The Pentagon and the Missile

Some say that it wasn't an airliner that struck the Pentagon on 9/11, but a missile.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Conspiracies, History & Pseudohistory

Skeptoid #354
March 19, 2013
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Pentagon Crash
Flight 77 debris at the Pentagon
Public domain photo

Today we're going to delve once again into the depths of conspiracy theories. We'll take yet another look at the events of the September 11 attacks, this time focusing on the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. According to the generally accepted account of what was witnessed and recorded on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon was struck by American Airlines Flight 77, a hijacked Boeing 757 on its way from Dulles to Los Angeles. 59 people on board the airplane plus 125 workers inside the Pentagon were killed, plus the 5 hijackers. And as pop culture would inevitably have it, alternate claims have arisen: mainly that the Pentagon was not hit by a hijacked plane at all, but by an American cruise missile fired as a false flag operation. Years later, is there sufficient reason to doubt the official story?

First of all, the phrase "official story" has become problematic. All it really refers to is the generally accepted explanation or definition. For example, the "official story" is that the human body has 206 bones. The "official story" is that an atom of radon contains 86 protons. The "official story" is that Hiroshima was destroyed by the Little Boy atomic bomb in 1945. Just by referring to any observation or result as the "official story", it makes it seem to be shrouded in doubt or tainted by political corruption. Thus, virtually all web sites promoting an alternative version of the September 11 attacks will start by dismissing all observations and evidence as the "official story". In this sense, "official story" is what we call a weasel word; terminology intended to communicate something other than what the words actually mean. In the strict sense, the official story is the one that's most authoritative and best supported; but in common usage, it's only employed when the intent is to cast doubt.

And casting doubt seems to be the strongest reason to believe that it was a missile and not an airliner. There are mountains of evidence confirming what so many people witnessed on that day, evidence that's all rock solid and that has no real flaws. This is the case with a lot of conspiracy theories, yet it never detracts from the popularity of the conspiracy theory. It's not possible in one show to cover all the many objections raised to the official story, but we will look at a handful that are representative of the whole. With the exception of a couple claims that are simply factually wrong, each specific objection is based simply on the possibility that some observation might be consistent with an alternate version of events. Unfortunately, "consistent with" is not "evidence of".

Let's look at the most popular such example:

Myth #1: The security video shows a missile hitting the building.

Of the 85 video tapes seized by the FBI that may have shown the plane strike the building, only one actually shows the impact of an object with the building. This is a Pentagon security camera pointed at a traffic gate along an access driveway. In the background is a white streak, visible in only a single frame, which is far too small and of low quality to make out any useful details. Missile theorists believe the depicted object is too small to be a 757, and is more consistent with a cruise missile.

So far as the object in the video appearing to be too small for a 757, that's correct, it is. But this is to be expected, since the lens of the security camera is ultra wide angle. The camera was intended to see as much of the vehicle driveway where it was positioned as possible, side to side. Thus it did not produce a rectilinear image with straight lines; the lines on the Pentagon building are clearly curved in the video. Yet, missile theorists have superimposed straight lines of perspective onto this image, in an effort to show that the height of the incoming object was too small for a 757. Because of the lens used, the plane does in fact appear far smaller than it would with a normal lens, consistent with what we'd expect of an ultra wide angle lens and a full-sized airliner.

Myth #2: Donald Rumsfeld's office was on the opposite end of the building.

The implication being that Rumsfeld, presumed architect of the false flag attack, was carefully protected by having the plane hit a far-away part of the building.

This is a perfect example of "consistent with" not being "evidence of". Sure, if Rumsfeld had masterminded the attack, he might well choose to preserve his own office. But by this same logic, you could point to anyone anywhere in the world whose office was not in the immediate vicinity of the crash site. This factoid is so irrelevant that I didn't even bother to look up where in the Pentagon Rumsfeld's office was. Whether it's true or not, it's useless information.

Now for an example of a claim that's just simply wrong:

Myth #3: There was no debris from an airplane at the site.

