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Profile: 121st Fighter Squadron

121st Fighter Squadron was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Three F-16 fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, which is 10 miles from Washington, DC, and fly to North Carolina for a routine training mission, meaning they will be about 200 miles away from base when the attacks in New York take place. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] They are piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, Eric Haagenson, and Lou Campbell. Haagenson and Campbell are less experienced, junior pilots. Hutchison is flying with them because most of the pilots with his unit are on leave, having just returned from the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001).
Jets Heading to Range to 'Drop Some Bombs' - The three F-16s are going to train for a surface attack. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Hutchison will later recall: “We had gone up to [the gunnery range in] Dare County, North Carolina, to drop some bombs and hit a refueling tanker and come on back. It was going to be an uneventful day.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] The range is located 207 miles from Andrews Air Force Base. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] The jets are scheduled to arrive back at Andrews at 10:45 a.m. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 9/11/2001]
September 11 a 'Light Flying Day' - Because members of the 113th Wing have just returned from the Red Flag exercise, September 11 is a “light flying day.” According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing, the unit would normally have launched eight jets—“an eight-ship”—for this training mission. But as only seven pilots and a few planes are available, a “three-ship” has been launched instead. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] The three F-16s heading out for the training mission will not arrive back at Andrews until between 10:14 a.m. and 10:36 a.m., by which time the terrorist attacks will already be over (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Billy Hutchison, David McNulty, Lou Campbell, Eric Haagenson, 121st Fighter Squadron

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilots and officers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, realize the US is under terrorist attack when they learn of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, yet the first DCANG fighter to launch in response to the attacks will not take off until more than 90 minutes later. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123]
Intel Officer Reports Crash - The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which includes the 121st Fighter Squadron, is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Some of its pilots and officers who are in the unit’s weekly scheduling meeting at the base learned of the first crash when an intelligence officer interrupted their meeting to bring them the news, but they assumed it was an accident (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m., the intelligence officer returns. He bursts into the room, yelling: “It’s happened again! The second tower has been hit! And it’s on purpose!” [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122]
Officers Realize This Is a 'Coordinated Attack' - Those in the meeting realize this is a terrorist attack. Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot who is also the chief of scheduling with the unit, will later recall: “At that point [the] meeting adjourned, this is no longer a pure accident, somebody is meaning to do this. I think everybody knew that this was a coordinated attack that was happening. We had no idea who it was by, but it was definitely intentional when you get two airplanes hitting both towers.” The officers head down the hall to the break room, where the television is on. Seeing the coverage from New York, they realize that large airliners hit the towers, not “light civil aircraft” as they previously thought.
People 'Launched into Action' - One officer exclaims, “Well, holy sh_t, if this is a terrorist attack, we need to get something in the air!” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] Lieutenant Colonel Steve Chase, who is at the operations desk, will later describe: “People just launched into action. There was a buzz in the unit. People got on the radio and telephones to higher headquarters.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002]
