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Profile: Langley Air Force Base

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Langley Air Force Base was a participant or observer in the following events:

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke chairs a tabletop exercise at the White House, involving a scenario where anti-American militants fill a Learjet with explosives, and then fly it on a suicide mission toward a target in Washington, DC. Officials from the Pentagon, Secret Service, and FAA attend, and are asked how they would stop such a threat. Pentagon officials say they could launch fighters from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, but would need authorization from the president to shoot the plane down, and currently there is no system to do this. The 9/11 Commission later states: “There was no clear resolution of the problem at the exercise.” [Slate, 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 457-458]

Entity Tags: Langley Air Force Base, US Secret Service, US Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base patrol the southern no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch.F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base patrol the southern no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch. [Source: Jack Braden / United States Air Force]At the time of the 9/11 attacks, the 94th Fighter Squadron, which is stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, is away on a 90-day combat deployment to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch, to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Two days before 9/11, on September 9, the 27th Fighter Squadron, which is also stationed at Langley AFB, returns from Saudi Arabia, where it has been performing the same mission. [BBC, 12/29/1998; Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; 1st Fighter Association, 2003] The 94th and 27th Fighter Squadrons are two of the three F-15 fighter squadrons that are part of the 1st Fighter Wing, which is the “host unit” at Langley AFB. The third of these is the 71st Fighter Squadron. Between them, the three squadrons have 54 “primary assigned” F-15C fighter jets. [Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 2/12/2006] On September 11, most of the F-15s of the 71st FS are also away from base, for the Red Flag exercise in Nevada (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]
Langley Jets Not Part of NORAD Alert Unit - Langley Air Force Base, which is 130 miles south of the Pentagon, is one of two “alert sites” that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) can call upon to get jets quickly launched. However, the F-15s of the 1st Fighter Wing are not involved in this mission. Instead, that task belongs to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which has a small detachment at Langley AFB and keeps two fighter jets there ready to take off when required. [USA Today, 9/16/2001; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] Despite not being part of the NORAD alert unit, aircraft from the 1st Fighter Wing are involved in the military response to the 9/11 attacks. Jets belonging to the 27th FS are airborne within two hours of the attacks, “providing protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership.” [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002] And F-15s belonging to the 71st FS are launched from Langley AFB following the attacks, to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006]
Possible Effect on 9/11 Response - Whether the deployment of the 94th Fighter Squadron to Saudi Arabia diminishes Langley AFB’s ability to respond on 9/11 is unknown. However, Air Force units are cycled through deployments like Operation Southern Watch by the Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) Center, which is at Langley Air Force Base. And according to NORAD Commander Larry Arnold, “Prior to Sept. 11, we’d been unsuccessful in getting the AEF Center to be responsible for relieving our air defense units when they went overseas.” [Air Force Print News, 6/2000; GlobalSecurity (.org), 12/21/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: 71st Fighter Squadron, 94th Fighter Squadron, Operation Southern Watch, Larry Arnold, 27th Fighter Squadron, Langley Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Florida Air National Guard crew chiefs and a pilot scrambling to an F-15 during an alert drill at Homestead Air Reserve Base.Florida Air National Guard crew chiefs and a pilot scrambling to an F-15 during an alert drill at Homestead Air Reserve Base. [Source: Airman]Fighter jets that are scrambled by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in response to suspicious or unidentified aircraft in US airspace are able to take off within minutes of receiving a scramble order, in the years preceding 9/11. [Airman, 1/1996; Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 117] NORAD keeps a pair of fighters on “alert” at a number of sites around the US. These fighters are armed and fueled, ready for takeoff. [American Defender, 4/1998; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Even before 9/11, the fighters are regularly scrambled to intercept errant aircraft (see 1990-2001). [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 4; Associated Press, 8/14/2002]
Pilots Stay Close to Their Aircraft - Pilots on alert duty live near to their fighters, so they will be ready for a prompt takeoff if required. Author Lynn Spencer will write that pilots on alert duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia “live, eat, and sleep just steps from jets.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 117] According to Major Martin Richard, a pilot with the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, “Every day” at his base, “365 days a year, 24 hours a day, at least two fighter pilots and four maintenance personnel ate, slept, and lived nestled adjacent to three fully loaded F-15 jets.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 8]
