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Context of '(9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Marine Fighter Squadron Offers Assistance to NEADS'

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An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006.An F-16 heading to the combat ranges of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Red Flag training exercise in January 2006. [Source: US Department of Defense]In late August and early September 2001, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) participate in the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada. They do not return from it until September 8. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
Red Flag - Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise that involves the air forces of the US and its allies. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/19/2002] It is managed by the Air Warfare Center through the 414th Combat Training Squadron. Most of the aircraft and personnel that are deployed for Red Flag are part of the exercise’s “Blue Forces,” which use various tactics to attack targets that are defended by an enemy “Red Force,” which electronically simulates anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jamming equipment. A variety of aircraft are involved in the exercise. [Air Force Magazine, 11/2000] Red Flag is held four times a year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. It is usually composed of two or three two-week periods. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 476] The current exercise began on August 11, and involves more than 100 pilots in total. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7/28/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8/22/2001]
Exercise May Hinder Defense of Washington on 9/11 - The timing of the Red Flag exercise may reduce the ability of the DCANG to respond to the 9/11 attacks. The 121st Fighter Squadron is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, which is located 10 miles southeast of Washington, DC. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] Most of its pilots are involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, while flying commercial jet planes in their civilian lives. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002] Therefore, according to author Lynn Spencer, on 9/11 most of the 121st Fighter Squadron’s pilots will be “back at their airline jobs, having just returned three days before from two weeks of the large-scale training exercise ‘Red Flag’ at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. [The squadron has] only seven pilots available.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] In addition, some of the pilots will need to have their flight data disks reprogrammed before they can launch. Pilot Heather Penney Garcia will reportedly be “busy reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from” (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236-237] A significant number of fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia also participate in Red Flag around this time (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Red Flag, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, ColoradoNORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis]Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 41; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. [US Congress, n.d.; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Northern Vigilance, Vigilant Guardian, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Many aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, which is just a few miles outside Washington, DC, are taking part in training exercises. James Ampey, an FAA air traffic controller who is currently on duty in the control tower at the base, will later recall that there are “an unusually high number of aircraft taking off and landing at Andrews [this] morning, because previously scheduled military exercises [are] underway.” [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file] It is unclear what specific exercises these aircraft are participating in, and the exact time period Ampey is referring to.
Militarized 747 Involved in 'Global Guardian' Exercise - According to journalist and author Dan Verton, around the time of the Pentagon attack, “civilian and military officials [are] boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation’s capital. They [are] preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise” (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] This airfield is Andrews Air Force Base and the exercise being referred to is the US Strategic Command’s annual exercise, Global Guardian, for which three E-4Bs are launched (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] Whether other aircraft that are taking off or landing at Andrews are participating in Global Guardian is unknown.
NORAD Exercise, 'Vigilant Guardian' - Another major exercise taking place this morning is called Vigilant Guardian. All of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is participating in it (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] However, Andrews is not one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US. [Airman, 12/1999] And the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews, is not part of the NORAD air defense force. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 76] Furthermore, members of the 113th Wing have just returned from a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001), and so, with only a few pilots and planes available, today is a “light flying day” for their unit. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Presumably the 113th Wing is therefore not currently participating in Vigilant Guardian or any other major exercises.
Numerous Units at Andrews - There are, however, many units at Andrews that may be participating in exercises. Among more than 60 separate organizations located at the base are units from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] These units include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321), which flies the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which has numerous aircraft available, including the F/A-18 Hornet. [DC Military (.com), 2/9/2001; DC Military (.com), 6/2001]
Andrews Units Respond to Attacks - DC Air National Guard fighters will later take off from Andrews to protect Washington in response to the morning’s attacks (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] And a member of VMFA-321 calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at around 9:50 a.m. to offer his unit’s assistance in response to the attacks (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Andrews Air Force Base, James Ampey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998.Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998. [Source: Jeffery S. Viano]As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is said to be “in full swing.” It has been going on since the previous week. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59]
Exercise Tests Military's Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/1/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. [US Congress, n.d.; Collins Center Update, 12/1999 pdf file; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” [NET News, 12/27/2011]
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. [Kristensen, 10/1998] In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 379] And a military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. [Space Observer, 3/23/2001, pp. 2 pdf file] If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a 'Computer Network Attack' - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. [IAnewsletter, 6/1998 pdf file] It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.

