The art of being a flying target

If you fly and are looking for an adrenaline rush, I am guessing you might not come closer than this: being a target practice aircraft for the military. A recent Washington Post article detailed how a group of Civil Air Patrol pilots do just exactly that: 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 U.S. Air Force. It as over 56,000 members and owns the World's largest fleet (535) of single-engine, piston aircraft According to the article, the CAO flies exercises known as Falcon Virgo, which take place over cities such as New York and Washington. They are directed by officials from the 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, who coordinate air defense for the continental United States. Exact details of the Falcon Virgo exercises are often secret. But this much is known: The exercises test Washington's air-defense radar system and the aircraft that might have to confront an intruder. Those include the Air Force jets that fly continuously over the capital, planes that scramble from Andrews Air Force base and Coast Guard helicopters. Participants include officials up the chain of command who must decide whether to intercept or shoot down an aircraft. 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. Pretty sure that I would need to have plastic seat covers if I knew I was being tracked by a missile, maybe that's just me.

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