9-11: NEADS Mission Crew Commander; a valiant effort, ultimately futile, Part III


This is the third 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 two articles (part I, part II) we covered Major Nasypany’s actions up to 0921 EDT,  concluding with a brief to the Battle Cab on the friendly situation, tankers and fighters.  He had recently talked with Colin Scoggins at Boston Center and concluded the conversation with a request.  “If you get anything…give us a yell.”  Scoggins was about to do just that and we resume the next twenty minutes of the story with the results of that call.

American 11, Reborn

As we listen in to Major Nasypany’s channel, DRM1, Channel 2, it is clear that something was going on in the background.  Nasypany’s immediate reaction was, “Shit.  Give me the location.”  He immediately began briefing Colonel Marr in the battle cab.  Explicitly, the reported aircraft is identified by tail number, “November three three four alpha alpha.”  That was the tail number for AA 11 and was so recorded in the official NEADS record of important activity, the MCC/T log.

After concluding the brief to the Battle Cab, Nasypany acknowledged the capability of his adversaries, “these guys are smart.”  A voice responded, “They know exactly what they want.”  Some researchers have taken it upon themselves to pronounce the hijackers as incapable of mounting the attack that unfolded on 9-11.  Major Nasypany and the men and women on duty at NEADS that day could afford no such speculation.  They knew, in real time, they were up against a sophisticated enemy and grudgingly acknowledged that fact for posterity.

Here is the most problematic clip in all the NEADS files concerning the NORAD and FAA failure in the aftermath to explain what happened. 

0911 0922 N334AA

There is no question that NEADS, and by extension, CONR and NORAD, had the information available after 9-11 to tell an accurate story.  Specifically, the NEADS staff had three pieces of information available; the MCC/T log, the recording of Nasypany’s actions and brief to the Battle Cab, and a transcript of the relevant portion of Nasypany’s audio channel.  The verifiable tail number information, alone, was proof that the plane at issue was AA 11.  Not only did Major Nasypany know that and so brief the battle cab, but MSGT Dooley announced it to all in the area of the MCC position, as heard in the background on this singularly important clip.

Nasypany continued to discuss the American Airlines, the first one, and then fielded a call from an unidentified person and provided  the call signs for the Langley fighters.  0924 Quit 25 and 26

He then briefed the Battle Cab on the armament of both the Langley and Otis fighters, updated the scramble and discussed tanker support.  A discussion concerning a tail chase occurred in the background.  The Battle Cab said no.  Nasypany then acknowledged that they could not locate AA11, “even though we couldn’t find him.”  0925 Forget the tail chase

Nasypany was listening in to a controller position working with tankers and much of his floor conversation was obscured.  There is one fragment available which captured his plans for the Langley fighters.  He wanted them at an intercept point north of the NCA (National Capital Area), “ten miles north.”   0928 Intercept point north of NCA

In another conversation fragment Nasypany documented that as of 0929 EDT NEADS had just three planes unaccounted for, AA 11 still airborne, UA 175 hit the World Trade Center, and a third one they were not sure about.  That latter comment was not a reference to AA 77.  In context, it accounted for the fact that something struck the north tower, if not AA 11. 0929 Three planes unaccounted for

Nasypany then updated someone, most likely the Battle Cab, in a conversation overridden by a weapons controller.  Thereafter, he asked Major Fox whether they launched two or three fighters at Langley.  He was told they scrambled two but there was an extra pilot and fighter available.  Nasypany, on his own recognizance, directed “let’s launch them too.”  0929 two or three at Langley

At this point the electronic feed for the exercise Vigilant Guardian resumed. The exercise, itself, never restarted that morning.  Major Nasypany’s immediate response was to order, “turn the sim switches off, get rid of that crap.” That order was carried out immediately as discussed in my recent article, “9-11: Exercise not a detractor, the definitive story.” The exercise was never a hindrance to Major Nasypany that morning.  Here is the audio of Nasypany’s reaction and order.  0930 Get rid of that crap

As of 0933, Major Nasypany knew that the Quit, flight of three, was airborne.  The weapons control team discovered that the fighters were headed for an offshore training area, Whiskey 386.  The assistant controller, Sergeant Huckabone observed, “Quit 25 is headed into Whiskey three eighty six, and I have no idea why.”  That was just after the lead pilot and Norfolk TRACON decided that the flight plan of “090 for 60” (fly heading 90 degrees for 60 nautical miles) took precedence over the scramble order. 093100 Langley What Heading would like hand off Giant Killer

Here is a graphic to aid the reader.  It was created in the 84th RADES RS3 software and imported into powerpoint for annotation.  The times depicted in red are radar times for key maneuvers and other actions.  The times associated with NEADS audio files are depicted in blue.

The Commission Report stated that at the time AA 77 impacted the Pentagon, the Langley fighters were “about 150 miles away.”  As this graphic shows, at 0938 the fighters were just beginning their turn north and were at their furthermost distance from the Pentagon.  The slight turn to the right at 0933 marks the decision by the pilot and Norfolk TRACON to proceed on a heading of 090.

