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Context of '9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Langley Fighters Fly East over Ocean instead of North toward Washington'

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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 pdf file] 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 pdf file; 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 pdf file; 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 pdf file] 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

Captain Craig Borgstrom.Captain Craig Borgstrom. [Source: US Air Force / Austin Knox]The three F-16 fighter jets ordered to scramble from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) take off and, radar data will show, are airborne by 9:30 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Delayed during Launch - Major Dean Eckmann will recall that, after receiving the scramble order, he and the two other pilots have “a pretty quick response time. I believe it was four to five minutes we were airborne from that point.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, the three fighters are “given highest priority over all other air traffic at Langley Air Force Base” as they are launching. [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] But, according to author Lynn Spencer, in spite of this, the jets are delayed. As Eckmann is approaching the runway, he calls the control tower for clearance to take off, but the tower controller tells him, “Hold for an air traffic delay.” Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center “have not had time to clear airliners out of the way for the northerly heading. Dozens of aircraft at various altitudes fill the jets’ route.” After having to wait two minutes, Eckmann complains: “We’re an active air scramble. We need to go now!” Finally, the tower controller tells him, “Roger, Quit flight is cleared for takeoff, 090 for 60,” meaning the fighters are to fly due east for 60 miles (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Taking Off - The three jets launch 15 seconds apart, with Eckmann in front and the two other jets following. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 143-144] Pilot Craig Borgstrom will later recall, “[W]e took off, the three of us, and basically the formation we always brief on alert, we’ll stay in a two- to three-mile trail from the guy in front.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] According to the BBC, the pilots get a signal over their planes’ transponders, indicating an emergency wartime situation. [BBC, 9/1/2002]
Could Reach Washington before Pentagon Attack - F-16s have a maximum speed of 1,500 mph at high altitude, or 915 mph at sea level, so the three fighters could plausibly travel the 130 miles from Langley Air Force Base to Washington in just minutes. [Chant, 1987, pp. 404; Associated Press, 6/16/2000; USA Today, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001 pdf file; US Air Force, 10/2007] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will tell the 9/11 Commission, “I think if those aircraft had gotten airborne immediately, if we were operating under something other than peacetime rules, where they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC, and gone into burner, it is physically possible that they could have gotten over Washington” before 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, the jets are redirected east over the Atlantic Ocean and will be 150 miles from the Pentagon when it is hit (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Conflicting Times - Some early news reports after 9/11 will say the Langley jets take off at the later time of 9:35 a.m. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] But according to Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, though the jets are airborne at 9:30, the report of this does not come down until 9:35, so this fact may account for the conflicting times. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, Alan Scott, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Langley Air Force Base, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Route of the Langley Air Base fighters to Washington.Route of the Langley Air Base fighters to Washington. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]The three F-16s that took off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) head east, out over the Atlantic Ocean, instead of north toward the Baltimore area, as NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) instructed when it issued the scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 11/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Three Reasons Jets Head East - The 9/11 Commission will give three reasons why the Langley jets go east instead of north: “First, unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the target or the target’s location. Second, a ‘generic’ flight plan—prepared to get the aircraft airborne and out of local airspace quickly—incorrectly led the Langley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles. Third, the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan instruction to go ‘090 for 60’ superseded the original scramble order.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
