F-35A jet intercepts civilian plane over San Francisco amid President’s visit

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A US Air Force (USAF) F-35A Lightning II fighter jet intercepted a Mooney M20J single-engine plane over San Francisco Bay Area on June 21, 2023, due to violations of temporary flight restrictions during President Joe Biden’s visit. 

The fighter jet cut off the path of the aircraft flying over Marin County, executing a maneuver known as a ‘headbutt’. Designed to alert pilots to airspace restrictions, the maneuver is not a reference to the aggressive tactic of the same name but rather a visual cue for the pilot to acknowledge the airspace violation and change course. 

In a statement released on their Twitter account, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirmed that USAF jets responded to several violations of the VIP Temporary Flight Restricted (TFR) area during Biden’s three-day visit to San Francisco. 

“Pilots in the San Francisco area are strongly encouraged to check NOTAMs [Notice to Air Missions] today and tomorrow to ensure they have the latest information on the VIP TFR,” NORAD reminded in a following tweet

TFRs are a routine measure enforced according to the President’s schedule and location. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may also implement TFRs during natural disasters, certain major sporting events, and situations of national security or emergencies. 

TFR violations can carry severe penalties, potentially including criminal charges with up to a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine. In addition, offenders may face the suspension of their pilot’s license or other civil penalties. 

This is not the first incident involving presidential airspace violations. In October 2022, two small planes were intercepted by F-16 fighter jets during President Biden’s visit to Southern California. US officials had to use flares to get the pilots’ attention after they entered temporarily restricted airspace. However, the incident was resolved effectively and without further action​. 

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