9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian; Sep 10


In previous articles in this series we have listened to NEADS respond to one major scenario on each exercise day.  On Sep 6, the scenario concerned a military C-130 that was behaving strangely.  On Sep 7, the scenario was a defecting Aeroflot plane.  On Sep 8, NEADS exercised counter narcotics procedures dealing with a split track out of Bermuda headed for Philadelphia.

On Sep 9, CONR raised the force protection condition to “Bravo.”  NEADS then dealt with a terrorist rogue aircraft that was a threat to the tankers at Bangor, Maine, the preferred FAA divert landing site.  NEADS did not push back and the plane exploded on the runway at Bangor.

This article covers exercise activity on Sep 10, 2001.

Early Morning Activity

In a previous article I described early morning notional training at the Identification Technician (ID) position involving that position, a mentor/trainer, the MCC, and the simulation cell.  That training scenario involved a scramble on an unknown and then a divert to close with a deviating Cubana B747 that was NORDO.  The pilots confirmed the situation and the plane “landed” at Richmond, “away from the NCA.”

Later, about 1130Z (0730 local) the MCC left a voice mail morning brief for the command ground.  The report was short, “nothing significant.”  0910111643 Morning Brief

Exercise Pace Picks Up

Shortly thereafter the sector floor had to deal with an exercise unknown that could not be identified by the ID Technician. That scenario played out over 75 minutes.

The pace of play increased substantially and we have extensive audio available from the WD (Weapons Director/Controller) position and the Surveillance Technicians (trackers).  Here is the ID Technicians announcement of the unknown track.  0910111739 Track B054

Next we hear several exchanges between the MCC and the Weapons Director.  They decided to scramble Atlantic City and to make an “unknown rider” call on the guard frequency (in this case sim guard).  An unknown rider call is a procedure used to attempt contact with an unknown at a specific location.  In this audio file we hear a voice known to readers familiar with the audio files from 9-11.  Major Fox was the Weapons Director on the morning of Sep 10.  Given his role on 9-11 as the Senior Director and given his extensive exercise play the day before I will tell the rest of this scenario primarily in his voice.  0910111815 Scramble Atlantic City

We also learn in that clip that the NEADS call sign during exercise Vigilant Guardian was “Absence.”  Major Fox corrected himself immediately when he started to use “Huntress.”

In this next clip we hear language that would be replicated by Major Fox the next day.  He asked the MCC to state mission; it was ID by type and tail.  We also hear the phrase “Jersey Scramble.”  As Commission Staff learned, that was the standard scramble flight plan for Atlantic City, 090 for 90 (east heading for 90 nautical miles).  That standard plan was replicated with a slight variation at Langley for the real world alert fighters, 090 for 60.  And that was the exact flight plan entered into the FAA system on 9-11 by Andrews Tower to get the Langley fighters rapidly airborne to altitude over water.  This clip provides historians and researchers insight into the tactics, techniques and procedures in place at NEADS and exercised just one day prior to 9-11. 0910112023 ID by Type and Tail

The MCC canceled Atlantic City before the fighters were, notionally, airborne and scrambled Burlington instead. 0910112313 Scramble Burlington

Then Major Fox directed that the fighters come out at a higher altitude since they had so far to go.  He explained that they would put the fighters at “max subsonic” when they were airborne.  This audio is clear evidence of the standard air defense speed, a speed exercised on 9-10 and specified for the real world alert fighters on 9-11.  0910112553 Max Subsonic

During this scenario the trackers established a loop, a comms path, and their voices are heard on multiple channels.”Weapons” tasked them to hit up all tracks between Burlington and the unknown.  0910113320 Trackers at Work

NEADS then decided to place a second set of Burlington fighters on immediate.  The sim cell handled the request and said the pilots were in the building and the planes were cocked and ready to go.  As part of that procedure Major Fox took the time to provide a brief tutorial on telephone procedures at the SD and WD positions.  0910113503 Fox Tutorial

The Burlington “fighters,” Sunup 32 and 33, established contact with the Weapons Director, Major Fox.  He provided them specific instructions concerning mission and weapons status, and provided a BRA (bearing, range and altitude) to the target.  0910113925 Fox Directs Fighters

A few minutes later the flight lead reported that Sunup 33 was having compressor problems and that he was trying to restart.  0910114810 Fighter Problems

NEADS put the backup fighters at Burlington on Battle Stations. The situation with Sunup 33 was not resolved and the first pair of fighters was given a vector for Pease; the second set of fighters was scrambled.  0910114828 Sramble Sunup 34 and 35

