The Fiction Perpetuated

The mainstream media has dealt with the problematic nature of the official story in a number of ways. As already seen, one method has simply been to exaggerate characterizations of Hanjour’s competence. The official story as related by the New York Times that Hanjour “overcame the mediocrity of his talents” is not merely unsupportable by the evidence, but stands in stark contrast to the available known facts. The legend is also maintained by the mainstream media through false claims, such as the Washington Post’s assertion that Hanjour’s pilot certificate allowed him to fly commercial jets. While the Los Angeles Times suggested Hanjour “convinced a lot of people he barely knew how to fly”, the underlying assumption of the article was that, despite his apparent ineptitude in the cockpit, he really did know how to fly. The public is apparently supposed to believe that he was merely pretending to be an incompetent pilot even though he was actually quite skillful. The mainstream media have a tendency to mock and ridicule anyone who dares even to just question the official narrative, all the while putting forth such utter absurdities as this.

As the evidence surfaced that Hanjour was not the pilot extraordinaire the public was initially told he must have been in order to carry out the attack on the Pentagon, another narrative began to emerge. While most of the mainstream media simply ignored the evidence, or, as in the case of the New York Times, drew conclusions that were contradicted by some of their own reporting. In no small part due to the 9/11 Commission report’s findings, the fiction remained firmly embedded in the minds of the public that Hanjour, through determination and perseverance, overcame all obstacles in order to acquire the skills necessary to pilot Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

There was, however, at least some acknowledgment of the major hole in that theory. A few media reports did acknowledge that Hanjour was a horrible pilot and that all evidence demonstrated that he never “overcame his mediocrity”. But rather than calling the official theory into question in doing so, these accounts simply offered a revisionist account in order to maintain the legend.

Gone was the story that the hijackers’ “capacity to operate the aircraft was substantial”, that the attacks were “conducted in a technically proficient way”, that “It is not that easy to land these kinds of aircraft at very specific locations with accuracy or to direct them with the kind of accuracy, which was deadly in this case”. No more was the expert opinion that “the hijackers must have been extremely knowledgeable and capable aviators”, that Flight 77’s final maneuver was “a difficult high-speed descending turn”. Vanished was the view that Flight 77 “was flown with extraordinary skill”, even so that it “reminded observers of a fighter jet maneuver”, that this was evidence of “a great talent” in the cockpit.

In the place of that conventional wisdom, the new narrative that began to emerge in some accounts was that it really wasn’t that difficult a maneuver after all, and even a novice pilot like Hani Hanjour – or anyone who’s ever flown a small aircraft and perhaps spent some time playing a flight simulator game, for that matter – could have, with just a bit of luck, pulled it off.

The New American presented this new narrative by quoting Ronald D. Bull, a retired United Airlines pilot, as saying, “It’s not that difficult, and certainly not impossible.” But Bull was apparently not speaking specifically with regard to the Pentagon, as he then added, “If you’re doing a suicide run, like these guys were doing, you’d just keep the nose down and push like the devil.” In this case, Bull seems to have had the attacks on the World Trade Center, and not the Pentagon, in mind. Moreover, even if Bull also had the Pentagon in mind, he was obviously only considering a situation where the pilot was flying in a straight line towards his target. Thus, if he was also speaking with regard to the Pentagon, he was quite apparently uninformed as to the actual flight path the plane took.

Similarly quoted was George Williams, a pilot for Northwest Airlines for 38 years, who said, “I don’t see any merit to those arguments [that Hanjour couldn’t have flown Flight 77 into the Pentagon]. The Pentagon is a pretty big target and I’d say hitting it was a fairly easy thing to do.” [77] It’s true that the Pentagon was a very big target. But Williams was apparently similarly unaware, when he was asked to comment, of the plane’s final descending maneuver; or of the fact that this maneuver put the plane on a path that reduced the margin to a mere 26.5 feet (a few feet lower, the plane crashes into the ground; a few feet higher, the plane overshoots the target); or that the plane wasn’t flying at a constant airspeed, but was rather accelerating rapidly, thus creating more lift that needed compensating for with subtle precision in order to stay within that margin for error; or that the plane wasn’t just ambling along at something near landing speed, but was screaming along at an incredible 530 mph. To put that into perspective, cruising speed for airliners is about 600 mph at 30,000 feet of altitude, where the air is less dense. At sea-level that would be equivalent to about 300 mph hour, about double safe landing speed. A velocity of 530 mph at sea-level would be supersonic speed if it were possible to maintain at cruising altitude.[78]

In both cases, the expert pilots seem to assume that Hanjour simply lined up the hijacked plane and flew a straight line into the building at a speed at which an aircraft could more easily be controlled by an inexperienced pilot. Needless to say, neither pilot’s statements accurately reflect the actual situation with regard to Flight 77. There is no indication that the New American bothered to fill either Bull or Williams in on the specifics of what Flight 77 actually did when it sought them out to “debunk” the assertion that Hanjour wasn’t a capable enough pilot to have pulled it off.

