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cmpbellsjc

Heroic female F-16 pilot from 9/11 - almost a kamikaze

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Just saw this posted on flightaware (http://flightaware.com/squawks/view/1/today/popular_new/21843/F_16_pilot_recalls_her_kamikaze_mission_to_bring_down_flight_93_without_ammunition) and then followed the link to the Washington post.Seems her and her commander were to fly their F-16's into United Airlines Flight 93 to bring it down since they were unarmed due to the situation unfolding too quickly to get the F-16 armed.Interesting read. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/f-16-pilot-was-ready-to-give-her-life-on-sept-11/2011/09/06/gIQAMpcODK_story.html?hpid=z2

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I'd heard about this a while ago, I like to think that's what most people - fighter pilot or otherwise - might have tried to do that day if they could have known that it would have prevented something worse from occurring. But it's a tale of remarkable selflessness all the same, amongst many acts of selflessness seen from all kinds of people on that day, in particular the police, fire and emergency crews of NYC, and indeed the people on board United 93, whose efforts in that vein are more widely known, but it does make you feel a little bit proud of the dedication pilots can be willing display in the face of such an awful situation. Al

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I guess the pilots would have ejected at the last moment -- they wouldn't have needed much relative speed with respect to the targets. Horrendous thing to have to do though, ram a civilian aircraft. But could they not have flown a slow approach towards a wing or empennage, then contacted and tipped the target plane? What I'm getting at is that there are most likely ways to destabilise & bring down a big passenger plane that would give the attacking flier (if not his/her plane) a good chance of survival. Just remembered this (MIG 29 pilots colliding at an airshow -- both survived) >>

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Of course it is easy to consider all this when sitting comfortably at home, but if I actually had time to think about it and was ever in the unfortunate position to have to do it (and I hope nobody ever is), I'd be inclined to try and damage a wing or the vertical fin, although if it was possible, and as the real flight leader had suggested, if you could hit the cockpit that'd almost certainly do it, but I doubt that'd be easy to do, unless head-on, but then again a near miss on the cockpit going head-on would almost certainly have taken out one of its wings or the tail surfaces if you rolled ninety degrees just before impact (easy to say sitting here all safe and sound of course). With an F-16, I imagine severely damaging a wing or the tail could have been done approaching from the rear by flying the nose of the fighter over the wingtip or tail, just above it, hitting the afterburner and letting the prominent belly air scoop and ventral fittings on the F-16 destroy the airliner's parts as the fighter accelerated over the wing (maybe even with the gear down to potentially have even more parts on your aircraft sticking out that could cause damage, perhaps even the engine intake fan would chew stuff up. It's a guess of course, but I suspect that would probably give you a decent chance at ejecting since you'd be in front of and above the main contact point. Damage of that nature would most likely have put the airliner in a spin or at least a dive that would be difficult to recover from. One suspects a good experienced airline pilot could fly an airliner with a missing aileron (although almost certainly not with the tailfin missing), but in either case I doubt the hijackers would have been able to get to their intended targets in an aircraft in that state, so the intention of Lt. Heather Penney to go for damaging a flying surface was probably a good plan, and certainly a brave one. Whichever way you look at it, it's a nightmare scenario, as it must indeed have been for the passengers on 93. Al

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Excellent story, for this historic day. I've been following all kinds of stories online and watching the numerous specials on cable tv, but this is one of the most surprising and inspiring accounts I have had the pleasure to watch.Thanks for the link!

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What about the helicopter hovering the tower and just watching people jump. Didnt he have gear and long ropes? they should.They should at least try to throw ropes while hovering at safe distant (since landing was not possible) and try to near them to the side of the building where those desperate souls were about to jump. It was worth trying? I get mad everytime I see that scene. People flagging white towels, being cooked alive and willing to jump to death, watching those heli pilots hovering as spectators. And where were those orange color helicopter that you see in TV are always ready to go into action in any safe and rescue mission? I think enough of all this praise talk about 9/11 participants, good lessons culd be learned if the media would do a mea culpa of what else could have been done or the mistakes (there were many), like acess to the roof doors locked (who was responsible for this?)Who was the stupid guy that gave the order that everything was fine, everybody returned to their desks, problem was only in the north tower? I want names.Who was the stupid guy that gave the order to everybody stay put in their floors? I want his name.Who was the stupid guy that asked for orderly and slow descent of the stairs? What!!!! On the contrary, what was needed was a seargant shouting Go-Go-Go !!! faster faster come on!!! In a plane fire emergency exit the crew firmly shouts and directs ordering quick exit. Why not in the towers? When the south tower went down there were lines of people coming down, more could have been saved if that foolish political correctness of "dont speak", "do as your told", "behave like sheep" "be a civilized new yorker" didnt prevail. 9/11 is so similar to the Titanic, all those half empty boats going into the water and those people watching with their mouth shut. No leader, no thinking brain among them. There is a fine line between "emergency" and "panic". Dont panic but certainly act with urgency in an emergency. Many more lives could have been saved and many more lives will be saved in future emergency events if people know what went wrong. It seems its a taboo to point failures.

