“This Is Only a Test”
Fifty years ago, cold-war games halted all civilian air traffic—long before September 11 did the same.
- By Roger A. Mola
- Air & Space magazine, March 2002
National Archives and Records Administration
(Page 3 of 7)
Nonetheless, Becker reported to the FAA, ATA members would support NORAD: "The airlines will continue to cooperate to the fullest extent where military requirements dictate the necessity. In the event that an exercise of the magnitude of Sky Shield is justified in the future, we strongly urge that a minimum of 90 days’ advance notice be given. The exercise should be conducted on Saturday night-Sunday morning of a three-day holiday weekend."
Pleased with the cooperation from the FAA during Sky Shield I, NORAD’s General Kuter wrote to thank agency administrator Najeeb Halaby, who was already elbow-deep in planning for Sky Shield II. Halaby responded, "I am informed that upwards of 2,500 U.S. and foreign commercial flights and some 125,000 passengers may be affected together with a large number of private pilots. I will be happy…to inform these people of your appreciation for the contribution they are making toward the defense of the North American continent."
One channel Halaby had to pilots was the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which published in the August 1961 issue of its Confidential Newsletter a paragraph about the continent-wide exercise. AOPA’s more comprehensive Pilot magazine did find space to mention general details and grounding requirements in local time zones. "Don’t Forget Sky Shield," it began. "If you’ve planned a flight for Oct. 14 or 15, better look at the clock before you take off."
More than 50 U.S. fighter-interceptor squadrons would participate, including those equipped with McDonnell F-101B Voodoos, Convair F-106 Delta Darts and F-102 Delta Daggers, Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, Northrop F-89J Scorpions, and Douglas F-4D Skyrays. Just over a thousand crews were on full alert. Across the continent some 150,000 airfield and flying personnel and 50,000 more in close support would also play a part, spanning NORAD, the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Air National Guard, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Navy picket ships and blimps bobbed off both coasts.
In Europe, NATO allies had already launched Operation Seven Pillars, a simulated strike of 40 atomic bombs followed by a numbing 22 hours of civil defense exercises. At coordinated times, defense officials opened envelopes containing simulated readouts of radiation levels, trying to determine the intensity of the blasts and their fallout patterns.
Like all NORAD exercises, the phases of Sky Shield II were transmitted to Royal Canadian Air Force stations by secure media, but in case of intercept, not the details. Operations were given RCAF code names that were worthy of Maxwell Smart. Planning conferences included Trusted Agents. Final pre-event checklists were dubbed Double Take A or B. The harried, last moments: Fast Pace. The Go hour: Cocked Pistol. Various milestones were designated Big Noise A or B and so on, through Fade Out.
On October 14 at Naval Base Argentia, Newfoundland, WV-2 Super Constellations of the VW-11 and VW-13 squadrons were pulled from the hangar as their crews plotted flights for mid-level surveillance over the Atlantic barrier of the Distant Early Warning Line. Aloft, the U.S. Navy provided sea flanks to lengthen the DEW Line with radar-equipped WV-2s, nicknamed Warning Stars, along the coast.
At Building P-4 of Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, General Kuter sat before ICONORAMA. Kuter was responsible for all air defense in the United States (except Hawaii), Canada, and the coasts of both nations out to 150 miles.