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1960-1962: At Height of Cold War, US Clears the Skies for Massive Air Defense Exercises

In the fall of 1960, 1961, and 1962, the United States conducts three large-scale air defense exercises called Sky Shield that require a complete ban on commercial and private aviation for about 12 hours. During a period of extreme tensions with the Soviet Union and widespread fear of a nuclear attack by bombers or intercontinental missiles, the Sky Shield exercises test the reliability of North America’s elaborate network of radar stations in Alaska, Northern Canada, and Greenland, as well as along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Each exercise involves an attack by a fleet of “Soviet” bombers (actually US, Canadian, and British planes) from the North Pole or from the coasts, followed by the mobilization of hundreds of fighter jets trying to intercept and shoot down the intruders. Sky Shield will be recalled after 9/11 in part because it will be the first time in 40 years that the skies are completely cleared. The third Sky Shield, in 1962, involves the systematic grounding of hundreds of civilian jets as rapidly as possible to test the FAA’s ability to clear the skies in case of attack. This procedure, called SCATANA, will be implemented again on 9/11 on NORAD’s order (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 10/20/1961; Air & Space, 3/1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 2-3; Air & Space, 11/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: US Military

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