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8:38 a.m. and After September 11, 2001: NEADS Technicians Try Locating Flight 11, but Reportedly Hindered by Outdated Equipment

Technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) try frantically to locate Flight 11 on their radar scopes, but are supposedly hindered by their outdated equipment. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 31-32] NEADS has just been alerted to the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Its technicians realize they need to find the location of the hijacked plane quickly, so that the weapons team will be able to pass this information on to any fighter jets that are launched after it.
Locating Flight 11 Is a 'Grueling Process' - Author Lynn Spencer will later explain: “To identify American 11, the surveillance and ID techs must go through a grueling process. Their radar scopes are filled with hundreds of radar returns not just from aircraft but from weather systems, ground interference, and what’s called anomalous propagation—false returns caused by conditions in the atmosphere, or by such obstructions as flocks of birds. The technicians must first determine which radar data on their screens is for aircraft, which they do by monitoring its movement, which is distinctive for planes. The technician must observe for at least 36 seconds to a minute just to confirm that a blip is in fact an aircraft track. The tech must attach what’s called a tactical display number to it, which tells the computer to start tracking and identifying the target. If the target is in fact a plane, then over a period of 12-20 seconds, the computer will start to generate information on the track: heading, speed, altitude, latitude, longitude, and the identifying information being transmitted by the transponder.” However, Flight 11’s transponder has been switched off (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, “With the hundreds of pieces of radar data filling their screens, and little information as to the location of the flight,” the task of locating it “is daunting.”
Radar Equipment Supposedly Unsuitable - Spencer will suggest that trying to locate Flight 11 is made more difficult because the radar equipment at NEADS is outdated and unsuited to the task at hand. She writes: “[T]he NEADS radar equipment is different from that used by air traffic controllers. It’s much older, developed in the 1970s and brought into use by NEADS in the early 1980s. The system was designed to monitor the shoreline for incoming high-altitude threats: missiles coming from across the ocean. Slow and cumbersome, and not nearly as user friendly as more modern equipment, the NEADS monochromic radar displays are not designed to take internal FAA radar data or to identify radar tracks originating from inside the United States. The system offers little, if any, such low-level coverage over the country.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 31-32] Several of the NEADS personnel will later complain of their inability to locate Flight 11 on their scopes (see Shortly After 8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). But Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician at NEADS, believes he has located Flight 11 on the radar screen just before it crashes into the World Trade Center (see 8:45 a.m.-8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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