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11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001: First DC Air National Guard Fighters with Missiles Take Off

Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11.Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard] (click image to enlarge)Two District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, to defend the capital, the first DCANG planes to launch armed with missiles as well as bullets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The two F-16s are piloted by Captain Brandon Rasmussen and Major Daniel Caine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Although Caine was his unit’s supervisor of flying (SOF) this morning, he decided earlier on that he was going to get airborne, and so Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson has taken his place as SOF (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184]
Commander Supposedly Gave Shootdown Authority - As Caine and Rasmussen were passing the SOF area on the way to their fighters, they were quickly briefed by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley had by then received instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, he told the two pilots: “You need to establish a CAP [combat air patrol] over Washington. Intercept any incoming aircraft 60 miles out and use whatever force necessary to keep it from targeting buildings downtown.” Wherley said, “You will be weapons free,” which means the decision whether to fire on a hostile aircraft rests with the lead pilot, and added, “Just be careful.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 238] However, Rasmussen will contradict this account, saying that once he is airborne, “we still haven’t been told, ‘You are clear to engage anybody.’ They just said, ‘Get airborne as quick as you can.’” But while the two pilots were getting suited up ready to fly, Caine, who will be the flight lead, had reassured Rasmussen that he would take responsibility for firing on any hostile planes. He’d said: “Whatever you do, don’t be the first one to shoot.… Let me be the first one to shoot, if it comes to that, and then do what I do.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Fighters Loaded with Missiles - Three DCANG jets took off from Andrews earlier on, but none of them were armed with missiles (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Missiles were loaded onto Caine and Rasmussen’s F-16s while they were sitting in the cockpits. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Rasmussen will later recall that “we were probably 20 to 30 minutes behind” the previous two jets to launch, “because they were loading heat-seeking missiles on the aircraft.… Once they armed us up, we just rolled right down the runway and blasted off.” The jets take off with hot guns and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles each. According to Rasmussen, this is the first time he has flown with live missiles. He will say, “I had never flown with real missiles and had never so much as seen them on the jet.”
Communicate with FAA Controllers - After taking off, Caine and Rasmussen communicate with the FAA’s Washington Center, “primarily to control us and give us an idea of the air picture,” according to Rasmussen. The Washington Center normally controls all of the air traffic in the area. However, its controllers are not trained as weapons controllers. Rasmussen will say: “[W]e’re used to working with AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] weapons controllers or GCI [ground control intercept].” GCI is “a ground-based radar facility with weapons controllers who will give you the tactical air picture; control and coordinate who is targeting what aircraft; and run the air war that way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Airborne for 3-4 Hours - DCANG pilot Marc Sasseville, who took off at 10:42 a.m., was initially the CAP commander, but Caine takes over this responsibility from him once he is in the air. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Caine and Rasmussen will remain airborne for three or four hours, which is at least twice as long as the usual maximum duration for an air-to-ground sortie, of about an hour and a half. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, Daniel Caine, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, District of Columbia Air National Guard, David Wherley, Brandon Rasmussen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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