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Was the boom absolutely necesssary?

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 20, 2010 at 9:01 pm with 7 Comments »
August 20, 2010 11:07 pm

Last Tuesday’s sonic boom, a result of fighter jets rushing to intercept an aircraft during the Presidential visit, was a boon for the blogosphere, where comments were both topical and comical.

But it missed a couple salient points.

First, you have to wonder why it occurred at all. The presence of President Obama’s costly entourage of Secret Service agents, staff and assorted hangers-on, as well as the presence of Air Force One and assorted land vehicles utilized by the party, suggest money was clearly not an object.

That begs the question of why the alert airplanes, which stood ready to intercept any aircraft that wandered into the No-Fly zone, were so far away? Whether or not the planes were 6 or 10 minutes out (I have heard both), at Mach 2.5 that puts them at least 150 miles out and far beyond the No-Fly zone itself.

I welcome the reason why the F-15 interceptors were not at Boeing Field. This would have precluded the need to rattle the windows, nerves and 911 systems in the Greater Seattle area (Tacoma being the “Greater” part).It is also a fair argument that any aircraft moderately faster than a little prop plane (on floats!) could have succeeded in wreaking presidential destruction while the Portland-based fighter pilots were screaming over Western Washington with their hair on fire.

The second point is that the Presidential No-Fly Zone has communication gaps begin enough to fly, well, a floatplane through. Such air restrictions are announced to airline and private pilots via the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) system. These notices are disseminated by FAA pre-flight briefers, control towers and automated flight information systems. However, when an aircraft takes off from an uncontrolled airport and transitions an area that is normally unrestricted, the pilot may well be ignorant of any NOTAMs for that area. In such a case there is no requirement for a pilot to be briefed on any flight restrictions, and thus there is no violation by the pilot.

No doubt that’s what happened on Tuesday.

We have our government to thank for this situation, which started with a thinly veiled presidential visit (read fundraiser). Next, the government’s aviation loopholes permitted a pilot to take off and transition a restricted area because no requirement forced him to be briefed. The resulting boom could just as well have been the shock wave of angry residents.

Next time let’s just write Patty Murray a check. We’ll save money and our ear drums.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. heliostwin says:

    2 points here…

    (1) As I work for a window replacement company, and I know how fragile the seals in windows are, I wonder how many windows are ruined from blown seals on double pane units. The kind of shock wave from a sonic boom can and does ruin seals.

    (2) I would rather have all jets produce a sonic boom every time they fly than give one more penny to Murray.

  2. m9078jk3 says:

    I have a question.Why wasn’t the interception from McChord AFB instead as that is a lot closer and might not have required interception at supersonic speeds.Perhaps they (McChord) didn’t have aircraft available for this mission but looking at what has occured they should have been available and on alert status.At the time I was in a home improvement store and I thought from the sounds that Tacoma was being bombed by either terrorists or from an enemy country.

  3. Another way to look at it, the jets took so long to get here the pilot had landed by the time they got here. In other words, if he really was up to no good, he would have succeeded in his mission.

  4. Pretty hard to intercept a Cessna with a pair of McChord C -17’s. The 318th Fighter Interceptor Squadron had F 106 ‘s for DEW-Line duty in the 70’s, F 15’s in the 80’s, and A 10’s in the 90’s. Since then McChord has become a materiel/logistics base for C 17’s and some C 130’s. The ground support requirements for an active fighter group was prohibitive considering the redundant overlap proximity between the Montana ANG and the Oregon ANG. Oregon was closer. Obama’s campaigning vacations are certainly getting more expensive, but if he cuts defense, his and the First Lady’s magnanimously spontaneous airshows might themselves suffer from being less spectacular.
    Can’t have that now, can we…

  5. madmike272 says:

    m9078jk3 says:
    I thought from the sounds that Tacoma was being bombed by either terrorists or from an enemy country.

    You either know nothing about war or are merely ignorant.

  6. Kevindot1 says:

    madmike272, I am going with ignorance. As are most of the people who post comments here.

  7. scott0962 says:

    I’m sure the Air Force would be happy to add more air defense squadrons and decrease the response times of its intercepts, the question is: are we willing to pay for a 2 or 3 minute response time versus a 5-10 minute response time? I doubt it, that’s why air defense was allowed to wither after the Cold War and only really became an issue again after 911.

    Instead of complaining about the noise a couple of Air National Guard pilots made doing their job you should be thanking them for bringing a bit of excitement into your drab lives and giving you a story on a slow news day. Above all, we should be thankful they didn’t have to shoot down that plane over a populated area.

    I would be very surprised if the Secret Service was unprepared to defend the president against an aerial attack in the event the Air Force missed the interception. The U.S. makes very effective man portable surface to air missiles.

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