While that situation was developing FAA’s Boston Center, Colin Scoggins simulated, reported that the Weather Service called and said they had lost a weather balloon somewhere near Brunswick.  0910114915 Scoggins Reports Balloon

Concurrently, NEADS was deciding whether to continue with a single fighter from the first scramble or with the second scramble, flight of two.  The Director of Operations opted for the latter.  On this next clip we hear those exchanges mixed with word from the MCC about the Scoggins report.  0910114928 DO Wants Them Together

Meanwhile, the Scoggins call continued and NEADS learned that Boston Center was not requesting military assistance.  0910115012 Scoggins Miltary Assistance Not Needed

NEADS was also dealing with the Burlington Command Post. That clip is important because in the background we hear the technicians discuss how log entries are made and gain some sense of the timeliness and accuracy of those entries.  0910115148 Log Entires Discussed

Weather was played real world for the exercise as we hear in this next clip.  0910115504 Weather is Real World

That caused a problem for the MCC since the unknown was a “little fast” for the winds aloft.  Even though the target was a suspected weather balloon the MCC determined that they would still have to “vis ID” it.  0910115742 Still Have to ID

NEADS apparently used this scenario to exercise regeneration of forces, the ability to maintain sustained operations.  Keeping in mind that Exercise Vigilant Guardian was, in part, preparation for war, regeneration capability was vital.  In this next clip we hear the MCC tasking Burlington Command Post (notional) to be prepared to launch a third and fourth set of fighters.  0910115900 Regeneration of Forces

On 9-11 the only east coast alert base capable of sustained air defense operations was Otis.  Otis did recall fighters on routine training to land and be armed to replace the Panta flight over New York City.  Langley had just four aircraft and three pilots available.  All three participated in the original scramble.  Langley was augmented by Andrews, ultimately.

The Burlington flight in distress did land at Pease AFB.  Thereafter, we hear Major Fox as Weapons Director controlling the second pair of Burlington fighters.  Although multiple conversations are heard the primary one is Fox going down his check list.  The language is technical and brief.  He informed the MCC that the check list was complete.  Note that the speed restriction, again, was max subsonic.  Near the end of the clip the Burlington fighters reported they were at .7 Mach.  0910120040 Weapons Director Check List

The Balloon Scenario End Game

The next few clips provide a detailed view of how NEADS controlled a scramble, once airborne.  First Major Fox provided an updated BRA to the target and acted as an air traffic controller concerning other traffic in the area.  0910121503 Fox as Controller

Once the fighters reported “feet wet” (over water) Fox ordered them to “strangle” (turn off) Mode 3 alpha charlie.  He confirmed they had radar contact with the target and gave them an updated BRA.  0910121633 Strangle Mode 3 He then confirmed that he and the fighters were tracking the same target.  0910121703 Contact is your Bogie

The fighters provided updates as the winds caused some concern at NEADS that the target was not a balloon.  Thereafter, Fox order the fighters to pursue.  0910121903 Sunup Go Pursuit

The final tactic used was to order the fighters to split, if necessary, to ID the target.  One fighter was to go no lower than 15,000 feet to maintain communications.  0910122137 Cleared to Split

The target was identified as a weather balloon and the fighters were ordered to return to base.  Major Fox immediately ordered the fighters to recycle Mode 3 and then mused, “how do we know if a weather balloon is friendly?”  0910122443 A Friendly Weather Balloon

Another Unknown

An hour later NEADS dealt with another unknown, one within the ADIZ.  The ID Technician did not resolve the identity within two minutes and Atlantic City was scrambled, again on a “Jersey Scramble.”  Even though the ID Technician had determined that the target might be an AT&T cable checker, NEADS continued the scramble process and, as with Burlington earlier, asked that an additional pair of fighters be placed on immediate status.

The resolution process was similar in most respects to the earlier Burlington pursuit of the balloon and was resolved when the fighters were able to gain communication with the AT&T plane and determined that all was well.

Here is the NEADS telephonic Form 61 report to CONR and NORAD, concurrently.  Note that the NEADS caller refers to cable checkers as a common occurrence.  0910132555 CONR NORAD Form 61 Report

I have spoken to that type flight in previous articles.  The AT&T flight is an example of a DVFR (Defense Visual Flight Rules) flight.  Such flights were a continuing concern to NEADS, as CONR and NORAD were informed. It is not surprising that  an exercise event was devoted to such a flight.

Waiting For Next Scenario

Fighter attrition was becoming an issue, one NEADS would have to track as the pace of the exercise accelerated.  There were continuing discussions about dispatching a maintenance team to Burlington to repair the fighter diverted there.  In addition, Atlantic City reported that one of the fighters who scrambled on the cable checker suffered a wheel assembly fire on landing and would be out of commission for several days.

