17 April, 2010

FLIGHT 77 - HANI HANJOUR - long article

Foreign Policy Journal

Al Qaeda's Top Gun

by Jeremy R. Hammond

April 17, 2010

An examination of the documentary record reveals a
clear pattern of willful deception on the part of the 9/11
Commission with regard to alleged hijacker Hani Hanjour
in an apparent effort to manipulate the facts to suit the
official theory.

Hani Hanjour is the hijacker who flew Ameri can
Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on the morning of
September 11, 2001, according to the official account of
terrorist attacks. "The lengthy and extensive flight
training obtained by Hani Hanjour throughout his years in
the United States makes it reasonable to believe that he
was the pilot of Flight 77 on September 11'', concluded
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller.[1] The story is that while
Hanjour had difficulties learning to fly at first, he
persevered, overcame his obstacles, and became an
extraordinary enough pilot to be able to precisely hit
his target after performing a difficult flight maneuver.

The flight path of American Airlines Flight 77 from NTSB

The New York Times, for instance, asserted that "Mr.
Hanjour overcame the mediocrity of his talents as a pilot
and gained enough expertise to fly a Boeing 757 into the
Pentagon."[2] The Washington Post similarly suggested
Hanjour had the requisite skills, reporting that "Federal
records show that a Hani Hanjoor obtained a commercial
pilot's license in April 1999 with a rating to fly
commercial jets."[3]

The 9/11 Commission expanded upon this narrative in
its final report. It noted that Hanjour first came to the
United States in 1991 to study English, then again in
1996 "to pursue flight training, after being rejected by a
Saudi flight school. He checked out flight schools in
Florida, California, and Arizona; and he briefly started
at a couple of them before returning to Saudi Arabia." In
1997, after returning to Arizona, he "began his flight
training there in earnest. After about three months,
Hanjour was able to obtain his private pilot's license.
Several more months of training yielded him a commercial
pilot certificate, issued by the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) in April 1999."[4]

Subsequently, "Hanjour reportedly applied to the civil
aviation school in Jeddah after returning home, but was
rejected." By the end of 2000, Hanjour was back in the
U.S. and "began refresher training at his old school,
Arizona Aviation. He wanted to train on multi-engine
planes, but had difficulties because his English was not
good enough. The instructor advised him to discontinue but
Hanjour said he could not go home without completing the
training. In early 2001, he started training on a Boeing
737 simulator at Pan Am International Flight Academy in
Mesa. An instructor there found his work well below
standard and discouraged him from continuing. Again,
Hanjour persevered; he completed the initial training by
the end of March 2001."[5] A footnote in the report
asserts that Hanjour was chosen specifically for
targeting the Pentagon because he was "the operation's
most experienced pilot."[6]

John Ashcroft told reporters early in the
investigation, "It is our belief and the evidence
indicates that flight training was received in the United
States and that their capacity to operate the aircraft was
substantial. It's very clear that these orchestrated
coordinated assaults on our country were well-conducted
and conducted in a technically proficient way. 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."[7]

A pilot with a major carrier for over 30 years told
CNN that "the hijackers must have been extremely
knowledgeable and capable aviators".[8] An air traffic
controller from Dulles International Airport told ABC
News, "The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he
turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us
experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a
military plane. You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's

CBS News suggested that according to its sources,
Flight 77, "flying at more than 400 mph, was too fast and
too high when it neared the Pentagon at 9:35. The
hijacker-pilots were then forced to execute a difficult
high-speed descending turn. Radar shows Flight 77 did a
downward spiral, turning almost a complete circle and
dropping the last 7,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes.
The steep turn was so smooth, the sources say, it's clear
there was no fight for control going on. And the complex
maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills
than many investigators first believed. The jetliner
disappeared from radar at 9:37 and less than a minute
later it clipped the tops of street lights and plowed into
the Pentagon at 460 mph."[10]

The Washington Post similarly noted that the plane
"was flown with extraordinary skill, making it highly
likely that a trained pilot was at the helm". Hanjour was
so skilled, in fact, that "just as the plane seemed to be
on a suicide mission into the White House, the
unidentified pilot" - later identified as Hanjour -
"executed a pivot so tight it reminded observers of a
fighter jet maneuver."[11] The Post reported in another
article that "After the attacks ... aviation experts
concluded that the final maneuvers of American Airlines
Flight 77 - a tight turn followed by a steep, accurate
descent into the Pentagon - was the work of `a great
talent ... virtually a textbook turn and landing,'".[12]

