This is the second in a series of articles describing the battle on the morning of September 11, 2001, from the perspective of the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Mission Crew Commander (MCC) Major Kevin Nasypany. The account is based on primary source information, the NEADS audio tapes.
In the first article we covered the first eighteen minutes of the counterattack, from the moment the phone rang at NEADS with a request for military support from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Boston Center to the point that NEADS tacticians, Major Nasypany and Major Fox, the Senior Director (SD) had decided to place the just airborne Otis fighters in a holding pattern in a designated offshore military training area (Whiskey 105).
As we pick up the story Majors Fox and Nasypany are continuing on the basis that AA 11 might still be airborne. As yet, they know nothing of the situations concerning UA 175 and AA 77, both known to FAA but not to the military.
Continue to hold
Major Nasypany continued conversations with both Colonel Marr in the Battle Cab and Major Fox, the SD. Concurrently, and heard faintly in background, Colin Scoggins, Boston Center called the Identification (ID) Technicians and reported that Boston was pretty sure the AA 11 hit the World Trade Center.
During that time Nasypany mused, in jest, to either Fox or Marr, or both, “think we put the exercise on hold, what do you think?” The time was just before 0858 EDT and the morning’s exercise activity had not yet begun. That is yet more evidence that NEADS clearly separated exercise and real world activity and that exercise Vigilant Guardian did not interfere with the military response to the hijackings. Here is the audio clip. 0911121800 Continue to hold
Continuity of operations
As of 0900 EDT. NEADS had just one issue on its plate, guarding against AA 11 assuming it was not the aircraft that struck the World Trade Center north tower. NEADS had committed 50% of its available assets and was now faced with the task of maintaining operations. The Otis fighters had been vectored to a holding pattern south of New York City but could not remain there indefinitely without tanker support.
Major Nasypany in a brief to the Battle Cab concluded by pointing out they had a tanker, Maine 85 in Whiskey 105 that they could use. That capability was coordinated with Giantkiller. 0911121800 We have Maine 85
Nasypany was listening in to the weapons controllers and remarked that it looked like Maine 85 was on his way home. Concurrently, the controllers were discussing tanker operations in general and Sergeant Beluscio called McGuire to ask about KC 10 support. During a series of two phone calls background voices can be heard discussing the situation, including the call signs for the Otis fighters. A comment was made that they lost the hijacked airliner when the World Trade Center was struck. Another comment indicated that the Battle Cab was following the tanker support situation and had asked how long Maine 85 would be available.
Toward the end of the second Beluscio phone call the MCC briefed the Battle Cab about a second hijack, real world, a United. The time was 0904 EDT; United 175 had just struck the south tower. 0911121800 Second hijack a United real world
Nasypany, still listening to the Weapons Controllers, briefed the Battle Cab while Sergeant Beluscio was arranging for tanker support. Those concurrent events are heard intermingled in the next audio clip. The net result of Beluscio’s work was guaranteed tanker support, already airborne, Team 23 and Team 24, two DC-10s, “heavyweights.” 0911121800 Battle Cab brief and tanker support
Thereafter, Nasypany directed Major Fox to “plug in’ and then told “Foxy” to work with FAA to get the fighters over Manhattan so that they would have some kind of play if this stuff continued. Fox’s plug in is clearly distinguishable in this next clip and, briefly, radio comms are heard in the background, most likely the controller talking to the Otis fighters. 0911121800 Over Manhattan some kind of play
Langley, Battle Stations
Nasypany continued to brief the Battle Cab and advised that he was scrambling Langley. He was immediately given countermanding guidance to put NEADS last remaining aid defense assets on battle stations only, which he did. While NEADS continued to work the tanker support issue Sergeant Powell issuing the battle stations order for Quit 25 and 26. He documented the time as 0910. 0911121800 Langley Battle Stations Only
Three things were ongoing concurrently as heard on the next clip. Fox attempted to contact New York Center, unsuccessfully. Nasypany directed that he wanted the Otis fighters south of JFK and then gave orders to the trackers to cover Boston, Manhattan, and points in between, all the while keeping the Battle Cab informed. Powell called Langley back to further coordinate and in the process was asked for the “words,” the mission. All he could provide was “the hijacking going on.” There was no target and therefore no intercept mission. 0911121800 Many voices no target
Tactical Plan Completed
By 0915 Nasypany’s tactical plan was complete, in consultation with the Battle Cab. At that time NEADS had no targets, 50% of its air defense assets aloft in a holding pattern in Whiskey 105, and the other 50% on Battle Stations. They were positioning tankers in support, Maine 85 in Whiskey 105 to support the Otis fighters and one KC 10 in Whiskey 107 to support the Langley fighters, if scrambled. They were ready for any additional targets originating from Boston unaware that a new threat to the nation’s capital was approaching from the West. 0911121800 Tactical plan completed
Retrospectively, a summation of what was going on, in real time, is in order. The time was 0908 EDT. Two planes had been identified to NEADS as hijacked, AA 11 and UA 175. NEADS had sufficient information to know that Mode 3 3321 (United 175) impacted the World Trade Center. NEADS understood that AA 11 may have also impacted but did not know that with clarity.
