No one looking up into the sky near Phoenix could see it happening when two F-16 fighter jets from the Western Air Defense Sector were scrambled to intercept three aircraft attempting to enter a Temporary Flight Restriction area.
Visible from the ground or not, all three aircraft were successfully intercepted and directed away from the simulated restricted flight zone. They were participating in Felix Hawk, a joint training mission involving the U.S. Air Force and Civil Air Patrol’s Arizona Wing.
It was all in preparation for Super Bowl LVII, nearly four months away.
“We regularly support U.S. Air Force-directed air intercept missions to assist them in training to be ready for the real thing,” said Col. Rob Pinckard, Arizona Wing commander.
“This mission is part of the overall preparations by many organizations to make sure those attending the Super Bowl are protected.”
The first round of Felix Hawk flights took place in August, followed by this exercise Oct. 19. A third round is scheduled for November.
Lt. Col. Mark Schadt, Arizona Wing director of operations, led the management team and aircrews participating in the October mission. His team scheduled six Civil Air Patrol planes three primary, three backup – for the mission. An incident command post was set up at Deer Valley Composite Squadron 302 in Phoenix to manage the mission.
“We are expected to deliver for the Air Force,” Schadt said. “They have a lot of investment in this mission, and we want to make sure our aircraft are on time, at altitude, and at the right point for the intercept practice.”
All six CAP planes were ready to go at the appointed times. Two aircraft came from southern Arizona and four from the Phoenix area.
High winds forced one of the southern Arizona aircraft to drop out, but the other plane assigned to that route wasn’t affected and completed its intercept flight. So did the other two primary aircraft.
First Lt. William Cleveland of the Deer Valley squadron and Capt. Brett Russo of the Willie Composite Squadron flew one of the Phoenix-based planes intercepted by an F-16.
“As a pilot it was incredible how quickly the jets came up,” Cleveland said. “They grabbed your attention, giving directions to leave the TFR.”
This was Russo’s first intercept mission. He said it “reminds us of the most important aspects of CAP life, the real-world mission. Being a part of a historic event reminds us of what we are doing here.”
The Super Bowl is set for Feb. 12 in Glendale.
Lt. Col. Gordon Helm
Government Relations Adviser