Periodic real world activity was also dealt with, primarily a flight by Air Force Two from Andrews AFB to Lexington Kentucky, a B757.  There are two noteworthy clips, one concerning takeoff and concerning destination.  NEADS proactively called Washington Center concerning the departure.  0910133605 Washington Center AF 2 NEADS also proactively called Indy Center military desk to check on the arrival of Air Force Two.  Note how routinely NEADS dealt with two of the FAA Centers in its area of responsibility.  0910141352 Indy Military AF Two

Langley Training Question

Captain Craig Borgstrom from the Langley air defense alert detachment called with a training question.  They wanted to engage in local training with “hot pilots, cold birds.”  Here is that request.  0910144020 Langley Borgstrom Question

NEADS approved “hot pilot cold birds” training but wanted the alert fighters to remain uploaded, given the situation [unstated, but likely the ongoing Russian exercise].  Here is the answer.  0910144401 Langley Borgstrom Answer

My recall is that the Langley pilots told Commission Staff during interview that they had been scheduled to participate in local training on 9-11, something they often did in support of the Wing at Langley.

SEADS Evacuation, NEADS Expansion

At 1517Z (1117 local) NEADS learned that SEADS was evacuating for the exercise because of a fire in the battery room and that NEADS had to expand to take over SEADS area of responsibility.  The take over was treated as a real world expansion.  Here is the audio file with the notification and NEADS actions taken.  0910145650 SEADS Evacuation

The expansion was technical and the process of exchange was captured on the NEADS tapes.  For historians, that is available on Channel 2, DRM1, clip 150436.  The expansion took 19 minutes.  Here is the MCC’s announcement of the takeover.  0910152036 NEADS Assumes Control

Transponders Off, An Effective Hijacker Tactic

Here are two audio clips of NEADS coordinating with Miami AMIS, real world, concerning potential unknown tracks.  NEADS was just assuming responsibility for SEADS, to include Miami, an FAA entity not part of the NEADS normal ID checklist.  In just under two minutes two potential unknowns were resolved, the second one in a matter of seconds.  The reason the resolution was expeditious in both cases was that NEADS and Miami AMIS were seeing the transponder code.  0910154012 NEADS call to Miami AMIS 0910151437 Miami AMIS call to NEADS

A few minutes later NEADS resolved multiple tracks with Miami AMIS in just over a minute.  0910160906 Second NEADS Call to Miami AMIS

Multiple scenarios

After the expansion NEADS personnel worked to gain situational awareness concerning the task of covering for SEADS.  They discussed what to do if a real world scramble occurred and provided an update to the Battle Cab on the status of fighters at Homestead and Tyndall.  The ID and SD positions completed detailed coordination with their counterparts at Oakgrove (SEADS).

Because the expansion was both real world and exercise NEADS went to “mixed mode,” which meant that they were looking at tracks for both on the same scopes.  That was a net advantage as it turned out.  Canada East was trying to lateral tell an exercise track without success.  However, they were able to voice tell the track and provide a “Z” point in relation to a real world track.  Both tracks were Aeroflot flights.  Concurrently, there was a report of MiG 23s (Cuban) airborne (not clear whether exercise or real world) which required NEADS to respond.

Here is how NEADS responded to multiple scenarios beginning around 1540Z (1140 local) and continuing for at least two hours.  We being with the actions to take over from SEADS.

In this first clip the scramble policy was discussed.  0910151954 SEADS what if Then the MCC provided a fighter update to the Battle Cab.  0910152158 Homestead Tyndall

After the position level coordination between the ID and SD sections,  NEADS called Canada East for clarification on a live track of interest, an Aeroflot flight headed for JFK.  Here is that exchange.  0910160001 Aeroflot Special 20

A few minutes later the Sim Cell, simulating Canada East injected a deviating special 23 track, S426.  In these next two exchanges the exercise track was clearly distinguished from a live track. The problem was that the Canada East lateral tell was not showing up at the NEADS end. 0910161418 S426 Deviating 0910161646 Conversation Continued Special 27

NEADS ID then called Canada East to clarify the real world track and the exercise track.  The deviating exercise track was not responding to communications from Canadian air traffic control.  0910161948 NEADS clarifies both tracks with Canada

The ID Technician then made sure the Surveillance Technicians were aware of the situation.  A Surveillance Technician confirmed that NEADS was working in “mixed mode” because of the SEADS expansion and that the exercise lateral tell track was not displayed. The exercise track was Gander to Havana.  0910162400 ID cues Surveillance

The clarification between the two tracks was further extended to the Surveillance “loop.”  In a loop multiple trackers are controlled by a single entity.  In this next clip the AST position said “go 12,” acknowledging the tracker at scope 12.  Researchers  familiar with the NEADS tapes for the day of 9-11 will immediately recognize the lingo.  0910162805 Surveillance perspective

The next clip contains separate concurrent conversations, one by the MCC the other by AST.  AST provided guidance to his tracker since he had an extended area to cover.  In that conversation we learn that tracks over land were not of interest, but all tracks over water were, to include tracks over land that went “feet wet.”

