Supersonic F-15s intercept seaplane

One of the world’s slowest airplanes, a Cessna 180 on floats, was intercepted by two of the world’s fastest yesterday. The F-15s created a sonic boom heard all over Washington State (story). The floatplane pilot was unaware that Barack Obama was in Seattle for a $10,000/seat political fundraising event (this story notes “No event in the visit was open to the public.”).

6 thoughts on “Supersonic F-15s intercept seaplane

  1. My favorite part of the story was in spite of huge difference in speeds and the use of afterburners, the float plane had already landed by the time the F-15s got there. Any quicker plane could have probably smashed into Air Force One while the fighters circled uselessly overhead. Isn’t it time we got rid of these useless and disruptive Presidential TFRs, like the one we are about to suffer over MVY for the next 9 days?

  2. As you are aware, pilots require training to maintain proficiency. For seasoned fighter pilots, real world situations would seem to provide more valuable experience than imaginary scenarios. For the F-15 pilots, this was a real world threat. Is this sort of over reaction to the presidents safety more silly than dropping bombs on a painted ‘x’ on the desert floor? If we’re going to pay $1000’s per hour to fly these F-15’s, why not do it under the guise of protecting the president while sending a message to potential terrorists? It seems that we hear of fighters being scrambled for the president fairly often so this public over-reaction is surely by design.

    How did they know it was a Cessna 180 before the fighters arrived to identify? Based on my limited knowledge of aviation, the pilot reports the aircraft type–a terrorist would surely identify as some harmless aircraft, such as a Cessna 180. Are we to take a pilots word as to the level of threat their reported aircraft poses whenever there’s a potential safety risk?

    Why didn’t ATC notify the 180 of airspace violation and divert them?

    Terrorists attempting to bomb the president from the sky sounds ridiculous, but so does taking out TWO of the tallest buildings in America with airplanes hijacked with $3 razor blades!

  3. Getting a seat to ask the president a question: $10,000
    Living like a king and wasting tax payers money: Priceless

  4. Paul: The F-15 was developed to fly against supersonic Soviet fighters. Intercepting a floatplane traveling at 100 knots (below the stall speed or minimum speed of the F-15) is not great practice for a dogfight with a MIG-29. In the “Topgun” school ( ), they use F-16 and F-18 fighter jets as aggressors, not 50-year-old four-seat piston airplanes whose performance has been compromised by the addition of floats.

    Why didn’t ATC notify the Cessna 180? Probably because he was clear of controlled airspace and was not communicating with anyone. The airspace is pretty busy, however, so they could have asked other pilots in the area “What kind of plane is that at your one o’clock?” and gotten a description (this is common practice when ATC wants to know the type of a plane in order to call it out as traffic to other aircraft).

    Other than the guy traveling ridiculously slowly and carrying two enormous floats on the bottom of his plane, what evidence was there against him being a terrorist? To start with, he had his transponder on. It would be an unusual criminal or terrorist who wished to assist ATC with locating his aircraft on radar. It is not standard protocol for drug-runners coming in from the Bahamas or Mexico, for example, to operate transponders.

    If it is a sensible productivity practice for the U.S. president to travel cross-country a couple of times each week to raise money for his political party and if it is a sensible security practice to intercept 100-knot floatplanes with $50-400 million fighter jets then we should buy a lot more fighter jets and train more pilots (since these jets did not reach Seattle in a timely fashion).

  5. The training and practice I was referring to hasn’t much to do with dogfighting. It’s a test of the entire system, from detection, to alert, to scrambling the planes all the way to intercept–many different agencies involved and working together under pressure. Additionally, there is a regional component. Just because the system worked last month when they scrambled fighters wherever the president happened to be at that time, doesn’t mean it’s going to work this time in Washington state.

    These F-15’s probably fly somewhat frequently, regardless of where the president is. One extra flight, out of perhaps 12 a year if they fly only once per month, seems fairly insignificant.

    Knowing that ATC might ask planes in the area to ID a particular plane, as you suggest is likely to happen(common knowledge among pilots), why wouldn’t terrorists just happen to be in the area and aid in spoofing it’s true ID? “One-niner-bravo-sierra, looks like a 180 float plane to me.” In reality, the plane might be a small turboprop loaded with high explosives with a ground target in mind.

    The presidents value or importance to the country, and the associated protection which he requires, doesn’t vary based on what he happens to be doing on one particular day.

    The presidents fundraising practices are a separate issue from how the airforce responds to potential threats. I’m in favor of campaign finance reform myself, but until that happens, perhaps we should just charter planes and fly everyone who wishes to attend a presidential fundraiser to D.C.?

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