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Profile: Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility (FACSFAC VACAPES)
a.k.a. Giant Killer
Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility (FACSFAC VACAPES) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia, takes control of the three F-16 fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), even though, according to air traffic controllers at the facility, it should not be communicating with the fighters. [9/11 Commission, 12/3/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 12/3/2003 ; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004] The Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, known as “Giant Killer,” is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 143; US Navy, 2/11/2016] The flight plan for the Langley F-16s puts the fighters into its airspace (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/3/2003 ] The facility consequently takes over control of the aircraft from the FAA’s Norfolk Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) (see 9:31 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004]
Fighters Shouldn't Be Switched to the Facility's Frequency, Controller Will Say - However, according to Senior Chief Petty Officer Darren Clipper, an air traffic controller at the facility, the Norfolk TRACON “should not have switched the flight to Giant Killer frequency, plain and simple.” “Giant Killer should not have been talking to the fighters,” Clipper will state. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that Giant Killer is “not expected to be [one of the] participants in active air scrambles.” If NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) scrambles fighters, he will say, the “onus is on the fighters and NEADS to go where they want to go,” and “it is Giant Killer’s responsibility to stay out of the way.” Based on the scramble order for the Langley fighters (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), Clipper will say, the FAA’s Washington Center and the Norfolk TRACON “should have made sure there was a clear path for the fighters to go direct” to the control of NEADS. [9/11 Commission, 12/3/2003 ]
Other Controllers Say the Facility Does Not Handle Scrambled Jets - Petty Officer Matthew Barcus, another controller at Giant Killer, will say a similar thing to what Clipper does. “Most of the time, Giant Killer does not talk to the scrambled aircraft,” he will tell the 9/11 Commission. He will say that a scrambled flight “is usually handed off to [NEADS] by Norfolk” TRACON or the FAA’s Washington Center. [9/11 Commission, 12/3/2003 ] And Lieutenant Commander Mary Klug, the operations officer at the facility, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Giant Killer does “not normally control scrambled aircraft.” [9/11 Commission, 12/3/2003 ] However, author Lynn Spencer will apparently contradict Clipper, Barcus, and Klug, writing, “Protocol dictates that Giant Killer direct the jets until they reach Washington Center’s airspace, where the FAA controllers take over.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 149]
Pilot Has Poor Experiences of Dealing with the Facility - Major Brad Derrig, the pilot of one of the fighters scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, will tell the 9/11 Commission that his experience with Giant Killer is that the facility is “not very good.” Sometimes, he will say, when Langley fighters have contacted Giant Killer, controllers at the facility “didn’t know who the air defense fighters were.” [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003]
At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Staff Sergeant William Huckabone is the first person to notice that the three fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) are drastically off course.
Jets Heading to Training Airspace - Huckabone has spotted the radar returns for the Langley F-16s and notices that, instead of flying north toward the Baltimore area as instructed, the fighters are going east, out over the Atlantic Ocean, apparently toward a military training airspace called Whiskey 386 (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Unfortunately, NEADS cannot contact the jets directly, as they are out of its radio range. Furthermore, the supervisor of flying (SOF) for the alert unit at Langley AFB is unavailable. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 149] As the SOF, Captain Craig Borgstrom would normally be responsible for communicating with NEADS and getting information to pass on to his jets, but he has taken off himself, along with his unit’s two alert pilots (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 118]
NEADS Calls 'Giant Killer' - Huckabone alerts fellow weapons director Master Sergeant Steve Citino, who is sitting next to him, to the off-course fighters. He then gets on the phone to “Giant Killer”—the Fleet Area Control Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143, 149] Protocol requires that, because the Langley jets are in Giant Killer’s airspace, the Navy facility is responsible for directing them until they reach the airspace of the FAA’s Washington Center, where FAA controllers will take over.
