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If You Get Intercepted, Here's What It Looks Like And What You Should Do

Pilots are intercepted every year by military aircraft. What if it happened to you? Here are the procedures you should know...

French Air Force

First...Here's What It Looks Like.

Just a few weeks ago, the French Air Force posted air-to-air footage of intercept procedures. While you should check out the full video, we've skipped to the portion showing what it looks like when a French Dassault Rafale intercepts a turboprop Kodiak.

So how should a normal pilot react if they unintentionally flew into restricted airspace and were intercepted? Fortunately, the FAA has some guidance on what you should do. But first, check this out:

FAA In-Flight Intercept Procedures

In 2015, the FAA published this 1-page document covering intercept procedures. While you'll probably never use this in your aviation career, remembering the basics is always a good idea.

According to the FAA, "if you are intercepted by U.S. military or law enforcement aircraft, remain predictable. Do not adjust your altitude, heading, or airspeed until directed to by the intercepting aircraft. An intercepted aircraft must, without delay:

  • Adhere to instructions relayed through the use of visual devices, visual signals, and radio communications from the intercepting aircraft.
  • Attempt to establish radio communications with the intercepting aircraft or with the appropriate ATC facility by making a general call on guard (121.5 MHz), giving the identity, position, and nature of the flight.
  • If transponder equipped, squawk 7700 unless otherwise instructed by ATC.
  • The crew of the intercepted aircraft must continue to comply with interceptor aircraft signals and instructions until positively released.

The FAA created the following table and graphic to make things a little more straightforward...

FAA

Video: Cessna Intercepted By Air Force F-15

If you think this can't happen to you, just last week a C172 Skyhawk was intercepted after it violated a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) over the Trump National Golf Course. Click here to read the full news article.

An F-15 Eagle dispatched by NORAD intercepted the pilot, who was not talking to ATC at the time. The plane landed at a Sussex County airport, where it was surrounded by police shortly after exiting the runway.

Prevent An Intercept With A Good Preflight Briefing, And ForeFlight's Profile View

The best way to prevent an intercept is to get a thorough preflight briefing. If you use ForeFlight, there are some visual tools that can help too.

One of ForeFlight's most powerful features on its mobile app for pilots is called the "profile view." For Pro level subscribers, airspace is depicted vertically along your route of flight. This feature combines terrain, obstacles, and airspace along your route into a single profile view. It enhances your situational awareness, giving you a quick way to double-check that your altitude and route won't interfere with tower controlled or restricted airspace.

Airspace depicted is from the start to the end of your route, left to right. And if you want to get a closer look at complicated airspace, you can zoom in within the profile view to see more detail.

ForeFlight

What do you use to preflight check airspace along your route? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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