Fighters Use Flares To Get TFR-Busting Pilot’s Attention


NORAD fighters fired flares to get the attention of an RV-7 pilot who blundered into the presidential TFR surrounding President Donald Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort on Saturday. The jets were scrambled and intercepted the homebuilt in the restricted airspace but weren’t able to raise the pilot on the radio. Shortly after the flares were used, the errant pilot found the right frequency and was escorted to a nearby airport where his day undoubtedly got even worse.

It’s not clear if the president was even aware of the incident but it definitely got the attention of the Secret Service. “The President was not in danger and the security of the complex was maintained throughout. Further investigation of the airspace violation is pending,” the Secret Service said in a statement. 

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. What a ridiculous waste of money. Sending military jet fighters after an errant light aircraft. I can’t believe we’re still doing this twenty years later.

    • Not wasting tax dollars by sending 2 or more (because as far as I’m aware, it’s always at least a pair) of military jet fighters after a lone light GA aircraft. In fact, the whole concept of presidential TFRs is a bit ridiculous since: a) it broadcasts the potential whereabouts of the president, b) a single light GA aircraft has never successfully been used to kill people on the ground (and it has been tried before), c) for such an attack to be successful, you’d have to precisely hit your target, which means you’d have to know precisely where your target is. Now, if you saw two or more aircraft in some type of formation busting a TFR, then you have a different story. Otherwise, all these presidential TFRs do is get some innocent pilots (who admittedly should have done better preflight planning) caught up in potential certificate suspensions for an innocent mistake.

      • It’s not actually a “waste”. The pilots get paid regardless, and they’ll be needing flight hours one way or another.

    • Sorry, David B., a pilot busting a TFR isn’t “innocent”, they’d have to violate more than one reg to get there.

    • I’m with David on this one. Because if an aircraft was deemed hostile and you wanted to take it down, it would be more effective and safer for any US citizens in the local area for the Secret Service to employ shoulder fired Stingers from a S2A scenario than it would be for fighters to employ A2A missiles against what would be at that point a low flying aircraft. Because let’s face it, A2A missiles like the Sidewinder are not 100% accurate. Let’s not blow up a family home attempting to protect the POTUS, shall we?

      • I think you’re watching too many movies… a fighter would just use a cannon on a target like that. But it’s hard to imagine it actually coming to that in this kind of scenario.

        • I’m watching to many movies? Eh tu Tyler? A fighter strafing a low flying aircraft, oh yes, that would be so much more safe for the civilian population on the ground 😒

        • Wake turbulence would be sufficient to knock it out of the sky I think. Correct me if I’m wrong though – is it not the case that in 100% if the intercepts of this type is just someone who made a mistake? No need for firepower.

          • Correct, but that’s not the scenario in this thread. We’ve been discussing why armed fighter aircraft might not be the safest implement in the toolbox in regards to the citizenry when an aircraft is deemed hostile to the POTUS.

      • So do I. It is only a matter of time before a missile or a cannon shot happens, then what? This country has had TFR’s before 9/11, they just were not this ridiculous 30nm nonsense. And where did the flares end up after they stop burning? Yes this pilot should have known better but his blunder is just a perfect example of how worthless these intercepts are. Not one terrorist has been caught on these, that should tell someone something!

      • Guys, a fighter can just “boom” the violating aircraft to bring it down; fly close over and initiate a zoom climb in afterburner over the top would completely destroy it. No weapons are required.

        • In theory Jesse, sure. But let’s face it, that’s not what fighter pilots are trained to do. If they’re in the air and ordered to take out another aircraft they’re going to do exactly as they’ve been trained and use the munitions they’ve brought with them.

  2. First, A. TFR is needed for protection, otherwise you could have multiple planes flying over President and no way to figure good guys vs bad guys. B. And jetliners had never been used for multiple attacks on America before 9/11. C. With miniaturization of bombs today, small powerful explosives packed full into a GA can do a lot of damage.
    Sending in armed military aircraft is the most practical solution that exists. It presents power to down, and human pilot to interpret intentions in timely manner. We’re paying pilots and maintaining aircraft regardless. Provides real world intercept practice.

  3. Good practice. And since the president spends a gawdawful fortune traipsing about to golf resorts every weekend, the occasional scrambling of a couple fighters is a de minimus addition to the total bill. Fore!

    • Just keep in mind this is not a Trump thing. Every president since 9/11 has cost this country’s taxpayers a fortune whenever they travel. Even earlier remember when Clinton shut down Columbus Ohio airport because he wanted to get a haircut on Air Force one! And presidential election protection of candidates costs even more. There have been cities on this election cycle who turned down hosting presidential party conventions because of the disruption and costs involved with “security”.

