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Context of '(8:30 a.m.-8:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Pilots at Otis Air Base Prepare for Training Mission, See Two ‘Alert’ Fighters Being Scrambled'

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A number of pilots with the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts are preparing to take off for a training mission and see two of their unit’s fighter jets being scrambled in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but they are not asked to respond to the emerging crisis themselves and continue with their preparations for the training mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 9-12]
Pilots Preparing for Training over the Atlantic - The pilots are preparing to fly a defensive counter-air mission in an area of military training airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Long Island, known as “Whiskey 105.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 10, 12; Airman, 9/3/2011] According to most accounts, six of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s F-15 fighters will be participating in the training mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But Major Martin Richard, one of the pilots involved, will write in a 2010 book that eight of the unit’s F-15s take part in the mission. Richard will recall that after the coordination briefing for the training mission, he goes to the “life support shop” and puts on his flying gear, and then goes to the operations desk. There, the unit’s supervisor of flying, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, briefs the pilots preparing for the training mission on current weather and airfield updates, and gives them the status of a KC-135 tanker plane that will be refueling their fighters during the training mission. Richard then heads to his F-15, inspects it, and speaks to his crew chief.
Pilots Notice Commotion as Fighters Are Scrambled - As Richard starts his fighter’s engines, he notices a commotion on one side of the flight line ramp. He will recall: “The broken, disjointed communication over the ultra high frequency (UHF) radio indicated confusion. Members of the 102nd Security Forces Squadron, the cops, marshaled into protective positions. Two vehicles appeared with their blue emergency lights flashing. We all knew what was going on.” The 102nd Fighter Wing keeps a pair of F-15s on alert—armed, fueled up, and ready to take off within minutes of a scramble order—and, Richard will recall, “[T]he alert aircraft were being scrambled.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 10-11]
Pilots Watch Alert Fighters Take Off, but Unconcerned about This - The pilots preparing to take off for the training mission idle their engines and wait while the two alert fighters take off (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] Richard will describe: “I watched from my jet as the clamshell doors on the alert hangars opened, heard the alert jets’ engines whine to life, and saw them aggressively emerge from the facility like an eager predator in search of its prey. Suddenly, the command post announced, ‘Scramble!’ They blasted off, shattering the previously still, calm, peaceful morning.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 12] The pilots involved in the training mission are apparently unaware of why these fighters are being scrambled. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] Richard will recall: “I wasn’t too concerned when I saw the scrambled aircraft take off. We see many scrambles during the year and most all are just aircraft or vessels that can’t be identified but are friendly.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001]
Pilots Continue Preparing for Training - Once the two alert fighters are airborne, the pilots on the ground continue preparing for their training mission. “Back on the flight line,” Richard will recall, “I arranged my formation for takeoff and followed the standard procedures en route to our training area southwest of Martha’s Vineyard.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 12] Richard and the other pilots will begin their training mission in Whiskey 105 (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They will only learn of the first crash at the World Trade Center and be recalled to their base at around 9:25 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and some of them will take off again to help protect US airspace, but that will only be after the terrorist attacks have ended (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246]
Unit's Mission Is to Protect Northeast US - The 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air Base, according to its own statement, has aircraft and their crews “on continuous 24-hour, 365-day alert to guard our skies.” The unit says its “mission is to protect the Northeast United States from armed attack from another nation, terrorist attack, and activities such as smuggling, illicit drug activity, and illegal immigration.” Its large area of responsibility includes “the major industrial centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and all national command centers in Washington, DC.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] The 102nd Fighter Wing is equipped with 18 F-15 Eagles, including the two that are kept on alert. [Boston Globe, 9/15/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Jonathan T. Treacy, Martin Richard, 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Otis Air National Guard Base at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, begins preparing all of its available fighter jets to take off. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] The base has already launched its two F-15s that are kept on alert, in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] After the second attack on the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., commanders at the base convened and decided to recall all aircraft out on training, and begin loading fuel and weapons onto all available fighters (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153-154]
Officer Ordered to Prepare Fighters - Jeff Isch, the weapons supervisor for the 102nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Otis, will later recall, “As soon as that second tower was hit, we all started to scramble to action.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/8/2002] However, author Lynn Spencer will indicate that the base does not begin preparing fighters to launch until about 10 to 15 minutes later. She will write that the aircraft maintenance squadron officer, whose job is to get aircraft ready for combat, has been awaiting orders since the time of the second crash. Then, “Less than 15 minutes after the second impact into the World Trade Center, the order came.” An officer from the base’s battle cab gives him the instruction, “Listen, I want you to generate as many airframes [i.e. fighter jets] as you can!” Immediately, the aircraft maintenance squadron officer starts directing all available workers to the flight line (the parking and servicing area for aircraft) to prepare the base’s available F-15s for combat. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 155]
