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Operation NOBLE EAGLE and the 117th Air Refueling Wing

  • Published
  • By Capt. David Lamiquez
  • 106ARS

Operation NOBLE EAGLE is the North American Aerospace Defense Command initiative to aid in the defense of North American skies. The ongoing operation began Sept. 14, 2001, in response to the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks. The 117th ARW has played an important role in ONE from the beginning. Aircrews and aircraft from the 117th stand-by on alert, ready to launch in a matter of minutes. Air National Guard fighter aircraft throughout the nation are called upon to intercept any potential air threat. This requires air refueling in a timely manner. The ONE mission is as time sensitive, if not more, than any other US combat mission involving KC-135s.

The 117th prides itself on minimal response times. It is a total team effort and every member of the 117th supports this mission directly or indirectly. On April 6, 2009, this team effort was put to the test again.

Adam Dylan Leon, a 31 year old Canadian citizen previously known as Yavuz Berke, stole a Cessna 172 from an airfield in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. After taking off in the stolen aircraft he flew south into U.S. airspace without proper approval and without establishing radio contact with air traffic control. NORAD initially scrambled 2 F-16s from Minnesota ANG, who intercepted the stolen aircraft over Lake Superior.

The F-16s reported that the Cessna pilot was unresponsive to their non-verbal commands. As the stolen Cessna continued south, F-16s from Wisconsin ANG replaced the Minnesota F-16s. As the pursuit continued, our very own Alabama ANG KC-135 was launched to provide air refueling support for this air defense scramble mission. The 117th ARW team effort enabled our KC-135 to launch in 12 minutes from the initial response request.

Air traffic control agencies continued attempts to establish radio contact with the Cessna pilot. As the unresponsive pilot continued to fly towards Madison, Wisconsin, the state capital building was evacuated as a precautionary measure. The Wisconsin F-16s were eventually replaced by Louisiana ANG F-15s. The pursuit continued south with numerous air refuelings until the stolen Cessna landed on Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Missouri, and the pilot fled on foot. Adam Dylan Leon was arrested by the Missouri State Patrol shortly after landing. He was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Officials, and was eventually returned to Canada.

As a result of Operation NOBLE EAGLE and all involved to support this mission directly or indirectly America was kept safe from all perceived air threats. All agencies worked together as advertised, no one was hurt, no equipment was damaged and most of the American public was sound asleep, unaware of the umbrella of protection provided by the Air National Guard.