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. 1 Feb 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 780 comments

You claim that there were many photos of wreckage that prove that the AA 757 hit. Interestingly, you didn't look at them critically yourself - if you had, you'd notice that the small piece of fuselage that had the right colors on it, didn't have them all, or in the correct order, as shown by the picture of the whole, undamaged plane. (note the absence of the dark blue band that is shown most clearly at the window level, and the order of red, white, and light blue on the scrap versus the real airplane).

Skepticism is only as good as the effort you put into it. Otherwise, it's just denialism.

Keep being a skeptic - just be better at it.

Dick Martin-Shorter, Seattle
May 31, 2014 1:22pm

BTW, the idea that the wreckage piece was part of the logo is hard to square with the apparent right-angle turn of the red section - at least I couldn't make it fit any of the proposed sites in the picture, and the Italian site that you link to doesn't discuss it, at the place you linked to...

The Italian site does, however, make (to me) an excellent case for something larger than a conventional cruise missile + explosive for creating the damage. Of course, if you allow the idea of a conspiracy, then limiting the arguments to considering conventional cruise missiles (or conversely not considering a custom-built/borrowed/converted airframe with custom designed explosives or just added fuel storage) is narrowing the focus without reason, in my opinion.

If someone with sufficient power wanted to make a false-flag attack, then clearly it could have been done, whether the actual AA 77 plane was used, with passengers, or a stand-in, or the actual plane with no passengers but having electronic remote controls.

Thanks for providing the world with another site to discuss the tragedy, both with rigor, and with skepticism.

Dick Martin-Shorter, Seattle
May 31, 2014 2:13pm

Dick - Could you post a URL to a picture of the wreckage you say is painted with the wrong colors? As high res as you can find.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
June 1, 2014 10:46am

Whether the paint on the piece of debris shows a portion of the logo on the upper fuselage or not still does not prove that Fl77 impacted the Pentagon.

Fl77 may well have, but there is no proof outside the US govt and its agencies, and we are entirely reliant on the US govt to be telling the truth.

NTSB ATC transcripts stop at the point of alleged hijack, Fl77 was never identified in the air again.
To all intents and purposes, it disappeared into thin air, until an airliner-type plane suddenly appeared to "hundreds of witnesses" flying towards the Pentagon, and presumably, the same aircraft crashing into the Pentagon.

Re the FR data, certified and qualified people on here contend that the data conflicts with the Official Story, so once again we have this scenario, with official information conflicting with key aspects of the US govt Official Story, and over a dozen professional pilots signing into a press release that calls into question Fl77 Flight Recorder data interpretations as presented by the NTSB.

When we add the large number of professional pilots, engineers, doctors, ex military, and survivors and victims families on here
...then we have a serious problem arising where even qualified people are, like myself, questioning the Official US Govt version of not only Fl77, but 9-11 in general.

Nobody can say these are conspiracy nutters, or tinfoil hat wearers, one bit.

Macky, Auckland
June 5, 2014 11:33pm

Yet people who consider themselves to be rational thinkers and skeptics continue to believe what is in effect only a US govt-generated story of Fl77 (in totality) where various crucial aspects of said story have either not a single item of proof for them, or have in fact US govt agency evidence that directly contradicts said story.

Not a single response from Skeptoid or any other Fl77 Standard Model supporter regarding the March 31 citations that link to agency files that effectively debunk integral parts of the Fl77 Official Story.

Simply the belief from said supporters that the US govt has told the truth about five alleged Islamic terrorists hijacking a civilian flight, despite being still recorded to date as never having occurred by the BTS, the alleged Olson phone calls that underpinned the Official Story debunked by FBI evidence at the Moussaoui trial, the utter incompetence of the alleged pilot, Hani Hanjour, never proven to even be on the flight, altered flight passengers lists presented as evidence at the Moussaoui trial, alleged hijackers never identified, and a list allegedly found by the FBI that changed somehow in the days after 9-11.