Fighters Can Get Airborne in Minutes - The fighters on alert are required to be in the air within minutes of a scramble order. General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD on 9/11, will tell the 9/11 Commission that they “have to be airborne in 15 minutes.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Richard will write that the objective of the alert pilots at his base is “to be airborne in 10 minutes or less if the ‘horn’ went off.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 8] According to other accounts, fighters on alert are generally airborne in less than five minutes. Airman magazine reports in 1996 that NORAD’s alert units “work around the clock, and usually have five minutes or less to scramble when the warning klaxon sounds.” [Airman, 1/1996] A few days after 9/11, the Cape Cod Times will report that, “if needed,” the fighters on alert at Otis Air Base “must be in the air within five minutes.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001] According to Spencer, pilots on alert duty at Langley Air Force Base are “always just five minutes away from rolling out of the hangars in their armed fighters.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 117] Captain Tom Herring, a full-time alert pilot at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, says in 1999, “If needed, we could be killing things in five minutes or less.” [Airman, 12/1999] In 1994, NORAD is planning to reduce the number of alert sites in the continental United States and, according to a report published that year by the General Accounting Office, “Each alert site will have two fighters, and their crews will be on 24-hour duty and ready to scramble within five minutes.” [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 16]
'Everything Else Just Stops' following Scramble Order - Once an order to scramble is received, alert pilots try to get airborne as quickly as they can. According to Richard, being a pilot sitting on alert is “akin to being a fireman.” Richard will later recall that when the horn goes off, signaling for him to get airborne, “no matter where I was or what I was doing, I had to swiftly don my anti-g suit, parachute harness, and helmet, run to the jet where my maintenance crew was waiting, fire up the powerful jet engines, and check all of the systems while simultaneously talking with the Otis command post who had a direct feed from NEADS [NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector]. When the horn blew, a frantic, harrowing race into a high pressure situation ensued.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 8] Herring says: “We go full speed when that klaxon sounds and people know not to get in front of us, because we take scrambles very seriously.… We’re fired up about what we do and we’re the best at what we do.” [Airman, 12/1999] Technical Sergeant Don Roseen, who keeps the alert fighters at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida ready for instant takeoff, says in 1999 that these fighters are “hot and cocked, they are ready.” Roseen says that when the klaxon goes off, “everything else just stops.”
Suspicious Aircraft 'Could Be a Terrorist' - When they are taking off, pilots may be unaware exactly why they are being scrambled. Major Steve Saari, an alert pilot at Tyndall Air Force Base, says: “There are several different things you could run into and you don’t know until you’re airborne. And sometimes you can’t tell until you have a visual identification.” Saari says: “The unknown [aircraft] could be something as simple as a lost civilian or it could be somebody defecting from Cuba. It could be a terrorist or anything in-between.” [American Defender, 3/1999] According to Airman magazine, the unidentified aircraft might be “Cuban MiGs, drug traffickers, smugglers, hijackers, novice pilots who’ve filed faulty flight plans, or crippled aircraft limping in on a wing and a prayer.” [Airman, 12/1999]
Intercepted Aircraft Could Be Shot Down - Fighters can respond in a number of ways when they intercept a suspect aircraft. In 2011, Jeff Ford—at that time the aviation and security coordinator for the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Interagency Coordination Directorate—will say that before 9/11, scrambled fighters can “intercept the aircraft, come up beside it, and divert it in the right direction toward an airfield or find out what the problems are in order to assist.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] According to MSNBC: “[I]nterceptors can fly alongside a plane to see who’s flying it. They can also try to force it off course. Once it is apparent that it is not following directions, it might be forced over the ocean or to a remote airport—or even shot down.” [MSNBC, 9/12/2001] On September 11, 2001, NEADS will scramble fighters that are kept on alert in response to the hijackings (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 26-27]

Entity Tags: 102nd Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Don Roseen, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Jeff Ford, Tom Herring, Langley Air Force Base, Ralph Eberhart, Steve Saari, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Martin Richard, Otis Air National Guard Base, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the operations manager with the unit that is involved in NORAD’s air defense mission first learns that a plane has hit the World Trade Center in a phone call from his fiancée. He then receives a call from the unit’s intelligence officer, who warns that the pilots at Langley need to “get ready.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 116-117]
Manager Learns of Attack - The alert unit at Langley Air Force Base is a small detachment from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which is based in Fargo, ND. [New York Times, 11/15/2001; Associated Press, 12/27/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] Captain Craig Borgstrom is its operations manager. In the event of an order to scramble the unit’s two F-16s that are kept on “alert,” his job would be to man the battle cab and serve as the supervisor of flying (SOF), being responsible for getting any necessary information about the mission to the pilots. Borgstrom’s fiancée, Jen, calls him at the base and asks, “Did you hear that some airplane just ran into the World Trade Center?” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 116; Tampa Tribune, 6/8/2008] This is the first that Borgstrom has heard about the attack. [Longman, 2002, pp. 63] He replies, “Probably some idiot out sightseeing or someone trying to commit suicide in a Cessna 172,” but Jen tells him, “It’s a pretty big fire for a small airplane.”
