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Context of '(9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Dulles Airport Controllers Mistake Flight 77 for a Military Fighter'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Dulles Airport Controllers Mistake Flight 77 for a Military Fighter. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

In late 1996, hijacker Hani Hanjour attends CRM Airline Training Center in Scottsdale, Arizona for three months. This is normally adequate time to earn a private pilot’s certificate, but Hanjour fails to accomplish this. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] Duncan Hastie, the school’s owner, finds Hanjour a “weak student” who is “wasting our resources.” According to Hastie, “He was not able to fly solo in a small plane, which is equivalent to getting out of a parking space [in a car] and stopping.” Hanjour returns to CRM in December 1997 with two friends: Bandar Al Hazmi, a Saudi like Hanjour, and Rayed Abdullah of Qatar. (There apparently is no family relationship between Bandar Al Hazmi and the two Alhazmi 9/11 hijackers.) Hanjour takes about three lessons, but still fails to complete the coursework necessary for a license to fly a single-engine aircraft. Subsequently, he phones the school about twice per year requesting more lessons, but, according to Hastie, “We didn’t want him back at our school because he was not serious about becoming a good pilot.” The final time Hanjour calls, in 2000, he requests training on a Boeing 757: the kind of plane he is alleged to have flown into the Pentagon on 9/11. [Newsday, 9/23/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/2/2001; Cape Cod Times, 10/21/2001; Aviation International News, 11/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Rayed Abdullah, Bandar Al Hazmi, Duncan Hastie, Hani Hanjour, Scottsdale Flight School

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sawyer Aviation logo.Sawyer Aviation logo. [Source: Sawyer Aviation]In January 1998, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour and his friend Bandar Al Hazmi, who are now renting an apartment together in Phoenix, Arizona, train together at Arizona Aviation flight school. Hanjour supposedly receives his commercial pilot rating while there. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Later in 1998, Hanjour joins the simulator club at Sawyer School of Aviation in Phoenix. According to the Washington Post, Sawyer is “known locally as a flight school of last resort.” Wes Fults, the manager of the flight simulator, says Hanjour has “only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” After using the simulator four or five times, Hanjour disappears from the school. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Wes Fults, Sawyer School of Aviation, Bandar Al Hazmi, Arizona Aviation flight school, Hani Hanjour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hani Hanjour, from a 2000 US visa application.
Hani Hanjour, from a 2000 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]In January 2001, the Arizona flight school JetTech alerts the FAA about hijacker Hani Hanjour. No one at the school suspects Hanjour of terrorist intent, but they tell the FAA he lacks both the English and flying skills necessary for the commercial pilot’s license he has already obtained. For instance, he had taken classes at the University of Arizona but failed his English classes with a 0.26 grade point average. A JetTech flight school manager “couldn’t believe he had a commercial license of any kind with the skills that he had.” A former employee says, “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all.” They also note he is an exceptionally poor student who does not seem to care about passing his courses. [New York Times, 5/4/2002; CBS News, 5/10/2002] An FAA official named John Anthony actually sits next to Hanjour in class and observes his skills. He suggests the use of a translator to help Hanjour pass, but the flight school points out that goes “against the rules that require a pilot to be able to write and speak English fluently before they even get their license.” [Associated Press, 5/10/2002] The FAA verifies that Hanjour’s 1999 pilot’s license is legitimate (see April 15, 1999), but takes no other action. However, his license should have been rejected because it had already expired in late 1999 when he failed to take a manadatory medical test. [Associated Press, 9/15/2001; CBS News, 5/10/2002] An Arizona FAA inspector later says, “There should have been a stop right then and there.” He will claim that federal law would have required Hanjour to be re-examined. [Associated Press, 6/13/2002] In February, Hanjour begins advanced simulator training, “a far more complicated task than he had faced in earning a commercial license.” [New York Times, 6/19/2002] The flight school again alerts the FAA about this and gives a total of five alerts about Hanjour, but no further action on him is taken. The FBI is not told about Hanjour. [CBS News, 5/10/2002] Ironically, in July 2001, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams will recommend in a memo that the FBI liaison with local flight schools and keep track of suspicious activity by Middle Eastern students (see July 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Anthony, Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, JetTech

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour practices on a Boeing 737-200 simulator for a total of 21 hours at the JetTech International flight school in Phoenix, Arizona. Hanjour also attends ground school and pays just under $7,500 for the training. Despite only completing 21 of his originally scheduled 34 hours of simulator training, according to the FBI this is the best-trained of the four hijacker pilots (see Spring-Summer 2001). However, an instructor comments: “Student made numerous errors during performance… including a lack of understanding of some basic concepts… Some of the concepts involved in large jet systems cannot be fully comprehended by someone with only small prop plane experience.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] The school contacts the FAA to warn it of Hanjour’s poor English and flying skills (see January-February 2001).

