F-16 Fighter Jet Swarms Private Trump Golf Course After Major Security Threat
Security officials in charge of protecting the president got a bit of a scare on Saturday when an Air Force F-16 fighter jet was forced to intercept a suspicious airplane.
According to the Associated Press, the F-16 was scrambled after a general aviation aircraft was flying unreasonably close to a Trump-owned golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
That’s where President Donald Trump is staying for the weekend, prompting heightened security that includes aviation restrictions for local pilots.
The interception occurred around noon on the 21st, after the small plane apparently ignored a restricted zone and was not responding to radio calls. Officials said the aircraft was flying “without proper clearances or communications.”
“Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command says the intercepted aircraft landed at an airport in Pittstown, N.J. without incident, where local law enforcement met the pilot,” the AP elaborated.
The identity of the pilot and the reason that he broke the secure area has not been reported, but it seems the Secret Service is satisfied that there is no ongoing threat to the president.
When a VIP such as the president travels, the FAA often issues a Temporary Flight Restriction, or TFR. This information is included in daily NOTAMs, or Notices to Airmen.
As a matter of routine, pilots are expected to review those NOTAMs before a flight and make sure that they respect the TFRs in their region, which can include geographic areas and altitudes that are off limits.
Those advisories can also be viewed on a map, making it relatively easy for a pilot to check for restrictions before he takes off, or even from the air.
However, a pilot could miss the notice for several reasons. Local aircraft operators who are used to recreational flying in their areas sometimes become lax about checking the notices before each flight, and it’s also possible for a pilot to mistakenly have outdated information.
There are also innocent reasons for a pilot to be out of contact. Some aircraft are not actually required to carry a radio, if they are operating out of a small airfield without a control tower. Frequency mix-ups and equipment malfunctions can put a pilot out of contact, even if he has no malicious intentions.
Of course, there is still the very real possibility of an aircraft being used as a weapon, as 9/11 proved beyond any doubt.
In 2010, for example, a pilot deliberately crashed his small Piper Dakota aircraft into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. He killed one person and injured over a dozen, while also taking his own life.
Unintentional violations of restricted airspace are much more common. According to the Sun Sentinel newspaper, eleven different aircraft flew into the secure area near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort this past winter holiday season. Several F-16s were scrambled during that time period to intercept rogue pilots.
“My heart kind of a skipped a beat because I thought, ‘Did I do something wrong?’” pilot Erick Paulson explained to the Florida newspaper about seeing fighter jets in the sky during one of those earlier interceptions.
“There are signs and posters that say, ‘Don’t be that pilot.’ There really isn’t an excuse for not knowing,” he continued.
After law enforcement and the Secret Service locate and question a pilot who veered into restricted airspace, it’s up to the FAA to decide if the operator should receive a civil fine or more serious criminal charges.
The fate of the pilot in New Jersey is not yet known, but after fighting an Air Force fighter jet off his wing, it’s likely he won’t be making the same mistake twice.
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