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Context of '(Between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Numerous Aircraft at Base near Washington Participating in Training Exercises'

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An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006.An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006. [Source: US Department of Defense]In late August and early September 2001, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) participate in the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada. They do not return from it until September 8. (Vogel 4/8/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 156)
Red Flag - Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise that involves the air forces of the US and its allies. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 10/19/2002) It is managed by the Air Warfare Center through the 414th Combat Training Squadron. Most of the aircraft and personnel that are deployed for Red Flag are part of the exercise’s “Blue Forces,” which use various tactics to attack targets that are defended by an enemy “Red Force,” which electronically simulates anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jamming equipment. A variety of aircraft are involved in the exercise. (Boyne 11/2000) Red Flag is held four times a year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. It is usually composed of two or three two-week periods. (Arkin 2005, pp. 476) The current exercise began on August 11, and involves more than 100 pilots in total. (Wessels 7/28/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal 8/22/2001)
Exercise May Hinder Defense of Washington on 9/11 - The timing of the Red Flag exercise may reduce the ability of the DCANG to respond to the 9/11 attacks. The 121st Fighter Squadron is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, which is located 10 miles southeast of Washington, DC. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) Most of its pilots are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, while flying commercial jet planes in their civilian lives. (Vogel 4/8/2002) Therefore, according to author Lynn Spencer, on 9/11 most of the 121st Fighter Squadron’s pilots will be “back at their airline jobs, having just returned three days before from two weeks of the large-scale training exercise ‘Red Flag’ at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. [The squadron has] only seven pilots available.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 156) In addition, some of the pilots will need to have their flight data disks reprogrammed before they can launch. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will reportedly be “busy reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from” (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 236-237) A significant number of fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia also participate in Red Flag around this time (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). (Sizemore 9/24/2001; Doscher 9/15/2006)

NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, ColoradoNORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis]Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. (Seely 1/25/2002) Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” (Seely 1/25/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458) Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. (Filson 2003, pp. 41; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. (Scott 6/3/2002) Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Seely 1/25/2002; Kampouris 9/11/2002) Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. (US Congress n.d.; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. (Scott 6/3/2002)
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” (Bronner 8/1/2006) However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. (Cooper 8/5/2004)
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” (Scott 6/3/2002; Kelly 12/5/2003) Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” (ABC News 9/11/2002) However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

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)

Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998.Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998. [Source: Jeffery S. Viano]As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is said to be “in full swing.” It has been going on since the previous week. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” (Arkin 2005, pp. 59)
Exercise Tests Military's Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. (Arkin 11/1/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. (US Congress n.d.; Wasiak 12/1999 pdf file; Villafuerte 9/8/2002) The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” (Kelly 12/27/2011)
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. (Kristensen 10/1998) In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. (Arkin 2005, pp. 379) And a military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. (Space Observer 3/23/2001, pp. 2 pdf file) If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a 'Computer Network Attack' - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. (Parker 6/1998 pdf file) It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.

Admiral Richard Mies.
Admiral Richard Mies. [Source: Public domain]Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that is “in full swing” when the 9/11 attacks begin (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). At least the director of the exercise, Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, is at Offutt this morning. Because of Global Guardian, bombers, missile crews, and submarines around America are all being directed from Stratcom’s command center, a steel and concrete reinforced bunker below Offutt. (Arkin 11/12/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; BBC 9/1/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) This bunker is staffed with top personnel and they are at a heightened security mode because of the exercise. (Ruff 2/21/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 pdf file)
'Doomsday' Planes Airborne for Exercise - Because of Global Guardian, three special military command aircraft with sophisticated communications equipment, based at Offutt, are up in the air this morning (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes—nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War—are intended to control nuclear forces from the air in times of crisis. They are capable of acting as alternative command posts for top government officials from where they can direct US forces, execute war orders, and coordinate the actions of civil authorities in times of national emergency. The federal advisory committee, whose chairman is retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, is aboard one of these Doomsday planes, being brought to Offutt to observe the exercise (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Global Guardian will reportedly be put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the battle staff at Offutt will switch to “real-world mode” once the attacks are apparent. However, even after Global Guardian is called off, the three E-4Bs will remain airborne. Also this morning, a small group of business leaders are at Offutt because of a charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 pdf file; BBC 9/1/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

