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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 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 got on the ground that friends and the police told her the attention was much more serious — for straying into restricted airspace during a visit by President Barack Obam
To make matters worse, "I didn't have my radio on. I was just flying around," she said.
It all added up to a big mistake.
"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."
Because Obama was in town for a fundraiser marking his 50th birthday, private pilots were forbidden to come within 30 miles of O'Hare Airport.
When the fighters appeared, Rose 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 that Rose had no business thinking that a military jet racing toward her had anything to do with 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, when she's 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 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 hanger, 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."The worst part is they put my age in there," she said. "I don't think that was nice."
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