Entity Tags: US Strategic Command, Apollo Guardian, Crown Vigilance, Global Guardian, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of Defense, US Space Command, Vigilant Guardian, Amalgam Warrior, Richard Mies

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Logo of the 552nd Air Control Wing.Logo of the 552nd Air Control Wing. [Source: US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane on a training mission in the Washington, DC, area is instructed to return to its base in Oklahoma, even though its advanced communications and surveillance capabilities would significantly benefit the military’s air defense efforts in response to the terrorist attacks. The AWACS belongs to the 552nd Air Control Wing, located at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. [US Air Force, 4/1/2000; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/16/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 265] It has been flying a training mission somewhere near Washington (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
AWACS Sent Back to Oklahoma - According to author Lynn Spencer, the AWACS is directed to return to Tinker Air Force Base “in the immediate confusion after the attacks.” The exact time the plane’s crew receives this order, and the identity of the person or organization that gives the order, are unstated. NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) will contact the AWACS later on, and instruct it to turn around and head to Washington, to provide radio and radar coverage over the capital (see (11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 265-266]
AWACS Has Advanced Surveillance and Communication Capabilities - The AWACS, also called the E-3 Sentry, is a modified Boeing 707 that provides surveillance, command, control, and communications to military commanders. [New York Times, 9/23/1995; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/16/2006; US Air Force, 9/22/2015] According to a US Air Force manual, the plane’s “advanced surveillance radar provides long-range, low-level detection of aircraft targets over all types of terrain.” [US Air Force, 4/1/2000] It can track friendly and enemy aircraft over a 300-mile radius. [New York Times, 9/23/1995] Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, will say that AWACS planes “give you the big picture in the sky. They’re able to identify what’s a friend, what’s a foe.” [White House, 8/29/2002]
AWACS Would Help NEADS Contact Fighters - These planes are particularly important to NEADS. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file] Spencer will describe: “The NEADS radio transmitter, like all radio transmitters, operates by line of sight. This means that the radio signals, which travel in a straight line, require an unobstructed path between the transmitter and the [fighter] jets” that NEADS is trying to communicate with this morning. Due to the curvature of the earth and the distance between NEADS, in Rome, New York, and Washington, the fighters’ launched to protect the capital (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will be unable to pick up the NEADS signal on their radio receivers when they descend below 20,000 feet, after arriving over Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “What’s needed,” Spencer will write, “is an AWACS plane, which has the capability to provide both radar and radio coverage over a citywide area.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 265]

Entity Tags: Mark Rosenker, Lynn Spencer, 552nd Air Control Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]
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]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

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]
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

An F/A-18A Hornet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321.An F/A-18A Hornet belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321. [Source: Robert Carlson / Naval Aviation News]A US Marine with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) calls a friend of his at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to ask what his unit can do to assist the military response to the attacks. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]
Former Marine Heads to NEADS - Trey Murphy is a former Marine who now works as a weapons controller at NEADS. He learned of the first crash in New York while still at home. After seeing the second crash on television, he realized it was a coordinated attack and hurried to work. When he arrived on the NEADS operations floor at around 9:45, the head of the weapons team, Major James Fox, informed him that fighter jets were coming up from Selfridge and Toledo; both sets of jets had been told to contact NEADS and would require instructions. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 179-180]
Marine Calls Murphy - After Murphy reportedly checks in the F-16 pilots from Selfridge Air National Guard Base and gives them orders (see (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), his cell phone rings. On the other end is a friend of his from VMFA-321, a Marine Corps Reserve squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland that flies the sophisticated F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. Murphy’s friend says: “Dude, get us in the war. I’ve got wrench-turners on our planes uploading weapons.” He then asks, “What can we do?” Normally, Murphy would not issue orders to the Marine squadron. As author Lynn Spencer will explain, VMFA-321 trains “to deploy overseas and they respond only to the US Joint Forces Command, commonly known as JiffyCom, and based in Norfolk, Virginia.” However, with the day’s unprecedented circumstances, Murphy instructs, “Convince your higher-ups at JiffyCom to get you transferred over to us!” Minutes later, Murphy is called by a general from VMFA-321. By this time, his attention is devoted to dealing with the possibly hijacked aircraft, Delta 1989. But before hanging up, he exclaims: “General! Can’t talk! But we could use your airplanes.” [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Trey Murphy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While President Bush is still in Sarasota, an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) is flying a training mission off the coast of Florida. Referring to the AWACS plane, NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later says: “I had set up an arrangement with their wing commander at Tinker [Air Force Base, Oklahoma] some months earlier for us to divert their AWACS off a normal training mission to go into an exercise scenario simulating an attack on the United States. The AWACS crew initially thought we were going into one of those simulations.” Another AWACS is also flying a training mission, near Washington, DC, the morning of 9/11. