A rogue aircraft may fly into a no fly zone, and be intercepted by standard military procedure. That involves increasingly intense attempts to establish communication. When all these fail, it may be required to force the aircraft to go down. The naive solution is to just shoot it down, which may be the right thing to do.

I wonder if it is possible for a F-16 fighter to force a small one propeller airplane to do an emergency landing? Either by making it try to get to the nearest airfield, or alternatively making it try to get to the nearest cornfield - or anything somewhat flat.

For example by disabling its propeller. By either breaking the propeller by shooting at it, or shooting holes into the engine?

Would that work for a small aircraft?
Would it work more generally, like for commercial airliners?

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    $\begingroup$ I think it would be very hard to target something like the propeller or engine in something like a 172. Would be easier for a small twin. Usually they put a couple "shots across the bow" or "thumping". They also visually identify the condition of the pilot (if they are slumped over or dead), then they will decide to end things by force. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 2, 2019 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ Shooting the engine would not be possible without a 100% chance (rounded) of killing the pilot. You'd have a better chance trying to shoot the fuel cap off. $\endgroup$
    – Hugh
    Sep 2, 2019 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ Well as a general rule of firearms, if you are shooting at something, you intend to kill it. Nobody shoots projectiles at anything intending to disable and no more, because the 1st round out could kill it, or the 50th. And pretty much anything I might do to physically affect the target airplane, like flying in front of it to force it to fly though my wake, also creates the probability that I may force it to crash, so if I take any action like that, I've decided in advance to kill the target if necessary, and if it's only forced down, that's a bonus. Bottom line is it's all potentially lethal. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Sep 2, 2019 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ This question reminds me of complaints by people who have never used firearms that police shoot to kill instead of "shooting the gun out of the perpetrator's hand". $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Sep 3, 2019 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ It also makes me think of Mathias Rust. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Sep 3, 2019 at 0:12

4 Answers 4


An interceptor can gain cooperation from an intercepted aircraft by means of a show of force ie forming up on the target’s 6 and 9 o clock position and attempting to contact them on the emergency radio channel. If the target remains unresponsive or refuses to comply, a fighter will often cut in front of its flight path in afterburner, causing the target aircraft to be rocked and buffeted in the jet wash. This is usually enough to get a response from the target aircraft and compliance with the lead fighter’s or ATC’s instruction.

Any kind of intentional damage to the intercepted aircraft would not be done unless deadly force were authorized against the target. In which case full force ie employment of weapons against the target aircraft to shoot it down would be used.

The video below is a good report on interception procedures against a civilian aircraft. It was a joint exercise between the civil air patrol and an F-16 ANG unit.

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    $\begingroup$ The interesting part starts at 2:15. $\endgroup$
    – PerlDuck
    Sep 2, 2019 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ Good point, any kind of physical interaction with the intercepted aircraft requires authorization for deadly force. That's because any physical interaction has a high probability to kill all people on board. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2019 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @VolkerSiegel Your scenario makes me think of this incident from yesterday: Trainee pilot lands plane safely after instructor passes out. Of course, the circumstances were different as the student communicated. $\endgroup$
    – PerlDuck
    Sep 2, 2019 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ @VolkerSiegel That scenario is going to get twisted fast. Really soon it will start to matter why there is a no fly zone, and what situational awareness the jet pilot has. What works against a passed out pilot may not work against a pilot who is actively trying to deceive you into thinking they are passed out. What exact aircrafts are involved? Also, can they afford to permit an individual aircraft to violate the no-fly zone and just let it safely fly by? The number of variables that matters in that moment are astounding. Such a pilot has to consider all of them. Poor soul. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 3, 2019 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Volker Siegel That’s not how use of deadly force works. You’re not actively trying to “kill the pilot“, but you are employing deadly force to stop the threat. Deadly force by definition is force which is likely to result in serious injury or death. There is no known way to bring the target airplane down, without the cooperation of the PIC, without the use of deadly force being used. Any kind of damage one would intentionally inflict on the target aircraft is likely to kill or seriously injure the pilot. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2019 at 11:13

The jet fighters could harass the small plane, to the point of making it very clear: You will not get much farther on this path!