AA 77 had been hijacked, but that fact was not known to either of the two persons who were fighting the battle or their organizations; Ben Sliney at Herndon Center, the Operations Manager of the National Airspace System (NAS), and Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS, the defender of the NAS. Nor was that fact known to the tactical officers for Marr, Major Nasypany the Mission Crew Commander and Major Fox, the Senior Director.
There is nothing that any higher echelon in the chain of command, all the way to the National Command Authority, could do. No definitive action had yet been taken at FAA, the Pentagon, or the White House. Yes, there was an understanding that the nation was under attack, but none of the coordinating mechanism–FAA’s primary net, the NMCC’s Significant Event Conference–had been activated.
The battle would soon get more chaotic and Nasypany and Fox, with guidance from Marr would, together and separately from Ben Sliney and Herndon Center, fight the rest of battle. Marr and Sliney never communicated; they did not know each other, had never met, and did not understand one to the other that for there to be any success at all the had to share critical information in real time.
Information concerning AA 77 was never forthcoming in a timely manner. At the time Nasypany was directing Fox to get the Otis fighters over Manhattan Indianapolis Center was taking action to spread the word about a potential threat from the West. Dutifully, the Center notified its next higher administrative headquarters, Great Lakes Region. The critical information that AA 77 was lost was simply held at the Region while they tried to grapple with a situation they did not understand.
Concurrently, under the assumption that AA 77 had crashed, the Center notified the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) at Langley AFB. At Langley, as at Great Lakes the information simply stopped. The RCC had no obligation to report further, its job was to take action to initiate rescue operations, which it did.
Unbeknownst to everyone, and even though AA 77 as a primary target only was not detectable at the scope level at Indianapolis Center, AA 77 came into range of the Joint Surveillance System radars supporting NEADS. By 0910 NEADS could have refocused their search to the West and, in my assessment, would have quickly picked up the track.
I make that assessment for three reasons. First, there was far less clutter to deal with. Second, the JSS search algorithms would have tracked fore and aft to correlate the unknown track to the known track of AA 77 before the transponder was turned off. Third, by that time Sergeant Richmond had sufficient trackers at his beckon to dedicate one or more to the new threat.
In sum, the time frame 0909-0910 was the critical opportunity for Herdon Center and NEADS working together to scramble the Langley fighters Westerly. Instead, NEADS operating suboptimally with Boston Center, prudently, in my estimation given the information available to them at the time, opted to place those fighters on battle stations only, as we shall soon hear. Further, NEADS committed the Otis fighters away from the Whiskey 105 holding pattern and they were no longer available.
With that opportunity never recognized, Nasypany and Fox continued their tactical work simply unaware that the second prong of a two-pronged attack was developing.
AT 0916 EDT Colin Scoggins, Boston Center called with an update and a tail number for UA 175. Scoggins asked the ID Technicians what the NEADS plan was in there were any more deviating aircraft. The Technicians referred Scoggins to Nasypany and he picked up on DRM1 Channel 4 to brief Scoggins. To conclude the conversation Nasypany asked Scoggins, “if you get anything…give us a yell.” The time was 0919 EDT. 0911125341 Scoggins Nasypany Conversation
Major Nasypany then updated the Battle Cab on the Scoggins call. He also advised on the tactics he would use, if necessary against a large aircraft, “AIM 9’s in the face.”
During the update Nasypany learned and briefed the Battle Cab that the Otis Supervisor of Flying had recalled the six aircraft on a training mission for possible use. Nasypany misinterpreted this to mean the planes were back on the ground and were ready. According to the 84th RADES radar files the fighters were then in the process of returning. 0911125834 Scoggins call briefed to Battle Cab
It was 0921 and Nasypany was asking for a cup a coffee. The NEADS counterattack had been in progress for forty minutes. During that time they had been informed of two hijacked aircraft, AA 11 and UA 175 and knew that two aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center. They had no targets and were arranging for tanker support and additional assets, specifically backup from Otis for Panta 45 and 46. Their last remaining air defense fighters at Langley had been placed on battle stations. Nasypany had tightened the relationship with Boston Center, specifically Colin Scoggins. NEADS knew nothing of the developing situation to the West concerning AA 77, but they were about to find out, not in the form of a new plane, but an old foe reborn, AA 11.
To be continued