Leadership Only Acts after Pentagon Attack - However, Rasmussen will say that the 121st Fighter Squadron only takes proper action in response to the attacks after the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m. He will recall that, after learning of the second attack, “we didn’t know what we could possibly do, that’s New York City way up the road. So… like everybody else in America, we’re just standing by and watching the news. Time dilatation between the towers being hit and when the Pentagon was hit, but the news [broke] about the Pentagon being hit, and by that time they were in our backyard. At that point, the squadron leadership went into action.… As soon as the Pentagon was hit, we knew that we were going to be sticking around home and being quite busy.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003] Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, will only head across the base to assist the response at the 121st Fighter Squadron’s headquarters after the Pentagon attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Jets Take Off over 90 Minutes Later - According to Knight Ridder, “Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2001] Yet the first DCANG fighter jet to take off in response to the attacks does not launch until 95 minutes after the second crash, at 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and this has no missiles, only training ammunition. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] The first fully armed jets will take off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Steve Chase, Brandon Rasmussen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, have to take time to reprogram the data disks they will need once airborne, apparently because these disks still contain the data from a training exercise their unit has just returned from. The pilots belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236-237] This is part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] According to author Lynn Spencer, pilots with the squadron who are preparing to take off in response to the attacks grab their gear and upload “flight data” onto computer disks. These disks “contain all the navigational waypoints, maps, and frequencies that they will need once airborne.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236] The pilots presumably begin uploading the data after learning of the second crash in New York, and realizing this is a terrorist attack (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They apparently need to take the time to upload the data as a consequence of their unit’s recent involvement in a major training exercise: Three days earlier, members of the 121st Fighter Squadron returned from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they had spent the previous two weeks participating in the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123, 156] Spencer will describe one of the squadron’s pilots, Heather Penney Garcia, staying busy this morning, “reprogramming flight data disks, which still contain all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from,” before taking off at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; Spencer, 2008, pp. 237-238]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Three F-16 fighter jets from a base just outside Washington, DC, that have been away on a training mission, first learn of events in New York when they meet up with a refueling plane. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] They have been on a routine training mission on a range about 200 miles from Andrews, in Dare County, North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Supervisor Concerned, Contacted Refueling Plane Pilot - Major Daniel Caine, the supervisor of flying (SOF) with their unit, has wanted to call the three jets back to base since learning of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file] However, the jets were outside his radio range, so he’d called the tanker refueling plane they were scheduled to meet up with shortly, and asked its pilot to pass on an urgent return to base (“RTB”) message to the F-16s. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 124]
Tanker Pilot Notifies Jets about First WTC Crash - The three fighter jets now meet the tanker to get refueled. The refueling plane, which has come from Tennessee, has arrived late, and flight lead Major Billy Hutchison’s F-16 is low on fuel. The tanker pilot radios Hutchison and tells him that a plane has hit the WTC, but nothing more. Hutchison will later recall that, while one of the other two F-16s is being refueled, the “tanker was told that everyone must land. Hutchison knew he had to get back to Andrews.”
Radio Frequency Is Silent - After Hutchison disconnects his aircraft from the refueling plane, he plugs back into the air traffic control radio frequency, as is standard procedure. However, as he will recall, there is “nothing” on the frequency. “Normally, there is constant chatter as controllers work all the air traffic. This was highly unusual.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] When he is about half way back to Andrews AFB, Hutchison will radio his SOF and be instructed to fly back to base at maximum speed (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] According to author Lynn Spencer, the three F-16s do not fill their tanks right up when they meet with the tanker, and so they will be virtually out of fuel by the time they are approaching Andrews. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 217]

