F-16 fighter jet intercepted plane in airspace near Biden speech in California

An F-16 fighter jet intercepted a small plane last Friday in restricted airspace over Southern California, near a community college where President Biden had just begun speaking. The incident occurred over Santa Ana, Calif.; the president was at a community college in Irvine, about 12 miles away.

According to an Air Force press release, the fighter jet fired flares to “gain the attention” of the Cessna pilot. Air traffic control audio revealed the F-16 alerted the pilot numerous times he had been “intercepted” by the armed jet on guard and had entered restricted airspace. The pilot asked the errant Cessna to acknowledge a radio call and rock its wings.

An unverified tweet of the conversation says the F-16 fighter pilot also tried to get the Cessna pilot’s attention with so-called “headbutt” maneuvers, like flying in front of the plane.

A temporary flight restriction or TFR is almost always in place wherever the president is traveling.

Fighter pilots deployed to intercept a wayward plane will first attempt to communicate with the pilot of the errant aircraft. If communication cannot be established, the fighter pilot will then use “non-verbal” tactics like deploying flares or headbutts.

Mr. Biden’s speech on the economy at Irvine Valley College started at 3:08 p.m. PT, and the intercept occurred just two minutes later, according to the Air Force.

Flight records show the Cessna departed from Kingman, Ariz., and landed in Chino, Calif., at 3:24 p.m. The fixed-wing, single-engine plane’s altitude was about 5,500 feet when it was intercepted. FlightAware.com shows that the plane was inside the restricted security zone for about four minutes.

A Secret Service spokesperson said the agency was aware of the incident and the president’s schedule went uninterrupted.

Breaches of FAA-restricted airspace during presidential trips are fairly common and almost always a result of pilot error.

NORAD and the Secret Service confirmed a second airspace violation occurred last week when a different plane entered restricted airspace in California.

In June, President Biden and the first lady were whisked to a secure location in Rehoboth Beach, when a private plane inadvertently flew near the first couple’s vacation home. Witnesses spotted two fighter jets responding to the aircraft. A brief investigation found the pilot was tuned to the wrong radio frequency.

Kris Van Cleave contributed reporting.

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