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] When its pilot, Anthony Kuczynski, hears of the first WTC crash, he mistakenly believes he is involved in a planned military simulation. He says, “We sometimes do scenarios where we’re protecting the United States from bombers coming in from unknown areas.” [St. Thomas Aquin, 4/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Anthony Kuczynski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. [Source: John S. Swanson / US Air Force]NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) contacts Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan to arrange for two of its F-16 fighter jets that are out on a training mission to intercept a suspicious aircraft. Accounts will conflict over whether this aircraft is Flight 93 or Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is wrongly thought to have been hijacked. [Associated Press, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] Delta 1989 was flying about 25 miles behind Flight 93 when air traffic controllers mistakenly suspected it might be hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and since then it has been instructed to land at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in Ohio (see (9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/13/2002; USA Today, 9/11/2008] Flight 93 is currently flying east across Pennsylvania. [National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file] NEADS has already tried getting fighter jets from a unit in Duluth, Minnesota, sent after Delta 1989, but the unit was unable to respond (see (Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/22/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file]
NEADS Calls Selfridge Base - A NEADS weapons technician now calls the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. He knows the unit has two F-16s in the air on a training mission. Although these jets are unarmed and only have a limited amount of fuel remaining, the commander at the Selfridge base agrees to turn them over to NEADS. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] The commander says: “[H]ere’s what we can do. At a minimum, we can keep our guys airborne. I mean, they don’t have—they don’t have any guns or missiles or anything on board.” The NEADS technician replies, “It’s a presence, though.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Fighters May Have to Crash into Hijacked Plane - Military commanders realize that, without weapons, the Selfridge fighter pilots might have to slam their jets into a hijacked plane to stop it in its tracks. Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will later reflect, “As a military man, there are times that you have to make sacrifices that you have to make.” [ABC News, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, the Selfridge jets never have to intercept either of the two suspect aircraft, and instead are able to head back to base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 70; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file]
Selfridge Called due to Concerns about Delta 1989? - According to author Lynn Spencer, the NEADS weapons technician’s call to the Selfridge unit is made in response to a report NEADS received about the possible hijacking of Delta 1989 (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] Vanity Fair magazine and the 9/11 Commission will also say NEADS calls the Selfridge unit in response to this report about Delta 1989. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NORAD Commander Gives Different Account - However, Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will suggest the Selfridge unit is called due to concerns about both Delta 1989 and Flight 93. He will say: “We were concerned about Flight 93 and this Delta aircraft [Flight 1989] and were trying to find aircraft in the vicinity to help out. We didn’t know where it was going to go. We were concerned about Detroit… and the fighters up there were out of gas with no armament.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]
NEADS Commander Claims Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - Robert Marr will give another different account. He will claim that NEADS contacts the Selfridge base solely because of its concerns over Flight 93. He tells author Leslie Filson that before Flight 93 reversed course and headed back east (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NEADS thought it was “headed toward Detroit or Chicago. I’m thinking Chicago is the target and know that Selfridge Air National Guard Base has F-16s in the air.” NEADS contacts “them so they could head off 93 at the pass.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68] Marr will tell the 9/11 Commission that the Selfridge F-16s are going to be “too far from Cleveland to do any good,” and so he believes NEADS directs them to intercept Flight 93. [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file] (Presumably, he means the jets cannot be responding to Delta 1989, which has been told to land in Cleveland [USA Today, 9/11/2008] )
9/11 Commission Disputes Arnold's and Marr's Accounts - The 9/11 Commission will reject Arnold’s and Marr’s accounts. It will state, “The record demonstrates, however, that… the military never saw Flight 93 at all” before it crashes, and conclude, “The Selfridge base was contacted by NEADS not regarding Flight 93, but in response to another commercial aircraft in the area that was reported hijacked (Delta Flight 1989, which ultimately was resolved as not hijacked).” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 101] Lt. Col. Doug Champagne, the pilot of one of the Selfridge F-16s, will recall that “he and his colleague never received orders to intercept [Flight 93] in any way.” [Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006] Reports based on interviews with the two Selfridge pilots will make no mention of the jets being directed to intercept Delta 1989 either (see (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68-70; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, 127th Wing, Doug Champagne, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Selfridge Air National Guard Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Douglas Champagne.Douglas Champagne. [Source: David Kujawa / US Air Force]Although NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has contacted Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, reportedly to arrange that two of its F-16s be diverted from a training mission to intercept either Flight 93 or Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 (accounts conflict over which aircraft is concerned), the pilots of those jets apparently never receive an order to intercept a plane, and so return directly to their base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178] However, some accounts will claim the pilots are indeed ordered to intercept the suspect aircraft. [ABC News, 8/30/2002; Associated Press, 8/30/2002; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 3/27/2005; Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]
