Saturday, January 13, 2007


The five fighters were scrambled not toward their targets, already hundreds of miles distant. Instead, they were sent out over ocean on complicated and apparently confused flight plans. Otis pilot Duff said they departed on a “2-8-0 heading - basically towards New York City.” [1] But the route recorded by Paul Thompson in his Terror Timeline book shows a path south over the ocean instead of west-southwest along the coast.

The Langley fighters were sent due east, over the ocean, instead of north-northwest to the Pentagon. The 9/11 Commission concluded in their final report. “unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the target, or the target’s location.” [2] Confused orders and/or noise restrictions over land have also been cited as reasons for this easterly flight. In July 2004, Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) issued a rare criticism of NORAD, whose massive failures “left this country defenseless during two of the worst hours in our history.” Dayton noted that when 77 hit, the Langley fighters were still far to the east, “farther [from the Pentagon] than they were before they took off.” [3]

The speed of the fighters once airborne is impossible to gauge unless we see the path actually flown in a given time. They were both sent the wrong direction at first, so we know they didn’t take the shortest, straight-line routes, and exact information on this is incomplete, perhaps top-secret. So a reconstruction seems incredibly tedious and uncertain.

But even in accounts that cite or imply actual speeds we see serious disagreements. Jere Longman, in his book Among the Heroes, explained that the Langley pilots “were sent east over the Atlantic Ocean, and then north up the coast They likely reached six hundred miles an hour in a couple of minutes.” [4] Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, said with no embarrassment that the pilots flew “like a scalded ape,” topping 500 mph. [5] Literally, there are cars that have driven faster than that.

An important factor to consider, as widely noted by defense apologists, is that supersonic flights on intercepts over the continental U.S. were banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, sonic booms being considered noise pollution. But an aircraft must travel at least 750 miles per hour for a sonic boom to be heard on the ground. So why were they reported to be going 150-250 mph slower than supersonic – even though they were over the ocean instead of over land? And why was this EPA regulation allowed to interfere with the defense on 9/11 instead of being ignored like all the others?

To hear the Otis pilots speak, the rule was ignored. Duff said clearly to the BBC “I was supersonic.” [6] Aviation week described Duff and Nasty as “flying supersonically.” On another occasion, he said “it just seemed wrong. I just wanted to get there. I was in full-blower all the way.” [7] An F-15, like the one he was flying, can travel a top (full-blower) speed of 1,875 mph (compared to a 767's top speed of just under 600mph). An F-16 (like those sent from Langley) can top out at 1500 mph. Clearly somebody isn’t telling the truth here.

Scrambled sooner, sent the right direction, and allowed to floor it, these fighters may well have made a difference – yet the prime worry, apparently, was avoiding an EPA speeding ticket.

[1] “Clear the Skies: 9/11 Air Defense.” BBC Video. 2002. Produced and directed by Peter Molloy, Hosted by Gavin Hewitt.
[2] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. “The 9/11 Commission Report.” New York. W.W. Norton. 2004. Page 27.
[3] Ruppert, Michael C. “Crossing the Rubicon.” Gabriola Island, BC, CA. New Society Publishers. 2004. Page 440.
[4] Longman, Jere. “Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew who Fought Back.” New York. Harper Collins. 2002.
[5] Thompson, Paul. The Failure to Defend the Skies on 9/11.” Posting Date unlisted. Accessed November 29, 2004 at:
[6] See [1].
[7] Scott, William B. “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks.” Aviation week’s Aviation Now. June 3, 2002. Accessed April 27, 2003 at:
[8] Paul Thompson and the Center for Cooperative Research. “The Terror Timeline.” New York. Reagan Books. 2004. Page 380.

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