9-11: The Andrews Fighters; the Reagan National Story

D R A F T (This article needs some fine tuning)


The purpose of this article is to document for the record the air traffic control communications at the Reagan National TRACON (DCA) concerning the Andrews fighters.  The positions are F2, Final Radar, archived tape as provided to the Commission by FAA is “1 DCA 101-102 Tape 1-2 F2 1327 – 1450 UTC,” and Krant, Departure Control, archived tape as provided to the Commission by FAAis “1 DCA 99 Krant 1430-1600 UTC.” This article stands alone, narrowly focused on the FAA air traffic control positions most involved with the Andrews fighters.  I will designate Krant communications as “Krant.”  All other DCA communications are from the F2 position.

I am creating this article as backup for my presentation. “9/11: It Was ‘Chaos Out There,” to be presented on November 17, 2011, at the Air Force Historical Foundation and Air Force Historical Studies Office 2011 Biennial Symposium, “Air Power and Global Operations, 9/11 and Beyond.”

I am on the first panel, “9/11 and Operation Noble Eagle,” along with Maj. Gen Larry K. Arnold, USAF (Ret) and John J. Farmer, Jr., Dean, Rutgers School of Law, Newark.”  Here is a link to the Symposium agenda.

We begin the Reagan National story with the first hint that change is in the air.

0950 – 1000

0952.  DCA informed Patuxent (a military training area between Washington and Langley/Norfolk), “Do not let anybody in the Washington area.  Tell ’em to go someplace and land.”  0952 Don’t let anybody in Washington area

0957. The arrival of the Langley fighters came to the immediate attention of DCA TRACON.  Even though the arriving planes were under the control of FAA’s Washington Center, DCA TRACON and other air traffic control facilities immediately recognized and acknowledged the presence of fighters in the area.  In this next clip the DCA controller told a caller from Andrews Tower, “I don’t know who they are, but they’re somebody.  Don’t worry about it, OK.  They’re up high, they’re fighters.”  The caller had asked if DCA knew who “those three emergencies” were, squawking about twenty thousand.  The reference “emergencies,” refers to the fact that the Langley fighters were under AFIO, Authority For Intercept Operations, and were squawking 7777, the code for such operations. 0957 They’re up high they’re fighters

0959.  DCA again told a caller do not land in his area.  “They don’t want anybody in Washington airspace.  0959 No one in Washington air space

So what do me make of the activity at DCA?

My Assessment.

 Earlier, at about 0934 when the alarm about the fast moving unknown (AA 77) was sounded, DCA TRACON established an open line with the Secret Service.  It can, therefore, be assumed that when the DCA uses the pronoun”they” in this context the reference is to the Secret Service.  These three communications, taken together, have to do with Presidential movement, the flight of Air Force One to the nation’s capital.  Air Force One took off in Florida at 0955 EDT and headed directed toward Washington D. C. until 1010, at which time it turned west and headed for Louisiana.

This primary source information provides a glimpse into the advanced preparations for the arrival of Air Force One.  Those preparations translated into a general shootdown order as a protective measure, not one issued in response to a specific aircraft.  The Secret Service reports and actions will get more interesting as we examine the next time frame.


The first of the Andrews fighters returning from the range at Dare, North Carolina showed up in air traffic control channels.  Concurrently, several things happened involving the Secret Service.  At 1003 it provided an erroneous report that a Northwest airline was inbound to Washington D.C. from Pittsburg and was unaccounted for.  That was probably a garble, more likely a reference to UA 93 approaching from the Northwest.  Here is that report as recorded at Herndon Center on phone line 4530.  1003 SService reports NW airliner headed to DC

Shortly thereafter, at 1004,  the Service directed a periodic broadcast from Andrews Tower announcing that Class B airspace was currently closed.  All aircraft were advised to avoid Class B airspace.  Any intrusion would result in a shootdown.  1004 Class B airspace closed

Class B airspace can extend as high as 18,000 feet, but the ceiling is generally lower.  Class B airspace is the domain of the TRACON, in this case Reagan National.  Because of the direct link between DCA and the Secret Service the order pertained strictly to the nation’s capital and only to that airspace under local control.  Andrews Tower was an additional tower in the Reagan National controlled area.

