One of the first two U.S. combat pilots in the air on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 took off from Andrews Air Force Base in an F-16 with a mission to bring down United Flight 93 — and without any missiles or ammunition.
“We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,” Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney said describing her orders to The Washington Post. “I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.”
The fourth recently identified hijacked plane appeared to be on a heading for Washington, and there was no time to arm the base’s fighter aircraft before Penney and her commanding officer took off to intercept the rogue Boeing 757 passenger plane.
“We had to protect the airspace any way we could,” Penney said.
Penney, the first female F-16 pilot of the D.C. Air National Guard’s 121st Fighter Squadron, had just completed two weeks of combat training on that historic Tuesday, and the base’s fighters were still equipped with dummy ammunition. According to the report, there were no armed aircraft ready for immediate scramble over post-Cold War Washington in the fall of 2001.