Grumman Tiger Intercepted By F-16s with Flares Inside Presidential TFR

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F-16s intercepted a Grumman Tiger that violated last weekend’s Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) involving President Biden’s visit to his home in Wilmington, Delaware. According to a Secret Service statement, “On May 16, at approximately 1:09 p.m., a small aircraft violated the restricted airspace in Wilmington, DE. Per standard protocol, U.S. military aircraft responded, the aircraft was intercepted, and the pilot redirected to a local airport.”

The Grumman pilot told Jon Martin, director of aviation at New Garden Airport in Pennsylvania where he landed, that he and his wife were returning home to an unspecified New York airport from Ocean City, Maryland, and were unaware of the TFR. Martin said both were “shaken up,” adding, “not only were they intercepted by F-16s, but they thought they were being shot at [by the flares].”

A Defense Department spokesman confirmed, “The NORAD fighter dispensed signal flares during the intercept in an effort to gain the pilot’s attention and direct them safely out of the restricted zone.” Martin said that the pilot was later interviewed by the Secret Service and flew the Tiger home from New Garden the next day.

Martin said this was the first aircraft since Biden’s inauguration to be intercepted and then land at N57, though he said the FAA told him there have been between four and seven interceptions every weekend there is a TFR, and that most land at nearby Chester County Airport. Martin expressed frustration over the presidential TFRs, which effectively shut down the airport. He shares some of the same frustrations experienced by New Jersey and Florida airport operators during weekend presidential TFRs involving the last administration.

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26 COMMENTS

    • What’s truly sad is that this is just more of the same stupidness that we’ve had for the last 2 decades. That they haven’t stopped even one semi-malicious act (that I know of) seems proof that they are useless.

  1. TFRs for small planes is a ridiculous useless cumbersome joke. Especially around stadiums.
    If someone really wanted to crash into one, the TFR isn’t going to stop them.
    It is just a feel good measure, like the useless masks people wore for the last year that blocked nothing, not even bad breath.
    Maybe we should keep masks on for ever, so that some fool will feel safe, even though they are not.

  2. While I do think it’s high time that the topic of TFRs and the DC FRZ b revisited, it’s still a pilot’s responsibility to get a weather briefing and learn about all flight information, including TFRs. This pilot will likely be hit with an infraction for inadequate pre-flight planning.

    On the topic of TFRs and the DC FRZ, I think the TFR radius should be shrunk to a 10NM radius and the the DC FRZ should either be reduced in size (to free the DC3 airports), or be eliminated and just make the entire zone a SFRA.

  3. An excellent admonition that unfortunately is observed only rarely is “No matter how lovely the concept, you should occasionally evaluate the result.” What I refer to as Imperial Presence TFRs definitely are in need of this sort of reality check.

    As has been pointed out over and over, as a practical matter the TFRs do not actually serve their ostensible purpose of saving the Imperial Presence(s) from destruction by air attack. Yet they continue via a combination of bureaucratic inertia, the instinct to avoid admitting error, and the cachet they lend to the Imperials to which they are attached.

  4. Asinine use of resources and arrogant government overreach.

    If GA singles are so dangerous why are they not the predominant warplanes across the globe?

    What if the interception stressed the hapless pilot of the Tiger into a crash or a heart attack?

  5. Were the F-16s already airborne? Presidential TFRs are something like 30NM. A Grumman tiger has an airspeed of about 135kts. a direct cross on the TFR would take a bit over 13 min with no headwind and I doubt they were making a direct crossing. Unless the F-16s were already airborne I would bet that the Tiger was already out of the airspace by the time they intercepted.

      • If not constantly airborne, there are certainly fighters airborne during some stages of a VIP TFR, whether they be VIP movement or whatever else is deemed to be “high risk”. This was evident from the occasional and unmistakable sounds of military jets during fairly frequent and obnoxious TFRs in my area over the last 4 years. I only ever saw one fighter go over my house, but I did hear them cruising and holding, sometimes orbiting for hours.

  6. I read the comments and pondered, maybe we should get rid of TFRs since they seem to be such a burden? NASA putting up a rocket, go ahead and fly right up and close, they won’t mind? SpaceX, you just launch around us, because we were here first.

    As I checked on the FAA website, the T stands for Temporary and (gasp) they have a list:
    https://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html
    A map:
    https://tfr.faa.gov/tfr_map_ims/html/index.html
    and even help:
    https://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/about.jsp

    but I guess us GA pilots just don’t have the time to, what’s the phrase…Ah, flight plan.

