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Context of 'Late August-September 8, 2001: Most Washington National Guard Pilots Are Away at Nevada Exercise'

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An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006.An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006. [Source: US Department of Defense]In late August and early September 2001, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) participate in the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada. They do not return from it until September 8. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
Red Flag - Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise that involves the air forces of the US and its allies. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/19/2002] It is managed by the Air Warfare Center through the 414th Combat Training Squadron. Most of the aircraft and personnel that are deployed for Red Flag are part of the exercise’s “Blue Forces,” which use various tactics to attack targets that are defended by an enemy “Red Force,” which electronically simulates anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jamming equipment. A variety of aircraft are involved in the exercise. [Air Force Magazine, 11/2000] Red Flag is held four times a year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. It is usually composed of two or three two-week periods. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 476] The current exercise began on August 11, and involves more than 100 pilots in total. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7/28/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/22/2001]
Exercise May Hinder Defense of Washington on 9/11 - The timing of the Red Flag exercise may reduce the ability of the DCANG to respond to the 9/11 attacks. The 121st Fighter Squadron is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, which is located 10 miles southeast of Washington, DC. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] Most of its pilots are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, while flying commercial jet planes in their civilian lives. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002] Therefore, according to author Lynn Spencer, on 9/11 most of the 121st Fighter Squadron’s pilots will be “back at their airline jobs, having just returned three days before from two weeks of the large-scale training exercise ‘Red Flag’ at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. [The squadron has] only seven pilots available.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] In addition, some of the pilots will need to have their flight data disks reprogrammed before they can launch. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will reportedly be “busy reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from” (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236-237] A significant number of fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia also participate in Red Flag around this time (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Red Flag, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Many aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, which is just a few miles outside Washington, DC, are taking part in training exercises. James Ampey, an FAA air traffic controller who is currently on duty in the control tower at the base, will later recall that there are “an unusually high number of aircraft taking off and landing at Andrews [this] morning, because previously scheduled military exercises [are] underway.” [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file] It is unclear what specific exercises these aircraft are participating in, and the exact time period Ampey is referring to.
Militarized 747 Involved in 'Global Guardian' Exercise - According to journalist and author Dan Verton, around the time of the Pentagon attack, “civilian and military officials [are] boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation’s capital. They [are] preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise” (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] This airfield is Andrews Air Force Base and the exercise being referred to is the US Strategic Command’s annual exercise, Global Guardian, for which three E-4Bs are launched (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] Whether other aircraft that are taking off or landing at Andrews are participating in Global Guardian is unknown.
NORAD Exercise, 'Vigilant Guardian' - Another major exercise taking place this morning is called Vigilant Guardian. All of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is participating in it (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] However, Andrews is not one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US. [Airman, 12/1999] And the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews, is not part of the NORAD air defense force. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 76] Furthermore, members of the 113th Wing have just returned from a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001), and so, with only a few pilots and planes available, today is a “light flying day” for their unit. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Presumably the 113th Wing is therefore not currently participating in Vigilant Guardian or any other major exercises.
Numerous Units at Andrews - There are, however, many units at Andrews that may be participating in exercises. Among more than 60 separate organizations located at the base are units from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] These units include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321), which flies the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which has numerous aircraft available, including the F/A-18 Hornet. [DC Military (.com), 2/9/2001; DC Military (.com), 6/2001]
Andrews Units Respond to Attacks - DC Air National Guard fighters will later take off from Andrews to protect Washington in response to the morning’s attacks (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] And a member of VMFA-321 calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at around 9:50 a.m. to offer his unit’s assistance in response to the attacks (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Andrews Air Force Base, James Ampey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Three F-16 fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, which is 10 miles from Washington, DC, and fly to North Carolina for a routine training mission, meaning they will be about 200 miles away from base when the attacks in New York take place. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] They are piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, Eric Haagenson, and Lou Campbell. Haagenson and Campbell are less experienced, junior pilots. Hutchison is flying with them because most of the pilots with his unit are on leave, having just returned from the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001).
