The flight skills of alleged suicide-pilot Hani Hanjour
by Elias Davidsson
According to the official account, repeated by the media, “[c]ontrollers say the plane crossed the Pentagon at 7,000 feet and then made a sweeping circle to the right, during which time it dropped down tonear surface level”.1
One of the alleged hijacking pilots, Hani Hanjour, was credited with having mastered the most difficult maneuver of that day, namely plunging Flight AA77, a Boeing 757, horizontally into the ground floor of the Pentagon at approximately 500 mph. An experienced military pilot, Gary Eitel, told author Michael C. Ruppert that the maneuver performed by that aircraft, as described in official reports, was beyond the capabilities of 90 percent of even the best and most experienced pilots in the world.2
Commander Ted Muga, a retired Pan-Am commercial and military airline pilot with years of experience, stated in a media interview in 2007:
The maneuver at the Pentagon was just a tight spiral coming down out of 7,000 feet. And a commercial aircraft, while they can in fact structurally somewhat handle that maneuver, they are very, very, very difficult. And it would take considerable training. In other words, commercial aircraft are designed for a particular purpose and that is for comfort and for passengers and it’s not for military maneuvers. And while they are structurally capable of doing them, it takes some very, very talented pilots to do that. (…) I just can’t imagine an amateur even being able to come close to performing a maneuver of that nature.3
The above evaluation is corroborated by Capt. Fred Fox, a retired commercial airline pilot with 33 years experience flying for American Airlines:
I know from my experience that it would have been highly improbable that even a seasoned American test pilot, a military test pilot, could have flown a T-category, aircraft like the 757, into the first floor of the Pentagon because of a thing called Ground Effect.4
Commander Ralph Kolstad, U.S. Navy (ret.) says:
I have 6,000 hours of flight time in Boeing 757’s and 767’s and could not have flown it the way the flight path was described.
Flight controller Danielle O’Brien recalled what she observed on her radar screen: “The speed, the maneuverability, the way that [Flight 77] turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane.”5 According to a 2002 report by the NTSB “[Flight 77] started a right 330-degree descending turn to the right. At the end of the turn, the aircraft was at about 2,000 feet altitude and four miles southwest of the Pentagon. Over the next 30 seconds, power was increased to near maximum and the nose was pitched down in response to control column movements.”6 The “complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed.”7 Aviation sources said the plane was flown with extraordinary skill, making it highly likely that a trained pilot was at the helm…Someone even knew how to turn off the transponder, a move that is considerably less than obvious.8
According to press reports, flight AA77 flew so low as to knock down electrical poles on its approach to the Pentagon. After crossing the highway the pilot had to take the plane to within inches of the ground so as to crash into the Pentagon on its side. According to official reports, the airliner crashed between the first and second floor at approximately 400 mph and penetrated three rings of the building, indicating that it had approached the building at nearly horizontal position.
Did Hani Hanjour possess the skills necessary to accomplish these tasks? New York Times devoted an entire article to Hanjour in 2002.9 That’s what they wrote: Hanjour “was reported to the [Federal Aviation Administration] in February 2001 after instructors at his flight school in Phoenix had found his piloting skills so shoddy and his grasp of English so inadequate that they questioned whether his pilot’s license was genuine.”10 In a subsequent New York Times article, it is revealed that Hanjour’s instructors thought he was so bad a pilot and spoke such poor English that they contacted the Federal Aviation Administration to verify that his license was not a fake. The aviation agency verified the license and reportedly “offered to find Mr. Hanjour a language tutor.”11
According to CBS News, the staff of the Phoenix flight school will be so appalled at his lack of skills that they will contact the FAA not less than five (5) times and ask them to investigate how he got a pilot’s license.12 Peggy Chevrette, manager at that school said: “”I couldn’t believe he had a commercial license of any kind with the skills that he had.” The FAA, reacting to these repeated complaints, sent an inspector by the name of John Anthony to verify that Hanjour’s 1999 license was legitimate. The inspector even suggested that the school provide Hani with an interpreter. This surprised Chevrette, because it was a violation of FAA rules. According to an unnamed official the inspector “did not observe any serious issue” with Hanjour’s English. Laura Brown, spokeswoman of the FAA, explained: “There was nothing about the pilot’s actions to signal criminal intent at the time or that would have caused us to alert law enforcement.” 13 That was evidently not the point. The point was rather: why did the FAA issue a pilot’s license to Hanjour in the first place and then tried desperately to let him keep it?
