Pentagon Strike Theories
Ambiguous Evidence Spawns Proliferation of Theories
Questions have surrounded the Pentagon attack from the beginning, given the lack of publicly available evidence clearly showing the crash of a Boeing 757 (the type of plane that Flight 77 was), photographic evidence of building damage that is arguably difficult to reconcile with such a crash, and a substantial body of eyewitness accountsindicating that a jetliner had crashed.
In the months after the attack, a number of people pointed out that there were no public photographs of a 757 crashing into the Pentagon. As photographs of the building immediately after the attack began to appear on the Web, some writers noted the apparent absence of significant aircraft debris and of damage to the building or its surroundings commensurate with the impact of an aircraft the size and shape of a 757. Although close examination of the evidence shows it to be consistent with a 757, the Pentagon's evidence vacuum created the conditions for a seemingly endless proliferation of theories about what hit the Pentagon. Most of these theories ignore or grossly misrepresent the body of eyewitness evidence.
In 2004, mainstream media noted the existence of a 9/11 Truth Movement for the first time, only to identify it with the theory that a missile rather than a jetliner hit the Pentagon. The essay The Pentagon No-757-Crash Theory: Booby Trap for 9/11 Skeptics documents such media attacks, and examines the evidence that purportedly supports the no-jetliner theories. Some 9/11 researchers have long held that the "no-plane" theories of the Pentagon attack are the product of an elaborate hoax invented to discredit questioning of the official story. The creator of OilEmpire.usprovides the most detailed and damning critique of these theories. 1
We provide a rather detailed review of Pentagon attack theories mainly for historical interest, since, in our view, most of these theories are based on an unscientific analysis of the available evidence. The number of different theories makes a full accounting of them difficult. Rather than attempting to provide an exhaustive rundown of all of them, we provide a short history of the more popular theories, followed by an enumeration of elements constituting them. Finally we describe some scenarios consistent with Flight 77's crash. These theories and the substantial evidence supporting them have been eclipsed the no-jetliner theories.
A Short History of Pentagon No-Jetliner Theories
By 2005 the web had hundreds of websites purporting to analyze the Pentagon crash. Most of these question the account that Flight 77 crashed, based on inferences from photographs. In 2001 there was little such material, but in early 2002, the French site Hunt the Boeing appeared, and got things rolling. 2 Soon there were dozens of sites claiming that the Pentagon was not hit by a 757. The 2002 books Painful Questions , and The Great Deception , and Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster all embraced such theories. As the profile ofmore substantial challenges to the official story grew, mainstream media increasingly highlighted "no-plane" theories as representing the breadth of such challenges.
|The frightening Fraud (AKA The Big Lie) was distributed worldwide with ntranslations in 27 different languages. It succeeded in identified challenges to the offical story with the no-Boeing theory.|
The Truck Bomb Theory
By January of 2002, there was discussion on the Internet about alleged problems of the official story that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. In March the French investigator Thierry Meyssan released the book L'effroyable Imposture (The frightening Fraud), which challenged the official story of Flight 77's crash pointing to alleged anomalies of a lack of plane debris, too-small dimensions of the impact hole, and the lack of video footage of Flight 77, among other things. He suggested that instead, a truck bomb exploded in front of the Pentagon. The book is now available in 25 languages. 3
Meyssan, and anyone who would read his book were vehemently attacked by mouthpieces for U.S. government and media. An FBI statement accused Meyssan of making "the ultimate insult to the memory of the 59 men, women and children on AA77 and the 125 dedicated military and civilian workers in the Pentagon who were ruthlessly murdered by terrorists on September 11." James S. Robbins, reporter for the National Review, wrote an entire column trashing the book, but admits in the column that he had not read the book. 4 Robbins compares Meyssan to Holocaust deniers.
These mean-spirited attacks served to increase Meyssan's stature in the community of skeptics, and perhaps helped to overshadow the serious errors in his analysis, such as his assertion that the "hole" in the Pentagon was about 15-18 feet in diameter. This describes the second-floor damage but overlooks the much more extensive damage to the first floor, whose walls were broken away for an expanse about 90 feet wide.
