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Context of 'Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001: DC Air National Guard Officers Learn of First WTC Crash, Think It Is an Accident'

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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. [Washington Post, 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. [Air Force Magazine, 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. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 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. [Washington Post, 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)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Red Flag, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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 (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] This airfield could well be Andrews Air Force Base, which is just 10 miles from Washington. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] The exercise being referred to is apparently the US Strategic Command’s annual exercise, Global Guardian, for which three E-4Bs are reportedly launched (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002] 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). [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] However, Andrews is not one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US. [Airman, 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. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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]

Entity Tags: James Ampey, Andrews Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Three F-16 fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, which is 10 miles from Washington, DC, and fly to North Carolina for a routine training mission, meaning they will be about 200 miles away from base when the attacks in New York take place. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] They are piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, Eric Haagenson, and Lou Campbell. Haagenson and Campbell are less experienced, junior pilots. Hutchison is flying with them because most of the pilots with his unit are on leave, having just returned from the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001).
Jets Heading to Range to 'Drop Some Bombs' - The three F-16s are going to train for a surface attack. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Hutchison will later recall: “We had gone up to [the gunnery range in] Dare County, North Carolina, to drop some bombs and hit a refueling tanker and come on back. It was going to be an uneventful day.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] The range is located 207 miles from Andrews Air Force Base. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] The jets are scheduled to arrive back at Andrews at 10:45 a.m. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 9/11/2001]
September 11 a 'Light Flying Day' - Because members of the 113th Wing have just returned from the Red Flag exercise, September 11 is a “light flying day.” According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing, the unit would normally have launched eight jets—“an eight-ship”—for this training mission. But as only seven pilots and a few planes are available, a “three-ship” has been launched instead. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The three F-16s heading out for the training mission will not arrive back at Andrews until between 10:14 a.m. and 10:36 a.m., by which time the terrorist attacks will already be over (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Billy Hutchison, David McNulty, Lou Campbell, Eric Haagenson, 121st Fighter Squadron

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Logo of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard.Logo of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard. [Source: Air National Guard]Pilots and officers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) are notified of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, but mistakenly assume this must have been an accident and continue with a meeting they are holding. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122] The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, is based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, 10 miles southeast of Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
Pilots and Flight Managers in Meeting - Some DCANG officers are currently in a conference room at their unit at Andrews, conducting the weekly scheduling meeting, where plans for the upcoming week are discussed. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot who is also the chief of scheduling with the unit, about five or six people are in the meeting. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] As well as Rasmussen, those present include Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing; pilots Marc Sasseville and Daniel Caine; and a new officer, Mark Valentine.
Officers Think Crash Is an Accident - An intelligence officer interrupts the meeting and says a plane has just flown into the WTC. However, the meeting participants assume the crash is an accident involving a small aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122] Rasmussen will later recall: “[A]ll of us in the meeting kind of looked at each other and looked outside the window, it was clear blue skies. It doesn’t get any more flying weather than that. So we thought, ‘What kind of a moron can’t see those big buildings right in front of them?’ We all figured it was just some light civil aircraft… little Cessnas, Piper Cubs, or whatever, someone doing some sightseeing flying up and down the Hudson and just not paying attention where he was going.” Therefore, “we continued on with the meeting, thinking we’d catch the news clips later on in the day.” The scheduling meeting will continue until its participants learn of the second plane hitting the WTC and realize this is a terrorist attack (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123]
Some at Base Suspicious about Crash - However, according to the Washington Post, at least some individuals with the DC Air National Guard are “immediately suspicious” upon hearing of the first crash. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will recall having wondered, “How do you make a mistake like that?” (Penney Garcia is at the 121st Fighter Squadron headquarters at Andrews, though whether she is attending the scheduling meeting is unstated.)
