9-11: The Langley Scramble; a different perspective


I have been in an extended email discussion with Paul Schreyer concerning the Langley Scramble. My position was established in the “gang aft agley” paper (and Addendum) several years ago. Succinctly, the Langley scramble was a serious of understandable, logical individual events that did not cohere in the aggregate.

Schreyer’s position is based on a false flag theory which let to his “anomalies” paper published elsewhere on the web. To try and help Schreyer clarify his understanding I came up with a different perspective, one I shared with him.

A Different Perspective

Schreyer believes that the scramble order, itself, was changed. That is not accurate, it remained the baseline for the scramble as it developed. Langley Tower could not translate the scramble order to a flight plan that they were confident the air traffic control system would accept without trial and error. Therefore, they used a proven flight plan, one of long standing, zero nine zero for 60 (090 for 60) nautical miles.

Comparing a scramble order to a flight plan is problematic. It is an apples and oranges comparision; two distinct and separate processes. A scramble order is simply a device to get the air defense fighters into the air so that weapons controllers can then tell them what to do. The flight plan is the air traffic control means of getting the fighters safely into the national airspace system. It requires a direction and a distance. The scramble order issued did not included a distance. However, Langley Tower air traffic controllers were confident using a standard flight plan, knowing from experience that weapons controllers would take over. Except they didn’t, and therein lie the details.

What happened

The procedures in place, to include 090 for 60 (a flight plan) were cold war era practices that survived into the anti-drug era. Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) weapons controller radios could not reach the Langley fighters at low altitude once airborne, but that didn’t matter because the flight plan 090 for 60 delivered the fighters to military airspace controlled by Navy air traffic controllers at a facility known as Giant Killer. Those controllers were responsible for air traffic control in off shore training areas.

Giant Killer could then act as a relay to NEADS, just as they did on 9/11. It was Norfolk TRACON/Tower’s intermediate responsibility to take control of the fighters once in the national air space system and then hand them off to Giant Killer prior to entry into the training area, as they did on 9/11, unless the lead pilot requested otherwise.

On 9/11 the flight lead, Quit 25, did not tell Norfolk to send him North to get back on the scramble azimuth. In the heat of battle, in the chaos of the morning, he elected to continue east and was handed off to Giant Killer. Giant Killer was in contact with NEADS and did turn the fighters at NEADS request, direct Baltimore.  Nothing was known about AA 77 and the threat it posed. The perceived threat was AA 11 bearing down on the nation’s capital from the North.

There is no fault that accrues to Langley, the tower controllers did their job and, in their words, would do the same thing again if they had it to do over. I did mark NEADS  down in a report card issued on 9/11/11 for not knowing how scrambles actually proceeded at Langley, by the way.

Why it happened

Here, we turn to chaos theory for an understanding.  The Langley scramble, writ large and in detail, is an excellent example of sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Those initial conditions include a cold war era structure and policy; an emphasis on counter drug operations; and a requirement to identify all planes entering the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  NEADS (and NORAD) was, as General McKinley testifed to the Commission in May, 2003, “focused outward.”

Scramble missions had to do with either drug runners (counterdrug operations), special cold war-related tracks (Aeroflot, China Air, Cubana), or DVFR (Defense visual flight rules) flights–fish spotters, cable checkers, doctors and dentists, “Moms and Pops,” who filed to exit the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) and then forgot to turn their transponders back on when re-entering the ADIZ. The standard flight plan at Langley Tower was a proven method of getting the fighters to altitude, over water, and headed East to prosecute any of those missions.

NEADS controllers on 9/11 did not understand the standard techniques in place at Langley.  As the NEADS tapes reveal, the weapons controller technician did “not know why” the fighters were headed toward an off shore training area.

For perspective, interested readers should review my series of Vigilant Guardian  articles covering the period Sep 3-11, 2001. (scroll down to third article in the category) The “Moms and Pops” reference comes from my interviews of nearly two dozen Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) Mission Crew Commanders during my work on the Brothers To The Rescue project while at the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General.

Who participated

Altogether, eight individuals, who I will identify by position, caused the Langley scramble to happen as it did, up to the point that NEADS realized the flight had gone astray.  All eight—four at NEADS, two at Langley Tower, one at Norfolk TRACON/Tower, and the lead pilot—were duly diligent and did their jobs as best they could given the information available to them.  None were negligent and there was no outside voice, no unseen false flag opportunist that intervened.  Their combined story is complete, coherent, and logical, understanding that NEADS did not appreciate the impact of what were standard operating procedures at Langley.