Concurrently, DCA passed the alert to Herndon Center.  Herndon, in turn, passed the warning to Washington Center (ZDC).  100442 DCA passes Secret Service warning

And, in the same time frame, Herndon Center learned that major Washington D.C. buildings were being evacuated, including the Capitol and the White House. 100224 White House Capital being evacuated  

Bully Two showed up in the middle of all that activity.  DCA had just passed the Secret Service alert to BWI TRACON and was told by Swan position, Washington Center, about a hand off.  DCA told Swan to turn the plane around, but quickly changed that order when the DCA controller learned that it was Bully Two.  10004 Bully Two returns

Here is the series of clips concerning Bully Two from a DCA perspective.  The critical information needed was whether or not he was armed and, if not, could he be armed at Andrews.  To expedite Bully Two’s approach DCA cleared him direct to Andrews.

 1006 Are you armed       1007 Can you be armed       1008 Bully Two unable for fuel  

It is clear from this sequence that the DCA controller was communicating with the Secret Service and was relaying questions.  We can surmise that the plan was to use Bully Two, in some fashion, as an asset in the air.  This, despite the fact that the Langley fighters had already established a CAP over the nation’s capital and were available, as was known to FAA controllers and was surely known to the Secret Service.

The first plan for Bully Two was to keep him in the air.  When he reported he was not armed the plan changed to land him, get him armed, and then back in the air.  That plan included a check on his fuel status.

Despite that flurry of activity, Bully Two was not relaunched.  Commission Staff was told that he was a new pilot and that the Wing waited for Bully One and Bully Three to return.

At 1010. the situation was that Bully One had returned and was available.  The Langley fighters had established a West-East CAP at 23,000 feet.  The E4B, Venus 77, was establishing a North-South, 60-mile leg orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia.  Bully One and Bully Three were en route North from Dare Range, North Carolina.  At 1010, Air Force One turned away from  its approach to the nation’s capital and turned West.


We learned in the Nasypany articles [link is to Part V] that the situation quieted down at NEADS during this time.  UA 93 and D 1989 had been accounted for and there was nothing on the horizon, air defense-wise.  The battle was over.

That quiet interlude was mirrored at DCA.  The only thing of note during a nearly ten minute period was DCA learning that tanker support for the Langley fighters had arrived.  Washington Center, Swan Center, reported “tankers at nineteen seven [19,700 feet].”  1016 Tankers at nineteen seven 

The quiet was interrupted by the return of Bully One.  DCA told the caller to “bring him home.”  The flight plan said the flight of two was landing at Patuxent.  That was changed and DCA was told “he will be coming to you.”  1019 Bully One flight of two F-16s

In summation, as of 1020 the air defense battle was over.  Bully Two had recovered to Andrews and Bully One, flight of two, was approaching the nation’s capital.  Activity would again pick up at DCA as it dealt with the emerging Andrews situation.


At 1022 a called asked if DCA was aware of a hijacked aircraft in the area.  DCA responded that it was.  The called asked where it was.  DCA responded, “we don’t know exactly.”  The caller responded, “is he coming from the West?”  Answer: “Yes.”  1022 You aware of a hijacked aircraft

At this time it was still not known what aircraft hit the Pentagon and this could be a reference to either AA 77 or UA 93.

At 1023 Dulles reported a helicopter, a medivac out of Hagerstown, that wanted to return to Davison [Fort Belvoir].  DCA strongly advised against the return, “he will be shot down.”  1023 Medivac Hagerstown to Davison  Hagerstown was the point of origin of the revised flight plan for United 93 as filed by Cleveland Center.