Only Four DCANG Pilots Available - Members of the 121st Fighter Squadron have just returned from “Red Flag,” a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001). Most of the squadron’s pilots, who fly commercial planes in their civilian lives and are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, are consequently away from the base on this day, either back at their airline jobs or on leave, according to different accounts. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] Of the seven pilots the squadron has available at the base today, three have just taken off for a training mission over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), meaning only four available pilots are left at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file]
DCANG Not Part of NORAD Air Defense Force - The DC Air National Guard flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter, and its mission includes providing “capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency.” [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Unlike other Air National Guard units, it reports to the president, instead of a state governor. It works closely with Secret Service agents who are across the runway at Andrews Air Force Base, in the Air Force One hangar. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, the 121st Fighter Squadron is “not standing alert on Sept. 11” because the DC Air National Guard is “not assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command air defense force.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Brandon Rasmussen, Daniel Caine, David McNulty, Mark Valentine, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilots and officers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, realize the US is under terrorist attack when they learn of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, yet the first DCANG fighter to launch in response to the attacks will not take off until more than 90 minutes later. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123]
Intel Officer Reports Crash - The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Some of its pilots and officers who are in the unit’s weekly scheduling meeting at the base learned of the first crash when an intelligence officer interrupted their meeting to bring them the news, but they assumed it was an accident (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m., the intelligence officer returns. He bursts into the room, yelling: “It’s happened again! The second tower has been hit! And it’s on purpose!” [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122]
Officers Realize This Is a 'Coordinated Attack' - Those in the meeting realize this is a terrorist attack. Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot who is also the chief of scheduling with the unit, will later recall: “At that point [the] meeting adjourned, this is no longer a pure accident, somebody is meaning to do this. I think everybody knew that this was a coordinated attack that was happening. We had no idea who it was by, but it was definitely intentional when you get two airplanes hitting both towers.” The officers head down the hall to the break room, where the television is on. Seeing the coverage from New York, they realize that large airliners hit the towers, not “light civil aircraft” as they previously thought.
People 'Launched into Action' - One officer exclaims, “Well, holy sh_t, if this is a terrorist attack, we need to get something in the air!” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] Lieutenant Colonel Steve Chase, who is at the operations desk, will later describe: “People just launched into action. There was a buzz in the unit. People got on the radio and telephones to higher headquarters.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002]
Leadership Only Acts after Pentagon Attack - However, Rasmussen will say that the 121st Fighter Squadron only takes proper action in response to the attacks after the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m. He will recall that, after learning of the second attack, “we didn’t know what we could possibly do, that’s New York City way up the road. So… like everybody else in America, we’re just standing by and watching the news. Time dilatation between the towers being hit and when the Pentagon was hit, but the news [broke] about the Pentagon being hit, and by that time they were in our backyard. At that point, the squadron leadership went into action.… As soon as the Pentagon was hit, we knew that we were going to be sticking around home and being quite busy.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003] Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, will only head across the base to assist the response at the 121st Fighter Squadron’s headquarters after the Pentagon attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Jets Take Off over 90 Minutes Later - According to Knight Ridder, “Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2001] Yet the first DCANG fighter jet to take off in response to the attacks does not launch until 95 minutes after the second crash, at 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and this has no missiles, only training ammunition. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] The first fully armed jets will take off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Steve Chase, Brandon Rasmussen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, have to take time to reprogram the data disks they will need once airborne, apparently because these disks still contain the data from a training exercise their unit has just returned from. The pilots belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236-237] This is part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] According to author Lynn Spencer, pilots with the squadron who are preparing to take off in response to the attacks grab their gear and upload “flight data” onto computer disks. These disks “contain all the navigational waypoints, maps, and frequencies that they will need once airborne.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236] The pilots presumably begin uploading the data after learning of the second crash in New York, and realizing this is a terrorist attack (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They apparently need to take the time to upload the data as a consequence of their unit’s recent involvement in a major training exercise: Three days earlier, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron returned from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they had spent the previous two weeks participating in the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123, 156] Spencer will describe one of the squadron’s pilots, Heather Penney Garcia, staying busy this morning, “reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from,” before taking off at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 237-238]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Three F-16 fighter jets from a base just outside Washington, DC, that have been away on a training mission, first learn of events in New York when they meet up with a refueling plane. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] They have been on a routine training mission on a range about 200 miles from Andrews, in Dare County, North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Supervisor Concerned, Contacted Refueling Plane Pilot - Major Daniel Caine, the supervisor of flying (SOF) with their unit, has wanted to call the three jets back to base since learning of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file] However, the jets were outside his radio range, so he’d called the tanker refueling plane they were scheduled to meet up with shortly, and asked its pilot to pass on an urgent return to base (“RTB”) message to the F-16s. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 124]
Tanker Pilot Notifies Jets about First WTC Crash - The three fighter jets now meet the tanker to get refueled. The refueling plane, which has come from Tennessee, has arrived late, and flight lead Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16 is low on fuel. The tanker pilot radios Hutchison and tells him that a plane has hit the WTC, but nothing more. Hutchison will later recall that, while one of the other two F-16s is being refueled, the “tanker was told that everyone must land. Hutchison knew he had to get back to Andrews.”