At NEADS, the weapons controller and weapons controller technician were responsible for the metrics that produced the scramble order, azimuth 010, flight level 290.  The flight level was based on the last known altitude for AA 11.  The senior director approved the order (with the knowledge of the Mission Crew Commander and the NEADS Commander) and it was broadcast by the senior director technician.

The broadcast was heard by Langley command post, Langley tower, the fighter detachment, Giant Killer, and Norfolk Tower/TRACON.  At Langley Tower, the duty air traffic controller and his supervisor entered the flight plan, 090 for 60, into the national airspace system.  Control, “radar contact,” was passed to Norfolk Tower while the fighters were taking off.

The Norfolk Tower controller knew by SOP that the fighters were to proceed on runway heading (runway 8, 80 degrees) to an altitude of 4000 feet before turning.  At that point he asked the flight lead which way he wanted to go.

Quit 25, the flight lead concluded that the flight plan was later information than the scramble order and turned slightly right to a heading of 090 and continued.  When I played the controller conversation back to him after our interview he said he did not recall that and that it “was an opportunity missed.”


The Langley scramble is not nearly as askew as the graphic picture portrays.  The fighters were airborne at 9:30 EDT and were not going to turn for at least two minutes.  Had they turned as soon as possible, the turn would have occurred over the Delmarva Peninsula and the remaining flight time to the nation’s capital was on the order of 10-12 minutes, too late to be in position for AA 77 but well in time to guard against the approach of UA 93.

Altogether, including the false turn south on approach to Washington, DC, the Quit flight lost on the order of 15 minutes.  The combat air patrol to protect the National Command Authority began at 10:00 EDT, twenty-two minutes after AA 77 slammed into the Pentagon at 9:38 EDT.

In a perfect world it is conceivable that the Langley fighters would have reached the nation’s capital concurrent with the arrival of AA 77, but with no authority to do anything, as General Larry Arnold testified to the Commission.  The national level was just getting organized.  When the Pentagon was hit the National Military Command Center had just convened an Air Threat Conference; FAA had not yet joined.  At the White House, the Richard Clarke-chaired secure video teleconference convened at 9:40 EDT when FAA Administrator Jane Garvey joined the conference.


9-11: Quit 25 (Langley) and Venus 77 (NEACP); Different Missions, no correlation


Periodically, the false notion surfaces that there was some relationship between the Langley fighters (Quit 25, 26, 27) and the B747, Venus 77, a NEACP flight (National Emergency Airborne Command Post). Despite a cursory screen print that suggests a relationship there is no correlation. The two flights were independent events whose paths crossed as they flew to complete their assigned tasks. There is no primary source evidence that links the two paths.  The crossing was incidental.

Also, there is an occasional comment in the blogosphere questioning why military aircraft didn’t immediately land when Ben Sliney ordered all planes to the ground and why aircraft such as Venus 77 were allowed to take off. First, it was not clear to FAA facilities if Sliney’s order pertained to law enforcement, first responder, and military aircraft. Readers familiar with the FAA tapes of the day know that multiple FAA facilities raised that very question to the Air Traffic Control System Command Center. That question was also raised by “Navy Ops” to Andrews Tower at 9:37. The answer given was “that we will know in about 20 minutes.”  Ultimately, all such aircraft were allowed to fly. Here is the conversation that took place at Andrews Tower which should lay to rest any notion that military aircraft should not be flying.

We will know in about 20 minutes

Quit 25 and Venus 77 flight paths and missions

Here is a complete radar-derived graphic that shows the spatial relationship between the two planes  and their separate missions. The graphic is a screen import into first powerpoint and then paint from the files of the 84th RADES as run on the RS3 software.  (Click on the graphic for a non-distorted view.)

Venus 77 (Mode 3 0321) took off abruptly from Andrews Air Force Base at 9:43 EDT, soon after the National Military Command Center (NMCC) initiated an Air Threat Conference Call.  It declared for Offutt Air Force Base and turned West. Over Rock Creek Park/Silver Spring, it changed course and returned East and then immediately South to establish a 60-mile, North-South, race track orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia. By 10:00 EDT, it was in position to support the return of Air Force One to the nation’s capital. Later, after Air Force One headed toward Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, the orbit was adjusted so that its long axis pointed to Barksdale.

This next near-two minute audio clip recorded at Andrews documents the takeoff and original intention of Venus 77. This establishes that its original destination was Offutt Air Force Base. In other articles I believe I have stated the destination to be Wright Patterson Air Force Base; not the case.  Venus 77 is further identified as a “Knee Cap” (NEACP), Boeing 747. This is further evidence that the abrupt departure of Venus 77 was part of the continuity of operations plan triggered when the NMCC changed its Significant Event Conference to an Air Threat Conference.

