This F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on 9/11

❝ Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan.

❝ For years, Penney, one of the first generation of female combat pilots in the country, gave no interviews about her experiences on Sept. 11…But 10 years later [and since], she is reflecting on one of the lesser-told tales of that endlessly examined morning: how the first counterpunch the U.S. military prepared to throw at the attackers was effectively a suicide mission.

I know the feeling. On the ground, though, and not in the US military. In my experience, one of an all-encompassing fatalistic calm. If you made the decision, you left it at that. You have already run past all the alternatives, results, challenges. Instantly. All that is left is the responsibility you have assumed.

One thought on “This F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on 9/11

  1. Footnote says:

    ‘We May Have to Shoot Down This Aircraft’ : What the chaos aboard Flight 93 on 9/11 looked like to the White House, to the fighter pilots prepared to ram the cockpit and to the passengers.” This excerpt from the forthcoming book “The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11” (Avid Reader Press) is based on contemporaneous transcripts of 911 calls and cockpit voice recorders from September 11, as well as both archival primary source interviews with key participants—conducted as early as 2002—and supplemental original interviews by the author, as recent as this spring, including the first-ever interview with the Navy officer who ultimately asked [Vice President] Cheney for authority to shoot down hijacked airliners. Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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