Flight Path by
a Former Air Force Pilot
As a pilot and
former Air Force navigator, I was interested
in the flight paths of the various aircraft
on their way to their targets. It was
fairly simple to find the WTC routes, but I
have yet to see a map showing the route
flown by the aircraft that was said to have
hit the Pentagon. So I read some of
the reports and put together the attached
Nearly all media photos of the Pentagon
damage are from Space Imaging While this is an excellent picture, it is
misleading in that the Pentagon is oriented
with the damaged side to the top, giving the
false impression that the attack was from
the north. By comparing the geographic
features of the satellite photo with a map
of the area ( see WashMap )
I was able to orient the photo
correctly ( see Pentagon 1 ) — the
yellow arrow indicates the approximate final
flight path, based on the blast pattern.
What's surprising is how many news sources
got the information wrong. For
example, look at this graphic from Reuters,
which has the attack on the wrong side of
I based my map of the attack path on a
description of the attack ( see Pentagon
Attack ) which said the plane was
initially picked up on radar east-southeast
of Dulles ( see WashMap 2 ) heading
at high speed toward Washington.
The description also
said the airplane appeared to line up on the
White House before making a right 270 degree
turn to collide with the Pentagon. The
map I drew ( see Attack Path ) is one
which meets all the conditions in the
description, and is consistent with what I
know about how large airplanes behave at low
altitude (I used to do airdrop in a C-141,
flying at 300' AGL up to 280 knots).
The arrowhead on the Attack Path map
is aligned with the one on Pentagon 1.
I worked backward from there, assuming there
would need to be about a mile of straight
flight at the end to get final alignment.
I based the turn radius on a 275 knot
airspeed, since I doubt the airplane would
have sufficient power and structural
integrity to fly at 500 knots at low
altitude. And unless the pilot had a
lot of experience flying large airplanes at
high speeds low to the ground, he would have
avoided making a steep bank, so I based my
turn radius on a 30 degree bank angle.
The 270 degree right turn had me puzzled,
until I realized that it would provide a
simple set of landmarks for the pilot.
Just intercept the Potomac River north of
town, follow it south until you see the
Washington Monument or Capitol.
We used to use white country churches to
navigate low-level over North and South
Carolina, since they stand out clearly
against the green or brown background.
Upon passing the Washington Monument, the
plan may have been for the pilot to make a
right turn and dive into the building.
A right turn at this point would have led
the airplane to hit Pentagon on the Potomac
River side where the Secretary of Defense
has his office.
But being unfamiliar with flying large
airplanes at high speeds, the pilot wouldn't
have taken into account the large radius
required to make the turn. This would
explain the circuitous 270 degree turn that
was made to the impact point.
When he rolled out, he'd simply point the
nose of the airplane at the center courtyard
of the Pentagon and dive toward his target.
What he wouldn't know without experience is
that when you dive, you accelerate the
airplane and the lift increases. This
causes the nose to rise, which would
cause him to overshoot the target. In
a panic, he would push forward on the
controls and overcompensate, which would
account for eyewitness descriptions of the
airplane striking the ground short of the
Of course, this is all speculation, not
I started this analysis because I was
curious about why at 9:40 a.m. on a clear
day in the Nation's Capital and major
tourist destination, there is not ONE photo
or video of the airplane at any point in
this route. None of the excuses (no
cameras, not near any landmarks, etc.) make
any sense — hell, there were both photos
and video of the Concorde on fire, and that
wasn't anywhere near a tourist spot.
Moreover, I'm surprised that I haven't seen
this map — or ANY map — of the Pentagon
airplane's approach. Given all the
information that we were deluged with in the
weeks after the attacks, it surprises me
that this graphic was omitted.
Anyway, that's my contribution to the effort
to try to make sense of an insane event.
I don't know if it adds clarity or static,
but it seems a part of the puzzle that has
Palm Springs, CA