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Context of '(11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Unarmed Fighters Intercept US Military Aircraft Returning from Europe'

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A number of pilots with the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts are preparing to take off for a training mission and see two of their unit’s fighter jets being scrambled in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but they are not asked to respond to the emerging crisis themselves and continue with their preparations for the training mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 9-12]
Pilots Preparing for Training over the Atlantic - The pilots are preparing to fly a defensive counter-air mission in an area of military training airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Long Island, known as “Whiskey 105.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 10, 12; Airman, 9/3/2011] According to most accounts, six of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s F-15 fighters will be participating in the training mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But Major Martin Richard, one of the pilots involved, will write in a 2010 book that eight of the unit’s F-15s take part in the mission. Richard will recall that after the coordination briefing for the training mission, he goes to the “life support shop” and puts on his flying gear, and then goes to the operations desk. There, the unit’s supervisor of flying, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, briefs the pilots preparing for the training mission on current weather and airfield updates, and gives them the status of a KC-135 tanker plane that will be refueling their fighters during the training mission. Richard then heads to his F-15, inspects it, and speaks to his crew chief.
Pilots Notice Commotion as Fighters Are Scrambled - As Richard starts his fighter’s engines, he notices a commotion on one side of the flight line ramp. He will recall: “The broken, disjointed communication over the ultra high frequency (UHF) radio indicated confusion. Members of the 102nd Security Forces Squadron, the cops, marshaled into protective positions. Two vehicles appeared with their blue emergency lights flashing. We all knew what was going on.” The 102nd Fighter Wing keeps a pair of F-15s on alert—armed, fueled up, and ready to take off within minutes of a scramble order—and, Richard will recall, “[T]he alert aircraft were being scrambled.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 10-11]
Pilots Watch Alert Fighters Take Off, but Unconcerned about This - The pilots preparing to take off for the training mission idle their engines and wait while the two alert fighters take off (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] Richard will describe: “I watched from my jet as the clamshell doors on the alert hangars opened, heard the alert jets’ engines whine to life, and saw them aggressively emerge from the facility like an eager predator in search of its prey. Suddenly, the command post announced, ‘Scramble!’ They blasted off, shattering the previously still, calm, peaceful morning.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 12] The pilots involved in the training mission are apparently unaware of why these fighters are being scrambled. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] Richard will recall: “I wasn’t too concerned when I saw the scrambled aircraft take off. We see many scrambles during the year and most all are just aircraft or vessels that can’t be identified but are friendly.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001]
Pilots Continue Preparing for Training - Once the two alert fighters are airborne, the pilots on the ground continue preparing for their training mission. “Back on the flight line,” Richard will recall, “I arranged my formation for takeoff and followed the standard procedures en route to our training area southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 12] Richard and the other pilots will begin their training mission in Whiskey 105 (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They will only learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center and be recalled to their base at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and some of them will take off again to help protect US airspace, but that will only be after the terrorist attacks have ended (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246]
