A U.S. Air Force fighter hurtles past a Texas Wing Cessna in this screen capture from the CAP aircrew's video of its intercept exercise mission.
The Texas Wing flew Jan. 24 and will fly again Tuesday and Wednesday in the Houston area to help the Air Force ensure the safety and security of airspace around NRG Stadium and Super Bowl 51.
In order to train U. S. Air Force fighter aircrews and maintain their proficiency, CAP aircrews fly into simulated restricted airspace playing the role of a trespassing aircraft as the Air Force jet crews practice intercept techniques.
The Air Force pilots fly alongside the CAP plane, make radio contact and guide it out of the restricted airspace.
Post-Sept. 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration routinely implements no-fly zones, referred to as Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR), around major events like the Super Bowl, VIP flights and major disasters. Airspace around these TFR areas is restricted from all general aviation traffic for a specific radius to ensure no aircraft enter.
The TFR is enforced by the Air Force, which has fighter aircraft patrolling the area during the time of the restriction.
Two CAP Cessna 182s from the Texas Wing fly as intercept targets for the Texas Air National Guard. CAP’s “low and slow” aircraft are considered ideal targets for these exercises.
A third CAP aircraft, known as a “high bird,” flies as a communications hub coordinating communications from participants on the ground and in the air.
The Texas Wing will also participate with the Air Force in media flights designed to grant access to news teams that will highlight the joint training missions and these flights’ importance to the safety and security of Americans.
These events mark CAP’s 16th year as a participant in North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) air-defense exercises designed to protect the Super Bowl’s airspace. CAP is involved in similar exercises around the U.S. throughout the year to test aerospace security.
The exercises, known as Falcon Virgo, are carried out as part of Operation Noble Eagle, launched by 1st Air Force/Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) after the 2001 terror attacks. Along with CONR’s Western Air Defense Sector and CAP, the exercises are conducted in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“Falcon Virgo is a cost-effective and highly effective exercise conducted throughout the year that helps the Air Force practice critical safety maneuvers associated with major national events. Civil Air Patrol is pleased to again fly Falcon Virgo intercept exercises in support of the Air Force’s preparations for this Super Bowl,” said Maj. Gen. Joe Vazquez, CAP’s national commander.
CAP is also responsible for raising general aviation community awareness of TFRs. Aircrews from throughout the Texas Wing will fly to numerous airports to inform pilots about the TFRs and penalties for violation.