CHICAGO - Myrtle Rose was just taking a short flight over suburban Chicago when the 75-year-old aviation enthusiast looked out her cockpit window to see two F-16 jets. She assumed the military pilots were slowing down to get a closer look at her antique plane.
It was not until she landed her 1941 Piper J-3 Cub that friends and the police told her the attention was for something much more serious - straying into restricted airspace during a visit by President Obama.
Rose, who tries to fly every day when weather permits, said she had been itching to get back in the air Wednesday after a number of days on the ground. She normally uses her computer to check for any restrictions, but it was not working properly.
To make matters worse, “I didn’t have my radio on. I was just flying around,’’ she said.
On any other day, the short flight would never have attracted notice. But Obama was in town for a fund-raiser marking his 50th birthday.
“There’s really no excuse for not knowing,’’ said Lieutenant Colonel Mike Humphreys, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which scrambled the two warplanes, a proposition that costs $9,000 an hour for each jet. “Anyone who flies an aircraft should know the restrictions.’’
Rose said she was about 30 miles from O’Hare Airport when her plane was intercepted. As the fighters appeared, she wasn’t alarmed.
“I thought, ‘Oh, well, they’re just looking at how cute the Cub is,’ ’’ she said yesterday. The blue-and-yellow plane had won a best-in-class award at the Oshkosh Air Show, a huge annual gathering in Wisconsin.
Rose, who has been flying since the mid-1960s and even performed as a wing walker until five or six years ago, said the jet pilots could not have been more considerate.
Though she never saw their faces - hard to do, she said, when she’s puttering along at about 60 miles per hour and the jets were doing what she figured was about 300 miles per hour - she was impressed with the way the pilot who pulled in front of her kept his distance to avoid rattling her wood-and-fabric plane.
Rose returned to land on the airstrip at her home in the affluent South Barrington area. After the aircraft was in the hangar, her yard began filling with police cars.