0941 Venus 77 NEACP departure

While over Northeast Northwest [corrected Dec 18, 2012] Washington, DC, the B747 was filmed by the media and it later became the so-called “mystery plane.”  I wrote about that several years ago in the linked article. I have also previously covered, in detail, the Langley flight, in several articles, including this most recent one.  There is no mystery here, either.

In the graphic, above, I have isolated the Quit and Venus tracks based solely on the Oceana radar. Even so, it is clear that beginning over the Maryland portion of the Delmarva Peninsula there are two radar returns for the Quit flight. That is the point at which the wingman, Quit 26, also switched to Mode 3, 7777, “Quad Sevens” in the vernacular.  Both fighters were squawking the same code and are only distinguishable in the RADES text files where the lead and wing can be separately identified.

The Crossing Point

The paths of the two planes crossed over Charles County, Maryland, due east and across the Potomac River from Stafford, Virginia. Venus 77 crossed first at 9:53:50 EDT at 19,000 feet. Quit 25 crossed next at 9:5502 EDT, at 23,000 feet. Their closest point of convergence was about 5 nautical miles with a 4,000 foot separation in altitude. Neither knew the other was there. Venus 77 proceeded directly to its orbit and at the point of crossing Quit 25 began its turn back on course after being given a correct set of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) coordinates.

The time separation is precise, six radar returns, one minute and twelve seconds. I’ve made the 25 second correction necessary for the NEADS radar clock for the individual crossing times. The radar clock adjustment is irrelevant, however. The two flights were also tracked by the Southeast Air Defense Sector, whose radar clock needed no correction.

The Quit flight was on a heading for Baltimore (Baltimore Washington International Airport, actually.) The tactical decision after takeoff and back under NEADS control was to put the fighters between Washington DC and the reported approach of American Airlines flight 11. Once NEADS learned of the fast mover (American Airlines flight 77) threat to Washington DC the Quit flight was placed under AFIO (Authority for Intercept Operations, squawk Quad 7s) on its Baltimore axis of approach. Once abeam the Capital and Andrews Air Force Base the flight leader was given the CAP coordinates, transposed at first, and then corrected.

The following NEADS audio clip describes what happened at 0953 EDT just as the Quit flight was approaching the crossing point. It is conclusive that Quit 25 had been given the wrong coordinates and heading and that was corrected with the correction emphasized by Quit 25. Immediately, the Quit flight began its turn back to the North just as it crossed well behind the path of Venus 77.

 0953 Quit approaches crossing point

Two points of clarification concerning the conversations heard. First, the Giant Killer reference was part of a radio transmission from the air, most likely from Team 21, a tanker being staged to support air defense activity. Second, the reference to “zero three two” is the specific point of interest to the Langley weapons controllers.  That is a reference to the last known location of track B032, AA 77, in the vicinity of the Pentagon. Six minutes later, at 10:00 EDT, one of the Quit fighters was directly overhead the Pentagon at 23,000 feet as the flight began its assigned mission, a combat air patrol. None of that had anything to do with Venus 77 which continued south to fly a precise race track orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia, as clearly depicted on the graph, above.

The fact that the weapons controllers were focused on track B032 is, in and of itself, evidence that they had no interest in Venus 77.


[Added January 12 2012: The precise term is “Authorization for Interceptor Operations.” FAA Handbook, 7610J, Appendix 16, dated Nov 3, 1998 details the authorization, conditions, and responsibilities and procedures.  The Appendix does not specify a specific Mode 3 code for the interceptor fighters, but the convention was, and is, that the fighters would switch to Mode 3 code 7777, ‘quad sevens.’]

The declaration of AFIO was a serious move, with broad implications; NEADS assumed responsibility to clear a path through traffic for the advancing fighters.  Air traffic control was still in contact with the Quit flight but was no longer responsible for air traffic safety in the vicinity of the fighters.

The more important point is that NEADS, and only NEADS, had positive control of the fighters. There can be no notion, no matter how speculative, that someone else directed the fighters toward Venus 77.  It was a weapons controller error at NEADS, pure and simple, the transposition of two digits in the initial CAP coordinates.

Further, had Venus 77 been any kind of air traffic hazard because of proximity, there would have been advisory weapons controller communications to that effect.  There were none.


