Heather Penney: The untold would-be suicide mission on 9/11

Penney says she honestly believed that would be her last flight.

Her name is Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney and until today, we had never heard her story. The Washington Post reveals the incredible untold experience of a combat pilot who was was given orders to take down United Airlines Flight 93– with her plane. Her story begins on the runway at Andrews Air Force Base the morning of September 11, 2001:

She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The terrorist attacks were unfolding so quickly, that there was no time to arm the jets with the proper ammo. They were still armed with dummy bullets from a training mission. It would have taken an hour to properly arm the planes.

“We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,” Penney told the Washington Post. “I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.”

Penney, who was the first female F-16 pilot at the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard, said she knew it was war as soon as she heard a second plane struck the second tower.

The pilots were hoping there would be a moment just before impact to eject, but nothing was certain. They never got that far, though. United Airlines Flight 93 went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania before the pilots reached it.

Penney, who is now a major, credits the passengers aboard that flight as the real heroes. She too, though, was ready and willing to sacrifice her own life on that fateful day.

“I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,” she told the Post. “If we did it right, this would be it.”


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