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What about the helicopter hovering the tower and just watching people jump. Didnt he have gear and long ropes? they should.They should at least try to throw ropes while hovering at safe distant (since landing was not possible) and try to near them to the side of the building where those desperate souls were about to jump. It was worth trying? I get mad everytime I see that scene. People flagging white towels, being cooked alive and willing to jump to death, watching those heli pilots hovering as spectators. And where were those orange color helicopter that you see in TV are always ready to go into action in any safe and rescue mission?
Those choppers you see on TV that are always ready to pull off miracle rescues are just that - on TV in works of fiction - i.e. not how it is in real life. I can assure you that there was almost certainly no way a helicopter could have got anywhere near the roofs of the twin towers with all the smoke, thermal updrafts and debris that was floating around. There simply would have been too much turbulence for them to even consider trying it, since it is incredibly tricky to land on a roof up that high even under the best circumstances with the way winds howl around such tall buildings. What you are seeing in most cases is the helicopters at a safe distance, with long lenses making it look like they were closer than they actually were able to go. Don't think for a second that any one of those pilots would not have given it a go if they thought there was even a remote chance that it could have been accomplished, but they knew it could not, and it must have been heartbreaking to be flying there, knowing that. Even if they could have landed, they would barely have been able to take off with the additional weight, since you know that they would have been mobbed by desperate people. Al

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Don't think for a second that any one of those pilots would not have given it a go if they thought there was even a remote chance that it could have been accomplished, but they knew it could not, and it must have been heartbreaking to be flying there, knowing that. Even if they could have landed, they would barely have been able to take off with the additional weight, since you know that they would have been mobbed by desperate people. Al
Thanks. I understand landing was not possible. There was nobody in the roofs anyway, doors were locked. But long ropes or cables from the heli to the side of the tower could have given a few a chance. Surely they werent equipped with these ropes. If any jam occurs between rope and building it could be released from the heli. How far high was it? 300 feet? Could he hover lower for this purpose an relase cable to the side? Im not saying its possible, Im just wondering.

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I'm sure they could do it in an action movie, but the fact is most helicopters don't have any sort of winch, or the power necessary to indulge in such things (you'll notice many rescue choppers are big twin engined affairs, unlike the average news or traffic chopper). You need lots of stuff on a chopper to sling load things effectively, not least of which is a crew skilled in it and a chopper powerful enough to be able to hover and handle the increase in load when someone attaches to the cable, by comparison, choppers lifting people off boats will occasionally maintain some forward speed, matched to the boat, since this gives them more lift. There is a big 'pendulum effect' with a sling load under a chopper, which can put the chopper out of control easily if the pilot is not used to it (there have been many choppers that have crashed because of this getting out of hand), and on a cable several hundred feet long, that effect would be pretty big. Typically you'd need a doorway-mounted winch with a special rig (harness or basket) for getting people up, a crew chief to operate it, the doors removed or locked open, a mirror under the chopper that the pilot can look at through the chin window, comms between the crew chief (winch guy) and the pilot to complete the fine movements necessary, since the winch guy commands the steering (this needs a good deal practice and proficiency to do well). Most helicopter winch cables are not long enough to pull this off anyway to be honest, being typically just long enough to lift people off a boat's deck maybe 80 feet below, as noted much more than that and there's too much swing induced on the cable to make it easy enough to keep under control. All of this is hard enough to pull off in smooth air for a trained rescue helicopter crew, let alone in the disturbed air coming off a fire many hundreds of feet up off the deck on a warm day with some TV-news chopper crew 'giving it a go'. It'd be a great heroic scene in a movie, but it's just not going to happen in real life. Al

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Guest bstolle

In 1972 three fighters tried to down the 727 of their Monarch King Hassan II. The fired at the 727 with the on board guns and as this didn't bring the 727 down, one fighter deliberately rammed the 727s T-tail, shearing off 3/4 of the starboard horizontal stabilizer.....the fighter crashed and the 727 landed safely. It's not that easy to bring an airliner down.

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Yup, a tricky business for sure. The Luftwaffe tried the ramming tactic in WW2 against Allied heavy bombers (principally against B-17s and B-24s), most famously with Sonderkommado Elbe, more commonly known as a the rammjäger unit. It was volunteers only, and although there were some successes, the measure of how difficult of it can be to conduct a ramming attack can be seen in the following statistics: on the 7th April 1945, one hundred and eighty specially converted bf 109 rammjäger fighters took off on one of these missions, and only fifteen of them successfully rammed a bomber, of those attacked in this way, only eight were brought down, and there was certainly no shortage of targets for them in the air that day, proving that even intercepting, let alone hitting and destroying an aircraft is a tricky prospect. Some Russian pilots in WW2 successfully managed to ram and bring down bombers with obsolete fighter aircraft; one or two Soviet flyers accomplishing the feat numerous times, having bailed out after doing so on previous occasions. But these were probably exceptionally lucky (not to mention extremely brave) pilots, and most of them were eventually killed doing that kind of thing, as you can probably imagine. Al

