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(9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Fighters Take Off from Otis Air Base and Begin Training Mission, Unaware of Hijackings and WTC Crashes

Martin Richard.Martin Richard. [Source: Kevin Mingora]Several F-15 fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts fly out over the Atlantic Ocean for a scheduled training mission, but the pilots are unaware of the hijackings taking place and the plane crashes at the World Trade Center. The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Airman, 9/3/2011] Their mission is an “ordinary training session,” according to the Cape Cod Times. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] Major Martin Richard, one of the pilots involved, will describe it as a “normal training mission.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 9] It is being carried out in “Whiskey 105,” an area of military training airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Long Island. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Airman, 9/3/2011] According to most accounts, six of the 102nd Fighter Wing’s F-15s are taking part. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But Richard will write in a 2010 book that eight of the unit’s F-15s are involved.
Training Mission Is a 'Mock War Scenario' - The “defensive counter-air” mission, according to Richard, is intended to have the fighters splitting into two teams: the “blue air”—the “good guys”—versus the “red air,” their adversaries. In a defensive counter-air mission, Richard will write, “the goal is [to] protect a point on the ground. Our training objective focused on ensuring flawless radar operations to be able to build an accurate picture of the threat’s formation, target the threat in the most effective manner, and ensure, through mutual support, that all blue air forces returned unscathed.” The “mock war scenario” that is played out is “an exciting sortie to do as a practice mission, and it took a great deal of organization to make happen,” according to Richard. [Richard, 2010, pp. 10] A KC-135 tanker plane from the 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor, Maine, is scheduled to refuel the fighters during the mission. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153; Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011]
Pilot Hears Unusual Radio Communications - The fighters take off from Otis Air Base at 9:00 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file] They then fly out toward the Whiskey 105 training airspace. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Airman, 9/3/2011] Richard will recall that at this time, “[e]verything was exceedingly normal until we heard some unfamiliar radio communication between [the FAA’s] Boston Center and some civilian airliners.” He will say that this “got my attention, but more because it was out of the norm, not because it was especially noteworthy.”
Fighters Fly to Opposite Sides of Airspace - Richard commands the other fighter pilots to complete their pre-mission safety checks and then readies them “for the simulated war we had planned hours before.” After entering Whiskey 105, the fighters carry out a warm-up maneuver. Richard then sends the fighters simulating the “red air” to the west side of the training airspace, while the other fighters—the “blue air”—take up their position about 80 miles away, on the east side of the airspace. [Richard, 2010, pp. 12-13] But then, shortly after they arrive in Whiskey 105, at around 9:25 a.m., the pilots will learn of the first crash at the WTC and be recalled to their base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Some of the fighters subsequently take off again to help protect US airspace, but that will 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; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 244-246; Richard, 2010, pp. 13]
Fighters on Training Are Unarmed - The fighters involved in the training mission have no ordnance on them. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] According to Technical Sergeant Michael Kelly, the full-time technician in the command post at Otis Air Base, they are “in an exercise configuration” and therefore “at a ‘safe guns’ (non-firing) weapons posture.” Furthermore, the fighters “more than likely had only one fuel tank.” (F-15s can carry three fuel tanks.) If these fighters were to be used for “long air superiority/sovereignty missions,” Kelly will say, they would need “‘hot’ (live) guns, missiles, and extra gas tanks.” [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 pdf file]
Fighters Scrambled after Flight 11 Also Fly in Training Airspace - The pilots on the training mission saw the two of their unit’s F-15s that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate launch—taking off from Otis Air Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but were unaware of the reason for the scramble (see (8:30 a.m.-8:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] (One of the pilots of those F-15s, Daniel Nash, is reportedly standing in for the usual “alert” pilot, who is “scheduled for training” on this day, presumably taking part in the training mission in Whiskey 105. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] ) The two F-15s launched in response to Flight 11 were actually directed toward Whiskey 105 after taking off (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 8:54 a.m.-8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001) and are in the training area from 9:09 a.m. to 9:13 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

Entity Tags: Michael Kelly (102nd FW), Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Martin Richard, 102nd Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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