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9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001: Military Facility Takes Control of the Langley Fighters, against Protocol, according to Navy Air Traffic Controllers

The Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia, takes control of the three F-16 fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), even though, according to air traffic controllers at the facility, it should not be communicating with the fighters. (9/11 Commission 12/3/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 12/3/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 1/9/2004) The Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, known as “Giant Killer,” is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. (Spencer 2008, pp. 143; US Navy 2/11/2016) The flight plan for the Langley F-16s puts the fighters into its airspace (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 12/3/2003 pdf file) The facility consequently takes over control of the aircraft from the FAA’s Norfolk Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) (see 9:31 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 1/9/2004)
Fighters Shouldn't Be Switched to the Facility's Frequency, Controller Will Say - However, according to Senior Chief Petty Officer Darren Clipper, an air traffic controller at the facility, the Norfolk TRACON “should not have switched the flight to Giant Killer frequency, plain and simple.” “Giant Killer should not have been talking to the fighters,” Clipper will state. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that Giant Killer is “not expected to be [one of the] participants in active air scrambles.” If NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) scrambles fighters, he will say, the “onus is on the fighters and NEADS to go where they want to go,” and “it is Giant Killer’s responsibility to stay out of the way.” Based on the scramble order for the Langley fighters (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), Clipper will say, the FAA’s Washington Center and the Norfolk TRACON “should have made sure there was a clear path for the fighters to go direct” to the control of NEADS. (9/11 Commission 12/3/2003 pdf file)
Other Controllers Say the Facility Does Not Handle Scrambled Jets - Petty Officer Matthew Barcus, another controller at Giant Killer, will say a similar thing to what Clipper does. “Most of the time, Giant Killer does not talk to the scrambled aircraft,” he will tell the 9/11 Commission. He will say that a scrambled flight “is usually handed off to [NEADS] by Norfolk” TRACON or the FAA’s Washington Center. (9/11 Commission 12/3/2003 pdf file) And Lieutenant Commander Mary Klug, the operations officer at the facility, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Giant Killer does “not normally control scrambled aircraft.” (9/11 Commission 12/3/2003 pdf file) However, author Lynn Spencer will apparently contradict Clipper, Barcus, and Klug, writing, “Protocol dictates that Giant Killer direct the jets until they reach Washington Center’s airspace, where the FAA controllers take over.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 149)
Pilot Has Poor Experiences of Dealing with the Facility - Major Brad Derrig, the pilot of one of the fighters scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, will tell the 9/11 Commission that his experience with Giant Killer is that the facility is “not very good.” Sometimes, he will say, when Langley fighters have contacted Giant Killer, controllers at the facility “didn’t know who the air defense fighters were.” (9/11 Commission 12/1/2003)


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