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Context of 'August 25, 2001: Automated Landing Technology Developed for US Military Tested on Civilian Plane'

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After a successful test, the FAA makes an enhancement to the Global Positioning System (GPS) called Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) available to some aviation users. WAAS improves the accuracy of GPS data by correcting some known measuring errors. “The system demonstrated one to two meters horizontal accuracy and two to three meters vertical accuracy throughout the contiguous United States,” says the FAA. The system will be operated by Raytheon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 8/24/2000] The deployment of WAAS is only one of many technological advances that could lead to pilotless aircraft navigation, including takeoff and landing. Tests have shown that landing by autopilot is possible (see also August 25, 2001). [Spinoff, 1998; Federal Aviation Administration, 8/13/1999; Rockwell Collins, 10/5/1999] WAAS also has non-aviation uses. It will be used during the rescue effort at Ground Zero. “[A]t the World Trade Center, rescue teams used WAAS to survey the site during the recovery program,” according to Avionics Magazine. [Avionics Magazine, 2/1/2002] After 9/11 there will be some speculation that the hijackers used GPS to navigate to their targets (see (September 12-17, 2001)). Some press reports will claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was at the WTC the day before the attacks to gather GPS data (see September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Raytheon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Federal Express 727 lands in New Mexico in August 2001.A Federal Express 727 lands in New Mexico in August 2001. [Source: Associated Press]US company Raytheon flies and lands a Federal Express 727 passenger jet six times on a military base in New Mexico, entirely by remote control and without a pilot on board. This is done to test equipment intended to make hijackings difficult, by allowing ground controllers to take over the flying of a hijacked plane. The Associated Press will later report, “[T]he Raytheon test used technology that provides the extremely precise navigational instructions that would be required for remote control from a secure location.” The Associated Press will observe, “Unmanned, ground controlled reconnaissance aircraft have been used by the military for missions over Iraq and Kosovo,” and will quote Thomas Cassidy, president of the California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and manufacturer of the military aircraft, as saying, “It’s a reliable system.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/28/2001]
Raytheon Employees on 9/11 Planes - Several Raytheon employees with possible ties to this remote control technology and/or Raytheon’s Global Hawk program will be reported to have been on the hijacked 9/11 flights (see September 25, 2001). Earlier in the year, a specially designed Global Hawk plane flew from the US to Australia without pilots or passengers. [ITN, 4/24/2001]
Others Say Remote Control Is Impossible - Contradicting the Associated Press report, a number of media reports after 9/11 will suggest such technology is impossible, or flatly deny its existence. For instance, The Observer will quote an expert as saying, “the technology is pretty much there,” but is still untried. [Observer, 9/16/2001] An aviation-security expert at Jane’s Defence Weekly will say this type of technology belongs “in the realms of science fiction.” [Financial Times, 9/18/2001; Economist, 9/20/2001] And in late September 2001, President Bush will give a speech in which he mentions that the government would give grants to research “new technology, probably far in the future, allowing air traffic controllers to land distressed planes by remote control.” [New York Times, 9/28/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Raytheon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US Air Force successfully tests the use of a military technology component that will land planes entirely by autopilot. The component is installed on a commercial airliner. The test takes place at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and uses a Boeing 727. The component for automated landing used by the military is called the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System, or JPALS. The JPALS is a differential GPS ground station developed by Raytheon. It was designed to become interoperable with civilian systems utilizing the same GPS-based technology. The civilian counterpart to the JPALS is known as the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS). Both the JPALS and the LAAS use GPS data sufficiently accurate to allow a plane’s autopilot to land safely without human intervention. The test demonstrates that “the JPALS and LAAS will provide an interoperable landing capability for military and civil applications,” according to a Raytheon announcement (see also August 2000). [SpaceDaily, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Raytheon

Timeline Tags: US Military

At Boston’s Logan Airport, during the morning, businesswoman Jan Shineman is checking in for Flight 11 to Los Angeles, when she notices a man resembling 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta behaving suspiciously. She later recalls him wearing “summery, holiday-type clothes… and he had no baggage, just a folder with a notebook.” She sees him again at the gate for Flight 11, “taking notes, watching the pilots in the cockpit through the window by the gate. They were running through their pre-flight checks.” She decides, “if he had boarded I would have told the captain about him, he was so odd and frightening.” [Guardian, 7/5/2002; Corbin, 2003, pp. 229] Atta will return to Logan Airport and board Flight 11 to Los Angeles on 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1-2]

