One of the many stories of American patriotism, acts of heroism – duty & honor on Sept. 11, 2001. These F–16 pilots & warriors were prepared to smash their planes into Flight 93 like kamikazes. God Bless the USAF – God Bless the United States.
F-16 pilot Heather Penney explains the actions she and her fellow NG pilots took in the initial response to the 911 attacks. She and her flight leader Col. Sasseville had to take off without AIM Missiles on board because there was not time to have them brought over from the arms depot some distance away. Shortly thereafter two other pilots from the squadron did take off fully armed with the air to air Sidewinder missiles.
F–16 Pilot Major Heather Penney on 9–11
When a group of fighter pilots in Washington, D.C., were told a plane had struck the World Trade Center, they assumed it was an inexperienced pilot in a Cessna.
But as the rest of 9/11 unfolded, the pilots realized it was their turn to act.
Heather ‘Lucky’ Penney was one of them, a young blonde in her 20s so enamoured with flying that jet fuel practically coursed through her veins.
Her father John, also an avid pilot, flew in Vietnam, and she was following in his footsteps.
Miss Penney is now the director of the F–35 program at Lockheed Martin and part-time National Guard pilot who has not lost her passion for flying.
But 10 years ago, she was one of the first rookie female fighter pilots, who signed up as soon as she heard the news that combat aviation was being opened to women.
Her mission: Find United Flight 93 – and destroy it however she could.
But in a fighter jet absent of missiles and packed only with dummy ammunition from a recent training mission, there was only one way to do it.
‘We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,’ Penney recalled in an interview with the Washington Post. ‘I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.’
Back then, there were no armed F–16s at the ready at Andrews Air Force Base, and it would take nearly an hour to get them armed. There was no time.
Combat jets needed to be in the air to protect Washington, and they had to get there immediately.
‘Lucky, you’re coming with me,’ Colonel Marc Sasseville shouted.
Mr Sasseville, who is now stationed at the Pentagon, said: ‘We don’t train to bring down airliners. If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.’
He admitted he thought about the possibility of utilizing his ejection seat to bail out just before striking the jet.
But Miss Penney said it was of much greater concern to eject from her plane and risk missing the target and fail the mission, even if it saved her life.
Sass, as Miss Penney called him, said he would take out the cockpit. She would take the tail.
She said: ‘I knew that if I took off the tail of the aircraft, it would essentially go straight down and so the pattern of debris would be minimized.’
Ditching the usual pre-flight preparations, she shot into the sky, following Sass at speeds of 400 mph.
The jets passed over the ravaged Pentagon, flying low and scouring the sky.
It wasn’t until hours later that they would find out United 93 had already gone down in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
But that didn’t mean their job was done, as Miss Penney spent the remainder of that day in the air, clearing airspace and escorting the president as he flew in Air Force One. After the mission, Miss Penney went on to become a major and fly two tours of duty in Iraq.
Now a mother of two, she didn’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11 – a group of courageous passengers did instead.
She said: ‘The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves. I was just an accidental witness to history.’