NORAD and federal authorities ran a training exercise over the nation’s capital Sunday to test abilities to detect drones and gyrocopters in restricted air spaces following several troubling incidents.
The exercise was intended to gauge the effectiveness of air defense systems to "identify and track low altitude, slow speed aerial vehicles operating in and around Washington D.C.," NORAD said in a statement. "These exercises are carefully planned and closely controlled to ensure rapid response capability."
Military aircraft stayed out of the restricted airspace over the Capitol region during the exercise called Falcon Virgo 15-13 and did not attempt to intercept the remotely piloted vehicles that were flown over the District of Columbia in the test Sunday morning, NORAD said.
Navy Adm. William Gortney, commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, told the House Oversight Committee in April that identifying slow-flying aircraft at low altitude "is a technical and operational challenge."
Gortney testified after Doug Hughes, a Florida postal worker protesting government corruption, flew a gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, into restricted airspace and landed on the grounds of the Capitol. Hughes pleaded not guilty in May to six criminal charges.
NORAD and the Federal Aviation Administration have been concerned by the proliferation of drones now operated recreationally by the public and the increasing number of close calls with civilian and military aircraft.
Last week, the military scrambled fighter jets after a Cessna pilot spotted a drone flying in restricted airspace over Washington, D.C.
The Falcon Virgo exercises "are held periodically in the (national capital region) to hone NORAD's intercept and identification operations as well provide monthly training of personnel," NORAD said.
Last December, NORAD put up a 242-foot unmanned radar blimp, known in military parlance as an aerostat, over Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland northeast of Washington, D.C., to improve the radar coverage over the capital region. Preparations were underway to launch a second aerostat over Aberdeen last week.