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Context of '(2:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Fighters Land Back at Otis Air Base after Flying Patrol over New York'

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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). (Graham 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). (Bronner 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. (Dennehy 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)

After taking off in their F-15s, the two pilots scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 are not properly informed about the unfolding events. One of these pilots, Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, later describes, “When you get the scramble order… you are usually not sure what is going on.” However, after they were informed there had been a hijacking (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), the two “knew it was the real thing,” according to Major Daniel Nash, the other pilot. (Brown 9/8/2002) But as they are “headed right down Long Island,” Duffy recalls, “[w]e had no idea what was going on.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) When the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03, they are unaware that a second plane has been in trouble, and their request for clarification of their mission from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is met with “considerable confusion” (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 6/3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 60-63) (According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS itself only receives its first notification about a second possible hijacking at 9:03 (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 24) ) Furthermore, it is not until after 10:30 a.m. that the two pilots will learn that Washington has also been attacked, when a controller informs them of this in passing, but does not elaborate. (Dennehy 8/21/2002) Nash will later complain: “Anybody watching CNN that morning had a much better idea of what was going on than we did. We were not told anything.” (Michael Bronner 2006) Duffy later reflects: “People lose track of how much chaos there was. We were in a situation that was just a mess, you know, and we were trying to get our arms around it a little bit.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)

A KC-135 Stratotanker.A KC-135 Stratotanker. [Source: Boeing]The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) are finally able to refuel, after they request to rendezvous with a tanker plane that was scheduled to refuel Otis fighters out on training missions this morning. (Scott 6/3/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 153)
Fighters Low on Fuel - By around 9:35 a.m., according to author Lynn Spencer, the two Otis fighters are running increasingly low on fuel and need to find a fuel tanker right away. For about the last 25 minutes, technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) have been searching for a tanker (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 112 and 152-153) A member of staff at NEADS in fact talked over the radio with a KC-135 tanker from Bangor, Maine, at around 9:05 a.m., and the plane’s crew agreed to provide support to the Otis fighters launched in response to Flight 11 (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) However, the pilots of these fighters have apparently not heard back from NEADS about whether it has been able to find a tanker for them. Now one of the pilots, Major Daniel Nash, has come up with a solution. Prior to being put on alert duty, he had been acting as the scheduling officer at Otis Air Base, and he therefore knows that a training mission a number of Otis fighters were scheduled to fly today called for refueling (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Consequently he knows about the KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor that NEADS communicated with earlier on, which had been scheduled to support those fighters during their training. (102nd Fighter Wing 2001; Spencer 2008, pp. 152-153)
Tanker Heading toward Training Airspace - The tanker plane, which has the call sign “Maine 85,” is one of the eight KC-135s that are attached to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, based at Bangor International Airport. Its pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Adam Jenkins and Lieutenant Colonel Andy Marshall. (Cohen 9/13/2001; Ricker 9/9/2011) It had been scheduled to rendezvous with the Otis fighters on their training mission about 20 minutes from now in “Whiskey 105,” the military training airspace just south of Long Island, where Nash and his fellow Otis pilot Timothy Duffy had earlier been flying in a “holding pattern” (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). The KC-135 should be on its way there now. Nash calls Duffy and tells him, “[W]e have a tanker scheduled for the training missions this morning off the coast in 105.” Duffy calls NEADS and requests that the KC-135 orbit at 20,000 feet above New York’s JFK International Airport. NEADS then coordinates with the 101st Air Refueling Wing to borrow the tanker. (Scott 6/3/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 153)
Tanker Directed toward New York - The KC-135 is instructed to fly toward Manhattan. Jenkins will later recall, “We were told to start heading west to the city.” The voice over his radio tells him, “We’ll give you details along the way.” (Ricker 9/9/2011) Soon, the KC-135 is flying an orbit over JFK Airport and the two Otis fighters then take turns refueling. (Grant 2004, pp. 21; Grant and Thompson 10/6/2006, pp. 4 pdf file; Spencer 2008, pp. 153) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the two Otis fighters arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), but accounts of most witnesses on the ground indicate they do not arrive there until after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 24)

