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Joint military CrossTell exercise eyes TFRsJoint military CrossTell exercise eyes TFRs

NORAD, Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol join forcesNORAD, Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol join forces

Wisps of puffy clouds floated by the Cessna 182 and pleasure boats dotted the waterways near Atlantic City, New Jersey, as the shoreline came into view on an afternoon sight-seeing trip. A storybook view from the pilot’s seat of a general aviation aircraft was the perfect way to spend a lazy weekday. Then, a large, menacing-looking orange helicopter swooped into formation, tucking in tightly under the ambling aircraft’s left wing, shattering the serenity and shaking the pilots.

  • A U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin search and rescue helicopter bears down on a Cessna 182 that had strayed into a temporary flight restriction area during a training mission between NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard in New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • An aircraft departs from the base of the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A mission statement is posted on the wall at the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. The fighter wing launched crews to defend the nation immediately after the September 11 terrorism attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Crews brief a member of the national media during the CrossTell Exercise, a joint mission by NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard, from the base of the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • U.S. Coast Guard members and NORAD pilots, operating from the base of the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, prepare for CrossTell, a joint exercise to raise awareness about temporary flight restrictions affecting general aviation operations. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Civil Air Patrol pilots Mark Burchfield and Scott Faulkner debrief with U.S. Coast Guard members during CrossTell, a joint exercise, between NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard, to raise awareness about temporary flight restrictions likely to appear this summer over New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Civil Air Patrol pilot Scott Faulkner debriefs with a U.S. Coast Guard member during CrossTell, a joint exercise, between NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard, to raise awareness about temporary flight restrictions likely to appear this summer over New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • An F-16C Fighting Falcon taxies toward the runway from the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport during a joint mission by NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard, to raise awareness about temporary flight restrictions that could affect general aviation pilots. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey, can be seen during a general aviation flight along the East Coast during CrossTell, a joint exercise between NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Civil Air Patrol pilots Scott Faulkner and Mark Burchfield fly a Cessna 182 near Atlantic City, New Jersey, during CrossTell, a joint training mission with NORAD and the Coast Guard. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin search and rescue helicopter swoops in past the tail of a Cessna 182 that had strayed into a temporary flight restriction area during a training mission between NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard in New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Crews in a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin search and rescue helicopter motion to a Cessna 182 that had strayed into a temporary flight restriction area during a training mission between NORAD, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Coast Guard in New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.
  • An F-16C Fighting Falcon prepares to land at the base of the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Photo by David Tulis.

“Aircraft this is the U.S. Coast Guard on 121.5, you have been intercepted. If you read me, acknowledge this transmission and rock your wings.”

The Cessna pilot initially ignored the Coast Guard’s MH-65D Dolphin, thinking, “Is this really happening to us?” Cockpit chatter ensued between the pilot and his passenger while the helicopter closed to within a few paces. Four crew members with serious expressions on their faces could clearly be seen. The Coast Guard helicopter crew then advised, “644 Charlie Papa, you have entered into the restricted airspace. You are ordered to immediately turn to heading 1-5-0.”

The Coast Guard’s mission changed from a warning to an escort as the situation escalated because the unresponsive aircraft was conceived as a threat to national security and flying in a temporary flight restriction (TFR). “Coast Guard helicopter, Charlie Papa 644, we do hear and see you,” replied the shaken Cessna pilot.

Fortunately, in this case, the wayward “rabbit” was a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) aircraft simulating an airspace intruder near the Bedminster, New Jersey, TFR that hovers over one of President Donald Trump’s properties. Pilots Scott Faulkner and Mark Burchfield were taking part in a joint CrossTell Exercise mission performed by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the U.S. Coast Guard, and the CAP.

The playbook indicated the pilots could now acknowledge and comply with the command by rocking their wings and communicating over the VHF guard frequency of 121.5 MHz, as instructed. The Cessna pilot began a right turn and acknowledged, “We are turning to heading 1-5-0 for November 644 Charlie Papa.”

