CAP Helped F-16s Follow Canadian Skyhawk

By Scott Spangler on April 14th, 2009

JetWhine_CAP-Cessna The failed suicidal cross-country flight of 31-year-old Adam Leon drew a lot of media attention here in Wisconsin. When it was clear that he was approaching Madison (he never got closer than 5 miles), Governor Jim Doyle ordered the capitol evacuated. Curious about the details of this odyssey that started in Thunder Bay, Ontario, an online news search  revealed that the Civil Air Patrol played an important role in this saga.

In watching the “virtual view” many national TV news programs created of the two Fighting Falcons flying formation with the Skyhawk, most pilots probably made comments similar to mine, some variation of “no way.” Anyone who’s watched a 172 and F-16 fly can easily guess that the jet lands at a speed faster than the middle-aged Cessna can cruise.

JetWhine_WI-ANG-F-16 My guess is that the F-16s followed the 172 using a scissors maneuver. Imagine a coordinated series of syncopated Lazy-8s, climbing and descending turns at a constant speed that keep the jets in the the green and the target in on of their heads-up displays. The Cessna’s 14,000 foot cruising altitude probably made it a lot easier on the intercepting pilots.

Being what it is, the military does little without practicing it first. Sneaking up behind unsuspecting low-and-slow civilians is a no-no, so how, I wondered, do the guard pilots practice? Is there some black squadron of Cessnas and Pipers acting as an intercept adversary squadron? As tantalizing as that prospect might be, the real answer, provided by a TV news report no less, is just as surprising. 

JetWhine_CAP-UASF-Logos Since 9/11, the CAP has been the low-and-slow practice targets for air defense squadrons. Nearly half of the CAP’s 52 wings have participated, including those in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Guard F-16s out of Duluth intercepted the 172 as it crossed Lake Superior and then handed him off to the Wisconsin pilots, who followed him for five hours. Two Louisiana ANG F-16s took over just before Leon landed in Missouri.

For everyone involved, I’m happy that this situation reached its end without violence, and I hope it never repeats itself. At the same time, I would give anything to ride along with the CAP on an intercept training mission. Surely it must be as exciting for the CAP pilots as it is the intercepting aviators.

And I have another, more deadly, question: If the intercepting pilots had to pull the trigger on the Cessna, would they use guns or missiles? Anybody out there in JetWhine land have any ideas? — Scott Spangler

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One Response to “CAP Helped F-16s Follow Canadian Skyhawk”

  1. Mal Gormley Says:

    Hmmm.. I won’t venture a guess about guns vs missiles, but the scenario has me wondering why the ANG isn’t using helicopters for this kind of thing. Either that or maybe we should consider buying some old P-51s, Bearcats or F-86s and refitting them for the role. After all, they’ve already proved they would be more than capable of handling such low-and-slow air assault situations, while saving our tax dollars for more important uses.

    Bottom line? This guy was simply a nut case and has received more than his fifteen minutes of fame. Can we move on now?

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