Unit's Mission Is to Protect Northeast US - The 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air Base, according to its own statement, has aircraft and their crews “on continuous 24-hour, 365-day alert to guard our skies.” The unit says its “mission is to protect the Northeast United States from armed attack from another nation, terrorist attack, and activities such as smuggling, illicit drug activity, and illegal immigration.” Its large area of responsibility includes “the major industrial centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and all national command centers in Washington, DC.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] The 102nd Fighter Wing is equipped with 18 F-15 Eagles, including the two that are kept on alert. [Boston Globe, 9/15/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Jonathan T. Treacy, Martin Richard, 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two F-15 fighter jets are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is 153 miles from New York City. The fighters are launched in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but this plane is already crashing into the World Trade Center at this time (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Delay - The FAA’s Boston Center alerted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to the hijacking of Flight 11 and requested that fighter jets be scrambled at just before 8:38 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but the mission crew commander at NEADS only instructed the leader of his weapons team to launch the Otis fighters at 8:45 a.m. (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Otis Aircraft Head to Runway - As soon as the pilots at Otis Air Base are strapped into their aircraft, the green light directing them to launch goes on. They start their engines and taxi out of the hangar to the nearest runway. One of the pilots, Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, radios his command post for guidance, asking, “Do you have words?” The response he gets is, “Possible hijack, American Flight 11, 737, flight level 290 [29,000 feet], over JFK [International Airport in New York City].” (This flight information is partly incorrect, since American 11 is a 767, not a 737.) According to the Cape Cod Times, the jets will be up in the air before their radar kicks in. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 42] The Otis pilots have already been preparing for the scramble order to come since learning of the hijacking from the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, some time shortly after 8:34 a.m. (see (8:36 a.m.-8:41) September 11, 2001). [BBC, 9/1/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 27-30] Their jets are reportedly not airborne until seven minutes after being scrambled, at 8:53 a.m. (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001) and there will be conflicting accounts of what their original destination is (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Timothy Duffy, Otis Air National Guard Base, Daniel Nash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Martin Richard.Martin Richard. [Source: Kevin Mingora]Several F-15 fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts fly out over the Atlantic Ocean for a scheduled training mission, but the pilots are unaware of the hijackings taking place and the plane crashes at the World Trade Center. The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Airman, 9/3/2011] Their mission is an “ordinary training session,” according to the Cape Cod Times. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] Major Martin Richard, one of the pilots involved, will describe it as a “normal training mission.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 9] It is being carried out in “Whiskey 105,” an area of military training airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Long Island. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Airman, 9/3/2011] According to most accounts, six of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s F-15s are taking part. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But Richard will write in a 2010 book that eight of the unit’s F-15s are involved.
Training Mission Is a 'Mock War Scenario' - The “defensive counter-air” mission, according to Richard, is intended to have the fighters splitting into two teams: the “blue air”—the “good guys”—versus the “red air,” their adversaries. In a defensive counter-air mission, Richard will write, “the goal is [to] protect a point on the ground. Our training objective focused on ensuring flawless radar operations to be able to build an accurate picture of the threat’s formation, target the threat in the most effective manner, and ensure, through mutual support, that all blue air forces returned unscathed.” The “mock war scenario” that is played out is “an exciting sortie to do as a practice mission, and it took a great deal of organization to make happen,” according to Richard. [Richard, 2010, pp. 10] A KC-135 tanker plane from the 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor, Maine, is scheduled to refuel the fighters during the mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153; Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011]
Pilot Hears Unusual Radio Communications - The fighters take off from Otis Air Base at 9:00 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file] They then fly out toward the Whiskey 105 training airspace. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Airman, 9/3/2011] Richard will recall that at this time, “[e]verything was exceedingly normal until we heard some unfamiliar radio communication between [the FAA’s] Boston Center and some civilian airliners.” He will say that this “got my attention, but more because it was out of the norm, not because it was especially noteworthy.”