NORAD Commander Blames 'Peacetime Rules' - In his testimony before the 9/11 Commission in May 2003, Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will address the question of why the Langley jets head out over the sea. He says, “When we scramble an aircraft… the aircraft take off and they have a predetermined departure route.” According to Arnold, NORAD is “looking outward,” and so “our mission, unlike law enforcement’s mission, is to protect things coming towards the United States.” He concludes, “So our peacetime procedures, to de-conflict with civil aviation’s, so as to not have endanger[ed] civil aviation in any particular way.” Arnold will also suggest that “peacetime rules” might be partly to blame for the Langley jets heading in the wrong direction. He says, “[I]f we were operating under something other than peacetime rules… they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] According to the Wall Street Journal, the “peacetime rules” Arnold refers to are “noise restrictions requiring that [the Langley jets] fly more slowly than supersonic speed and take off over water, pointed away from Washington.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file] One of the Langley pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom, will later recall that, shortly after the jets take off, NEADS “gave us max-subsonic,” which is “as fast as you can go without breaking the sound barrier.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 65]
Risk of Midair Collision - NORAD official Major General Craig McKinley will tell the 9/11 Commission that “another reason why” the Langley jets are “vectored east originally” is that “the air traffic over the Northeast corridor is so complex that to just launch fighters… into that air traffic system can cause potential damage or midair collision. So we rely on the FAA to de-conflict those corridors.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]
Jets Far Away from Pentagon - When the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m., the Langley jets have flown nearly 60 miles out over the ocean and are 150 miles from Washington (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27; Spencer, 2008, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Craig McKinley, Larry Arnold, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Staff Sergeant William Huckabone is the first person to notice that the three fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are drastically off course.
Jets Heading to Training Airspace - Huckabone has spotted the radar returns for the Langley F-16s and notices that, instead of flying north toward the Baltimore area as instructed, the fighters are going east, out over the Atlantic Ocean, apparently toward a military training airspace called Whiskey 386 (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Unfortunately, NEADS cannot contact the jets directly, as they are out of its radio range. Furthermore, the supervisor of flying (SOF) for the alert unit at Langley AFB is unavailable. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 149] As the SOF, Captain Craig Borgstrom would normally be responsible for communicating with NEADS and getting information to pass on to his jets, but he has taken off himself, along with his unit’s two alert pilots (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 118]
NEADS Calls 'Giant Killer' - Huckabone alerts fellow weapons director Master Sergeant Steve Citino, who is sitting next to him, to the off-course fighters. He then gets on the phone to “Giant Killer”—the Fleet Area Control Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143, 149] Protocol requires that, because the Langley jets are in Giant Killer’s airspace, the Navy facility is responsible for directing them until they reach the airspace of the FAA’s Washington Center, where FAA controllers will take over.
Navy Controller Unconcerned - Citino and Huckabone speak to the Navy air traffic controller who is handling the three Langley fighters, but the controller appears not to grasp the urgency of the situation. Huckabone says, “Those fighters need to go north toward Baltimore, and now!” The Navy controller asks: “You’ve got [the Langley F-16s] moving east in airspace. Now you want ‘em to go to Baltimore?” Huckabone says yes, and adds, “We’re not gonna take ‘em in Whiskey 386.” He tells the Navy controller that, once the jets are heading toward Baltimore: “Have [the pilots] contact us on auxiliary frequency 2-3-4 decimal 6. Instead of taking handoffs to us and us handing ‘em back, just tell [the FAA’s Washington] Center they’ve got to go to Baltimore.” The Navy controller responds: “All right, man. Stand by. We’ll get back to you.” He seems to lack any sense of urgency, and Citino snaps at him: “What do you mean, ‘We’ll get back to you’? Just do it!” After hanging up the phone, Huckabone jokes, “I’m gonna choke that guy!” Looking at his radar screen, he sees that the Langley F-16s are continuing to fly out over the ocean. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 149-150]