“November 644 Charlie Papa, request that you continue your turn to heading 3-0-0. We are going direct to Woodbine Airport for landing,” advised Zombie One, the ominous call sign for the Coast Guard chopper. With communication established and instructions received, the immediate threat was mitigated as the Cessna turned with the Dolphin to exit the area.

Maj. Andrew Scott, a Continental U.S. NORAD Region CONR public affairs officer, explained that preventing a potential TFR violation was preferred to scrambling fighters and helicopters. “We’re not trying to intercept people—that’s not our goal. The goal is to educate and inform the GA community.”

Scott said that TFRs can “catch local pilots off guard” because “they are familiar with the area, they know the landmarks and they know where they can and can’t go, but all of that changes after a TFR pops up.” He said education is a key “because if we can educate and inform them and stop them [from violating airspace] beforehand, it’s always better.”

The Cessna interception was scary enough with a Coast Guard helicopter traveling at 80 knots, but it would have been downright frightening to be next to a single-seat fighter aircraft with its pilot commanding full armament and orders to stop an intruder at all costs.

TFR violations can be avoided with routine preflight planning, explained U.S. Air Force Col. Bradford Everman, the operations group commander for the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing taking part in the exercise. The Egg Harbor Township-based fighter wing launched crews to defend the nation immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania. It also has taken active roles in Operation Noble Eagle, Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom. When he is not behind the controls of an F-16C, Everman is a GA pilot who sometimes unwinds by flying a Cirrus SR22 or a Diamond DA40 “for fun.” 

“Nothing makes us happier,” Everman confided, “than not having to come out and work with you doing our primary job of defending the United States airspace." He said, “the basics are pretty obvious” and advised pilots to “check the notams and check the temporary flight restrictions” in addition to performing preflight diligence for weather and other flight conditions. He said that pilots who maintain awareness about news events and expected VIP travel can help keep themselves out of the news.

“When you check your TFRs, the biggest thing you [can] do is know what is going on around you. One thing that’s not that obvious, but I’ll throw it out to you, is if you know the president is traveling or other high-ranking government officials are traveling because you follow the news, there’s likely a TFR that will follow those individuals.” He warned that if there’s a planned VIP event, “you can plan on there being fighters close by.”

GA pilots frequently quiz him on what to do if they are confronted by a fighter after violating restricted airspace. “Believe it or not that is the most common question,” so he suggested a mitigation strategy that pilots should commit to memory to avoid an F-16 Fighting Falcon on their tail.

“The absolute first thing that you do is acknowledge the presence of the fighter. The best thing that you can do is make sure that person—flying that airplane—knows that you see them and that you are aware that they are there. If that happens, it deescalates that entire situation because we have now agreed” that the two parties have acknowledged each other. After that first step, “Half the problem has already been reduced, so, flash your lights, smile if you have to, even take a picture of me,” Everman joked. He clarified that the official response was to “rock your wings” to prevent any communication issues.

Everman said it was equally important for pilots to monitor the 121.5 MHz guard frequency because “in the middle of the intercept we will be trying to reach you on 121.5. So, to the maximum extent that you can, have that frequency up and be monitoring it” during routine flight. Then simply “follow the directions you receive on the radio, or visually, from the aircraft.” Sometimes intercepting aircraft crew hold up signs or other devices.

For those who violate a TFR, Scott was purposefully ambiguous when pressed as to whether an Air Force F-16 or a Coast Guard MH-65 would be called into duty. “Every scenario is different,” he explained, depending on the threat level, the aircraft involved, and the proximity from military air support. He said that pilots flying near TFRs might not be aware of it, but crews are likely monitoring their behavior from other locations—or from other aircraft.

To raise awareness, Scott said, the 601st Air Operations Center’s GA outreach program includes posters, kneeboards, and letters written to local fixed-base operators, asking them to remind aviators of TFRs and post enclosed materials in public flight planning areas. In conjunction with efforts by the 601st, the CAP visits airports to speak face to face with pilots, reminding them to “check notams and fly informed.”

Scott emphasized that it is particularly important to advise the GA flying public in light of the president’s frequent winter trips to Lantana, Florida, or his summertime visits to Bedminster. “Anything we can do to get the word out for Bedminster is a win-win," Scott said.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Temporary Flight Restriction

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