An F-16 fighter jet directed by the Continental US NORAD region intercepted a small plane near a community college in restricted airspace in Southern California last Friday, The incident took place in Santa Ana, California; The presidential program was in Irvine, about 12 miles away.
According to NORAD, the fighter jet opened fire to “get the attention” of the Cessna pilot. Air traffic control audio showed that the F-16 alerted the pilot several times that he had been “intercepted” by an armed jet and had entered restricted airspace. The pilot mistakenly told Cessna to accept a radio call and move its wings.
An unverified tweet from the conversation said that the F-16 fighter pilot tried to get a Cessna pilot’s attention with so-called “headbutt” maneuvers, such as flying in front of the plane.
Temporary flight restrictions or TFRs almost always apply wherever the President is traveling.
Fighter pilots deployed to stop a wayward aircraft will first attempt to communicate with the pilot of the errant aircraft. If communication cannot be established, the fighter pilot will use “non-verbal” tactics such as deploying flares or headbutts.
According to NORAD, Mr. Biden’s speech on the economy at Irvine Valley College began at 3:08 p.m. PT, and the intercept took place exactly two minutes later.
Flight records show that the Cessna took off from Kingman, Ariz., and landed in Chino, Calif., at 3:24 p.m. The fixed-wing, single-engined aircraft had an altitude of about 5,500 feet when it was intercepted. FlightAware.com shows that the plane remained in the restricted security zone for about four minutes.
A Secret Service spokesman said the agency was aware of the incident and the president’s program went off without a hitch.
FAA-restricted airspace violations during presidential visits are fairly common and are almost always the result of pilot error.
NORAD and the Secret Service confirmed that 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 moved to a safe location in Rehoboth Beach after a private plane inadvertently took off near the first couple’s vacation home. Eyewitnesses saw two fighter jets responding to the plane. A brief check found that the pilot had been tuned to the wrong radio frequency.
Chris Van Cleve contributed reporting.