(In my work on the Brothers to the Rescue project I learned that NORAD policy was that any mode 3 track that originated in CONUS was friendly by definition.  The surveillance conversation is a manifestation of that policy.)

The MCC, primarily in background, order a scramble from New Orleans on an unknown which was quickly determined to be a flight of F-15s (the Mice) returning.  That conversation was exercise related.  SEADS had no air defense alert fighters at New Orleans.

Here are both overlapping conversations.   0910163513 MCC and AST concurrent conversations

The MCC briefed the Battle Cab in detail suggesting a scramble from either Burlington or Atlantic City.  The Battle Cab was told where the deviating aircraft was, a “Zulu Point,” and was advised that the Canada East lateral tell was not coming through.  0910163820 Battle Cab briefed

Thereafter, the MCC called Canada East and arranged a work around, Canada East surveillance technicians would “voice tell” the track to their NEADS counterparts.  0910164050 Canada East Voice Tell

Separately, the Canada East SD/T called the NEADS MCC/T and passed specific information concerning the deviating flight, to include its projected path.  In the audio clip note the clear distinction between Mode 3 (transponder code) and Mode C (altitude) information passed by Canada East.  0910164153 Mode 3 Mode C

Immediately thereafter NEADS had to handle two exercise situations simultaneously, one in their sector, and one in the SEADS sector.  The NEADS sector issue involved the deviating flight, the SEADS sector issue involved a reaction to two Mig 23’s airborne from Cuba.

This next clip is an example of the ability of the MCC to “plug in” and listen to any position on the NEADS floor.  The overlapping conversations involved the SD and the MCC, concurrently.  The NEADS MCC consulted with the Battle Cab and the decision was to divert the Mice flight to a Zulu point south of Key West and to scramble Burlington on the deviating flight being handed off by Canada East.  0910164259 Two concurrent requirements

The concurrent work by the SD and the MCC, together and separately, continued.  In this next clip we learn that the Battle Cab directed that two additional Burlington fighters be brought up on immediate status.  Additional details about the deviating aircraft were provided including its route, Gander to Havana.  0910165124 Gander to Havana

Concurrently, S426, was voice told and NEADS assumed responsibility.  Here is the surveillance tracker exchange that made the transfer. 0910165122 S426 Voice Told Here is the formal announcement to the NEADS floor by the ID section.  0910165140 ID Announcement

NEADS was having difficulty with sim tracks double registering in the system.  That was a known problem that day.  In this clip Sergeant Powell asked the AST specifically about the number of tracks he was seeing, especially live tracks.  The AST spoke to the double register problem which did not concern Powell.  He challenged the number of real tracks and was told what he was seeing crossing Canada was normal.  Here is that exchange.  0910165455 Density of real tracks

Shortly thereafter, real world, NEADS was informed of the departure of Air Force One for Florida.  Here is that notification from FAA’s Washington Center (ZDC).  This clip demonstrates that there was a working relationship between NEADS and ZDC.  0910165524 President departs for Florida Here is an immediate Air Force One update from Calvert Sector to NEADS.  0910165815 AF1 Update Calvert Sector The ID technician passed the tracking data to Surveillance who immediately acquired the track.  0910165917 AF1 passed to surveillance

NEADS continued to work the two issues vectoring the Burlington fighters to do a covert intercept of the deviating Aeroflot flight and establishing coverage in the SEADS area.  Concerning the latter, there was one tracker exchange which provides additional evidence that NEADS was focused on over water and considered tracks over land, unless they had been designated special, to be friendly.  Here is that exchange.  0910170858 Over land not a Special

Over an hour after the deviating Russian flight was declared a Special 27 NEADS was granted intercept authority, to go in using hand signals to try and determine the intentions of the pilot.  Here is the audio file for those instructions.  0910172008 Intercept Authority Concurrently, an ID Technician asked Boston Center (simulated) what kind of military assistance they wanted.  The sim cell was evasive and left NEADS to their own devices.  0910172008 Military Assistance Requested The ID Technician then shortly called the sim cell again to confirm that the flight was, in fact, civilian.  0910172116 Confirmed Civilian

