On the morning of Sept. 11, I was working at the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo, Ohio. I started the day by preparing my F-16 (89-114) for a morning sortie. The pilot and I went through the launch procedures and I had started to marshal the aircraft out when a co-worker pulled up.
“Someone just flew an airplane into one of the Twin Towers,” he said.
My plane powered up and taxied out to the end-of-runway, where it turned around and came back. The sortie was cancelled. All flights in the United States were grounded, the pilot told me.
Did the ground order have anything to do with the World Trade Center crash, I asked once the pilot was out. He wasn’t sure, he said, and headed into operations to find out more.
After refueling 114, I walked to the maintenance hangar. When I stepped inside, everyone was huddled around the Maintenance Group Commander. The only words I heard were, “that’s what we know, let’s get to work!!!”
Airmen ran outside towards the flight line. Someone grabbed me. “Let’s go, they need your jet,” he said.
I rushed back to 114, where weapons troops were pushing out Universal Ammunition Loading Systems (UALs) to load the guns with inert bullets – the only weapons we had on 9/11. They pushed the UAL to aircraft 90-0700, just across from mine, and a pilot ran past me to that jet.
The crew chief stopped him. That jet was broke, unable to fly.
Looking around, I realized there were only two flyable, fully mission capable (FMC) jets on our ramp. One was my jet. The other was being loaded right next to mine.
I rushed over to the broken jet and told everyone my aircraft was ready to go. I just needed the bullets.
We pushed the UAL to 114 and weapons began loading. As the pilot readied for the flight, I asked what was going on. A jet had been hijacked , he said, and was headed our way. We were going after it.
Once loaded, I strapped the pilot in. “I have to get in the air now,” he said.
The unit had just returned from Operation Southern Watch in Kuwait, where we had scrambled jets daily to intercept flights coming out of Baghdad. The pilot suggested an alert launch to expedite the sequence. We did that and within a few minutes he was taxiing towards the runway, going after what we would eventually learn was United Airlines Flight 93.
I didn’t see the pilot again until about 1900 that night. He hadn’t made it to Flight 93, but he had intercepted several small planes who weren’t aware that every aircraft in the country had been ordered to land.
He had also made a pit stop at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, where the plane had been loaded with live missiles, enabling us to sit alert for the foreseeable future.
By the time he landed our numbers had grown to over a dozen FMC jets, I’ve never seen people work so hard to this day.
As my pilot got out of my jet, I asked him the same questions I’d asked for years.
“How’d it go? How’d she fly for you?”
“It was a long day,” he simply said, and walked away.
Go here to read more about 89-114 and the EADS group photo
Senior Master Sgt. Terry Copic is the AMX Production Superintendent, 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard
Editor’s note: Tail numbers are the last three digits of a plane’s official serial number. All Air Force serial numbers are six digits, consisting of the year, a dash and a four-digit identifier, such as 89-2114. Aircrews refer to planes by the three-digit number on the tail such as 114 or 700.