At 1027, Bully One was cleared direct to Andrews.  1027 Bully One cleared direct Andrews

At 1028, DCA learned that United 93 was no longer being shown in the system.  This is a reference to the flight plan system and to the associated traffic situation display.   The flight plan entered earlier by Cleveland Center terminated the flight at Reagan National at 1028.  That termination was recognized immediately by someone in the FAA system and reported in near-real time to DCA.  United 93, which crashed at 1003, ceased to exist, even notionally, before Bully One landed.  1028 United 93 no longer in the system 

At 1029, DCA asked Swan if he was talking to Quit 25.  He was.  DCA said he would get back to him, he thought Secret Service might have a question for him.  It is clear from this exchange, as heard in real time, that DCA was talking to the Secret Service.  1029 Are you talking to Quit 25 

As of 1030, there was no known threat, real or notionally.  United 93 was not an issue. A helicopter was attempting to return to Davison Air Field from Hagerstown, as reported by Dulles TRACON.  Bully One, flight of two, was cleared to land.  The Secret Service knew that the Langley fighters were in the area.  DCA was standing by to relay questions to the Langley flight lead, Quit 25, via Swan.

There was no apparent need to launch Andrews fighters, yet they were sortied, as we shall learn.


First, at 1030, DCA relayed a message to Krant to have the Langley lead, Quit 25, change frequency so he could talk to Reagan National directly.  1030 Have Quit 25 change frequency

Within a minute, Quit 25 was talking directly to DCA.  He was told, “Secret Service wanted you on this frequency.”  Quit 25 said, “go ahead” and was then told to “stand by a second.”  1031 Secret Service wanted you on this frequency  

For the next minute, DCA was off microphone most likely talking to the Secret Service.  The DCA controller then came back to Quit 25 at 1032 and in a nearly two minute conversation verified four things.  First, he confirmed that the fast movers at altitude 240 and 250 were with Quit 25.  Quit 25 confirmed that they were his number two and number three wingmen.  Second,  he confirmed that there was no traffic in the Washington area.  In other words, no targets.  Third, he confirmed that fast movers to the east were part of the operation.  Quit 25 confirmed that they were his refueling aircraft.  Finally, he confirmed that the military had control of the airspace and that DCA would simply act as a relay.  1032 The air picture established by DCA and Quit 25

At this point we lose the Bully One story as he switched to Andrews Tower frequency.  I will come back to that later, but let me summarize here.  At first, Bully One was told to proceed to E ramp to get armed.  At about 1036 those directions were coutermanded and Bully One reported that he had orders from his commanding general to get back in the air.  We will pick him up again when he switches back to a DCA frequency.

At 1033 Krant advised Swan of some primary targets northwest of Washington and asked that the information be passed to the Langley fighters.  Krant confirmed that he was talking to Quit 25.  Krant also learned that military aircraft could return to base.  Specifically, the medevac helicopter from Hagerstown had permission to return to Fort Belvoir.  1033 Krant military aircraft can return to base

Meanwhile, Quit 25 addressed an unresolved issue with DCA.  NEADS had been under the impression for some time that a “First, flight of four” from Langley were in the air as part of the support package for the return of Air Force One.  That information had been passed to Quit 25 and he asked DCA about it at 1036, the same time as Bully One was receiving orders to get back in the air.  DCA confirmed with Washington Center that there was no “First, flight of four” from Langley.  1036 No First flight from Langley 

At 1038, Krant position, Bully One’s departure for radar intercept was announced.  1038 Krant Bully One departure for radar intercept

During the next two minutes, DCA talked primarily to Quit 27, the first time we hear his voice.  DCA confirmed the CAP configuration (East-West) and the identity in the air of each of the three Langley fighters.  He also learned that Quit 26 was in direct contact with Huntress (NEADS).  At 1040, Quit 25 was advised that an F16  ([Bully One] had just departed Andrews.  1038 CAP discussed    1040 F16 just departed Andrews  

At 1039, Bully One checked in with Krant and asked for instructions to check out an aircraft flying down the river.  He was given instructions to check out what aircraft it was.  He was told to head toward Georgetown.  1039 Krant Bully One checks in for instructions

As of 1040, DCA was communicating with Secret Service and was acting as a relay from the Service to the Langley lead, Quit 25.  DCA knew the Langley CAP configuration and had identified each of the three aircraft in it.  The DCA controller knew that the Langley flight was talking to Huntress [Quit 26].  He also confirmed that the Langley flight knew about its tanker support, to include location.  Bully One had launched and was told to head toward Georgetown. Despite that air defense protection of the nation’s capital the first Andrews response, the relaunch of Bully One, heralded another chaotic event, the merger of the Langley and Andrews fighters into a coherent operation.


