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Context of '9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Notices Langley Jets Are off Course, but Navy Controller Seems Unconcerned'

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Major Brad Derrig.Major Brad Derrig. [Source: ABC]At Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the pilots of three F-16s receive the order to scramble (i.e. take off immediately). A Klaxon horn sounds and the status lights in the hangars change from yellow to green, notifying them of the order. [Longman, 2002, pp. 65; Filson, 2003, pp. 63; Spencer, 2008, pp. 141] The fighter jets belong to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing. The wing has a small detachment at Langley that serves as one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, responsible for defending the nation against attack. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] The jets are already at “battle stations,” with the pilots in the cockpits but the engines off (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24; Spencer, 2008, pp. 117-119] The scramble order has just been issued by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file]
Third Pilot Launched - The unit at Langley keeps two F-16s on “alert”—armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes if called upon. [Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17] But NEADS has instructed it to launch as many aircraft as it can (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so the unit’s operations manager Captain Craig Borgstrom is also preparing to take off in a third jet. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 118-119] Major Dean Eckmann calls the other two pilots, saying, “Quit check,” indicating a radio check. Major Brad Derrig responds, “Two.” Borgstrom replies: “Three. I’m going with you!” This is news to Derrig. According to author Lynn Spencer, Derrig is “stunned.… [N]ot much surprises him, but this does.” Borgstrom joining them as a pilot will mean that, in the middle of this unprecedented crisis, their unit will be left without a commanding officer. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 142]
Only Two Jets Fully Armed - The two jets that are kept on alert are fully armed. As Eckmann will later recall, “We can carry M9 heat seekers, Sidewinders for the M7 Sparrow, plus we have an internal 20 mm Vulcan cannon, and we were pretty much armed with all that.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] However, Borgstrom’s jet has guns only, and though the six-barrel 20 mm gun can fire 6,000 rounds per minute, it requires close range.
Pilot Unqualified to Lead Three Jets - As the three aircraft taxi out to the runway, Eckmann is concerned that he has not yet qualified as a mission commander—a “four-ship”—and is therefore not authorized to lead more than one fighter jet. He calls the other pilots, saying, “Hey, I’m only a two-ship!” But Derrig, who is a full-time instructor pilot for the Air National Guard, urges him not to worry. He responds: “Press! I’m an instructor,” giving his approval for the flight to operate as a “three-ship” under Eckmann’s lead. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 142] The three jets will take off and be airborne by 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, 119th Fighter Wing, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Langley Air Force Base

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

The Norfolk Tower TRACON.The Norfolk Tower TRACON. [Source: Federal Aviation Administration]The FAA’s Norfolk Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) is briefly in charge of the three F-16s launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but it does not redirect them northward in line with the military’s orders, after the Langley air traffic control tower previously instructed them to fly east. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96 pdf file]
Jets Sent East instead of North - When NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) issued the scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), it specified that the Langley jets be directed north toward Washington, DC. But as the jets were taking off, the Langley tower instructed them to go “090 for 60,” meaning they were to fly east for 60 miles (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 142-143]
TRACON Does Not Redirect Jets - When aircraft take off from Langley Air Force Base, control of them is passed from the Langley tower to the Norfolk TRACON. [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 pdf file] Controllers at the TRACON are permitted to change an aircraft’s flight plan, in the case of the Langley jets the “090 for 60” instruction. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 pdf file] A 9/11 Commission memorandum will state that the Langley jets are “not bound to the 60 mile distance and could have turned to the north at any time they were directed to or had orders to do so.” [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 pdf file] However, although the TRACON is aware that NEADS ordered the jets to head north, it does not redirect them toward this heading instead of going east. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 pdf file] According to the 9/11 Commission, the reason is that “both the lead Langley pilot,” Major Dean Eckmann, “and the FAA’s Norfolk TRACON facility… assumed the flight plan instruction to go ‘090 for 60’ was newer guidance that superseded the original scramble order instructions” issued by NEADS. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96 pdf file]
Pilot Agrees to Follow Tower's Directions - At 9:33, Norfolk TRACON controller Michael Strother asks Eckmann what direction he wants to head in. Strother says, “Quit 2-5, are you going directly to the Langley 090 at 60?” If Eckmann wanted to go somewhere other than what is specified in the flight plan, Strother has the authority to grant the request. But Eckmann replies, “Affirmative.” He says, “That’s our second clearance,” and, referring to the NEADS scramble order, adds, “We had an earlier clearance of a vector and an altitude.” The 9/11 Commission will summarize, “Put simply, the Langley pilots received flight direction guidance from both the scramble order and the Langley AFB departure flight plan, and continued on the latter heading for several minutes until a direction and geographic destination was provided.” [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96 pdf file]
Navy Facility Takes over Control of Jets - Norfolk TRACON subsequently passes control of the three F-16s on to “Giant Killer,” the Fleet Area Control and 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; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] It will not be until around the time the Pentagon is hit that the Langley jets are redirected to their correct heading (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), after NEADS notices they are going in the wrong direction (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 149-151]

