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(9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Otis Air Base Fighters Away on Training Mission Recalled and Return to Base

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

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