At 1040, the refinement of the Langley CAP and its control continued.  Quit 25 advised DCA that the Langley flight would need to cycle through the tankers one at a time.  That would require some coordination by DCA. The DCA controller was also advised that Huntress (NEADS) wanted to talk to him.  A number was provided by Quit 27.  Presumably, that number was then available to the Secret Service.  1040 Tanker support and give Huntress a call  

At the same time, Bully One was told that the airspace belonged to the military for the operation [Huntress/Langley], that there were several helicopters in the area, and nothing else, right now.  Bully One reaffirmed that he was sent aloft for a target.  Krant responded, “that information probably came through your source, not ours.”  Concurrently, in a comms over ride, the launch of the first pair of Andrews fighters, Caps flight, was announced.  1040 Info from your source not ours 

Krant continued to work with Bully One at the same time that Caps one was checking in.  1041 Krant Bully One and Caps One

Concurrently, for several minutes, DCA continued to work with the Langley flight to coordinate squawks and tanker support.  Quit 25 needed to split off and refuel.  DCA informed Quit 27 that at the Huntress (NEADS) number provided,  “whoever answered has no idea what we’re talking about.”  DCA and Washington Center also discussed an unknown target, 3666,  northwest of Manassas airport.  1041 Team 23 tanker support and target NW of Manassas   1042 Working out squawks with Quit flight   1043 Huntress number no idea  

Also concurrently, a significant discussion took place between Caps One and Krant position.  Caps One asked for a vector to an unknown, unidentified aircraft, inbound.  Krant responded that there was no target, “as far as we know.”  Caps One then asked if Krant was in contact with the National Command Authority.  The  response was explicit, “affii rmitive.”  Thereafter, Caps One said they would orbit at whatever location Krant desired.  The Caps flight was directed to establish an orbit about 10 miles to the Northwest of Washington at 11,000 feet.  Caps One acknowledged, “eleven thousand would be fine.”  1042 Krant You in contact with NCA Affirmative

By 1043, Bully One confirmed that he had no targets and was headed back to Andrews.  He was advised of the Caps flight presence and its location.  Bully One’s status report to Krant was, “I have no other aircraft on my radar, and we only have helicopters out here, so I’m going to proceed back to Andrews.”  1043 Krant Bully One no other aircraft on radar 

At 1044,  Krant and Caps One discussed a possible target.  Caps One was told about a possible unknown,  helicopters over the Pentagon, Bully One returning to base, and F-16s at 250 “on top of you.”  The conversation was predicated on Caps One asking for confirmation that he had no unknown civilian target as he was advised prior to takeoff.  This is primary source confirmation that the Andrews fighters knew about the Langley fighters at altitude.  1044 Krant F16s above you 

At 1047, Caps One persisted in his hunt for a target.  He asked Krant,  “are there any blind spots in your radar coverage.”  He was told, “just, right over DCA.”  1047 Krant any radar blind spots  

At 1048, Caps One was told that the Wild flight was five minutes away from launch.  As Krant and Caps One sorted out the CAP configuration, Caps One made a significant statement concerning the Wild position.  The Wild flight would be centered south of Andrews and that “would be at peace, as well.”  That is the only statement of ROE (Rules of Engagement) status for the Andrews fighters of which I am currently aware in primary source information.  1048 Krant Wild at peace as well 

Compare that status statement with a similar statement two minutes later by Major Fox, Senior Director, NEADS.  Fox was asked about authority concerning a target in the Boston area.  His answer was, “at peace.”  0911145222 Request Clearance to Shoot 

Therefore, as of 1050 both NEADS and Andrews, separately, were operating under “at peace” ROE, despite Vice Presidential guidance to the contrary as recorded in the NEADS chat log shortly after 1030  1032 You need to read this 

I am stopping this narrative for now.  Remaining is the contentious arrival of Wild One on the scene and the struggle to establish a joint CAP between the Langley and Andrews fighters.   Part of that story is the DEFCON status change promulgated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 1052.