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, JetTech

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, soon after settling in the area (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour starts receiving “ground instruction” at Air Fleet Training Systems, a flight school in Teterboro, New Jersey. While there, he flies the Hudson Corridor: “a low-altitude ‘hallway’ along the Hudson River that passes New York landmarks like the World Trade Center.” His instructor refuses a second request to fly the Corridor, “because of what he considered Hanjour’s poor piloting skills.” Soon after, Hanjour switches to Caldwell Flight Academy in Fairfield, New Jersey, about 25 miles from lower Manhattan, from where he rents small aircraft several times during June and July. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 242] In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Caldwell’s owner will confirm that several suspects sought by the FBI, reportedly including hijacker Mohamed Atta, had rented planes from him, though when they did so is unstated. A search of the Lexis Nexus database indicates there are no media accounts of any witnesses recalling Hanjour or any of the other hijackers attending these schools. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 9/24/2001; Evening Standard, 9/25/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Caldwell Flight Academy, Hani Hanjour, Air Fleet Training Systems

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hani Hanjour.Hani Hanjour. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour goes to the Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland, about 20 miles west of Washington. He wants to rent a single engine Cessna airplane. However, when two instructors take him on three test runs, they find he has trouble controlling and landing the plane. One instructor has to help him land. Due to his poor skills, therefore, he is not allowed to rent one of their planes without more lessons. Further, while Hanjour appears to have logged over 600 hours of flying experience and possesses a valid pilot’s license (though it has in fact expired), he refuses to provide contact information: He gives no phone number and only gives his address as being a hotel in Laurel. In spite of Hanjour’s lack of flying skills, chief instructor Marcel Bernard later claims, “There’s no doubt in my mind that once [Flight 77] got going, he could have pointed that plane at a building and hit it.” [Capital News, 9/19/2001; Gazette (Greenbelt), 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; Washington Post, 10/15/2001] However, on 9/11, in piloting Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Hanjour would have needed to do much more than simply point the plane at a target. Because Flight 77 at first seemed to overshoot its target, the Washington Post will note that “the unidentified pilot executed a pivot so tight that it reminded observers of a fighter jet maneuver. The plane circled 270 degrees to the right to approach the Pentagon from the west, whereupon Flight 77 fell below radar level.… Aviation sources said the plane was flown with extraordinary skill, making it highly likely that a trained pilot was at the helm.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001] One Washington air traffic controller will later comment, “The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane.” [ABC News, 10/24/2001] One law enforcement official who will study Flight 77’s descent after 9/11 will call it the work of “a great talent… virtually a textbook turn and landing.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Remarkably, the 9/11 Commission will overlook the numerous accounts of Hanjour’s terrible piloting skills (see April 15, 1999 and January-February 2001) and state that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed assigned the Pentagon target specifically to Hanjour because he was “the operation’s most experienced pilot.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 530]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Hani Hanjour, 9/11 Commission, Marcel Bernard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 77’s transponder is turned off, meaning that the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and flight information are no longer visible on radar displays at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The Indianapolis Center air traffic controller in charge of Flight 77 watched the plane go off course and head southwest before its data disappeared from his radar screen. He looks for primary radar signals along the aircraft’s projected flight path as well as in the airspace where it had started to turn, but cannot find it. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] He tries contacting the plane repeatedly, saying “American 77, Indy,” and: “American 77, Indy, radio check. How do you read?” But there is no response. [New York Times, 10/16/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001]
NEADS Not Contacted - US News and World Report will later comment, “[E]xperts say that an airliner making a 180-degree turn followed by a transponder turnoff should have been a red flag to controllers.” It will quote Robert Cauble, a 20-year veteran of Navy air traffic control, who says: “The fact that the transponder went off, they should have picked up on that immediately. Everyone should have been on alert about what was going on.” [US News and World Report, 10/8/2001] Yet the Indianapolis Center supposedly does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn that Flight 77 is missing at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 26-27]