This story is straight forward. Two flights with two different missions happened to be in the same general area in the same general time frame. There is no evidence to correlate the two flights.  Speculation to the contrary is, at best, misguided analysis without primary source or other evidence to the contrary.


9-11: Chaos Theory; The Air Defense Response, Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions

A Note of Caution

It is  not possible to take snippets of information about 9/11 or snapshots of the Commission staff’s work and speculate that into a coherent narrative, with meaning.


I have been asked by a family member to comment on a recent speculative article posted on the web that spoke to anomalies in the air defense response on September 11, 2001, specifically concerning the fighters scrambled from Langley Air Force Base.  I subsequently learned that there is a companion You Tube video which extends that speculation to include the fighters scrambled from Otis Air Force Base.  Both the article and the video try to construct a narrative without awareness of or understanding about the totality of  information that defined the 9/11 Commission Report.  Both the article and the video are unreviewable and I won’t attempt to try and make sense of them.

Instead, I will use chaos theory to explain why the air defense response on 9/11 was fatally flawed and had little to no chance, given the times of notification to the military as discussed in the Commission Report.  But first a brief discussion of anomalies, the thesis of the article and the video.


In any event such as 9/11 there will always be anomalies, some explainable, some not, and some that will never be resolved. There are just four air defense response anomalies worth discussing, in my estimation. All other suggested anomalies are on the margin and most of those are the result of four errors by the author(s) of the article and the video–time compression, conflation of events, hind sight, and reliance on anecdotal information instead of available primary source evidence and documents of the day.

Three of the four anomalies, the Otis initial flight path, the Langley initial flight path, and the Langley flight deviation to the south are all resolved in the facts of the day. The fourth, the Langley battle station order in the 9:10 time frame, can be explained by the facts of the day, but can only be resolved retrospectively.  To put it another way, the participants that day knew about the first three anomalies as they occurred; they did not know about the fourth in real time.

The Otis initial flight path. The path was accounted for in the air traffic control communications from Cape TRACON (Traffic Control) at Otis and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) New York Center (ZNY), coupled with the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) discussions at the Senior Director (Fox) and Mission Crew Commander (Nasypany) positions.  It is clear that the Otis fighters were vectored to a holding pattern in a military training area.  They held there for one-half orbit and then broke for New York City.  All of the decisions that contributed to that path occurred in the heat of battle in an uncertain situation.  They are all logical, in context and in real time.

I wrote a comprehensive article about the Otis scramble.  The authors of the anomalies article and video have clearly read that article but have chosen snippets of information which appear, out of context, to support their speculations. Discerning readers will have no trouble sorting fact from fiction when they read my article.

The Langley initial flight path. As at Otis, the Langley fighters took off to the East, but did not turn as did the Otis fighters.  I covered the reasons for this in detail in one of my early articles. Regardless of scramble order, the operating procedures in place required the Langley fighters to fly runway heading to 4000 feet altitude, which they did.  As they approached that decision point (the Delmarva Peninsula) the flight leader, in discussion with the Norfolk controller, decided to continue East.

There is no mystery here.  That is what happened as recorded at Norfolk TRACON. When I played that recording for the flight leader he was brutally honest, commenting, “There was an opportunity missed.” In the heat of battle, the fog of war, a decision was made. It was the wrong decision.

Here is my work on the Langley scramble

The Langley diversion to the South.  Both Lynn Spencer (Touching History) and I reported the reason for this error. It was a simple transposition of two digits in a coordinate.  That was established conclusively on the NEADS tapes. There is no correlation between the Langley fighters and the E4B, Venus 77, as some have suggested by simply looking at a radar screen print.  The Langley fighters were intent in establishing a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) point and had no interest in the E4B, if they even know about it.

Here is the story of the approach of the Langley fighters to Washington from the perspective of the Mission Crew Commander, Major Kevin Nasypany.

Venus 77 was the so-called “mystery” plane, but there was nothing mysterious about it.  It took off under visual flight rules at 9:43 after the Air Threat Conference was convened by the National Military Command Center, a conference with SIOP (Single Integrated Operation Plan) overtones, a “doomsday” scenario.  The E4B declared for Wright Patterson Air Force Base, reversed course over Rock Creek Park (as captured on media video), and proceeded to establish a 60-mile, north-south racetrack orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia, to support the possible arrival of Air Force One.

The evidence for all three anomalies is conclusive in the primary source information of the day, the audio and radar files.  That is partially the case for the final anomaly that I will discuss.

