This is the fifth and concluding article in a series 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 four articles (part I, part II, part III, part IV) we covered Major Nasypany’s actions up to 1010 EDT. NEADS had just heard about a fourth hijacked aircraft, UA 93, and, concurrently an aircraft over the White House. It had also heard of a potential threat of an unknown aircraft from Canada headed toward the nation’s capital.
We will pick up the story at that point, but first we need to tend to some unfinished business. In Part IV we left hanging the story of how the Langley fighters finally arrived on station and we did not identify the source of the unknown aircraft over the White House.
Langley fighters. In part IV the status of the Langley fighters was described as follows: “ At 0946 the CAP point provided, 3825N 07702W was transposed in its northern component, which should have been 3852N, a separate story for another time.” Now is that other time.
While comparing notes on other activity the Weapons Controller and Weapons Controller/Technician realized that Quit (corrected Jul 12, 2012. Original text was “Caps”) 25, Langley lead, was astray. Quit 25 informed the controllers that “the CAP point you gave us [was wrong]” and asked for a “lat long.” The correct lat long was 3852N 07702W. Quite 25 acknowledged, “eight FIVE TWO.”
Readers will recall that in Part IV, at that same time, Major Nasypany gave this explicit instruction: “Talk to me about my Langley guys. I want them over the NCA, NOW!! Immediately, the Weapons Controller said, “where are the fighters.” And that’s when the Langley fighters were turned back North, vectored, correctly, toward the CAP point, the last location of track B32, AA 77. 0952 Langley CAP point corrected (DRM 2, Channel 13)
There are two things that historians and researchers need to know about this event. First, Quit 25, when interviewed, took full blame, stating that he had an equipment malfunction in his cockpit display. That was admirable of him, but it was not his fault. It was a controller transposition of two digits in a latitude designation, according to the primary source information of the day. On a separate note, it is also to Quit 25′s credit that he took full responsibility for missing the Norfolk TRACON controller question asking him which direction he wanted to go. His comment when he heard the air traffic control tape was straight forward and professional, “there was an opportunity missed.”
Second, this event is yet another example of how responsive NEADS SOCC personnel were to every order or suggestion given by Major Nasypany. Subordinate personnel consistently took immediate action to his leadership, without hesitation.
Unknown over the White House
Once the Langley fighters got squared away they began a combat air patrol over the nation’s capital at 1000. Had someone in the Pentagon courtyard looked straight up with binoculars he would have seen one of the Quit flight at 23,000 feet, vertically overhead at exactly 1000 EDT. The approach of the Langley fighters, however, itself became chaotic.
Two of the three fighters, Quit 25 and 26, were squawking identical Mode 2 and Mode 3 codes. Quit 27 was supposed to also be squawking the same Mode 3 code, 7777, but was not. In the resulting confusion, at NEADS and both the FAA’s Washington Center and Baltimore TRACON, military and civilian controllers became confused. The net result was that one of the Langley fighters became the unknown over the White House. The air defense intercepted itself, as we shall find out.
The initial report came from an FAA air traffic controller in the Baltimore area and was reported by Quit 25. “Baltimore is saying something about an aircraft over the White House, any words (mission)?” The Weapons Controller/Technician reported that the information came from “Center,” meaning Washington Center. Moreover, the fighter the controller was talking to was actually Quit 26, as we shall hear. Here is how all that played out at the Weapons Controller/Technician position from 1007 to 1011 resulting in a mission to Quit 26 to “identify by type and tail.” 1007 unknown near the White House
That situation was concurrent with Major Nasypany learning about United 93. We return to his operations position to pick up the story.
Back to the MCC Position
We ended Part IV with this clip. 1007 UA 93 bomb on board unknown over White House.
A relisten, after hearing from the controllers, provides yet more insight into Major Nasypany as floor commander. Note that he speculated that the unknown over the White House might be that fifth airplane, a reference to the false report of an unknown headed toward Washington from Canadian airspace. Nasypany also mused, quickly, to someone that “he had had better days.”
Nasypany continued to juggle two competing issues, United 93 and the unknown over the White House. He also fielded a quick question from someone asking if he needed MCC help. His quick response was, “we are fine for MCCs, right now.”