Thereafter the scenario in the SEADS area was resolved leaving the NEADS staff free to deal with the deviating Russian flight.  0910172246 RTB

The Russian flight was not cooperating.  NEADS grappled with what to do and where to divert, if necessary.  0910172426 Concord’s Close The Russian pilots simply waved, passengers took pictures of the fighters and communications could not be established. 0910172609 Taking Pictures

NEADS was running out of options.  The next tactic mentioned was “wing rock, follow me.”  There was still no radio contact with the flight even though one of the fighters (notional) was just outside his window. 0910172850 Wing rock follow me The pilots were alerted and told to maintain tactical position and stand by for “the words,” meaning a specific authority or direction to do something.  0910172924 Stand by for the words

The instructions were modified a bit and the fighters were directed to divert the flight out to sea, if able, working through [FAA] Center. 0910172941 Divert out to sea

NEADS continued to also work with Boston Center and learned they were still not talking to the flight.  0910173130 Check with Boston Center

NEADS insisted the fighters confirm that they had used both “loss of coms” and “loss of nav” hand signals and directed them to continue to divert the aircraft away from land.  It was heading for Boston.  0910173219 Heading toward Boston Specific instructions were then passed to the Surveillance section to report any change in altitude.  0910173412 Report any change in altitude

The Russian flight continued on a steady course for Boston at altitude.  The NEADS floor reaction, humorous at times, continued to push the air defense fighters for information and confirmation that they had followed procedures.  NEADS then decided on a divert base, if possible; Westover. 0910173430 Divert is Westover

NEADS real world responsibilities continued and they received a call from FAA’s Jacksonville Center that Air Force One was it its air space.  0910173442 AF1 in Jacksonville Center airspace

Meanwhile, at some point, NEADS determined the deviating aircraft would continue south and they considered possible divert bases and also what to do with the Burlington fighters.  There apparently was no tanker support and NEADS asked the fighters if they could make it to Langley.  In this next clip Major Fox’s voice is again heard as the Weapons Director.  0910174538 Make it to Langley

NEADS then worked with Langley to scramble fighters to replace the Burlington fighters, recover the Burlington fighters, and put a second set of Langley fighters on immediate status.  Concurrently, SEADS reconstituted its capability and recovered its radars one at a time from NEADS, the reverse of the earlier expansion progress.  This next audio clip provides insight into those multiple activities.  0910174721 Deexpansion and Scramble Langley

SEADS assumed air sovereignty in its area of responsibility at 1819Z (1419 local).  NEADS continued to try and divert the Russian civilian aircraft and Major Fox  worked to adjust the work schedule.  In an earlier article in this series concerning Vigilant Guardian we learned that he was arranging the work schedules for his Flight (Delta Flight, as I recall) for the exercise.  In this clip Fox is hear saying he will cover the SD (Senior Director) position tomorrow morning. 0910175910 Fox will be SD on 9-11

After SEADS took their area back NEADS dropped out of mixed mode display and as their sim picture separately restored they checked sim comms to determine if there was anything new with the Russian flight.  There was nothing new.  Here is Major Fox’s sim call to the fighters.  0910180349 Nothing new

SEADS and NEADS compared notes on the expansion and return to normal.  NEADS conducted expanded operations, exercise and real world, for two hours and thirty-five minutes.  Here is the SEADS/NEADS comparison.  0910180508 NEADS SEADS Compare notes

A few minutes later, the Burlington fighters, Sun Up, checked in to advise the Russian flight had turned slightly.  NEADS estimated it was heading for Atlantic City and the fighters were advised not to let it over fly that location.  The MCC, in consultation with the Battle Cab, then scrambled Atlantic City.  0910181114 Scramble Atlantic City

NEADS, in consultation with the Burlington fighters, decided they would recover to Atlantic City.  They were relieved by the Atlantic City fighters.  Once airborne, the Atlantic City fighters checked in with NEADS and provocatively asked for permission to fire across the bow of the Russian flight.  Major Fox ignored that gambit by the exercise cell, but would later return to the issue.  0910182736 Atlantic City fighters check in

NEADS was puzzled about what to do with the Russian flight and what threat it posed.  The MCC at one time thought about the NCA (Washington DC), but then recognized that the plane had proceeded south.  The Battle Cab asked the Burlington and Atlantic City fighters if they had noticed anyone on board the plane wearing military uniforms or if the plane had reconnaissance bubbles that had not been reported.

