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(Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Director of a Secretive Air Force Program Is Asked about Launching Drones over Afghanistan

Bill Grimes.Bill Grimes. [Source: Lori A. Bultman / US Air Force]Colonel Bill Grimes receives a call in which he is asked about getting the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to fly over Afghanistan. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] Grimes is the director of Big Safari, a highly secretive Air Force program based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio that specializes in modifying standard Air Force aircraft for time-sensitive and highly classified operations. [Defense Update, 5/3/2013; Wired, 12/17/2015] He was in his office at Wright-Patterson this morning when a colleague told him an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. He then joined others watching the television coverage of the incident in the conference room next to his office and saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within a few minutes” of the second crash, according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, Grimes is called back to his office to take a call from Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Johns, who is at Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon. Johns wants to know what needs to be done to get three Predators, and whatever is needed to fly them over Afghanistan, ready to go. But just as the two men start discussing the matter, Johns says he will have to call again later, since the Pentagon is being evacuated. This evacuation is presumably in response to the attack on the Pentagon, which occurs at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Grimes says he will have answers by the time the two men talk again. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] He will subsequently call members of his team, and tell them to pack their bags and prepare to deploy. He will instruct them to go to the airfield at Palmdale, California, where a C-17 cargo plane will arrive soon to pick them up. Grimes will later write that he starts calling the members of his team “[m]ere moments after the second airliner crashed into the World Trade Center.” According to Whittle, he starts making the calls “shortly after” the second crash at the WTC. However, if his conversation with Johns occurs around the time of the Pentagon attack, he presumably only starts calling the members of his team after 9:37 a.m. A C-17 will set off tomorrow to fly three Predators, along with members of Grimes’s team, from California to Washington, DC (see September 12-14, 2001). [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Bill Grimes, Kenneth Johns

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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