That anybody still has no qualms believing the US govt version of Fl77 demonstrates that in the case of Fl77 any semblance of critical analysis has been suspended.

There is no need to argue whether a missile hit the Pentagon or not.

Almost the entire US govt version of Fl77 is only an urban legend supported by mere belief.

Macky, Auckland
June 14, 2014 3:08pm

"while you're thinking of a "few good points" that you think I've dodged, your remark "768 so far" is about something perfectly normal"

Nope. Most people hang around in comments fields for a short while for then to leave. Obsessively replying to every post, for years, can't be called "normal" in any way.

And no, I'm not going to restate anything for you. You post worn-out questions and statements with little to no factual knowledge, you have the reality patiently explained to you, then you wait a little and restate the same claims.
Not biting.

Øyvind, Bergen
October 12, 2014 10:03pm


You made the statement "All he has to do is drop by here a couple times a day and throw out some assertions, dodge a few good points,.."

I will ask you directly.
What are examples of those few good points that you say I've dodged ?

"Most people hang around in comments fields for a short while for then to leave."

Because they run out of arguments very quickly when they are shown to be nothing but the "Official Story" rehashed over and over again.

"Obsessively replying to every post, for years, can't be called "normal" in any way."

Only your own opinion. I want the truth. You should be interested in it too.

"You post worn-out questions and statements with little to no factual knowledge,.."

So the US govt agency files that I posted links to on March 31 have little to no factual knowledge ? Then why can't you or anyone else on here answer to them ?

"Not biting."

Not surprising. You've nothing to bite with except a worn out 9-11 Official Story that I have proven false.

Macky, Auckland
October 20, 2014 11:57pm

While I did go back to the beginning of this discussion, I gave up reading them all so this may have been discussed but I didn't see it.

My concern on the Pentagon situation has always been that what ever hit the building hit it in the exact location where all the records were kept dealing with the 3 trillion missing dollars from military funding for the Iraq war.

So what was the governments response......forget it. Records destroyed so we just write this off.

So, missile or plan doesn't concern me as much as the location of the hit. Just too convenient and those in government who might have been implemented walked away with no inquiry at all. And I suspect considerably more wealthy.

turbo, CO
November 5, 2014 7:53pm

The issue that has bothered me from day one is that the location of whatever hit the building just happened to hit the offices that contained all the documentation for Rumsfeld to explain the missing 3 TRILLION dollars from the war.

And the governments response? Oh well. No need to consider questioning Rumsfeld or anyone else.....we just lost it.

3 Trillion dollars. That amount of money unaccounted for in a war that was already costing billions and accounts of misspending to Hailburton and Blackwater but the government dismisses the investigation. Some just doesn't smell right.

Oh well, just me little old thoughts

Turbo, CO, USA
November 5, 2014 8:03pm

Not only the location(s), but also the size of the targets of the three "successful" hits, and the speeds at which they were impacted.

WTC1 & 2 were each less than twice the wingspans of the aircraft wide, and the side of the Pentagon is less than 100ft high.

Yet the Official Story states that three light aircraft pilots with some training in B727 and B737 simulators managed to roar in at 495mph for WTC1, an unbelievable 587mph for WTC2 ( after a power dive from 24000ft in just over 5 minutes ), and 530mph for the Pentagon, and hit their targets on the very first attempt without any go-rounds.

The aircraft were completely absorbed by the target buildings with no overlapping sections of wings or tailplanes.

The alleged pilots were on the flight-decks of the aircraft they were allegedly flying for the first time ever, with no training in that type's simulators.

Three out of three attempts successfully carried out by relatively novice light aircraft pilots with no experience whatsoever on B757's or B767's, the aircraft involved in the "attacks".

That is the Official Story of three 9-11 flights.

And if you believe that, then you'll believe anything...

Macky, Auckland
November 6, 2014 10:59am

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