The lead picture is from actual footage out of one of the windows of Air Force 1. POTUS was being accompanied by multiple F-16s on September 11, 2001. They were there to protect him.
I can’t even count the times I’ve seen such accompaniment from my own window in a commercial jetliner. Most incidents were on the Stateside termination of transatlantic flights. I’m guessing that this accompaniment was not for the protection of anyone inside, but rather to practice being in place for the downing of a commercial airliner if it suddenly itself became weaponized. A common exercise for the fighter pilots, surely. Some examples:
- Chicago – O’Hare International Airport: With fuel mostly depleted after such an extra-long flight, we were, instead, put in a rather weird holding pattern. The pilot was punctuating the ticking of the clock with apologies. Five minutes, fifteen, thirty, thirty five… Passengers were getting a bit agitated. The weather wasn’t good. That was the excuse. Until the pilot started expressing some distress about running out of fuel, and that the tower knew that, but would not, not, not give permission to land. I think the pilot brought the fuel thing up like three times. I love flying, so I thought it was all good, especially because of the airshow outside, F-16s to the sides of the plane. Cool! It was stunning to me – I’m so naive – that no one could care less about the cool F-16s. The other passengers were too agitated with the flight attendants who were trying to keep people calm by proffering hope for getting to any connecting flights. These were the days of “mere” highjacking instead of the blowing up of planes or running them into buildings. The F-16 on my side of the plane (the left side) pulled away. Momentarily, another took its place. Just practice, surely. We landed. My connecting flight was to the Wold–Chamberlain Field of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. We were diverted mid-flight to what looked to be a small-town airstrip somewhere in a pasture in nowheresville, Wisconsin. After a long delay, everyone was hauled out onto the tarmac. All the luggage came off. Dogs arrived with a multitude of law enforcement… Inside the plane, outside the plane, with the luggage, with us… nothing. That was a fad for some years in my experience anyway. Again and again. Then it was back on the plane. Just training, surely. Great!
- JFK International Airport: I’ve elsewhere told the story about my involvement when terrorists threatened to blow up a transatlantic flight half way to JFK. I’ll spare you. Needless to say, this was another occasion for accompaniment of a commercial airliner with F-16s. They weren’t there for practice, however. They were waiting for a go-ahead to down the plane if need be. We did land, only to taxi out as far away from the airport as possible, almost in the water of the Atlantic, to be met by a multitude of emergency vehicles and then a storming of the plane by special operators.
I remember the details of these incidents of accompaniment more than the details of others as there were more concomitant circumstances that were… special.
Dad used to train in fighter pilots at Andrews just south of DC as they were putting him through JAG law training at Georgetown University. But how do you train in pilots to down commercial airliners full of innocent American citizens? What’s going through the pilots’ minds and hearts and souls? Unimaginable. But that’s why you train. But the question is always, immediately, Is this just an exercise? And then you hear, No. It’s not. … … … as your heart about stops and then about breaks your ribs pounding so hard.
Analogy: We’re all each of us in crazy changing circumstances every day that are permitted or provided by our Lord who is the Lord of History. He sees all. Our angels see all. We’re expected to be faithful in whatever circumstances, to do what we need to do, whether this means anything from going to heaven when called, promptly, with enthusiasm, or “to protect and serve” as is said. And all in between. Do we think, however, that maybe our circumstances aren’t quite so dramatic, and therefore our faithfulness isn’t really a big deal in those small circumstances, so that – Hey! – we can be politically correct or “get along to get along” or not witness to the goodness and kindness and truth and honesty and integrity that our Lord demands of us every second of every hour of every day?
Here’s the deal: It might be faithfulness in that tiny circumstance that will especially touch the heart and soul of someone and have them turn to the Lord and be on their way to heaven. And that epic saving of a soul is incomparably more dramatic than anything whatsoever that could possibly happen to us in this world. The salvation of souls is about eternity. It’s the small things that are going to draw people in, goodness and kindness and truth and honesty and integrity, always, always, and everywhere, everywhere.