Fighters Fly to Opposite Sides of Airspace - Richard commands the other fighter pilots to complete their pre-mission safety checks and then readies them “for the simulated war we had planned hours before.” After entering Whiskey 105, the fighters carry out a warm-up maneuver. Richard then sends the fighters simulating the “red air” to the west side of the training airspace, while the other fighters—the “blue air”—take up their position about 80 miles away, on the east side of the airspace. [Richard, 2010, pp. 12-13] But then, shortly after they arrive in Whiskey 105, at around 9:25 a.m., the pilots will learn of the first crash at the WTC and be recalled to their base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Some of the fighters subsequently take off again to help protect US airspace, but that will be after the terrorist attacks have ended (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246; Richard, 2010, pp. 13]
Fighters on Training Are Unarmed - The fighters involved in the training mission have no ordnance on them. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] According to Technical Sergeant Michael Kelly, the full-time technician in the command post at Otis Air Base, they are “in an exercise configuration” and therefore “at a ‘safe guns’ (non-firing) weapons posture.” Furthermore, the fighters “more than likely had only one fuel tank.” (F-15s can carry three fuel tanks.) If these fighters were to be used for “long air superiority/sovereignty missions,” Kelly will say, they would need “‘hot’ (live) guns, missiles, and extra gas tanks.” [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file]
Fighters Scrambled after Flight 11 Also Fly in Training Airspace - The pilots on the training mission saw the two of their unit’s F-15s that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate launch—taking off from Otis Air Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but were unaware of the reason for the scramble (see (8:30 a.m.-8:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] (One of the pilots of those F-15s, Daniel Nash, is reportedly standing in for the usual “alert” pilot, who is “scheduled for training” on this day, presumably taking part in the training mission in Whiskey 105. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] ) The two F-15s launched in response to Flight 11 were actually directed toward Whiskey 105 after taking off (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 8:54 a.m.-8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001) and are in the training area from 9:09 a.m. to 9:13 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

Entity Tags: Michael Kelly (102nd FW), Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Martin Richard, 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Otis Air National Guard Base at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, begins preparing all of its available fighter jets to take off. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] The base has already launched its two F-15s that are kept on alert, in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] After the second attack on the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., commanders at the base convened and decided to recall all aircraft out on training, and begin loading fuel and weapons onto all available fighters (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153-154]
Officer Ordered to Prepare Fighters - Jeff Isch, the weapons supervisor for the 102nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Otis, will later recall, “As soon as that second tower was hit, we all started to scramble to action.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/8/2002] However, author Lynn Spencer will indicate that the base does not begin preparing fighters to launch until about 10 to 15 minutes later. She will write that the aircraft maintenance squadron officer, whose job is to get aircraft ready for combat, has been awaiting orders since the time of the second crash. Then, “Less than 15 minutes after the second impact into the World Trade Center, the order came.” An officer from the base’s battle cab gives him the instruction, “Listen, I want you to generate as many airframes [i.e. fighter jets] as you can!” Immediately, the aircraft maintenance squadron officer starts directing all available workers to the flight line (the parking and servicing area for aircraft) to prepare the base’s available F-15s for combat. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 155]
Base Personnel Load Aircraft with Weapons - A report written by the 102nd Fighter Wing’s historian will describe: “Operations [personnel] along with maintenance [personnel] did a survey of which aircraft had bullets loaded and prioritized those aircraft to be first on status. They immediately began to pre-position wing tanks to increase range for future flights. Munitions started flowing at 9:30 and the aircraft were loaded with a mix of different types of weapons.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] Isch’s crew hurries to fix fighters with live weapons. Some aircraft are fitted with newer missiles that are rarely pulled out. [Cape Cod Times, 9/8/2002] According to Boston Magazine, “Jets undergoing maintenance [are] rushed back into service, fitted out for combat instead of training.” [Boston Magazine, 1/2002]
Fighters Recalled from Training Mission and Armed - A number of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s F-15s are away for a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] At 9:25 a.m., these fighters will be instructed to return to their base and will land back at Otis around 20 minutes later (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155; Airman, 9/3/2011] Two of the aircraft have mechanical problems and will therefore be unable to fly again immediately. But the other fighters will be refueled and loaded with 940 rounds of 20 mm bullets. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] The first F-15s to subsequently take off from Otis Air Base will launch at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246] Fourteen of the base’s fighters are “mission capable” by the end of the day, according to Technical Sergeant Michael Kelly, the full-time technician in the command post at Otis Air Base. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file] But according to Spencer, by 6:00 p.m., 21 of the 24 F-15s that are stationed at Otis Air Base will be airborne. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 281]