The Drone and Missile Attack Theory
|Interestingly, the cover image of the book in which Meyssan promotes the theory that a missile rather than a jetliner hit the Pentagon actually shows debris matching a jetliner, such as a wheel hub. See more detailed photographs of the C-ring punch-out hole.|
Shortly after the publication of Meyssan's book, five frames from a Pentagon camera were released. The video frames, which appear to show a small aircraft and a missile exhaust plume, prompted a new round of speculation on the Internet about what really hit the Pentagon. New theories consistent with the video footage replaced the truck bomb theory. Meyssan later released a second book, Le Pentagate, to explain his new theory that a drone and missile hit the Pentagon. The refusal of officials to release complete footage from this camera or any footage from any other cameras reinforced the idea that the five frames were genuine. Perhaps because the footage contradicted the official story, few skeptics examined the possibility that the frames were fabricated.
The 737 Theory
A Boeing 737 is a jetliner that resembles a 757 but is somewhat smaller. Although its fuselage has the same diameter, a 737 is shorter and has a smaller wingspan and tail height than an 757. Also, its engines are smaller, more closely spaced, and are mounted closer to the wings. Since both a 737 and 757 have two underwing engines, it would be easy for witnesses to confuse one for the other. References to a 737 are almost as common in eyewitness statements as references to a 757.
Given a 737's smaller dimensions, it is less difficult to imagine that the observed debris and damage to the building and surroundings were the product of a 737 crash than of a 757 crash. However many of the skeptics' objections to the 757 crash account, such as unbroken windows where the wing ends would have hit, and the apparent absence of aircraft debris, also apply to the 737 theory. In addition, the 737 theory still leaves the question of what happened to Flight 77 and its passengers.
Elements of No-Jetliner Strike Theories
The preceding list provides at best a rough outline of theories that exlude the crash of a 757 into the Pentagon. Most theories combine several different elements, and different theorists favor different combinations of elements. Some of these elements are consistent with supposing that the attack did involve Flight 77. For example, it is possible that a missile strike and demolition charges were involved in addition to the crash, but such elements almost always appear in conjunction with no-jetliner theories.
Several attack theories include a missile strike, in addition to an approach and/or impact by one or more aircraft. Only a few Pentagon attack theorists have suggested that a missile alone was involved in the attack, yet mainstream media attacks on 9/11 "conspiracy theorists" have implied that the Pentagon missile theory is the centerpiece of all skepticism of the official story. Proponents of missile strike theories have cited three pieces of evidence:
- The apparent dense vapor trail on the Pentagon video camera footage
- At least three eyewitness report (Michael DiPaula's, Lon Rains' and Tom Seibert's) that the aircraft sounded like a missile.
- Reports of a white-hot explosion and shockwave consistent with the detonation of a missile warhead.
While there does not appear to be sufficient evidence to rule out the involvement of a missile, all of the above three points can be explained without invoking one. The Pentagon video footage is suspect; eyewitness perceptions could be explained by the sudden overflight a supersonic aircraft; and any of a number of means could have been used to convey explosive devices to the scene.
|Theories that the Pentagon was attacked by a Global Hawk or cruise missile ask us to believe that scores of eyewitnesses mistook an aircraft that looks nothing like a jetliner for a twin-engine jetliner.|
Drone attack theories have some kind of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) such as a Global Hawk or cruise missile crashing into the Pentagon and producing -- perhaps in combination with a separate missile -- the observed damage. Most theories employing such an attack drone dismiss altogether that a 757-like aircraft was involved in the attack, and minimize eyewitnesses accounts of a 757 flying toward the building by emphasizing the few accounts of a smaller aircraft, and by suggesting that many witnesses were fooled into mistaking a painted drone for a 757. Most such theories suggest that the drone was substituted for Flight 77 sometime after the jetliner's transponder was turned off.
An alternative to the attack drone element is the attack jet element, in which the damage is caused, not by a lightweight UAV such as a Global Hawk, but by a supersonic interceptor such as an F-16. The near certainty that any aircraft involved in such a precision ground-level assault was remote-controlled does not favor a drone or cruise missile over an interceptor, since the latter also has computerized flight control systems that are easily configured for remote control.
The attack interceptor element was first articulated by Richard Eastman, who combines the two elements of small attack jet and jetliner fly-over in a comprehensive theory of the attack. Evidence he cites to support this element include:
- The apparent aircraft tail on a frame of the Pentagon video
- The lack of significant aircraft debris outside the building
- The concentration of damage on the ground floor extending three rings into the building
- The single C-ring hole and other indications that the attack plane was a single-engine plane
- The downed light poles on the highway overpass
Most of these pieces of evidence have also been used to support the competing attack drone element. However the much lighter construction of known types of drones make them seem a much less plausible candidate for severing the light-poles, penetrating so many walls of the building, and leaving the large engine and landing gear parts pictured in photos allegedly from the building's interior. Additionally, the following observations strongly favor the attack jet over the attack drone element:
- A jet interceptor can fly in at Mach 2, too fast to be seen by bystanders, whereas known UAVs larger than cruise missiles are subsonic and would be seen during their approach. Therefore the attack jet element is easily combined with the jetliner fly-over element, whereas the drone element, which is not, requires that eyewitnesses mistake a small drone for a jetliner.
