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    Operation Skyshield
    Operation Skyshield was a series of three large-scale military exercises conducted in the United States in 1960s designed to test the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) defenses against Soviet air attack. |Read More|

    Skyshield was the largest aviation exercise ever held, involving a quarter of a million military personnel. Over six thousand sorties were flown by air forces from the US, UK and Canada simulating Soviet fighter / bomber attacks against New York, Chicago, and Washington.

    During the operation, every commercial airliner and private airplane from the Arctic Circle to the Mexican border remained parked for up to 12 hours—voluntarily. In 1961, the airlines accepted the groundings with grace, even holding open houses in what otherwise would have been empty terminals.

    At Los Angeles International Airport, Washington National Airport, and New York Idlewild (later renamed JFK) Airport, visitors by the tens of thousands enjoyed tours of the idle airliners, while military aircraft flew supersonic routes over major population centers.

    Among the many errors and rumors relayed by the press at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 (one that still persists today), was that the cancellation of all civilian aviation flights on September 11, was the first such mass grounding in U.S. history.

    | Operations |

    Sky Shield I (1960)

    Sky Shield I included an "attack" by eight Royal Air Force Vulcan B.2 bombers. Four bombers attacked from Scotland and four from Bermuda. The first "casualty" of the exercise was an RAF Vulcan which was intercepted by an McDonnell F-101 Voodoo 56,000 ft above Goose Bay, Labrador. Despite this, the Vulcans achieved unprecedented survivability with seven of the eight British bombers managing to reach their targets and return to Stephenville, Newfoundland unscathed.

    Their effectiveness in the exercise was largely due to the advanced Electronic Counter Measures systems on these bombers (three of the southern route bombers putting up a wall of interference while the fourth made an attack) and the Vulcan's famed and unique maneuverability amongst strategic bombers, which allowed them to fly at treetop level (below 100 ft) missions more accustomed to a fighter-bomber.

    Sky Shield II (1961)

    During Skyshield II, the RAF Vulcans participated again, four from 27 Sqn (Vulcans serials XJ824, XH555, XJ823, and one other) again flying from Kindley Air Force Base, Bermuda, and four Vulcans from 83 Sqn flying from RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland. They simulated Russian heavy bombers operating at the highest tier - 56,000 ft (17,000 m) - above the United States Air Force (USAF) B-52s at 35-42,000 ft and the lower level B-47s. One 27 Sqn Vulcan, flying from Bermuda, after successfully evading the defending Convair F-102 Delta Dagger interceptors, tracked round to the north, landing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York.

    During this exercise, there were eight casualties, all from the same B-52 crew. On 15 October 1961, a search triangle 600 miles from New York was set up looking for the missing crew. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter reported seeing an orange flare at 12:15am on 17 October, but the eight crew members were eventually lost at sea.

    Sky Shield III (1962)

    Sky Shield III, held in September 1962, was North America's first test of procedures for clearing national civilian air traffic at short notice, such as would be done in the event of a Soviet attack. Hundreds of USAF trainers were used to simulate normal civil traffic levels and routes.

    The results of the tests were classified until 1997 fearing they could be used by the Soviet Union in order to more effectively engage the U.S. in the event of World War III. The exercise revealed many serious holes in the US air defenses.

    The details of Operation Sky Shield (especially Sky Shield II) remained secret until 1999. Prior to that time, the US and Canada had delivered a line that the exercise was highly successful. When the files became public it was obvious that not everything went as planned. While all the SAC bombers were "discovered", seven of the eight British Vulcans got to their targets and returned home unscathed.

    The penetrations by RAF Vulcans was first reported in a British newspaper, the Daily Express, in January 1963, and was initially strenuously denied by the US Defense Department, who stated "that British aircraft last took part in a Strategic Air Command exercise over the United States in the Autumn of 1960".

    In a later statement, Eugene Zuckert, Secretary of the USAF, said the report was; "completely without foundation". The Chicago Tribune newspaper reported; "We do not know whether the Royal Air Force leaked the story in order to show up the Kennedy administration because of its decision to scrap the Skybolt air-to-ground missile".

    | More

    Visitors wait at Los Angeles International Airport to tour the new Pan Am Jet Clipper Liberty Bell, grounded during Skyshield II in October, 1961.

    The main hall at Washington National Airport (DCA) is empty during the groundings of Skyshield II in 1961, except for a cleaning crew at the TWA booth and some reporters.

    One of four command posts during Skyshield was the Air Force Air and War Room and its control booth far beneath the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
    Posted on Saturday, September 03 @ 14:12:06 MDT by sonicbom
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