Thus there was no plane, thus it must have been a missile (even though that in itself is fallacious logic). Even after so many years have gone by, I still hear this assertion being made, in blatant defiance of virtually every photograph taken that day. Debris from the plane was everywhere, including easily identified mechanical parts from the landing gear and engines and lots of twisted aluminum painted in Boeing BAC452 Green Epoxy Primer. It's trivial to do a Google image search for "flight 77 debris" to see exactly what was reported by dozens of Pentagon employees, rescue personnel, and reporters, and observed live worldwide by millions of television viewers.

It's also easy to read the transcript from air traffic controllers who communicated with the plane, and to see the graphs from the flight data recorder, including the plane's altitude as it plummeted toward the Pentagon. Both are among the information available from the National Transportation and Safety Board. But I should be clear that pointing out such evidence, especially in the case of official documents, is not persuasive to a conspiracy theorist. In their theory, evidence consistent with the "official story" is simply part of the conspiracy, and is therefore unreliable and should be dismissed.

Myth #4: The approach path was impossible for a 757.

When the hijackers brought the plane to the Pentagon, they were still too high, so they flew in a circle to drop the altitude. A Dulles air traffic controller, Danielle O'Brien, said "You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's unsafe." Conspiracy theorists often cite this comment as evidence that the controllers knew it was not a 757.

But this interpretation is only possible if you ignore the rest of what she said. O'Brien has been very clear that there's no question it was the 757, and that unsafe doesn't mean impossible. "It was never the intent of the hijacker to safely land American flight 77 anywhere," she said, and also correctly pointed out that unlike an airliner, a missile does not need to circle to lose altitude.

Myth #5: The Pentagon's missile defenses would have shot down an actual encroaching aircraft.

As the headquarters of the Department of Defense, you'd expect the Pentagon to be one of the best defended buildings in the world. But apparently, this alleged missile defense system is nonexistent. It was proposed by French conspiracy theory journalist Thierry Meyssan in his book 9/11: The Big Lie. If such a defense system existed but was not used, not a single Pentagon employee complained about it. Even the friends of the 125 employees killed raised no objection.

In practice, it would be very difficult for the Pentagon to have such a system. The Pentagon's location was fixed in 1941, just weeks after the completion of what's now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Planes landing at the airport fly right over the Pentagon all day long, at a very low altitude. The ends of runways 33 and 15 are just 1 kilometer from the Pentagon, in a direct line. Planners of such a theoretical missile defense system would have known that they'd have essentially no time to discriminate between normal traffic and hostile traffic and to make a kill/no-kill decision. Thus, it's not surprising that none of the hundreds of thousands of photographs and videos of the Pentagon show a missile defense system, nor do the blueprints nor construction photographs, nor has anyone who has ever worked there reported knowledge of such a thing.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

That's a really quick overview of only five of the many arguments made by the missile theorists. Apologies to those who were looking for a more in-depth analysis of all the many facets to this conspiracy theory, but there really is not sufficient evidence of a conspiracy to warrant much time or investigation. It's intellectually lazy to simply hunt for anomalies that might been seen as consistent with proving the "official story" wrong. That's the opposite of a responsible search for information and knowledge. If you want to know what happened on September 11, look at the evidence. Certainly you do want to pursue alternative explanations for the evidence, but you also want to make sure you're not changing the evidence to support your predetermined conclusion.

I want to encourage everyone to approach with great caution any alternative belief system that is founded primarily upon the assumption that accepted theory is wrong. In such a system, any alternative theory is acceptable, so long as it denies accepted theory. A familiar example of this is creationism. There are many different mutually irreconcilable versions of both Old Earth and Young Earth creationism: gap creationism, theistic evolution, day-age creationism, Omphalism, and so on. No two of them can be true, as they all represent radically different versions of history. But despite these profound differences, they're all allied with one another under the single banner of "Evolution is wrong". Competing theories are generally welcomed, so long as they embrace the assumption that accepted theory is wrong.

This is equally true of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Consider the number of theories that have been put forth to explain the collapse of the World Trade Center: Everything from holographic airliners, to controlled demolition, to robotic airplanes rigged with explosives, you name it; any theory is viable so long as it starts with the assumption that American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 did not actually crash into the twin towers.