Entity Tags: Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, William Huckabone, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Craig Borgstrom, Steve Citino

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A typical F-16.A typical F-16. [Source: NORAD]Accounts differ as to how far from Washington the F-16 fighters scrambled from Langley are when Flight 77 crashes. The Langley, Virginia, base is 129 miles from Washington. NORAD originally claimed that, at the time of the crash, the fighters are 105 miles away, despite having taken off seven minutes earlier. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission claims that at 9:36 a.m., NEADS discovers that Flight 77 is only a few miles from the White House and is dismayed to find the fighters have headed east over the ocean. They are ordered to Washington immediately, but are still about 150 miles away. This is farther away than the base from which they took off. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The F-16 pilot codenamed Honey (who is apparently Captain Craig Borgstrom) offers a different explanation. As previously mentioned, he says they are flying toward New York, when they see a black column of smoke coming from Washington, about 30 or 40 miles to the west. He is then asked over the radio by NEADS if he can confirm the Pentagon is burning. He confirms it. He says that the mission of the Langley pilots at this time is clear: to keep all airplanes away from Washington. The F-16s are then ordered to set up a defensive perimeter above Washington. [Longman, 2002, pp. 76; Filson, 2003, pp. 66; New York Observer, 2/15/2004] The maximum speed of an F-16 is 1,500 mph. [Associated Press, 6/16/2000] Had the fighters traveled straight to Washington at 1,300 mph, they would have reached Washington at least one minute before Flight 77. Furthermore, at the time the Pentagon is hit, according to Craig Borgstrom, he and the other Langley pilots are hearing a lot of chatter over their radios, but nothing about airliners crashing into buildings. He says they are “all three on different frequencies… and [are] getting orders from a lot of different people.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, Craig Borgstrom, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) issues coordinates to the three F-16 fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), sending them to Washington. However, the fighters head off in the wrong direction, reportedly because NEADS has accidentally given them incorrect coordinates. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180-181]
Communications Problems - The Langley AFB jets have already mistakenly been sent east over the ocean (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:36 a.m., the NEADS mission crew commander ordered that they be directed toward the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27] However, weapons director Master Sergeant Steve Citino has been having difficulty communicating with the jets. According to author Lynn Spencer, “NEADS radio coverage east of Washington is poor, and the noise level on the [NEADS] operations floor has only been exacerbating the problem.”
NEADS Issues Wrong Coordinates - Citino now forwards coordinates to the Langley jets, telling them to establish a combat air patrol over Washington. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180] Apparently, it is Tech. Sgt. Ronald Belluscio, a senior weapons director technician, who contacts the jets at this time, although he will claim he orders them specifically toward the Pentagon. He will say: “I jumped on a frequency, per the senior director, and was told to ask the Langley birds to vector over the Pentagon. I didn’t know it had been hit.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 65] However, Citino has apparently given out the wrong coordinates. According to Spencer, “He inadvertently transposed two of the coordinates, and the F-16s turned onto a flight path that would take them 60 miles southwest of Washington.”
Aircraft Instrument Malfunctioning - What is more, as soon as the Langley jets turn onto their new heading, lead pilot Major Dean Eckmann has a problem with his aircraft. The bearing pointer on its horizontal situation indicator (HSI)—the instrument that shows a plane’s position relative to its intended destination—freezes. Eckmann therefore has to get the heading from one of the other Langley pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom. Shortly after sending the three jets in the wrong direction, Citino will contact them again with the correct coordinates (see (Between 9:41 a.m. and 9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Craig Borgstrom, Ronald Belluscio, Dean Eckmann, Steve Citino

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11 on the morning of 9/11. Exact time is unknown.A fighter and helicopter both fly directly above the Pentagon on 9/11 on the morning of 9/11. Exact time is unknown. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The three F-16s scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, at 9:30 a.m. finally reach Washington and the burning Pentagon. The 129 mile distance could theoretically have been covered by the fighters in six minutes, but they’ve taken a wide detour over the ocean (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The exact time they arrive is unclear. An early timeline laid out to CNN by senior Defense Department officials will claim they arrive as early as 9:49 a.m., but the 9/11 Commission later claims they only establish “a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington” at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” [CBS News, 9/14/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34 pdf file]
Conflicting Press Accounts - Press accounts of when the first fighters reach Washington are highly contradictory. Early news accounts describe fighters arriving from Andrews Air Force Base, not Langley, “within minutes,” “a few moments,” or “just moments” after the Pentagon crash. [Denver Post, 9/11/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002] Other newspaper accounts inaccurately deny that fighters from Andrews are deployed [USA Today, 9/16/2001] , and some deny Andrews even has fighters available. [USA Today, 9/16/2001] Defense officials will initially claim, “There were no military planes in the skies over Washington until 15 to 20 minutes after the Pentagon was hit”—in other words, 9:53 a.m. to 9:58 a.m. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/14/2001] But an ABC News report will suggest that by around 10:00 a.m., “Dozens of fighters are buzzing in the sky” over Washington. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Fighter Jets Don't Arrive until Later? - In contrast, the New York Times reports: “In the White House Situation Room and at the Pentagon, the response seemed agonizingly slow. One military official recalls hearing words to the effect of, ‘Where are the planes?’” The Pentagon will insist it had air cover over its own building by 10 a.m. However, numerous witnesses on the ground, including a reporter for the New York Times who is headed toward the building, will say they did not see any fighters until around 10:40 a.m., or “closer to 11” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] According to some accounts, the plane that flies over the Pentagon at that time is Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16, launched from Andrews Air Force Base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235-236] NORAD will initially claim the Langley fighters were about 105 miles from the Pentagon when it was hit at 9:37, and the 9/11 Commission will later claim they were 150 miles away (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of Defense, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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