In past articles I have periodically taken the position that it is not possible to take snippets of information about 9/11 or snapshots of Commission Staff work and extrapolate either to a larger whole, with meaning. Recently, a correspondent presented me with a question which combines a snippet and a snapshot into an interesting story. The purpose of this article is to tell that story.
The correspondent, a dedicated 9/11 researcher, found an exchange in the audio file of a Commission interview that suggested an additional dimension to exercise activity the morning of September 11, 2001. Specifically, he understood that there was a “delta track” operating offshore in a designated military training area, Whiskey 105. The time was shortly before 9:00 EST, eight minutes after the Otis fighters became airborne.
Ongoing off shore activity included the progress of the Otis Air Force Base active air defense fighters, Panta 45 and 46, to a holding pattern in Whiskey 105; the vectoring into a supporting holding pattern of the tanker, Maine 85; and the training flights of six additional fighters from Otis, operating as one flight of two and a second flight of four fighters. Here is screen shot of military radar tracks in the area of interest during the period 8:30 to 9:30 EDT.
It was a complex situation, difficult to unravel, retrospectively. The situation was further complicated by an explanation by a NEADS officer who was trying to help the Commission staff understand what was happening that morning.
We begin with the correspondent’s research. The information he uncovered supported the presence of an exercise aircraft, a delta track, juxtaposed with the Otis active air defense scramble. The presence of such a flight, however, was not supported by either radar or air traffic control communications.
The researcher was listening to the audio file of the Commission’s taped October 29, 2003, interview of Major James Fox, the Senior Director on duty on 9/11 at NEADS, the controlling organization for the air defense response that morning. Commission Staff was using the tape of the Mission Crew Commander (MCC) position to guide the interview.
The Staff had the NEADS tape and a partial transcript of the tape previously provided as a result of a document request. Concurrently, the Staff and Major Fox were listening to the tape, starting and stopping as necessary for Major Fox to identify who was talking and what was transpiring.
The Staff was discussing the progress of the Otis scramble with Major Fox. The conversation reached a point where the recording revealed that controllers were tagging the tanker, Maine 85, so it could be separately identified on the scopes used at NEADS. In the midst of that conversation a voice asked about “that delta out there.” Major Fox broke in to inform the Staff what he thought the reference was.
Here is a transcript of what was recorded during the referenced portion of the Major Fox interview,
Nasypany: (In part, to Battle Cab summarizing the Otis fighter situation) Hold them south of JFK about 10 miles at altitude. We also have Maine 85 in Whiskey 105 that can be used for this…
Staff: Can you hold that?
Fox: That’s all Nasypany.
Kara: That’s all Nasypany
Nasypany: Tag ‘em up, tag em up
Staff: Can you stop that. Do you know what tag ‘em up means
Fox: Alright. Put a track on him. Right now, without a track he is just a dot flying around. And they want him hit up with a track so we can know the information on that aircraft.
Staff: On which aircraft?
Fox: Probably talking about Maine 85
Staff: And that’s a tanker
Staff: And why does that come into play here?
Fox: Because as soon as we’ve had the Spiders (Otis flight Panta 45 and 46) airborne for 10, or 15, 20 minutes going south, coming south of Long Island we gonna have to think about getting them gas or doing something with them. So, thinking that way may have them up for a while we’re starting to look for tankers that are in the air that we can take.
Staff: To refuel them
Kara: Off the FAA transcript, at this point in time Boston Center is now controlling Jeep One, Jeep One, a second set of fighters off of Otis
Fox, Yeah, they would have been part of the flight that was going out to Whiskey 105 for their training
Kara: This is a training mission coming into play here, and Jeep is the call sign that the fighters are using
Staff: Pick up please [name] at 8:59 on the [indistinct]
Nasypany: Discusses where he was when alerted. Fox interjects and now we know where Nasypany was.
Nasypany: Hey, [indistinct] that delta out there… the delta up there, five three
Fox: That delta that they are referring to there is also a different type of track like a Z track. Only a delta track is what we usually put on an aircraft that is going to be ah, it is usually, ah it’s often military, not always. But it’s usually going to be flying off the coast and just staying in that area and then coming back in. It’s a track that we know who it is, it’s going to be playing around off the coast and then coming back.
