Pilot Involved in D.C. Intercept Confident in Security Network
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 12, 2005 One of the F-16 pilots who intercepted a private plane that strayed into restricted airspace here on May 11 said today he was prepared to use force if necessary to prevent a potential attack, and expressed confidence in the security system protecting the nation's capital.
Air Force Lt. Col. Tim Lehman, a member of the District of Columbia Air National Guard's 121st Fighter Squadron said during an interview on Fox News Channel that he was surprised when the Cessna's pilot did not initially respond to signals meant to change his course.
Lehman's F-16 fighter jet made three passes by the plane, dropping warning flares to get the pilot to veer west, away from the White House and Capitol, he said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said during a news conference May 11 that the Cessna came within three miles from the White House before turning away.
While acknowledging that he was prepared to shoot down the plane if necessary, Lehman said that decision comes from higher-level authorities "outside of my cockpit."
The Washington, D.C., area has "multiple layers" of defense against terrorist attacks, including ground-based assets capable of engaging "targets of interest" if necessary, he said.
Lehman said he's convinced these defense layers "would have stopped an aircraft" before it was able to make impact.
Lehman's unit is part of the 113th Wing, a National Guard unit that has served on rotational duty in support of Operation Noble Eagle since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.