9/11: The Saga of the Skies- page 2 | Military Aviation | Air & Space Magazine
(USAF / Staff Sgt. Greg L. Davis)

9/11: The Saga of the Skies

Chaos and control over Washington, while the Pentagon burned.

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(Continued from page 1)

“That thing’s huge!” he exclaims, enormously relieved to have succeeded at the tricky maneuver.

Soon, F-18s from the 321 Marine Fighter Attack Squadron of Andrews Air Force Base join the air defense over Washington, adding further confusion to the mix. When Northeast Air Defense Sector Weapons Director Smurf Murphy tries to authenticate one of the Marine pilots—giving the authentication code that demonstrates that he is who he says he is and that his orders are legal and lawful—the pilot does not respond with the appropriate authentication; the code he comes back to Northeast Air Defense Sector with has too many letters. What the hell is he talking about? Smurf wonders. He tries again to authenticate the pilot.

“Dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me,” the pilot responds. It quickly occurs to Smurf that he has an unexpected challenge on his hands: these fighters, who are not normally part of North American Aerospace Defense Command, do not have NORAD authenticators. Instead, they have authenticators from Air Combat Command. They don’t match! Shit!

Smurf knows that this problem is going to be repeated frequently as increasing numbers of non-NORAD fighters take to the skies. Searching for a solution, he directs fellow Weapons controller Animal Julian to help him call the various squadron commanders of the non-alert jets launching to patrol the Northeast in order to resolve the problem. Doing so is of critical importance. The authentication system is set up to ensure that a pilot knows he is being given a valid order, and a pilot cannot legally comply with an order unless he can authenticate it first. Smurf gets on a secured line to their unit, the 321 Marine Fighter Attack Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base.

“We use this authenticator,” Smurf announces. “Are you using the same one?”

“No.”

“Uh…okay! Here’s what we’re gonna do.” He improvises a plan of action, and soon faxes are fired off over secured lines to every squadron launching aircraft to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Meanwhile, the Marine pilots already in the air over Washington waiting to be checked in are doing some of their own improvising. They know of only one way to solve their authentication problem: voice recognition. Smurf is a Marine buddy of some of the pilots, and they know his voice. The Marine pilots decide that they will accept orders from him and him only.

“No, no!” one pilot objects when another Weapons controller tries to give him instructions. “Smurf’s voice only! That’s all I want to hear.”

Smurf gets on the radio to check him in. “All right! Devil 1-1, Smurf, I authenticate…You’re in the Combat Air Patrol. Here’s your mission…I’m turning you over to my controller.”

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