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Context of '(September 12-17, 2001): FAA Investigator Astonished at Precision of Four Hijacked Planes'

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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

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

A number of key senior FAA personnel happen to be away from their usual bases this morning, at the time of the attacks.
bullet Bill Peacock, the FAA director of air traffic services, is in New Orleans for a meeting with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). Among his many duties, Peacock is “the ultimate manager of all the air traffic controllers in the country’s system.” He will be transported from New Orleans later in the day in an FAA business jet, one of the few aircraft permitted to fly, and only arrive at FAA headquarters shortly after 5:00 p.m. [Freni, 2003, pp. 12 and 70]
bullet Jack Kies, the FAA’s manager of tactical operations, is in Nashua, New Hampshire for a meeting with representatives of the Canadian air traffic control organization. [Freni, 2003, pp. 65-66] Consequently Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations, has to take his place in charge of the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. [Federal Aviation Administration, 5/18/2006]
bullet Tony Ferrante, the manager of the FAA’s air traffic investigation arm, is in Chicago to testify at a hearing. He will become frustrated later in the day about being stuck there, knowing he should he at his post in Washington gathering forensic data on the hijackings and crashes. [Freni, 2003, pp. 7, 19 and 47-48]
bullet Rick Hostetler, a member of the FAA’s planning and procedures organization, is at the dentist’s in Waldorf, Maryland when the attacks begin. His job includes acting as the FAA’s primary air traffic liaison for the Secret Service, the US Special Operations Command, and the Pentagon. After seeing the second WTC tower hit live on television, reportedly while sitting in the dentist’s chair, he will quickly set out for his duty station at the FAA Command Center. But due to the heavy traffic, his journey will take hours and the attacks will be over by the time he gets there. [Freni, 2003, pp. 27, 47 and 90]
bullet Mike Canavan, the director of the FAA’s Office of Civil Aviation Security, is visiting the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He will only make it back to Washington in the evening, on a special Army flight. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] As part of his job, Canavan is the FAA’s hijack coordinator, responsible for requesting military assistance in the event of a hijacking (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17-18]
bullet FAA Administrator Jane Garvey is in a breakfast meeting at the Department of Transportation, in Washington, DC. She will quickly relocate to FAA headquarters soon after the first attack (see (8:48 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Freni, 2003, pp. 62-63]
Whether the absence of these senior personnel impairs the FAA’s ability to respond to the attacks is unknown.

Entity Tags: Jack Kies, Federal Aviation Administration, Tony Ferrante, Bill Peacock, Mike Canavan, Jane Garvey, Rick Hostetler

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, David Canoles, the FAA’s manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations, and his staff begin coordinating the collection of forensic evidence that might clarify how the morning’s attacks unfolded. They coordinate the capture and copying of radar track data showing the paths of the four hijacked planes, and obtain air traffic control voice tapes from every facility that had spoken with these planes. FAA Assistant Investigations Manager Tony Mello and other employees will work for most of the afternoon, all night, and part of the following day, gathering data and coordinating with the FBI, Secret Service, Defense Department, White House, and National Transportation Safety Board, making sure these other agencies receive as much evidence as is available. Radar tracks are crudely plotted, showing the flight paths of the four jets, and voice tapes are transcribed. Having been stuck in Chicago when the attacks occurred, (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), Tony Ferrante, the manager of FAA investigations, will finally arrive at FAA headquarters at 5:00 a.m. on September 12. His first priority is “to ensure that the radar data and voice tapes from every location involved in the attack [are] put under lock and key as soon as possible,” presumably to be kept safe for any investigations. He looks at and listens to the relevant controller tapes, and begins constructing a detailed timeline of the four hijacked aircraft. Along with Tony Mello and others of his staff, Ferrante will spend several days working out the movements of the four planes. FAA radar experts Dan Diggins and Doug Gould will also spend days interpreting the radar tracks of the four planes, piecing together a detailed timeline of their actions from takeoff to crash. [Freni, 2003, pp. 74 and 76-77] The FAA will publish a fairly comprehensive chronology of the hijackings on September 17, though this will not be made public until September 2005. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; National Security Archive, 9/9/2005] Presently, it refers any media requests for flight patterns to Flight Explorer, a software company that makes charts of plane routes using information from the FAA’s radar system (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/13/2001] The US military has also started doing its own reconstructions of the radar data for the hijacked aircraft (see (11:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Doug Gould, David Canoles, Dan Diggins, Tony Mello, Federal Aviation Administration, Tony Ferrante, Flight Explorer

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

According to Robin Cook, Tony Blair says, “Left to himself, Bush would have gone to war in January. No, not January, but back in September.” [Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in speech before the US Congress, pleads for the UN to become “an instrument of action as well as debate,” saying the Security Council needs to be reformed to reflect the “21st Century reality.” [Guardian, 7/18/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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