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Context of '(11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Marine Fighters Arrive over Washington but Lack Correct Authentication Code'

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Many aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, which is just a few miles outside Washington, DC, are taking part in training exercises. James Ampey, an FAA air traffic controller who is currently on duty in the control tower at the base, will later recall that there are “an unusually high number of aircraft taking off and landing at Andrews [this] morning, because previously scheduled military exercises [are] underway.” (9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 pdf file) It is unclear what specific exercises these aircraft are participating in, and the exact time period Ampey is referring to.
Militarized 747 Involved in 'Global Guardian' Exercise - According to journalist and author Dan Verton, around the time of the Pentagon attack, “civilian and military officials [are] boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation’s capital. They [are] preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise” (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Verton 2003, pp. 143-144) This airfield is Andrews Air Force Base and the exercise being referred to is the US Strategic Command’s annual exercise, Global Guardian, for which three E-4Bs are launched (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) Whether other aircraft that are taking off or landing at Andrews are participating in Global Guardian is unknown.
NORAD Exercise, 'Vigilant Guardian' - Another major exercise taking place this morning is called Vigilant Guardian. All of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is participating in it (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Seely 1/25/2002; Scott 6/3/2002) However, Andrews is not one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US. (McKenna 12/1999) And the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews, is not part of the NORAD air defense force. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 76) Furthermore, members of the 113th Wing have just returned from a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001), and so, with only a few pilots and planes available, today is a “light flying day” for their unit. (9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 pdf file) Presumably the 113th Wing is therefore not currently participating in Vigilant Guardian or any other major exercises.
Numerous Units at Andrews - There are, however, many units at Andrews that may be participating in exercises. Among more than 60 separate organizations located at the base are units from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. (DC Military (.com) 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) These units include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321), which flies the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which has numerous aircraft available, including the F/A-18 Hornet. (DC Military (.com) 2/9/2001; DC Military (.com) 6/2001)
Andrews Units Respond to Attacks - DC Air National Guard fighters will later take off from Andrews to protect Washington in response to the morning’s attacks (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002) And a member of VMFA-321 calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at around 9:50 a.m. to offer his unit’s assistance in response to the attacks (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 188)

Logo of the 552nd Air Control Wing.Logo of the 552nd Air Control Wing. [Source: US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane on a training mission in the Washington, DC, area is instructed to return to its base in Oklahoma, even though its advanced communications and surveillance capabilities would significantly benefit the military’s air defense efforts in response to the terrorist attacks. The AWACS belongs to the 552nd Air Control Wing, located at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. (US Air Force 4/1/2000; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/16/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 265) It has been flying a training mission somewhere near Washington (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Code One Magazine 1/2002)
AWACS Sent Back to Oklahoma - According to author Lynn Spencer, the AWACS is directed to return to Tinker Air Force Base “in the immediate confusion after the attacks.” The exact time the plane’s crew receives this order, and the identity of the person or organization that gives the order, are unstated. NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) will contact the AWACS later on, and instruct it to turn around and head to Washington, to provide radio and radar coverage over the capital (see (11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 265-266)
AWACS Has Advanced Surveillance and Communication Capabilities - The AWACS, also called the E-3 Sentry, is a modified Boeing 707 that provides surveillance, command, control, and communications to military commanders. (Schmitt 9/23/1995; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/16/2006; US Air Force 9/22/2015) According to a US Air Force manual, the plane’s “advanced surveillance radar provides long-range, low-level detection of aircraft targets over all types of terrain.” (US Air Force 4/1/2000) It can track friendly and enemy aircraft over a 300-mile radius. (Schmitt 9/23/1995) Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will say that AWACS planes “give you the big picture in the sky. They’re able to identify what’s a friend, what’s a foe.” (White House 8/29/2002)
AWACS Would Help NEADS Contact Fighters - These planes are particularly important to NEADS. (9/11 Commission 10/30/2003 pdf file) Spencer will describe: “The NEADS radio transmitter, like all radio transmitters, operates by line of sight. This means that the radio signals, which travel in a straight line, require an unobstructed path between the transmitter and the [fighter] jets” that NEADS is trying to communicate with this morning. Due to the curvature of the earth and the distance between NEADS, in Rome, New York, and Washington, the fighters’ launched to protect the capital (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will be unable to pick up the NEADS signal on their radio receivers when they descend below 20,000 feet, after arriving over Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “What’s needed,” Spencer will write, “is an AWACS plane, which has the capability to provide both radar and radio coverage over a citywide area.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 265)