Jets Returning from Training Mission - The F-16s, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Tom Froling and Major Douglas Champagne of the 127th Wing, had taken off from Selfridge Air National Guard Base at around 8:50 a.m. for a routine training mission at Grayling Range in central northern Michigan. The two pilots were oblivious to the attacks taking place in New York and Washington. [Filson, 2003, pp. 68; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/26/2005; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file] When they started heading back to Selfridge after completing their training mission, they began hearing “unusual radio traffic” as air traffic controllers began diverting flights from their original destinations. [Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
Pilots Learn of Plane Hitting Pentagon - Froling will later recall: “Something strange was occurring and I couldn’t put my finger on what was happening. I could hear [the FAA’s] Cleveland Center talking to the airlines and I started putting things together and knew something was up.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68-70] Champagne hears an air traffic controller stating that a plane has crashed at the Pentagon. He then hears the Cleveland Center announcing a “demon watch,” which means pilots have to contact their operations center for more information.
Commander Asks if Pilots Have Used up Their Ammunition - When Champagne calls the Selfridge base, his operations group commander, General Michael Peplinski, wants to know if he and Froling have used up their ammunition during the training mission. Champagne will recall: “[Peplinski] asked if we had expended all our munitions and specifically asked if we had strafed. We replied that all ordnance was gone. I assumed we had strafed without clearance and had injured someone down range. We had no idea what was happening on the Eastern seaboard.” [Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
Pilots Directed to Return to Base - According to author Lynn Spencer, because a commander with the 127th Wing agreed to turn the two F-16s over to NEADS (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Champagne and Froling are instructed to call NEADS. When they do so, they are ordered to intercept Delta 1989. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178, 180, 188] But according to other accounts, they are “ordered south in case United Airlines 93 was targeting Chicago.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 3/27/2005] However, according to two reports based on interviews with Champagne, Peplinski only instructs the two pilots to return to their base and land on its auxiliary runway.
Pilots Apparently Not Ordered to Intercept Aircraft - Accounts based on interviews with the pilots will make no mention of the jets being directed to intercept Delta 1989 or Flight 93. According to Champagne, the air traffic controller’s announcement that an aircraft hit the Pentagon “was the only indication we received that other aircraft and buildings were involved.” Champagne will say that “he and his colleague never received orders to intercept [Flight 93] in any way.” The two pilots “had no ammunition… and only an hour’s worth of fuel remaining. And as they approached Selfridge amid the puzzling radio transmissions, they still were oblivious to what was transpiring.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 68-70; Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]
Jets Land at Base - The two F-16s land back at Selfridge Air National Guard Base at 10:29 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 pdf file] As Champagne pulls in his aircraft, his friend Captain Sean Campbell approaches and mouths the words to him: “It’s bad. It’s really, really bad.” [Wolverine Guard, 9/2006 pdf file; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Doug Champagne, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Tom Froling, 127th Wing, Sean Campbell, Michael Peplinski, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after 9/11, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will say the nearest fighter jets to Flight 93 at the time it crashes are the F-16s from Langley Air Force Base that are flying a combat air patrol over Washington, DC (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34] Other accounts will conflict over whether or not there are any fighter jets near Flight 93 when it goes down:
bullet Two days after the attacks, it will be reported that an unnamed New England air traffic controller has ignored a ban on controllers speaking to the media, and this controller claims “that an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93.… [T]he F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet.” The controller adds that the fighter pilot “must’ve seen the whole thing.” He reportedly learned this from speaking to controllers who were closer to the crash. [Telegraph (Nashua), 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/13/2001]
bullet Five days after the attacks, on September 16, CBS News will report that two F-16s are tailing Flight 93 and are within 60 miles of it when it goes down. [CBS News, 9/16/2001; Independent, 8/13/2002]
bullet But, also on September 16, Major General Paul Weaver, the director of the Air National Guard, will say that no military planes were sent after Flight 93. [Seattle Times, 9/16/2001]
bullet In April 2002, Anthony Kuczynski will tell the University of St. Thomas’s weekly newspaper that he had flown toward Pittsburgh alongside two F-16s on 9/11. He says he was piloting an E-3 Sentry AWACS plane, which has advanced radar and surveillance equipment that can be used to direct fighter jets to their targets. He was just about to intercept Flight 93 when it crashed. He says, “I was given direct orders to shoot down an airliner.” (E-3s are unarmed, so, if this account is accurate, the order presumably applied to the fighters Kuczynski was accompanying.) [St. Thomas Aquin, 4/12/2002; US Air Force, 9/22/2015]
