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NORAD brings 50th celebration to general aviation at Sun 'n Fun

Mike Strickler of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region discusses a NORAD mission with a Sun ?n Fun attendee here.  A joint-service CONR team is at the EAA-sponsored event to discuss topics of interest with general aviators, including NORAD?s 50th anniversary celebration.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

Mike Strickler of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region discusses a NORAD mission with a Sun ?n Fun attendee here. A joint-service CONR team is at the EAA-sponsored event to discuss topics of interest with general aviators, including NORAD?s 50th anniversary celebration. (U.S. Air Force photo)

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Heneric worked his way through vendor kiosks in Hanger D at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Moving slowly he spies Garmin here, NavAir there, and then a wholly unexpected and nostalgic pause.

     "I'm browsing the aviation exhibits and suddenly, here's NORAD and I'm thinking 'what the (heck) is NORAD doing here?'"

     Heneric, a general aviation pilot from Granite Falls, N.C., served as an Air Force F-106 pilot in the 1970s and 80s, flying in support of NORAD mission across the U.S.

     Now, more than 20 years later, he is taken aback by a familiar name now backed by a core of young fliers and new missions that carry the North American Aerospace Defense Command handle.

     "It was missile defense, SAC and the DEW line, and of course Cheyenne Mountain in my day that forged the NORAD brand," he said. "Seeing it again today gave me a start; a fond memory but sad too. It was a different time."

     Heneric's journey through Hanger D brought him face-to-face not only with his past but also a joint-service team representing the Continental U.S. NORAD Region from Tyndall Air Force Base. The CONR group attends each year as the fly-in provides a unique opportunity to meet with private pilots and discuss matters of mutual concern, including temporarily flight restricted airspace, search and rescue technologies, intercept procedures and awareness, and air defense identification zones.

     This year the team also stands for NORAD members past and present during the command's golden anniversary.

     "I had no idea what NORAD was up to, and didn't really expect to find out," said Heneric. "But seeing it now ... well, it's a pleasant surprise."

     The NORAD display and its CONR team has proved an attraction since Tuesday's opening with the joint-team busy meeting and greeting aviation enthusiasts, talking with instructors and new pilots, attending media engagements, and reminiscing with the surprisingly large corps of veterans whom had served during the Cold War, or could easily recall the impact the command had on their lives.

     Today, NORAD continues the tradition of serving the American and Canadian homelands through a persisting, mutually-beneficial relationship that has evolved over the past 50 years to remain as relevant today as it was half a century ago. New missions, including Space Shuttle support, consequence management for natural and man-made disasters, and the stand-up and continuation of Operation NOBLE EAGLE, keep NORAD warriors on duty 24 hours a day, seven days week, 365 days a year.

     "This anniversary brings an occasion to reflect on the history of the command and to recognize its evolution in response to known and new threats, including emerging technologies," said Brooke Davis of the Northeast Air Defense Sector at Rome, N.Y.

     "It is also an opportunity to honor the strong bi-national relationship, the valor of the men and women who serve, and the important role of the many partners - including local communities - who support homeland defense," she said.

     Sun 'n Fun 2008 is the first major fly-in held each year for general aviation pilots and aerospace enthusiasts. Sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association it draws more than 200,000 visitors from around the world. The event continues through Sunday.

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