Entity Tags: Jeff Isch, Otis Air National Guard Base, Michael Kelly (102nd FW), 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts that are out over the Atlantic Ocean on a training mission are notified of the first crash at the World Trade Center and then return to their base. The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Richard, 2010, pp. 13-14; Airman, 9/3/2011] According to most accounts, six of the unit’s F-15 fighters are taking part in the training mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But Major Martin Richard, one of the pilots involved, will write in a 2010 book that eight F-15s are taking part. [Richard, 2010, pp. 10]
Fighters Recalled for 'Possible Use' - The fighters took off from Otis Air Base at 9:00 a.m. for their “defensive counter-air” mission in an area of military training airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Long Island, known as “Whiskey 105” (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Airman, 9/3/2011] Following the second attack on the WTC at 9:03 a.m., commanders at Otis Air Base convened and decided to recall all aircraft out on training (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153-154] A member of staff at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells a colleague that the fighters in Whiskey 105 are being recalled to Otis for “possible use, so we’ve got more aircraft [on] standby.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Controller Tells Fighters to Return to Base - The fighters are recalled to their base at around 9:25 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 pdf file] Shortly after they arrive in Whiskey 105, Richard is called by an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] Richard will later note that “for a controller to interrupt our training mission was out of the norm.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 13] According to Airman, the controller tells Richard: “There’s something going on in New York. I think you guys need to get back to your base.” [Airman, 9/3/2011] But Richard will recall that the controller says, “[A]n aircraft just crashed into the World Trade Center and I think you should return to base immediately.” Richard replies, “Copy,” meaning he understands. However, he will say: “I was a bit confused. I didn’t know the extent of the pandemonium residing just outside of our sterile training airspace.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 13]
Pilot Not Told Why Alert Jets Were Scrambled - Before taking off from Otis Air Base, Richard had seen the two of his unit’s fighters that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate launch—taking off in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but he had been unaware of why they were being scrambled (see (8:30 a.m.-8:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, Richard will recall, “When the FAA announced that the World Trade [Center] tower had been struck by an aircraft, I asked if this was why the alert pilots had been scrambled.” However, he will say, he “got no reply.” It is unclear whether the pilots on the training mission are informed of the aircraft hijackings at this time. Richard will recall, “[W]hen it came over the radio that it was a possible hijacking, it sure got our attention,” but he will not say when this radio communication occurs. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Supervisor Tells Pilot to Get Back to Base - Richard hurriedly dials the radio frequency to contact Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, his unit’s supervisor of flying, who controls flying operations from the ground. [Richard, 2010, pp. 13] Richard asks, “Do you need us back on base?” and Treacy replies, “Get back here as soon as you can.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Fighters Have Too Much Fuel to Land - The fighters were split apart over the Whiskey 105 airspace for their training mission. Rather than spending time getting them back together, Richard orders the pilots to go back to base in flights of two jets. Furthermore, another problem will delay their return: the fighters all have too much fuel to be able to land. Therefore, Richard will write, “Rather than dump the fuel overboard, which would take upwards of six to nine minutes, we got together in twos and did some basic fighter maneuvering.” These maneuvers, which are done in full afterburner, are “the most expeditious way to get to landing weight.” As the pilots request clearance to fly out of Whiskey 105 and back to Otis Air Base, their radios become crowded with communications. Richard comments, “It sounds like we are at war.”
Pilots Told to Stay at Their Aircraft after Landing - The pilots still have little idea what is going on, so Richard contacts Treacy for an update. However, Treacy has nothing concrete to tell him and only says, “After you land, stay at your jets; we’ll run the classified packs out to you.” These “classified packs” fit into the leg pocket of a pilot’s g-suit, and include the classified codes and guidance pilots fly with when on alert. Richard will write, “In light of recent events, it seemed we had been drafted for alert duty.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 13-14]
Pilots Told to Prepare Fighters for Alert - The fighters arrive at Otis Air Base around 20 minutes after they are called back there, according to author Lynn Spencer. As they taxi in, the pilots receive an instruction over their radios from Treacy, who tells them, “Cock your jets for alert!” They have never received such an order before. It means that instead of parking and shutting down their aircraft, they must prepare them to be scrambled from the flight line, with all of the instruments, controls, and switches set ready for immediate takeoff orders. After doing as instructed, the pilots head into the operations building to find out what is happening. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] Most of the squadron personnel are huddled by the television in the break room, watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks. One of the life support technicians turns to Richard and says, “It’s a goddamn Tom Clancy novel!” Richard will comment, “It was obvious now that we were at war.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 14] A number of the fighters that come back from the training mission, which have no ordnance on them, will be armed and also refueled, ready to take off to protect US airspace. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] The first fighters to subsequently take off from Otis Air Base will launch at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246]

Entity Tags: Jonathan T. Treacy, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, 102nd Fighter Wing, Martin Richard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jon Treacy.Jon Treacy. [Source: US Air Force]Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, receives the order from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to launch all its available fighter jets.