bullet A year after the attacks, ABC News will report that the “closest fighters” to Flight 93 when it crashes “are two F-16 pilots on a training mission from Selfridge Air National Guard Base” near Detroit, Michigan. These are ordered after Flight 93, according to some accounts, even though they are unarmed. [ABC News, 8/30/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, other accounts will state that these jets are in fact ordered to intercept another aircraft, Delta 1989, or are simply told to return to their base (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:56 a.m.-10:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal, 9/6/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
bullet Stacey Taylor, an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Cleveland Center, will claim not to have seen any fighter jets on radar around the area of the crash. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
bullet Five years after 9/11, Bill Keaton, a Cleveland Center controller who tracked Flight 93 as it flew eastward (see (9:41 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will be asked whether there were fighter jets in the vicinity of the plane when it crashed. He will reply, “[T]hat goes beyond the scope of what I can comment on.” (Air traffic controllers reportedly can lose their security clearances if they discuss the movements of military aircraft.) [Cleveland Free Times, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Stacey Taylor, Anthony Kuczynski, Bill Keaton, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Paul Weaver

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Billy Hutchison.Billy Hutchison. [Source: Family photo]The first fighter jet to launch from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles southeast of Washington, takes off in response to the attacks. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] The F-16 belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, and is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. It is one of three F-16s that were flying on a training mission in North Carolina, over 200 miles from Andrews (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and which have finally been recalled to the base (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; American Forces Press Service, 5/12/2005] Although the three jets met with a refueling plane, they did not fill their tanks up completely. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] Hutchison’s aircraft is the only one of them with enough fuel remaining to take off again immediately, though he only has 2,800 pounds, which is equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car. His jet has no missiles, and only training ammunition.
Pilot Takes Off, Instructed to Protect Washington - Immediately after landing at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., Hutchison takes off again at the instruction of Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. He is instructed “to intercept an aircraft coming toward DC and prevent it from reaching DC,” he will later recall. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] According to author Lynn Spencer, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the supervisor of flying (SOF) at Andrews, tells Hutchison to “use whatever force is necessary to prevent [the aircraft] from getting to DC.” Thompson adds: “You are weapons free. Do you understand?” “Weapons free” means the decision to shoot at a target now rests solely with Hutchison. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the “weapons free” instruction goes out to other pilots that launch from Andrews at 10:42 and after, but apparently not to Hutchison. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] Thompson will tell Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine simply that he instructs Hutchison “to ‘do exactly what [air traffic control] asks you to do.’ Primarily, he was to go ID [identify] that unknown [aircraft] that everybody was so excited about” (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Hutchison takes off “without afterburner to conserve fuel, go across the White House over the Georgetown area and continue northwest up the Potomac,” he will recall (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 81]
Conflicting Timelines - Conflicting times will later be given for when Hutchison takes off from Andrews. The pilots with the 121st Fighter Squadron will admit that their own recollection of the morning’s timeline “is fuzzy.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] According to 113th Wing operations desk records, Hutchison takes off at 10:33 a.m. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81, 89] Based on an interview with David Wherley, the 9/11 Commission states he is airborne at 10:38 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44, 465] Recordings of air traffic controller transmissions confirm this time. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] But in her 2008 book Touching History, Lynn Spencer will claim Hutchison took off significantly earlier, some time after 9:50 but before Flight 93 crashed (which was just after 10:00 a.m.). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-220] (However, she will later amend her claim, saying instead, “Radio data indicates that Hutchison’s flight did not depart from Andrews… until just after 10:35.” [Lynn Spencer, 2008] ) Two more fighters will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another two take off at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). Due to his plane’s limited fuel, Hutchison will only be airborne for about 10 minutes, and he lands back at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
One Jet Landed Already - The first of the three F-16s to return from the training mission over North Carolina landed at Andrews at 10:14 a.m., but did not take off again to defend Washington (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other F-16, piloted by Lou Campbell, landed with Hutchison’s jet at 10:36 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The 113th Wing is not part of NORAD’s air sovereignty force and, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, does not have an alert mission. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76] According to Phil Thompson, “We’ve never been an air defense unit,” but “We practice scrambles, we know how to do intercepts and other things.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Andrews Air Force Base, Billy Hutchison, Lou Campbell, 121st Fighter Squadron, David Wherley, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Phil Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Heather Penney Garcia.Heather Penney Garcia. [Source: Johnathon Orrell]Two F-16 fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, but they have no missiles and only training bullets for their guns. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia. [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