The fourth anomaly.  9:10 EDT was a significant time, the only time that the facts of the day presented an opportunity for an air defense response to American Airlines flight 77 (AA 77).  By 9:10, lacking any operational information to do otherwise Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS commander overruled his Mission Crew Commander and ordered that the Langley fighters remain on battle stations and not be scrambled.  That was a prudent and proper decision at the time; those were the last two air defense fighters available to NEADS.

Unbeknownst to Colonel Marr, in the same timeframe, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center reported AA 77 as lost to its next higher headquarters, Great Lakes Region, and concurrently, per standing operating procedures, to the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Langley AFB.  That notification triggered a rescue response at the local and state level in several states as law enforcement officials started rescue coordination procedures.

Also in that same time frame, and only known by retrospective analysis by the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, the NEADS supporting Joint Surveillance Radar System (JSS) reacquired AA 77 as a primary only (search, radar only) track. Surveillance technicians on the NEADS sector floor were not aware; they were focused on New York and Boston airspace, as explained on the NEADS tapes.

That critical confluence of three pieces of information–AA 77 reported lost, AA 77 reappearing on NEADS radar, and the battle station order, remained uncorrelated and not recognized by the two people who, working together, were the only two people that stood a chance to accomplish anything air defense-wise that morning–Colonel Marr and his counterpart at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC), Benedict Sliney.

And that leads us to chaos theory and sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Chaos Theory

I have established in my work on chaos theory that while we cannot use the rigorous math and geometry of chaos theory for a situation such as 9/11 we can use chaos theory metaphorically.  Specifically, we can use the language of chaos theory.  Without elaboration, some of the language we can use includes: strange attractors, cascading bifurcation, non-linearity, and disruptive feedback.  There is another more important term that is relevant here, sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Initial conditions are not know in real time and can only be identified retrospectively.  In the case of the air defense response on 9/11 the sensitive dependence centered on the two people I previously mentioned, Robert Marr and Benedict Sliney.  Here is that story.

9/11, an attack against the National Airspace System (NAS).

The NAS is a precisely defined subsystem of the National Transportation System.  It was operated on 9/11 by the National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney, at the ATCSCC (Herndon Center).  It was defended in the Northeast [bolded text added Nov 16, 2013] on 9/11 by the Commander, NEADS, Bob Marr.  The sensitive initial condition was that there is no evidence that the two men or their predecessors had ever met, that either was aware of the others existence or role.

So, the initial condition precluded any possibility that Bob Marr and Ben Sliney would ever communicate, let alone share a common operating picture of the battlefield.  Not only did they not share information in common, neither knew at 9:10 that AA 77 had been reported lost.  Neither the ATCSCC or NEADS knew to look for the plane.

Here is how I briefed that to an Air Force historians symposium, “Global Air Power, 9/11 and Beyond,” in November, 2011. (Panelists were myself, Major General Larry Arnold and Dean John Farmer)

•Herndon and NEADS never shared a common operational picture on 9/11
•They had never met, staff visits or during exercises
•NEADS was “center-centric,” it dealt individually with the en route FAA centers
•Therefore, things self organized around NEADS and Boston Center
•That was foretold during ongoing exercise “Vigilant Guardian.”

Strange Attractors

Given the lack of communication between the two organizations who could jointly do something, the information inevitably flowed to and between people who were trying to do something. And, by name, those two people were Colin Scoggins, Military Specialist, Boston Center, and Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, Chief, Identification Section, NEADS. The two did the best they could that day, but it should not have been their job to share real time information. That flow of information should have been between the ATCSCC and NEADS, not Boston Center and NEADS.

There are multiple reasons why that came about. The most important is that in all the exercises and training over the years there is no evidence that the link between the two was actually practiced or even known. The primary reason, however, is the fact that NEADS was a “center-centric” operation. Its day-day operations were focused on establishing lines of communication to and relations with the FAA en route centers that controlled over ocean airspace. Specifically in the Northeast, that was Boston Center and that part of New York Center that controlled overseas arrivals.

All of that was foretold during exercise Vigilant Guardian.

Vigilant Guardian

I spent the better part of five months writing a series of articles concerning Vigilant Guardian during the days preceding 9/11. All of the NEADS tapes for those days are in the public domain and my work can be replicated. Vigilant Guardian was a series of discrete events, at a gradually escalating pace each day. An important event was the transfer of air sovereignty from one air defense sector to another. That event occurred twice at NEADS.

On the first occasion, NEADS was required to assume air sovereignty from the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS), both exercise and real world while concurrently maintaining operations in its own area. The key section of operational interest on the NEADS floor was and is the Identification Section.  The Identification Technicians immediately established contact with the FAA’s Miami Center to guard the Florida Strait. Not once did they contact the ATCSCC. All information flowed to and from the FAA’s en route centers in the Southeast.