Jets Heading to Range to 'Drop Some Bombs' - The three F-16s are going to train for a surface attack. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Hutchison will later recall: “We had gone up to [the gunnery range in] Dare County, North Carolina, to drop some bombs and hit a refueling tanker and come on back. It was going to be an uneventful day.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] The range is located 207 miles from Andrews Air Force Base. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] The jets are scheduled to arrive back at Andrews at 10:45 a.m. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 9/11/2001]
September 11 a 'Light Flying Day' - Because members of the 113th Wing have just returned from the Red Flag exercise, September 11 is a “light flying day.” According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing, the unit would normally have launched eight jets—“an eight-ship”—for this training mission. But as only seven pilots and a few planes are available, a “three-ship” has been launched instead. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The three F-16s heading out for the training mission will not arrive back at Andrews until between 10:14 a.m. and 10:36 a.m., by which time the terrorist attacks will already be over (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Billy Hutchison, David McNulty, Lou Campbell, Eric Haagenson, 121st Fighter Squadron

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Logo of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard.Logo of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard. [Source: Air National Guard]Pilots and officers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) are notified of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, but mistakenly assume this must have been an accident and continue with a meeting they are holding. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122] The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, is based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, 10 miles southeast of Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
Pilots and Flight Managers in Meeting - Some DCANG officers are currently in a conference room at their unit at Andrews, conducting the weekly scheduling meeting, where plans for the upcoming week are discussed. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot who is also the chief of scheduling with the unit, about five or six people are in the meeting. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] As well as Rasmussen, those present include Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing; pilots Marc Sasseville and Daniel Caine; and a new officer, Mark Valentine.
Officers Think Crash Is an Accident - An intelligence officer interrupts the meeting and says a plane has just flown into the WTC. However, the meeting participants assume the crash is an accident involving a small aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122] Rasmussen will later recall: “[A]ll of us in the meeting kind of looked at each other and looked outside the window, it was clear blue skies. It doesn’t get any more flying weather than that. So we thought, ‘What kind of a moron can’t see those big buildings right in front of them?’ We all figured it was just some light civil aircraft… little Cessnas, Piper Cubs, or whatever, someone doing some sightseeing flying up and down the Hudson and just not paying attention where he was going.” Therefore, “we continued on with the meeting, thinking we’d catch the news clips later on in the day.” The scheduling meeting will continue until its participants learn of the second plane hitting the WTC and realize this is a terrorist attack (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123]
Some at Base Suspicious about Crash - However, according to the Washington Post, at least some individuals with the DC Air National Guard are “immediately suspicious” upon hearing of the first crash. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will recall having wondered, “How do you make a mistake like that?” (Penney Garcia is at the 121st Fighter Squadron headquarters at Andrews, though whether she is attending the scheduling meeting is unstated.)