Entity Tags: Daniel Caine, 121st Fighter Squadron, Billy Hutchison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, finally heads across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the DCANG, and joins his officers in responding to the terrorist attacks. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Squadron Leaders Not yet Gone 'Into Action' - Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, is in his office at Andrews. He has already given his officers the go-ahead to use the unit’s missiles, so they can be unloaded from storage and put onto fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156-157, 184] However, according to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, one of the DCANG pilots, it is only after the Pentagon is hit that “the squadron leadership went into action.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Wherley Runs across Base - The Washington Post will report that Wherley’s “first inkling that the attacks would go beyond New York was when one of his officers, whose husband worked at the Pentagon, saw on television that the building had been hit and began shrieking.” After briefly comforting the woman, Wherley dashes from his office and runs several hundred yards across the base to the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron.
Wherley Doesn't Want Jets Launched Yet - Unlike other Air National Guard units, the DCANG reports to the president, rather than a state governor. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445] Furthermore, since the Secret Service provides protection to the president, who is the commander in chief of the US military, it has some authority over the military, including the DCANG. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 123] DCANG squadron officers have already heard from their Secret Service contacts, who have asked them about getting fighters launched (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 78] But after arriving at the 121st FS headquarters, Wherley says he wants more explicit authorization before launching aircraft. He tells the squadron officers: “We have to get instructions. We can’t just fly off half-cocked.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445-446]
Takes over Call from White House - At the operations desk, Major Daniel Caine has recently been called by a Secret Service agent at the White House Joint Operations Center, who is requesting armed fighter jets over Washington. After Wherley has arrived at the 121st FS headquarters, Caine passes the phone to him, telling the caller, “Here’s my boss.” Caine then says, “I’m going to fly.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Despite his responsibilities as the unit’s supervisor of flying, Caine has decided to get airborne himself, and heads off to join the other pilots preparing to take off from Andrews. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Wherley will talk over the phone with the Secret Service, and try to obtain instructions for the launching of his fighter jets (see (Shortly After 9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184-185, 218]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Three F-16 fighter jets that are on their way back from a training mission over North Carolina finally make contact with their supervisor of flying (SOF) and are instructed to return to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as quickly as possible. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews AFB, 10 miles from Washington, DC. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] They left Andrews at 8:36 for a routine training mission on a range about 200 miles away from there, in North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file]
Supervisor Wants Jets Back Immediately - Major Daniel Caine, who is the SOF with their unit, had been concerned about the three F-16s since the time of the second crash in New York. He’d felt certain that airspace restrictions would be implemented around Washington, and realized he needed to get the jets back to base right away before the Washington airspace was closed. Because the jets were outside his radio range, he called a refueling plane they were scheduled to meet, and asked its pilot to tell them to return to Andrews. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-124]
Pilots Told to Return as Fast as Possible - Having met with the refueling plane (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the lead pilot of the F-16s, Major Billy Hutchison, is now about half way back from the training mission and finally in radio range of Andrews, so he calls the SOF there. [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] By this time, Caine has left his post, as he intends to take off in a jet himself (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson has replaced him as SOF. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Thompson says to Hutchison: “[W]e need you here now! You need to return to base ‘buster’!” The code word “buster” means Hutchison is to push his thrust lever into afterburner and fly as fast as his plane will go. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 217] Thompson does not tell Hutchison anything about the terrorist attacks. Hutchison’s only awareness of the morning’s crisis is what little he’d been told by the pilot of the refueling plane. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] But he has never heard the code word “buster” used before, and realizes something very bad is going on. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 217]
Hutchison Sees Burning Pentagon - Hutchison will later recall: “So we light afterburners and we are coming back at Mach as quick as we can get back.… As I get back, I cross the Potomac River on the south end of Maryland and Virginia, and I see a big column of smoke. It was so clear and there was no haze in the air.” He again talks over the radio with Thompson. Hutchison says: “It looks like there’s been an explosion near [Washington’s Reagan] National Airport. What’s going on?’” Thompson replies: “We know. Just keep coming.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79] The first of the three F-16s returning from the training mission will land back at Andrews AFB at 10:14 a.m. (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other two land at 10:36 a.m., but Hutchison will be instructed to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Billy Hutchison, Phil Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The first of three District of Columbia Air National Guard F-16s that was away on a training mission at the time of the attacks in New York lands back at its base just outside Washington, DC, but does not take off again to defend the capital. The fighter jet is being piloted by Eric Haagenson. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] It belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington. [District of Columbia Air National Guard, 7/24/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] Along with two other jets, it took off from Andrews at 8:36 a.m. for a routine training mission about 200 miles away, over North Carolina (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Denied Entry into Andrews Airspace - Haagenson apparently headed back to base earlier than the other aircraft with him over North Carolina because he was so low on fuel. Major Billy Hutchison, the flight lead of the F-16s on the training mission, learned over radio that Haagenson was then “being denied entry to airspace over Andrews” Air Force Base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 pdf file] This was presumably because airspace restrictions had been implemented around Washington: The supervisor of flying with Haagenson’s unit had been concerned that such restrictions would be put into effect after he’d learned of the second attack on the World Trade Center. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 122-123] Hutchison therefore instructed Haagenson to go to Pawtucket, Rhode Island (presumably to land at an airfield there), because he was so low on fuel, so that he would not run out. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] But by 10:14 a.m., Haagenson has been cleared to land at Andrews, and touches down at the base. [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
Haagenson Does Not Take Off Again - Hutchison will later recall that Haagenson “didn’t go back up” into the air after landing at Andrews, “because he was a brand new pilot.” The training mission he returned from “was his first flight outside an instructional arena.” The other two F-16s that were with him, piloted by Hutchison and Lou Campbell, will land at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., but Hutchison will be instructed to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]