As the plane continued south Major Fox gave the Atlantic City fighters explicit instructions to not allow the flight to overfly Oceana and Langley and they added, “you are weapons safe,” closing the loop on the earlier request for permission to fire across the bow.  0910184256 Weapons Safe

Whether by accident or by design of the exercise, NEADS briefly lost data on the Russian flight.  The MCC immediately called the Coast Guard (simulated) and the sim cell reconstituted the data as a result.  Meanwhile, the SEADS ID section, planning ahead, called for information on the wayward flight.  0910183826 SEADS ID call

At the Weapons Director position Major Fox thought that a pilot fuel report was suspiciously low.  He asked the fighters how they were configured and then suggested that they tap on their fuel gauges and provide a correct status.  They did as directed and reported more fuel than before.  The MCC found that exchange amazing.

More seriously, the Battle Cab was planning a turnover of responsibility for the Russian flight to SEADS.  As that was happening word came in of a bomb threat at WADS.  It was uncertain if they were evacuating but the implication for NEADS was clear, they might have to expand coverage as they did earlier for SEADS.  0910185317 WADS bomb threat

Nearly two and one-half hours after the Special 27, deviating Russian commercial flight, was voice told to NEADS from Canada East, NEADS formally handing the track and the Atlantic City fighters to SEADS.  Here is that clip including the notification to the NEADS MCC.  0910190542 Handoff to SEADS It remains to be seen if NEADS will learn the ultimate disposition of both the track and the fighters.

Looking ahead, NEADS will, in turn, receive a track and fighters from SEADS, a hijacked Cubana flight with armed persons on board seeking asylum.  NEADS, knowing that the pace of the exercise was accelerating and not knowing what was ahead had already put Atlantic City on alert to provide two additional sets of fighters.  Here is that exchange with the sim cell.  0910185737 Atlantic City on further alert

What’s Next?

As NEADS personnel waited for the next exercise inject they took time to clear up the WADS bomb threat issue and learned that the event was over; there would be no expansion.  0910191246 WADS bomb threat over

Shortly before, they received a real-world Cubana track from SEADS, a flight from Havana to Montreal.  Shortly after, Canada East called about the same track.  Here is the SEADS notification.  0910191116 Cubana flight real world

NEADS had also followed up with SEADS to make sure the Atlantic City fighters were being lateral told back to NEADS.  In the course of that conversation SEADS asked if NEADS had gone to twelve (twelve hour shifts).  The answer was no, that was scheduled for Wednesday, Sep 12.  Here is that exchange.  0910191845 Working Twelve

During what was likely a shift change, we hear about the resolution of the Atlantic City fighters and the first mention of a possible Cubana hijack.  In this next clip we learn that SEADS was to provide a tanker for the Atlantic City fighters so that they could return home.  We also learn that, according to the FO (Fighter Officer, a Battle Cab position) there was a potential hijack of a Cubana flight.  The requirement discussed was to have SEADS lateral tell the track.  0910193357 Hijack first mention

SEADS was lateral telling the Cubana flight, track C106, but the track dropped.  NEADS called SEADS to restore the lateral tell and in the process received detailed information.  The flight plan was Havana to Shannon.  Three hijackers were seeking political asylum and the pilot was planning to head for JFK.  SEADS had fighters in trail.  In this next clip note the deliberate, check-list, approach to the hijacking, which was, according to SEADS, squawking the hijack code, 7500.  The track had been reclassified a Special 15.  0910195332 SEADS report to NEADS

The MCC was briefed and she discussed what to do next.  The decision requirement was in the Battle Cab (Fighter Officer) and the NEADS floor speculated a requirement to scramble Atlantic City.  In this next clip we learn that for the first time in the exercise tanker support will be available, at 2100Z.  0910200022 MCC briefed

A few minutes later on the Guard (emergency) Channel for the exercise NEADS received a distress call.  Guard was, and is, constantly monitored, by NEADS, and the other CONR sectors, real world and exercise..  On the NEADS recording system, for those familiar with the NEADS audio files, that was channel 24, in this case DRM2, channel 24.  A caller with a military call sign, Split 23, reported that he had been shot by Split 22.  Here is that emergency call.  0910201045 May Day Call

On the first rebroadcast NEADS responded immediately.  In that audio clip we learn that Split 22 was an F-18 and that Split 23’s intentions were to recover to Oceana.  0910201107 MCC Immediate Response

The Senior Director then learned that Split 22 could not escort Split 23.  The shooting was deliberate and Split 23 declared Split 22 to be a “Rogue F18.”  0910201213 Split 22 Rogue F18

Thereafter, the Senior Director, Captain Shelley, was faced with two concurrent events, each requiring a scramble.  How she handled that situation is important primary source information concerning 9-11.  It depicts explicitly how NEADS handled concurrent multiple events on 9-10 during the exercise and how they would have done so on 9-11.  It also establishes that the exercise was an advantage for NEADS, as NORAD stated and as Scott established when he wrote his trilogy of articles.  NEADS did not have to recall anyone, they had sufficient assets on hand because of the exercise to handle multiple events.  Their process and procedures were simple, as you are about to hear.  They expanded operations using additional scopes and additional manpower.

