NORAD Tries to Detect Gyrocopters in D.C.


NORAD and federal authorities ran a training exercise over the nation’s capital Sunday to test abilities to detect drones and gyrocopters in restricted air spaces following several troubling incidents.

The exercise was intended to gauge the effectiveness of air defense systems to “identify and track low altitude, slow speed aerial vehicles operating in and around Washington D.C.,” NORAD said in a statement. “These exercises are carefully planned and closely controlled to ensure rapid response capability.”

Military aircraft stayed out of the restricted airspace over the Capitol region during the exercise called Falcon Virgo 15-13 and did not attempt to intercept the remotely piloted vehicles that were flown over the District of Columbia in the test Sunday morning, NORAD said.

Navy Adm. William Gortney, commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, told the House Oversight Committee in April that identifying slow-flying aircraft at low altitude “is a technical and operational challenge.”

Gortney testified after Doug Hughes, a Florida postal worker protesting government corruption, flew a gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, into restricted airspace and landed on the grounds of the Capitol. Hughes pleaded not guilty in May to six criminal charges.

NORAD and the Federal Aviation Administration have been concerned by the proliferation of drones now operated recreationally by the public and the increasing number of close calls with civilian and military aircraft.

Last week, the military scrambled fighter jets after a Cessna pilot spotted a drone flying in restricted airspace over Washington, D.C.

The Falcon Virgo exercises “are held periodically in the (national capital region) to hone NORAD’s intercept and identification operations as well provide monthly training of personnel,” NORAD said.

Last December, NORAD put up a 242-foot unmanned radar blimp, known in military parlance as an aerostat, over Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland northeast of Washington, D.C., to improve the radar coverage over the capital region. Preparations were underway to launch a second aerostat over Aberdeen last week.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • IHTFP

    The title says “Grycopters”

    • Ken Mitchell

      I don’t normally do spelling flames, but you’d think that somebody at DefenseTech would have proofreaders who could spell “gyrocopters”.

      • McGarryB17

        Sorry folks, that was my fault (the editor, not the reporter). The headline has been corrected. I apologize for the mistake.

        • ccc40821

          The motto of the club magazine I’m in charge of is “you should see the mistakes we catch in time”.

  • IHTFP

    Did they use JLENS to track all moving vehicles and flag those that appear to go over obstacles and don’t behave like cars, or would Rand Paul complain that they should only detect bad guys without looking at good guys? The civil liberties activists already pressured them not to use a camera, which would show what the suspicious vehicle actually looks like. Instead, they only use radar, which sees the vehicle as a moving dot. Hopefully it has enough resolution to tell the altitude of very low-flying aircraft and maybe their size.

    But what are they going to do when Amazon and others start using drones to make deliveries?

  • Fred

    What’s a Grycopter?

  • blight_asdf

    Unsurprising. Someone already flew a small Cessna into Red Square.

  • JimmyD

    Anybody remember when a Cessna 152 rammed the White House? After they put the wreckage in a pickup truck they repainted the wall.

  • JimmyD

    How about we send a notice to all Gyro-copters on the federal aircraft registry that they’ll be shot down if they show up with “x” miles of the center of the Capital.

  • franklin

    Yep! You have to keep an eye on those postal carriers! A little bit of stress and its time to break out the body armor. So is that a hughes aircraft? I wonder if it lands on water or you can track it at the USPS website!

  • Dfens

    Shouldn’t the “stealth doesn’t matter” crowd chime in on this one?

    • blight_asdfljsadf

      The new plan will be low flying gyrocopters with titanium bath-tubs to support the troops with 30mm machineguns with thousands of rounds of ammunition.

      • blight_asdfljsadf

        Correction, “cannon”.

        • LittleNellie

          Give the contract to Lockheed and they can sell you one for $100m a piece - with IOC in 2035 :-)

          • Dfens

            It will be a $100 billion with $10 billion in profit and another $10 billion cancellation fee (more profit).

          • Dfens

            A $100 billion development program.

          • blight_asdf

            The taxpayer will pat themselves on the back for “saving 80 billion”. Little do they know that the number was pulled out of someone’s rear end at Lockheed, and money wasn’t really /saved/. Of course, if development is pushed to completion it might well cost more than 100B…

          • Dfens

            Because, as you have said in the past, the house always wins.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    McGarryB17, not to worry. If a missed misspelling is the worst sin you can manage, I think you’re still good for Heaven.

    The bottom line remains the bottom line. Between the sequester and the endless, monstrous cost overruns associated with almost all big-ticket military programs, there’s very little change left over for continental air defense. And that won’t change for some time to come. If a gyrocopter or UAV or Amazon drone is suddenly spotted two miles from the White House or the Capitol (and closing), there isn’t going to be time to
    dial up an F-15 or F-16. Can you bring it down with a Stinger? Somebody’s going to have to be able to make a decision quickly on limited information, and do so a lot faster than decisions pertaining to lunatics who jump the fence and run for a door.
    Can you fry it with a laser? Can you get a forensics team to the crash site in a hurry, before the Fire Department tears up the crash scene?

  • steve

    Between the surface clutter from buildings and vehicle traffic, tracking a small, slow, and low flying craft is a daunting task. It will be neat to see the tech that comes from this.

  • bart ninja

    just declare the airspace around the white house a “gun free zone” and it should all be good.

    • Dfens

      Hell yeah! That always works. Well, it’s the go to answer if it’s yours or my sorry butt on the line. If it’s someone important there’s guns everywhere.

  • Mastro

    Adapt a Phalanx CIWS - done and done. No pigeons, either!