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January 9, 1999: NORAD Holds an Exercise Based on Terrorists Planning to Crash a Plane into the White House

A Canadair 600.A Canadair 600. [Source: Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives]The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices a scenario in which terrorists plan to crash a stolen aircraft into the White House in Washington, DC. The scenario is included in a command post exercise conducted by the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR) called Falcon Indian. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 8/25/1989; US Air Force, 2003 pdf file; Arkin, 2005, pp. 362]
Terrorists Have Stolen a Plane - The scenario is intended to practice identification, intercept, and terrorist procedures. In it, the FBI contacts the commander in chief of NORAD this morning and tells him that two members of a terrorist group called AOL have stolen a Learjet 35—a small jet aircraft—from the airport in Bermuda. The FBI says the aircraft is loaded with explosives, is heading toward the United States, and the terrorists intend to carry out a suicide attack against the White House. The stolen Learjet is being flown “in tight formation” under a Canadair 600—another kind of business jet—at an altitude of 20,000 feet. For some reason, the flight plan for the Canadair plane is not in the system and is therefore unknown.
Commander Has to Order the Shootdown of the Stolen Plane - The simulated NORAD commander in chief in the exercise has to contact the CONR battle commander and order the destruction of the Learjet before it crashes into its target. But before an attempt is made to destroy the plane, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector must ensure that the aircraft it confronts is the correct one, such as by checking the plane’s tail number. After NORAD fighter jets intercept the Learjet, the fighter pilots report that it is hidden underneath the Canadair plane and confirm that its tail number is that of the stolen aircraft.
Scenario Can End with the Learjet Crashing into a Populated Area - However, in the scenario, the terrorists notice the fighters and take evasive action, accelerating to maximum speed and heading at low altitude toward the White House. After this, more than one outcome is possible. If the fighter pilots gain clearance to shoot down the Learjet and are able to do so over water, then they should do this. However, if the Learjet is over a populated area, this fact should be declared and, if necessary, the scenario should progress to the plane crashing into a heavily populated residential area. This will result in 20 people being killed, 100 people being injured, and many fires occurring. NORAD will hold another Falcon Indian exercise that features the same scenario as is used in today’s exercise in June this year (see June 5, 1999). [US Air Force, 2003 pdf file] And a scenario that is apparently identical to this will be included in a Falcon Indian exercise in June 2000 (see June 5, 2000). [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Falcon Indian, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Continental US NORAD Region, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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