Radio Frequency Is Silent - After Hutchison disconnects his aircraft from the refueling plane, he plugs back into the air traffic control radio frequency, as is standard procedure. However, as he will recall, there is “nothing” on the frequency. “Normally, there is constant chatter as controllers work all the air traffic. This was highly unusual.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] When he is about half way back to Andrews AFB, Hutchison will radio his SOF and be instructed to fly back to base at maximum speed (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] According to author Lynn Spencer, the three F-16s do not fill their tanks right up when they meet with the tanker, and so they will be virtually out of fuel by the time they are approaching Andrews. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 217]

Entity Tags: Daniel Caine, 121st Fighter Squadron, Billy Hutchison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11.Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard]Munitions workers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) unload bullets and missiles from storage sheds, and work toward getting fighter jets armed to launch in response to the attacks, but even by 10:42 a.m., when two pilots take off, no jets have been armed with missiles. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78, 82]
Ordered to Prepare Jets - The munitions crew with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, has been ordered to uncrate missiles and bring them across the base, while the unit’s maintenance officer has been told to prepare fighters for take off (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 157] According to author Lynn Spencer, the unit’s “war-reserve missiles… are never touched, but are kept operational and in minimal numbers for non-alert wings like the DC Guard to allow for contingencies such as this.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
Commander Anticipated Order - Colonel Don Mozley, the commander of the 113th Logistics Group, had been anticipating the order to get jets armed and ready to fly, and so has already instructed his weapons officer to “break out the AIM-9s and start building them up.” The missiles need to be transported across the base from its far side, which will take time. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
Missiles Unloaded onto Trailer - The munitions crew unloads bullets and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles from storage sheds onto a flatbed trailer. Senior Master Sergeant David Bowman, the 113th Wing munitions supervisor, will later recall: “There were six of us there and we had 28 missiles to unload, and they each have three components. And if you drop one, you can’t use it anymore. We were doing it as fast as we could, because for all we knew the terrorists were getting ready to hit us.” Another officer will say the crew prepares the missiles “really fast,” but “we didn’t do it unsafely.”
45 Minutes to Get Missiles across Base - However, the trailer that carries the missiles has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and needs a security escort. It takes 45 minutes before the weapons crew has brought missiles across the base to the flight line, where aircraft park. Usually it takes much longer—three hours—to bring weapons from the storage sheds and load them onto fighter jets, according to two senior officers with the unit. Once the missiles have been carried across the base, it takes “no more than 10 minutes” to load each one onto an aircraft, according to one of those officers.
Jets Loaded with Ammo after Exercise - The arming of the fighter jets is apparently speeded up because one of the munitions staff had thought to load the jets with ammunition after members of the 113th Wing recently came back from a training exercise. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78, 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 157] Three days earlier, members of the wing returned to Andrews after spending two weeks in Nevada for the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] Master Sergeant Joseph Proctor, one of the unit’s “weapons guys,” had decided to take a load crew and put some ammunition in the jets brought back from Nevada, as these were empty following the exercise. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot with the unit, Proctor’s reason for doing this was so “they wouldn’t be in a rush on Tuesday morning [i.e. September 11],” and “he was thinking local flying and just to help us out a little bit.” Rasmussen will later thank Proctor because of the benefit his actions have on the unit’s response to the attacks, telling him, “If you hadn’t have done that we’d been dead in the water.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Jets Not Fully Armed at 10:42 - Yet in spite of actions like these, even by 10:42 a.m. on September 11, two F-16s that take off from Andrews have not yet been armed with missiles (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82] Chief Master Sergeant Roy Belknap, the 113th Wing production superintendent, will later recall: “We had two air-to-air birds on the ramp… that already had ammo in them. We launched those first two with only hot guns. By then, we had missiles rolling up, so we loaded those other two airplanes while the pilots were sitting in the cockpit.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Those aircraft, the first jets to take off with missiles as well as guns, will launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: District of Columbia Air National Guard, Don Mozley, David Bowman, Roy Belknap

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, finally heads across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the DCANG, and joins his officers in responding to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Squadron Leaders Not yet Gone 'Into Action' - Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, is in his office at Andrews. He has already given his officers the go-ahead to use the unit’s missiles, so they can be unloaded from storage and put onto fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156-157, 184] However, according to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, one of the DCANG pilots, it is only after the Pentagon is hit that “the squadron leadership went into action.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Wherley Runs across Base - The Washington Post will report that Wherley’s “first inkling that the attacks would go beyond New York was when one of his officers, whose husband worked at the Pentagon, saw on television that the building had been hit and began shrieking.” After briefly comforting the woman, Wherley dashes from his office and runs several hundred yards across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron.
