Beginning later this month, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) will use aircraft-specific laser lights to warn errant pilots they have strayed into the Washington, D.C.-area Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
The ground-based visual warning system consists of a red-green-red signal that pilots can easily discern from the ground clutter of the Capitol region, which encompasses most of the area from Washington Dulles International Airport to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Norad will target only aircraft that are unauthorized or unidentified and unresponsive. The laser, which can be seen from as far as 20 nm from its ground site, is designed to prompt immediate action for the offending pilot to contact ATC and exit the ADIZ.
Several of the laser systems are located throughout the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area. Norad will operate them remotely from its headquarters inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., using radar tracking to pinpoint the violating aircraft.
The narrow beam of light minimizes the probability that a non-intruder aircraft will be lit up when the device is directed at an offending aircraft. If another airplane approaches the same azimuth and elevation as determined by radar data, the warning will terminate.
Before Norad activates the system, the FAA will issue a special flight advisory and notam warning that noncompliance with the rules for operating in the ADIZ could result in the use of deadly force.
In addition to the Washington Air National Guard F-16s based at Andrews Air Force Base, the National Capitol region has surface- to-air missiles in certain locations, as well as other surveillance systems. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service operates two Black Hawk helicopters and a Cessna Citation to intercept unknown aircraft.
Pilots who want to enter and operate in the ADIZ, including operators of low-level VFR aircraft, must first file and activate a flight plan and then contact ATC for a discrete transponder code.