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Context of '10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001: DC Air National Guard Jet Lands Back at Base, Less than 10 Minutes after Taking Off'

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The first of three District of Columbia Air National Guard F-16s that was away on a training mission at the time of the attacks in New York lands back at its base just outside Washington, DC, but does not take off again to defend the capital. The fighter jet is being piloted by Eric Haagenson. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] It belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Along with two other jets, it took off from Andrews at 8:36 a.m. for a routine training mission about 200 miles away, over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Denied Entry into Andrews Airspace - Haagenson apparently headed back to base earlier than the other aircraft with him over North Carolina because he was so low on fuel. Major Billy Hutchison, the flight lead of the F-16s on the training mission, learned over radio that Haagenson was then “being denied entry to airspace over Andrews” Air Force Base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file] This was presumably because airspace restrictions had been implemented around Washington: The supervisor of flying with Haagenson’s unit had been concerned that such restrictions would be put into effect after he’d learned of the second attack on the World Trade Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123] Hutchison therefore instructed Haagenson to go to Pawtucket, Rhode Island (presumably to land at an airfield there), because he was so low on fuel, so that he would not run out. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] But by 10:14 a.m., Haagenson has been cleared to land at Andrews, and touches down at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
Haagenson Does Not Take Off Again - Hutchison will later recall that Haagenson “didn’t go back up” into the air after landing at Andrews, “because he was a brand new pilot.” The training mission he returned from “was his first flight outside an instructional arena.” The other two F-16s that were with him, piloted by Hutchison and Lou Campbell, will land at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., but Hutchison will be instructed to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Eric Haagenson, Billy Hutchison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Billy Hutchison.Billy Hutchison. [Source: Family photo]The first fighter jet to launch from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles southeast of Washington, takes off in response to the attacks. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] The F-16 belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, and is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. It is one of three F-16s that were flying on a training mission in North Carolina, over 200 miles from Andrews (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and which have finally been recalled to the base (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; American Forces Press Service, 5/12/2005] Although the three jets met with a refueling plane, they did not fill their tanks up completely. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] Hutchison’s aircraft is the only one of them with enough fuel remaining to take off again immediately, though he only has 2,800 pounds, which is equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car. His jet has no missiles, and only training ammunition.
Pilot Takes Off, Instructed to Protect Washington - Immediately after landing at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., Hutchison takes off again at the instruction of Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. He is instructed “to intercept an aircraft coming toward DC and prevent it from reaching DC,” he will later recall. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] According to author Lynn Spencer, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the supervisor of flying (SOF) at Andrews, tells Hutchison to “use whatever force is necessary to prevent [the aircraft] from getting to DC.” Thompson adds: “You are weapons free. Do you understand?” “Weapons free” means the decision to shoot at a target now rests solely with Hutchison. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the “weapons free” instruction goes out to other pilots that launch from Andrews at 10:42 and after, but apparently not to Hutchison. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] Thompson will tell Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine simply that he instructs Hutchison “to ‘do exactly what [air traffic control] asks you to do.’ Primarily, he was to go ID [identify] that unknown [aircraft] that everybody was so excited about” (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Hutchison takes off “without afterburner to conserve fuel, go across the White House over the Georgetown area and continue northwest up the Potomac,” he will recall (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 81]
Conflicting Timelines - Conflicting times will later be given for when Hutchison takes off from Andrews. The pilots with the 121st Fighter Squadron will admit that their own recollection of the morning’s timeline “is fuzzy.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] According to 113th Wing operations desk records, Hutchison takes off at 10:33 a.m. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81, 89] Based on an interview with David Wherley, the 9/11 Commission states he is airborne at 10:38 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44, 465] Recordings of air traffic controller transmissions confirm this time. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] But in her 2008 book Touching History, Lynn Spencer will claim Hutchison took off significantly earlier, some time after 9:50 but before Flight 93 crashed (which was just after 10:00 a.m.). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-220] (However, she will later amend her claim, saying instead, “Radio data indicates that Hutchison’s flight did not depart from Andrews… until just after 10:35.” [Lynn Spencer, 2008] ) Two more fighters will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another two take off at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). Due to his plane’s limited fuel, Hutchison will only be airborne for about 10 minutes, and he lands back at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
One Jet Landed Already - The first of the three F-16s to return from the training mission over North Carolina landed at Andrews at 10:14 a.m., but did not take off again to defend Washington (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other F-16, piloted by Lou Campbell, landed with Hutchison’s jet at 10:36 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The 113th Wing is not part of NORAD’s air sovereignty force and, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, does not have an alert mission. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76] According to Phil Thompson, “We’ve never been an air defense unit,” but “We practice scrambles, we know how to do intercepts and other things.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Andrews Air Force Base, Billy Hutchison, Lou Campbell, 121st Fighter Squadron, David Wherley, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Phil Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The first fighter jet that launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, in response to the morning’s attacks lands at its base less than 10 minutes after taking off. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] The F-16, which is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, was ordered to take off immediately after arriving back at Andrews from a training mission in North Carolina (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Hutchison has made two loops up the Potomac River, and flown over the burning Pentagon (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235] His aircraft had only 2,800 pounds of fuel—equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car—remaining when he took off, and he’d subsequently noticed his fuel gauge pegged at the lowest level it can indicate, 400 pounds. He announced to the air traffic controller he was communicating with, “I’ve got to go.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 248] Hutchison will later recall that his plane is “on vapors” when he lands. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] By now, two more F-16s have taken off from Andrews (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Hutchison’s jet is refueled and loaded with weapons, and he will then take off again to defend Washington. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 249]

Entity Tags: Billy Hutchison, Andrews Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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