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Flying on 9-11

On board the Attorney General's (AG) Plane

Thanks to RADM Bill Moffit

Today, Another day that will live in infamy.

Seems like a bad dream so far today. It started out with a simple trip to take the Attorney General (AG) to Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, and Lansing. It did not turn out simple in any way, shape, or form. First, I found out a good friend's wife died the other day and the viewing is tonight with the funeral tomorrow. Then we took off for Milwaukee, and about a hundred or so miles out we get a call telling me to have the Attorney General call the Operations Center in Washington. A few minutes later, one of his agents comes up and asks me if I knew about the airplane that crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought he was kidding, then he tells me two airplanes hit it.

I was in a state of denial that something like that could happen. Once I realized he was serious I called air traffic and asked them what they knewabout it.

They confirmed it and told me they were watching it on TV when the second airplane hit the other tower. The Attorney General asked if we could turn around and go back to Washington, and I had to tell him we needed more fuel for that. So we proceeded on to Milwaukee. Before we got there, we were told that all departures were stopped and we would not be able to go back to Washington. I told them they would have to make an exception for us since we had the Attorney General on board. I asked if a call from the Administrator or the White House would help, and they told us to stand by -- they would work on it. I then had a flight plan filed and made an uneventful landing.

We taxied into the airport and there was SO much police activity. There was no one on the ramp who wasn't carrying a gun. As the AG got off, I asked him if it might be a good idea to put on enough fuel to have a contingency to get to New York. He said put on the extra fuel, which we did. He went away with his agents in tow and must have had several briefings. We were then told about the crash into the Pentagon. That was another unbelievable vision. We got back into the airplane and they put on two more people. Then I realized I was over weight for the flight. I quickly made up my mind I didn't care, and was going to go on. As we taxied out, they made two other planes go around that were landing in the opposite direction. We took the runway and were on our way back to Washington. This is the only time I ever got cleared direct to Washington before even climbing above three thousand feet. There was NO ONE on the radio, just us.

We were climbing when the controller told us we had to land at our nearest airport. I ignored him and kept climbing. After consulting with the agent in the back (thank God he was a pilot) we decided to ask for an airport closer to Washington. They hemmed and hawed but let us keep climbing and heading toward Washington. We had several more brief discussions about landing, and I wouldn't have any of that. We were told that the military was told to shoot down anything coming into the Washington area.

We thought about that a while, then asked if we could go to Richmond.

So they cleared us to Richmond and told us they would check and see if they could work something else out. By this time we were talking in the blind about who was on board and what we wanted to do. There was no one else on the radio. Unbelievable. We were now heading to Richmond, and I asked if they had any fighters in the area. They said they would check.

I told them we were requesting fighter escort and wanted to land in Washington.

I thought if we could get this escort, the fighter pilots could talk to the other fighter jocks, and they would leave us alone. You talk about thinking and acting out of the box. I told the agent that with what we knew right now, we could throw the rule book out the window and do whatever we had to do. Of course we didn't want to do anything that would jeopardize our safety, or the safety of the AG.

I know I didn't want to get shot down either.

So we proceeded on and were later advised we could turn direct to Washington, which we did. We were then told the fighters were off Richmond enroute to intercept us. About a hundred miles out we were told the fighters were 20 mile ahead on an intercept. We finally saw them and the TCAS started driving me nuts with commands to do this and that collision avoidance maneuver. (Jim note: TCAS is the Traffic-alert and Collision Avoidance System.)

I also heard the fighter pilot say to the controller, "Radar Contact."

Man did that blow my mind! Imagine, he has me, little old me, in radar contact with his weapons systems.

I then pulled the circuit breaker for the TCAS, and the F-16 came around on the right side. Imagine, I'm lead with an F-16 on MY wing.

It's a good thing I didn't have time to think about that then, my head would have probably grown three sizes. I talked to the fighter pilot and gave him the entire story, and told him how I intended to make my approach to the airport. I didn't want to overfly the Pentagon, nor did I want to do anything at low level.

The flight visibility was fantastic today, and we could see the Pentagon burning. I could also see smoke coming from the State Department.

We had that fighter coming in on our wing all the way down to about 120 knots. He stayed right there and finally couldn't go any slower, and he had to go around. We were cleared to land, and after the roll out cleared to anywhere on the airport we wanted to go. Imagine, this is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport! Now if that isn't enough, we had one more treat in store for us. We taxied on to the ramp, and our ground guide was INSIDE the hangar with the doors open wide. All the FBI and police vehicles were inside waiting for us, so we taxied into the hangar. I shut down both engines before we reached the threshold and the airplane continued to roll into the hangar.

They immediately closed the doors to the hangar before anyone got off the plane.

Man what a day!

When I finish this note I am going to leave work and go to the viewing for Angela who died three days ago. After taking to my friend, he has put off the funeral until her relatives can get here (drive) from New England. I know tomorrow I will go and give a pint of blood, beyond that I am grateful to be safe, and wish I could say that about every one else. Please join me in offering a prayer for the thousands that did not make it through this day.

Talk to you soon.

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