Nasypany’s evenhanded demeanor comes through clearly when he asks about, probably, the Toledo fighters, “any weapons?” He answers his own question, “we don’t know, we’ll press with that.”
His explicit and profane exchange with Major Fox concerning the unknown over the White House is also revealing. “Negative clearance to shoot,” was his guidance from the Battle Cab to Jamie (also “Foxy”). Major Fox responded that “he wasn’t really worried about the code words (possible reference to authentication). Nasypany’s immediate response was “Fuck the code words, that’s perishable information.” Nevertheless, the explicit guidance was “negative clearance to fire, ID type, tail.” 1010 Negative clearance to fire
Major Nasypany then turned his attention to the United 93 situation and spoke with the commander at Syracuse about United 93 and “the special,” (Delta 1989). The commander advised that he had “hot guns, that’s all I’ve got.” Nasypany’s matter-of-fact response was, “that’s good enough for me, for now.” Further, he dealt directly with the commander to arrange for the preparation for launch of two additional fighters. Nasypany did this on his own recognizance. This vignette is an example of Nasypany’s ability to deal with a senior officer while balancing the requirement of managing his crew on the SOCC floor. 1012 Conversation with Syracuse
United 93 Down
Immediately thereafter, at 1014, Major Nasypany learned that United 93 was down. The confusion on the SOCC floor is captured in this next audio clip. NEADS personnel equated the report of a bomb on board with an explosion and speculated that the plane exploded near Camp David. The voices of the Identification Technicians are clearly heard in the background as they help sift through information. At one point MSGT Dooley stated emphatically that “this is making no sense, whatsoever.”
Separately, but intertwined, the E-3 support issue was briefly discussed. MCC position personnel learned that an E-3 was headed Northeast, one they wanted headed toward Chicago, and that two more were on immediate status. 1014 NEADS learns UA93 is down
At 1016 Nasypany took a call front CONR which provides insight as to how he dealt with the next higher headquarters. The issue was that CONR did not know the disposition of fighters over the NCA (National Command Authority) area because NEADS was falling behind in forward telling (electronically forwarding) the track information. CONR did not have radar scopes and relied on NEADS (and the other sectors) to forward tell tracks of interest, friendly and enemy. Nasypany, again, gave explicit direction to his crew to get the tracks forwarded and told CONR, “I’m protecting the NCA, as best I can.”
This next clip establishes two things. First, CONR, and by extension (Granite Sentry, the Cheyenne Mountain display system) NORAD, and by further extension (Air Threat Conference) the NMCC, knew as of 1017, that there were three air defense fighters protecting the NCA. Second, in a background conversation, Nasypany informed Major Deskins that a track, “this guy,” (Delta 1989) faded over Cleveland. 1016 CONR call protecting NCA best I can
Time for a Summation
At this point in the Major Nasypany story it is time to stop for a moment and speak to the larger narrative, the NORAD story concerning the events of 9-11. As documented in primary source information at the MCC position on the NEADS SOCC floor we can conclude two things.
First, as of 1017 EDT, the status of friendly forces protecting the nation’s capital could have and should have been known at every echelon, including the NCA–the Secretary of Defense and the President, and by extension the Vice President and the Secretary of Transportation, to include the Secret Service. Major Nasypany told CONR, explicitly, that he was protecting the NCA as best he could.
Second, the status of both United 93 and Delta 1989 was established by that same time. United 93 was known down, possibly exploded, and Delta 1989 had faded over Cleveland. Those facts were known to the NEADS Battle Cab and, by extension, CONR and NORAD. The clarity of the dual situation of those two airplanes, whose stories were intertwined, was firmly established at the MCC position, but never established in the aftermath by the staffs at NEADS, CONR, and NORAD.
Unfinished Business, Finished
At this point, readers may ask what happened to the unknown over the White House? That story is instructive as to how the NEADS SOCC floor operated, particularly under Major Nasypany’s command. It was the nature of operations that important information flew immediately to everyone who needed to know it. If it become unimportant the flow stopped immediately and the issue was resolved at the scope or position level.
It is worth restating at this point that the Mission Crew Commander had the capabililty to “plug in,” to listen to any position on the SOCC floor. That capability makes it confusing for researchers to sort out what is going on and to track issues of particular interest since conversations were recorded concurrently on one channel even though they took place disparately on the SOCC floor.