Two F-15 fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, patrol the airspace over New York, first assisting and then later replacing another pair of F-15s that arrived over the city earlier on. (9/11 Commission 10/14/2003 pdf file; Lehmert 9/11/2006; Richard 2010, pp. 25-26, 88) The two fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing, and are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. They took off from Otis Air Base at around 10:30 a.m. (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and have already intercepted a military cargo plane that was returning to the US from England (see (After 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (102nd Fighter Wing 2001; Allocco 10/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 10/14/2003 pdf file; Richard 2010, pp. 18-20)
Fighters Directed toward New York - The fighters were flying southwest toward New York when their pilots received orders from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), instructing them to “continue southwest and set up a combat air patrol over bull’s-eye.” “Bull’s-eye”—the reference point from which all positional reporting originates—had been set as the location of the now-collapsed World Trade Center towers. The fighters therefore continued toward the city.
FAA's New York Center Does Not Respond to Communication - Richard and Martyn tried checking in with the FAA’s New York Center, but received no reply. NEADS therefore instructed them to instead check in with the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control. As they were flying to New York, NEADS also told the two pilots that their mission was “to intercept, divert, or, if unsuccessful in those, to call them for authorization to shoot down” aircraft. Richard will later comment, “That certainly got our attention.” (102nd Fighter Wing 2001; Richard 2010, pp. 24)
Fighters Join Two Aircraft Already over New York - Two fighters that took off from Otis Air Base at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy and Major Daniel Nash, arrived over New York earlier in the morning (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and established a combat air patrol over the city. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 24; Viser 9/11/2005) Richard and Martyn arrive, joining these two fighters over New York, at approximately 11:00 a.m., Nash will say. (9/11 Commission 10/14/2003 pdf file)
Fighters Set Up a 'Point Defense' around New York - Martyn then calls Duffy over the radio. Referring to his own fighter by its call sign, Martyn says, “Panta one is on station at 15,000 feet.” Duffy instructs him, “Panta one, orbit over bull’s-eye and stand by.” Richard will describe the tactic the four fighters then employ, writing: “Duff decided to set up a point defense around the city.… Ground Zero was our reference point and the targets in the area were called out in reference to it.… Since we were flying in a void of actionable information, we decided that the most effective way to win this battle was to let the enemy come to us.” (Richard 2010, pp. 25-26) While Duffy and Nash fly about 10,000 feet above New York, Richard and Martyn fly at around 18,000 feet. (Nash 10/2/2002)
Fighters Intercept and Identify Aircraft - Richard will recall that he and Martyn “darted around the city, chasing down airliners, helicopters, and anything else in the air,” making sure that “everything in the air was visually identified, intercepted, and guided to land at the closest airfield.” (Richard 2010, pp. 36) They spend several hours identifying helicopters that have no flight plans and are heading for Ground Zero. Many of these helicopters belong to organizations that want to help, and are there to provide relief and aid. (102nd Fighter Wing 2001; Richard 2010, pp. 74) When necessary, the two fighters are able to refuel from a KC-135 tanker plane that is orbiting above them at 20,000 feet.
Fighters Replaced by Other Aircraft from Otis Air Base - After Duffy and Nash head back to Otis Air Base (see (2:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Richard and Martyn continue clearing the skies over New York and eastern New Jersey. Richard will describe the following few hours as “mostly boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.” (Richard 2010, pp. 72, 74, 88) Richard and Martyn finally return to Otis Air Base at around 6:00 p.m. (102nd Fighter Wing 2001) Another two F-15s belonging to the 102nd Fighter Wing take their place patrolling the airspace above New York. These fighters are flown by pilots that Richard will only refer to by their nicknames, “Psycho Davis” and “Doo Dah Ray.” These pilots participated, along with Richard, in a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean early this morning (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Richard 2010, pp. 88)

The two F-15 fighter jets that launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) land back at their base after flying a combat air patrol (CAP) over New York City. (Scott 6/3/2002; Nash 10/2/2002) The F-15s, which belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, are piloted by Major Daniel Nash and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy. (Rosenfeld and Gross 2007, pp. 35)
Fighters Intercepted about 100 Aircraft - Duffy and Nash’s job during the CAP was to identify and divert all aircraft from the Manhattan area. Duffy will later recall, “We would pull up next to them and tip our wings or fly across in front of them to get them to leave the area.” (102nd Fighter Wing 2001; 9/11 Commission 1/7/2004 pdf file) He will say that during their time flying over Manhattan, “All of the sudden, you get contacts coming toward the city that are unidentified and aren’t talking to anybody, and we were getting real nervous.” (Duffy 10/22/2002) Duffy will estimate that the two fighters intercepted and escorted about 100 aircraft in total, including emergency, military, and news helicopters, plus dozens of small private planes whose pilots were unaware of the attacks on New York. Some of those pilots had seen the smoke over the city and decided to investigate. (Scott 6/3/2002; Dennehy 8/21/2002)
One Fighter over Manhattan at All Times - Duffy and Nash had alternated their responsibilities, so that one of them would remain over Manhattan at all times while the other would intercept aircraft or be refueled by a tanker plane over the ocean (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying the CAP for about two hours, they were joined by a couple more F-15s from Otis Air Base (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). While those jets flew at around 18,000 feet, Nash and Duffy remained at around 10,000 feet. (Dennehy 8/21/2002; Nash 10/2/2002; Duffy 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/7/2004 pdf file) Eventually, after several hours flying over Manhattan, Nash and Duffy were ordered to return to their base.
Base Hectic with Activity - Upon landing, they find that Otis Air Base is very different to how it was when they took off. Rows and rows of their unit’s fighters are lined up near the runway, surrounded by about 100 maintenance personnel who are frantically working to prepare the aircraft for battle. (Spencer 2008, pp. 273-274) Armed security officers in flak jackets are guarding every entrance to the base; personnel are swarming in the buildings; and officers are trying to locate all the reserve pilots.
Pilot Learns of Pentagon Attack - The two fighter pilots had been poorly informed about what was going on regarding the terrorist attacks, and were only told in passing by an air traffic controller that there had been an attack in Washington (see (8:53 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After he gets out of his plane, Nash is informed by a crew member that an aircraft crashed into the Pentagon. (Dennehy 8/21/2002; Michael Bronner 2006) Nash and Duffy subsequently go to their unit’s “intelligence shop” and describe what they have done since taking off from the base hours earlier. (Nash 10/2/2002)

One of the pilots of the two F-15s from the 102nd Fighter Wing that took off in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) is told by a colleague that the military has shot down an aircraft over Pennsylvania. After the fighter pilots, Major Daniel Nash and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, land at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, having spent the past few hours flying a combat air patrol over New York (see (2:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), a “bunch of people” at the base start telling them “what was going on,” Nash will later recall. A crew chief tells Nash that an F-16 fighter jet shot down a fourth airliner over Pennsylvania. Nash will comment, “Obviously that wasn’t true, so there were lots of rumors floating around.” (Dennehy 8/21/2002; Nash 10/2/2002) Some early news reports suggested the possibility of a plane having been shot down by the US military (see 11:28 a.m.-11:50 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dukcevich 9/11/2001; TCM Breaking News 9/11/2001) But the Pentagon has by now informed the White House that the military did not shoot down Flight 93 over Pennsylvania (see (Shortly After 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Mineta 9/11/2002)

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