Major Brad Derrig.Major Brad Derrig. [Source: ABC]At Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the pilots of three F-16s receive the order to scramble (i.e. take off immediately). A Klaxon horn sounds and the status lights in the hangars change from yellow to green, notifying them of the order. (Longman 2002, pp. 65; Filson 2003, pp. 63; Spencer 2008, pp. 141) The fighter jets belong to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing. The wing has a small detachment at Langley that serves as one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, responsible for defending the nation against attack. (Spencer 2008, pp. 114) The jets are already at “battle stations,” with the pilots in the cockpits but the engines off (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24; Spencer 2008, pp. 117-119) The scramble order has just been issued by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 16)
Third Pilot Launched - The unit at Langley keeps two F-16s on “alert”—armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes if called upon. (Hebert 2/2002; Kelly 12/5/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17) But NEADS has instructed it to launch as many aircraft as it can (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so the unit’s operations manager Captain Craig Borgstrom is also preparing to take off in a third jet. (Spencer 2008, pp. 118-119) Major Dean Eckmann calls the other two pilots, saying, “Quit check,” indicating a radio check. Major Brad Derrig responds, “Two.” Borgstrom replies: “Three. I’m going with you!” This is news to Derrig. According to author Lynn Spencer, Derrig is “stunned.… [N]ot much surprises him, but this does.” Borgstrom joining them as a pilot will mean that, in the middle of this unprecedented crisis, their unit will be left without a commanding officer. (Spencer 2008, pp. 142)
Only Two Jets Fully Armed - The two jets that are kept on alert are fully armed. As Eckmann will later recall, “We can carry M9 heat seekers, Sidewinders for the M7 Sparrow, plus we have an internal 20 mm Vulcan cannon, and we were pretty much armed with all that.” (BBC 9/1/2002) However, Borgstrom’s jet has guns only, and though the six-barrel 20 mm gun can fire 6,000 rounds per minute, it requires close range.
Pilot Unqualified to Lead Three Jets - As the three aircraft taxi out to the runway, Eckmann is concerned that he has not yet qualified as a mission commander—a “four-ship”—and is therefore not authorized to lead more than one fighter jet. He calls the other pilots, saying, “Hey, I’m only a two-ship!” But Derrig, who is a full-time instructor pilot for the Air National Guard, urges him not to worry. He responds: “Press! I’m an instructor,” giving his approval for the flight to operate as a “three-ship” under Eckmann’s lead. (Spencer 2008, pp. 142) The three jets will take off and be airborne by 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 16)

A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11 on the morning of 9/11. Exact time is unknown.A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11 on the morning of 9/11. Exact time is unknown. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The three F-16s scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, at 9:30 a.m. finally reach Washington and the burning Pentagon. The 129 mile distance could theoretically have been covered by the fighters in six minutes, but they’ve taken a wide detour over the ocean (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The exact time they arrive is unclear. An early timeline laid out to CNN by senior Defense Department officials will claim they arrive as early as 9:49 a.m., but the 9/11 Commission later claims they only establish “a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington” at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” (CBS News 9/14/2001; CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 34)
Conflicting Press Accounts - Press accounts of when the first fighters reach Washington are highly contradictory. Early news accounts describe fighters arriving from Andrews Air Force Base, not Langley, “within minutes,” “a few moments,” or “just moments” after the Pentagon crash. (McAllister 9/11/2001; Wastell and Jacobson 9/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002) Other newspaper accounts inaccurately deny that fighters from Andrews are deployed (Weisman 9/16/2001) , and some deny Andrews even has fighters available. (Stone 9/16/2001) Defense officials will initially claim, “There were no military planes in the skies over Washington until 15 to 20 minutes after the Pentagon was hit”—in other words, 9:53 a.m. to 9:58 a.m. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 9/14/2001) But an ABC News report will suggest that by around 10:00 a.m., “Dozens of fighters are buzzing in the sky” over Washington. (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Fighter Jets Don't Arrive until Later? - In contrast, the New York Times reports: “In the White House Situation Room and at the Pentagon, the response seemed agonizingly slow. One military official recalls hearing words to the effect of, ‘Where are the planes?’” The Pentagon will insist it had air cover over its own building by 10 a.m. However, numerous witnesses on the ground, including a reporter for the New York Times who is headed toward the building, will say they did not see any fighters until around 10:40 a.m., or “closer to 11” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 130-131) According to some accounts, the plane that flies over the Pentagon at that time is Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16, launched from Andrews Air Force Base. (Filson 2003, pp. 81-82; Spencer 2008, pp. 235-236) NORAD will initially claim the Langley fighters were about 105 miles from the Pentagon when it was hit at 9:37, and the 9/11 Commission will later claim they were 150 miles away (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 27)

