Saturday, May 14, 2005

SOS - Saving Our Senators

Watching the video of our esteemed Senators scrambling out of the Capitol building was great entertainment. If not for us, definitely for our enemies. If a lone Cessna, on a VFR flight plan, meandering around while lost can create this kind of panic, just imagine what a real threat might do.

If you think me unkind, cynical or worse, please bear with me.

First, and this has not been mentioned on all the reports, one reason why they detected the aircraft in the first place was that it was "squawking" the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) code on its radar transponder. "Squawk"? "Transponder"? Basically a black box that responds to radar signals and transmits a reply to the scanning radar site. This reply not only enhances the radar return but also can include other information such as altitude. Military aircraft are equipped with an additional transponder feature called IFF/SIF - "Identification Friend or Foe / Selective Identification Feature". ATC (Air Traffic Control) will instruct a pilot to "squawk" a specific code out of the normally available 4096 selectable codes. Some are reserved for specific situations such as 7700 - Emergency, 7600 - Communications Failure, and 7500 - Hijacking. Factory default setting for VFR is 1200.

So? If the Cessna had its transponder turned off and was flying at treetop level I would venture an educated guess that the aircraft could be over the White House or Capitol before anyone would know what was happening. If this same airborne vehicle were equipped with optional features such as a suitcase nuke, our Senators, their staff and any visitors to the seat of our legislative branch would be well on their way to their eternal reward or damnation before anyone could pick up the phone to warn them. If one had a small twin engine aircraft - reciprocating or jet - the penetration speed would be much higher and the chance of intercept much lower. Remember the nineteen-year-old fellow who in 1987 flew a small plane into Red Square? He avoided detection all the way from Finland while flying through some of the most heavily defended airspace anywhere. Does that make you feel any safer, Senators?

All this is just one reason why we must fight the war against the terror masters at the source. These people are not stupid. They aren't going to attack after meandering around in restricted airspace with their low-speed Cessna while squawking the VFR code. And if they get their hands on WMD, they'll use them. We cannot inspect every cargo container entering our ports. Nor can we afford the myriad other tasks that would be necessary if we took a purely defensive stance.

About the only use I can imagine for the run-out-of-the-Senate-in-a-state-of-panic scenario is to provide some exercise for the more sedentary members of that august body. Who knows, perhaps Teddy will lose a few pounds and the Governor of California will have to cut out the obesity quips.



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