Thursday, September 07, 2017

Mystery of Bay Area fighter jet fly-by solved

The roar of a fighter jet thundering overhead startled East Bay residents Wednesday evening. No one seemed to know where it came from or what it was doing buzzing airspace from Walnut Creek to Danville.

A photograph of the plane posted on Twitter appeared to show an F-16 with air-to-air missiles attached to its wings. The F-16 is an Air Force fighter, but it's also flown by the National Guard. The Navy uses F-16s for training.

Naval Air Station Lemoore near Fresno confirmed the jet wasn't theirs. Ditto for Travis Air Force Base.

As the California Capital Airshow is this weekend in Sacramento, perhaps its planes were flying practice runs?

"To my knowledge, they're not ours," said Kirsten DeLong, public relations director. She explained that the air show features F-18 Super Hornets, F-15s and A-10 Warthogs, but has no F-16s.

Further mudding the mystery, the San Ramon Police Department tweeted, "So apparently some fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a small plane landing in Oakland. This is all we know." But there were no other reports of jets being scrambled or any planes being intercepted.

A fighter plane on a noisy fly-by? It sounded like something out of "Top Gun," the 1986 Tom Cruise movie.

So we checked with Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada, east of Reno. NAS Fallon is the Navy's premier air-to-air training facility and the home to the Naval Fighter Weapons (Top Gun) School.

After conferring with base officials, Fallon Public Affairs Officer Zip Upham confirmed the fighter was from Fallon.

"It was a single Navy F-16 on a routine training op," Upham said.

"Occasionally they do navigation flights over the Bay Area, flying as low as 800 feet," he said.

Upham did not know how low this fighter was flying because he did not have access to the flight path. But the fighter was "cleared and controlled" by air traffic control, he said. It took off from Fallon at 5:15 p.m and returned at 6:45 p.m.

The fighter was equipped with two unarmed Sidewinder missiles. One carries a transponder.

The Navy has 14 F-16s (all at Fallon), which it calls "Vipers" as opposed to the Air Force's "Fighting Falcons." They are used as adversarial fighters to train Top Gun pilots in combat tactics.

The planes are camouflaged and routinely fly with air-to-air missiles on the wingtips, Upham said.

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