What is the 9/11 legacy for military aviation?

911-blogs1.gifI saw the smoke on the Metro platform at National Airport. A southeasterly breeze carried the black cloud across I-395 and into the northern half of Crystal City, tinting that uninspired office park with an eerie haze. I didn’t check my watch when a Metro worker announced the train was not going beyond National. There had been “some kind of explosion” three stops down the track at the Pentagon, he announced dryly. The time was at least a few minutes after 09:37. The date, of course, was 11 September 2001, and a Boeing 757-200 serving American Airlines Flight 77 had just slammed into the southwest wall of the Pentagon’s E-ring.

As the 10th anniversary approaches, I’ve been asked by our web editor to comment on the 9/11 event’s impact on military aviation. It is an assignment that frankly I anticipated with dread. The old journalistic trick of “localizing” a story seems off-tone in this case – a bit too self-absorbed amidst the tragedy of the lives lost and changed all over the world during that terrible hour and its far-reaching aftermath. With due caution, I will proceed.

For the military aircraft industry, I believe the real impact of 9/11 was a single word: Dollars. Suddenly facing a new set of requirements and problems, the US military, in particular, received an epic infusion of funding over a decade. The fiscal windfall propelled the Department of Defense into a new era, for better and worse, of experimentation (not, sorry, true “transformation”), and greased a lasting, whole new level of appreciation for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). It is difficult to trace any particular programme or trend specifically to 9/11, but one that stands out is the Pentagon’s enthusiasm for medium-altitude ISR platforms. The Beechcraft King Air 350ERs and medley of unmanned air vehicles darkening the skies over airstrips in Kandahar and Bagram may be the most direct heirs of the 9/11 calamity, and they are only the first generation. Hybrid airships, stealthy UAVs and ultra-long-endurance UAVs are poised to come next – perhaps establishing whole new industries and modes of transport in their wake. It’s been quite a journey since I was kicked off my train at National Airport, and it’s not over yet.  

All perspectives on this topic are welcome here. Please offer your thoughts on the impact of 9/11 for military aviation around the world. You can also read our 9/11 anniversary special in the 6 September issue of Flight International.



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4 Responses to What is the 9/11 legacy for military aviation?

  1. Uwe 2 September, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    Unfortunately all that money has made some unworthy people richer _and_ it did not solve any of the ongoing problems
    in that domain.

    With a hammer in hand every problem becomes a nail.
    contrast:
    With a gun in hand less and less problems succumb to shooting.

  2. jetcal1 6 September, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    The only question I have is;
    Was the Rumsfeld vision of transformation right or wrong?

  3. James 7 September, 2011 at 3:20 am #

    9-11, interesting aftermath of the budget cutting of the individual forces of the military. They keep forgetting that even the mightiest still get bitten by the gnat.
    They cut the training budgets, they cut the immediate response budgets. They decided that the air over america was not worth protectiong from those that wish to do us harm. Decided an unmanned drone is better then a man in a bird.
    I was in when the two alert aircraft were at 5 minutes to post and a minimum of two backup was 15 minutes to over base. Ready to assist or defend. Better now?
    Remember how when NORAD assisted ATC to keep track of every flight in the Americas, now they depend on iff beacons. Improvement? Remember they lost the aircraft of 911 when the beacons were turned off.

  4. Lugo 8 September, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Thanks for the stupid Leftist platitudes, Uwe.

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