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Context of '(9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Airborne Operations Center Launches from Base near Washington'

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Admiral Richard Mies.
Admiral Richard Mies. [Source: Public domain]Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that is “in full swing” when the 9/11 attacks begin (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). At least the director of the exercise, Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, is at Offutt this morning. Because of Global Guardian, bombers, missile crews, and submarines around America are all being directed from Stratcom’s command center, a steel and concrete reinforced bunker below Offutt. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/12/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] This bunker is staffed with top personnel and they are at a heightened security mode because of the exercise. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Air Force Weather Observer, 7/2002 pdf file]
'Doomsday' Planes Airborne for Exercise - Because of Global Guardian, three special military command aircraft with sophisticated communications equipment, based at Offutt, are up in the air this morning (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes—nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War—are intended to control nuclear forces from the air in times of crisis. They are capable of acting as alternative command posts for top government officials from where they can direct US forces, execute war orders, and coordinate the actions of civil authorities in times of national emergency. The federal advisory committee, whose chairman is retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, is aboard one of these Doomsday planes, being brought to Offutt to observe the exercise (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Global Guardian will reportedly be put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the battle staff at Offutt will switch to “real-world mode” once the attacks are apparent. However, even after Global Guardian is called off, the three E-4Bs will remain airborne. Also this morning, a small group of business leaders are at Offutt because of a charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Air Force Weather Observer, 7/2002 pdf file; BBC, 9/1/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brent Scowcroft, US Strategic Command, Global Guardian, Federal Advisory Committee, Richard Mies

