By Hannah Hess
(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Look skyward Tuesday and you might see some low-flying military aircraft over the District of Columbia.
But don’t panic: The planes are likely part of a practice run.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command will be practicing intercept and identification procedures over the region between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. More exercises will take place Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
The flights are scheduled to take place in or around the District, Virginia and Maryland. People in those areas may hear and or see low-flying NORAD-controlled helicopters flying near military or military contracted aircraft.
NORAD has tested its systems throughout the U.S. and Canada on a rotating basis since the start of Operation Noble Eagle, the command’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The organization tests responses to a variety of scenarios including airspace restriction violations and hijackings. Tuesday’s test flights mark the first time NORAD has tested in the National Capital Region this year, according to authorities.
In June, Capitol Hill witnessed a NORAD interception. A rogue plane flying in restricted airspace on a Saturday afternoon caused a brief evacuation of the Capitol. The plane was intercepted by two F-16s under the direction of NORAD.
The Mooney M20C aircraft, which had departed from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield, Mass., flew into restricted airspace over D.C. and was out of contact with air traffic controllers. NORAD escorted the plane out of the restricted area and landed at a Mount Airy, N.C., airport where it was met by law enforcement officials.
NORAD and its geographical component, Continental United States NORAD Region — which conducts exercises on a monthly basis — also will perform training flights over D.C. on Wednesday between midnight and 2 a.m.
A series of training flights involving Civil Air Patrol aircraft and Civil Air Patrol aircraft and a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter are scheduled for overnight hours. The exercise, held in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Capital Region Coordination Center, the Joint Air Defense Operations Center, Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and CONR’s Eastern Air Defense Sector, is designed to hone NORAD’s intercept and identification operations. It also tests the NCR Visual Warning System, and training personnel at the JADOC.
Officials say all exercises are carefully planned and closely controlled. In the event of inclement weather, the exercises may be rescheduled or postponed.
Since the 2001 attacks in Washington and New York City, CONR fighters have responded to more than 5,000 possible air threats in the United States and have flown more than 62,500 defensive attacks with the support of Airborne Warning and Control System and air-to-air-refueling aircraft.