According to the report of the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) cited by the 9/11 Commission,
information from the flight data recorder recovered from
the Pentagon crash site and radar data from the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) show that the autopilot was
disengaged "as the aircraft leveled near 7000 feet.
Slight course changes were initiated, during which
variations in altitude between 6800 and 8000 feet were
noted. At 9:34 AM, the aircraft was positioned about 3.5
miles west-southwest of the Pentagon, and started a right
330-degree descending turn to the right. At the end of the
turn, the aircraft was at about 2000 feet altitude and 4
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. The
airplane accelerated to approximately 460 knots (530 miles
per hour) at impact with the Pentagon. The time of impact
was 9:37:45 AM."[13]

The NTSB created a computer simulation of the flight
from the flight data recorder information showing that the
plane was actually at more than 8,100 feet and doing
about 330 mph when it began its banking turn at 9:34
am.[14] At that point, the alleged pilot Hanjour could
have simply decreased thrust, nosed down, and guided the
plane into what would have been 29 acres, or 1,263,240
square feet of target area - the equivalent of about 22
football fields.[15] From this angle, proverbially
speaking, it would have been like trying to hit the side
of a barn. Hanjour could have guided the plane into the
enormous roof of the building, including the side of the
building where the office of the Secretary of Defense,
Donald Rumsfeld, was located, and where he happened to be
that morning.[16]

Instead, the plane began a steep banking descent,
circling downward in a 330-degree turn while dropping more
than 5,600 feet in three minutes before re-aligning with
the Pentagon and increasing to maximum thrust towards the
building. The nose was kept down despite the increased
lift from the acceleration, while flying so close to the
ground that it clipped lamp posts along the interstate
highway before plowing into the building at more than 530
mph, precisely hitting a target only 71 feet high, or
just 26.5 feet taller than the Boeing 757 itself.[17]

In other words, by performing this maneuver, Hanjour
reduced his vertical target area from a size comparable to
the height of the Empire State Building to an area just 5
stories high. Instead of descending at an angle and
plowing through the roof and floors of the building to
cause the greatest possible number of casualties,
including possibly taking out the Secretary of Defense,
Hanjour hit wedge 1 of the Pentagon, opposite to
Rumsfeld's office, which happened to be under
construction, and where the plane, travelling
horizontally, had to penetrate through the steel- and
kevlar-reinforced outer wall of the building's southwest
E-ring in addition to the numerous additional walls of the
inner rings of the building.[18]

But even more problematic than the question of why
Hanjour would perform this maneuver is the question of how
he performed it. Perhaps the most incredible thing about
this, the official account of what happened to Flight 77,
is that Hani Hanjour was in reality such a horrible pilot
that he had trouble handling a light single-engine
aircraft and even just one month before the attacks was
rejected at two different schools because he was judged
too incompetent to rent a plane and fly solo.

As the Los Angeles Times ironically put it, "For
someone suspected of steering a jetliner into the
Pentagon, the 29-year-old man who used the name Hani
Hanjour sure convinced a lot of people he barely knew how
to fly."[19]

The Legend Unraveled

According to an FBI chronology for Hani Hanjour cited
by the 9/11 Commission, Hanjour first travelled to the
U.S. in 1991 on a visa issued in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
under the name "Hani Saleh Hanjoor", in order to attend
the University of Arizona's Center for English as a Second
Language. After returning to Saudi Arabia, he was again
issued a visa at Jeddah in March, 1996. Back in the U.S.,
he attended classes at the ELS Language Center in Oakland,
California from May until August. For a week in
September, he took ground training lessons at the Sierra
Aeronautical Academy Airline Training Center (SAAATC).
From the end of September until mid-October, he purchased
flight instruction from Cockpit Resources Management (CRM)
in Scottsdale, Arizona. He then returned to Saudi Arabia
once more.[20] The Washington Post reported that
according to Hanjour's brother, Yasser, "Hanjour applied
for a job at the state-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines but
was told that he lacked sufficient grades.... He said the
company told him it would reconsider his application only
if he acquired a commercial pilot's license in the United
States."[21] Yasser characterized Hanjour "as a
frustrated young Saudi who wanted desperately - but never
succeeded - to become a pilot for the Saudi national