Intelligence Officer Warns, 'Get Ready' - The chief enlisted manager then enters Borgstrom’s office and informs him that Darrin Anderson, the unit’s intelligence officer, is on the phone from the wing’s base in Fargo, “and needs to talk to you right away.” Borgstrom heads to the main reception desk and takes the call. After asking if Borgstrom is aware of what happened in New York, Anderson tells him, “[W]e think there might be more to this, so you guys get ready.” Borgstrom tells the chief enlisted manager about this call and then heads out toward the alert hangars.
Pilot Learns of Attack - Meanwhile, in one of the hangars, the crew chief goes upstairs with some information for Major Dean Eckmann, who is one of the pilots on alert duty. Eckmann is unaware of events in New York. When his crew chief informs him a plane has hit the WTC, he replies: “Poor, dumb sucker. I hope no one in the building got hurt.” Before Eckmann has a chance to switch on the television to check the news, a Klaxon horn sounds, indicating that the two alert pilots at Langley are to go to “battle stations.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; Spencer, 2008, pp. 116-117] According to the 9/11 Commission, this battle stations signal occurs at 9:09 a.m. (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] Eckmann, along with Borgstrom and another of the unit’s pilots, will take off in order to defend Washington, DC at 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file; Rip Chord, 12/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Langley Air Force Base, Dean Eckmann, Darrin Anderson, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, shortly after 9:00 a.m., Indianapolis flight control begins to notify other government agencies that American 77 is missing and has possibly crashed. For instance, at 9:08 a.m., Indianapolis contacts Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, and tells them to look out for a downed aircraft. It is not clear what Air Force Search and Rescue does with this information. Indianapolis also contacts the West Virginia State Police at about 9:15 a.m., and asks whether they have any reports of a downed aircraft (see Soon After 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, they apparently do not contact NORAD, but do notify the FAA regional center at 9:09 a.m. (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center, 9/11 Commission, Langley Air Force Base, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In response to learning of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) orders the two F-16 fighter jets kept on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to battle stations. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25 and 88 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 112] Being at “battle stations” means the plane’s pilots are in the cockpits but with the engines turned off. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55]
Nasypany Wants to Scramble Jets - At NEADS, mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany is concerned that the two F-15s launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 are running out of fuel (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and has asked Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, to scramble the two F-16s kept on alert at Langley, so as to establish a greater presence over New York. But after conferring with Major General Larry Arnold, who is at the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR) headquarters in Florida, Marr orders “battle stations only at Langley.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 112]
Jets Put on Battle Stations - Marr and Arnold will tell the 9/11 Commission that the Langley jets are held on battle stations, rather than being scrambled, “because they might be called upon to relieve the Otis fighters over New York City if a refueling tanker was not located, and also because of the general uncertainty of the situation in the sky.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25 pdf file] Marr will also say that, after Flight 175 hit the WTC at 9:03 a.m., those at NEADS are “thinking New York City is under attack,” so the Langley pilots are ordered to battle stations, as “[t]he plan was to protect New York City.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 60] Colonel Alan Scott, who is with Arnold at the CONR headquarters, will explain, “At 9:09, Langley F-16s are directed to battle stations, just based on the general situation and the breaking news, and the general developing feeling about what’s going on.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Although the 9/11 Commission and other accounts will state that the Langley jets are put on battle stations at 9:09 (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001), a BBC documentary will place this at 9:21, and journalist and author Jere Longman will indicate this does not happen until 9:24. [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, Kevin Nasypany, Langley Air Force Base, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Larry Arnold, Alan Scott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Major Dean Eckmann.
