January 16, 2002


That is, in both cases where NORAD launched fighters, a closer look suggests that it's just false that there was nothing they could have done. For one thing, they could have flown faster.

I've never been a huge fan of air force guys in general, but they're getting a big bum rap from Scott Shuger in Slate today. Shuger argues, based on the top speeds of an F-15 and F-16 he got off a website somewhere, that NORAD failed on Sept. 11, because the interceptors for the second and third airplanes to crash should have flown faster. This is, unfortunately, total BS, and you don't need more than a smattering of air combat knowledge and Shuger's own distance figures to prove it.

First off, the quoted top speeds (Mach 2.5, or 1,875 mph for the F-15) are strictly from the Guinness book: totally clean aircraft under perfect conditions. Even interceptors with a minimum combat load would lose a minimum of 20% off that figure. Second, no aircraft has ever successfully intercepted another aircraft at speeds faster than Mach 1.6 (1,200 mph). You can look it up. For all intents and purposes, that's your top interception speed, for any aircraft in the world today: 20 miles a minute, in other words. Shuger doesn't mention that, though.

The other thing that Shuger doesn't mention is the time it takes to get to Mach 1.6 at altitude from a runway: about 6 minutes for even extremely high performance planes, by which point they're about 60-65 miles horizontally away from their airstrip. In the case of the F-15s flying to New York (183 miles away), they then would have had only 4 minutes of drag-racing before their target hit the WTC, adding another 80 miles to their distance. When the plane hit, they could not conceivably have been closer than 40 miles out from the Twin Towers. In the case of the F-16s going to D.C., even if they had been initially vectored toward Washington instead of New York, by the time they reached top speed they would have just one minute until the impact at the Pentagon... and over 75 miles to fly yet. Interception in both cases was a physical impossibility in the time allowed.

Shuger makes much of the average speeds he's calculated, taken from when the planes finally did overfly the crash scenes. These are bogus figures. It's entirely likely that after it was clear there was nothing more to be done, both pairs of interceptors dropped subsonic for the remaining distance: at supersonic speeds you waste incredible amounts of fuel, basically having to keep the engine on afterburner throughout just to keep from slowing down, and you'd want to lower your speed anyway in case ground control needed to vector you at another target in a different direction altogether. It's certainly no reason to disbelieve the air force's contention that their planes were flying at 1.5 Mach towards the jets when they crashed, as much as Shuger would like to make it one.

Finally, Shuger suggests the Air Force still hasn't learned its lesson because jets couldn't intercept that 15 year-old in Florida, either. He forgets that a helicopter did intercept the boy, and followed him to the end, trying repeatedly to get him to change course. Against a plane that slow and small, flying between the buildings of a large city, a high-speed interceptor would have been even more useless, anyway, except for a straight-off missile kill. (The outcome in this instance, one dead boy and property damage to the downtown being about the same, it's doubtful that would ever have been considered, regardless.)

There's more than enough blame to go around for Sept. 11. NORAD should be blamed, along with the FBI, CIA, the FAA, and both airlines, for failing to anticipate the whole eventuality. More people should have resigned, yes. But Shuger isn't blaming the thinkers: he's blaming the pilots, based on some lame-ass figures he made up, for showing some lack of urgency. But given when they started rolling, there is nothing those pilots could have done to change the outcome of Sept. 11, even if they'd had perfect knowledge, even if there'd been no hesitation about what to do. Nothing. They simply couldn't have got there in time. It's an incredibly cheap shot against some no doubt already guilt-ridden military personnel, from a normally half-decent writer. For shame.

Posted by BruceR at 10:02 PM



Debbie Schlussel is the perfect example of how conservative-minded men continue to be suckers for vapid blondes (Or as Dawson might put it, Ann Coulters without the brains). Her vacuous column returned once again yesterday to the subject of pop music, showing once again signs of the air leaking from around her temples:

I mean, this is of course, the same commentator who doesn't mind wearing short skirts on Bill Maher every time I've turned it on, and calling her column "Debbie Does Politics." Using sex appeal to push opinions is fine, of course... but using it to push records? That's demonic, at least according to Ms. Schlussel's previous ouevre. But now apparently it's not just that they're prostituting themselves... Britney et al are also to be condemned for their proto-feminism:

They're young, they're cute and, if you're male, they hate you. That seems to be the common theme of late for pop's top selling starlets jihad against men. They have the sweet voices of sirens, but their words bear the screaming vitriol of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

Her evidence? The following lyrical passages:

"Hit Em Up Style" is [Blu] Cantrell's term for bankrupting your man when you catch him cheating...Teaching women to steal and cheat to get back at a man, to bankrupt him what a classy message."

[From Destiny's Child] "But he's got to go, he's got to go My man's been cheatin' on me Yeah he did me wrong."

[In another song from Destiny's Child] "Oh silly me, why haven't I found another a scrub like you who don't know what a man's about."

Debbie concludes from these and other similar selections:

With idols like this, it's no wonder so many kids grow up to have marriages that end in divorce.

Apparently, in Debbie's world, real women are supposed to be happy with philanderers and men who are no good for them. To leave an adulterer is now a "feminist" act, apparently. No, really, why aren't there more songs about women making their loveless marriages work, dammit? Seriously, it seems to me Deb's getting a little short on material if this is the best she can come up with... hey, and if it's okay for the Globe and Mail to say George Bush's accident proves he needs a life, I should be entitled to say Deb's latest column proves she needs to get laid...

Posted by BruceR at 02:27 AM