Hanjour made plans to return to the U.S. and was
issued a third visa in Jeddah in November 1997. His visa
application contained red flags that should have resulted
in his visa being denied. He failed to write in the name
and address of the school he would be attending and
provided no proof, as required by law, that he could
furnish financial support for himself.[23] With that
application accepted, he reentered the U.S. and took pilot
training from CRM again in December.[24]

It was at this time that, according the 9/11
Commission, Hanjour began his training "in earnest". But
in reality, while at CRM, Hanjour never finished
coursework required to get his certificate to be able to
fly a single-engine aircraft.[25] The New York Times
reported that "he was a lackadaisical student who often
cut class and never displayed the passion so common among
budding commercial airline pilots".[26] ABC News reported
that when he returned to CRM that December, "He was
trying for his private pilot's license", but according to
one of his instructor's, he "was a very poor student who
skipped homework and missed flights."[27] The school's
attorney said that when Hanjour reapplied again later in
2000, "We declined to provide training to him because we
didn't think he was a good enough student when he was
there in 1996 and 1997."[28] The school's owner described
him as a "weak student" who "was wasting our
resources".[29] He said "One of the first accomplishments
of someone in flight school is to fly a plane without an
instructor. It is a confidence-building procedure. He
managed to do that. That is like being able to pull a car
out and drive down the street. It is not driving on the
freeway." Although it normally took three months for
students to earn their private pilot's certificate,
Hanjour "did not accomplish that at my school." He added
that "We didn't want him back at our school because he
was not serious about becoming a good pilot."[30] The
Chicago Tribune reported that at CRM, "A flight
instructor said Hanjour left an impression by being
unimpressive. `He was making weak progress,' said Duncan
Hastie, president of CRM."[31]

Hanjour switched schools, and from the end of December
1997 until April 1999, took flight lessons from Arizona
Aviation in Mesa, Arizona.[32] There, too, the 9/11
Commission's own evidence contradicts the
characterization that Hanjour was training "in earnest".
An FBI document cited by the Commission stated that
"Hanjour often participated in flying lessons for a one to
two weeks [sic] and then would disappear for weeks or
months at a time." The school "often had to call Hanjour
in an effort to get Hanjour to pay his bill."[33]

Buried in the footnote for the paragraph suggesting
Hanjour began training "in earnest", the 9/11 Commission
report acknowledged that "Hanjour initially was nervous if
not fearful in flight training" and that "His instructor
described him as a terrible pilot."[34] FBI documents
cited by the Commission reveal that witnesses from the
school told investigators that "Hanjour was a terrible
pilot. Hanjour had difficulty understanding air traffic
control, the methods for determining fuel management and
had poor navigational skills." The FBI was told by one
witness that "the only flying skill Hanjour could perform
was flying the plane straight", and that "he did not
believe Hanjour's poor flying skills were due to a
language barrier." He was "a very poor pilot who did not
react to criticism very well. Hanjour was very, very
nervous inside the cockpit to the point where Hanjour was
almost fearful."[35]

In April 1998, Hanjour applied for his private pilot
certificate with a single-engine rating, but he failed his
test. One of the tasks documents show he would need to be
reexamined for was "coordinated turns to headings" [36]
He tried again later that same month and this time
received his private pilot certificate under the name
"Hani Saleh Hanjoor", with an "Airplane Single Engine
Land" rating.

In an apparent attempt to bolster the misleading
characterization that Hanjour began training "in earnest",
the 9/11 also stated that it took only "Several more
months" to obtain his commercial pilot certificate. In
fact, it took Hanjour another year of training before he
managed to obtain that second certificate. On April 15,
1999, the FAA issued a commercial pilot certificate to him
under the name "Hani Saleh Hanjoor".[37] The certificate
was issued by Daryl M. Strong, an independent contractor
for the FAA, with an "Airplane Multiengine Land" rating.
To obtain the certificate, Hanjour's records show he flew
his check ride in a Piper PA 23-150 "Apache", a four-seat
twin-engine plane, which Hanjour was in command of for
14.8 hours of the 27 hours completed for the test.[38]

