Visual Warning System for the Washington, D.C. area

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | May 24, 2005

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Recently a new warning signal for communicating with aircraft was deployed within the Washington, D.C. area. The Visual Warning System fielded by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, became operational May 21.

This new security measure enhances air safety and security in the National Capital Region. It is a communication tool to warn pilots who are violating the NCR’s restricted airspace – the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), established by the Federal Aviation Administration – and who cannot be contacted by radio. The VWS is a ground-based system that uses safety-tested, low-level beams of alternating red and green lights to alert pilots they are flying without approval in restricted airspace. “The lights are designed so that illumination is eye-safe and non-hazardous at all ranges,” said Mr. Michael Perini, director of public affairs for NORAD and U.S. Northern Command.

Only aircraft that are unauthorized, or unidentified, and unresponsive are visually warned. “The VWS is designed to prompt immediate action by the pilot to contact air traffic control and exit the restricted airspace,” Perini said.

The VWS system is considered a Class One laser device, the safest class possible. It is eye safe at all distances. “There is no eye hazard associated with viewing the beam,” Perini emphasized. If an aircraft enters the restricted air space, the pilot will see a bright dot of flashing red/red/green light that stands out brilliantly among the many city and radio tower lights at night and against scenery clutter during the day. The narrow beam of the warning minimizes the probability that a non-intruder aircraft will be illuminated when the VWS is directed at an intruder aircraft.

The VWS provides those involved with securing the air space over the National Capitol Region a rapid means of contacting pilots when radio attempts have failed. The system is part of the overall layered defense of our nation’s capital for which USNORTHCOM is responsible. The mission of USNORTHCOM is to provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support of civil authorities.