To be continued



9-11: The Andrews Fighters; standing up, not so easy

Recently, a 9-11 researcher posted this article, “The 90-Minute Stand Down on 9/11:  Why was the Secret Service’s Early Request for Fighter Jets Ignored?” My initial instinct was to let my article on the Andrews fighters stand and not comment.  However, it later occurred to me that the article has considerable utility because it tells the beginning of the Andrews story, something I did not do in my article.  However, the author has the thesis backwards.

Standing Down or Standing Up?

It is intuitively obvious that there cannot be a stand down without a preceding stand up.  What the author actually reports are early attempts to stand up the Andrews fighters.  He reports conversations involving staff officers at four locations; the Secret Service, FAA Headquarters, Andrews Tower, and the fighter wing, itself.  The only actionable conversation is the one between the late General Wherley and the Secret Service.  General Wherley, however, was not a battle commander that morning.

In other articles we have talked about the battle commanders; Ben Sliney and Colonel Bob Marr.  None of the conversations referenced in the article involve either person or their staffs.  Nor do they involve the only other organization that could take action, the NMCC.  It would not have made any difference, the Andrews fighters were not relevant to the nation’s air defense that day.

Roles and Missions

We have gone over this before.  The only organization with the air defense mission was NORAD.  The only assets performing the role were four dedicated fighters, two at Otis and two at Langley.  Andrews was never seriously considered for good reason.

Major Chambers summed up the NMCC perspective; the Andrews fighters were not part of the air defense system and not available.   NEADS never considered the Andrews fighters because the Andrews Wing did not have the tactics, techniques and procedures in place to perform the role.  Moreover, they did not carry authentication tables, according to the pilots the Commission Staff interviewed.

Further, NEADS had the New York and DC skies covered by its own fighter assets.  Concurrent with the conversations referenced in the article, Colonel Marr started his own search for additional assets, but his focus was on the Midwest.  The only additional threat of which he was aware was D 1989.  NEADS had no immediate need for the Andrews fighters.

The Critical Moment

A few minutes after 9:30 Danielle O’Brien and her supervisor sounded the alarm about the fast approaching unknown (AA 77).  Shortly thereafter, and in part because of the preliminary conversations referenced, General Wherley took action, prompted by the Secret Service.  Even so, he wanted to hear from someone higher up in the food chain than the person calling him.

Concurrently, NEADS was redirecting the wayward Langley fighters and followed that redirection with a declaration of AFIO, Authority For Intercept Operations.  The Langley fighters established a combat air patrol over the nation’s capital at 10:00, 36 minutes from time of scramble.

Standing Up Andrews

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the roles and missions of the United States armed forces why the Andrews fighters were never a factor and were not tasked by the military chain of command that morning.  They could not, and demonstrably did not, respond in any meaningful time frame.  To do so was beyond their capability.

That is not a knock on the Andrews Wing, their personnel or their pilots.  They worked diligently to get assets airborne, once tasked.  It took them over an hour to do so and that was as fast as they were going to be able to do it under any scenario that day.

Correcting the Math

The referenced article headlines a 90-minute stand down.  Assuming that the clock starts about 9:05 the activities described became actionable by 9:35 when General Wherley was directly tasked by the Secret Service.  The implied 90 minute stand down was actually a 30-minute prelude to a concerted Andrews effort to get fighters in the sky, to stand up.  The best they could do was to launch a single sortie over an hour later; a pilot with virtually no fuel, no armament, and no authority.

A Final Comment

I appreciate the author’s initiative and effort.  He provides specificity concerning staff level discussions about protecting the nation’s capital in the immediate aftermath of the impact of UA 175 and the FAA’s determination that Atta said, “we have some planes.”