The beginning of that multi-event story is best told in Captain Shelley’s own voice as we listen to her grapple with the situation.  I’ve broken up the audio file in manageable segments.

Shelley dealt first with the rogue F18 asking for an additional Senior Director to assist.  She then dealt with the hijack. This is implicit evidence of the mind set prevalent through out NORAD and FAA prior to 9-11 that managing a hijack would be an extended event to assist the pilot in reaching an intended destination.

We start with the Guard May Day calls separately recorded, in context, on a different channel.  Shelley had just learned that the Burlington fighters who landed at Atlantic City had recovered back to Burlington.  She was arranging for their return to status when the May Day calls came in.  0910200848 May Day calls in context She quickly delegated responsibility for the Rogue 18 issue and got that under control.  0910201328 That’s Under Control

Shelley had things organized within a few minutes and she turned her attention to managing both situations.  Two scrambles had been ordered, Langley (not the dedicated air defense fighters) for the Rogue F18, and Bangor for tanker support.  She received guidance from the MCC, Major Anderson, to hold off on a scramble from Atlantic City concerning the hijacked Cubana flight.  0910201548 We’re Almost Done Here

The rogue F18 became a menace to air traffic and Washington Center (sim) made a series of two calls to NEADS.  NEADS advised they knew about the aircraft and that their checklist said to take no action unless requested by the controlling agency.  0910201932 Washington Center report

Washington Center called back asking for assistance.  NEADS had determined there was no controlling agency and reported that the F18 “was doing its own thing,” and that they “would take care of business.”  0910202144 Rogue aircraft doing own thing

NEADS then checked with SEADS on the status of its returning Atlantic City fighters and the hijacked Cubana flight.  They learned (incorrectly) that the fighters would recover at Langley and that the Cubana flight was still destined for JFK but had turned toward land toward the Myrtle Beach area.  NEADS later learned that the Atlantic City fighters had enough fuel to return home.  0910202553 SEADS Cubana Update

NEADS then received a call from a hurricane hunter that was going to penetrate the ADIZ and wanted to make sure NEADS knew who he was.  NEADS immediately asked if the call was real world or exercise. It was a real world flight.  0910202612 NOAA42

NEADS continued to work both events simultaneously.  They were told that Split 23, the wingman who had been shot, had landed safely at Langley.  For the rogue F18 they received specific rules of engagement.  For the Cubana hijacked flight they observed that it had gone “feed dry” (was overland) and considered canceling the tanker scramble from Bangor and the fighter scramble from Atlantic City.  They were also tasked to determine how much fuel the rogue fighter had and estimate its “play time.”  In this next clip we hear both situations being handled concurrently in overlapping conversations.  0910203211 ROE

The overlapping conversations continued.  The SD reported to the MCC that Split 22 had 30 minutes “play time.”  Concurrently, the Weapons Directors understood that the hijacked Cubana flight might land at Charleston; they immediately worked to put the Bangor scramble on hold.  0910203451 30 Minutes Play Time

The Rules of Engagement were passed to the Langley (not the Hooligans) fighters.  In this next audio clip we hear the passage of that authority from the SD to the Weapons Team and then to the pilot.  The exchange is explicit evidence of how NEADS would engage any target, to include proper authentication. It is how they would have engaged on 9-11 if ordered to do so.  (I speculate that on 9-11 they would also have been provided precise tactical instructions and very specific guidance on weaponry to use.)  The audio also reveals that there was a civilian airliner in the area.  Weapons worked with the ID technician to positively identify that track.  0910203711 Cleared to Engage

Rogue F18, the end game, how NEADS would have operated on 9-11

The rogue F18 landed at Baltimore (BWI) on his own volition.  The NEADS audio files reveal the explicit steps the Sector took to deal with shoot-down authority in a populated area against a target that was also a potential threat to the NCA.

