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Profile: Ronald Belluscio
Ronald Belluscio was a participant or observer in the following events:
McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. [Source: Ken Mann / US Air Force]NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) contacts McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and asks if it has any tanker planes available that would be able to support the fighter jets that took off in response to the hijacking of Flight 11 and McGuire says it has two tankers currently airborne that are carrying plenty of fuel. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003] Two F-15 fighters took off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] They are currently south of Long Island (see 9:01 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and personnel at NEADS are trying to locate refueling tankers for them. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Jones, 2011, pp. 35]
NEADS Tells McGuire about the Hijacking - Technical Sergeant Ronald Belluscio, a senior weapons director technician at NEADS, contacts McGuire Air Force Base and his call is answered by a “Major Rice” there. He says, “We got a hijack, I don’t know if you guys are aware of that.” He says NEADS has scrambled a couple of fighters in response to it and asks if McGuire has any tanker planes out in “Whiskey 107.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Whiskey 107 is an area over the Atlantic Ocean, about 70 miles east of Atlantic City, New Jersey, that is frequently used for military training. [CNN, 2/7/1997; New York Times, 2/7/1997; Global Security (.org), 5/7/2011]
McGuire Has Two Tankers Airborne - Rice replies that McGuire has “a crew airborne right now,” but adds, “I don’t know where they went, though.” He says the base actually has “two crews airborne right now,” which have the call signs “Team 23 and Team 24.” He says the FAA’s New York Center will be in control of these planes, which are currently flying “up northeast of New York.” He mentions that the tankers have “a lot of fuel.” He adds that they should have “enough fuel to be airborne almost all day.” Rice ends by telling Belluscio, “New York Center is who you need to get a hold of.” Belluscio confirms, “Okay sir, I’ll do that,” before terminating the call. He then tells a colleague at NEADS about the two tanker planes from McGuire and the colleague says they will pass this information along. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Tankers Are Taking Off around This Time - The two tankers that Rice refers to in the call actually take off from McGuire Air Force Base around this time for routine training missions. The plane with the call sign Team 23, piloted by Major Carlos Vilella, takes off at 9:02 a.m. Team 24, piloted by Major William Sherrod, takes off at 9:05 a.m. These planes are KC-10s. [Air Force Print News, 9/9/2011; Kennedy et al., 2012, pp. 42, 66, 69] The KC-10 is the military version of the DC-10. [Albany Times Union, 4/29/2016] The two planes will initially be sent to Whiskey 107 (see 9:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Tankers Will Refuel Planes over New York and Washington - Team 23 will subsequently provide fuel to aircraft over Washington, DC, including the fighters performing combat air patrols there. It will fly two sorties, lasting around 12 and a half hours in total, and refuel 10 aircraft today. Team 24, meanwhile, will apparently provide fuel to aircraft over New York City, including the fighters performing combat air patrols there. It will be airborne for five hours and refuel 13 aircraft. [Air Force Print News, 9/9/2011; Kennedy et al., 2012, pp. 66, 69] NEADS also talks with the crew of a KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor International Airport in Maine around this time about providing fuel to the fighters from Otis Air Base (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) issues coordinates to the three F-16 fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), sending them to Washington. However, the fighters head off in the wrong direction, reportedly because NEADS has accidentally given them incorrect coordinates. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180-181]
Communications Problems - The Langley AFB jets have already mistakenly been sent east over the ocean (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:36 a.m., the NEADS mission crew commander ordered that they be directed toward the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27] However, weapons director Master Sergeant Steve Citino has been having difficulty communicating with the jets. According to author Lynn Spencer, “NEADS radio coverage east of Washington is poor, and the noise level on the [NEADS] operations floor has only been exacerbating the problem.”
NEADS Issues Wrong Coordinates - Citino now forwards coordinates to the Langley jets, telling them to establish a combat air patrol over Washington. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180] Apparently, it is Tech. Sgt. Ronald Belluscio, a senior weapons director technician, who contacts the jets at this time, although he will claim he orders them specifically toward the Pentagon. He will say: “I jumped on a frequency, per the senior director, and was told to ask the Langley birds to vector over the Pentagon. I didn’t know it had been hit.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 65] However, Citino has apparently given out the wrong coordinates. According to Spencer, “He inadvertently transposed two of the coordinates, and the F-16s turned onto a flight path that would take them 60 miles southwest of Washington.”
Aircraft Instrument Malfunctioning - What is more, as soon as the Langley jets turn onto their new heading, lead pilot Major Dean Eckmann has a problem with his aircraft. The bearing pointer on its horizontal situation indicator (HSI)—the instrument that shows a plane’s position relative to its intended destination—freezes. Eckmann therefore has to get the heading from one of the other Langley pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom. Shortly after sending the three jets in the wrong direction, Citino will contact them again with the correct coordinates (see (Between 9:41 a.m. and 9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 180-181]
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