After 9/11, the FBI will appear to investigate how Hanjour got his license and question and polygraph the instructor who signed off on his flying skills. The Washington Post will note that, since Hanjour’s pilot skills were so bad, the issue of how he was able to get a license “remains a lingering question that FAA officials refuse to discuss.”14
Other Arizona flight schools he attended also questioned his abilities.15 A former employee of the school reportedly said that Hanjour was a poor student. To complete one written problem that usually takes 20 minutes, Mr. Hanjour needed three hours, the former employee said, and he answered incorrectly. But the ex-employee said Mr. Hanjour continued to pay to train on a simulator for Boeing 737 jets. ”He didn’t care about the fact that he couldn’t get through the course,” the ex-employee said.”16
At Freeway Airport in Bowie, Md., 20 miles west of Washington, flight instructor Sheri Baxter instantly recognized the name of alleged hijacker Hani Hanjour when the FBI released a list of 19 suspects in the four hijackings. Hanjour, the only suspect on Flight 77 the FBI listed as a pilot, had come to the airport [in August 2001] seeking to rent a small plane. However, when Baxter and fellow instructor Ben Conner took the slender, soft-spoken Hanjour on three test runs during the second week of August, they found he had trouble controlling and landing the single-engine Cessna 172. Even though Hanjour showed a federal pilot’s license and a log book cataloging 600 hours of flying experience, chief flight instructor Marcel Bernard declined to rent him a plane without more lessons.17
FBI Special Agent Scott Thorlin was interviewed by the staff of the 9/11 Commission on January 5, 2004 at the FBI, Phoenix Field Office. In his testimony he said Amro Hassan had been a flight instructor for Hanjour who apparently referred to Hanjour as a “terrible pilot.”18
The only significantly different evaluation of Hani Hanjour’s flight skills was provided to the 9/11 Commission by an Israeli “instructor at Congressional Air Charters of Gaithersburg, Maryland.”19 The Final Report of the 9/11 Commission does not provide any information about that person. In a Memorandum For the Record drafted by the Commission staff and released in 2009, some details are given about this man named Eddie Shalev. The company for which he worked apparently “went out of business”. Shalev is reported to have evaluated Hanjour’s flying skills in August 2001 to determine if Hanjour be allowed to rent an aircraft from that company. Shalev said that Hanjour used “landmark or terrain recognition system for navigation” and not instruments. He said that he considered this “unusual”. He thought that Hanjour “may have received training from a military pilot because of his use of terrain recognition for navigation.” He stated that, based on his observations, Hanjour was a “good” pilot. On August 26, 2001 Hanjour reportedly returned to Congressional Air Charters with a “young mid-eastern male” and rented an aircraft. Shalev said he did not know where they flew on that day. Shalev said he had been interviewed on September 13, 2001 by the FBI.20 Contrary to the hundreds of released 302-reports, summarizing interviews conducted by the FBI in connection with the attacks, the 302-report on Shalev’s interview was not released. Shalev could not be located in order to interview him.
Dismissing the overwhelming number of negative testimonies about Hanjour’s flight skills, the staff of the 9/11 Commission wrote in their declassified report of August 26, 2004: “[Hanjour] was perhaps the most experienced and highly trained pilot among the 9/11 hijackers.” Probably the only true word in the preceding sentence is “perhaps”. The report concluded by referring to unnamed “experts consulted by the Commission staff” who believe that the “training and experience [of the four alleged pilots of the hijacked planes] adequately prepared them to complete the mission.”
Going by the redaction of James Charles McRae’s entire testimony to the FBI regarding his experience with Hani Hanjour as his flight student at Airline Training Center in Phoenix, Arizona, it appears that this testimony was considered too damaging for the U.S. government to reveal.21
In a detailed essay by Mark Gaffney entitled “How the FBI and 9/11 Commission Suppressed Key Evidence about Hani Hanjour, alleged hijack pilot of AAL 77”,22 the author provides evidence supporting the view that the suppression of evidence about Hanjour’s sub-standard flight skills, was both intentional and constituted merely one element in a larger cover-up operation.
Author Jeremy R. Hammond also provides a detailed analysis of Hani Hanjour’s flight skills (or lack of same) and convincingly demonstrates a “clear pattern of willful deception on the part of the 9/11 Commission with regard to alleged hijacker Hani Hanjour”.23
1Glen Johnson, supra n. (author’s document #450)
3Statement by Commander Ted Muga, April 1, 2007, at http://www.patriotsquestion911.com/pilots.html (last visited 2.9.2011)
4Statement by Capt. Fred Fox, in 9/11 Ripple Effect, August 2007, at http://www.patriotsquestion911.com/pilots.html (last visited 2.9.2011)
5 ABC News, Air Traffic Controllers Recall Sept. 11, September 24, 2001, at http://web.archive.org/web/20011025074733/http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/2020/2020_011024_atc_feature.html (last visited December 11, 2010)
6 NTSB, Flight Path Study – AA77, February 19, 2001. at http://www.ntsb.gov/info/Flight_%20Path_%20Study_AA77.pdf (last visited December 11, 2010)
7 CBS News, 189 Dead or Missing From Pentagon Attack, September 21, 2001, at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/09/11/national/main310721.shtml (last visited December 11, 2010)
8 Marc Fisher and Don Phillips, On Flight 77:’Our Plane Is Being Hijacked’, Washington Post, September 12, 2001, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A14365-2001Sep11 (last visited December 11, 2010)
11Jim Yardley and Jo Thomas, For Agent it Phoenix, the Cause of Many Frustrations Extended to His Own Office, New York Times, 19 June 2002, at http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/19/national/19ARIZ.html?pagewanted=all&position=top
12David Hancock, FAA Was Alerted To Sept. 11 Hijacker, CBS News, May 10, 2002, at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/05/10/attack/main508656.shtml
14Amy Goldstein, Lena H. Sun and George Lardner, Jr., Hanjour a Study in Paradox, Washington Post, October 15, 2001, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A59451-2001Oct14¬Found=true
15 CBS News, May 10, 2002, at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/05/10/attack/main508656.shtml
22 Mark Gaffney, How the FBI and 9/11 Commission Suppressed Key Evidence about Hani Hanjour, alleged hijack pilot of AAL 77, Information Clearinghouse, July 7, 2009, at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article22999.htm (last visited December 13, 2010)
23Jeremy R. Hammond, Hani Hanjour: Al Qaeda’s Top Gun, April 18, 2010, at http://911blogger.com/news/2010-04-18/al-qaeda’s-top-gun-willful-deception-911-commission-jeremy-r-hammond-april-18th-2010