      • Agreed. And yet I think we can all agree too that WFA (waste, fraud, and abuse) has been raised to an art form of late—throughout the govmint, but nowhere more so than by our dear leader. But this isn’t the place for politics, so I’ll just say that I think no matter how absurd our dear leader is, he or she should be thoroughly protected by any reasonable means. Including F-16’s if necessary.

      • Trump is unique in his constant weekend travel to places needing TFR’s. Most President’s spent the weekend when they just wanted to relax at Camp David. That don’t line his pocket though.

        • Don’t tell pilots in the Martha’s Vineyard area that. Obama did several vacations there. In Hawaii also. And Bush at Waco TX or Kennebunkport ME. Trump is not as unique in his trips as you might think.

          • I believe Obama’s trips to the Vineyard were annual or semi-annual. Ditto Bush to Maine or Texas (both more out of the way spots than Bedminster NJ). Trump goes to his properties much more frequently.

  4. I saw the interception from my hangar doorway at KSMQ, less than 2 miles from Trump’s house @ Trump National. He is either the dumbest pilot on record or he did this on purpose. Look at the GPS track on FlightAware or something similar, he turned at Trump’s house. Hard to believe that was an accident. All GA airports in the area have very clear signage warning you about the TFR’s.

    They gave him PLENTY of warnings before the flares, afterburners, flying right in front of his prop, a Helo right on his tail.

  5. I have no need to present an argument about this being government waste (we are all educated people here and know how good the the government is at wasting). I have been actively flying since 1977 and remember when TFR’s were first introduced. Our Pilots Association attended meetings with the FAA and we were absolutely assured that these were just “Temporary”, yet all the years later we have TFR’s that have been in effect for many years. Yell at me all day long, but I will always contend that the FAA is all about control and not much about actual safety…

  6. Let’s see from the past. Lest we forget, the naval grouping in Pearl Harbor was innocent enough to encourage Japanese air wings to attack battleships, destroyers and airplanes. If I’m not mistaken, since then, there hasn’t been any large group of US navy ships docked in port anywhere to preclude another Pearl Harbor attack again. Various ships like the USS Cole were attacked but limited to one ship in port. When an aircraft carrier battle group visits a port, one or two ships dock but the rest are out at sea. Does anyone see a pattern never to dock every ship in port whether in the USA or elsewhere around the world?

    No one ever conceived the thought of using commercial aircraft as weapons of mass destruction until three of four were commandeered into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. The fourth went down in Pennsylvania as it was destined for Washington D.C.

    As much as it seems inappropriate today, lessons from the past aren’t repeated. Expanding the presidential TFR to 30 miles allows time for scrambling nearby military aircraft to intercept errant aircraft inadvertently or ignoring TFRs, sending a strong message to escort aircraft out of the restricted airspace then dealing out appropriate paperwork to the errant pilot. Ignorance was bliss at Pearl Harbor before the infamous attack. Never again. Ignorance was bliss before 9-11-01. Never again unless we ignore the past and doomed to repeat it. Let’s face it, we live in a much smaller planet with near instantaneous cellular coverage around this little orb we call Earth with easy access to weapons. Just look at the ‘accident’ in Beirut, Lebanon as 2700 tons of fertilizer supposedly stored temporarily and ignored for years, ammonium nitrate used everywhere for farming as well as making explosives, exploded. The Oklahoma city bombing used about 3.5 tons of ammonium nitrate. If I’m not mistaken, farmers may be required to justify purchases of fertilizer to match farm needs to prevent buying bulk amounts for non farming purposes. Oh and let’s not forget the underground bombing of one World Trade center building using a concoction of bottled hydrogen and various chemicals in the ‘innocent’ days where anyone can buy anything in bulk to create a improvised explosive device.

    Anyone want to venture a guess how a recreational drone can be used?

    • There are companies wholly dedicated to, and budgets set aside for anticipating and mitigating the threats from recreational drones.

    • And yet ever since WWII ended, Congress lead by either party have refused to declare war on those enemies per the Constitution. Even after 9/11, which by the way killed more persons than the Pearl Harbor attack, both congress and every president since have not declared war as per the Constitution. Since our leaders past and present don’t see the need for a war declaration, then I see no justification for all of the presidential, sports or the SFRA “TFR”. Kenneth S. brings up a valid point on TFRs. If our border enforcement were allowed to function as it should, those who perpetrated 9/11 attacks would not have been allowed into the country, but that is an argument for another time. Using the justification brought up by fred d. we might as well shut down the entire aviation industry, after all if nothing flies, there are no weapons to be used. If we can’t return to our normal lives, the terrorists have won.

    • “No one ever conceived the thought of using commercial aircraft as weapons of mass destruction”

      Actually, both Tom Clancy and Stephen King used that mode of attack in their books. And alarms were raised within the halls of the FBI about this very possibility shortly before 9/11. But hindsight is 20/20. Looking forward, what are other means of attack? Which are most likely? And what would it cost to defend against them? And, assuming you can’t defend against every single imagined possibility, which ones do you choose?