An F/A-18A Hornet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321.An F/A-18A Hornet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321. [Source: Robert Carlson / Naval Aviation News]A US Marine with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) calls a friend of his at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to ask what his unit can do to assist the military response to the attacks. (Spencer 2008, pp. 188)
Former Marine Heads to NEADS - Trey Murphy is a former Marine who now works as a weapons controller at NEADS. He learned of the first crash in New York while still at home. After seeing the second crash on television, he realized it was a coordinated attack and hurried to work. When he arrived on the NEADS operations floor at around 9:45, the head of the weapons team, Major James Fox, informed him that fighter jets were coming up from Selfridge and Toledo; both sets of jets had been told to contact NEADS and would require instructions. (Spencer 2008, pp. 179-180)
Marine Calls Murphy - After Murphy reportedly checks in the F-16 pilots from Selfridge Air National Guard Base and gives them orders (see (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), his cell phone rings. On the other end is a friend of his from VMFA-321, a Marine Corps Reserve squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland that flies the sophisticated F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. Murphy’s friend says: “Dude, get us in the war. I’ve got wrench-turners on our planes uploading weapons.” He then asks, “What can we do?” Normally, Murphy would not issue orders to the Marine squadron. As author Lynn Spencer will explain, VMFA-321 trains “to deploy overseas and they respond only to the US Joint Forces Command, commonly known as JiffyCom, and based in Norfolk, Virginia.” However, with the day’s unprecedented circumstances, Murphy instructs, “Convince your higher-ups at JiffyCom to get you transferred over to us!” Minutes later, Murphy is called by a general from VMFA-321. By this time, his attention is devoted to dealing with the possibly hijacked aircraft, Delta 1989. But before hanging up, he exclaims: “General! Can’t talk! But we could use your airplanes.” (DC Military (.com) 6/2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 188)

While President Bush is still in Sarasota, an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) is flying a training mission off the coast of Florida. Referring to the AWACS plane, NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later says: “I had set up an arrangement with their wing commander at Tinker [Air Force Base, Oklahoma] some months earlier for us to divert their AWACS off a normal training mission to go into an exercise scenario simulating an attack on the United States. The AWACS crew initially thought we were going into one of those simulations.” Another AWACS is also flying a training mission, near Washington, DC, the morning of 9/11. (Code One Magazine 1/2002) When its pilot, Anthony Kuczynski, hears of the first WTC crash, he mistakenly believes he is involved in a planned military simulation. He says, “We sometimes do scenarios where we’re protecting the United States from bombers coming in from unknown areas.” (Forster 4/12/2002)