And a Postscript

The Washington Post, shortly after release of the Commission Report, published an editorial cartoon that portrayed the USAF and the Secret Service ‘Air Force’ butting heads in the sky.  I have not been able to find a link to that prescient cartoon.

9-11: The Andrews Fighters; an expeditionary force, not an air defense force

The Pentagon was struck at 9:38; Andrews Air Force Base is a short flight distance away yet its fighter assets were never a factor on 9-11. In the Mystery Plane article I discussed the sequence of planes that took off that morning from Andrews before and immediately after the Pentagon was struck; except the fighters which I said was a separate story. Here is that story.

The Andrews fighters were coming out of a previous day stand down because of a recent return from extended training in Nevada. Nevertheless, they had 5 planes and a like number of pilots scheduled for training. Three of those planes, the Bully flight of three, departed for training over eastern North Carolina skies at 8:36. The Andrews flight strip states, in part: “Bully 1…3/F16/R…ADW DCNG…1236.” The flight was led by, then, Major Billy Hutchison. Ultimately, four additional planes and pilots became available, but it was the Bully flight, specifically Hutchison, that would later be the first Andrews responder.

Before continuing further with the Andrews story we need to go back and revisit the Langley fighters for a moment. In the second Langley article I discussed the scramble procedures extant at the time. Those procedures specified that regardless of flight plan the Langley fighters would proceed on runway heading to an altitude of 4000 feet. That segment of the flight is clearly visible on the ground trace of the Langley fighters as determined from 84th RADES radar data.

And it is at that point, just short of the Delmarva Peninsula, that the Norfolk Tower controller and the Quit 25 pilot decided that the flight plan, 090 for 60 prevails over the scramble order and the Quit flight turned slightly right to its flight plan heading. But what does this mean in terms of the NORAD response to events of the day?

Had Quit 25 turned north at that point his flying time to the NCA was still on the order of 12 minutes or so at maximum subsonic, a rate of progress determined over time to be the most effective air defense solution to account for safety, to provide time on target, and to allow an approaching fighter a reasonable chance to spot his target. The Quit flight was not going to have a chance to intercept AA 77 even if the scramble had proceeded as NEADS intended. That meant that NORAD had no chance to effectively engage three of the four hijacked aircraft, AA11, UA 175 and AA 77. That leaves just UA 93 as the only hijacked airplane that either Langley or Andrews would be able to engage. It also mitigates the two askew segments of the Quit flight path to the NCA; they still arrived in time to guard against an approaching UA93; something the Andrews fighters did not do.

The misinformation that AA 11 was still airborne and headed south was the catalyst that got the Langley fighters airborne as soon as they were. It is only because of a proactive error by the Boston air traffic controller, Colin Scoggins, that the nation’s air defenders had any real chance to defend against UA 93; but the expeditionary force fighters at Andrews did not receive that same warning; their warning would come later as we are about to see.

Even though controllers at the scope level at Dulles TRACON had seen a “no tag” soon after 9:25 that observation did not become actionable until Danielle O’Brien saw the fast mover, checked her observation with her fiancé’ sitting at an adjacent screen, and sounded the alarm at 9:33 to National TRACON. Soon thereafter her supervisor notified the Secret Service and quickly the Service and National TRACON established an open line. The Service also picked up the phone and called the late General Wherley at Andrews.

General Wherley’s notes at the time, as reflected in Commission Records (Team 8 Box 8. History Commons is aware of newly released documents), show a time of 0930L (9:30 EDT). The time was actually closer to 9:35. By that time the Secret Service was also following the fast moving unknown, now tagged with an “S,” by National TRACON, visible to the Service. There is a misconception that because the Secret Service had a working relationship with National TRACON that the Service could see any FAA radar feeds from anywhere in the country. That is not true, the only thing the Service could see was what National TRACON was seeing, nothing more.

