With the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks just about a month away, the U.S. Air Force is honing its skills in the sky by trying to make sure it knows exactly what to do if a hijacked jetliner ever makes it into Alaska’s airspace.
This is the second year for Exercise Vigilant Eagle, after last year's event saw the U.S. and Russian air forces successfully work together. Air Force crews have been training for several days with Russia and Canada, and Channel 2 went along for one of the drills.
In the scenario, an American passenger jetliner flying over Alaska is not responding to air traffic controllers and no one on the ground knows what's happening on board.
The Air Force has to make some quick decisions -- so it scrambles F-15 Eagles to go check it out.
Within minutes the fighters pull up alongside the airliner and make visual contact with the pilot or would-be-hijackers, and “indicate to the aircraft that you have been intercepted, you will follow our guidance,” said Col. Todd Balfe, deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region.
Once that exercise is finished, the forces practice their response on a Russian airliner.
Commanders say the goal is to improve cooperation and coordination with Alaska’s neighbors to the west.
“Previously we wouldn't have had a way to warn the Russians that there was an aircraft that was possibly seized by terrorists and on the way to their shores and vice versa, they wouldn't have been able to warn us,” said Balfe.
Contact Ted Land at firstname.lastname@example.org