Major Dean Eckmann. [Source: US Air Force]The two pilots on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia are put on “battle stations,” and get into their fighter jets, ready to take off if required. [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] Being at “battle stations” means the pilots are in their planes’ cockpits with the engines turned off, but ready to start them and taxi out should a scramble order follow. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; Spencer, 2008, pp. 27] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) has ordered this in response to the news of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and over concerns that the fighters launched from Otis Air National Guard base in response to Flight 11 might run out of fuel (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 88 pdf file] According to journalist and author Jere Longman, the two “alert” pilots at Langley are currently “still in the dark about the gravity of the moment.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 64-65]
Pilot Wonders If Order Connected to Events in New York - Major Dean Eckmann, one of the pilots on alert, will later recall: “The scramble horn goes off and we get the yellow light, which is our battle stations. So at that point I go running out to… my assigned alert airplane, get suited up, and I get into the cockpit ready to start.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] He asks his crew chief, “Do you think this has anything to do with New York?” The chief replies: “I can’t imagine how. The Otis guys could handle that.”
Pilot Told 'This Is Just Precautionary' - Meanwhile, Captain Craig Borgstrom, the unit’s operations manager, is briefing the other alert pilot, Major Brad Derrig, on what he knows. He tells him: “There’s some wacky stuff happening. Some airplane just hit the World Trade Center. I don’t have any more information, but I’m sure this is just precautionary.” Borgstrom then heads out to give Eckmann the same brief, but has to stop to answer a phone call from NEADS (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 118] Although the 9/11 Commission and other accounts will state that the Langley jets are placed on battle stations at 9:09, a BBC documentary will suggest this happens at 9:21, and Longman will indicate this does not occur until 9:24. [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] The two alert jets, along with a third jet piloted by Borgstrom, will be ordered to scramble at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Craig Borgstrom, Langley Air Force Base, Dean Eckmann, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Brad Derrig

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Because the two fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 expended a large amount of fuel as they flew toward the New York area (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001), there are now concerns about getting them refueled. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] The fighters are currently flying a “holding pattern” in “Whiskey 105,” which is military training airspace just south of Long Island, over the Atlantic Ocean (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the lead Otis pilot, reports to NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that the two fighters have only 30 minutes of fuel remaining. At NEADS, Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, orders, “Find me a tanker!” Weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick quickly calls McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to see if it has any of its KC-10 tankers airborne, but none are. Nasypany gets on the phone to Colonel Robert Marr, who is in the NEADS battle cab, and requests launching the two F-16s kept on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, so as to provide backup for the Otis fighters. Marr then discusses this over the phone with Major General Larry Arnold who is at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, but neither thinks it is a good idea. According to author Lynn Spencer: “If the battle expands, they don’t want to have all their assets in one place. Nor can they have them running out of fuel at the same time.” Marr and Arnold agree that they will try to find fuel for the Otis fighters. The Langley jets are ordered to “battle stations only” (see 9:09 a.m. September 11, 2001) so they will be ready to launch if a refueling tanker cannot be found. Marr tells Nasypany that he will need to find fuel for the Otis fighters. NEADS technicians then begin searching for a tanker. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; Spencer, 2008, pp. 112-113] A member of staff at NEADS talked over the radio with a KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor, Maine, at around 9:05 a.m., and the plane’s crew agreed to provide support to the Otis fighters (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] But, according to Spencer’s account, NEADS is apparently unable to find a tanker to refuel the fighters until around 9:35 a.m., when one of the Otis pilots remembers that the KC-135 from Bangor should be available and in his area, and informs the other Otis pilot, who calls NEADS about this (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 152-153]

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, Steve Hedrick, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Timothy Duffy, McGuire Air Force Base, Langley Air Force Base, Kevin Nasypany, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The operations manager with the unit at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, that is involved in NORAD’s air defense mission is instructed to prepare to launch three F-16s from the base, even though the unit only keeps two such jets on “alert.” [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 118]
