Recurring “Falcon Virgo” Exercise for Washington D.C. Trains Airspace Control and Restriction.
Operation “Falcon Virgo”, a planned air defense exercise over the U.S. national capital region, will take place on Jan. 14-15 and again on Jan. 25-26, 2021. The exercise, which is a “routine air defense exercise” according to a media release from the North American Air Defense Command, will include “exercises with a variety of scenarios, including airspace restriction violations, hijackings and responses to unknown aircraft. All NORAD exercises are carefully planned and closely controlled”
The exercise, which is expected to be significant, will include U.S. Army Cessna UC-35A twin-engine executive and priority cargo jet aircraft, an unspecified version of the “U.S. Navy King Air 300 aircraft”, one Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin helicopter, a Cessna 182T light, single engine general aviation aircraft to be operated by the Civil Air Patrol and U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon multirole tactical fighters. Officials said that, “Some portions of the exercise could involve flights at approximately 2,500 feet and may be visible from the ground”.
This Falcon Virgo exercise is a recurring, support activity in support of Operation NOBLE EAGLE, which, “places emphasis on the surveillance and control of airspace over Canada and the United States”. In NORAD’s media release about the exercise, they emphasized that, “This exercise is a part of NORAD’s routine training program”.
The exercise is interesting for a number of reasons that include the integration of numerous and varied aircraft types working together in mutual support of the homeland security mission. Prior to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks along the eastern U.S., integrated air defense exercises received little attention. Additionally, the role of U.S. assets such as U.S. Coast Guard aviation has expanded to include the Homeland Security mission and border patrol assistance.
The inclusion of at least one Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182T light general aviation aircraft could suggest that, while not confirmed, one scenario being simulated during the planned training exercise could be enforcement of airspace security and the SMI (Slow Movers Intercept) mission training.
In previous instances such as the November 18-22, 2019 training exercise “Amalgam Dart 20-4” at McGhee Tyson Airport near Knoxville, Tennessee, Civil Air Patrol light aircraft were used to simulate unresponsive aircraft entering a restricted airspace. During this exercise, F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 113th Wing practiced security inspection and escort flights in close proximity to Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182T aircraft.