Contrary to the Washington Post's assertion that this
certificate allowed him "to fly commercial jets", in fact
it only allowed him to begin passenger jet training.
Hanjour did so, only to fail the class.[39] As the
Associated Press reported, the "certification allowed him
to begin passenger jet training at an Arizona flight
school despite having what instructors later described as
limited flying skills and an even more limited command of

Furthermore, there remains an open question about
whether Hanjour was actually qualified to receive that
certificate in the first place. According to Heather
Awsumb, a spokeswoman for Professional Airways Systems
Specialists (PASS), a union that represents FAA employees,
"The real problem is that regular oversight is handed
over to private industry", since private contractors
"receive between $200 and $300 for each check flight. If
they get a reputation for being tough, they won't get any

To obtain a commercial pilot license, the applicant
must "Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the
English language." It seems highly dubious that Hanjour
met that qualification, as the 9/11 Commission itself
acknowledges that his English skills were inadequate. The
certificate does not allow its holder to fly any
commercial aircraft, but is issued for "the aircraft
category and class rating sought". Hanjour only trained in
light propeller planes like the single-engine Cessna and
twin-engine Piper, and had never flown a jet aircraft.[42]

Additionally, commercial pilot certification is
different from the Airline Transport Pilot certification
held by airline captains. To obtain a commercial
certificate with a multi-engine rating, Hanjour only
needed to log in 250 hours of flight time, whereas to
obtain an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, pilots are
required to log 1,500 hours.[43] Needless to say, having
the ability to control a Cessna 172 or Piper Apache
propeller plane does not translate into the ability to
handle a Boeing 757 jetliner - and Hanjour could barely do
the former.

Anyone unfamiliar with pilot certification could
easily make the mistake of thinking a "commercial pilot
license" meant Hanjour was qualified to fly a jet
airliner, a conclusion reinforced by the Washington Post's
false assertion that his certificate allowed him "to fly
commercial jets". The 9/11 Commission report reinforced
that false impression, only vaguely hinting at the truth
six paragraphs later by saying that Hanjour subsequently
"wanted to train on multi-engine planes". But the
Commission then further obfuscated that truth by asserting
that this was merely "refresher" training (a matter to
which we will return). Hanjour again left the country on
April 28, 1999. [44] As the 9/11 Commission report
observed, when he returned to Saudi Arabia to apply in
the civil aviation school in Jeddah, he was rejected.[45]
He subsequently began making preparations to return to
the U.S. once again.[46] In September 2000, Hanjour was
denied a student visa after indicating that he wanted to
remain in the U.S. for three years, and yet listed no
address for where he intended to stay in Arizona.[47] But
he tried again for a student visa under the name "Hani
Hanjour" later that same month. This time, he wrote that
he wanted to stay for one year instead of three, and
listed a specific address in California, not Arizona,
where he said he was going on his first application.
Despite these obvious red flags, he was issued the visa.

He entered the U.S. in December and took more flight
lessons that month at Arizona Aviation. From February
until mid-March, he attended Pan Am International Flight
Academy, also known as Jet Tech International, in Mesa,

It was upon his return to Arizona Aviation in 2000
that the 9/11 Commission stated he wanted "refresher"
training on multi-engine planes but was advised to
discontinue "because his English was not good enough." The
implications are that Hanjour was merely brushing up on
skills he had already achieved through previous flight
training, and that the only reason he was advised not to
continue was because of his poor language skills. But
turning to the report's footnote, it reads: "For his
desire to train on multi-engine planes, his language
difficulties, the instructor's advice, and his reaction,
see FBI report of investigation, interview of Rodney
McAlear, Apr. 10, 2002."[50] That document reveals that
McAlear worked not for Arizona Aviation, but rather
"instructed Hani Hanjour in ground school flight training
at Jet Tech in the early 2001."[51] The 9/11 Commission,
by misleadingly suggesting that this occurred at Arizona
Aviation, apparently intended to bolster the claim that
this was "refresher" training by making it sound as though
this occurred at Hanjour's old school, when the truth is
that it occurred when he was at a different school he'd
never been to before.