Note what happens when the F-14s fly under the Zeroes here:

The Zeroes aren't waggling their wings. This is an upset - they are being flipped over by the wake vortex from the Tomcats. The competent pilots are then using aileron to arrest the upset.

The same effect is examined in great detail here. In both cases the Zero and DR400 are able to arrest the upset at 90 degrees, but tragically the DR400 is much too low. Its wake turbulence was from an An-2 biplane (1/4 the weight of an F-16 and 1/13 the top speed) which had taken off 40 seconds earlier. TURN YOUR SOUND DOWN:

Anyway, 2 or 3 fighter jets could hit this guy with that kind of upset every few seconds, and from different angles, diving for instance to put him in a spin. He'd be at 100% workload simply recovering from upsets - he'd be so busy trying to put the horizon line back where it belongs, that he'd have no chance of even knowing which compass heading he was flying! As soon as he's pointed away, the fighters leave him alone, and if he turns back to his heading, suddenly green and blue are sideways again!

Inducing these upsets is inherently rather dangerous, so the fighter pilots wouldn't do it unless deadly force was authorized.

Further, the fighter pilots would have a real job matching their harassment to his ability to recover. They could very easily create an upset which was totally recoverable, just not by that pilot. The longer they have to do this, the better; ideally they'd start by throwing "softballs" at him, and if he handles those easily, turn up the heat until they find his skill limits.

What if the fighter is unarmed?

Obviously, the fighter jocks could induce these upsets with an Antonov-2. So it's no trouble in an actual fighter. They have even more options, even without weapons.

The fighter could make a high subsonic or supersonic pass from behind very close, inducing such extreme turbulence as to snap the wings off.

The fighter could intentionally collide with the light plane's control surfaces; the 30,000 pound fighter's wing leading edges are far less likely to take critical damage than the 2000 pound small plane's trailing edges.

Finally, the fighter has the "blank" ammo they carry for weight and balance reasons.

Fighter jets don't shoot bullets, they shoot shells. Shells have a fuze and bursting charge, which explodes the shell into a cloud of shrapnel, doing devastating damage. This is necessary due to the speed of modern aircraft. Fighter jet "blank" ammo has propellant, but no fuze or bursting charge, it's just a slug -- so yeah, it's a bullet. It passes through the airplane's structure, leaving 2 or 4 holes and wrecking anything in its path. Usually nothing, but if it gets lucky, it hits a control wire, spar just right, human or the engine. At 50 rounds per second against a 150 mph foe, they don't need to get all that lucky.


A number of related questions has been asked and answered, addressing specific elements of interception:

A fighter wouldn't shoot at a private or commercial aircraft without intent to (potentially) kill. Any projectile damage to an aircraft is potentially fatal, due to how it can interact with the pilot's control inputs, even if one had a precise weapon.

Modern fighters guns generally use HE/HEI rounds, which have an explosive filling and produce fragmentation from the shell. There is no way to ensure a hit on just one and only one piece of a plane with such a round. Any fragment hitting the pilot can be lethal, and the pilot's dead body can finish the job of crashing the plane.


You are not going to be able to specifically target something as small as a C-172's engine or propeller with an F-16's gun. Even an actual sniper wouldn't be able to hit a moving target that small from a moving platform. If the F-16 even tries it, then they almost certainly will wind up shooting the plane down.

A similar situation exists with trying to force them down with your jetwash. Sure, it can cause them to lose altitude, but only for a short period of time. The other airplane could easily gain back the lost altitude and then some while you're repositioning for the next attempt. Even if there was some way to keep the other airplane in your jetwash for a long time, that would just result in them smashing into the ground rather than landing.

So, no, there's no way to physically force another airplane down without killing it. You can threaten them over the radio, fire warning shots, etc., but if they ignore the warnings, your only choice is whether or not to follow through with the threat.

For larger commercial jets, the situation is slightly better, but not much. An F-16 at point-blank range could conceivably hit just an engine with their gun. But there's still a huge risk that stray bullets or debris from the engine itself could tear up the wing, disable flight control surfaces, or pierce hydraulic lines. So, still pretty likely to result in a crash.


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