Intercept Procedures


  • All aircraft entering the domestic U.S. Airspace from the outside is required to provide identification prior
    • The ADIZ is established for this reason
  • IFR or DVFR flight plan must be filed for: all operations in an ADIZ
NORAD Intercept Procedures
NORAD Intercept Procedures

Interception Procedures:

  • In conjunction with the FAA, Air Defense Sectors monitor air traffic and could order an intercept in the interest of national security or defense. Intercepts during peacetime operations are vastly different than those conducted under increased states of readiness. The interceptors may be fighters or rotary wing aircraft. The reasons for aircraft intercept include, but are not limited to:
    • Identify an aircraft;
    • Track an aircraft;
    • Inspect an aircraft;
    • Divert an aircraft;
    • Establish communications with an aircraft
  • When specific information is required (i.e., markings, serial numbers, etc.) the interceptor pilot(s) will respond only if, in their judgment, the request can be conducted in a safe manner. Intercept procedures are described in some detail in the paragraphs below. In all situations, the interceptor pilot will consider safety of flight for all concerned throughout the intercept procedure. The interceptor pilot(s) will use caution to avoid startling the intercepted crew or passengers and understand that maneuvers considered normal for interceptor aircraft may be considered hazardous to other aircraft
  • All aircraft operating in US national airspace are highly encouraged to maintain a listening watch on VHF/UHF guard frequencies (121.5 or 243.0 MHz). If subjected to a military intercept, it is incumbent on civilian aviators to understand their responsibilities and to comply with ICAO standard signals relayed from the intercepting aircraft. Specifically, aviators are expected to contact air traffic control without delay (if able) on the local operating frequency or on VHF/UHF guard. Noncompliance may result in the use of force
Fighter Intercept Phases
Fighter Intercept Phases
Fighter Intercept Phases
Fighter Intercept Phases

Intercept Phases:

  • Fighter Intercept Phases: [Figure 2]

    • Approach Phase:

      • As standard procedure, intercepted aircraft are approached from behind
        • Typically, interceptor aircraft will be employed in pairs, however, it is not uncommon for a single aircraft to perform the intercept operation
      • Safe separation between interceptors and intercepted aircraft is the responsibility of the intercepting aircraft and will be maintained at all times
    • Identification Phase:

      • Interceptor aircraft will initiate a controlled closure toward the aircraft of interest, holding at a distance no closer than deemed necessary to establish positive identification and to gather the necessary information
      • The interceptor may also fly past the intercepted aircraft while gathering data at a distance considered safe based on aircraft performance characteristics
    • Post Interception Phase:

      • An interceptor may attempt to establish communications via standard ICAO signals
      • In time-critical situations where the interceptor is seeking an immediate response from the intercepted aircraft or if the intercepted aircraft remains non-compliant to instruction, the interceptor pilot may initiate a divert maneuver:
        • The interceptor flies across the intercepted aircraft's flight path (minimum 500 feet separation and commencing from slightly below the intercepted aircraft altitude) in the general direction the intercepted aircraft is expected to turn
        • The interceptor will rock its wings (daytime) or flash external lights/select afterburners (night) while crossing the intercepted aircraft's flight path
        • The interceptor will roll out in the direction the intercepted aircraft is expected to turn before returning to verify the aircraft of interest is complying
        • The intercepted aircraft is expected to execute an immediate turn to the direction of the intercepting aircraft
      • If the aircraft of interest does not comply, the interceptor may conduct a second climbing turn across the intercepted aircraft's flight path (minimum 500 feet separation and commencing from slightly below the intercepted aircraft altitude) while expending flares as a warning signal to the intercepted aircraft to comply immediately and to turn in the direction indicated and to leave the area
  • Helicopter Intercept Phases
    Helicopter Intercept Phases
    Helicopter Intercept Phases
    Helicopter Intercept Phases
  • Helicopter Intercept Phases: [Figure 3]

    • Approach Phase:

      • Aircraft intercepted by helicopter may be approached from any direction, although the helicopter should close for identification and signaling from behind
      • Generally, the helicopter will approach off the left side of the intercepted aircraft
      • As with fighter intercepts, safe separation is always the responsibility of the intercepting aircraft
    • Identification Phase:

      • The helicopter will initiate a controlled closure toward the aircraft of interest, holding at a distance no closer than deemed necessary to establish positive identification and gather the necessary information
      • The intercepted pilot should expect the interceptor helicopter to take a position off his left wing slightly forward of abeam
    • Post Intercept Phase:

