One of the Otis pilots said of the confusing orders he was given as he finally entered New York airspace “neither the civilian controller or the military controller knew what they wanted us to do."  They were fighters, made to get there quickly, identify their target, and fight. On 9/11 they were unable to do any of these. Langley pilot “Lou” called it the “smoke of war.” He noted to Jere Longman “no one knew exactly what was going on.” 
For a stunning example of what they were not told, Otis lead pilot Duff claims he and Nasty were never told about the history-making crash of American 11 six-minutes before they took off – and in fact believed they were still going to intercept it until they saw the smoke coming off Manhattan island, by then coming from both towers. Nearly a year after the attack, Duff still couldn’t recall hearing that the first plane had hit, as Aviation Week reported:
“‘Huntress,’ the NEADS weapons control center, had told Duffy his hijacked target was over John F. Kennedy International Airport. He hadn't heard about the United aircraft yet. “The second time I asked for bogey dope [location of AA11], Huntress told me the second aircraft had just hit the WTC. I was shocked… and I looked up to see the towers burning,” He asked for clarification of their mission, but was met with “considerable confusion.” 
He told the BBC that news of UA175’s impact was “obviously a shock to both Nasty and I, because we thought there was only one aircraft out there.”  According to the Cape Cod Times, “by the time (the pilots) heard a word about a second hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 175, it had already smashed into the second tower before the horrified eyes of millions on TV.”  In other words, people watching CNN had more information than the defending pilots. This is an absolutely stunning failure that has not gotten the coverage it deserves.
The Langley pilots faced similar hurdles. First, as we’ve seen, they were given no information on the location and distance to their target and flew the wrong direction based on confused orders. After they were finally ordered to change directions and rocket north towards New York at 600 mph, they just happened to pass the Pentagon and saw the smoke billowing from it. Lou said “holy smoke, that’s why we’re here.” As Jere Longman explains it:
”The lead pilot was asked on his radio to verify whether the Pentagon was burning…. “That’s affirmative,” Honey replied.” But not having been informed of a plane in the area, the pilots presumed it was a truck bomb or something of that nature.” 
After confirming the attack there was complete, they were then sent to investigate. The 9/11 Commission noted that Honey told them “you couldn’t see any planes, and no one told us anything.” The Commission concluded “the pilots knew their mission was to divert aircraft, but did not know that the threat came from hijacked airliners.” 
“I looked up to see the towers burning." “Holy smoke, that’s why we’re here.” “The smoke of war.” In both cases, despite the most advanced tracking and communications technology in the world, the pilots of the first wave were informed of their failure to prevent the attacks via primitive smoke signal. Especially in a situation like 9/11, the old adage “knowledge is power” applies. With a track record like this of sharing knowledge with the defending pilots, the question arises – were these men meant to do anything other than provide a veneer of defense?
According the Jere Longman, the Langley pilots, in addition to never being informed of Flight 77, “did not even learn about Flight 93, or a plane crashing in Pennsylvania, until they returned to Langley.” This was around 2 pm.  Two hijacked planes had targeted Washington – AA77 and UA93. The Langley pilots were somehow never told of either. So why were they even in the air? According to the 9/11 Commission, they were chasing American 11 an hour after it crashed.
 Dennehy, Kevin. “'I Thought It Was the Start of World War III'” The Cape Cod Times. August 21, 2002. http://www.poconorecord.com/report/911-2002/000232.htm
 Longman, Jere. "Among the Heroes." Page 222.
 Scott, William B. “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks.” Aviation week’s Aviation Now. June 3, 2002. Accessed April 27, 2003 at: http://www.aviationnow.com/content/publication/awst/20020603/avi_stor.htm
 BBC video. Clear the Skies. 2002.
 See . Dennehy.
 See . Page 76.
 9/11 Commission Final Report. Page 45
 See . Page 222.