Base Personnel Load Aircraft with Weapons - A report written by the 102nd Fighter Wing’s historian will describe: “Operations [personnel] along with maintenance [personnel] did a survey of which aircraft had bullets loaded and prioritized those aircraft to be first on status. They immediately began to pre-position wing tanks to increase range for future flights. Munitions started flowing at 9:30 and the aircraft were loaded with a mix of different types of weapons.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] Isch’s crew hurries to fix fighters with live weapons. Some aircraft are fitted with newer missiles that are rarely pulled out. [Cape Cod Times, 9/8/2002] According to Boston Magazine, “Jets undergoing maintenance [are] rushed back into service, fitted out for combat instead of training.” [Boston Magazine, 1/2002]
Fighters Recalled from Training Mission and Armed - A number of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s F-15s are away for a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] At 9:25 a.m., these fighters will be instructed to return to their base and will land back at Otis around 20 minutes later (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155; Airman, 9/3/2011] Two of the aircraft have mechanical problems and will therefore be unable to fly again immediately. But the other fighters will be refueled and loaded with 940 rounds of 20 mm bullets. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] The first F-15s to subsequently take off from Otis Air Base will launch at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246] Fourteen of the base’s fighters are “mission capable” by the end of the day, according to Technical Sergeant Michael Kelly, the full-time technician in the command post at Otis Air Base. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file] But according to Spencer, by 6:00 p.m., 21 of the 24 F-15s that are stationed at Otis Air Base will be airborne. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 281]

Entity Tags: Jeff Isch, Otis Air National Guard Base, Michael Kelly (102nd FW), 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts that are out over the Atlantic Ocean on a training mission are notified of the first crash at the World Trade Center and then return to their base. The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 pdf file; Richard, 2010, pp. 13-14; Airman, 9/3/2011] According to most accounts, six of the unit’s F-15 fighters are taking part in the training mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But Major Martin Richard, one of the pilots involved, will write in a 2010 book that eight F-15s are taking part. [Richard, 2010, pp. 10]
Fighters Recalled for 'Possible Use' - The fighters took off from Otis Air Base at 9:00 a.m. for their “defensive counter-air” mission in an area of military training airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Long Island, known as “Whiskey 105” (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Airman, 9/3/2011] Following the second attack on the WTC at 9:03 a.m., commanders at Otis Air Base convened and decided to recall all aircraft out on training (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 153-154] A member of staff at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells a colleague that the fighters in Whiskey 105 are being recalled to Otis for “possible use, so we’ve got more aircraft [on] standby.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Controller Tells Fighters to Return to Base - The fighters are recalled to their base at around 9:25 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 pdf file] Shortly after they arrive in Whiskey 105, Richard is called by an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] Richard will later note that “for a controller to interrupt our training mission was out of the norm.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 13] According to Airman, the controller tells Richard: “There’s something going on in New York. I think you guys need to get back to your base.” [Airman, 9/3/2011] But Richard will recall that the controller says, “[A]n aircraft just crashed into the World Trade Center and I think you should return to base immediately.” Richard replies, “Copy,” meaning he understands. However, he will say: “I was a bit confused. I didn’t know the extent of the pandemonium residing just outside of our sterile training airspace.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 13]
Pilot Not Told Why Alert Jets Were Scrambled - Before taking off from Otis Air Base, Richard had seen the two of his unit’s fighters that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate launch—taking off in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but he had been unaware of why they were being scrambled (see (8:30 a.m.-8:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, Richard will recall, “When the FAA announced that the World Trade [Center] tower had been struck by an aircraft, I asked if this was why the alert pilots had been scrambled.” However, he will say, he “got no reply.” It is unclear whether the pilots on the training mission are informed of the aircraft hijackings at this time. Richard will recall, “[W]hen it came over the radio that it was a possible hijacking, it sure got our attention,” but he will not say when this radio communication occurs. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Supervisor Tells Pilot to Get Back to Base - Richard hurriedly dials the radio frequency to contact Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, his unit’s supervisor of flying, who controls flying operations from the ground. [Richard, 2010, pp. 13] Richard asks, “Do you need us back on base?” and Treacy replies, “Get back here as soon as you can.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Fighters Have Too Much Fuel to Land - The fighters were split apart over the Whiskey 105 airspace for their training mission. Rather than spending time getting them back together, Richard orders the pilots to go back to base in flights of two jets. Furthermore, another problem will delay their return: the fighters all have too much fuel to be able to land. Therefore, Richard will write, “Rather than dump the fuel overboard, which would take upwards of six to nine minutes, we got together in twos and did some basic fighter maneuvering.” These maneuvers, which are done in full afterburner, are “the most expeditious way to get to landing weight.” As the pilots request clearance to fly out of Whiskey 105 and back to Otis Air Base, their radios become crowded with communications. Richard comments, “It sounds like we are at war.”