The 9/11 Commission was also deceiving the public
suggesting that the sole reason Hanjour was not able to
complete his training on multi-engine planes was because
his English wasn't good enough. As already noted, an
instructor at Arizona Aviation thought his earlier
failings there were due primarily to his poor flight
skills, and not because of his language inadequacies. More
importantly, again, this training actually occurred at Jet
Tech. Turning to the documentary record, as article in
the New York Times entitled "A Trainee Noted for
Incompetence" noted, his instructors there "found his
piloting skills so shoddy and his grasp of English so
inadequate that they questioned whether his pilot's
license was genuine". As a result, they actually reported
him to the FAA and requested confirmation that his
certificate was legitimate. The staff there "feared that
his skills were so weak that he could pose a safety
hazard if he flew a commercial airliner." Marilyn Ladner,
a vice president at the academy, told the Times, "There
was no suspicion as far as evildoing. It was more of a
very typical instructional concern that `you really
shouldn't be in the air.'" [52]

As already discussed, it remains an open question
whether Hanjour was actually qualified to hold his
commercial pilot certificate. It was at this time, as the
Associated Press reported, that "Federal aviation
authorities were alerted in early 2001 that an Arizona
flight school believed one of the eventual Sept. 11
hijackers lacked the English and flying skills necessary
for the commercial pilot's license he already held, flight
school and government officials say."[53] The manager of
JetTech said, "I couldn't believe he had a commercial
license of any kind with the skills that he had."[54]
Whereas the 9/11 Commission suggested that, because he
"persevered", Hanjour "completed the initial training",
thus leading the public to the conclusion that his skills
had advanced accordingly, the Times offered a very
different account: "Ultimately administrators at the
school told Mr. Hanjour that he would not qualify for the
advanced certificate. 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.
Staff members characterized Mr. Hanjour as polite, meek
and very quiet. But most of all, the former employee
said, they considered him a very bad pilot. `I'm still to
this day amazed that he could have flown into the
Pentagon,' the former employee said. `He could not fly at

Another Times article similarly noted that when
Hanjour enrolled in February 2001 "at a Phoenix flight
school for advanced simulator training to learn how to
fly an airliner, a far more complicated task than he had
faced in earning a commercial license", his "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".[56]

According to FAA inspector Michael Gonzales, when Pan
Am International Flight Academy contacted the FAA to
verify that Hanjour's license was valid, "There should
have been a stop right then and there." The Associated
Press reported that Gonzales "said Hanjour should have
been re-examined as a commercial pilot, as required by
federal law."[57] But that was not done. Instead, the FAA
inspector who "even sat next to the hijacker, Hani
Hanjour, in one of the Arizona classes" and "checked
records to ensure Hanjour's 1999 pilot's license was
legitimate" concluded that "no other action was
warranted" and actually suggested that Hanjour get a
translator to help him complete his class. "He offered a
translator," said the school's manager, who "was
surprised" by the suggestion. "Of course, I brought up the
fact that went against the rules that require a pilot to
be able to write and speak English fluently before they
even get their license."[58]

As with the fact that multiple visa applications from
Hanjour should have been denied, the 9/11 Commission made
no mention of any of this. One would think that a
commission tasked with investigating the events of 9/11
with the goal of assessing what went wrong and fixing the
system to prevent any loss of life in the future would
have looked into who issued Hanjour visas in Jeddah and
why the red flags were ignored. One would think that
misconduct from FAA officials and contractors that
allowed a terrorist to improperly obtain certification to
fly a plane would also not be outside of the purview of
the investigation - yet the Commission's report is
absolutely silent on this.

Turning to the footnote for the claim that Hanjour
"completed" training at Jet Tech, one can read (emphasis
added): "For his training at Pan Am International Flight
Academy and completion by March 2001, see FBI report
`Hijackers Timeline,' Dec. 5, 2003 (Feb. 8, 2001,
entries...)". But turning to that source, the FBI
timeline does not state that Hanjour "completed" the
training, only that he "ended" the course on March
16.[59] The truth is that, as the Washington Post
reported, "Hanjour flunked out after a month" at Jet
Tech.[60] Offering corroboration for that account, the
Associated Press similarly reported that "Hanjour did not
finish his studies at JetTech and left the school."[61]

