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Profile: 177th Fighter Wing
177th Fighter Wing was a participant or observer in the following events:
Apparently around 8:34 a.m., the FAA’s Boston Center attempts to contact an Atlantic City, New Jersey, military unit, to have it send fighters after Flight 11. However, the outcome of this call, and whether it is even answered, is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Atlantic City International Airport is the home of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, which flies F-16 fighter jets. The 177th FW was part of NORAD’s alert force for many years, and kept two F-16s constantly on alert, ready to scramble when requested. But in October 1998, as a result of Pentagon cutbacks, it lost its scramble-ready status and began converting to a general-purpose F-16 mission (see May 19, 1997). [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] The outcome of Boston Center’s attempt at contacting the Atlantic City unit is unclear. The 9/11 Commission will only state, “The center… tried to contact a former alert site in Atlantic City, unaware it had been phased out.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) will also try contacting the unit minutes later, but its call will not be answered (see (Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 34] The Bergen Record will later comment that, with the removal of the Atlantic City fighters from NORAD’s alert mission, “the Pentagon left what seems to be a yawning gap in the midsection of its air defenses on the East Coast—a gap with New York City at the center.” [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Around this time, two F-16s from the 177th FW are away from base performing a training mission, and are just minutes from New York City, but the pilots are unaware of the unfolding crisis (see 8:46 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
The emblem of the 177th Fighter Wing. [Source: United States Air Force]Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and suggests that it contact a military unit at Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, when NEADS tries phoning the unit, the call is not answered.
Scoggins Notices Otis Jets Not Yet Launched - Scoggins had called NEADS at around 8:38 a.m., regarding the hijacked Flight 11 (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). A few minutes after this, he notices that fighter jets have not yet launched from Otis Air National Guard Base, at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and calls NEADS again. He suggests that it should try to get jets launched from Atlantic City. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 32-34] Atlantic City International Airport is the home of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] As author Lynn Spencer will describe, Scoggins “knows that Atlantic City is no longer an alert facility, but he also knows that they launch F-16s for training flights every morning at nine. He figures that the pilots are probably already in their planes and ready to go. They’re unarmed, but they’re a lot closer to New York City than the Otis fighters on Cape Cod, and the military serves only a monitoring purpose in hijacking anyway.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 33-34] Two F-16s from the 177th Fighter Wing are in fact already airborne and performing their training mission, and are just a few minutes flying time from New York City (see 8:46 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Scoggins will later recount: “I requested that we take from Atlantic City very early in the [morning], not launch from the ground but those already airborne in Warning Area 107 [a training area] if they were there, which I believe they were.” He will add that the 177th Fighter Wing does not “have an intercept mission; it was taken away a long time ago. [But] NEADS could have called them and asked them to cancel their [training] mission and divert.” [Griffin, 2007]
NEADS Tries Unsuccessfully to Contact Unit - The NEADS technician who takes Scoggins’s call follows his advice, and tries to call the unit at Atlantic City. He calls the only number he has for it, which is the number NEADS had previously called when it wanted to scramble 177th Fighter Wing F-16s until 1998, back when they were part of NORAD’s alert force. The number connects the technician directly to the highly secured command post. However, no one answers the phone. According to Spencer: “[T]hese days, the command post is more of a highly secured storage area, opened just once a month for drill weekends. The phone rings and rings.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 34] The FAA’s Boston Center also attempted to call the Atlantic City unit, apparently several minutes earlier (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The outcome of that call is unstated. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, two F-16 fighter jets are performing a training mission just eight minutes flying time away from New York, but the pilots are unaware of the crisis taking place. The two jets belong to the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, which is based at Atlantic City International Airport. [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] F-16s at Atlantic City are involved in scheduled training missions every day, and their first mission is usually between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. [Griffin, 2007, pp. 62] The two fighter jets are unarmed and performing practice bombing runs over a section of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey that is designated for military drills. The pilots are unaware of the attacks in New York. They will not be called back to base until shortly after the second WTC tower is hit, and will then have their training munitions replaced with live air-to-air missiles. At the time of the second attack, another two jets from the 177th FW are preparing to take off for routine bombing training, but they too have their mission canceled (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). No jets will take off from Atlantic City in response to the attacks until after 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. [Code One Magazine, 10/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003]
NEADS and FAA Tried Contacting 177th Fighter Wing - Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, is aware that the 177th FW launches F-16s for training flights every morning around this time, and suggested to NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it contact Atlantic City to use these jets in response to the hijacked Flight 11. However, when NEADS tried phoning the unit, its call was not answered (see (Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Griffin, 2007, pp. 62; Spencer, 2008, pp. 33-34] Apparently around 8:34 a.m., the Boston Center also attempted to contact the Atlantic City unit, but the outcome of that call is unclear (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]
F-16s Might Have Prevented Attacks on WTC - Author Peter Lance will later point out that, had the two Atlantic City F-16s flying over the Pine Barrens “been notified by the FAA at 8:34… they could have reached the Twin Towers by 8:42 a.m.,” four minutes before Flight 11 hit the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Even unarmed, and without a shootdown order, they might have been able to take defensive action to prevent the big 767 from crashing into the tower. In any case, the fighters would certainly have been on patrol and able to interdict UA 175, which didn’t hit the South Tower until 9:03 a.m.” [Lance, 2004, pp. 230-231] Yet despite the crucial role these two fighters could have played, the 9/11 Commission Report will make no mention of them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Pointing out the irony of having the two F-16s so near to Manhattan yet with such an unrelated mission, 177th Fighter Wing public affairs officer Lt. Luz Aponte will later remark, “Isn’t that something?” [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003]