      • Visual signaling devices may be used in an attempt to communicate with the intercepted aircraft
        • Visual signaling devices may include, but are not limited to, LED scrolling signboards or blue flashing lights
      • If compliance is not attained through the use of radios or signaling devices, standard ICAO intercept signals may be employed
      • In order to maintain safe aircraft separation, it is incumbent upon the pilot of the intercepted aircraft not to fall into a trail position (directly behind the helicopter) if instructed to follow the helicopter so the helicopter pilot does not lose visual contact with the intercepted aircraft
    • Note that intercepted aircraft must not follow directly behind the helicopter thereby allowing the helicopter pilot to maintain visual contact with the intercepted aircraft and ensuring safe separation is maintained
Intercept and Escort:
  • Based on SAR aircraft establishing visual and/or electronic contact with aircraft in difficulty
  • If a bailout or crash occurs SAR can be conducted without delay
  • Must be requested by a pilot in difficulty or a distress condition is declared

Intercept Signals
Signals initiated by intercepting aircraft and responses by intercepted aircraft (as set forth in ICAO Annex 2 - Appendix 1, 2.1)
Series Intercepting aircraft signals Meaning Intercepted Aircraft Responds Meaning
1 Day:
Rocking wings from a position slightly above and head of, and normally to the left of, the intercepted aircraft and, after acknowledgment, a slow level turn, normally to the left, on to the desired heading

Same and, in addition, flashing navigational lights at irregular intervals

Meteorological conditions or terrain may require the intercepting aircraft to take up a position slightly above and ahead of, and to the right of, the intercepted aircraft and to make the subsequent turn to the right

If the intercepted aircraft is not able to keep pace with the intercepting aircraft, the latter is expected to fly a series of race-track patterns and to rock its wings each time it passes to the intercepted aircraft
You have been intercepted, follow me Aeroplanes:

Rocking wings and following

Same and, in addition, flashing navigation lights at irregular intervals


Day or Night:
Rocking aircraft, flashing navigational lights at irregular intervals and following
Understood, will comply
2 Day or Night:
An abrupt break-away maneuver from the intercepted aircraft consisting of a climbing turn of 90 degrees or more without crossing the line of flight of the intercepted aircraft
You may proceed Aeroplanes:

Day or Night:
Rocking wings


Day or Night:Rocking aircraft
Understood, will comply
3 Day:
Circling aerodrome, lowering landing gear and overflying runway in direction of landing or, if the intercepted aircraft is a helicopter, overflying the helicopter landing area

Same and, in addition, showing steady landing lights
Land at this aerodrome Aeroplanes:

Lowering landing gear, following the intercepting aircraft and, if after overflying the runway landing is considered safe, proceed to land

Same and, in addition, showing steady landing lights (if carried)


Day or Night:
Following the intercepting aircraft and proceeding to land, showing a steady landing light (if carried)
Understood, will comply
4 Day or Night:
Raising landing gear (if fitted) and flashing landing lights while passing over runway in use or helicopter landing area at a hight exceeding 300m (1000') but not exceeding 600m (2000') (in the case of a helicopter, at a height exceeding 50m (170') but not exceeding 100m (330') above the aerodrome level, and continuing to circle runway in use or helicopter landing area. If unable to flash landing lights, flash any other lights available
Aerodrome you have designated is inadequate Day or Night:
If it is desired that the intercepted aircraft follow the intercepting aircraft to an alternate aerodrome, the intercepting aircraft raises its landing gear (if fitted) and uses the Series 1 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft. If it is decided to release the intercepted aircraft, the intercepting aircraft uses the Series 2 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft
Understood, follow me

Understood, you may proceed
5 Day or Night:
Regular switching on and off of all available lights but in such a manner as to be distinct from flashing lights
Cannot comply Day or Night:
Use series 2 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft
6 Day or Night:
Irregular flashing of all available lights
In distress Day or Night:
Use series 2 signals prescribed for intercepting aircraft

Special Emergency (Air Piracy):

