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Context of '(8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001: CONR Commander Arnold in Teleconference, Unavailable to Immediately Authorize Scrambling of Fighters'

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Captain Tom Herring, an F-15 pilot with the Florida Air National Guard.Captain Tom Herring, an F-15 pilot with the Florida Air National Guard. [Source: Airman]Fighter jets are regularly scrambled by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in response to suspicious or unidentified aircraft flying in US airspace in the years preceding 9/11. [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 4; Associated Press, 8/14/2002] For this task, NORAD keeps a pair of fighters on “alert” at a number of sites around the US. These fighters are armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes of receiving a scramble order (see Before September 11, 2001). [American Defender, 4/1998; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; Grant, 2004, pp. 14] Various accounts offer statistics about the number of times fighters are scrambled:
bullet A General Accounting Office report published in May 1994 states that “during the past four years, NORAD’s alert fighters took off to intercept aircraft (referred to as scrambled) 1,518 times, or an average of 15 times per site per year.” Of these incidents, the number of scrambles that are in response to suspected drug smuggling aircraft averages “one per site, or less than 7 percent of all of the alert sites’ total activity.” The remaining activity, about 93 percent of the total scrambles, “generally involved visually inspecting unidentified aircraft and assisting aircraft in distress.” [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 4]
bullet In the two years from May 15, 1996 to May 14, 1998, NORAD’s Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), which is responsible for the “air sovereignty” of the western 63 percent of the continental US, scrambles fighters 129 times to identify unknown aircraft that might be a threat. Over the same period, WADS scrambles fighters an additional 42 times against potential and actual drug smugglers. [Washington National Guard, 1998]
bullet In 1997, the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS)—another of NORAD’s three air defense sectors in the continental US—tracks 427 unidentified aircraft, and fighters intercept these “unknowns” 36 times. The same year, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) handles 65 unidentified tracks and WADS handles 104 unidentified tracks, according to Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region on 9/11. [American Defender, 4/1998]
bullet In 1998, SEADS logs more than 400 fighter scrambles. [Grant, 2004, pp. 14]
bullet In 1999, Airman magazine reports that NORAD’s fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida are scrambled 75 times per year, on average. According to Captain Tom Herring, a full-time alert pilot at the base, this is more scrambles than any other unit in the Air National Guard. [Airman, 12/1999]
bullet General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD on 9/11, will later state that in the year 2000, NORAD’s fighters fly 147 sorties. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file]
bullet According to the Calgary Herald, in 2000 there are 425 “unknowns,” where an aircraft’s pilot has not filed or has deviated from a flight plan, or has used the wrong radio frequency, and fighters are scrambled 129 times in response. [Calgary Herald, 10/13/2001]
bullet Between September 2000 and June 2001, fighters are scrambled 67 times to intercept suspicious aircraft, according to the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/14/2002]
Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, the commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region at the time of the 9/11 attacks, will say that before 9/11, it is “not unusual, and certainly was a well-refined procedure” for NORAD fighters to intercept an aircraft. He will add, though, that intercepting a commercial airliner is “not normal.” [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] On September 11, 2001, NEADS scrambles fighters that are kept on alert in response to the hijackings (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 26-27]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Western Air Defense Sector, Norton Schwartz, Southeast Air Defense Sector, Ralph Eberhart, Tom Herring

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), participates in a video teleconference with other senior NORAD officials and is therefore unavailable when NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tries contacting him for authorization to scramble fighter jets in response to the hijacked Flight 11. [Filson, 2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31] Arnold is in the video teleconferencing room at CONR headquarters, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
Teleconference Discussing 'Russian Exercise' - Robert Del Toro, an intelligence officer with the 1st Air Force who is in the room with Arnold, will tell the 9/11 Commission that the teleconference is “about the Russian exercise.” [9/11 Commission, 2/2/2004 pdf file] Del Toro is presumably referring to either the Russian Air Force exercise that NORAD is currently monitoring (see September 9, 2001) or the exercise, Vigilant Guardian, that NORAD is currently running, which reportedly includes a simulated war against Russia (see (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; Denver Post, 8/28/2011]
NORAD Officials from US and Canada on Teleconference - It is unclear exactly who else is participating in the teleconference. Arnold will tell the 9/11 Commission that as well as “our folks”—presumably referring to some of his colleagues at CONR—it includes “the NORAD staff.” The “NORAD staff” presumably includes officials from NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Arnold will tell author Leslie Filson that the teleconference includes “the CINC”—presumably meaning General Ralph Eberhart, the commander in chief of NORAD, who is at Peterson Air Force Base—and also officials from the Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR) and the Canadian NORAD Region (CANR). [Filson, 2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file]
Arnold Not Alerted to Hijacking - While Arnold is on the teleconference, NEADS calls CONR to alert him to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but no one at CONR interrupts the teleconference to fetch him or pass on to him the urgent message from NEADS. Arnold will only learn of the hijacking after the teleconference ends (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and he will then call NEADS back (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31, 38]

Entity Tags: Continental US NORAD Region, Larry Arnold, Alaskan NORAD Region, Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Robert Del Toro, Canadian NORAD Region

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), learns of the possible hijacking of Flight 11 after leaving a video teleconference, but initially thinks the reported hijacking is part of a NORAD training exercise. [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002] Arnold, who is at CONR headquarters, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, has been in the video teleconferencing room, participating in a teleconference with other senior NORAD officials (see (8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/2/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), recently tried phoning Arnold to get authorization to scramble fighter jets in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but no one at CONR interrupted the teleconference to fetch Arnold, and so Marr left an urgent message for the CONR commander (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31]
Note Informs Arnold of Hijacking - Arnold is now in the video teleconferencing room with Robert Del Toro, an intelligence officer with the 1st Air Force, discussing the just-concluded teleconference, when his executive officer, Kelley Duckett, hands him a note with Marr’s message on it. The note says the FAA’s Boston Center is reporting a hijacking and requesting assistance with it, and asks that Arnold phone Marr back immediately. [Filson, 2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2/2/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 pdf file]
Arnold Thinks Hijacking Is 'Part of the Exercise' - NORAD is currently in the middle of a major training exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545] Arnold will later say that, as a result, when he learns of the possible hijacking: “The first thing that went through my mind was: ‘Is this part of the exercise? Is this some kind of a screw-up?’” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] According to author Lynn Spencer, “Even as NORAD’s commander for the continental United States, Arnold is not privy to everything concerning the exercise.” The exercise “is meant to test commanders also, to make sure that their war machine is operating as it should.”
Arnold Told Hijacking Is 'Real-World' - Since a simulated hijacking is scheduled as part of the day’s exercise (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Arnold asks Duckett, “Is this part of the exercise?” Duckett replies that the hijacking is real-world. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 38] Arnold will say that “understanding this is real-world is obviously important, so I rushed downstairs to our battle staff position.” [Filson, 2002] It occurs to Arnold that it has been many years since NORAD handled a hijacking (see February 11, 1993). He is relieved that, “because we were in the middle of an exercise,” he recently reviewed the protocol for what to do in response to a hijacking, and so “we were pretty well familiar with those procedures.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 38] Arnold will promptly phone Marr and instruct him to go ahead and scramble fighters in response to the hijacking (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 38-39]

Entity Tags: Kelley Duckett, Robert Del Toro, Larry Arnold, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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