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Colonel Bill Grimes receives a call in which he is asked about getting the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to fly over Afghanistan. (Whittle 2014, pp. 235) Grimes is the director of Big Safari, a highly secretive Air Force program based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio that specializes in modifying standard Air Force aircraft for time-sensitive and highly classified operations. (Defense Update 5/3/2013; Michel 12/17/2015) He was in his office at Wright-Patterson this morning when a colleague told him an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. He then joined others watching the television coverage of the incident in the conference room next to his office and saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within a few minutes” of the second crash, according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, Grimes is called back to his office to take a call from Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Johns, who is at Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon. Johns wants to know what needs to be done to get three Predators, and whatever is needed to fly them over Afghanistan, ready to go. But just as the two men start discussing the matter, Johns says he will have to call again later, since the Pentagon is being evacuated. This evacuation is presumably in response to the attack on the Pentagon, which occurs at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Grimes says he will have answers by the time the two men talk again. (Whittle 2014, pp. 235) He will subsequently call members of his team, and tell them to pack their bags and prepare to deploy. He will instruct them to go to the airfield at Palmdale, California, where a C-17 cargo plane will arrive soon to pick them up. Grimes will later write that he starts calling the members of his team “[m]ere moments after the second airliner crashed into the World Trade Center.” According to Whittle, he starts making the calls “shortly after” the second crash at the WTC. However, if his conversation with Johns occurs around the time of the Pentagon attack, he presumably only starts calling the members of his team after 9:37 a.m. A C-17 will set off tomorrow to fly three Predators, along with members of Grimes’s team, from California to Washington, DC (see September 12-14, 2001). (Whittle 2011, pp. 25 ; Grimes 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle 2014, pp. 239-240)
A C-17 cargo plane flies three Predator drones, along with the personnel and equipment needed to operate them, from California to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, where they will be ready to be deployed over Afghanistan. (Whittle 2011, pp. 25 ; Grimes 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle 2014, pp. 239-242) Around the time of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, Colonel Bill Grimes, director of a highly secretive Air Force program called Big Safari, was called by an officer at Air Force headquarters and asked what had to be done to get three Predators ready for use in the airspace over Afghanistan (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Whittle 2014, pp. 235) After that call, Grimes phoned members of his team in California and told them to prepare to deploy. (Whittle 2011, pp. 25 ; Grimes 2014, pp. 334) Meanwhile, James Clark, a retired colonel who now works as a civilian for the Air Force, arranged, with some assistance from the CIA, for a C-17 to carry three Predators across the US while the nation’s airspace is shut down in response to the 9/11 attacks. (Whittle 2014, pp. 240)
Cargo Plane Starts Its Journey within 24 Hours of the Attacks - The C-17 begins its journey to Andrews Air Force Base at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. After being called by Grimes on the morning of September 11, Major Mark Mattoon, who had been running flight tests with the Predator at China Lake, talked to the commanding admiral at the base and requested permission for a C-17 to land. He said the aircraft would be arriving at China Lake in five hours, which means it would have landed there early that afternoon. (Grimes 2014, pp. 334; Whittle 2014, pp. 235) However, the C-17 only leaves the base on the morning of September 12. It begins its journey across America “barely 24 hours after the attacks of 9/11,” according to journalist and author Richard Whittle.
Plane Stops Off at Several Bases - The plane stops off at an airfield in Palmdale, California, where additional equipment and personnel get on board. It stops again at Redstone Arsenal, an Army base in Alabama. There, about a dozen AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are loaded onto it. The plane stops once more at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. It arrives there at 4:00 a.m. on the morning of September 13 and remains on the ground for 20 hours. While at the base, it undergoes inspection, maintenance, and refueling.
Plane Arrives near Washington on September 14 - The plane’s next stop is Andrews Air Force Base, about 10 miles from Washington. It arrives there at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of September 14. On board, apart from the Hellfire missiles, are three disassembled Predators, along with a flight control console and a portable C-band radio antenna, which a small team could use to get the drones in and out of the air from almost any airfield in the world. A small number of experts who are needed to operate the Predators also travel from California to Andrews Air Force Base on the C-17. (Grimes 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle 2014, pp. 239-242) The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004 ; Grimes 2014, pp. 335)
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