The terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, damaged The Pentagon, and downed U.A. Flight 93 in Shanksville, Penn. are unique in several ways. They were arguably the turning point in American Warfare, turning our defensive procedures to a larger, more focused scale for our Homeland Security measures. It turned our full attention offensively to the Middle East, which has occupied our military efforts over the last decade. They have also had the distinction of being the first major U.S. tragedy to hit during the information age, making it one of the better documented historical events in our country’s existence. Using much of the video footage, audio recordings, and transcribed conversations between the individuals involved with the tragedy, The Discovery Channel has put together a new documentary tentatively called The 9/11 Tapes: Chaos in the Sky, a minute to minute recount of the morning of September 11 2001 through the eyes of the military and air traffic control units that dealt with the hijackings first hand.

The majority of Chaos in the Sky is told through the eyes of the soldiers stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod as well as air traffic controllers in New York City and Boston. The documentary is done in a minute to minute basis, covering the beginning of the morning at both Otis and JFK airport in Boston. When the initial hijack occurs, the recorded conversations in both Otis and JFK reveal the general feeling on all fronts was that they had a hostage situation on their hands and no high amounts of alarm were scene, being that there was a procedure in place for such things. This of course changes when the hijackers crashed American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. From there the documentary becomes a chaotic and somewhat frightening look at the nature of our vulnerability to such an attack and the actions that were taken by the officials who were in charge of handling it.

Though several specials about the attacks have been made in the last year (marking the ten year anniversary of the attack), Chaos in the Sky does have a very unique angle to it. This is mainly stems from how calculated and official the tone of the documentary is and the use of the official recordings from Otis. While most of the pieces put out about the attacks last year where focused on the civilian and public service aspects, this special focuses almost completely on the air traffic controllers and military pretense during the attack. This gives the documentary a very war-like tone, with much of the dialog becoming aerodynamic jargon and military code. There is also a difference in message from most specials about 9/11, with a large portion of the time spent pointing out the shortcomings of the official bodies involved, including the failure of the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) to inform North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) of the hijacked plane’s initial redirection in a standard amount of time, NORAD’s failure to scramble jets immediately, and the unorganized fashion the jets were eventually scrambled in that prevented them from arriving on the scene sooner.

It is the job of historians to record the events of the past in as accurate and unbiased way possible. Now, a decade after what is arguably one the first major world changing event for Generation Y, we can begin to look at not only what was done to our country, but also what could have been done in order to control it at the time. Chaos in the Sky is a great look at the events of the morning at 9/11 not just for it’s preciseness, but for its new view on the subject and is a must see for history and military buffs.

The special premieres TONIGHT, February 12 at 9 p.m.

About The Author

Anthony McColgan is a Blast Staff Writer.

One Response

  1. Richard L. Howell

    I was in the U. S. Air Force from May 28, 1962 until May 27, 1966. I was stationed at Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. My duty assignment was a Cryptographic Operator for the Montgomery Air Defense Sector (MOADS, 4648 Support Group 32nd NORAD).

    During this period, it would have been practically Impossible for the activities that are being depicted on the documentary “Chaos in the Sky” the 9/11 Tapes aired by the discovery to have occurred.
    Let me explain. Across the hall from the Communication Center where I worked was an area with a room full of CRT Terminals. We routinely referred to those working in this area as Scope Dopers, because their responsibilities were too unsure through monitoring the CRT Scopes of what was flying in the skies of the South East Region. They were radar operators assigned to insure that no airplanes could enter into the South East Region without being detected. The responsibility to protect the skies in the South East Region was the sole responsibility of MOADS, and not the FAA.

    Monitoring the skies was a military responsibility and obligation and we had war like maneuvers on a regular basis to insure that we were doing our job effectively. Our war like maneuvers were color coded as DEFCON 1 through 5, with five being the next thing to a natural occurrence of an attack on the U. S.
    The radar operators monitored the skies, and did a very good job of it, and when things were slack, or the results of our war games indicated that the U. S. would have suffered catastrophic damages in an attack by air, we were held accountable, and it often meant that we would be put on alert, and the war games would continue until we corrected the problems that allowed the catastrophic events to have occurred.
    The FAA would not have had any play in the matter until the airplanes reached their jurisdictions, and would only assist the military, because at that point, the military was in full charge. The FAA radar was no way as powerful as the military radar sites stations throughout the South East Region. For instant, there was a radar station in Eufaula, Alabama, Cross City Florida, Orlando, Florida, Homestead Florida, Fort Walton Beach Florida, Dauphin Island, Alabama, Marietta, Georgia, Savannah, Georgia, and a few others, all radar sites monitoring the skies of the South East Region. These radar sites were under the jurisdiction of the 4648 Support Group, 32nd NORAD of the Montgomery Air Defense Sector.

    There were other Air Defense Sectors under NORAD with similar amounts of radar sites for the Northeast Region (NYADS, New York Air Defense Sector), I believe, headquartered in New Jersey, and WAADS, the Washington Air Defense Sector headquartered at Fort Lee, Virginia, LAADS, the Los Angles Air Defense Sector. There was the Boston Air Defense Sector, and several others. The sectors were responsible for protecting the U. S. from attack via the air, and not the FAA.
    During the period of 1962 through 1966, there is no way 9/11 could have occurred.
    The documentary implied that no fighter planes were within 170 miles of the planes that hit the World Trade Center, but this is not true. I saw with my own eyes, two fighter jets following the second plane in the way in, and veered to the right when the plane hit the second building. Also, the fighter planes travels at a speed much faster than the commercial jets by design. It would have been impossible for them to have been anywhere close to 170 miles away, when jet fighters can fly this distance in a matter of minutes, traveling over 600 miles an hour. More than likely places would have been sorted from the nearest point and that would have been from New Jersey and not Maine, or Boston. It is highly practically, that Sorties would have been deployed from all of these areas, but definitely from WAADS and NYADS because these areas were Number One and Two on the priority of first protected, but, definitely not 170 miles away from New York, when fighters were available only 20 miles away.
    The documentary is not presenting the facts as they were and I can easily make this determination from what I witnessed with my own eyes and my knowledge gained through actually military duties.
    I listened to the documentary implying that the FAA radar was the means of finding the planes in the sky, but the FAA radar is primarily for the planes that has reached the area of jurisdiction for a specific Air Traffic Control Tower for the airport under its jurisdiction. However, military radar was setup to find any plane in the sky that was flying in any unauthorized air space.

    For instance, there are military air space, commercial air space, and then military air space again. The planes had to be in one of these air spaces, and the military radar would have detected them. During my tenure in the Air Force, a plane was only allowed minutes in unauthorized air spaces, and a very few minutes in military air space.
    As proof, I will allude to an incident that caused us at MOADS to have non-stopped maneuvers for 90 days because we allowed a plane to fly in under the radar from Cuba and reach Miami. This was a no-no and we had to correct the problem so we had non-stopped maneuvers for 90 days until the problem was identified and corrected.
    There is a lot that went on 9/11 that would not have occurred in 1962 through 1966, I wonder if the military rules and laws were changed that drastically for the worst, I doubt it.

    During my tour of duties, Radar Operators were not stationed with the Air Traffic Controllers. Did the laws change during the Reagan era when he disbanded the Air Traffic Controller when they went on strike? When did the military turn over it duties of the Radar Operators that monitored military air space to the Air Traffic Controllers, and the FAA? I would bet, never.


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