Controller Thinks Plane Suffered Mechanical Failure - While several air traffic control centers were reportedly informed of the Flight 11 hijacking as early as 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to the 9/11 Commission, the controller handling Flight 77 does not realize other aircraft have been hijacked, and he is unaware of the situation in New York. He mistakenly assumes Flight 77 has experienced an electrical or mechanical failure. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] After he informs other Indianapolis Center personnel of the developing situation, they will clear all other aircraft from the plane’s westerly route so their safety will not be affected if Flight 77 is still flying along its original path but unable to be heard. [Freni, 2003, pp. 29; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30 pdf file]
Airline and Possibly Pentagon Learn of Flight 77 Problems - While NEADS is not alerted about the errant aircraft, a controller at the Indianapolis Center will contact American Airlines at 8:58 to inform it that contact has been lost with Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30 pdf file] And an article in the New York Times will indicate that the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly becomes aware of the problems with Flight 77 (see (Shortly After 8:51 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Robert Cauble, Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Todd Lewis.Todd Lewis. [Source: NBC]After air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport notice an unidentified aircraft, later determined to be Flight 77, approaching Washington on their radar screens (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), they initially think it is a military fighter plane, due to its high speed and the way it is being flown. [ABC News, 10/24/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] Yet the alleged hijacker pilot of Flight 77 has been known for his poor flying skills. [Washington Post, 9/30/2001; New York Times, 5/4/2002]
Aircraft Performs Elaborate Maneuver - The Dulles controllers are unable to identify the plane because its transponder—which transmits identifying information about an aircraft to radar screens—has been turned off (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] It is flying at almost 500 miles per hour while approaching Washington, and then performs a rapid downward spiral, “dropping the last 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes,” before hitting the Pentagon (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/21/2001; USA Today, 8/13/2002]
Moving 'Like a Military Aircraft' - Controller Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane. You don’t fly a 757 in that manner. It’s unsafe.” [ABC News, 10/24/2001] Another controller, Todd Lewis, will recall: “[N]obody knew that was a commercial flight at the time. Nobody knew that was American 77.… I thought it was a military flight. I thought that Langley [Air Force Base] had scrambled some fighters and maybe one of them got up there.… It was moving very fast, like a military aircraft might move at a low altitude.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Alleged Pilot 'Could Not Fly at All' - Yet many people who have met Hani Hanjour, the hijacker allegedly at the controls of Flight 77, considered him to be a very poor pilot (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, February 8-March 12, 2001, and (April-July 2001)). Just a month previously, an airport refused to rent him a single-engine Cessna plane because instructors there found his flying skills so weak (see Mid-August 2001). [Gazette (Greenbelt), 9/21/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001] And an employee at a flight school Hanjour attended earlier in the year will later comment: “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all” (see January-February 2001). [New York Times, 5/4/2002]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Todd Lewis, Danielle O’Brien, Washington Dulles International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Danielle O’Brien.Danielle O’Brien. [Source: ABC News]At 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, several air traffic controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport notice a fast-moving target, which is later determined to be Flight 77, heading eastbound on their radar screens. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33 pdf file] At the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Dulles Airport, which is 22 miles west of the Pentagon, controllers have been searching for primary radar targets since 9:21, when the facility was notified of the loss of contact with Flight 77 (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/13/2001; Navy Times, 9/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25]