Only Four DCANG Pilots Available - Members of the 121st Fighter Squadron have just returned from “Red Flag,” a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001). Most of the squadron’s pilots, who fly commercial planes in their civilian lives and are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, are consequently away from the base on this day, either back at their airline jobs or on leave, according to different accounts. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] Of the seven pilots the squadron has available at the base today, three have just taken off for a training mission over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), meaning only four available pilots are left at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file]
DCANG Not Part of NORAD Air Defense Force - The DC Air National Guard flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter, and its mission includes providing “capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency.” [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Unlike other Air National Guard units, it reports to the president, instead of a state governor. It works closely with Secret Service agents who are across the runway at Andrews Air Force Base, in the Air Force One hangar. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, the 121st Fighter Squadron is “not standing alert on Sept. 11” because the DC Air National Guard is “not assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command air defense force.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Brandon Rasmussen, Daniel Caine, David McNulty, Mark Valentine, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, have to take time to reprogram the data disks they will need once airborne, apparently because these disks still contain the data from a training exercise their unit has just returned from. The pilots belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236-237] This is part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] According to author Lynn Spencer, pilots with the squadron who are preparing to take off in response to the attacks grab their gear and upload “flight data” onto computer disks. These disks “contain all the navigational waypoints, maps, and frequencies that they will need once airborne.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236] The pilots presumably begin uploading the data after learning of the second crash in New York, and realizing this is a terrorist attack (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They apparently need to take the time to upload the data as a consequence of their unit’s recent involvement in a major training exercise: Three days earlier, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron returned from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they had spent the previous two weeks participating in the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123, 156] Spencer will describe one of the squadron’s pilots, Heather Penney Garcia, staying busy this morning, “reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from,” before taking off at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 237-238]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11.Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard]Munitions workers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) unload bullets and missiles from storage sheds, and work toward getting fighter jets armed to launch in response to the attacks, but even by 10:42 a.m., when two pilots take off, no jets have been armed with missiles. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78, 82]
Ordered to Prepare Jets - The munitions crew with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, has been ordered to uncrate missiles and bring them across the base, while the unit’s maintenance officer has been told to prepare fighters for take off (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 157] According to author Lynn Spencer, the unit’s “war-reserve missiles… are never touched, but are kept operational and in minimal numbers for non-alert wings like the DC Guard to allow for contingencies such as this.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
Commander Anticipated Order - Colonel Don Mozley, the commander of the 113th Logistics Group, had been anticipating the order to get jets armed and ready to fly, and so has already instructed his weapons officer to “break out the AIM-9s and start building them up.” The missiles need to be transported across the base from its far side, which will take time. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
Missiles Unloaded onto Trailer - The munitions crew unloads bullets and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles from storage sheds onto a flatbed trailer. Senior Master Sergeant David Bowman, the 113th Wing munitions supervisor, will later recall: “There were six of us there and we had 28 missiles to unload, and they each have three components. And if you drop one, you can’t use it anymore. We were doing it as fast as we could, because for all we knew the terrorists were getting ready to hit us.” Another officer will say the crew prepares the missiles “really fast,” but “we didn’t do it unsafely.”
45 Minutes to Get Missiles across Base - However, the trailer that carries the missiles has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and needs a security escort. It takes 45 minutes before the weapons crew has brought missiles across the base to the flight line, where aircraft park. Usually it takes much longer—three hours—to bring weapons from the storage sheds and load them onto fighter jets, according to two senior officers with the unit. Once the missiles have been carried across the base, it takes “no more than 10 minutes” to load each one onto an aircraft, according to one of those officers.
Jets Loaded with Ammo after Exercise - The arming of the fighter jets is apparently speeded up because one of the munitions staff had thought to load the jets with ammunition after members of the 113th Wing recently came back from a training exercise. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78, 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 157] Three days earlier, members of the wing returned to Andrews after spending two weeks in Nevada for the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] Master Sergeant Joseph Proctor, one of the unit’s “weapons guys,” had decided to take a load crew and put some ammunition in the jets brought back from Nevada, as these were empty following the exercise. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot with the unit, Proctor’s reason for doing this was so “they wouldn’t be in a rush on Tuesday morning [i.e. September 11],” and “he was thinking local flying and just to help us out a little bit.” Rasmussen will later thank Proctor because of the benefit his actions have on the unit’s response to the attacks, telling him, “If you hadn’t have done that we’d been dead in the water.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Jets Not Fully Armed at 10:42 - Yet in spite of actions like these, even by 10:42 a.m. on September 11, two F-16s that take off from Andrews have not yet been armed with missiles (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82] Chief Master Sergeant Roy Belknap, the 113th Wing production superintendent, will later recall: “We had two air-to-air birds on the ramp… that already had ammo in them. We launched those first two with only hot guns. By then, we had missiles rolling up, so we loaded those other two airplanes while the pilots were sitting in the cockpit.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Those aircraft, the first jets to take off with missiles as well as guns, will launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: District of Columbia Air National Guard, Don Mozley, David Bowman, Roy Belknap

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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