- Interceptor jets would be expected to be pursuing the commandeered jetliners. Therefore discovery of evidence of the crash of an F-16 could be answered by the fall-back position that an F-16 in pursuit of Flight 77 crashed.
The idea that a jetliner -- either a 757 such as Flight 77 or similar plane -- appeared to collide with the Pentagon, but actually disappeared into a fireball and overflew the building, also originated with Richard Eastman. Such a scenario has the advantage of harmonizing the body of eyewitness accounts of a jetliner approach, with the (questionable) conclusion that the building's impact damage pattern and sparse aircraft debris preclude a 757 collision.
Since Eastman's scenario combines an attack jet with the fly-over of Flight 77, the two elements have become associated with his theory. However such a fly-over could be combined with other elements instead. For example, the damage to the Pentagon and the highway lamp-poles could have been produced by other means, such as demolition charges and projectiles, while the Pentagon video frames were fabricated, and aircraft parts planted.
The fact that the impact damage on the Pentagon's facade and interior seems to roughly approximate that expected by a 757 while being arguably incorrect in its detials has suggested to some researchers that the building was rigged with explosives to produce a pattern of damage suggesting entry locations for the fuselage and engines and an exit hole matching the trajectory indicated by the downed light poles. The case for internal demolition is made by the detailed and well referenced paper by Jerry Russell and Richard Stanley, "The Five Sided Fantasy Island". 5 Russell and Stanley internal demolition element with jetliner flyover element to make a theory that suffers from many of the same problems as the two-plane theory, such as the failure to convincingly account for the many eyewitness reports that a jetliner flew into the Pentagon's facade and exploded.
The Two-Plane Theory
The two-plane theory holds that while a 757, perhaps Flight 77, swooped down on the Pentagon and appeared to hit it, a much smaller attack jet, flying much faster on a different trajectory, impacted the building while the 757 disappeared into the explosion and fireball and overflew the Pentagon. This theory has the advantage of accounting for the many eyewitness accounts of a large twin-engine passenger jet approaching the Pentagon. It is the subject of a detailed analysis here.
Alternative Scenarios Consistent With Flight 77's Crash
Proponents of no-jetliner theories frequenly attack their detractors as apologists for the official story. This is disingenuous because most skeptics of the official account who reject the no-jetliner theories also reject the story that Hani Hanjour piloted Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
Pointing to the difficulty of the Pentagon approach maneuver, the location of the strike, and the failure to defend the Pentagon, most skeptics think that the jetliner was guided to its target by some form of programmed or remote control. Others note that seemingly anomylous aspects of the crash of a jetliner are explained by supposing that the crash was engineered or otherwise altered in some way, perhaps for the purpose of generating confusion.
The Plane Bomb Theory
The plane bomb theory, developed by French researcher Eric Bart, holds that the jetliner that approached the Pentagon was destroyed by explosives in the aircraft. Our analysis shows that the plane bomb theory can be reconciled with lack of an impact imprint on the Pentagon. It also fits the eyewitness accounts remarkably well. It accounts for observations that many people find incongruous with the simple impact of a 757.
It is possible to reconcile the plane bomb theory with the plane being Flight 77, at the expense of supposing that an American Airline's jetliner was rigged with explosives. While this may sound far-fetched, the placement of bombs on Flight 77 and their detonation a split-second before impact via telemetry would not necessarily represent a great technical challenge. A variant of the plane-bomb theory avoids the idea of a specially-rigged plane altogether by by supposing that a defensive weapon system was responsible for the plane's partial destruction before impact.
The Remote-Controlled Flight 77 Theory
The remote-controlled Flight 77 theory holds that Flight 77 did indeed crash into the Pentagon, but that it was piloted by the automated flight control system (with or without real-time guidance by a ground operator) rather than by any human pilot on board the aircraft. This theory is compatable with the plane bomb theory, but most people who accept the idea that Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon don't see a problem reconciling the pattern of damage to the Pentagon's facade with such as crash.