So keep a sharp eye on the motivations for your beliefs and theories. If you want to find out what's known, look to see what the evidence supports. But if you find instead that you're looking for only that which supports a specific belief or claim, be aware that you're doing things backwards. Hold the "official story" to a high standard, but don't simply be hostile to our existing knowledge base.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Dunbar, D., Reagan, B. Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts. New York: Hearst Books, 2011.

Meyssan, T. 9/11: The Big Lie. London: Carnot Publishers, 2002.

Mikkelson, B. "Hunt the Boeing." Urban Legends Reference Pages., 8 Apr. 2008. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <>

NTSB. "Items Released Under FOIA." FOIA Electronic Reading Room. National Transportation Safety Board, 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <>

Roberts, S. "Photos of Flight 77 Wreckage Inside the Pentagon." Jeff Rense, 4 Dec. 2002. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <>

Williams, M. "American Airlines Flight 77." 911 Myths., 5 Nov. 2007. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <>

Yoon, J., Scott, J. "Pentagon & Boeing 757 Engine Investigation." Aerospaceweb., 12 Mar. 2006. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Pentagon and the Missile." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 19 Mar 2013. Web. 31 Mar 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 790 comments

The part that is very curious is that nowadays you cannot rob a 7/11 without being caught by three security cameras, yet one of the most secure buildings in the world was hit by an airliner and no camera caught it.

Jordi, Punta del Este, Uruguay
February 17, 2015 2:53pm

We must be careful when discussing conspiracy theories - first of all it is extremely healthy that we are able to challenge what a government says about anything - "Govern" means "control" and "ment" from the Latin "mente" means "mind". "Conspiracy" is getting a bad name when in fact it is nothing new.
Bush said the official story in Iraq was that they had conclusive evidense that Sadam had "weapons of mass destruction" - that was the "official story".
Later we discover they had no such thing and we all know he did it for the oil and please his Daddy.
regarding all that has been said above, I can see straight through the official story of 9-11 having watched it live - much of what I saw was never seen again referring to helicopters in the sky and a morning news team who disappeared along with many eye witnesses over the years...
The hole in the Pentagon was not only too small but the supporting pillars were still in place before the debri collapsed - a 300 ton aluminium plane vanished - the so called photographed debri is not even close to what should have been there - consider that the wings would have been torn off - they are not engineered to withstand a front on force but are designed to take on atmoshperic forces in the vertical - all videos were removed - and just like the plane which crashed into a small pit with zero debri we are supposed to accept the "official story".
Well I'm open minded - show me the debri !

Paul, Australia
February 17, 2015 6:03pm

Jordi, it is quite common, do you think bombproof and nuclear bomb hardened bunkers have cameras bristling all around? No, of course not, they may have them at points of entry and exit, but the very nature of the building makes it unnecessary for there to be cameras all around -how you going to break in?

The Pentagon is a hard building, it is surrounded by fences and the only points of access are all well and truly covered by cameras and armed personal, there is no need to have cameras looking everywhere else, the only way into the building is through entrances with cameras and guards. Why can't conspiracy nuts understand this?

A 7/11 is NOT a hardened building, the very nature of it is to encourage paying people into it to peruse and purchase goods, it has cameras because it is not hardened, they are a deterrent [hopefully] for ne'er-do-wells who may already be within the property, it will have cameras looking at the gas pumps to keep an eye on folks driving off without paying. IF a gas station were made a hardened compound where no one can get in without a pass, they too would need cameras only at the entrances, wouldn't they? After all, you'd already know who was in the 7/11.

No one expected an airliner to crash into the building, therefore there were no contingencies or cameras for such a scenario, why do you think the FEDs went round confiscating any footage in the area? TO hide it away or to see if there were anything of use? I already know YOUR answer :)

erique, Land of Hope and Gory
February 18, 2015 1:48am

I see the conspiracy nuts you are up to the usual tricks of goalposts, they say something like:

"Show me some evidence that the plane hit the Pentagon"

The rational mind shows that something with the livery hit the building.