The Langley fighters were going to proceed to about the Delmarva Peninsula in any event.  That was the standard procedure for an eastern takeoff, the normal practice since the air defense alert facility was at the far western end of the runway.  The SOP in effect in 2001 called for runway heading to 4000 feet on takeoff.   Thereafter, a turn north at that point was problematic since a warning area to the north, Patuxent, was an issue, if active.  It was not, but that fact had to be determined.

The point is that there was reason for Langley Tower to enter a flight plan of “090 for 60” into the system.  It was a known, problem-free, egress route, one used over and over again.  It is worth noting that the Otis fighters, earlier, also took off to the east and then circled back.  Much later, the Atlantic City fighters would also take off to the east on a flight plan of 090 for 120, the ‘Jersey scramble.’  All of the tactics, techniques and procedures in place that day were predicated on a threat over water.

As we pick up the story, Nasypany’s voice can be heard in the background confirming that the fighters were airborne, asking for the airborne time.  0933 Quit flight airborne (See the Langley category for details on how that happened.)

At 0934 NEADS learned that AA 77 was lost.  As Nasypany was confirming airborne time for the Langley fighters, MSGT Dooley made the announcement about AA 77.  Nasypany responded, “where from…AA 77, write that down.”  Nasypany was listening in to the Langley weapons controllers and his report to the Battle Cab was overridden as the controllers worked with Giant Killer to get the Langley fighters to go direct Baltimore. Giant Killer was and is a Navy facility that controls aircraft in military training areas using FAA procedures.

Nasypany’s voice is occasionally heard in background making his report.  At this point in time all NEADS knew, operationally, was that AA 77 was reported lost and that the Langley fighters needed to be redirected north.  There is no correlation between those two events, AA 77 was not yet known as anything other than lost.  It is this NEADS-Giant Killer conversation that led to the NEADS erroneous conclusion that it was Giant Killer’s fault that the fighters were headed in the wrong direction. 0934 AA 77 Write it down

As of 0936 the weapons controllers were still working with Giant Killer on the redirection of the Langley fighters to hold over Baltimore [BWI airport].  At the conclusion of that coordination–it was determined that Washington Center would maintain primary control–Nasypany learned that he had an unknown aircraft in the vicinity of the White House.  Nasypany directed, “Foxy, got an aircraft six miles east [Boston corrected that, subsequently, to be west] of the White House.  Get your fighters there.  Jesus, Fox.” 0936 Fighters to hold over Baltimore

Nasypany immediately briefed the Battle Cab.  Two other things were happening concurrently on his channel. The controllers acknowledged that the information came from Boston and prepared to “turn and burn,” a “monster marsh”  The lead tanker, Team 21, confirmed that he was hearing the fighters “loud and clear.”  Nasypany reported that the target was deviating and he received orders to send the fighters “straight in, run ’em.”  He also asked if Marr was authorizing AFIO (Authority for Intercept Operations.), a significant decision that required NEADS to exercise air traffic control.  Nasypany’s final comment on this next clip was to ask if they were going “direct to DC?”  Fox responded that they were running them “right now.”  0937 AFIO a monster mash

Except they were not.  At 0937, just prior to AA 77 impacting the Pentagon, the controllers tried to reach Quit 25, direct.  Unsuccessful, they immediately called Giant Killer and directed that the fighters go direct Washington.  Giant Killer advised that the fighters were being handed off to “Center [Washington Center]”.  Giant Killer turned the fighters north at 0938.  Thereafter, the controllers looked to link the fighters to track B032 just as NEADS lost the track.  At that point Major Nasypany asked Where’s Langley at, where are the fighters? 0938 Where are the fighters

At 0939, Nasypany appeared to have acknowledged that the fighters were in W386, the person speaking is likely him. Soon thereafter, he directed “go super if necessary…I don’t care how many windows you break.”  At the point Quit 25 changed his mode 3 code to 7777, the AFIO code and the fighters were being turned by Giant Killer and Washington Center to head northwest, but still on an azimuth for BWI.  0940 Don’t care how many windows you break

As of 0940 the weapons controllers were futilely looking for the track of interest, “where did 0032 go.  I’ve gotta find that track.”  Nasypany learned the reason why the Langley fighters were in W386, “because Giant Killer send them out there.”  Nasypany’s frustrated and profane response was immediate, “God dammit!”  Ironically, the voice of MSGT Dooley can be heard in the background obtaining the last known location of AA77, “08252 west.”  It was the ultimate futile moment for NEADS, they knew nothing about the location of AA 77, the unknown tracked as B032 had disappeared, and the Langley fighters were astray in an offshore military training area. 0940 Giant Killer sent them there

As of 0941 an unknown voice summed up what NEADS knew about hijacked aircraft, “No, we’ve heard three now, United one seven five, American Airlines eleven, and American seven seven.”  The “three now” comment linked back to the 0929 summation when only two were known, by name.   0941 We’ve heard three now

But “three now” was temporary.  NEADS and Major Nasypany would, within seconds of that summation, learn about Delta 19890941 Delta what

To be continued