The Prevention of Interceptions of the Commandeered Planes
It is standard operating procedure (SOP) to scramble jet fighters whenever a jetliner goes off course or radio contact with it is lost. Between September 2000 and June 2001, interceptors were scrambled 67 times. 1 In the year 2000 jets were scrambled 129 times. 2
There are several elements involved in domestic air defense. The air traffic control system continuously monitors air traffic and notifies NORAD of any deviations of any aircraft from their flight-paths or loss of radio contact. NORAD monitors air and space traffic continuously and is prepared to react immediately to threats and emergencies. It has the authority to order units from the Air National Guard, the Air Force, or other armed services to scramble fighters in pursuit of jetliners in trouble.
Routine interception procedures were not followed on September 11th, 2001.
The air defense network had, on September 11th, predictable and effective procedures for dealing with just such an attack. Yet it failed to respond in a timely manner until after the attack was over, more than an hour and a half after it had started. The official timeline describes a series of events and mode of response in which the delays are spread out into a number of areas. There are failures upon failures, in what might be described as a strategy of layered failures, or failure in depth. The failures can be divided into four types.
- Failures to report: Based on the official timeline, the FAA response times for reporting the deviating aircraft were many times longer than the prescribed times.
- Failures to scramble: NORAD, once notified of the off-course aircraft, failed to scramble jets from the nearest bases.
- Failures to intercept: Once airborne, interceptors failed to reach their targets because they flew at small fractions of their top speeds and/or in the wrong directions.
- Failures to redeploy: Fighters that were airborne and within interception range of the deviating aircraft were not redeployed to pursue them.
Had not there been multiple failures of each type, one or more parts of the attack could have been thwarted. NORAD had time to protect the World Trade Center even given the unbelievably late time, 8:40, when it claims to have first been notified. It had time to protect the South Tower and Washington even given its bizarre choice of bases from which to scramble planes. And it still had ample opportunity to protect both New York City and Washington even if it insisted that all interceptors fly subsonic, simply by redeploying airborne fighters.
Failures to Report
Comparing NORAD's timeline to reports from air traffic control reveals inexplicable delays in the times the FAA took to report deviating aircraft. The delays include an 18-minute delay in reporting Flight 11 and a 39-minute delay in reporting Flight 77. The delays are made all the more suspicious given that, in each case, the plane failed to respond to communications, was off-course, and had stopped emitting its IFF signal.
Failures to Scramble
No plausible explanation has been provided for failing to scramble interceptors in a timely fashion from bases within easy range to protect the September 11th targets. Fighters that were dispatched were scrambled from distant bases. Early in the attack, when Flight 11 had turned directly south toward New York City, it was obvious that New York City and the World Trade Center, and Washington D.C. would be likely targets. Yet fighters were not scrambled from the bases near the targets. They were only scrambled from distant bases. Moreover there were no redundant or backup scrambles.
New York City
Flight 11 had been flying south toward New York City from about 8:30 AM. Yet no interceptors were scrambled from nearby Atlantic City, or La Guardia, or from Langley, Virginia. Numerous other bases were not ordered to scramble fighters.
No interceptors were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base to protect the capital, at least not before the Pentagon was hit. Andrews Air Force Base had two squadrons of fighters on alert, and is only about 10 miles from the Pentagon.
Failures to Intercept
Even though the interceptors were not dispatched from the most logical bases, the ones that were scrambled still had adequate time to reach their assigned planes. Why didn't they? Because they were only flying at a small fraction of their top speed. That is the conclusion implicit in NORAD's timeline.
Otis to the WTC
The first base to finally scramble interceptors was Otis in Falmouth, Massachusetts, at 8:52, about a half-hour after Flight 11 was taken over. This was already eight minutes after Flight 11 hit the North Tower, and just 9 minutes before Flight 175 hit the South Tower.
According to NORAD, at the time of the South Tower Impact the two F-15s from Otis were still 71 miles away. Otis is 153 miles east-northeast of the WTC. That means the F-15s were flying at:
|(153 miles - 71 miles)/(9:03 - 8:52) = 447 mph|
At around 9:20 the F-15s finally reached the World Trade Center. Their average speed for the trip was:
|153/(9:11 - 8:52) = 483 mph|
Langley to the Pentagon
The F-16s from Langley reached the Pentagon at 9:49. It took them 19 minutes to reach Washington D.C. from Langley AFB, which is about 130 miles to the south. That means the F-16s were flying at:
|130 miles/(9:49 - 9:30) = 410.5 mph|
Andrews to the Pentagon
Andrews Air Force Base, located on the outskirts of the capital, is just over 10 miles from the Pentagon. One would have expected interceptors to be scrambled to protect the capital within a few minutes of the 8:15 loss of contact with Flight 11. Instead, no fighters from Andrews reached the Pentagon until 9:49, several minutes after the assault.
Failures to Redeploy
Fighters that were in the air when the attack started were not redeployed to intercept the deviating planes. When fighters scrambled to protect Manhattan arrived there too late, they were not redeployed to protect the capital even though they had plenty of time to reach it before the Pentagon was hit.
Long Island to Manhattan
Two F-15s flying off the coast of Long Island were not redeployed to Manhattan until after the second tower was hit. 3
WTC to the Pentagon
By the time the two F-15s from Otis reached Manhattan, the only jetliner still flying with its IFF transponder off had just made a 180-degree turn over southern Ohio and had been headed for Washington D.C. for 12 minutes. It was still 34 minutes before the Pentagon was hit. Had the fighters been sent to protect the capital, they could have traveled the approximately 300 miles in:
|300 miles/1875 mph = 9.6 minutes|
2. Norad on Heightened Alert, 9/13/01 [cached]
3. 'I Thought It Was the Start of World War III', Cape Cod Times, 8/21/02 [cached]