Wherley Doesn't Want Jets Launched Yet - Unlike other Air National Guard units, the DCANG reports to the president, rather than a state governor. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] Furthermore, since the Secret Service provides protection to the president, who is the commander in chief of the US military, it has some authority over the military, including the DCANG. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] DCANG squadron officers have already heard from their Secret Service contacts, who have asked them about getting fighters launched (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 78] But after arriving at the 121st FS headquarters, Wherley says he wants more explicit authorization before launching aircraft. He tells the squadron officers: “We have to get instructions. We can’t just fly off half-cocked.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Takes over Call from White House - At the operations desk, Major Daniel Caine has recently been called by a Secret Service agent at the White House Joint Operations Center, who is requesting armed fighter jets over Washington. After Wherley has arrived at the 121st FS headquarters, Caine passes the phone to him, telling the caller, “Here’s my boss.” Caine then says, “I’m going to fly.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Despite his responsibilities as the unit’s supervisor of flying, Caine has decided to get airborne himself, and heads off to join the other pilots preparing to take off from Andrews. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Wherley will talk over the phone with the Secret Service, and try to obtain instructions for the launching of his fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185, 218]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Three F-16 fighter jets that are on their way back from a training mission over North Carolina finally make contact with their supervisor of flying (SOF) and are instructed to return to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as quickly as possible. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews AFB, 10 miles from Washington, DC. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] They left Andrews at 8:36 for a routine training mission on a range about 200 miles away from there, in North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file]
Supervisor Wants Jets Back Immediately - Major Daniel Caine, who is the SOF with their unit, had been concerned about the three F-16s since the time of the second crash in New York. He’d felt certain that airspace restrictions would be implemented around Washington, and realized he needed to get the jets back to base right away before the Washington airspace was closed. Because the jets were outside his radio range, he called a refueling plane they were scheduled to meet, and asked its pilot to tell them to return to Andrews. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-124]
Pilots Told to Return as Fast as Possible - Having met with the refueling plane (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the lead pilot of the F-16s, Major Billy Hutchison, is now about half way back from the training mission and finally in radio range of Andrews, so he calls the SOF there. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] By this time, Caine has left his post, as he intends to take off in a jet himself (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson has replaced him as SOF. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Thompson says to Hutchison: “[W]e need you here now! You need to return to base ‘buster’!” The code word “buster” means Hutchison is to push his thrust lever into afterburner and fly as fast as his plane will go. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 217] Thompson does not tell Hutchison anything about the terrorist attacks. Hutchison’s only awareness of the morning’s crisis is what little he’d been told by the pilot of the refueling plane. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] But he has never heard the code word “buster” used before, and realizes something very bad is going on. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 217]
Hutchison Sees Burning Pentagon - Hutchison will later recall: “So we light afterburners and we are coming back at Mach as quick as we can get back.… As I get back, I cross the Potomac River on the south end of Maryland and Virginia, and I see a big column of smoke. It was so clear and there was no haze in the air.” He again talks over the radio with Thompson. Hutchison says: “It looks like there’s been an explosion near [Washington’s Reagan] National Airport. What’s going on?’” Thompson replies: “We know. Just keep coming.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] The first of the three F-16s returning from the training mission will land back at Andrews AFB at 10:14 a.m. (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other two land at 10:36 a.m., but Hutchison will be instructed to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Billy Hutchison, Phil Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The first of three District of Columbia Air National Guard F-16s that was away on a training mission at the time of the attacks in New York lands back at its base just outside Washington, DC, but does not take off again to defend the capital. The fighter jet is being piloted by Eric Haagenson. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] It belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Along with two other jets, it took off from Andrews at 8:36 a.m. for a routine training mission about 200 miles away, over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Denied Entry into Andrews Airspace - Haagenson apparently headed back to base earlier than the other aircraft with him over North Carolina because he was so low on fuel. Major Billy Hutchison, the flight lead of the F-16s on the training mission, learned over radio that Haagenson was then “being denied entry to airspace over Andrews” Air Force Base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file] This was presumably because airspace restrictions had been implemented around Washington: The supervisor of flying with Haagenson’s unit had been concerned that such restrictions would be put into effect after he’d learned of the second attack on the World Trade Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123] Hutchison therefore instructed Haagenson to go to Pawtucket, Rhode Island (presumably to land at an airfield there), because he was so low on fuel, so that he would not run out. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] But by 10:14 a.m., Haagenson has been cleared to land at Andrews, and touches down at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
Haagenson Does Not Take Off Again - Hutchison will later recall that Haagenson “didn’t go back up” into the air after landing at Andrews, “because he was a brand new pilot.” The training mission he returned from “was his first flight outside an instructional arena.” The other two F-16s that were with him, piloted by Hutchison and Lou Campbell, will land at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., but Hutchison will be instructed to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Eric Haagenson, Billy Hutchison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; American Forces Press Service, 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. [Washington Post, 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). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Andrews Air Force Base, Billy Hutchison, Lou Campbell, 121st Fighter Squadron, David Wherley, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Phil Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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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