Mike Cosby. [Source: US Department of Defense]Two fighter jets at a New Jersey military unit that are about to launch for training are recalled to respond to the attacks in New York, but will not be airborne until after the Pentagon is hit. The two F-16s belong to the 177th Fighter Wing, located at Atlantic City International Airport, and are only loaded with BDUs (practice bombs) for their routine training mission. [Code One Magazine, 10/2002] Colonel James Haye, the supervisor of flying (SOF) at the 177th FW, was informed of the first aircraft hitting the World Trade Center, and then went to a nearby television to see the footage of the burning North Tower. He’d alerted Lt. Col. Randall King, one of the base’s pilots, who was in the same room as him. King, who is an experienced commercial pilot, said: “Whoever was at the controls did that on purpose. That is no accidental crash! And that was no small airplane!” After watching the television coverage for several minutes, Haye sets about putting the scheduled training mission on hold. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 58-59 and 120] As they are taxiing to the runway, the two fighters preparing to launch are told to stop and return to the flight line (the parking and servicing area for aircraft). Personnel at the base then set about removing the training munitions and arming the planes with live missiles. Major Tom Cleary, one of the pilots, will later recall, “We launched almost immediately after the Pentagon was hit.” However, apparently his aircraft will not be properly armed. He recalls, “I was still carrying training munitions, but I had live guns.” Col. Mike Cosby, the commander of the 177th FW, indicates the jets may not launch until slightly later, saying, “We were airborne within the hour after the Pentagon attack.” Later on, four F-16s with live missiles will be launched from the unit, followed by another four, also with live missiles. According to Cosby, “We were the first non-alert unit to fly armed ordnance over the Northeast corridor anywhere the Northeast Sector of NORAD wanted us to fly, between New York City and Washington, DC.” [Code One Magazine, 10/2002] Two F-16s with the 177th FW have been airborne already this morning, practicing bombing runs near Atlantic City, and are called back to base following the attacks on the WTC to be re-fitted with live missiles and then re-launched (see 8:46 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003]
The 177th Fighter Wing, a military unit based at the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, raises its threat protection level to a wartime posture, and, though it is no longer part of NORAD’s alert mission, starts preparing to launch its aircraft with live missiles. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 120-122]
Commander Orders Increased Threat Condition - Lt. Col. Brian Webster, who is the acting wing commander for the 177th Fighter Wing, was at home when he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center. After watching the second attack live on television, he rushes out to drive to the base. Webster calls the command post there on his cell phone and gives the order, “Raise the base’s threat protection level to Charlie!” Threatcon Charlie is a wartime posture, and will mean various security measures are activated in preparation for a possible attack. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 120-121]
Command Post Brought Online - For many years, up to 1998 (see May 19, 1997), the 177th FW was part of NORAD’s alert force. It kept two fully armed F-16s on constant alert, and was responsible for providing air sovereignty of the mid-Atlantic, between Long Island, New York, and the Virginia Capes. [New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, 1999 ; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] But since the unit was removed from the NORAD alert mission, its command post has been used just once a month for training. It is now coming to life, though, as personnel switch on the lights, and turn on computers and monitors. The workers increase their pace after hearing an announcement about the transition to Threatcon Charlie. A master sergeant busily calls members of staff and orders them to report to base.
Webster Wants Live Missiles on Aircraft - When Webster arrives, he instructs the operations support flight commander to replace practice missiles and munitions on the unit’s fighter jets with live ones. The missiles are not stored by the aircraft, so this will take some time. Webster also orders, “Get me authenticators.” An authenticator is a piece of paper given to pilots with a code in a series of letters on it, and which is only valid for a 24-hour period. If a pilot receives an order to fire, he must ask for an authentication code. If this doesn’t match the code on his authenticator, he cannot legally comply with the order. NORAD’s alert sites receive authenticators each month, but as it is no longer part of the alert mission, Atlantic City has none.
Weapons Chief Uncertain - According to author Lynn Spencer, Webster’s orders are unprecedented at a non-alert fighter wing of the Air National Guard. “Air National Guard jets don’t simply fly around the United States with live missiles. Guardsmen train to fight wars overseas, not to fly armed combat over the United States.” The weapons chief with the 177th FW is unenthusiastic, and asks to have a word with Webster. But Webster tells him abruptly, “Just do it!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 121-122] Within two hours, the first fighters will take off from the Atlantic City unit. These had been preparing for a training mission at the time of the attacks in New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 10/2002]
Logo of the 192nd Fighter Wing. [Source: Air National Guard]More fighter jets arrive over Washington, DC. These include F-16s from Richmond, Virginia, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] The Atlantic City jets belong to the 177th Fighter Wing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the Richmond jets belong to the 192nd Fighter Wing. [GlobalSecurity (.org.), 10/21/2001; Code One Magazine, 10/2002] Fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), are already flying over the capital. Captain Brandon Rasmussen, who took off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m., actually flies out to intercept the fighters from Richmond, apparently not realizing who they are. He will later recall: “I ended up running an intercept out of a two-ship out of Richmond, two-ship F-16 out of Richmond that just came flying north. In essence, we would find whatever we could on the radar, ask [the FAA’s] Washington Center if they knew who it was, and if they didn’t, we would run an intercept on them to visual identify who they were.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003] According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, with jets from different units arriving over Washington, “The air picture was confused, at best, and radio frequencies were alive with chatter.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
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