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mark McLaughlin.Mark McLaughlin. [Source: Kingsville Record]Crew members on an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, learn that the US is under attack, but some of them initially think what they are being told about is a simulated scenario in a training exercise they are participating in. [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] The E-4B is a highly modified Boeing 747 that is fitted with sophisticated communications equipment and can serve as a flying military command post during a national emergency. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000; Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001; Verton, 2003, pp. 143] The E-4B on the ground at Andrews is currently involved in a major training exercise. “We were one of many commands practicing a global war-gaming and communication exercise called Global Guardian. My aircraft was one of three brought to full alert status for the exercise,” Mark McLaughlin will later recall. McLaughlin has, today, been assigned to Operations Team One as the Single Integrated Operational Plan adviser to the National Command Authority—the president and the secretary of defense. “My job was to be the expert on nuclear war plans and give all the VIP briefs,” he will say. [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] “Global Guardian,” which he refers to, is an annual exercise that tests the ability of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Washingtonian, 9/2011]
Plane Is Tasked with Picking Up Former National Security Adviser - As well as its involvement in the exercise, the E-4B, according to McLaughlin, has a “secondary mission” today, which is to fly to Washington and pick up former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has been “appointed by President Bush to analyze the nation’s nuclear arsenal and strategic plans.” While the plane was flying into Andrews Air Force Base, McLaughlin will recall, those on board “heard over one of the many communications nets that an airplane had crashed into a tower at the World Trade Center.” However, he will comment, “It never dawned on us at that moment that a terrorist attack was under way.”
Briefing Is Disrupted as Crew Members Learn about Attacks - McLaughlin learns that the nation is indeed under attack after his plane has landed at the base, and Scowcroft and his traveling party have boarded. While he is briefing the former national security adviser about nuclear weapons and the nation’s nuclear war-fighting plans, McLaughlin notices a commotion in the battle staff space, a compartment behind the briefing area that houses the operations team. The agitated behavior of the operations team members, according to McLaughlin, “is unheard of and not allowed when a VIP is on board, especially receiving a briefing.” McLaughlin’s assistant, who is working at the computer behind McLaughlin, then slips a note into McLaughlin’s hand. McLaughlin reads the note, which states simply: “Captain. Battle staff. Now.” He therefore tells Captain Joseph Gershon, the NAOC commanding officer, that his presence has been requested immediately in the battle staff area, and Gershon then heads there. Although McLaughlin realizes from the commotion going on that “something big [is] happening,” he continues the briefing.
Captain Interrupts Briefing and Says the Nation Is under Attack - During such high-level briefings, it is protocol that if you have to leave the room, you never return until the briefing is over. But Gershon returns and interrupts the briefing. He tells Scowcroft, “It appears that the country is under attack, sir.” According to McLaughlin, many of the people on the plane think at this time that what is being reported is a simulated scenario, as part of the exercise they are participating in. “Adding to the confusion was that we were in a global exercise and many of us thought it was part of the exercise injects,” he will comment. But he will say that “during the next few minutes, everyone began to fully comprehend that [the US was] under attack.” It also becomes “very apparent,” according to McLaughlin, “that our aircraft had to get airborne for safety reasons.” [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file]
Plane Heads to Base in Nebraska - The E-4B, which has the call sign “Word 31,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:27 a.m. (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will also take off from Andrews this morning, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] McLaughlin’s plane will land later on at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, so Scowcroft and his staff can get off. [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] The original plan for today, according to the Omaha World-Herald, had been for the plane to take Scowcroft and his staff to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] But after reaching the base, McLaughlin’s team’s mission will be to remain in the air, and so the E-4B will subsequently take off from Offutt and resume its airborne operations. [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mark McLaughlin, Joseph Gershon, Global Guardian, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, Brent Scowcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Brent Scowcroft.Brent Scowcroft. [Source: Publicity photo]An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC. The E-4B is a militarized version of a Boeing 747. Its purpose is to provide the president, vice president, and Joint Chiefs of Staff with an airborne command center that could be used to execute war plans and coordinate government operations during a national emergency. The E-4B taking off from Andrews, which has the call sign “Word 31,” is carrying civilian and military officials, and is launched in order to participate in a previously scheduled military exercise, according to journalist and author Dan Verton. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; NET Nebraska, 9/2/2011] This exercise would be Global Guardian, which is being conducted by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to test its ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Two other E-4Bs are also participating in Global Guardian today (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002]
Plane Ends Participation in Exercise after Taking Off - The E-4B taking off from Andrews Air Force Base is supposed to be using and testing its sophisticated technology and communications equipment for the exercise. It has “only just taken off” at the time the Pentagon is hit—9:37 a.m.—according to Verton. [Verton, 2003, pp. 144] But the flight tracking strip from Andrews will record it as having taken off at 9:27 a.m., 10 minutes before the Pentagon is hit. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] The crew will later be informed that after the plane launches, it flies “right over the top of the aircraft that eventually impacted the Pentagon.” [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] After taking off, the E-4B is “immediately ordered to cease the military exercise it was conducting and prepare to become the actual National Airborne Operations Center,” Verton will write. [Verton, 2003, pp. 144] (Global Guardian was reportedly put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it is not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file] ) The plane then converts “on the fly from exercise status to real-world crisis management.” [Verton, 2003, pp. 150]
Plane Flies Former National Security Adviser to Base in Nebraska - Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and his staff are on the E-4B, which will fly them to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] The original plan had been for the aircraft to take them to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise today. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] After reaching the base, the E-4B will take off again and resume its airborne operations. [Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] Minutes after the Pentagon is attacked, an unidentified four-engine jet plane will be seen circling above the White House (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). CNN will suggest this is an E-4B, so it is possible it is “Word 31.” [CNN, 9/12/2007] Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, Global Guardian, Brent Scowcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center plane takes off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, bound for an undisclosed location. E-4Bs are highly modified Boeing 747s, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, that act as flying military command posts. Nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War, they serve the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They can also support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during major disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes. Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for these special planes. The US military possesses four of them in total, one of which is constantly kept on alert. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000; Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001] Three of the E-4Bs are airborne this morning, due to their role in a pre-scheduled military exercise called Global Guardian (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001, (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] The E-4B from Wright-Patterson will return to the base later in the day. [Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: E-4B National Airborne Operations Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. [Source: Discovery Channel]Several television networks interrupt their coverage of events in New York to report that a mysterious white aircraft is circling over the White House and the Capitol.
bullet At 9:41 a.m., Peter Jennings of ABC News reports that “there is a plane circling the White House at the moment. And they’re clearing the grounds there.… And this plane circling the White House adds to the trauma that people are feeling today, but we have no idea precisely what the means.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:52 a.m., CNN correspondent John King, who is standing about 200 yards from the White House, says: “About 10 minutes ago, there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don’t see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted air space. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at the jet in the sky. It is out of sight now, best we can tell.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Another CNN correspondent, Kate Snow, also reports seeing a plane at around this time, “circling over the Capitol.” She says: “Now whether that may have been an Air Force plane, it’s unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] (The Capitol is reportedly evacuated at 9:48 a.m. (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Fox News, 9/11/2003] )
bullet At 9:55 a.m., NBC News turns to a live report from its correspondent Bob Kur, who recalls: “And in the most surreal of this morning’s scenes here at the White House, a white plane, a very big jet, was flying an unusual pattern near the White House over Lafayette Park, very slowly. It made one circle and then we have not seen it since. There was a lot of concern about what that plane might be. But, again, it’s only speculation, but most people say that since flights have been cleared from US air space, and it was a totally white plane, looked unusual to all of us, that it was a government plane of some kind.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001]
A CNN comparison between video footage of this plane and an official Air Force photograph will suggest it is an E-4B. This is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is used as a flying command post. An E-4B has in fact just been launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so this could plausibly be the same plane as is witnessed by the reporters. Two government sources familiar with the incident will later tell CNN the plane was a military aircraft, but that its details are classified. Even by 2007, the Pentagon, FAA, and Secret Service will have offered no public explanation for this plane over the White House. [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; CNN, 9/12/2007] In 2009, John Farmer, the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will claim that this “mystery plane” is an E-4B with the call sign “Venus 77” that takes off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207, 372]

Entity Tags: Bob Kur, Kate Snow, John Farmer, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, John King, Peter Jennings

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, with the call sign “Venus 77,” takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, in response to the attack on the Pentagon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] The E-4B is a highly modified Boeing 747, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, which can serve as a flying military command post during a national emergency. The US military has four of these planes. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000; Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001; Verton, 2003, pp. 143] Venus 77 takes off at 9:43 a.m., according to John Farmer, who will be senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] But the flight tracking strip from Andrews Air Force Base will record it as having taken off at 9:45 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] The plane is initially directed toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. But shortly after taking off, its pilot tells air traffic control that he wants to fly to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for the E-4B. Another E-4B has actually been on the ground there and takes off around this time (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001] The pilot of Venus 77 is cleared to head to Wright-Patterson and so he turns west. But he then says he wants to turn back east and hold south of Washington. He will be cleared to do so at 9:47 a.m. and his plane will eventually settle into a holding pattern over Richmond, Virginia. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207] Farmer will claim that Venus 77 is the “mystery plane”—an unidentified white aircraft—seen over Washington around this time (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 372] However, that plane was reported to be “circling the White House” at 9:41 a.m., before Venus 77 takes off. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] Another E-4B, with the call sign “Word 31,” took off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:27 a.m. (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so that aircraft might be the “mystery plane” seen flying over Washington. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: John Farmer, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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