A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you
heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no
truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception
of "there are no old, bold pilots.")
Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner,
master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us
-- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you
may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be
something we might never have considered before, or something that
didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized
it for the practical test.
Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to
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Since shortly after September 11, 2001 US pilots have obsessed
about air interception procedures -- knowing that in this post-9/11
world busting airspace and violating procedure can get you on the
business end of an F-16's gunsight.
Long before that dark day there was another air intercept
procedure in place that remains to this day -- airborne intercept
and escort for purposes of search and rescue.
Go find it
The concept of airborne intercept and escort is based on the
Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft establishing visual or radar
contact with an aircraft in difficulty, providing in-flight
assistance, and escorting it to a safe landing. If the flight goes
down SAR operations can be conducted without delay. For most
incidents, particularly those occurring at night and/or during
instrument flight conditions, the availability of intercept and
escort services depends on the proximity of SAR units on alert for
immediate dispatch-usually military aircraft (including Coast Guard
and National Guard assets).
In limited circumstances other aircraft in the vicinity of an
aircraft in difficulty can provide these services. Air Traffic
Control (ATC) might ask a pilot in the vicinity of an aircraft in
distress if he/she is willing to intercept and help another
aircraft, and provide vectors and direction if the request is
Note: This works in 9/11 context also. I
know the pilot of a civil aircraft who was asked to intercept an
unknown aircraft in the Washington DC Air Defense Identification
Zone (ADIZ) -- probably the only time in history a little red Beech
Bonanza provided aerial defense of the US capital by intercepting
and escorting away what turned out to be a military helicopter that
strayed into the ADIZ without clearance.
Come find me
If a pilot in a declared emergency asks for an escort, SAR
coordinators will [emphasis FAA] take steps to intercept and escort
that aircraft. Pilots declaring an urgent condition, but not an
emergency, may be intercepted under unusual circumstances.
Escort will normally be provided to the nearest suitable
airport. The pilot can refuse escort if the reason for interception
is the pilot's emergency -- not a security violation. If the pilot
receiving escort services continues onward after reaching a safe
airport, or decides not to divert, the escort aircraft is not
obligated to continue.
Aero-tip of the day: There's another type of
intercept procedure that can help you in an emergency…and
that you may be asked to perform to help another pilot.