Douglas Champagne.Douglas Champagne. [Source: David Kujawa / US Air Force]Although NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has contacted Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, reportedly to arrange that two of its F-16s be diverted from a training mission to intercept either Flight 93 or Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 (accounts conflict over which aircraft is concerned), the pilots of those jets apparently never receive an order to intercept a plane, and so return directly to their base. (Filson 2003, pp. 68, 71; Carroll 9/2006 pdf file; Casey 9/6/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 178) However, some accounts will claim the pilots are indeed ordered to intercept the suspect aircraft. (Raddatz 8/30/2002; Associated Press 8/30/2002; Baker 3/27/2005; Spencer 2008, pp. 188)
Jets Returning from Training Mission - The F-16s, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Tom Froling and Major Douglas Champagne of the 127th Wing, had taken off from Selfridge Air National Guard Base at around 8:50 a.m. for a routine training mission at Grayling Range in central northern Michigan. The two pilots were oblivious to the attacks taking place in New York and Washington. (Filson 2003, pp. 68; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/26/2005; Carroll 9/2006 pdf file) When they started heading back to Selfridge after completing their training mission, they began hearing “unusual radio traffic” as air traffic controllers began diverting flights from their original destinations. (Casey 9/6/2006)
Pilots Learn of Plane Hitting Pentagon - Froling will later recall: “Something strange was occurring and I couldn’t put my finger on what was happening. I could hear [the FAA’s] Cleveland Center talking to the airlines and I started putting things together and knew something was up.” (Filson 2003, pp. 68-70) Champagne hears an air traffic controller stating that a plane has crashed at the Pentagon. He then hears the Cleveland Center announcing a “demon watch,” which means pilots have to contact their operations center for more information.
Commander Asks if Pilots Have Used up Their Ammunition - When Champagne calls the Selfridge base, his operations group commander, General Michael Peplinski, wants to know if he and Froling have used up their ammunition during the training mission. Champagne will recall: “[Peplinski] asked if we had expended all our munitions and specifically asked if we had strafed. We replied that all ordnance was gone. I assumed we had strafed without clearance and had injured someone down range. We had no idea what was happening on the Eastern seaboard.” (Carroll 9/2006 pdf file; Casey 9/6/2006)
Pilots Directed to Return to Base - According to author Lynn Spencer, because a commander with the 127th Wing agreed to turn the two F-16s over to NEADS (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Champagne and Froling are instructed to call NEADS. When they do so, they are ordered to intercept Delta 1989. (Spencer 2008, pp. 178, 180, 188) But according to other accounts, they are “ordered south in case United Airlines 93 was targeting Chicago.” (ABC News 9/11/2002; Baker 3/27/2005) However, according to two reports based on interviews with Champagne, Peplinski only instructs the two pilots to return to their base and land on its auxiliary runway.
Pilots Apparently Not Ordered to Intercept Aircraft - Accounts based on interviews with the pilots will make no mention of the jets being directed to intercept Delta 1989 or Flight 93. According to Champagne, the air traffic controller’s announcement that an aircraft hit the Pentagon “was the only indication we received that other aircraft and buildings were involved.” Champagne will say that “he and his colleague never received orders to intercept [Flight 93] in any way.” The two pilots “had no ammunition… and only an hour’s worth of fuel remaining. And as they approached Selfridge amid the puzzling radio transmissions, they still were oblivious to what was transpiring.” (Filson 2003, pp. 68-70; Carroll 9/2006 pdf file; Casey 9/6/2006)
Jets Land at Base - The two F-16s land back at Selfridge Air National Guard Base at 10:29 a.m. (9/11 Commission 10/27/2003 pdf file) As Champagne pulls in his aircraft, his friend Captain Sean Campbell approaches and mouths the words to him: “It’s bad. It’s really, really bad.” (Carroll 9/2006 pdf file; Casey 9/6/2006)

F-18 fighter jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) arrive in the airspace over Washington, DC, to assist the air defense of the capital, but NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is initially unable to authenticate the pilots’ identities. (Spencer 2008, pp. 264-265) Earlier on, a Marine with VMFA-321 called Trey Murphy, a friend of his who works as a weapons controller at NEADS, to offer his unit’s assistance. Minutes later, Murphy told a general from VMFA-321 who called NEADS, “[W]e could use your airplanes” (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 188)
Pilot Gives Incorrect Authentication Code - Now Murphy tries to get the authentication code from one of the Marine pilots who has arrived over Washington, which will show that he is who he says he is, and that his orders are legal. However, the pilot responds with incorrect authentication, giving a code that has too many letters. Murphy again tries to authenticate him, but the pilot responds, “Dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
Weapons Controller Improvises Plan of Action - Murphy quickly realizes what the problem is: The VMFA-321 fighters are not normally part of NORAD, and so do not have NORAD authenticators. Instead, their authenticators are from the Air Combat Command. Realizing this is a problem that will recur as more non-NORAD fighters get airborne, Murphy instructs his fellow weapons controller Michael Julian to help him call the squadron commanders of the non-NORAD jets that are taking off to patrol the Northeast US, so as to resolve the issue. Doing so is critically important because, as author Lynn Spencer will point out, “The authentication system is set up to ensure that a pilot knows he is being given a valid order, and a pilot cannot legally comply with an order unless he can authenticate it first.” Murphy calls VMFA-321 at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, over a secured line and quickly improvises a plan of action. Soon after, faxes are sent off over secured lines to the squadrons that are launching aircraft, to make sure they all follow this plan.
Murphy Checks in Marine Pilots - The Marine pilots that have arrived over Washington have now devised their own plan for checking in with NEADS. Since Murphy is a former Marine, some of them know him and recognize his voice. They have therefore decided they will accept orders from him alone. After one of the pilots insists to another NEADS weapons controller that he will only take orders from Murphy, Murphy gets on the line and checks him in, saying: “All right! Devil 1-1… I authenticate.… You’re in the [combat air patrol]. Here’s your mission.… I’m turning you over to my controller.” After the pilot responds, “Roger that!” Murphy checks in the rest of the Marine fighters. (Spencer 2008, pp. 264-265)


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