The second occasion was more complex and required a double transfer. First, NEADS transfered its operations, exercise and real world, to SEADS. Then, NEADS went to work to assume air sovereignty from the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS). The end result was that NEADS was guarding the West Coast and SEADS was guarding the East Coast.  Again, NEADS Identification Technicians established contact with the en route centers; there was no interface of any kind with the ATCSCC.

That foretold how NEADS would respond on 9/11. Just as soon as Sergeant Shelly Watson heard Sergeant Powell announce the real world hijacking information received from Joe Cooper at Boston Center she dialed Boston Center and reached Colin Scoggins. The ATCSCC was out of the loop, the link to Boston and Colin Scoggins was firmly established.

Colin Scoggins

The central role of Colin Scoggins was also foretold during Vigilant Guardian on September 9, 2001. It is clear from a recorded conversation between the exercise control cell and a person on duty in the Identification Section that the exercise structure used Boston Center, specifically the persona of Colin Scoggins, to pass critical information to the NEADS Identification Section. When I first heard this exchange while writing the Vigilant Guardian articles I immediately forwarded it to Colin and he assured me that the voice on the tape was not his.

0909133749 ZBW Scoggins Call

The totality of the NEADS Vigilant Guardian tapes establishes that the caller was the Exercise Director, Lieutenant Colonel “Grover” Cleveland. The person on duty was Sergeant Rose. On 9/11 Rose was pressed into duty as a Surveillance Technician (NEADS personnel were and are cross-trained), and it was she who followed Delta 1989, radar return by radar return as it “meandered” and then landed at Cleveland.

The Exercise Director, acting as Colin Scoggins, passed critical exercise information about a United flight from Heathrow (London) that posed a threat to New York City. According to information “Scoggins” received from FAA there were two terrorists on board who were going to detonate a bomb while the plane was over New York City. “Scoggins” reported that FAA received the information from the FBI, who obtained it via a phone call from Heathrow where terrorists on the ground had been apprehended. There was no hijacking, the cockpit was unaware of the threat, and air traffic control was talking to the pilot.

By this stage of exercise Vigilant Guardian military units had increased the force protection alert. The terrorist scenario was a force protection event, not a hijack event. It was intended that the NEADS floor work with FAA to divert the flight away from New York City, but not to Bangor, ME, a tanker base. The NEADS Mission Crew Commander did not pick up on that nuance and NEADS allowed the United flight to “land” at Bangor. The exercise controllers immediately declared that the plane had blown up on the tarmac closing Bangor as a tanker base for several hours.

This vignette, alone, foreshadowed exactly how NEADS would operate on 9/11. Most relevant information would come from Boston Center. At no time during exercise Vigilant Guardian or on 9/11 was the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Herndon, Virginia ever “contacted” or even mentioned.

My Assessment

I have studied the air defense response in detail for nearly a decade. It is my professional estimate that the only chance for any kind of air defense response was if the NOM, Ben Sliney, and the NEADS Commander, Bob Marr, were communicating in real time and were sharing a common operating picture of the battlefield, to include real time information from the en route centers, particularly Indianapolis Center, and the TRACONS, particularly Dulles TRACON.

Absent that capability there could be no effective air defense response, regardless of actions taken at NEADS, Otis, Langley, or by military pilots in the sky.  All other anomalies, real or imagined, are simply noise in an assessment of what happened on 9/11.

A Question for the 9/11 truth community

A fixation on the air defense response, the last possible defense, begs a question which the 9/11 truth community and the authors of the article and the video about air defense “anomalies” fail to address and likely cannot answer. What is it, exactly, the air defenders were supposed to do, given a successful intercept?

Exercise Vigilant Guardian provides a single clue. When notional air defense fighters intercepted a rouge F-18 fighter, in one scenario, they were initially given shoot down authority by the NEADS floor. When the controllers injected that the fighters were over a populated area that authority was withdrawn.


9-11: Langley Scramble; CAP point confusion, explained

The purpose of this brief article, an addition to the Langley Scramble story, is to document why the Langley fighters made a turn to the south on approaching the Washington area.  It is a simple explanation.  The controller transposed two digits in the initial transmission to the flight lead, Quit 25.  The coordinates initially provided  at 0946 EDT were 3825N 07702W. Here is the audio clip from NEADS tape DRM 2, Channel 13, cut 131828.