The 9/11 Commission additionally noted that Hanjour
had later gone to Air Fleet Training Systems in New Jersey
and "requested to fly the Hudson Corridor" along the
Hudson River, which passed the World Trade Center. He was
permitted to fly the route once, "but his instructor
declined a second request because of what he considered
Hanjour's poor piloting skills", the Commission admits.
However, the report continues, "Shortly thereafter,
Hanjour switched to Caldwell Flight Academy in Fairfield,
New Jersey, where he rented small aircraft on several
occasions during June and July. In one such instance on
July 20, Hanjour - likely accompanied by Hazmi - rented a
plane from Caldwell and took a practice flight from
Fairfield to Gaithersburg, Maryland, a route that would
have allowed them to fly near Washington, D.C. Other
evidence suggests Hanjour may even have returned to
Arizona for flight simulator training earlier in

But here, the pattern of deception continues by
omission of other relevant facts. The report does not
explain that when Hanjour was permitted to fly the Hudson
Corridor in May of 2001, unlike his subsequent rental
flights, it was with an instructor on a check ride, and
not a solo flight.[63] By saying his instructor there
"considered" Hanjour's skills to be poor, the 9/11
Commission implied this was merely a subjective judgment,
but that others considered him perfectly capable.
Although it would have been a standard practice, there's
no indication from FBI records that Caldwell actually
required him to go on a check ride before renting the
plane. Even more significantly, the 9/11 Commission
omitted altogether the fact that, while Hanjour was
allowed to rent from Caldwell Flight Academy, he was
rejected yet again by yet another school shortly
thereafter that the record shows did require a check

In August 2001, less than one month before 9/11,
Hanjour took flight lessons at Freeway Airport in Bowie,
Maryland.[64] As the New York Times observed, Hanjour
"still seemed to lack proficiency at flying". When he
showed up "asking to rent a single-engine plane", he
attempted three flights with two different instructors,
and yet "was unable to prove that he had the necessary
skills" to be allowed to rent the plane. "He seemed rusty
at everything," said Marcel Bernard, the chief flight
instructor at the school.[65] The Washington Post
similarly reported that to "the flight instructors at
Freeway Airport in Bowie", Hanjour "was just a bad
pilot." And "after supervising Hanjour on a series of
oblong circles above the airport and Chesapeake Bay, the
instructors refused to pass him because his skills were
so poor, Bernard said. `I feel darn lucky it went the way
it did,' Bernard said, crediting his instructors for
their good judgment and high standards."[66] The London
Telegraph also reported that Hanjour claimed to have 600
hours of flight time, "but performed so poorly on test
flights that instructors would not let him fly alone."[67]
Newsday reported that when flight instructors Sheri Baxter
and Ben Conner took Hanjour on three check rides, "they
found he had trouble controlling and landing the
single-engine Cessna 172."[68] The Los Angeles Times
reported, "`We have a level of standards that we hold all
our pilots to, and he couldn't meet it," said the manager
of the flight school. Hanjour could not handle basic air
maneuvers, the manager said."[69]

The deception does not end with this rather egregious
omission. As noted, the 9/11 Commission also suggested
that Hanjour obtained further training in a flight
simulator, again, in an apparent attempt to exaggerate his
training. But a review of the records shows that the
preponderance of evidence indicates Hanjour was actually
in New Jersey throughout the time period in question in
June. FBI records show that on May 31, 2001, after having
been rejected at Air Fleet Training Systems, Hanjour
rented a Cessna 172 at Caldwell Flight Academy, where he
"made an error taxing [sic] the airplane upon his return."
On June 6, he rented a single-engine aircraft. The FBI
placed him in Paterson, New Jersey, on June 10. Then he
rented a plane again on June 11, 18, and 19. The FBI has
Hanjour (along with Nawaf Al-Hazmi) obtaining a mailbox
at Mailboxes, Etc. in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on June 26,
and opening a bank account and making an ATM withdrawal
in New Jersey on June 27.[70]

