North American Aerospace Defense Command Center, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, 11:30 a.m.
The 3-foot-thick, 25-ton steel blast doors at Cheyenne Mountain have closed for the first time in history. Locked inside NORAD’s command center, Gen. Ralph “Ed” Eberhart has been participating in the National Military Command Center’s teleconference. His chief of air defense operations now wants to implement SCATANA, short for Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids. SCATANA is a plan that was developed in the 1960s to clear the skies in the event of a confirmed missile attack from the Soviet Union. The plan shuts down all the navigational aids in the country and closes the airspace so that bombers, missiles, airborne command posts, and support aircraft can operate unencumbered.
General Eberhart is not sure that the order is appropriate. With new hijackings still being reported, however, he knows he must take action. He issues a modified SCATANA order known as ESCAT, Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic. The order allows for the continued operation of navigational aids, and also selective approval for specific and necessary flights. The order won’t ground everything, but it will give the military what they need for the current circumstances.
Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities: the skies now officially belong to NORAD. Across the country, airport facilities begin broadcasting alerts to all aircraft that the airspace is closed and that violating aircraft will be fired upon. For the 30 aircraft still airborne, that is nerve-wracking news.
At 12:16 the Federal Aviation Administration Command Center announces that the airspace has been successfully shut down. There are no commercial airliners flying over the United States. The military has taken firm control of the skies and fighters have moved into position escorting the last two suspicious international flights headed toward U.S. airspace.
Excerpted from Touching History. Copyright ® 2008 by Lynn Spencer. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.