHO DO NOT ADHERE TO THE FOLLOWING PROCEDURES MAY BE INTERCEPTED, DETAINED AND INTERVIEWED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT/SECURITY PERSONNEL. ANY OF THE FOLLOWING ADDITIONAL ACTIONS MAY ALSO BE TAKEN AGAINST A PILOT WHO DOES NOT COMPLY WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OR ANY SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS OR PROCEDURES ANNOUNCED IN THIS NOTAM: A) THE FAA MAY TAKE ADMINISTRATIVE ACTION, INCLUDING IMPOSING CIVIL PENALTIES AND THE SUSPENSION OR REVOCATION OF AIRMEN CERTIFICATES; OR B) THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT MAY PURSUE CRIMINAL CHARGES, INCLUDING CHARGES UNDER TITLE 49 OF THE UNITED STATES CODE, SECTION 46307; OR C) THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT MAY USE DEADLY FORCE AGAINST THE AIRBORNE AIRCRAFT, IF IT IS DETERMINED THAT THE AIRCRAFT POSES AN IMMINENT SECURITY THREAT.
Here is a pretty good video that demonstrates what to do when intercepted:
Your weekend family beach retreat could be seriously interrupted if you don’t take the time to research and avoid TFRs. If you find yourself staring down the business end of a military fighter, just follow the simple steps outlined above to make sure you make it safely back to the ground.
Even when flying the friendly skies, it’s not a bad idea to check six!