Entity Tags: 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Eric Haagenson, Billy Hutchison

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

Having taken off after returning from a training mission, a pilot with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) flies two loops up the Potomac River, reversing course near Georgetown and the Pentagon, but is unable to locate a suspicious approaching aircraft, and heads back to base less than 10 minutes after launching. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221]
No Rules of Engagement - Major Billy Hutchison, a pilot with the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DCANG, had landed back at Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington, but was ordered to take off again immediately (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] His plane has no missiles, and only training ammunition, and he has been given no specific rules of engagement other than being told to identify an aircraft that is coming down the river. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Because the DCANG is not in the communication and command loops of NORAD or its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Hutchison is unaware that three fighter jets NEADS ordered into the air from Langley Air Force Base (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are also flying over Washington, albeit at a much higher altitude than he is. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Controller Directs Hutchison - Hutchison calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. He says, “Bully 1 [his call sign] is looking for a contact.” Victor Padgett, the operations supervisor at the TRACON, replies, “We have an intercept for you northwest of here and coming down the Potomac.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] Hutchison knows he is meant to be searching for a civilian aircraft, and will later recall that he is told it is coming from Pennsylvania. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] In order to conserve fuel and gain airspeed, he flies low over the White House and Georgetown, reportedly staying between 500 and 1,000 feet above ground level. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] After Padgett gives him details of the approaching aircraft’s location, Hutchison spots it on his jet’s radar screen, but it quickly disappears. The aircraft reappears a minute later, but then both Hutchison and Padgett lose sight of it.
Aircraft Claimed to Be Flight 93 - Some accounts will suggest the approaching aircraft is thought to be Flight 93 (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), even though that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 219-221] Hutchison will later recall that the TRACON at Reagan Airport is “frantic with what they seem to think are aircraft coming their way.… There is another aircraft, and it’s United Flight 93. They… apparently have been given information that it’s coming their way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, will recall, “[I]t wasn’t until later that they realized the plane [coming down the river] might be UAL 93.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] However, John Farmer, John Azzarello, and Miles Kara, who are all staff members of the 9/11 Commission, subsequently rebut this claim. They will write: “[R]adar records of the day [of 9/11] indicate that Major Hutchison did not take off until more than a half-hour after United 93 had crashed near Shanksville, PA, and a good 20 minutes after the wreckage had been located. He could not have seen United 93 on his scope, and could not have intercepted it.” [New York Times, 9/13/2008]
Told to Investigate Other Aircraft - After the aircraft disappears off Hutchison’s radar screen, Dan Creedon, an air traffic controller at the TRACON at Reagan Airport, is concerned about planes and helicopters that are taking off and landing across Washington, and tells Hutchison, “We have more contacts!” Hutchison confirms that he will investigate the targets Creedon alerts him to, but he keeps losing them among the ground clutter on his radar screen. According to author Lynn Spencer, “The flights are too close to the surface and, from what he can see, appear to be mostly helicopters flying medevac from the Pentagon.”
Flies over the Pentagon - Hutchison, who’d noticed the burning Pentagon before he landed at Andrews Air Force Base (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), then decides he should investigate it. He descends and flies a steep turn over the Pentagon. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 234-235] He will later 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. And apparently it changed the mood for a lot of people when they saw that” (see (10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Running out of Fuel - By now, Hutchison is almost out of fuel. He will recall, “After that point, I’m emergency fuel, the lowest I’ve ever been in an F-16, and tell [the FAA’s] Washington Center I must leave, and they say I’m cleared to return to base and that two more aircraft are coming out of Andrews.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81-82] Hutchison will land at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Victor Padgett, Dan Creedon, Billy Hutchison, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Pentagon, 121st Fighter Squadron, John Farmer, Miles Kara, David McNulty, John Azzarello, District of Columbia Air National Guard

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

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