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Three F-16 fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, which is 10 miles from Washington, DC, and fly to North Carolina for a routine training mission, meaning they will be about 200 miles away from base when the attacks in New York take place. (Scott 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/28/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 2/27/2004) The jets belong to the 121st Fighter Squadron, part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews. (District of Columbia Air National Guard 7/24/2001; Scott 9/9/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 8/21/2005) They are piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, Eric Haagenson, and Lou Campbell. Haagenson and Campbell are less experienced, junior pilots. Hutchison is flying with them because most of the pilots with his unit are on leave, having just returned from the “Red Flag” training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001).
Jets Heading to Range to 'Drop Some Bombs' - The three F-16s are going to train for a surface attack. (9/11 Commission 2/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 ) Hutchison will later recall: “We had gone up to [the gunnery range in] Dare County, North Carolina, to drop some bombs and hit a refueling tanker and come on back. It was going to be an uneventful day.” (Filson 2003, pp. 79) The range is located 207 miles from Andrews Air Force Base. (Scott 9/9/2002) The jets are scheduled to arrive back at Andrews at 10:45 a.m. (District of Columbia Air National Guard 9/11/2001)
September 11 a 'Light Flying Day' - Because members of the 113th Wing have just returned from the Red Flag exercise, September 11 is a “light flying day.” According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the 113th Wing, the unit would normally have launched eight jets—“an eight-ship”—for this training mission. But as only seven pilots and a few planes are available, a “three-ship” has been launched instead. (9/11 Commission 3/11/2004 ) The three F-16s heading out for the training mission will not arrive back at Andrews until between 10:14 a.m. and 10:36 a.m., by which time the terrorist attacks will already be over (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2/17/2004)
The first fighter jet to launch from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles southeast of Washington, takes off in response to the attacks. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; GlobalSecurity (.org) 1/21/2006) The F-16 belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, and is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. It is one of three F-16s that were flying on a training mission in North Carolina, over 200 miles from Andrews (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and which have finally been recalled to the base (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002; Miles 5/12/2005) Although the three jets met with a refueling plane, they did not fill their tanks up completely. (Spencer 2008, pp. 216-217) Hutchison’s aircraft is the only one of them with enough fuel remaining to take off again immediately, though he only has 2,800 pounds, which is equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car. His jet has no missiles, and only training ammunition.
Pilot Takes Off, Instructed to Protect Washington - Immediately after landing at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., Hutchison takes off again at the instruction of Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. He is instructed “to intercept an aircraft coming toward DC and prevent it from reaching DC,” he will later recall. (Vogel 4/8/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) According to author Lynn Spencer, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the supervisor of flying (SOF) at Andrews, tells Hutchison to “use whatever force is necessary to prevent [the aircraft] from getting to DC.” Thompson adds: “You are weapons free. Do you understand?” “Weapons free” means the decision to shoot at a target now rests solely with Hutchison. (Spencer 2008, pp. 219) However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the “weapons free” instruction goes out to other pilots that launch from Andrews at 10:42 and after, but apparently not to Hutchison. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44) Thompson will tell Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine simply that he instructs Hutchison “to ‘do exactly what [air traffic control] asks you to do.’ Primarily, he was to go ID [identify] that unknown [aircraft] that everybody was so excited about” (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 9/9/2002) Hutchison takes off “without afterburner to conserve fuel, go across the White House over the Georgetown area and continue northwest up the Potomac,” he will recall (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Filson 2003, pp. 81)
Conflicting Timelines - Conflicting times will later be given for when Hutchison takes off from Andrews. The pilots with the 121st Fighter Squadron will admit that their own recollection of the morning’s timeline “is fuzzy.” (Scott 9/9/2002) According to 113th Wing operations desk records, Hutchison takes off at 10:33 a.m. (Filson 2003, pp. 81, 89) Based on an interview with David Wherley, the 9/11 Commission states he is airborne at 10:38 a.m. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 44, 465) Recordings of air traffic controller transmissions confirm this time. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) But in her 2008 book Touching History, Lynn Spencer will claim Hutchison took off significantly earlier, some time after 9:50 but before Flight 93 crashed (which was just after 10:00 a.m.). (Spencer 2008, pp. 216-220) (However, she will later amend her claim, saying instead, “Radio data indicates that Hutchison’s flight did not depart from Andrews… until just after 10:35.” (Lynn Spencer 2008) ) Two more fighters will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another two take off at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). Due to his plane’s limited fuel, Hutchison will only be airborne for about 10 minutes, and he lands back at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Vogel 2007, pp. 446)
One Jet Landed Already - The first of the three F-16s to return from the training mission over North Carolina landed at Andrews at 10:14 a.m., but did not take off again to defend Washington (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other F-16, piloted by Lou Campbell, landed with Hutchison’s jet at 10:36 a.m. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 2/27/2004) The 113th Wing is not part of NORAD’s air sovereignty force and, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, does not have an alert mission. (Filson 2003, pp. 76) According to Phil Thompson, “We’ve never been an air defense unit,” but “We practice scrambles, we know how to do intercepts and other things.” (Scott 9/9/2002)
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