    Couple of things, Dover AFB is @ 52 miles from Wilmington and who wants to think they didn’t/don’t have an alert fighter when the Pres is in town (McGuire is just a little longer) and that the radar track of that plane was watched and a fighter sent up before it crossed the line.

    Folks make a joke about GA planes, what damage could they do amiright? they are so slow, so light why it could hardly hurt a regular house…yet:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suitcase_nuclear_device

    Oh, now you say who could get one of those so okay, let’s talk biologicals dropped from a plane, or a dirty bomb. Never happen some decry, just like 9/11 could “never happen”. See, it is not just about what damage a plane could do, but what damage a plane carrying something can do and at the end of the day this is about protecting the President of the US and should we not take that seriously?

    I view TFRs like I viewed Class B airspace, most times a big area to go around, but if I could I’d ask nice like and follow the damn instructions maybe they’ll let me through. Flying is not a right, it is a privilege and as such instead of the flying community bitching and thinking “government sucks cause I can’t do what I want” we might try to look past our nose, use the tools God and the FAA (and lots of commercial companies gave us) and just fly around a TFR, or pay attention to the news and plan better.

    • Justin;
      I largely agree with the points you make but you neglect to consider the impact to the pilots, airports and associated businesses under these frequently reoccurring TFRs. They are deprived of their freedom to fly or run their business so that the president can enjoy golfing with friends or relaxing at home. Reoccurring TFRs for the president’s recreation seems wrong to me.

  7. Remember OKC? Shouldn’t all Ryder/U-Haul trucks be required to be GPS equipped and have law enforcement escorts? Shouldn’t all fertilizer and diesel fuel purchases be tracked? I have an acquaintance whose brother was killed on his bicycle by a drunk in a U-Haul. All rental trucks should be equipped with breathalyzer ignition interlocks. Yes, we pilots do dumb things, chief among them inadequate preflight planning; but we don’t question giving a person with a pulse and an IQ less than room temperature a license to drive a six-thousand pound SUV in bumper-to-bumper traffic at speeds that exceed my 182’s Vrot.

  8. I’m not a big fan of TFRs, but they do serve a purpose. The Presidential TFR is probably the main whipping boy, due in large part to the enforcement aspect and the highly variable nature of their imposition. I would imagine that anyone who lives anywhere near a President’s residence, Camp David or other places the Prez might frequent, would be wise to get in the habit of checking TFRs before flight. It’s not like it is hard to do – most modern flight planning software (Foreflight, WingX, etc.) can do it for you. For the rest of us, AOPA does a pretty good job of alerting me to any Presidential TFR that is scheduled within about 500 miles of my home a couple days in advance. As much as I would like to think a TFR is government overreach, we have to realize that there are a whole lot of crazies out there these days that actually pose a serious threat. And yes, there are easier ways to get close to the President on the ground, but the Secret Service has to cover all the bases. An unfortunate fact of modern life. 🙁

  9. The only purpose these presidential “TFR’s” serve is to bust some poor pilot who blundered into that airspace. They have never actually stopped someone who would cause harm. If security is that essential then let the president stay in DC while in office, since the airspace there has already been permanently restricted. Fortunately credit should be given to the alert fighter crews who have exercised restraint in not shooting down anyone who has penetrated TFR airspace. Hopefully no one gets shot down or made to crash but the longer this TFR nonsense goes, the more chances for mistakes. I’ll bet that no aviation businesses have been compensated for any loss of business like the 5th amendment calls for. Government not following the Constitution, imagine that!

  10. The whole thing is Kabuki theater to make people fearful and to show the government is doing something. Note that none of these measures protect anyone outside of the Washington establishment. That said this has been going on for 20 years now and I have no pity for the pilot of the Tiger. How could one not know about these TFRs? It is blasted out to every AOPA member, EAA knows about it. The airports put it on the AWOS and ATIS. Had the pilot been monitoring 121.5 as everyone should if they have two radios the airforce would have given him plenty of warning he was approaching the restricted area. All people like this pilot end up doing is hurting the rest of us.

    • John, I’m in your camp on this one. It would be interesting to list all the many different places you can get TFR information… skyvector, iflightplanner, Avare, foreflight, etc… and there’s even a website called tfr.faa.gov.

      During Wild Fire season we check for TFR’s while flying because they pop-up so fast. I don’t live near Washington D.C but if I did.