  7. What about launching Drones instead of aircraft? The military has all kinds and they come in different sizes. A cheap way to prevent incursions would be to have banner towers flying around the perimeter of the TFR. They could display messages like “The end is near” or “Hope you said your prayers last night” or my personal favorite “Hope you enjoyed being a pilot”. To save money the banners could be sponsored by aviation law firms and local medical centers.

  8. I wonder, do other countries go to the extreme that we do to provide this bubble for Herr Leader? It would appear this person, whomever, based on the dollars spent for protection does not feel very secure in the country that elected him or her.

  9. It’s really sad to me how many pilots not only accept, but actively advocate these TFRs and take an authoritarian, unforgiving posture toward fellow pilots who wander into something that arguably, in a democracy, shouldn’t exist.

    These displays of Presidential authority, importance, and disregard for other people are not just happening in the air; I’ve been there to see a New York police officer roll his eyes at having to shut down a major metropolitan city center for the Nth time, literally millions of lives disrupted so a President could do a lightweight talk show interview.

    It would be nice to see Presidents display consideration: if their personal security is that important, it would be considerate if they would relocate themselves to a single location – preferably a remote one – and stay there, not do talk shows or fundraisers or golf trips that disrupt millions of people’s lives, without as much as an apology.

    It would be nice to see Presidents display personal courage. Other members of the defense forces understand: you volunteer for the job; it comes with some risks; you take reasonable precautions but you don’t impose excessive costs on the people you supposedly serve, to ease your fears. If you’re that concerned, don’t volunteer.

    But, Fred d. makes a good point. If we have to impose such sweepingly authoritarian measures to protect a single individual, then too much importance is attached to that one person. Sure, there is a tiny possibility that the President could be attacked with a small airplane, but health risks are surely a much bigger worry. It looks like either Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden will be the next President. Either will be an old man, with a high risk of sudden death from natural causes – orders of magnitude higher than the risk of being killed by someone in a small aircraft. If Presidents need TFRs, then Presidents – and their human frailties – are a weakness in our political system that no TFR can fix.

    • As I understand it, it’s the Secret Service that determines the level of protection, not the president. The president may decide to take a walk by himself to the local store to get the morning paper. But it’s the Secret Service, charged with protecting the office of president, that decides what level of security is needed.

      • So, “The Secret Service made me do it”?

        That kind of excuse stops flying half way through kindergarten.

        The Secret Service gives advice. They don’t give orders to the President. That would be a constitutional crisis all by itself.

        • The president does as he pleases. It’s the Secret Service that determines how much security he gets when he does it. Now, the president may overrule the Secret Service. But, the Secret Service by law has to protect the president, whether he wants it or not. This often results in a negotiation, with the Secret Service doing their best to insure the president doesn’t behave in a suicidal manner.

          Yes, it would be a real constitutional crisis if the president decided to take a walk by himself and refused any bodyguards to accompany him. He’s the president, not king, and federal law requires he be protected.

        • Secret Service is bound by law to provide a particular level of protection. It isn’t just advice.

  10. Thomas B, your cogent and articulate reply is welcome by this citizen and active pilot for over 50 years.

  11. J.D.G. fairly asks what alternative I would suggest.

    I would suggest that much like a twin-engine airplane, our government should be at least slightly redundant. The whole thing shouldn’t rest on just one individual. There should be a second person available. Like a Step-President or like the VP of a corporation. Somebody who could step in if the leader became suddenly unavailable for any reason. Then below that person, it would be nice if there was a group of folks. Like a Board of Directors or just a cabinet of people or something. If we had that, then we wouldn’t need to waste soo much time and money and public inconvenience protecting one asset.

    You want to put anti-aircraft guns on top the White House? I’m okay with that. But we don’t need to shut down 30 miles of airspace everywhere our leader goes. We never needed to before 9/11, and it’s been a stupid waste of time and money ever since.

    I think perhaps Thomas said it better above, but one phrase I like is that it’s security theatre. Something to make people who don’t know better, feel better.

  12. If a bad guy wanted to use a GA airplane loaded with some kind of weapon to potentially destroy the President, it would be very hard to have a modern fighter shoot down a slow flying GA airplane. F-15/16’s don’t handle well at 50-80kts. Even a large attack helo would be at a maneuvering disadvantage plus at their normal intercept speed, it would take a while to reach the offending airplane.

    Makes an RV series of airplane potentially ending up on the no fly terrorist list because of its wide 50-170 knot speed range. Too slow to shoot down, fast enough to penetrate a 30 mile radius TFR, do the damage long before a helo could engage, and slow fly making it nearly impervious to the modern heat seeker or current military fighter. In this cancel culture the RV series airplanes could disappear rapidly becoming illegal to fly almost overnight. Looks like it is time to bring the RV series of airplanes into the fore front of peaceful protests. RV and CPB lives matter.