Somewhere in there, the 9/11 Commission would have the
public believe that "evidence suggests" Hanjour again
trained on a simulator in Arizona. To begin with, the
simulator at the Sawyer School of Aviation in Phoenix was
for small aircraft and was nothing like the cockpit of a
Boeing 757 - another fact omitted by the Commission.[71]
But this perhaps becomes a moot point when one realizes
that the evidence shows Hanjour never left New Jersey.
Turning to the footnote for this claim, the Commission
stated that documents from Sawyer "show Hanjour joining
the flight simulator club on June 23, 2001''. But, the
footnote acknowledges, "the documents are inconclusive,
as there are no invoices or payment records for Hanjour,
while such documents do exist for the other three" who
joined the club at that time. The actual evidence thus
demonstrates clearly that while Hanjour may have signed up
(something which may have been possible over the phone or
via the internet), he did not actually attend. The
footnote further acknowledges that "Documentary evidence
for Hanjour, however, shows that he was in New Jersey for
most of June, and no travel records have been recovered
showing that he returned to Arizona after leaving with
Hazmi in March."[72] The second piece of "evidence" that
"suggests" Hanjour took further flight simulator training
is a Sawyer employee who "identified Hanjour as being
there during that time period, though she was less than
100 percent sure." The FBI document cited in the footnote
for that claim was obtained by Intelwire.com, but it is
almost entirely redacted, so it's impossible to verify the
actual nature of this eyewitness testimony.[73] But
another document cited further into the same footnote
also refers to the eyewitness from Sawyer, who described
the four men who had joined the club. The first "UNSUB"
(unidentified subject) was "short and stocky". The second
was 5'9''-5'10'', 170 pounds, and "medium build". The
third was 5'8'', 170 pounds, and "medium build". And the
fourth was 5'6''-5'7'' with a beard and mustache. Other
eyewitness descriptions for Hanjour offered in the same
FBI document have him as being no more than 5'6'' (one
witness from Arizona Aviation, the document notes,
"confirmed that he was only about 5'0'' tall"), 140-150
pounds, and very slight and thin, with short, curly hair.
This clearly rules out the first three subjects, leaving
only the detail-lacking fourth description as being the
only one possibly matching Hanjour's description. But the
details given are far too vague to suggest a positive
identification, particularly given the witness's own
admission that she wasn't sure if it was Hanjour.[74]

Even more significantly, that same FBI document
reveals that it was not during the FBI's initial interview
with the witness that she identified that fourth "unsub"
as Hanjour, as the 9/11 Commission report implies by
citing the report from the FBI's initial interview for
that claim in the footnote. Rather, it was later, during
a second interview that occurred after the names and
images of the hijackers had been shown repeatedly in the
media that she picked Hanjour's out of a photo lineup.
The FBI summary of that later interview states that
according to the witness, Hanjour "has the same general
characteristics and is very similar appearing as the
person she saw at Sawyer.... However, she could not be
100% sure."[75]

The third and final piece of "evidence" is another
witness who identified Hanjour as being "in the Phoenix
area during the summer of 2001'', citing the FBI document
just discussed, which is redacted enough that this claim
cannot be readily verified. But the document does show
additionally that Hanjour's membership was good only from
June 23 until August 8, at which time it expired.[76]

Thus, the 9/11 Commission would have the public
believe that sometime after June 19, Hanjour went from the
east coast to Arizona without leaving any paper trail
(i.e. airline or car rental records, ATM withdrawals,
etc.), signed up for a two-week flight simulator club on
June 23 without leaving any record he ever actually paid
or even showed up (whereas records did exist for other
members), only to change his mind and return again to be
back in New Jersey with Nawaf Al-Hazmi three days later.
In other words, what the evidence actually suggests is
that the eyewitness testimony is unreliable and that,
contrary to the Commission's assertion, Hanjour never
left New Jersey during that time.

There is a clear pattern of misleading and untruthful
statements in the 9/11 Commission's final report that
cannot be dismissed as mere error. Rather, the evidence is
incontrovertible that the Commission willfully and
deliberately sought to present a falsified story of the
alleged hijacker Hani Hanjour; not to relate the facts to
the public, but rather to cement a legend in the public
mind; not to investigate and draw conclusions based on the
facts, but to start with a conclusion - the official
account of 9/11 - and manipulate the facts to suit the
government's own conspiracy theory.

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 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

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 aware,
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.


[1] Statement for the Record FBI Director Robert S.
Mueller III Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry,
September 26, 2002

[2] Jim Yardley and Jo Thomas, "For Agent in Phoenix,
the Cause of Many Frustrations Extended to His Own
Office", New York Times, June 19, 2002

[3] "FBI Names 19 Men as Hijackers", Washington Post,
September 15, 2001; Page A01

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posted by u2r2h at Saturday, April 17, 2010


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