NEADS Calls Langley - Captain Craig Borgstrom is the operations manager of a detachment at Langley from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing. In the event of an order to scramble the unit’s two alert F-16s, he would serve as the supervisor of flying (SOF), responsible for informing the pilots about their mission. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 114, 116] The unit has just received the signal to put its alert jets on “battle stations,” with the pilots in the cockpits but the engines turned off (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 64; Filson, 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] After briefing one of the two alert pilots, Borgstrom is called by the crew chief to answer a phone call from someone at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) who wants to speak to him. In an urgent voice, the caller asks Borgstrom, “How many airplanes can you get airborne?” Borgstrom answers, “I have two F-16s at battle stations right now,” but the caller snaps: “That’s not what I asked! How many total aircraft can you launch?” Although Borgstrom is not on alert duty, he is an F-16 pilot. He responds: “Well, the only other pilot here is me—I can fly. I can give you three!” The caller instructs him: “Suit up and go fly! We need all of you at battle stations!” [Longman, 2002, pp. 65; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 118]
Third Pilot Means No Supervisor - According to author Lynn Spencer, this order “is almost unthinkable. If [Borgstrom] goes up, there will be no supervisor of flying. During a scramble, it is the SOF’s responsibility to monitor the jets—to work with local controllers to ensure priority handling and to make sure that the pilots are receiving lawful launch orders. The SOF stays in close communication with NEADS to get any and all information about the mission to pass on to his pilots, and assesses weather, airfield status, and spare alert aircraft status in case of an abort by one of the primary fighters. If Borgy flies, there not only will be no SOF, there will be no officer left at the detachment!”
Borgstrom Notifies Others, Checks with Commander - Borgstrom heads out to inform others of the instruction. He speaks to one of the alert pilots, Major Dean Eckmann, telling him, “They want us to launch all planes and all pilots if we get scrambled!” According to Spencer, this request “doesn’t make any sense to Eckmann,” and his initial response is ”What?” But “he’s a military officer and he’ll follow orders,” and points Borgstrom to the unit’s third F-16, which is not kept on alert and is therefore unarmed. Borgstrom instructs the crew chief to arm the fighter’s gun; this will be the only ammunition he has when he takes off. After fetching his harness and helmet, he places a phone call to the commander of the 119th Fighter Wing, at the wing’s home in Fargo, North Dakota. Borgstrom is uncomfortable with the unprecedented situation he is in and feels compelled to notify his immediate higher-ups. He tells the commander: “Sir, they’re launching all three of us. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s no ops supervision here at all!” The commander knows what has happened in New York from news reports, and so is aware of the situation. He tells Borgstrom: “Go! Our thoughts are with you. Godspeed.” Borgstrom then hangs up the phone and runs to his jet. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 118-119] The three Langley jets will receive a scramble order at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) and are airborne by 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 119th Fighter Wing, Dean Eckmann, Craig Borgstrom, Langley Air Force Base, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Major Brad Derrig.Major Brad Derrig. [Source: ABC]At Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the pilots of three F-16s receive the order to scramble (i.e. take off immediately). A Klaxon horn sounds and the status lights in the hangars change from yellow to green, notifying them of the order. [Longman, 2002, pp. 65; Filson, 2003, pp. 63; Spencer, 2008, pp. 141] The fighter jets belong to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing. The wing has a small detachment at Langley that serves as one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, responsible for defending the nation against attack. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] The jets are already at “battle stations,” with the pilots in the cockpits but the engines off (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24; Spencer, 2008, pp. 117-119] The scramble order has just been issued by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file]
Third Pilot Launched - The unit at Langley keeps two F-16s on “alert”—armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes if called upon. [Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17] But NEADS has instructed it to launch as many aircraft as it can (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so the unit’s operations manager Captain Craig Borgstrom is also preparing to take off in a third jet. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 118-119] Major Dean Eckmann calls the other two pilots, saying, “Quit check,” indicating a radio check. Major Brad Derrig responds, “Two.” Borgstrom replies: “Three. I’m going with you!” This is news to Derrig. According to author Lynn Spencer, Derrig is “stunned.… [N]ot much surprises him, but this does.” Borgstrom joining them as a pilot will mean that, in the middle of this unprecedented crisis, their unit will be left without a commanding officer. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 142]
Only Two Jets Fully Armed - The two jets that are kept on alert are fully armed. As Eckmann will later recall, “We can carry M9 heat seekers, Sidewinders for the M7 Sparrow, plus we have an internal 20 mm Vulcan cannon, and we were pretty much armed with all that.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] However, Borgstrom’s jet has guns only, and though the six-barrel 20 mm gun can fire 6,000 rounds per minute, it requires close range.