Commander Briefs Pilots - A number of Otis pilots that were recalled from a training mission about an hour earlier (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and other pilots that have recently come to the base from their homes are gathered in front of the operations desk. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy tells them: “This is what we know. This is clearly a national emergency. Two aircraft have been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center. The Pentagon has been attacked. We need to get all our jets ready to go because we’re not sure where this is heading. We have information that there are more coming.” He instructs the pilots: “You must be prepared to meet any surprise.… You may be taking out an airliner. You must engage. You cannot fail. Our nation is relying on us.” He gives them their assignments, saying whether they are required to fly now or whether they will be needed later on, to take over when other pilots have landed.
Launch Order Received - Just after Treacy finishes giving his briefing, someone comes into the room yelling out that NEADS has called the base with important orders. The person says, “We have to get everything we have airborne now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-245] NEADS started contacting Air National Guard bases around the Northeast US by about 10:00 a.m., with the instruction to get their fighters airborne (see (Between 9:50 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 180]
Pilots Head Out, but Most Jets Not Yet Armed - Treacy yells at his men, “Go, go, go!” and then the pilots run out to their aircraft. But, according to author Lynn Spencer, since the time the group of pilots returned from their training mission, “there has not been time to do much more than fuel their jets.” Most of the base’s fighters “are still unarmed. Despite the furious pace of the weapons handlers, only a handful of jets have been uploaded with some armament.” The first two F-15s that take off from Otis Air Base in response to the NEADS order will both be unarmed (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] Another two F-15s will take off shortly after them with their guns loaded, but one of them will have only one missile loaded instead of two (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16, 18] Two F-15s that are kept on alert at Otis Air Base took off at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Jonathan T. Treacy, Otis Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Joe McGrady.Joe McGrady. [Source: John P. Meyer]Two F-15 fighter jets take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the first to do so after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered the base to launch all of its available aircraft (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, these two fighters are unarmed. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] The 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard operates from Otis Air Base, and is responsible for defending the northeastern US against various threats, including terrorist attacks. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] The aircraft maintenance squadron officer started preparing the unit’s F-15s for combat less than 15 minutes after the second attack in New York (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But despite the reportedly “furious pace of the weapons handlers” who “hurried to fix all available jets with live weapons,” only a few fighters have so far been loaded with any armament. [Cape Cod Times, 9/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245]
Fighters Launch with No Weapons - The first two fighters to take off are piloted by Dennis Doonan and Joe McGrady. As they are the first pilots to start their F-15s and taxi off the flight line (the parking and servicing area for aircraft), they are paired up. But Doonan suddenly realizes that, though he is being sent into a combat situation, his fighter is unarmed. He radios McGrady and tells him, “I’m Winchester!” (“Winchester” is the code word for having no weapons.) McGrady’s aircraft is also unarmed, so McGrady immediately radios squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy and in a panic tells him: “We’re Winchester, SOF [supervisor of flying]! We’re Winchester!” But Treacy instructs him: “Just go! You need to get airborne now!” McGrady and Doonan head out for takeoff, not knowing where they are going or what they will have to do, but realizing that if they have to take out a target, they must do so with their own aircraft. Once they are airborne, they will intercept a KC-10 tanker plane and four A-10 jets (see (11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and then set up a combat air patrol over Boston. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-247]