Conspiracy nut says:

"Just because something resembling the livery is in the wreckage, that is no proof the plane hit the building"

Anyone see what happened there? The guy asked for "evidence" and then switches the burden back to 'proof'...classic, absolutely classic, get them on the ropes and then they change the rules, be like a boxer losing and having the bejesus punched out of his guts, then saying, 'You're not allowed to hit me in the guts"...


That airliner at speed was a huge bomb, yet the conspiracy nuts still think that an aluminium plane can't damage a steel and concrete building.

That flight disappeared if it did not hit the building, the conspiracy nuts say the crew and passengers were Black-Op agents/kidnapped/murdered.

The wreckage shows anti-corrosion paint, livery and the remains of an airframe -even power-plant- that is consistent with the missing airframe.

Eye-witnesses saw it happen.

Structures at the height and in the direction of the flight-path show damage at the width of the aircraft, not at the width of a cruise missile.

Footage does show -all be it not perfect- something large hitting the building prior to the explosion.

Occam's razor fellahs, Occam's razor...

erique, Land of Hope and Gory
February 18, 2015 2:11am


Your last post is a totally misconstrued piece of biased and illogical assumptions.

Biased right from the start with your "conspiracy nuts" comment, especially when there has been no conspiracy theory presented here, only questioning an Official Story put out by the US Govt that has much official govt agency evidence directly against it, mainly Fl77 allegedly into the Pentagon.

There has never been any dispute that an airliner type of some sort impacted the Pentagon. There is no proof outside the US govt that said airliner was Fl77 with aircraft number N644AA. to date show AA77, although scheduled, never departing that 9-11 day.

Neither has anyone said (or should say) that an aluminium plane cannot damage a steel and concrete building, especially with the speed the aircraft impacted (530 mph ).

"The wreckage shows anti-corrosion paint, livery and the remains of an airframe -even power-plant- that is consistent with the missing airframe." Operation Northwoods called for an aircraft to be painted up and used as a decoy.

"Eye-witnesses saw it happen." They saw a large airliner-type aircraft crash into the Pentagon. Neither they nor the gate cams could possibly tell whether it was Fl77, N644A, or that it was hijacked, and that Hani Hanjour was flying it.

Occams razor does NOT promote the simplest explanation over a better one that may be more complicated.

Macky, Auckland
February 18, 2015 12:34pm


"The hole in the Pentagon was not only too small but the supporting pillars were still in place before the debri collapsed - a 300 ton aluminium plane vanished - the so called photographed debri is not even close to what should have been there -.."

I agree with the theme of your post, Paul, but like the arguments about the reasons for the collapses of the WTC towers, the aircraft debris in the Pentagon, the "hole too small" etc, can end up serving as diversions from the main Official Story of 9-11 and Fl77, namely that 19 Islamic terrorists directed by Al Qaeda, headed by Osama Bin Laden hijacked civil airliners and drove them into targets on 9-11, 2001.

The evidence, both circumstantial and official, clearly contradicts said Official Story, and out of the four flights, Fl77 is the most easily debunked.
And as we all know, or should, it only takes one flight to be debunked to call all four into question. All aspects of Fl77 that the Official Story hinged on have had evidence presented that directly conflicts with said story.

Said key aspects have been thoroughly covered through hundreds of posts on this thread. My March 31 2014 post with several citations of official files that directly conflict with the Official Story have never been answered to on this site, either by Official Story supporters or by Skeptoid itself.

That anybody still holds that the Official Story is true is simply reflecting nothing but a belief that the US govt has told the truth.

Macky, Auckland
February 18, 2015 1:11pm

I live within sight of the Pentagon. That was a terrible day. I was at work 3 miles away, so I did not witness it myself.
However, I had a friend who also lived close by. She had just left her building to walk to the Metro train nearby, on her way to work.
She heard a very loud noise, and looked up.
To her horror, she saw the plane (and it WAS a jet) flying nearly at rooftop level, at a terrific speed, toward the Pentagon.
Then she heard the BOOM as the plane hit it.
All she knew at the time was that a plane had crashed, but still, it shook her up so badly that she sought professional counseling.
Later I learned that she left her job, and moved away, as this incident affected her that badly.
I know of many drivers who were driving on route 110 adjacent to the Pentagon who also witnessed the jet, and saw it crash into the building.
Only later there were crazy ideas that it couldn't possibly be a plane, it was missile, etc.
It was a jet. Flying at top speed at low altitude, and hitting a building. And people died.