So, the Andrews alert came at 9:35. It would take them the better part of two hours to get armed fighters in the air with the authority to act. The Langley fighters, scrambled at 9:24 established a CAP over the nation’s capital 36 minutes later, albeit without authority, despite two askew flight segments. How can there be such a difference?

The difference is in the roles and missions of the day, a specific determination by the Department of Defense in order to most effectively use its resources. Just as the three services and the Marines have specific roles and missions, so do their major components and subcomponents. We can leave a more detailed discussion of that for another day, suffice it to say here that the air defense mission and the role of the Langley (and Otis) fighters is distinctly different from the expeditionary force mission and the role of its fighters, such as the Andrews contingent. Only the CONUS air defenders had the tactics, techniques and procedures in place to respond rapidly, and there were just 14 fighters with that mission at seven locations; just two of those locations and four of the fighters were immediately available to NEADS.

Andrews went to work immediately to upload its aircraft and respond, but that took time, time that they did not have. They also recalled the Bully flight, first Bully 2 and then Bully 1 and 3. Even though the Langley fighters had effectively CAPPed the nation’s capital by 10:00 that was not understood or even known within the NCA, including the White House. So when things turned serious with the approach of a now notional UA93, as seen on traffic situation displays at multiple locations, the pressure on Andrews intensified; they had to do something. None of this had anything to do with AA 77 despite accounts to the contrary.

The Andrews flight strips show that Bully 2, who came back alone and well ahead of Bully 1 and 3, landed at 10:14 out of fuel. Bully 1, a flight of two F-16s landed at 10:35, low on gas; however, Bully 1 had sufficient fuel to take off again in response to an unknown coming down the river. By then, the notional UA 93 had “landed” at National at 10:28. There was nothing to intercept. Here is a ground trace of the flight of Bully 1 based on data from 84th RADES.

Major Hutchison was airborne by 10:39 and flew three specific routes. First, he circled to the east back directly over Andrews climbing to an altitude of 3600 feet, shown in red. He then flew directly to the Pentagon, shown in green, and overflew the building at 600 feet shortly after 10:42, exactly as described by Creed and Newman in Firefight to Save the Pentagon. He then turned south, shown in yellow, and climbed back to 3600 feet before landing back at Andrews a short seven minutes after taking off. He was not given “weapons free” authority by General Wherley. The Andrews flight strips show him cleared for takeoff at 10:36 and back on the ground at 10:47, an eleven minute period. Flight strips are not definitive; the radar shows that, at best, Hutchison was in the air for just over seven minutes.

His presence was no longer needed. A pair of Andrews fighters, guns only, and with only verbal (text modified on July 19 based on Commission work files). “weapons free” authority had taken to the air. A handwritten flight strip shows “CAP 1, 2 F-16, airborne at 10:51. (Here I give the benefit of the doubt, the handwriting is not clear and it could be 10:57.)  Finally, at 11:12, Andrews was able to launch the Wild flight of two F-16, fully armed, and General Wherley did give them “weapons free” authority.  The Wild pilots were the other two scheduled for training that day.

Given that all hijacked aircraft had been accounted for, the only issue left by the time the Wild flight got airborne was command and control of the skies over the nation’s capital. That became a bit contentious between the Langley and Andrews fighters. Lynn Spencer in Touching History has a good account of the ‘battle’ for command and control. Spencer, by the way, is the only person who has told an unsung story in the skies that day, the efforts of civilian pilots to help air traffic control. It is a story well told.

Air defense forces and expeditionary forces compared. It took the expeditionary forces, Andrews, 97 minutes (9:35 to 11:12) to retool and reconfigure and get fully armed planes with shootdown authority into the air over the National Capital Region.  It took the air defenders, NEADS/Langley, 51 minutes (9:09 to 10:00; recall that the Langley fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09) to get fully armed planes over the National Capital Region, but with the authority to only identify by ‘type’ and by ‘tail.’   In sum, given the attack and response as it unfolded that day, neither force could have done anything to prevent the WTC and Pentagon tragedies.  Only the air defense force was in position to do anything about United 93 had its passengers not taken matters into their own hands.