Here is that story and we begin with a legitimate diversion by the sim cell as a distraction, a call from Cape May (sim) Search and Rescue.  Here is how the SD, Captain Shelley handled that situation.  0910204105 Cape May SAR

The first step taken by NEADS was to direct the pilots to broadcast a warning on the guard frequency.  0910204415 Broadcast on Guard

The second step was to determine the threat and the fuel state of the fighters.  0910204608 Threat and Fuel State

The third step was to determine the results of the call on guard.  0910204725 Guard call results

The fourth step was to determine what was on the ground in the vicinity.  The fighters were again given engagement authority because the rogue F18 had turned toward the NCA.  That authority was soon withheld when the fighters reported they were over a populated area.  The solution was to force the F18 out over the water.  The pilots then reported that it looked like he was going to land at Baltimore.  0910204828 Ground Situation

The fifth step was to let the F18 land so long as he stayed in the landing pattern.  If he deviated they were cleared to engage.  0910204951 Monitor landing

Once he landed the sixth step was to provide further instructions to the fighters.  0910205220 Landed what next

The seventh step was to ask through FAA (sim) that the pilot be apprehended.  An ID Technician made that call as the MCC coordinated events.  The SD was told the runway was closed but if anything took off the fighters were cleared to engage.  0910205628 Guard against takeoff

The eight and final step was to ensure that airport security had the situation under control.  The ID Technician made the call to Baltimore (sim).  0910205808 F18 surrounded

That left one loose end, the disposition of the Cubana hijacked flight.  The AST informed the new MCC that the Special had landed at Shaw Air Force Base.  The event was apparently resolved by SEADS and it never became an issue for NEADS.  0910210330 Landed at Shaw

Quiet Time

The NEADS floor was quite during the evening hours.  However, there were five administrative events that expand on our knowledge of NEADS operations.

First we hear a request to make a PA announcement concerning Force Protection Bravo.  Recall that NEADS had been at Bravo for sometime for exercise Vigilant Guardian.  An announcement was supposed to be made every two hours, according to the request.  The requestor was told that things were relatively quiet and to go ahead.  This is primary source validation that Force Protection was an integral part of exercise Vigilant Guardian.  0910223235 FP Bravo Announcement

Next is a point out, real world, on a Cubana flight by FAA’s Cleveland Center to the NEADS ID Section.  This clip verifies the close working relationship between NEADS and not just FAA’s Boston, New York, and Washington centers but interior CONUS centers, as well.  I will have more to say about that relationship in a Vigilant Guardian 01 summary article, currently in draft.  0910225456 Cleveland Center Within an hour, NEADS received a similar call from Washington Center concerning a scheduled Aeroflot flight, Dulles to Moscow.  0910234421 Washington Center

Third is a real world annoucement that NEADS was partial mission capable.  This had to do with a command and control link (TADIL) that was being worked by NEADS technicians.  The issue was briefed to the MCC for his information and approval.  The announcement also demonstrates a consistent NEADS practice to clearly separate real world and exercise events.  0910230150 Real World Announcement A few minutes later, the MCC announced that the NEADS SOC was fully mission capable [full duplex].  0910231920 Mission Capable

Fourth was a conversation which confirmed the NEADS three-shift status, they had not yet gone to twelve-hour shifts.  The caller asked if Major Nasypany was coming in on “mids” and was told that Charlie Crew as coming in and that Nasypany [Alpha Crew] we be in first thing in the morning.  0910231330 Nasypany status

Fifth, the Wing at Otis called to advised that both alert aircraft were on status.  One had been taken off status for a systems check.  The caller advised that the alert fighters had been configured for the ATO (air tasking order for the next day,9-11).  We know from testimony and documents collected by the 9-11 Commission that the air defense fighters on 9-11 carried additional fuel and armament because of the Russian air exercise.  That configuration would have been specified in the ATO.  0910234648 Otis Status Real World

The end of the day

The rest of the day was uneventful as of 0400Z (2400 local)  There was one additional update from Washington Center of an Aeroflot flight.  And NEADS later handed the flight off to another sector.

Charlie crew ended the day with an intelligence briefing.  Shortly before midnight the MCC made the announcement.  0911033620 Intel Briefing

My assessment is that the briefing pertained to the Russian exercise, an exercise that had Ben Sliney’s attention at the FAA’s Herndon Center the next morning.  081709 Oakland Sliney Russian Missile Shot There is no evidence that NEADS ever talked to Herndon Center during Exercise Vigilant Guardian.

That next morning, September 11, 2001, Ben Sliney National Operations Manager and operator of the National Air System, and Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS Commander and defender of the National Air System on the East coast, would fight a losing battle against a double envelopment terrorist hijack attack.  Demonstrably, neither Sliney or Marr was aware of the others existence.  The only thing they had in common was an interest in the Russian exercise.