Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bobcat bother

The first example is typical. It displays a number of the most common untruther traits:
  • Censor discussion
  • Omit and repress facts
It involves questions about two aircraft that were flying in the Washington area on the morning of the 9/11 attacks. Air traffic records show that two military aircraft, callsigns BOBCAT 14 and BOBCAT 17 were in the area. Untruthers question who and what these aircraft were:

Now, questioning is fine. Problem is, they won't listen to answers. What answers can we find? Well, with a small amount of research, we can find plenty.

Firstly, what units use that callsign prefix?
  • C-21 (Learjet): USAF VIP ferry flight
  • CT-43 (B737): USAF 200th Airlift Squadron (200AS)
  • T-43 (B737): USAF 172nd Airlift Group (172AG), Colorado Air National Guard, Buckley AFB, Colorado
  • F-15C: USAF 27th Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, Virginia
  • T-45: USN Training Squadron 19 (VT-19), NAS Meridian, Mississippi
  • T-2C: USN Training Squadron 9 (VT-9), NAS Meridian, Mississippi

So we have a number of possible identities. Note that some untruthers are saying that it could be F-22 Raptors with the 27FS; these people fail to realise that the 27FS did not receive the F-22 until after 9-11; they were flying F-15Cs at the time. Similarly, some squadrons were re-equipped with newer aircraft after 9-11.

What other evidence is there to help us determine what those aircraft were? The original "shoestring" post gives a report, which contains scan of what are called 'flight progress strips'. The strips are used by air traffic controllers, giving them data about the flight in a concise format.

Note the letters circled in red. What are these? Well, they are the aircraft type. How do I know this? Well, I have previously worked as an air traffic controller. How do YOU know what I'm saying is correct?

So we know the aircraft type was a T2. The "/P' suffix tells us that the aircraft is equipped with TACAN only and had a Mode 3 SSR transponder. The T2 tells us that the aircraft type was a Rockwell T-2 Buckeye (source:

So we now know the aircraft were two T-2 Buckeye jet trainer aircraft. Does that match any of the known callsigns? Yes. VT-9 operated the T-2 Buckeye in 2001, and was used for pilot training. It carried no weapons.

Rockwell T-2C Buckeye jet trainer
(Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Darin K. Russell)

So we know the aircraft type and the operating unit. What were the aircraft doing there? The flight strip also tells us the details of what route the aircraft planned to fly, and a few other details. Let's look at the strip for BOBCAT 17.
  • It was assigned the SSR code 7017 (7017)
  • It was scheduled to depart Dover AFB (DOV) at 1230 UTC (1230)
  • It requested Flight Level 260 or 26,000 feet (260)
The planned route was:
  • Depart Dover for the Smyrna VORTAC at Kenton, Delaware (+ENO)
  • thence direct to Baltimore VORTAC (BAL)
  • thence to a position 303 degrees magnetic at 30 nautical miles from the Baltimore VORTAC (BAL 303020)
  • thence to a position 246 degrees magnetic at 80 nautical miles from the Washington VOR/DME (DCA 246080)
  • thence direct to the Montebello (Virginia) VOR/DME (MOL+)

The "A" represents the location of the Ronald Regan Washington National Airport.

Let's compare that to what was flown, as shown by radar data from the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (84th RADES)

Not too dissimilar. Why the difference? Air traffic took them off of their planned route and placed them on a radar heading. This took them south of their planned route. Reference to the ATC transcript shows they were kept on a heading for a short while, probably for separation purposes, then turned towards Montebello navigation aid. They were perhaps within 20 nautical miles of Washington at closest, unarmed and unable to assist with any interception. Being training aircraft, they may even have had students as the pilots.

So no mystery. Yet does "shoestring" tell you this? No. Are they aware of this? Yes - I and others have made them aware of these facts. Do they allow comments explaining this on their blog? No - they only allow comments which perpetuate the myth which they want to advance.

So remember: don't expect untruthers to give you the full story, all the facts. Examine what they - or anyone else (like me!) - say and verify all the claims for yourself. If it's a technical claim beyond your understanding, then check with several experts and get a consensus (so you ensure that the opinion is sharded by all those professionals).

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