Entity Tags: Jan Shineman, Mohamed Atta, Logan International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Credit card receipts later discovered by the FBI apparently show that alleged lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is in Manhattan on this day. According to FBI agents, he visits the observation deck on the 107th floor of the south WTC tower. CNN will report, “Officials speculate Atta may have been in New York… to program the towers’ location into a global positioning system.” A global positioning system (GPS) uses satellite technology to pinpoint any location on Earth. According to the FBI, Atta bought himself such a device, costing about $500, by mail order. [ABC News, 5/22/2002; CNN, 5/22/2002] Investigators will reportedly consider this trip necessary, “because they believe the hijackers were too inexperienced to handle the jumbo jets without help.” [New York Daily News, 5/22/2002] BBC reporter Jane Corbin points out that Atta was also witnessed at Boston’s Logan Airport the previous morning (see September 9, 2001), where he could have entered start-point co-ordinates for his 9/11 flight into the GPS device. [Corbin, 2003, pp. 230] However, there is no mention of Atta’s New York visit in the 9/11 Commission Report. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Atta spent the previous night at the Milner Hotel in Boston, and then shortly after noon on this day is in Boston where he picks up Abdulaziz Alomari and drives to Portland, Maine. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] The 200-mile journey from Boston to New York takes approximately four hours by car. [MIT, 5/25/2006] So if Mueller’s account is correct, it seems difficult to comprehend Atta having time to travel to New York, go up the WTC, make purchases on his credit card, and then return to Boston, all in the space of one morning. An article in the New York Post will in fact claim that the person in Manhattan was “a distinguished renal and gene specialist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital” in Baltimore, Maryland. This man, who is also called Mohamed Atta, happened to have visited New York in the days before 9/11, “for a whirlwind weekend with his new bride.” The article claims that it had erroneously been reported that alleged hijacker Mohamed Atta “was casing the Twin Towers days before Sept. 11—even after the FBI concluded it was just the kidney doctor, who had planned to take his wife to Windows on the World for dinner in the North Tower.” [New York Post, 5/28/2002]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After arriving at FAA headquarters on September 12, Tony Ferrante, the manager of FAA investigations, spends several days working out the movements of the four hijacked planes. He is astonished at the precision with which they were flown towards their targets, later saying: “[I]t was almost as though it was choreographed.… It’s not as easy as it looks to do what they did at 500 miles an hour.” He concludes that either the hijackers were better pilots than originally thought, or they were aided by additional equipment such as radios to communicate among the four planes or handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment. [Freni, 2003, pp. 74 and 76] 9/11 Commission investigators will in fact later speculate that the hijackers may have purchased GPS devices, “so they could determine the latitude and longitude of their intended targets.” According to a summary of a Commission interview, “Any autopilot changes made by the terrorist pilots to assist them in navigating to predetermined coordinates would simply have been to enter a specific location such as Newark or Reagan National” Airport. However, airline personnel will tell the 9/11 Commission investigators that “Entering changes to the autopilot is something that terrorist pilots probably would not have been trained or able to do.” Even a United Airlines senior pilot, who instructs on how to do this, says “he always has to pause before he makes such corrections to make sure to remember how to enter the change.” [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tony Ferrante

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

As details of the passengers on the four hijacked flights emerge, some are shown to have curious connections to the defense company Raytheon, and possibly its Global Hawk pilotless aircraft program. Stanley Hall (Flight 77) was director of program management for Raytheon Electronics Warfare. One Raytheon colleague calls him “our dean of electronic warfare.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2001] Peter Gay (Flight 11) was Raytheon’s vice president of operations for Electronic Systems and had been on special assignment to a company office in El Segundo, California. [Associated Press, 9/25/2001] Raytheon’s El Segundo’s Electronic Systems division is one of two divisions making the Global Hawk. [Intelligence Surveillance Reconaissance Journal, 3/2002] Kenneth Waldie (Flight 11) was a senior quality control engineer for Raytheon’s electronic systems. David Kovalcin (Flight 11) was a senior mechanical engineer for Raytheon’s electronic systems. [CNN, 9/2001] Herbert Homer (Flight 175) was a corporate executive working with the Department of Defense. [CNN, 9/2001; Northeastern University Voice, 12/11/2001] A surprising number of passengers, especially on Flight 77, have military connections. For instance, William E. Caswell was a Navy scientist whose work was so classified that his family knew very little about what he did each day. Says his mother, “You just learn not to ask questions.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Stanley Hall, William E. Caswell, Peter Gay, David Kovalcin, Kenneth Waldie, Herbert Homer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) claims in a press conference that Bob Johnson, an employee of the defense contractor Raytheon, claims to have independently identified Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11. The second version of Able Danger in late 2000 was associated with Raytheon while the first version was not, so presumably Johnson’s identification of Atta would have taken place then. If true, that would mean that both versions of Able Danger identified Atta independently of each other in early 2000 and late 2000, respectively. Weldon claims that this is the sixth person to corroborate the claim that Atta was identified prior to the 9/11 attacks. [Times Herald (Norristown), 11/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Bob Johnson, Able Danger, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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