0911131828 Quit wrong CAP point

In order to vector to those coordinates on approach to Washington the Quit flight had to turn south to a heading the pilots recognized as wrong.  In a subsequent exchange with the controller at 0952 EDT, the accurate coordinates, 3852N 07702W, were provided.  The CAP point was based on the faded track for what was ultimately determined to be AA77, B032, as captured in the audio record.  Here is the later audio clip from the same NEADS tape/channel.

0911131828 Quit correct CAP point

There was nothing mysterious or nefarious about the turn south and then back north by the Langley fighters.  The diversion was an error made in the heat of battle, nothing more.

9-11: Langley Scramble, addendum

This addendum updates the article “9-11: Langley Scramble, gang aft agley.” The Letter of Agreement, “Northeast and Southeast Air Defense Sectors/FACSFAC VACAPES/Norfolk Tower/Langley Tower/Oceana RAFCF/First Fighter Wing and 177 Fighter Group,” EFFECTIVE: October 1, 1994 is available on the History Commons Scribd site. Interested researchers will need to upload it for clarity. That document was in effect on September 11, 2001. FACSFAC VACAPES is GIANTKILLER.

The Letter states that certain “information must be relayed with the order,” and provides an example of a scramble order: “Scramble Echo Lima 01, 2 F 16s, immediate departure heading 090, FL 230, contact Huntress on 251.0. Unknown target bearing 090, 180 miles, FL 210.”

In the initial article I established that there were four components to a scramble order, distance, direction, altitude and target. The letter also calls for the provision of the aircraft call sign, number and type aircraft and Huntress radio frequency. The NEADS scramble order contained all required information except the target information, including distance. NEADS also could not, according to the Letter, change the route of flight, altitude or beacon code without prior approval of the concerned ATC facility.

Scramble procedures in the Letter specify that “Langley Tower shall: Enter a flight plan in the NAS [National Airspace System], specifying pertinent information provided in the scramble order. Routing shall be via the fix (sic) radial and distance from LFI [Langley] as specified for the target bearing and range…” Except there was no range, a necessary component to enter a flight plan in the NAS computer.

Langley Tower used an established flight plan which was consistent with the Letter: According to the Letter, “The initial departure instruction shall be specified as fly runway heading, climb and maintain 4,000, unless otherwise coordinated and approved by Norfolk Departure Control.” Langley Tower immediately turned control over to Norfolk Tower/TRACON after creating a “090 for 60” flight plan in the NAS computer.

The Letter specifies that “Norfolk Tower shall: After departure, establish the scrambled aircraft on the requested vector and authorize climb to the highest altitude available (at or below the scramble altitude), as soon as traffic and coordination permit. And, the Tower shall: “Provide a radar hand-off to the appropriate facility. Transfer control and communications as soon as practical.” In the case on 9-11, given the flight plan entered by Langley Tower, the next appropriate facility was GIANTKILLER. Had the lead pilot and the Norfolk Controller agreed on a turn North then the next appropriate facility would have been the FAA’s Washington Center.

Lynn Spencer in Touching History reported that the scramble altitude was 230, not the 290 that was actually specified in the NEADS scramble order. That makes some sense since the fighters were cleared for 230 and, according to the 84th RADES radar files that is the altitude they flew. The assignment of a lower altitude is consistent with the intent of the Letter of Agreement.

Finally, the Letter states that: “Giant Killer shall provide a radar hand-off and transfer of control to Huntress as soon as scrambled aircraft are clear of known traffic.” Nowhere does the letter state that Giant Killer shall or will take control of scrambled aircraft as a matter of procedure.

Based on the Letter of Agreement, the procedures that were in place, the scramble started unraveling from the beginning. The Letter is specific that certain information must be provided. Target data is one such piece of information.

9-11: The Langley Scramble, gang aft agley

The Langley scramble was a series of logical, discrete, and, in retrospect, understandable events that did not cohere in the aggregate. The fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09, scrambled at 9:24, and airborne at 9:30, but in the wrong direction.  Here is what happened. A related Commission work paper is at this link.

The Scramble Order

There were and are four components to a scramble order under procedures long established at NEADS. A complete scramble order contains a target, a distance, a direction, and an altitude. Since NEADS never scrambled against a defined target on 9-11 neither the Langley scramble order nor the Otis scramble order before it contained a target and a distance, two of the requirement elements. The Langley scramble was for a direction, 010, and an altitude, 290, only. By checklist, the scramble order was heard at the Squadron, Langley Base Operations, Langley Tower, Norfolk TRACON, and GIANTKILLER, the military air traffic control facility for training areas. The next responsible facility was Langley Tower.