Pilot Unqualified to Lead Three Jets - As the three aircraft taxi out to the runway, Eckmann is concerned that he has not yet qualified as a mission commander—a “four-ship”—and is therefore not authorized to lead more than one fighter jet. He calls the other pilots, saying, “Hey, I’m only a two-ship!” But Derrig, who is a full-time instructor pilot for the Air National Guard, urges him not to worry. He responds: “Press! I’m an instructor,” giving his approval for the flight to operate as a “three-ship” under Eckmann’s lead. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 142] The three jets will take off and be airborne by 9:30 a.m. (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, 119th Fighter Wing, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Langley Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alan Scott.Alan Scott. [Source: United States Air Force]NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) processes and transmits an order to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, to scramble three of its F-16 fighter jets. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file] NEADS mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany instructed his personnel to issue this order one minute earlier (see 9:23 a.m. September 11, 2001). Although he’d originally wanted the Langley jets sent to the Washington area, he will soon adjust this heading to send them to the Baltimore area. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
NEADS Orders Jets North - A NEADS officer calls Langley Air Force Base and instructs: “Langley command post, this is Huntress with an active air defense scramble for Quit 2-5 and Quit 2-6.… Scramble immediately.… Scramble on a heading of 010, flight level 290.” This means the jets are to head in a direction just east of north, at an altitude of 29,000 feet. [9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 142] At Langley Air Force Base, a Klaxon horn will sound, notifying the pilots of the scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001), and they will be airborne by 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 63; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 16 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 141]
Fighters Launched in Response to Flight 77? - In later testimony, military officials will give contradictory explanations for why the Langley F-16s are scrambled. An early NORAD timeline will indicate the fighters are launched in response to NORAD being notified at 9:24 that Flight 77 has been hijacked (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR), will suggest the same, telling the 9/11 Commission: “At 9:24 the FAA reports a possible hijack of [Flight] 77.… And at that moment as well is when the Langley F-16s were scrambled out of Langley.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 1st Air Force, 8/8/2006] And a timeline provided by senior Defense Department officials to CNN will state, “NORAD orders jets scrambled from Langley” in order to “head to intercept” Flight 77. [CNN, 9/17/2001]
In Response to Flight 93? - However, Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will give a different explanation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission, “we launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them over top of Washington, DC, not in response to American Airline 77, but really to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that way.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]
In Response to Incorrect Report about Flight 11? - In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will dispute both these previous explanations, and conclude that the Langley jets are scrambled in response to an incorrect report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, DC (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 15 pdf file] Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will corroborate this account. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] According to the 9/11 Commission, its conclusion is also confirmed by “taped conversations at FAA centers; contemporaneous logs compiled at NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD; and other records.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] Major Nasypany will tell the Commission that the reason the Langley jets are directed toward the Baltimore area is to position them between the reportedly southbound Flight 11 and Washington, as a “barrier cap.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27 and 461] John Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will later suggest that NORAD deliberately misled Congress and the Commission by hiding the fact that the Langley scramble takes place in response to the erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne. He will write that the mistaken report “appears in more logs, and on more tapes, than any other single event that morning.… It was the reason for the Langley scramble; it had triggered the Air Threat Conference Call. Yet it had never been disclosed; it was, instead, talked around.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 266-267]
