!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: E-4B National Airborne Operations Center
E-4B National Airborne Operations Center was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reportedly considers using an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center during the Atlanta Olympics. The reason for this is not known, but it could be related to terrorism fears, including a possible air attack (see January 20, 1997). [Federal Computer Week, 6/2/1996] An aviation website will later show a picture of an E-4B taking off from Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia on May 14, “after crew attended meeting with FEMA prior to ‘96 Atlanta Olympics.” [Airliners.net, 2000] However, there are no reports on whether an E-4B is actually used during the Olympics.
An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) takes off from an unspecified airfield outside of Washington, DC. The aircraft, which is carrying civilian and military officials, is launched in order to participate in a pre-scheduled military exercise. This would be Global Guardian, which is being conducted on this day by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to test its ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). E-4Bs are a militarized version of a Boeing 747. They serve as an airborne command center that could be used by the president, vice president, and Joint Chiefs of Staff, in order to execute war plans and coordinate government operations during a national emergency. Two other such planes are also participating in Global Guardian on this day (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). For the exercise, the E-4B launched from outside Washington is supposed to be using and testing its sophisticated technology and communications equipment. According to journalist and author Dan Verton, the aircraft has “only just taken off” at the time the Pentagon is hit (at 9:37 a.m.). Verton will say it is then “immediately ordered to cease the military exercise it was conducting and prepare to become the actual National Airborne Operations Center.” [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] (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 ] ) Minutes after the Pentagon attack, 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 later suggest this is an E-4B, so it is possible it is the plane launched from the airfield outside Washington that Verton describes. [CNN, 9/12/2007] Air traffic control tapes will reveal that an E-4B takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from Washington, at 9:43 a.m., several minutes after the Pentagon is hit (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] Whether that aircraft is the one participating in Global Guardian that is described by Verton, or another E-4B, is unclear.
Minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center plane takes off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, bound for an undisclosed location. E-4Bs are highly modified Boeing 747s, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, that act as flying military command posts. Nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War, they serve the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They can also support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during major disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes. Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for these special planes. The US military possesses four of them in total, one of which is constantly kept on alert. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000; Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001] Three of the E-4Bs are airborne this morning, due to their role in a pre-scheduled military exercise called Global Guardian (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001, (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] The E-4B from Wright-Patterson will return to the base later in the day. [Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001]
The ‘white jet’ seen circling above the White House and Capitol. [Source: Discovery Channel]Several television networks interrupt their coverage of events in New York to report that a mysterious white aircraft is circling over the White House and the Capitol.
At 9:41 a.m., Peter Jennings of ABC News reports that “there is a plane circling the White House at the moment. And they’re clearing the grounds there.… And this plane circling the White House adds to the trauma that people are feeling today, but we have no idea precisely what the means.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
At 9:52 a.m., CNN correspondent John King, who is standing about 200 yards from the White House, says: “About 10 minutes ago, there was a white jet circling overhead. Now, you generally don’t see planes in the area over the White House. That is restricted air space. No reason to believe that this jet was there for any nefarious purposes, but the Secret Service was very concerned, pointing up at the jet in the sky. It is out of sight now, best we can tell.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Another CNN correspondent, Kate Snow, also reports seeing a plane at around this time, “circling over the Capitol.” She says: “Now whether that may have been an Air Force plane, it’s unclear. But that seemed to be the reason, according to security guards that I talked with, towards the evacuation of the Capitol.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] (The Capitol is reportedly evacuated at 9:48 a.m. (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Fox News, 9/11/2003] )
At 9:55 a.m., NBC News turns to a live report from its correspondent Bob Kur, who recalls: “And in the most surreal of this morning’s scenes here at the White House, a white plane, a very big jet, was flying an unusual pattern near the White House over Lafayette Park, very slowly. It made one circle and then we have not seen it since. There was a lot of concern about what that plane might be. But, again, it’s only speculation, but most people say that since flights have been cleared from US air space, and it was a totally white plane, looked unusual to all of us, that it was a government plane of some kind.” [NBC 4, 9/11/2001]
A CNN comparison between video footage of this plane and an official Air Force photograph will suggest it is an E-4B. This is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is used as a flying command post. An E-4B has in fact just been launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so this could plausibly be the same plane as is witnessed by the reporters. Two government sources familiar with the incident will later tell CNN the plane was a military aircraft, but that its details are classified. Even by 2007, the Pentagon, FAA, and Secret Service will have offered no public explanation for this plane over the White House. [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; CNN, 9/12/2007] In 2009, John Farmer, the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will claim that this “mystery plane” is an E-4B with the call sign “Venus 77” that takes off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207, 372]
Boeing is awarded a contract to upgrade the fleet of four E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes over the next five years. The E-4B is a modified Boeing 747 crammed with electronics to serve as a flying command post in war or during an emergency. The contract is capped at $2 billion, but it is unclear why so much money is needed to modernize such a small number of aircraft. [Defense Industry Daily, 12/27/2005] An E-4B was seen over Washington, DC on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.