Entity Tags: Norfolk Terminal Radar Approach Control, Dean Eckmann, Michael Strother

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

NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) declares “AFIO” (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for Washington airspace, giving the military authority over the FAA for that airspace, and directs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) toward the White House. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113, 150] Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, has just called to report an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington, DC, which is currently six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Nasypany Declares AFIO - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, is unaware that the F-16s he scrambled from Langley Air Force Base are heading out to sea rather than going north toward the Baltimore area (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore orders Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, to direct the Langley jets toward the White House, telling him: “I got an aircraft six miles east of the White House! Get your fighters there as soon as possible!” Fox asks, “Do you want us to declare AFIO?” Nasypany replies, “Take [the Langley fighters] and run ‘em to the White House,” and adds, “I want AFIO right now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150] Declaring AFIO gives the military emergency authority to enter FAA-controlled airspace without permission, and means that NORAD assumes responsibility for ensuring that its fighter jets see and avoid all aircraft in that airspace. NEADS has already declared AFIO for New York airspace (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 2/19/2004, pp. 4-12-1 - 4-12-2; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113] Now it does the same for Washington airspace. Fox tells the members of his weapons team: “We’re going direct [to] DC with my guys. Tell Giant Killer that we’re going AFIO!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150] (“Giant Killer” is the call sign for the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia—the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] )
NEADS Unable to Contact Langley Jets - Master Sergeant Steve Citino, the NEADS weapons director, tries calling Langley pilot Major Dean Eckmann to inform him of the AFIO declaration, but receives no response. According to author Lynn Spencer, the Langley jets are not yet in NEADS’s radio range. Meanwhile, NEADS Staff Sergeant William Huckabone calls Giant Killer and notifies it: “Ma’am, we are going AFIO right now with Quit 2-5 [the Langley fighters]. They are going direct [to] Washington.” But the controller only offers modest reassurance that the Langley jets will be given the appropriate clearance to enter Washington airspace, responding, “We’re handing ‘em off to [the FAA’s Washington] Center right now.” Huckabone retorts: “Ma’am, we need that expedited right now! We need to contact them on 234.6.… Do you understand?”
NEADS Reaches Langley Jets - As soon as the Langley jets enter radio range, Citino makes contact with pilot Craig Borgstrom and instructs him, “Squawk quad-sevens and head 010!” This means the pilots should dial the code for AFIO—7777—into their planes’ transponders. Borgstrom radios fellow pilot Eckmann and passes on this instruction. According to Spencer: “The declaration of AFIO startles Eckmann. He has never, in all his years of flying, received such an order. He’s only heard about it and, to him, it means no less than the start of World War III.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150-151] At 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit, 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: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, James Fox, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, William Huckabone, Steve Citino

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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