Brent Scowcroft.Brent Scowcroft. [Source: Publicity photo]An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC. The E-4B is a militarized version of a Boeing 747. Its purpose is to provide the president, vice president, and Joint Chiefs of Staff with an airborne command center that could be used to execute war plans and coordinate government operations during a national emergency. The E-4B taking off from Andrews, which has the call sign “Word 31,” is carrying civilian and military officials, and is launched in order to participate in a previously scheduled military exercise, according to journalist and author Dan Verton. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; Verton 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; NET Nebraska 9/2/2011) This exercise would be Global Guardian, which is being conducted by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to test its ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Two other E-4Bs are also participating in Global Guardian today (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002)
Plane Ends Participation in Exercise after Taking Off - The E-4B taking off from Andrews Air Force Base is supposed to be using and testing its sophisticated technology and communications equipment for the exercise. It has “only just taken off” at the time the Pentagon is hit—9:37 a.m.—according to Verton. (Verton 2003, pp. 144) But the flight tracking strip from Andrews will record it as having taken off at 9:27 a.m., 10 minutes before the Pentagon is hit. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) The crew will later be informed that after the plane launches, it flies “right over the top of the aircraft that eventually impacted the Pentagon.” (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) After taking off, the E-4B is “immediately ordered to cease the military exercise it was conducting and prepare to become the actual National Airborne Operations Center,” Verton will write. (Verton 2003, pp. 144) (Global Guardian was reportedly put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it is not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file) ) The plane then converts “on the fly from exercise status to real-world crisis management.” (Verton 2003, pp. 150)
Plane Flies Former National Security Adviser to Base in Nebraska - Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and his staff are on the E-4B, which will fly them to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) The original plan had been for the aircraft to take them to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise today. (Dejka 2/27/2002) After reaching the base, the E-4B will take off again and resume its airborne operations. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 pdf file) Minutes after the Pentagon is attacked, an unidentified four-engine jet plane will be seen circling above the White House (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). CNN will suggest this is an E-4B, so it is possible it is “Word 31.” (CNN 9/12/2007) Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 206)

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)

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). (Scott 9/9/2002; Miles 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. (Vogel 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). (Scott 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.” (Scott 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.” (Scott 9/9/2002)

Heather Penney Garcia.Heather Penney Garcia. [Source: Johnathon Orrell]Two F-16 fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, but they have no missiles and only training bullets for their guns. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia. (Filson 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission 2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
Possibly Given Shootdown Authorization - Before they headed to their jets, Sasseville and Penney Garcia were given a short briefing by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley will later recall telling Sasseville that he has “weapons free flight-lead control,” meaning he is responsible for deciding whether to fire on hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:40 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Vogel 2007, pp. 446) But Sasseville will say he does not recall receiving any such rules of engagement until after he has taken off. (9/11 Commission 3/8/2004 pdf file)
Jets Only Have Training Ammunition - The two pilots run out to their jets and climb into the cockpits. But their F-16s are armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of non-explosive training practice (TP) ammunition. According to Sasseville: “They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on numbers three and four. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn’t have time to wait on those.”
Rookie Pilot 'Never Scrambled Before' - Penney Garcia, who is a rookie pilot, will later say: “I’d never scrambled before, I’d never done this. I was screaming to the maintainers to pull the chocks, and the guys were pulling the pins to arm the guns. We were going without INS [inertial navigation system].” Sasseville and Penney Garcia are airborne about six minutes after reaching their jets. They are unaware that fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base are also flying over Washington, at around 20,000 feet (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82)
Told to Look for Hijacked Plane - Over their radios, Sasseville and Penney Garcia receive instructions from their squadron to look for a hijacked aircraft approaching from the northwest and heading toward Georgetown (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, Sasseville will later recall, “We didn’t know what we were looking for—how high he was coming, or low, or where he was going.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 446) He will say, “I don’t have the whole picture, but have word from Washington National Approach that something is coming.”
Pilot 'Making Things Up on the Fly' - The two jets will fly over Washington at low altitudes, around 5,000 or 6,000 feet. Sasseville will later say, “I didn’t want to get too low for a good radar angle, and not too high, so we could get somewhere fast.” He will admit that he is “making things up on the fly,” as he has no precedent to draw upon. (Scott 9/9/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 82) Another DCANG pilot, Billy Hutchison, launched from Andrews four minutes before Sasseville and Penney Garcia take off, but he is airborne for less than 10 minutes (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). The next DCANG jets to take off, which will be armed with missiles, launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)

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. (Scott 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. (Scott 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. (Scott 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)

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