Controllers See Fast-Moving Radar Track - They now notice an unidentified blip on their screens, heading toward the White House at unusually high speed. [Washington Post, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 145] Controller Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “I noticed the aircraft. It was an unidentified plane to the southwest of Dulles, moving at a very high rate of speed.… I had literally a blip and nothing more. I slid over to the controller on my left, Tom Howell, and I asked him, ‘Do you see an unidentified plane there southwest of Dulles?’ And his response was, ‘Yes. Oh, my gosh, yes! Look how fast he is.’” According to O’Brien, the aircraft is between 12 and 14 miles away when she notices it. It is heading for what is known as Prohibited Area 56 (P-56), which is the airspace over and near the White House, at a speed of about 500 miles per hour. [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; Department of Transportation, 8/4/2005] Because the plane’s transponder has been turned off (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001) its identity and type are presently unknown, and the Dulles controllers initially think it is a military aircraft (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25]
TRACON Notifies Others - The Dulles TRACON alerts Washington’s Reagan National Airport (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001) to the approaching aircraft. Its operations supervisor also provides continuous updates over a teleconference that has been established at the FAA’s headquarters. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] According to an FAA chronology that is published shortly after 9/11, the Dulles TRACON controllers notice the unidentified aircraft earlier than the 9/11 Commission says, at between 9:25 and 9:30 (see (Between 9:25 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Danielle O’Brien, Washington Dulles International Airport, Tom Howell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Before crashing into the Pentagon, Flight 77 performs a rapid downward spiral, flying almost a complete circle and descending 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes. [CBS News, 9/21/2001]
330-Degree Turn - At 9:34 a.m., Flight 77 is about 3.5 miles west-southwest of the Pentagon. But, at an altitude of around 7,000 feet, it is flying too high to hit its target. [CBS News, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] Based on an analysis of radar data and information from the plane’s flight data recorder, a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board report will describe the maneuver the aircraft then performs: “[Flight 77] started a right 330-degree descending turn to the right. At the end of the turn, the aircraft was at about 2,000 feet altitude and four miles southwest of the Pentagon. Over the next 30 seconds, power was increased to near maximum and the nose was pitched down in response to control column movements.” The aircraft accelerates to about 530 miles per hour as it closes in on the Pentagon. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file]
Controllers Watch on Radar - Air Traffic Controllers at Washington Dulles International Airport follow Flight 77 on their radar screens as it performs this maneuver. Danielle O’Brien will later recall: “John, our supervisor, relayed verbatim, ‘OK, he’s 12 miles west, he’s moving very fast eastbound.… Eleven miles west.’ And it was just a countdown. Ten miles west, nine miles west.… And it went six, five, four, and I had it in my mouth to say three, and all of a sudden the plane turned away. In the room it was almost a sense of relief.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001] Todd Lewis will recall that the aircraft “was heading right towards a prohibited area in downtown Washington.… Then it turned south and away from the prohibited area, which seemed like a momentary sigh of relief, and it disappeared. But it was going away from Washington, which seemed to be the right thing.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] However, O’Brien will continue: “[T]he plane turned back. He continued in the right-hand turn, made a 360-degree maneuver.… We lost radar contact with that aircraft. And we waited. And we waited.” [ABC, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001]
Maneuver Indicates Advanced Flying Skills - According to CBS News, “The steep turn” made by Flight 77 “was so smooth… sources say, it’s clear there was no fight for control going on.” The “complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed.” [CBS News, 9/21/2001] Aviation experts will conclude that this maneuver was the work of “a great talent… virtually a textbook turn and landing.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] Due to the aircraft’s high speed and the way it is being flown, Dulles Airport controllers mistake it for a military fighter jet (see (9:25 a.m.-9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; ABC News, 10/24/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] Yet the hijacker allegedly at the controls, Hani Hanjour, was considered to be a very poor pilot at numerous flight schools he attended (see October 1996-December 1997, 1998, January-February 2001, February 8-March 12, 2001, (April-July 2001), and Mid-August 2001). [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Todd Lewis, National Transportation Safety Board, Danielle O’Brien, John Hendershot, Washington Dulles International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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