Conflicting Times - Early news reports will put the time of the scramble order slightly later than the 9/11 Commission places it, between 9:25 and “about 9:27.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; CNN, 9/19/2001] But a NORAD timeline released a week after the attacks will give the same time as the Commission does, of 9:24. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Kevin Nasypany, Alan Scott, Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Langley Air Force Base, US Department of Defense, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Captain Craig Borgstrom.Captain Craig Borgstrom. [Source: US Air Force / Austin Knox]The three F-16 fighter jets ordered to scramble from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) take off and, radar data will show, are airborne by 9:30 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Delayed during Launch - Major Dean Eckmann will recall that, after receiving the scramble order, he and the two other pilots have “a pretty quick response time. I believe it was four to five minutes we were airborne from that point.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, the three fighters are “given highest priority over all other air traffic at Langley Air Force Base” as they are launching. [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] But, according to author Lynn Spencer, in spite of this, the jets are delayed. As Eckmann is approaching the runway, he calls the control tower for clearance to take off, but the tower controller tells him, “Hold for an air traffic delay.” Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center “have not had time to clear airliners out of the way for the northerly heading. Dozens of aircraft at various altitudes fill the jets’ route.” After having to wait two minutes, Eckmann complains: “We’re an active air scramble. We need to go now!” Finally, the tower controller tells him, “Roger, Quit flight is cleared for takeoff, 090 for 60,” meaning the fighters are to fly due east for 60 miles (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Taking Off - The three jets launch 15 seconds apart, with Eckmann in front and the two other jets following. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 143-144] Pilot Craig Borgstrom will later recall, “[W]e took off, the three of us, and basically the formation we always brief on alert, we’ll stay in a two- to three-mile trail from the guy in front.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] According to the BBC, the pilots get a signal over their planes’ transponders, indicating an emergency wartime situation. [BBC, 9/1/2002]
Could Reach Washington before Pentagon Attack - F-16s have a maximum speed of 1,500 mph at high altitude, or 915 mph at sea level, so the three fighters could plausibly travel the 130 miles from Langley Air Force Base to Washington in just minutes. [Chant, 1987, pp. 404; Associated Press, 6/16/2000; USA Today, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001 pdf file; US Air Force, 10/2007] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will tell the 9/11 Commission, “I think if those aircraft had gotten airborne immediately, if we were operating under something other than peacetime rules, where they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC, and gone into burner, it is physically possible that they could have gotten over Washington” before 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, the jets are redirected east over the Atlantic Ocean and will be 150 miles from the Pentagon when it is hit (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
Conflicting Times - Some early news reports after 9/11 will say the Langley jets take off at the later time of 9:35 a.m. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] But according to Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, though the jets are airborne at 9:30, the report of this does not come down until 9:35, so this fact may account for the conflicting times. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Brad Derrig, Alan Scott, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Langley Air Force Base, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A technical sergeant at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) learns, to his astonishment, that the supervisor of flying (SOF) for the alert unit at Langley Air Force Base is unavailable, because he has taken off in a spare jet in response to the recent scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 148]
SOF Was Instructed to Launch - Captain Craig Borgstrom is the operations manager of a detachment at Langley AFB from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing. In the event of a scramble order, he is supposed to serve as the SOF, being responsible for monitoring the scrambled jets, working with local air traffic controllers, and communicating with NEADS. However, someone at NEADS (who, exactly, is unstated) recently called and urged him to launch as many aircraft as possible (see (Between 9:10 a.m. and 9:23 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 65; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114, 116, 118] He has therefore just taken off, along with the unit’s two alert pilots (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]
