CHICAGO — Myrtle Rose was taking a short flight over suburban Chicago when the 75-year-old aviation enthusiast looked out her cockpit window to see two F-16 fighter jets. She assumed the military pilots were just slowing down to get a closer look at her antique plane.
It wasn’t until she landed her 1941 Piper J-3 Cub that friends and the police told her the attention was much more serious — for straying into restricted airspace during a visit by President Barack 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 airspace restrictions, but it wasn’t working properly.
“I hadn’t flown in over a week,” she said. “It was a beautiful afternoon.” After some guests departed her home, she “just climbed in the airplane and left.”
To make matters worse, she said, “I didn’t have my radio on. I was just flying around.”
On any other day, the brief flight would never have attracted notice. But Obama was in Chicago for a fundraiser marking his 50th birthday.
“There’s really no excuse for not knowing,” said Lt. Col. 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 Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. The blue-and-yellow plane had won a best-in-class award at the Oshkosh Air Show, a huge annual gathering in Wisconsin.
Another NORAD representative suggested Rose had no business thinking that a military jet racing toward her would be in any way related to the cuteness of her plane.
“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that when F-16s come screaming up to you, they are probably trying to tell you something,” spokeswoman Stacey Knott said.
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, since she was puttering along at about 60 mph and the jets were doing what she figured was about 300 mph — 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.
“He was very respectful,” she said.
Rose returned to land on the grass airstrip at her home in the affluent South Barrington area. Her late husband owned Rose Packing Co., a meat packer that supplies Canadian bacon to McDonald’s restaurants.
Once she was on the ground, some friends rushed over and told her that the rendezvous had nothing to do with the good looks of the plane named Winston. After the aircraft was in the hangar, her yard began filling with police cars.
Rose said she filled out a report with the Federal Aviation Administration, including a note describing how she mistakenly believed the jets were circling to admire her plane. She said she has not heard from the agency.
FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said the investigation would probably take several weeks. Penalties could include a fine or a suspension of her pilot’s license, or the agency might not take any action at all.
Rose, a Republican who said she did not vote for Obama, joked about mailing the president a note for his birthday.
“Oh, dear, maybe I should send him a belated birthday card and say, ‘You should have stayed home and Michelle baked you a birthday cake.”’
Rose said she does have a bone to pick with NORAD, or whoever released the information about her close encounter with the jets.
“The worst part is they put my age in there,” she said. “I don’t think that was nice.”