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Do you think Kamikaze would be the correct wording for this? A Kamikaze was a millitary aviator taking out millitary targets. This is a completely different situation in that these two were placed in a situation where they had no weapons to take out a civilian target. It would have been a last minute effort to prevent further civilian casualties. To be honest using the term 'Kamikaze' I feel inappropriate for this situation. "Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." John 11:49-50 or "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" - Captain Spock

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Well, technically Kamikaze means 'God Wind' if you translate it literally, which is perhaps more meaningfully translated as 'divine storm' or maybe 'divine intervention', in that it originally referred to a series of Typhoons in the latter half of the 13th Century which prevented a Mongolian invasion fleet from landing troops in Japan. It was the Bushido-code obsessed radical Japanese officers of WW2 who co-opted the term for their own use in order to try and legitimise the tactic of suicide attacks with soldiers who were loyal to the Emperor, since he was seen as a divine figure by many of them. When the officer who originally suggested the tactic to the Army was asked incredulously 'who would fly such an aircraft?', he apparently replied 'I would fly such an aircraft'. So it's not the first time the term has been borrowed. But given the original meaning, whether one is religious or not, in my book it's more than appropriate for what would have been a brave and almost certainly sacrificial act, in order to save lives. Al

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The way I see it from the allied POV in World War 2 is that the 'Kamikaze' caused a considerable damage and casualties to the allied forces. To use this wording in Lt. Heather Penney's situation is different then how it was used in World War 2.... However Lt. Heather Penney has used that term 'Kamikaze' herself so I won't press the issue further. I just think it is a strange word to use is all as she was about to do what so many others had done on that day when the NYFD, NYPD and Paramedics ran into those towers without giving it a second thought. You wouldn't call that a suicide mission either. People did what they had to on that day.

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A difference is that the vast majority of rescue workers who went into the towers knew of course that doing so was risky, as is everything firefighters and other emergency workers do each and every day, but at the time many did not know that either or both towers and the smaller third UN building which also fell were going to collapse, so it was not done in the certain knowledge that they were extremely likely to die (which in no way makes it any less brave), although those who went into the tower which was hit first (i.e. the second one to collapse) would probably have had an idea that it might happen, since they knew one tower had already fallen, so that was without a doubt an incredibly selfless and extremely brave act indeed. But as far as media reporting goes, everyone generally regards 'a kamikaze attack' as ramming your plane into something to destroy it where it's very likely you will not survive, so it gets the point across in a headline to describe Penney and her flight leader's planned action. An important point here is that the hijackers who flew the aeroplanes into the twin towers and the Pentagon were conducting what you would certainly call a 'kamikaze attack', so I suspect the use of the term to describe what the air force pilots trying to stop them were prepared to do is deliberate, in that it emphasizes the fact that those serving in the military are brave enough, and indeed committed enough to their duty, that they too are prepared to go as far as any terrorist will, in order to stop them. It's important that terrorists understand that point, which is especially why the passengers on United 93 should be particularly revered for their actions, in that they stood up and said 'we're not going to just take it'. Al

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Yes it does make for some sensationalism in news reporting. 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one' situation comes up many times in history.....I just see this situation being exactly as one of those situations.

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Do you think Kamikaze would be the correct wording for this?
I was just using part of the tagline from the Flightaware website and hadn't given it much though truthfully.In hindsight I regret posting it since it wasn't meant to spark debate, controversy, or anything else. Frankly I just thought it was an interesting story that I hadn't heard before, nothing more, nothing less, and wanted to post it for others to see.Going forward I think I will refrain from posting anymore aviation related stories, no matter how interesting I think they are, since most of the time they can't just be taken for what they are and seem to usually end up in some type of debate or even a heated arguement.I see a lot of interesting aviation related stories that I never post, mostly for the reasons I listed above. As much as I like to share information that I think is either interesting or others might find helpful, I think that I will need to start curtailing my posting as it's starting to feel like sometimes its just not worth it.

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Going forward I think I will refrain from posting anymore aviation related stories, no matter how interesting I think they are, since most of the time they can't just be taken for what they are and seem to usually end up in some type of debate or even a heated arguement.
Sorry Mate...My intent wasn't in how you used it in the original post. It was used in the media reports and even Lt. Heather Penney essentially used the term as well. I understand this is why it was used on here as well. I wouldn't want for you to stop actively taking part in this or any other forum. I think it is an amazing story as well and what these two where ready to do with their F-16's.....It is a perfect example of what an individual is ready to do to save the larger masses for the better good of mankind. As it turned out the passengers on Flight 93 put themselves first and before others when they brought that aircraft down. The only New Zealand casualty on September 11 was one of the passengers of Flight 93 and it is said he was one of the folks who rushed the cockpit. We remember Alan Anthony Beaven with this recent 10 year anniversary as well.

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