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9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Orders Jets Scrambled from Langley; Conflicting Explanations Later Given for Order

Alan Scott.Alan Scott. [Source: United States Air Force]NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) processes and transmits an order to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, to scramble three of its F-16 fighter jets. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16] NEADS mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany instructed his personnel to issue this order one minute earlier (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). Although he’d originally wanted the Langley jets sent to the Washington area, he will soon adjust this heading to send them to the Baltimore area. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
NEADS Orders Jets North - A NEADS officer calls Langley Air Force Base and instructs: “Langley command post, this is Huntress with an active air defense scramble for Quit 2-5 and Quit 2-6.… Scramble immediately.… Scramble on a heading of 010, flight level 290.” This means the jets are to head in a direction just east of north, at an altitude of 29,000 feet. [9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96; Spencer, 2008, pp. 142] At Langley Air Force Base, a Klaxon horn will sound, notifying the pilots of the scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and they will be airborne by 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 63; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16; Spencer, 2008, pp. 141]
Fighters Launched in Response to Flight 77? - In later testimony, military officials will give contradictory explanations for why the Langley F-16s are scrambled. An early NORAD timeline will indicate the fighters are launched in response to NORAD being notified at 9:24 that Flight 77 has been hijacked (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR), will suggest the same, telling the 9/11 Commission: “At 9:24 the FAA reports a possible hijack of [Flight] 77.… And at that moment as well is when the Langley F-16s were scrambled out of Langley.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 1st Air Force, 8/8/2006] And a timeline provided by senior Defense Department officials to CNN will state, “NORAD orders jets scrambled from Langley” in order to “head to intercept” Flight 77. [CNN, 9/17/2001]
In Response to Flight 93? - However, Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will give a different explanation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission, “we launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them over top of Washington, DC, not in response to American Airline 77, but really to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that way.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]
In Response to Incorrect Report about Flight 11? - In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will dispute both these previous explanations, and conclude that the Langley jets are scrambled in response to an incorrect report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, DC (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 15] Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will corroborate this account. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] According to the 9/11 Commission, its conclusion is also confirmed by “taped conversations at FAA centers; contemporaneous logs compiled at NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD; and other records.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] Major Nasypany will tell the Commission that the reason the Langley jets are directed toward the Baltimore area is to position them between the reportedly southbound Flight 11 and Washington, as a “barrier cap.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27 and 461] John Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will later suggest that NORAD deliberately misled Congress and the Commission by hiding the fact that the Langley scramble takes place in response to the erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne. He will write that the mistaken report “appears in more logs, and on more tapes, than any other single event that morning.… It was the reason for the Langley scramble; it had triggered the Air Threat Conference Call. Yet it had never been disclosed; it was, instead, talked around.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 266-267]
Conflicting Times - Early news reports will put the time of the scramble order slightly later than the 9/11 Commission places it, between 9:25 and “about 9:27.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; CNN, 9/19/2001] But a NORAD timeline released a week after the attacks will give the same time as the Commission does, of 9:24. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Kevin Nasypany, Alan Scott, Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Langley Air Force Base, US Department of Defense, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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