Pilots Told to Stay at Their Aircraft after Landing - The pilots still have little idea what is going on, so Richard contacts Treacy for an update. However, Treacy has nothing concrete to tell him and only says, “After you land, stay at your jets; we’ll run the classified packs out to you.” These “classified packs” fit into the leg pocket of a pilot’s g-suit, and include the classified codes and guidance pilots fly with when on alert. Richard will write, “In light of recent events, it seemed we had been drafted for alert duty.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 13-14]
Pilots Told to Prepare Fighters for Alert - The fighters arrive at Otis Air Base around 20 minutes after they are called back there, according to author Lynn Spencer. As they taxi in, the pilots receive an instruction over their radios from Treacy, who tells them, “Cock your jets for alert!” They have never received such an order before. It means that instead of parking and shutting down their aircraft, they must prepare them to be scrambled from the flight line, with all of the instruments, controls, and switches set ready for immediate takeoff orders. After doing as instructed, the pilots head into the operations building to find out what is happening. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] Most of the squadron personnel are huddled by the television in the break room, watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks. One of the life support technicians turns to Richard and says, “It’s a goddamn Tom Clancy novel!” Richard will comment, “It was obvious now that we were at war.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 14] A number of the fighters that come back from the training mission, which have no ordnance on them, will be armed and also refueled, ready to take off to protect US airspace. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] The first fighters to subsequently take off from Otis Air Base will launch at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246]

Entity Tags: Jonathan T. Treacy, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, 102nd Fighter Wing, Martin Richard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two F-15s take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, becoming the second pair of fighter jets to take off from the base after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered it to launch all of its available aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246; Richard, 2010, pp. 18] The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Otis Air Base, and are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] The 102nd Fighter Wing launched its two F-15s that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate takeoff—at 8:46 a.m., in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Another two of the unit’s F-15s have just taken off (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] Richard is one of several 102nd Fighter Wing pilots who were out for a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean earlier this morning (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The pilots were called back to their base following the attacks in New York (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is unclear whether Martyn also participated in the training. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Pilot Doesn't Know What Is Going On - After landing back at Otis Air Base, Richard headed into the operations building and phoned his wife. He told her, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I am going flying.” Richard will later recall: “My feelings were of trepidation. I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t know what the two scrambled aircraft [i.e. the two fighters launched from his base in response to Flight 11] were doing.” Richard and Martyn had then been called to the operations desk, where Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, their unit’s supervisor of flying, told them they would be flying two of the first four fighters to be subsequently taking off from the base. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 14-15] Around that time, NEADS called the unit and instructed it to launch all of its available fighters, and the pilots had then been sent out to their aircraft (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245]
Fighter Only Has One Missile Loaded - When he arrived at his fighter, Richard found Technical Sergeant Matthew Jackson loading the second of two AIM-9 heat-seeking missiles onto it. Dennis Mills, the crew chief, told Richard that his plane was fueled up and had a “hot gun with bullets,” meaning the 20mm gun was loaded and armed for use. Richard, who was impatient to get airborne, instructed Jackson to not bother loading the second missile onto his aircraft.
Intelligence Officer Warns of Eight Suspicious Aircraft - Then, Sergeant Joe Kelleher, the unit’s intelligence specialist, arrived, out of breath. Kelleher said: “There are up to eight airliners airborne with bombs on board. We know of an American [Airlines] jet out of Dulles [International Airport] and a United [Airlines] jet. I think you are going after the United jet.” The United Airlines aircraft he referred to, according to Richard, was Flight 93. [Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16] However, this plane crashed in Pennsylvania shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Richard will comment, “We were finding out real-time what the actual air picture was, and the information was not accurate.” Kelleher continued: “They are turning jets away from Europe and the rumor is some have crashed because they’ve run out of fuel. It’s friggin’ chaos!”
Fighters Take Off from Base - In their fighters, Richard and Martyn now taxi to the runway and take off from Otis Air Base. While climbing to altitude, Richard keeps his fighter’s engines in afterburner so as to gather the most speed he can. [Richard, 2010, pp. 16, 18] Richard and Martyn will be directed to intercept a C-130 military cargo plane (see (After 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and will subsequently be sent over New York to intercept and identify aircraft there (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Airman, 9/3/2011]

Entity Tags: 102nd Fighter Wing, Dennis Mills, Joe Kelleher, Robert Martyn, Jonathan T. Treacy, Matthew Jackson, Martin Richard, Otis Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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