JAC 9/11 Commentary
A few shorts weeks after the 9-11 attacks our club at that time being stationed at Monmouth Executive was visited by a few members of Homeland Security and the aviation branch of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Their purpose was to enlist volunteers to fly general aviation aircraft “without insignias” for surveillance missions between here and the Canadian border. A handful of our members joined in. It started with background checks, training, uniforms, an oath, and then flying. Our training was at Fort Monmouth for classroom work and a bit at Groton, Connecticut, where the Coast Guard Academy is located. Different teams were formed with different aircraft and non-pilot citizens also joined to act as spotters. All flying was vfr only and I would think that most vfr days there were planes in the air from morning into the early evening.
I flew with a Monmouth Executive sky diving pilot in his Bonanza two days a week and on long weekends in the Burlington, Vermont area. Eventually, the pilot was hired by the Coast Guard Academy at Groton with his Bonanza to provide the required one hour of initial flight time at the academy prior to going into the pilot program so after two and half years I called it a day and was happy to have been a part. I understand that some of our old members may still be flying although the program has been scaled back.
The training was surveillance, search and rescue, and ice flow recognition in the Hudson and East Rivers for boat traffic. Each mission was specifically tailored for the need at the moment and an aircraft would sign up for that slot. Upon departing KBLM, New York Approach was contacted and a discreet transponder code was provided with a coast guard call sign, not the call sign on the plane.
On the ground was contact with the Auxiliary also. From there you flew the mission, sometimes up the Hudson to check out the bridges and nuclear plants, sometimes out to the month of the NY harbor to identify vessels entering port. One of the cool things was the ability to fly over the city traversing between the Hudson and East Rivers. NY approach gave the aircraft cart blanch in moving around. Lunch was generally at a cafe on Block Island or similar which many times was comped by the owner or a patron for being a helpful volunteer.
During the missions we were never privy of internal information. Just fly the mission and look for something that seems out of the ordinary. On a long weekend I came across some memos that put things into perspective. If you ever wondered whether we were still being infiltrated during this time period the answer is yes.