!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of '(9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Langley Pilot Instructed to Identify Unknown Aircraft and Survey Pentagon; Doesn’t Realize a Plane Hit It'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Langley Pilot Instructed to Identify Unknown Aircraft and Survey Pentagon; Doesn’t Realize a Plane Hit It. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

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

An F-16 launched from Langley Air Force Base is directed toward two unidentified aircraft and then asked to inspect and report on the damage to the Pentagon. Major Dean Eckmann, one of the three F-16 pilots who took off from Langley at 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly flying in the Washington area. He will later recall, “I set up a combat air patrol with air traffic controllers,” and then, at around 9:45, “they come back to me and say there are a couple [of] unknowns heading north on the Potomac River toward the White House.” He is flying above 20,000 feet but heads straight down and reaches his target in “no time,” he says. The unknowns turn out to be a military helicopter and a law enforcement helicopter apparently heading towards the Pentagon to assist there. Eckmann flies over the Capitol and Mall area, he recalls, “to clear the area and make sure nothing else was coming in.”
Instructions to Inspect the Pentagon - Then Captain Craig Borgstrom, one of the other two Langley pilots, calls him and says that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) wants to know the extent of the damage at the Pentagon. Eckmann flies over it and reports that the two outer rings have been damaged. NEADS wants to know if he can tell what has happened. He guesses it was “a big fuel tanker truck because of the amount of smoke and flames coming up and nobody indicated anything about an airplane. And there was no airplane wreckage off to the side.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66] But he will give a different account to the 9/11 Commission, telling it: “I reverted to the Russian threat.… I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know you look down and see the Pentagon burning and I thought the bastards snuck one by us.… [N]o one told us anything.” According to the Commission, the Langley pilots have not been briefed about why they were scrambled. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45 and 465] Eckmann will in fact say, “[W]e didn’t actually find out it was an airliner [that hit the Pentagon] until the next day.” [Associated Press, 8/19/2002]
Conflicting Times - Eckmann’s F-16 is presumably the first fighter to arrive over the Pentagon following the attack there. When precisely this occurs is unclear (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, according to numerous witnesses on the ground, the first fighter does not fly over the Pentagon until significantly later than Eckmann describes, at around 10:40 a.m. (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] And according to some accounts, this is not Eckmann’s plane, but an F-16 from Andrews Air Force Base, piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Dean Eckmann, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The three pilots launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia start receiving confusing communications over their radios. Apparently, shortly after one of them first sees the Pentagon on fire (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the pilots’ radio frequencies become cluttered with orders and chatter. One of them will later describe: “It was like getting 10 hours of conversation in about 10 minutes. No one knew what was going on.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001] Journalist and author Jere Longman will refer to the pilots receiving a “jumble of radio communications.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 76] According to one of the pilots, Craig Borgstrom, he and the two others are on different frequencies but share a common intra-flight channel, and are “hearing a lot of chatter but nothing about airliners crashing into buildings.” He will later recall: “There was some confusion for us, this was very abnormal. We were all three on different frequencies… and were getting orders from a lot of different people.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66]

Entity Tags: Craig Borgstrom

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

Controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center.Controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center. [Source: FAA]The three F-16 fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that have been directed toward Washington request and are given permission to fly at high altitude over the city. After the Langley AFB pilots are given the correct coordinates they are to head to (see (Between 9:41 a.m. and 9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), at 9:51 lead pilot Major Dean Eckmann looks on his radar screen and sees that the area where he has been directed to set up a combat air patrol is filled with air traffic. He therefore contacts the FAA’s Washington Center and tells the controller, “I need 3,000 feet of altitude in a 20-mile ring around DC.” When the controller asks the reason, Eckmann replies, “Higher headquarters’ request!” The controller gives him an altitude range of 25,000 to 27,000 feet. Eckmann radios the other two Langley pilots and gives them their altitude assignments: he’ll fly at 25,000 feet, Major Brad Derrig will be at 26,000 feet, and Captain Craig Borgstrom at 27,000 feet. According to author Lynn Spencer, the jets then head toward Washington at 700 miles per hour, just under the speed of sound. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180-182] However, Spencer’s account of this incident conflicts with the 1st Air Force’s book about the 9/11 attacks. According to that account, several minutes before Eckmann reportedly asks for altitude clearance—at around 9:45 a.m.—he had been directed to drop to lower altitude to check out two unidentified aircraft, and was then told to inspect the Pentagon (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 66]

Entity Tags: Dean Eckmann, Craig Borgstrom, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, Brad Derrig

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Walter.Mike Walter. [Source: CNN]According to a number of witnesses on the ground, a US Air Force F-16 flies low over the Pentagon at this time; apparently becoming the first fighter to arrive over the scene of the third attack. [American Forces Press Service, 10/11/2001; Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131] Firefighters and other emergency responders at the Pentagon recently evacuated away from the crash site, due to reports of another supposedly hijacked aircraft flying toward Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30]
bullet Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, is in the Pentagon’s center courtyard, expecting this plane to hit the building. He then sees an F-16 zoom “low and fast over the courtyard.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130]
bullet On Washington Boulevard, where many fire and rescue personnel relocated during the evacuation, cheers go up when the F-16 flies over. Firefighter Mike Smith shouts out: “Thank God that guy’s there! Where has he been?” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 130-131]
bullet Lieutenant Commander Dale Rielage will recall that an “arriving combat air patrol F-16 thundered overhead” after the alleged second hijacked plane was said to be approaching the Pentagon. [Fire Engineering, 11/1/2002]
bullet John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, says that, following the evacuation, “It wasn’t until an F-15 fighter jet crossed in the sky that we realized the danger had passed.” [Murphy, 2002, pp. 246-247]
bullet USA Today reporter Mike Walter, who has been at the Pentagon since the attack there, recalls that, after the evacuation, an “F-16 came screaming by the Pentagon, and people cheered.” [People, 9/24/2001]
bullet Staff Sergeant Edwin Rotger Jr. will also describe seeing fighters arriving over the Pentagon at this time. However, he says there are two of them, not one. [Office of Medical History, 9/2004, pp. 49]
bullet According to the New York Times, “witnesses, including a reporter for the New York Times who was headed toward the building, did not see any [fighter jets over the Pentagon] until closer to 11 [o’clock].” [New York Times, 9/16/2001]
According to some accounts, the fighter that flies over the Pentagon at this time is Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16 from Andrews Air Force Base (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 235] Hutchison will recall, “I circled at a couple of hundred feet at the most just to, one, investigate, and two, give the people on the ground some semblance of security of an American fighter coming by” (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82] However, some accounts contradict this. Major Dean Eckmann, from Langley Air Force Base, suggests his F-16 is the first to fly over the Pentagon, and this was at some time shortly after 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will say: “I heard stories that people went back in [the Pentagon] after seeing me fly over to help others out.… Now they knew they were safe.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 66] Other accounts similarly suggest that the first fighter jet (or jets) arrived over the Pentagon significantly earlier than is described by the witnesses on the ground, between 9:49 and 10:00 a.m. (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Edwin Rotger Jr., Dale Rielage, Dean Eckmann, John Jester, Mike Walter, Steve Carter, Billy Hutchison, Mike Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike