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174th Fighter jets in first-of-kind role |
State's Air National Guard unit patrolling Northeast in response to attacks.
Friday, September 14, 2001
By Walt Wasilewski
The 174th Fighter Wing's jets - which fought in the Gulf War and have flown recently to keep Iraq's air force grounded - this week have patrolled the air over the Northeastern United States.
That job, a response to Tuesday's terrorist attacks, is an unprecedented domestic role for the state Air National Guard unit.
The jets are prepared for anything, said Lt. Jeff Brown, public information officer.
"Our F-16 fighters have been conducting operations over the Northeast United States at the direction of our national command authority," Brown said Thursday. "Our pilots and aircraft continue to be available to take any measures necessary to protect American air space and sovereignty."
Brown, citing security concerns, would not confirm what weapons the jets carry. F-16s on combat missions can be armed with a 20-mm cannon, up to six air-to-air missiles, other munitions and electronic devices that allow it to outfox anti-aircraft missiles, according to the U.S. Air Force.
A former member of the unit, Michael S. Waters, said the 174th's patrols are "unprecedented" in his time there. Waters, who went on inactive status in March 2000 as a lieutenant colonel, served most of his 33 years with the 174th.
Patrolling American skies "is certainly part of the mission that we are trained for," Brown said.
Military jets encountered an unauthorized plane in Central New York skies this week. But the pilot turned out to be a 61-year-old flight instructor from Penn Yan in a small plane who inadvertently violated the nationwide ban on civilian flights.
David Shaw took off from the Penn Yan Airport at about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday with a student, according to Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike. Neighbors reported hearing Shaw's plane and called 911, and authorities notified the Federal Aviation Administration in Elmira and Rochester. The North American Aerospace Defense Command also was notified, according to Spike, and military jets were sent to investigate.
The roar of low-flying fighters and Shaw's small plane caused about 80 people to call 911, the sheriff's department said.
The jets escorted the small plane back to the airport, and deputies interviewed Shaw. The deputies turned the information over to the FAA.
Phil Ide, assistant manager of the FAA's Flight Standards District Office in Rochester, said his agency is investigating, but no action had been taken.
The encounter left Shaw shaken and insisting he followed correct procedure, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Shaw told the paper that the jets were F-16s from the 174th, but officials at the military unit and the FAA wouldn't confirm that.
Meanwhile, the 100 members of the unit whose chartered commercial flight was diverted Tuesday to Canada on its way home from the Middle East are still waiting to hear when they will be reunited with their loved ones.
The contingent had planned to arrive at Hancock Field at around 3 p.m., but the flight was delayed, said Maj. Kate Vaughan, community outreach officer with the 174th. The group had been stationed at Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia helping allied forces patrol the no-fly zone over Iraq.
Pedro Ramirez I contributed to this report.
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