Staff: So you’re putting that delta track on the other Spider (Panta 46)?
Fox: Ah no, the delta track was ah, unfortunately it’s not in here, ah, it was probably near where that tanker was. Ah, he was just pointing out, I just wanted you to know that when they said delta they weren’t talking about Delta Airlines, they were talking about a type of track. He was probably just using it as a point of reference to show someone where Maine 85 was or something.
Based on Fox’s explanation the researcher wanted to know about the delta track. When he first posed the question to me I had no recollection of the delta event. After listening to the audio file of our interview I accepted Fox’s explanation at face value and worked to sort out the situation.
My Initial Estimate
I confirmed there was no supporting radar information and no additional primary source audio information, either in air traffic control tapes or the NEADS tapes. My initial estimate was that the delta reference was to the westernmost track of one of the additional Otis fighters, one that was in close proximity to the track of the tanker, Maine 85. The correspondent did not accept that estimate. Since my assessment was based on a static screen shot of the tracks of all aircraft, I concurred.
Back to Basics
At that point, I realized that Fox may have been off in his explanation and I listened to a tape which isolated the MCC position. Here is a transcript of what was actually said concerning the “delta.”
MCC: Hey, is that the delta, that delta out there ?
Voice: Five three, delta, right here
MCC: The delta up there? Five Three
Voice: Five Three
Voice: Ah, that’s not what they told me, so, sorry
My Second Estimate
In context, I inferred that the MCC was asking about a status slide on one of the three overhead screens on the NEADS operations floor. The North Truro Radar, J53, was off line for maintenance and getting it back on line was an item of concern to NEADS. The correspondent did not agree with that estimate, either. I was on the right track concerning the “five three” reference, but still did not have a satisfactory answer concerning the identity of the delta track.
Back to Basics
Anyone who has spent any time at all with the NEADS tapes knows that they are a babble of sound, a conflation of disparate conversations overlapping and interfering with one another, as recorded on tape. It is not possible to sort out any conversation thread on the NEADS floor without listening to all channels to figure out what is happening.
The two voices in the MCC conversation, one male and one female, were most likely associated with the two activity centers close by the MCC position. The surveillance section leader was to his left, and the identification section was to his right. The surveillance section establishes tracks for unknown aircraft. The identification section, once an unknown track is established, has a finite, short number of minutes to identify the track.
And sure enough, one of the identification technicians acted on the MCC’s question and sorted things out. Here is the transcript of what transpired.
ID Technician: Maine 85, this is HUNTRESS ID, go.
Maine 85: [indistinct]
ID Technician: Maine 85, you are coming in broken, please say Mode 3
Maine 85: It is Five Three Six Two
ID Technician: Maine 85, copy Five Three Six Two, please stand by
[eight seconds pass]
ID Technician: (to a colleague) Ah[indistinct] try that one
[28 seconds pass, sounds of keyboard strokes]
ID Technician: I got it. Mo (Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, head of the ID Section), you want to scream up at Weapons to tell them that Maine 85 is the delta north of J Five Three, they’re wondering about it.
It took the ID Technician about a minute to complete the task from the MCC and to provide actionable information to the military controllers. At the time, Maine 85 was North of Boston just crossing the Massachusetts shoreline, over 50 nautical miles north northeast of North Truro at the Northern end of Cape Cod.
Maine 85 took off from Bangor Air Force Base at about 8:34 EDT, and proceeded southerly towards off shore military training areas south of Long Island.
Approximately 9:23 EDT, it established a ten minute north-south race track holding pattern. As it concluded the second orbit at about 9:44 EDT, it was vectored toward New York City to support the Panta active air defense fighters.
At about 10:00 EDT, it entered a refueling holding orbit due South of New York City near the Southwestern tip of Long Island.
Here is a screen shot of the Maine 85 track from takeoff to 10:00 EDT.
This vignette is an important reminder to serious 9/11 researchers, historians and academicians. It takes both a dynamic radar picture and air traffic control communications and/or NEADS tape analysis to figure out what is actually going on at any given point in time. Moreover, concerning the NEADS tapes, it is necessary to listen to all channels for details about the time in question.
How the Otis active air defense fighters ended up over New York City is a story for another day.