Possibly Given Shootdown Authorization - Before they headed to their jets, Sasseville and Penney Garcia were given a short briefing by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley will later recall telling Sasseville that he has “weapons free flight-lead control,” meaning he is responsible for deciding whether to fire on hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:40 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] But Sasseville will say he does not recall receiving any such rules of engagement until after he has taken off. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file]
Jets Only Have Training Ammunition - The two pilots run out to their jets and climb into the cockpits. But their F-16s are armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of non-explosive training practice (TP) ammunition. According to Sasseville: “They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on numbers three and four. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn’t have time to wait on those.”
Rookie Pilot 'Never Scrambled Before' - Penney Garcia, who is a rookie pilot, will later say: “I’d never scrambled before, I’d never done this. I was screaming to the maintainers to pull the chocks, and the guys were pulling the pins to arm the guns. We were going without INS [inertial navigation system].” Sasseville and Penney Garcia are airborne about six minutes after reaching their jets. They are unaware that fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base are also flying over Washington, at around 20,000 feet (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 82]
Told to Look for Hijacked Plane - Over their radios, Sasseville and Penney Garcia receive instructions from their squadron to look for a hijacked aircraft approaching from the northwest and heading toward Georgetown (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, Sasseville will later recall, “We didn’t know what we were looking for—how high he was coming, or low, or where he was going.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] He will say, “I don’t have the whole picture, but have word from Washington National Approach that something is coming.”
Pilot 'Making Things Up on the Fly' - The two jets will fly over Washington at low altitudes, around 5,000 or 6,000 feet. Sasseville will later say, “I didn’t want to get too low for a good radar angle, and not too high, so we could get somewhere fast.” He will admit that he is “making things up on the fly,” as he has no precedent to draw upon. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 82] Another DCANG pilot, Billy Hutchison, launched from Andrews four minutes before Sasseville and Penney Garcia take off, but he is airborne for less than 10 minutes (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). The next DCANG jets to take off, which will be armed with missiles, launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]

Entity Tags: Heather Penney Garcia, David Wherley, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base, 121st Fighter Squadron, Marc Sasseville

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11.Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard] (click image to enlarge)Two District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, to defend the capital, the first DCANG planes to launch armed with missiles as well as bullets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The two F-16s are piloted by Captain Brandon Rasmussen and Major Daniel Caine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Although Caine was his unit’s supervisor of flying (SOF) this morning, he decided earlier on that he was going to get airborne, and so Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson has taken his place as SOF (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184]
Commander Supposedly Gave Shootdown Authority - As Caine and Rasmussen were passing the SOF area on the way to their fighters, they were quickly briefed by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley had by then received instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, he told the two pilots: “You need to establish a CAP [combat air patrol] over Washington. Intercept any incoming aircraft 60 miles out and use whatever force necessary to keep it from targeting buildings downtown.” Wherley said, “You will be weapons free,” which means the decision whether to fire on a hostile aircraft rests with the lead pilot, and added, “Just be careful.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 238] However, Rasmussen will contradict this account, saying that once he is airborne, “we still haven’t been told, ‘You are clear to engage anybody.’ They just said, ‘Get airborne as quick as you can.’” But while the two pilots were getting suited up ready to fly, Caine, who will be the flight lead, had reassured Rasmussen that he would take responsibility for firing on any hostile planes. He’d said: “Whatever you do, don’t be the first one to shoot.… Let me be the first one to shoot, if it comes to that, and then do what I do.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Fighters Loaded with Missiles - Three DCANG jets took off from Andrews earlier on, but none of them were armed with missiles (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Missiles were loaded onto Caine and Rasmussen’s F-16s while they were sitting in the cockpits. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Rasmussen will later recall that “we were probably 20 to 30 minutes behind” the previous two jets to launch, “because they were loading heat-seeking missiles on the aircraft.… Once they armed us up, we just rolled right down the runway and blasted off.” The jets take off with hot guns and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles each. According to Rasmussen, this is the first time he has flown with live missiles. He will say, “I had never flown with real missiles and had never so much as seen them on the jet.”