Other Fighters Take Off Armed - Another two F-15s will take off from Otis Air Base shortly after McGrady and Doonan’s fighters (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These aircraft will have had their guns loaded and armed for use, but one of them will take off with only one missile loaded instead of two. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16, 18] The 102nd Fighter Wing’s two F-15s that are kept on “alert”—armed and ready for immediate takeoff—launched at 8:46 a.m., in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Fourteen of the base’s fighters will be “mission capable” by the end of the day, and six fighters will be airborne at a time, according to Technical Sergeant Michael Kelly, the full-time technician in the command post at Otis Air Base. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Joe McGrady, Dennis Doonan, Michael Kelly (102nd FW), Jonathan T. Treacy, Otis Air National Guard Base, 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are concerned about a group of US military aircraft that are approaching the United States across the Atlantic Ocean, which repeatedly fail to respond to their radio communications. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247]
Staffer Says Aircraft Are 'Friendly' - At 10:31 a.m., a female member of staff at NEADS tells a caller—apparently someone in Canada—that the aircraft are “crossing your border right now.” She calls the aircraft “Gold 99,” referring to the call sign of one of the planes. She says, “We can’t get an aircraft type, but supposedly there’s four of them crossing your border, four aircraft,” and adds that the aircraft “are friendly.” She then tells the caller that the FAA’s New York Center “knows about it and everything,” and says the group of aircraft “has a mode 2,” which would mean they are military aircraft. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (“Mode 2” is a transponder mode of operation that is for military use only. [US Navy, 1993, pp. 3-3 pdf file] ) The NEADS staff member then tells a colleague that the person at the New York Center that NEADS talked to about the suspect aircraft “said there is a mission,” but that person had been “very, very brief, because he had to go.” He had said of the aircraft, “All I can tell you right now, they’re okay, they know that they’re coming.”
Other Staff Member Says Aircraft Not Confirmed as 'Friendly' - Minutes later, at 10:34 a.m., another female member of the NEADS staff discusses Gold 99 with a male colleague and disputes whether the aircraft are indeed “friendly.” She says: “Wait a minute. That’s not confirmed, that they’re friendly.” She adds, “New York [Center] doesn’t know who it is.” Her colleague says, “Well, they’re the ones that told them that it’s Gold 99.” But the female staffer replies, “They were not told.” She adds, “I talked to New York [Center].” Another female member of staff then gives the instruction, “Don’t confirm them friendly yet.” About a minute later, that staff member continues: “All [the New York Center] had was [that] the Gold 99 is the mission flight, four ships.… No type aircraft.” The other female says, “They don’t know who it is right now.” Someone else says the New York Center “said they were too busy. They hung up.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
FAA's New York Center Says Aircraft Are Military Planes - Around this time, a female member of staff at NEADS contacts the New York Center to inquire further about the suspicious aircraft. She says to the person there that she is “trying to get some amplifying data” on the aircraft. The New York Center employee replies, “Gold 99 is one KC-10”—a military tanker aircraft—“accompanied by six A-10s,” which are military jet aircraft. He says the aircraft originated in “LEMO,” apparently referring to Morón Air Base in southern Spain by its International Civil Aviation Organization airport code. He also says the aircraft are on their way to Bangor International Airport in Maine. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; International Civil Aviation Organization, 1/12/2006 pdf file]
NEADS Begins 'Unknown Rider' Procedure - At 10:36 a.m., one of the female NEADS staff members decides, “Let’s try unknown rider” on the group of aircraft. NEADS personnel then begin what appears to be a specific procedure. Another female staff member tries making radio contact with the aircraft over the “guard” frequency, which can be heard by all aircraft, no matter what other frequency they are on. She calls out: “Unknown rider, unknown rider at position 4123 north, 06532 west, this is Huntress [‘Huntress’ is the call sign for NEADS] on guard. Authenticate 283, south, kilo.”
Modified Communication Also Unsuccessful - She repeats this attempted communication with the aircraft, but receives no reply. She then tries a slightly different communication. At 10:39 a.m., she calls out: “Unknown rider, unknown rider at position 4120 north, 06551 west, this is Huntress on guard. Authenticate 8880506, alpha, alpha, alpha.” Several minutes later, at 10:44 a.m., this female staff member again calls out to the aircraft, asking the “unknown rider” to “authenticate.” Again, no response is received.