Offering a similar revisionist account, airline pilot Patrick Smith, writing for Salon, said that it was one of “the more commonly heard myths that pertain to the airplanes and their pilots” that “the terrorist pilots lacked the skill and training to fly jetliners into their targets. This is an extremely popular topic with respect to American 77. Skyjacker Hani Hanjour, a notoriously untalented flier who never piloted anything larger than a four-seater, seemed to pull off a remarkable series of aerobatic maneuvers before slamming into the Pentagon.” Smith’s answer to this was simply to flip conventional wisdom on its head. He opined that “If anything, his loops and turns and spirals above the nation’s capital revealed him to be exactly the shitty pilot he by all accounts was. To hit the Pentagon squarely he needed only a bit of luck, and he got it, possibly with the help from the 757’s autopilot. Striking a stationary object – even a large one like the Pentagon – at high speed and from a steep angle is very difficult. To make the job easier, he came in obliquely, tearing down light poles as he roared across the Pentagon’s lawn.” Hanjour had all the skill that was required, Smith suggested, adding “You can learn it at home.”[79]

So, according to this narrative, Hanjour’s “textbook” “fighter jet maneuver” in a Boeing 757 is evidence that he was a “shitty pilot” and any pilot wannabe with some rudimentary training and maybe just a little bit of luck could have done it. It was easier to hit a target merely 5 stories high at a nearly horizontal angle (“obliquely” as Smith misleadingly claims), than to simply point the nose down to hit a target the size of 22 football fields. These remarks are perhaps not so much the result of an attempt to challenge conventional wisdom as they were simply demonstrative that Smith made very little effort to actually understand the actual nature of Flight 77’s final flight path before writing that it is a “myth” that Hanjour was not a pilot capable of having performed that maneuver. His characterization of Hanjour’s final maneuver as “loops and turns and spirals” indicates that Smith was generalizing without having any real concept of what Flight 77 actually did in its final minutes. A further indication that Smith really just didn’t know what he was talking about was his suggestion that Hanjour “possibly” had “help from the 757’s autopilot” in pulling off those final maneuvers, which is both patently ridiculous and demonstrably false.

The German magazine Der Spiegel also made the rare attempt to actually address this issue, but found it sufficient enough merely to opine that “This is not difficult to accomplish” and similarly suggesting practically anyone could do it since it was “a maneuver that can be practiced with any flight simulator software.”[80] End of discussion.

The public was originally told that attack on the Pentagon obviously required a fairly high level of sophistication in the cockpit. It was conventional wisdom that being able to maneuver a large jetliner required a certain level of training, a certain level of skill. The public was then told that Hanjour was the pilot among the 19 hijackers who had the most training and the greatest piloting skill. As the facts emerged and it became evident that Hanjour did not have the requisite level of skill, the government chose to manipulate the evidence in order to maintain its theory. The 9/11 Commission served to cement the legend of Hani Hanjour into history, and the mainstream media, for the most part, accepted and maintained that legend even when much of their own reporting revealed facts that contradicted it. In a few cases, there was acknowledgment that Hanjour was a “shitty” pilot after all, but in such cases the official account was still maintained by throwing common sense out the window and reversing the original consensus that it must have taken a skilled pilot to have performed that final, fatal maneuver.

Perhaps this revisionist retelling of the official story is the correct one. Perhaps the conventional wisdom that it would actually take a skilled pilot to competently control a large jetliner is really wrong. Perhaps it’s true that any second-rate pilot who has trouble controlling even a Cessna-172 could get into the cockpit of a Boeing 757 and do what Hani Hanjour is said to have done. Or, on the other hand, perhaps the revisionist account is just as much nonsense as the story that Hanjour “persevered” and “overcame his mediocrity”.

Whichever the case, many questions about the events of 9/11 remain to this day unanswered, despite the appointment of the 9/11 Commission ostensibly to investigate and provide answers to those questions. And whichever the case, the conclusion is inescapable that the 9/11 Commission deliberately attempted to deceive the public about the piloting capabilities of Hani Hanjour.