NEADS Wants to Notify Borgstrom of Jets' Mission - At NEADS, Tech Sgt. Jeremy Powell now tries calling Borgstrom to inform him that his jets’ mission is to set up a combat air patrol over Washington and intercept a hijacked civilian airliner that is approaching the city. However, as Borgstrom is absent, the phone just rings and rings. Finally, a sergeant picks it up. Powell asks to speak to the SOF and is informed, “Oh, he’s not here.” Incredulous, Powell says, “I need to speak to the SOF,” but the sergeant retorts, “He’s not here!” Powell knows that the alert detachment at Langley AFB should have an SOF on duty 24/7. He raises his voice, saying, “This is Huntress and I need to talk to your SOF now!” (“Huntress” is the call sign for NEADS.) The sergeant replies, “He’s one of the three that got airborne!” Confused, Powell says: “Three? I only scrambled two!” The sergeant explains, “No, he took off in a spare jet.” Powell is speechless, but finally says, “Wow… okay,” before hanging up the phone. The order to launch three jets, instead of just the two that are kept on alert at Langley AFB, had not gone through Powell. He assumes it was issued by the senior officers in the NEADS battle cab. According to author Lynn Spencer, Powell thinks to himself, “The battle cab has taken serious measures to increase our air power.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 148]

Entity Tags: Langley Air Force Base, Craig Borgstrom, Jeremy Powell, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The air traffic control tower at Langley Air Force Base.The air traffic control tower at Langley Air Force Base. [Source: Langley Air Force Base]The air traffic control tower at Langley Air Force Base (AFB) instructs the three F-16s taking off from the base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) to fly east for 60 miles, even though the scramble order issued by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) specified that they be directed north toward Washington, DC. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 142-143]
Controller Directs Jets Eastward - The air traffic controllers at the Langley tower responsible for getting the three fighter jets launched are Master Sergeant Kevin Griffith and Senior Airman Raymond Halford. [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 pdf file] One of them tells the jets they are “cleared for takeoff, 090 for 60,” meaning they are to fly east for 60 miles. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “A takeoff to the east on the Langley radial for 60 miles was the standard takeoff from Langley in order to clear local traffic and get the fighters to altitude as quickly as possible.” But this document will add that the jets are “not bound to the 60 mile distance and could have turned to the north at any time they were directed to or had orders to do so.” [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 pdf file]
Pilot Assumes Controllers Have More Information - The command post at Langley AFB has already forwarded the NEADS scramble instructions directing the jets to the north—“010, flight level 290”—to the pilots. According to author Lynn Spencer, lead pilot Major Dean Eckmann “knows that the scramble calls for a northerly heading, but he assumes they are being vectored eastward in order to fly around the traffic in their way. He doesn’t second-guess the instructions; he assumes that the controllers have more information than he does.” [9/11 Commission, 1/9/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 142-143]
Scramble Order Did Not Include Distance and Location - The 9/11 Commission will later try to explain why the Langley tower directs the fighters east. According to the Commission, the scramble order from NEADS lacked complete instructions. Though it included a direction of “010” and an altitude of 29,000 feet (“290”), it “did not include a distance to the target, nor the target’s location, two key components that are normally included in a scramble order.”
Generic Flight Plan Used - Additionally: “In order to launch aircraft, the Langley AFB tower was required to file an automated flight plan specifically designating the direction and distance of intended flight. Prior to 9/11, the standard—or generic—flight plan for aircraft departing Langley AFB to the east was ‘090 for 60.‘… Langley tower personnel assumed that once fighters got airborne they would be vectored to the target of interest by either NEADS or the FAA.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 96 pdf file]
Operator Could Have Entered a Unique Flight Plan - According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, Langley tower personnel follow established procedures and accomplish their duties “efficiently and effectively.” [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 pdf file] However, John Harter, an operations supervisor at the FAA’s Norfolk Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON), will tell the Commission that he disagrees with a claim made by Langley tower personnel, “that it was more efficient to enter a flight plan known to be acceptable to the system than to enter something different. That is an operator issue. An operator knowing what he/she was doing would have been able to correctly enter a unique flight plan.” [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003 pdf file]
Tower Responsible for Establishing Flight Plan - The Langley control tower is one of four facilities that are notified when NEADS issues a scramble order. (The other three are the Langley AFB command post, the 119th Fighter Wing, and the Norfolk TRACON.) The duty of Langley tower controllers is to get a flight plan established in the system so the system will accept an aircraft’s departure. The Langley tower’s control over aircraft launching from the base extends only five miles off the runway, so scrambled aircraft are passed on to the Norfolk TRACON upon takeoff (see 9:31 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/6/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Dean Eckmann, Kevin Griffith, John Harter, Langley Air Force Base, Raymond Halford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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