Will military flight exercises over Washington, DC alarm anyone?

NORAD fighters

As we know by now the timing of any sort of flyovers over teeming cities just aren't a good idea unless everyone knows about them, and even that's probably not enough. 

So it is with trepidation that I read today a bulletin that the group tasked with protecting our hides in the sky, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, will conduct an exercise with training flights over the Washington, DC region on May 15 and 19 between midnight and 6:00 a.m. 

Now the flights don't involve airliners but rather two Civil Air Patrol Cessna aircraft, two Air Force F-16s and one Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter. NORAD said residents may see these aircraft approaching and flying in the vicinity of the Washington D.C. as part of this exercise. 

I imagine they hope it will go off without a glitch. But you know there will be more than one person who didn't hear about it that will be panicked by this activity.

NORAD said its "Exercise Falcon Virgo" practice is designed to hone the group's intercept and identification operations, as well as test of the NCR Visual Warning System. The exercise is being held in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Capital Region Command Center, the Joint Air Defense Operations Center, the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR), Civil Air Patrol, US Coast Guard and CONR's Western Air Defense Sector.

Exact details of the Falcon Virgo exercises, which take place in many large cities across the country, are often secret. But this much is known: The exercises test a city's air-defense radar system and the aircraft that might have to confront an intruder. Those include the Air Force jets that fly over the city, planes that scramble from Andrews Air Force base in Washington, DC's case and Coast Guard helicopters. Participants include officials up the chain of command who must decide whether to intercept or shoot down an aircraft.

A Washington Post article in 2007 detailed how a group of Civil Air Patrol pilots who as part of the exercise offer up their Cessna's as targets attacking sensitive sites up and down the east coast. CAP is a non-profit group that functions as an auxiliary of the US Air Force.  Many involved in the exercises are not told that the Cessnas are "friendlies" until after they have been picked up by radar - but well before any decision would be made to shoot them down. During some exercises, the military also tracks the Cessnas with ground-to-air missiles. "Which can be kind of disconcerting if you're flying them," observed one pilot.

Still, the exercise comes on the heels of a very public scare last month when a 747 sometimes used as Air Force One escorted by a couple F-16s, flew over New York City for a photo shoot that had people scrambling for shelter. Louis Caldera, the person responsible for the debacle, resigned as head of the White House Military Office last week.

And just this week the FAA shot down a Navy request to fly a P-3 patrol aircraft 3,000 feet over the Hudson River near the city for a training exercise.

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