The unknown aircraft over the White House issue was resolved by the controllers, as we hear on this next clip from DRM 2, Channel 13. Quit 26 reported that Washington now knew about the Quit flight squawks: “They do now, they didn’t earlier.” The controller immediately said to those nearby, “It was our guys, It was our guys. Washington was reporting our guys flying around.” And, later, “we intercepted one of our own guys.” 1014 We intercepted one of our own guys
Back to the MCC Position
With that issue resolved by subordinates and the Delta 1989 and United 93 issues clarified things quieted down at the MCC position and by 1018 Major Nasypany had unplugged from all other positions. For an extended period of time we hear primarily his voice as he dealt with the occasional issue of interest to him.
One such issue was the report to him at 1026 that Air Force One was airborne out of Florida headed for Washington. He was also briefed that the First Fighter Wing at Langley would provide escort at the appropriate time. Southeast Air Defense Sector was to have fighters on Air Force One, according to the report. Nasypany tasked Major Fox to take over fighter escort once “they hit our AOR (area of responsibility). 1026 AF One Airborne headed for Washington
None of that happened the way it was recorded at NEADS. Air Force One took off at 0955 and was vectored west to Barksdale Air Force Base at 1010, well before NEADS was informed the plane was airborne. There was no fighter escort until just before landing at Barksdale when fighters from the Texas Air National Guard joined the flight. Even though a requirement did not materialize, Nasypany anticipated that NEADS would be tasked. However, he had no assets. The flight of four fighters from Langley did not materialize, a story for another day.
You Need to Read This
At 1032 activity at NEADS took an interesting turn as Major Nasypany verbalized what he was reading off the chat log. “Hey, you need to read this. The Region Commander has declared that we can shoot down tracks if they do not respond to our direction.” He then repeated what he had read, “OK, the Region Commander has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our direction. OK?” “Copy that?” So if you try and divert somebody and he won’t divert.”
Nasypany broke the thought process to announce that Atlantic City was scrambled at 1430 [Zulu time]. He then picked up the thread by asking “Foxy, you got a conflict with that?” Fox responded, “right now, no.” Then, “you read that from the Vice President has cleared,” and another voice picked up the recitation, “the Vice President has cleared us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them down if they do not respond per CONR CC [General Arnold].” 1032 You need to read this
The preceding account is how that event was recorded at the MCC position. In the June 2004 Commission hearing the Staff presented the same information but recorded at a different position on the SOCC floor. At that position a voice commented that the DO (Director of Operations) said no. That voice was not picked up on the MCC channel.
We leave the story of 9-11 as told in the voice of Major Nasypany at this point. The battle was over, his job thereafter was maintenance and continuity. Life on the NEADS floor would thereafter follow two main threads. The first was the one we just heard, shootdown authority and what to do about that. The second was the emergence on the scene of fighter augmentation from an unexpected source, Andrews Air Force Base.
We hear the voice of Major Nasypany one last time in this story as he asks the logical question when told at 1041 that fighters were scrambling from Andrews. “Are the coming under our control?” 1041 Andrews scrambled under our control
The key point here is that NEADS, and by extension CONR and NORAD, knew that the Andrews fighters were joining the fray. They knew because Colonel Brooks from the Air National Guard Crisis Action Team told them at 1039 before Andrews launched the Caps flight (Sasseville and Penney). 1039 Andrews CAT checks in with NEADS
Colonel Brooks was referred to the Senior Director position and when the phone was answered the story of the battle of 9/11 came full circle back to the original call from Boston Center just two hours earlier. Sergeant Jeremy Powell, still on duty as the Senior Director/Technician, greeted the Andrews caller by saying “Huntress Weapons, Sergeant Powell.” Powell was precise and effecient as always but did say, “The 113th, I hate to ask, where’s that?” 1039 Huntress Weapons Sergeant Powell
The initial assumption by Major Nasypany was that NEADS would control. However, Sergeant Powell told Colonel Brooks that control would remain with FAA and that NEADS would be backup. We will pick up that point when I retell the Andrews story in the voice of the Reagan National (DCA) controller.