Aircraft Should Be in Radio Range - A male member of staff points out that the suspicious aircraft are only 174 miles away and therefore, he says, “They should be hearing us” over the radio. A female staff member agrees. One of the NEADS ID technicians therefore phones someone, possibly a colleague at NEADS. She asks him: “As far as authentication goes, how far out, this four-ship that’s coming in from this Canada East, how far out should they be able to hear us? Because nobody is coming back with an authentication and we’re trying to find out the range. Maybe they can’t hear us.” The person who answers the call replies: “They should be able to hear you out about as far as the radar coverage itself goes. If there was radar coverage, they should be able to hear you.” The ID technician says the aircraft are “within that, so, okay, copy.” But still the aircraft fail to reply when NEADS tries calling them. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Fighters Intercept Suspect Aircraft - Two F-15 fighter jets scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts will be directed to intercept the suspicious aircraft, reportedly shortly after 11:00 a.m. (see (11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “Gold 99” will turn out to be a KC-10 tanker, as the New York Center stated. The aircraft with it are four A-10 jets, with the call signs “Mazda 41,” “Mazda 42,” “Mazda 43,” and “Mazda 44.” According to some accounts, the five aircraft are returning to the US from the Azores, off Portugal. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247; Richard, 2010, pp. 21]

Entity Tags: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A KC-10 air tanker.A KC-10 air tanker. [Source: Jerry Morrison / US Air Force]Two unarmed fighter jets intercept a suspicious target flying toward the United States from the east, which turns out to be some US military aircraft returning from Europe that are unaware of the terrorist attacks in America. [9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247] The two F-15 fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, and are piloted by Dennis Doonan and Joe McGrady. They were the first fighters to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered the base to launch all of its available aircraft (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the two fighters had not yet been armed.
Fighters Directed toward Target - The weapons controller the two pilots are communicating with instructs them, “Fly 090 for 100 to intercept,” meaning they are to fly east for 100 miles. Knowing his plane is unarmed, McGrady is concerned that he might have to take out their target by crashing into it. To his relief, when he gets near it, he discovers the target is a convoy of five US military aircraft: a KC-10 tanker plane and four A-10 jets. Those onboard the planes, which are returning to the US from Europe, are unaware of the catastrophic events taking place in America.
Fighters Sent toward Boston - Doonan and McGrady radio the A-10 flight lead with diversion instructions. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-247] The A-10s are directed to land at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. [Richard, 2010, pp. 22] Doonan and McGrady are then instructed to fly to Boston to establish a combat air patrol over the city. Doonan decides that the KC-10 in the convoy can assist them with refueling once they are over Boston, and radios its pilot with instructions to accompany him. The pilot asks, “What’s going on?” Doonan gives no details, only replying, “It’s serious sh_t and you’re coming with us.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247]
Aircraft Returning from Europe - The KC-10 has the call sign “Gold 99,” while the four A-10s have the call signs “Mazda 41,” “Mazda 42,” “Mazda 43,” and “Mazda 44.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Richard, 2010, pp. 21] The five aircraft had been on their way to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, according to author Lynn Spencer. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] But the FAA’s New York Center told NEADS that their planned destination was Bangor International Airport in Maine. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to Spencer, and also to a report written by the 102nd Fighter Wing’s historian, the aircraft have been flying to the US from the Azores, off Portugal. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] But the New York Center indicated to NEADS that they came from Morón Air Base in southern Spain. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; International Civil Aviation Organization, 1/12/2006 pdf file] Such journeys from Europe to the US are “common flights between the continents,” according to 102nd Fighter Wing pilot Martin Richard. [Richard, 2010, pp. 21]
Aircraft Not Answering Radio Communications - NEADS personnel were concerned because it had not been confirmed that the five aircraft were “friendly” and because the aircraft repeatedly failed to respond to NEADS’s radio communications (see (10:31 a.m.-10:47 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to Spencer, the aircraft were “out of radio range.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] However, NEADS personnel established that, as the aircraft had only been 174 miles away, they should have been hearing the radio communications. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Dennis Doonan, Joe McGrady

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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