HybridDude, Arlington VA
February 20, 2015 5:57am

I wish to assure Skeptoid, its posters and readers that I do not diminish the horror and death that happened on 9-11 day. I have a ex-fireman friend who was there in NY, and sat inside one of the Fire stations where the firemen never came back, and comforted family members and friends on that sad day.
I have assured him also that I do diminish his dreadful experiences by my research into 9-11 and the US Govt generated Official Story, and I approach it with only the greatest of respect towards all those that suffered.

There are two main aspects of Fl77 of 9-11, to my mind. The first is, what hit the Pentagon ? I believe the missile argument to be a red herring set up to divert arguments away from the question of what type and ID was the aircraft that hundreds saw, and that impacted the Pentagon at high speed (530mph).

Fl77 disappeared from ATC shortly after the time it was allegedly hijacked, and was NEVER identified in the air again from that time.

The second aspect is :- was Fl77 hijacked at all, and if so, who were the culprits?

There is no evidence that Hanjour (the alleged pilot) was even on Fl77, much less flew it, and multiple federal citation evidence directly against the Official Story of Fl77, including the debunking of Barbara Olson's alleged in-flight phone calls to her husband, the key to all the emotion and hoop-la associated with the 9-11 attacks, including the origin of the "box-cutter" story. And the alleged hijackers were never formally identified.

Macky, Auckland
February 20, 2015 11:34pm

Mackay, you write that "I wish to assure Skeptoid, its posters and readers that I do not diminish the horror and death that happened on 9-11 day" and yet just a few sentences later you refer, with the most appalling insensitivity, to one of the victims "alleged in-flight phone calls to her husband, the key to all the emotion and hoop-la associated with the 9-11 attacks". On the 9th of September, 2001, 2,996 people were killed in a series of terrorist attacks. There is absolutely no context or excuse by which it is OK to refer to the events of that terrible day as "hoop-la". To do so indicates a terrible failure in your ability to empathise with and relate to others, and to understand that these conspiracy theories that you amuse yourself with as a kind of intellectual plaything are built by usurping the pain and misery and tragedy of real human victims and real grieving families. I know that even as you read this, you are making up some story in your head about how you are on some kind of noble crusade, seeking justice and truth for the victims... but if that were true, if you really did care and empathise with the unfathomable human tragedy of that day, ask yourself this - how could you even for a moment think it was OK to use the term "emotion and hoop-la" when discussing the loss of thousands of innocent lives?

Hemlock, Australia
February 21, 2015 7:29am

"..and to understand that these conspiracy theories that you amuse yourself with.."

Yet another poster who can't tell the difference between a conspiracy theory, and the questioning of the US govt Official Story of Flight 77.

Barbara Olson and her alleged in-flight cell-phone calls to her husband were integral on 9-11 day and afterwards to greatly adding to the emotion, the anger, the horror of those attacks.
Those calls have been proven by FBI evidence presented at the Moussaoui trial to be bogus. And because they were allegedly coming from her cell-phone, there is NO evidence outside the US govt that Olson's cellphone was even on Fl77.

In fact, the passenger list presented by the FBI at the trial, and before and after, MUST be an altered passenger list, because in the list of alleged hijackers supposed to be found in Atta's luggage, at least three names changed in the following days, one of them Hanjour's, an impossibility if the list was genuine at all.

Those 19 alleged hijackers were never proven to be the ones named as BELIEVED to be the same, on an FBI file which was released about two weeks after 9-11, but which the ranting media, fomenting war cries through a story pipelined from the US govt, took up as being bona fide, and those names have stuck ever since.

BTS still records Fl77 as never taking off that day. Fl77's alleged passenger list has been altered, no proof Olson or any other named was even on the "flight". Fundamental aspects of Fl77 debunked.


Macky, Auckland
February 21, 2015 3:21pm

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