  • A special emergency is a condition of air piracy, or other hostile act by a person(s) aboard an aircraft, which threatens the safety of the aircraft or its passengers
  • The pilot of an aircraft reporting a special emergency condition should:
    • If circumstances permit, apply distress or urgency Radiotelephony procedures including the details of the special emergency
    • If circumstances do not permit the use of prescribed distress or urgency procedures, transmit on the air/ground frequency in use at the time, as many as possible of the following elements spoken distinctly and in the following order:
      • Name of the station addressed (time and circumstances permitting)
      • The identification of the aircraft and present position
      • The nature of the special emergency condition and pilot intentions (circumstances permitting)
      • If unable to provide this information, use code words and/or transponder as follows:
        • Spoken Words: TRANSPONDER SEVEN FIVE ZERO ZERO" which means I am being hijacked/forced to a new destination
        • Transponder Setting: Mode 3/A, Code 7500
  • Code 7500 will never be assigned by ATC without prior notification from the pilot that the aircraft is being subjected to unlawful interference
    • The pilot should refuse the assignment of Code 7500 in any other situation and inform the controller accordingly
    • Code 7500 will trigger the special emergency indicator in all radar ATC facilities
  • ATC will acknowledge and ask to confirm correct setting of 7500
  • If affirmative, or no reply is heard then ATC will not ask further questions but will flight follow, respond to pilot requests and notify appropriate authorities
  • If it is possible to do so without jeopardizing the safety of the flight, the pilot of a hijacked passenger aircraft, after departing from the cleared routing over which the aircraft was operating, will attempt to do one or more of the following things, insofar as circumstances may permit:
    • Maintain a true airspeed of no more than 400 knots, and preferably an altitude of between 10,000 and 25,000'
    • Fly a course toward the destination which the hijacker has announced
  • If these procedures result in either radio contact or air intercept, the pilot will attempt to comply with any instructions received which may direct the aircraft to an appropriate landing field or alter the aircraft's flight path off its current course, away from protected airspace

Visual Warning System (VWS)

  • The VWS signal consists of highly-focused red and green colored laser lights designed to illuminate in an alternating red and green signal pattern
  • These lasers may be directed at specific aircraft suspected of making unauthorized entry into the Washington, DC Special Flight Rules Area (DC SFRA) proceeding on a heading or flight path that may be interpreted as a threat or that operate contrary to the operating rules for the DC SFRA
  • The beam is neither hazardous to the eyes of pilots/aircrew or passengers, regardless of altitude or distance from the source nor will the beam affect aircraft systems
    • If you are communicating with ATC, and this signal is directed at your aircraft, you are required to contact ATC and advise that you are being illuminated by a visual warning system
    • If this signal is directed at you, and you are not communicating with ATC, you are advised to turn to the most direct heading away from the center of the DC SFRA as soon as possible
      • Immediately contact ATC on an appropriate frequency, VHF Guard 121.5 or UHF Guard 243.0, and provide your aircraft identification, position, and nature of the flight
      • Failure to follow these procedures may result in interception by military aircraft
      • Further noncompliance with interceptor aircraft or ATC may result in the use of force
    • Pilots planning to operate aircraft in or near the DC SFRA are to familiarize themselves with aircraft intercept procedures
      • This information applies to all aircraft operating within the DC SFRA including DOD, Law Enforcement, and aircraft engaged in aeromedical operations and does not change procedures established for reporting unauthorized laser illumination as published in FAA Advisory Circulars and Notices

Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic:

  • During defense emergency or air defense emergency conditions, additional special security instructions may be issued in accordance with 32 CFR Part 245 Plan for the Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic (ESCAT)
  • Under the provisions of 32 CFR Part 245, the military will direct the action to be taken in regard to landing, grounding, diversion, or dispersal of aircraft in defense of the U.S. during emergency conditions
  • At the time a portion or all of ESCAT is implemented, ATC facilities will broadcast appropriate instructions received from the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) over available ATC frequencies. Depending on instructions received from the ATCSCC, VFR flights may be directed to land at the nearest available airport, and IFR flights will be expected to proceed as directed by ATC
  • Pilots on the ground may be required to file a flight plan and obtain an approval (through FAA) prior to conducting flight operation


  • If you are intercepted by a U.S. Military or law enforcement aircraft, immediately:
    • Adhere to instructions relayed through the use of visual devices, visual signals, and radio communications from the intercepting aircraft
    • Attempt to communicate with the intercepting aircraft and/or ATC on the emergency frequency 121.5/243.0 MHz, giving the identity and position of your aircraft and the nature of the flight
    • If equipped with a transponder, squawk Mode 3/A code 7700, unless otherwise instructed by ATC
    • If any instructions received by radio from any sources conflict with those given by the intercepting aircraft by visual or radio signals, request clarification while continuing to comply with the instructions given by the intercepting aircraft until positively released
  • The crew of the intercepted aircraft must continue to comply with interceptor aircraft signals and instructions until positively released
  • Flight safety is paramount
    • The interceptor is responsible to maintain safe separation during these and all intercept maneuvers
    • Note that NORAD interceptors will take every precaution to preclude the possibility of the intercepted aircraft experiencing jet wash/wake turbulence; however, there is a potential that this condition could be encountered
    • During Night/IMC, the intercept will be from below flight path
  • Additional national security regulations are covered within Part 99 of the Federal Aviation Regulations
  • For more details about the VWS, check out
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