Communicate with FAA Controllers - After taking off, Caine and Rasmussen communicate with the FAA’s Washington Center, “primarily to control us and give us an idea of the air picture,” according to Rasmussen. The Washington Center normally controls all of the air traffic in the area. However, its controllers are not trained as weapons controllers. Rasmussen will say: “[W]e’re used to working with AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] weapons controllers or GCI [ground control intercept].” GCI is “a ground-based radar facility with weapons controllers who will give you the tactical air picture; control and coordinate who is targeting what aircraft; and run the air war that way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Airborne for 3-4 Hours - DCANG pilot Marc Sasseville, who took off at 10:42 a.m., was initially the CAP commander, but Caine takes over this responsibility from him once he is in the air. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Caine and Rasmussen will remain airborne for three or four hours, which is at least twice as long as the usual maximum duration for an air-to-ground sortie, of about an hour and a half. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, Daniel Caine, Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center, District of Columbia Air National Guard, David Wherley, Brandon Rasmussen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

F-18 fighter jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) arrive in the airspace over Washington, DC, to assist the air defense of the capital, but NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is initially unable to authenticate the pilots’ identities. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 264-265] Earlier on, a Marine with VMFA-321 called Trey Murphy, a friend of his who works as a weapons controller at NEADS, to offer his unit’s assistance. Minutes later, Murphy told a general from VMFA-321 who called NEADS, “[W]e could use your airplanes” (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]
Pilot Gives Incorrect Authentication Code - Now Murphy tries to get the authentication code from one of the Marine pilots who has arrived over Washington, which will show that he is who he says he is, and that his orders are legal. However, the pilot responds with incorrect authentication, giving a code that has too many letters. Murphy again tries to authenticate him, but the pilot responds, “Dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
Weapons Controller Improvises Plan of Action - Murphy quickly realizes what the problem is: The VMFA-321 fighters are not normally part of NORAD, and so do not have NORAD authenticators. Instead, their authenticators are from the Air Combat Command. Realizing this is a problem that will recur as more non-NORAD fighters get airborne, Murphy instructs his fellow weapons controller Michael Julian to help him call the squadron commanders of the non-NORAD jets that are taking off to patrol the Northeast US, so as to resolve the issue. Doing so is critically important because, as author Lynn Spencer will point out, “The authentication system is set up to ensure that a pilot knows he is being given a valid order, and a pilot cannot legally comply with an order unless he can authenticate it first.” Murphy calls VMFA-321 at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, over a secured line and quickly improvises a plan of action. Soon after, faxes are sent off over secured lines to the squadrons that are launching aircraft, to make sure they all follow this plan.
Murphy Checks in Marine Pilots - The Marine pilots that have arrived over Washington have now devised their own plan for checking in with NEADS. Since Murphy is a former Marine, some of them know him and recognize his voice. They have therefore decided they will accept orders from him alone. After one of the pilots insists to another NEADS weapons controller that he will only take orders from Murphy, Murphy gets on the line and checks him in, saying: “All right! Devil 1-1… I authenticate.… You’re in the [combat air patrol]. Here’s your mission.… I’m turning you over to my controller.” After the pilot responds, “Roger that!” Murphy checks in the rest of the Marine fighters. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 264-265]

Entity Tags: Trey Murphy, Michael Julian, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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