The Flight Plan

It was Langley Tower’s task to get the fighters in the air as rapidly as possible, preferably over water at altitude. Everything was configured at Langley Air Force Base to accommodate that task. The main runway is essentially east-west and the Squadron alert hangers are at the western end of the runway. The fighters, literally, can take off from the hanger, if they were launched to the east. A west launch, while rare, is possible. However the fighters would have to ‘back taxi’ the runway, turn and launch. Moreover, such a launch immediately places them in traffic through which they would have step in discrete altitude increments.

Langley Tower had only one of the two necessary pieces of information to enter a flight plan into the system. They needed a direction and a distance; they only had a direction. Tower personnel knew from experience that they could waste time trying to find a combination of distance and direction that the system would accept. So, they had developed a standard launch flight plan, 090 for 60 (east takeoff for 60 nautical miles) that would immediately be accepted. It was an easy decision. Tower personnel knew that it didn’t matter because someone else always told the fighters where to go after launch. Moreover, the Tower usually turned over control before the fighters even lifted off and they did so, to Norfolk TRACON. Things had begun to unravel.

The Decision on Which Way to Go

Norfolk TRACON knew the drill and gained radar contact on the fighters while they were lifting off. Soon after takeoff, just before the fighters reached the Delmarva Peninsula, the TRACON controller asked the lead pilot which way he wanted to go, just as Langley Tower knew would happen. And that is where things began to further unravel. Now the decision was in the hands of the flight leader.

Added June 19, 2009.  Here is a link to a transcript for Norfolk TRACON.

Quit 25, 26 and 27

The flight leader, Quit 25,  had limited situational awareness on what was happening. He and his wingman, Quit 26, had been on battle stations for over 20 minutes and he was not aware of events as they were unfolding. Further, NEADS had begun a concerted effort to locate additional fighter assets wherever they could find them. And the first place they found help was at the Langley alert squadron.

The Supervisor of Flying, a key node in the flow of information, responded to a NEADS question of how many planes and pilots they could muster. His answer was that they had four planes and could muster three pilots, if he were the third pilot. He became Quit 27, got ready, and took off in trail of Quit 25 and Quit 26.

At the critical decision point with Norfolk TRACON the flight leader was also waiting for his trail, the Supervisor of Flying, to join up. The flight lead and the Norfolk TRACON controller agreed that the flight plan, 090 for 60 was later information than the scramble order and so the fighters veered slightly right to a heading of 090 and proceeded out to sea. The flight leader was honest when he heard the TRACON tape. He said it was an opportunity missed. Ahead of the fighters was a military training area which brought an intervening, and unsuspecting, air traffic control facility into the equation—GIANTKILLER.


GIANTKILLER is a US Navy facility which controls air activity in military training areas. GIANTKILLER heard the scramble order and knew the fighters were not coming into their area; except they did. It took a combination of NEADS, GIANTKILLER and the FAA’s Washington Air Traffic Control Center, ZDC, to get the fighters turned and headed toward Baltimore. While that was happening NEADS surveillance technicians found the fast moving unknown we now know to be American Airlines flight 77 and established a track, B32, moments before the Pentagon impact. NEADS emphatically took control of the fighters by declaring AFIO, Authority for Intercept Operations.

Added June 18, 2009:  Here is a link to a transcript with transmissions by HUNTRESS (NEADS), ZDC, GIANTKILLER and Quit 25.


By declaring AFIO NEADS assumed responsibility for clearing air space for the fighters. This was the first and only time that morning that NEADS made that declaration. In the rush to get the fighters headed toward track B32 NEADS transposed two digits in the coordinates and as the Quit flight neared DC they veered south. The error was soon recognized and corrected and a combat air control (CAP) over the nation’s capital was established at 10:00.


The Quit flight initiated the DC CAP just before 10:00 and at 10:00 Quit 26 was directly over the Pentagon at 23,000 feet. The NMCC, directly below and struggling to gain situational awareness, did not know he was there.  The three fighters, in echelon, turned west to establish a west-east CAP.  The flight lead immediately circled back toward the city.   Because of the AFIO declaration two of the fighters were squawking identically and ZDC could not gain a clear picture of who was who. As a result the flight lead, himself, briefly became a target of interest above the city and the fighters ended up intercepting themselves. After that false start the CAP sorted itself out with ZDC and NEADS and was in position to support the return of Air Force One. Except at 10:10 Air Force One turned away and headed for Barksdale Air Force Base. But that’s another story.