Navy Controller Unconcerned - Citino and Huckabone speak to the Navy air traffic controller who is handling the three Langley fighters, but the controller appears not to grasp the urgency of the situation. Huckabone says, “Those fighters need to go north toward Baltimore, and now!” The Navy controller asks: “You’ve got [the Langley F-16s] moving east in airspace. Now you want ‘em to go to Baltimore?” Huckabone says yes, and adds, “We’re not gonna take ‘em in Whiskey 386.” He tells the Navy controller that, once the jets are heading toward Baltimore: “Have [the pilots] contact us on auxiliary frequency 2-3-4 decimal 6. Instead of taking handoffs to us and us handing ‘em back, just tell [the FAA’s Washington] Center they’ve got to go to Baltimore.” The Navy controller responds: “All right, man. Stand by. We’ll get back to you.” He seems to lack any sense of urgency, and Citino snaps at him: “What do you mean, ‘We’ll get back to you’? Just do it!” After hanging up the phone, Huckabone jokes, “I’m gonna choke that guy!” Looking at his radar screen, he sees that the Langley F-16s are continuing to fly out over the ocean. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 149-150]
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) declares “AFIO” (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for Washington airspace, giving the military authority over the FAA for that airspace, and directs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) toward the White House. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113, 150] Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, has just called to report an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington, DC, which is currently six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Nasypany Declares AFIO - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, is unaware that the F-16s he scrambled from Langley Air Force Base are heading out to sea rather than going north toward the Baltimore area (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore orders Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, to direct the Langley jets toward the White House, telling him: “I got an aircraft six miles east of the White House! Get your fighters there as soon as possible!” Fox asks, “Do you want us to declare AFIO?” Nasypany replies, “Take [the Langley fighters] and run ‘em to the White House,” and adds, “I want AFIO right now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150] Declaring AFIO gives the military emergency authority to enter FAA-controlled airspace without permission, and means that NORAD assumes responsibility for ensuring that its fighter jets see and avoid all aircraft in that airspace. NEADS has already declared AFIO for New York airspace (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 2/19/2004, pp. 4-12-1 - 4-12-2; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113] Now it does the same for Washington airspace. Fox tells the members of his weapons team: “We’re going direct [to] DC with my guys. Tell Giant Killer that we’re going AFIO!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150] (“Giant Killer” is the call sign for the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia—the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] )
NEADS Unable to Contact Langley Jets - Master Sergeant Steve Citino, the NEADS weapons director, tries calling Langley pilot Major Dean Eckmann to inform him of the AFIO declaration, but receives no response. According to author Lynn Spencer, the Langley jets are not yet in NEADS’s radio range. Meanwhile, NEADS Staff Sergeant William Huckabone calls Giant Killer and notifies it: “Ma’am, we are going AFIO right now with Quit 2-5 [the Langley fighters]. They are going direct [to] Washington.” But the controller only offers modest reassurance that the Langley jets will be given the appropriate clearance to enter Washington airspace, responding, “We’re handing ‘em off to [the FAA’s Washington] Center right now.” Huckabone retorts: “Ma’am, we need that expedited right now! We need to contact them on 234.6.… Do you understand?”
NEADS Reaches Langley Jets - As soon as the Langley jets enter radio range, Citino makes contact with pilot Craig Borgstrom and instructs him, “Squawk quad-sevens and head 010!” This means the pilots should dial the code for AFIO—7777—into their planes’ transponders. Borgstrom radios fellow pilot Eckmann and passes on this instruction. According to Spencer: “The declaration of AFIO startles Eckmann. He has never, in all his years of flying, received such an order. He’s only heard about it and, to him, it means no less than the start of World War III.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150-151] At 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit, the Langley jets have flown nearly 60 miles out over the ocean and are 150 miles from Washington (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27; Spencer, 2008, pp. 151]
An air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center is concerned about an unidentified aircraft flying in from the east, approaching Cape Cod. Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the Boston Center in Nashua, New Hampshire, has noticed the large, slow-moving target on his radar screen. It is just off the coast and heading directly for Boston. Concerned as to what the aircraft is, he phones the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242] The facility, known by its call sign, “Giant Killer,” is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] Scoggins says: “We have a large, slow-moving target approaching Cape Cod and heading for Boston. Do you have it? What is it?” The person at Giant Killer only replies, “We’re looking,” and then mentions, “We’ve got a fleet of ships heading toward the northeast and an Aegis cruiser [a high-tech warship] on the way.” Scoggins is worried that Giant Killer is unable to specifically identify the target he is seeing on his radar screen. It appears to be flying straight toward the Boston Center. He thinks to himself, “If I wanted to use airliners to attack a country, I would take out their air traffic control facilities!” Scoggins continues watching the suspicious aircraft on his radar screen. Shortly afterward, the Boston Center will be evacuated after the FAA’s New England regional office calls it and reports an unidentified aircraft heading toward the facility (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 242-243] This is apparently a different aircraft to the one Scoggins is tracking. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/20/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ] Whether the plane Scoggins is tracking is ever identified is unclear.
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