Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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The three F-16's that were sent to intercept Flight 93 were Air National Guard planes that launched with no armaments capable of downing the jet. With the other three planes already striking their targets the pilots decided among themselves that if necessary they would ram Flight 93 to prevent it from reaching it's target.
Soon thereafter, the Secret Service called back, asking whether the squadron could get fighters airborne. The unit's maintenance section was notified to get several F-16s armed and ready to fly. Anticipating such an order, Col. Don C. Mozley, the 113th Logistics Group commander, had already ordered his weapons officer to "break out the AIM-9s and start building them up." The missiles had to be transported from a bunker on the other side of the base, which would take a while.
"After the Pentagon was hit, we were told there were more [airliners] coming. Not 'might be'; they were coming," Mozley recalled.
Sasseville grabbed three F-16 pilots and gave them a curt briefing: "I have no idea what's going on, but we're flying. Here's our frequency. We'll split up the area as we have to. Just defend as required. We'll talk about the rest in the air." All four grabbed their helmets, g-suits and parachute harnesses, and headed for the operations desk to get aircraft assignments.
Another call from the Secret Service commanded, "Get in the air now!" Almost simultaneously, a call from someone else in the White House declared the Washington area "a free-fire zone. That meant we were given authority to use force, if the situation required it, in defense of the nation's capital, its property and people," Sasseville said.
He and his wingman, Lucky, sprinted to the flight line and climbed into waiting F-16s armed only with "hot" guns and 511 rounds of "TP"--nonexplosive training rounds. "They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on Nos. 3 and 4. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn't have time to wait on those," Sasseville said. Maj. Dan (Raisin) Caine and Capt. Brandon (Igor) Rasmussen climbed into the jets being armed with AIM-9s, knowing they would take off about 10 min. behind Sasseville and Lucky.
"We had two air-to-air birds on the ramp . . . that already had ammo in them. We launched those first two with only hot guns," said CMSgt. Roy Dale (Crank) Belknap, the 113th Wing production superintendent. "By then, we had missiles rolling up, so we loaded those other two airplanes while the pilots were sitting in the cockpit."
Hutchison was probably airborne shortly after the alert F-16s from Langley arrived over Washington, although 121st FS pilots admit their timeline-recall "is fuzzy." But it's clear that Hutchison, Sasseville and Lucky knew their options were limited for bringing down a hijacked airliner headed for an undetermined target in the capital city. Although reluctant to talk about it, all three acknowledge they were prepared to ram a terrorist-flown aircraft, if necessary. Indeed, Hutchison--who might have been the first to encounter Flight 93 if it had, indeed, been flying low and fast down the Potomac--had no other choice.
Sasseville and Lucky each had 511 rounds of ammo, but that only provided roughly a 5-sec. burst of the 20-mm. gun. And where should they shoot to ensure a hijacked aircraft would be stopped? Sasseville planned to fire from behind and "try to saw off one wing. I needed to disable it as soon as possible--immediately interrupt its aerodynamics and bring it down."
He admits there was no assurance that a 5-sec. burst of lead slugs could slice an air transport's wing off, though. His alternative was "to hit it--cut the wing off with my wing. If I played it right, I'd be able to bail out. One hand on the stick and one hand on the ejection handle, trying to ram my airplane into the aft side of the [airliner's] wing," he said. "And do it skillfully enough to save the pink body . . . but understanding that it might not go as planned. It was a tough nut; we had no other ordnance."
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