An F-16 fighter jet, under the direction of the Continental U.S. NORAD region, intercepted a small plane last Friday in restricted airspace over Southern California, close to a community college where President Biden had just begun speaking. The incident occurred over Santa Ana, Calif.; the president’s event was in Irvine, just about 12 miles away.
According to a NORAD, the fighter jet fired flares to “gain the attention” of the Cessna pilot. Air traffic control audio revealed the F-16 alerted the pilot numerous times he had been “intercepted” by the armed jet on guard and had entered restricted airspace. The pilot asked the errant Cessna to acknowledge a radio call and rock its wings.
An unverified tweet of the conversation says the F-16 fighter pilot also tried to get the Cessna pilot’s attention with so-called “headbutt” maneuvers, like flying in front of the plane.
A temporary flight restriction or TFR is almost always in place wherever the president is traveling.
Fighter pilots deployed to intercept a wayward plane will first attempt to communicate with the pilot of the errant aircraft. If communication cannot be established, the fighter pilot will then use “non-verbal” tactics like deploying flares or headbutts.
Mr. Biden’s speech on the economy at Irvine Valley College started at 3:08 p.m. PT, and the intercept occurred just two minutes later, according to NORAD.
Flight records show the Cessna departed from Kingman, Ariz., and landed in Chino, Calif., at 3:24 p.m. The fixed-wing, single-engine plane’s altitude was about 5,500 feet when it was intercepted. FlightAware.com shows that the plane was inside the restricted security zone for about four minutes.
A Secret Service spokesperson said the agency was aware of the incident and the president’s schedule went uninterrupted.
Breaches of FAA-restricted airspace during presidential trips are fairly common and almost always a result of pilot error.
NORAD and the Secret Service confirmed a second airspace violation occurred last week when a different plane entered restricted airspace in California.
In June, President Biden and the first lady were whisked to a secure location in Rehoboth Beach, when a private plane inadvertently flew near the first couple’s vacation home. Witnesses spotted two fighter jets responding to the aircraft. A brief investigation found the pilot was tuned to the wrong radio frequency.
Kris Van Cleave contributed reporting.