The Pentagon and the Missile

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

Filed under Conspiracies, History & Pseudohistory

Skeptoid #354
March 19, 2013
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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.

$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.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

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. 18 Apr 2014. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 724 comments

Nothing more dangerous than a fool with a cause ,especially if their willing to give their life..

dave festa, florida
April 16, 2014 7:06am

The time and reported circumstances of the alleged takeover of Fl77 by hijackers is interesting.

According to the NTSB report
the flight appeared normal after the final routine radio transmission at 8:51am, until the aircraft started a turn at 8:55am.

In that 4 minutes, hijackers have stormed the flight deck and persuaded the pilots to stand up and allow themselves to be escorted to the rear of the plane, along with all the rest of the passengers, according to debunked Olsen phone calls.

4 hijackers then held all those passengers and crew at bay with knives and box cutters.


Or perhaps the pilots were taken out on the flight deck.
No unusual flight manoeuvres, no kicks on the rudder pedals, or control columns being knocked aside. No time for 7500 to be punched into the transponder, not even a few of the many switches to be brushed against in a violent struggle.

"Hanjour" then assumes control of the aircraft after the bodies of the pilots have been dragged out of their seats (if they are not already out from standing up and trying to fight the attackers), jacks Burlingame's vacated seat up and forward considerably so he can reach the controls, programs the AP to turn the aircraft from designated course, which is the first ATC knew that anything was wrong, and flies Fl77 back to the Pentagon, after being refused solo flights in light a/c only weeks before.

And that, children, is tonight's fairy story.

Macky, Auckland
April 16, 2014 1:26pm

Its already been determined years ago the olsen calls
Have serious credibility everbody knows
Though its after the fact of the plane being hijacked and has no bearing on the murderous skyjacking.of an American airliner, and once again the DNA testing confirms the obvoius that identifies the same crew and passengers that boarded an AA airliner at after your same old news rederick about the olsen calls do you have anything else to share that you havent beaten into the ground over and over again

The events that happened in the plane are subjective you cant prove or disprove

And to try to formulate what happened in the plane to disprove the plane was hijacked makes no sense.

Though to fly a plane outside its intended flight plath,to change to an authorised site against the will of the passengers ...thats a sky hijacking...and.its terrorism...

Thats the fact of the day!

dave festa, florida
April 16, 2014 1:58pm

"Though its after the fact of the plane being hijacked "

Repetition of the Official Story as a forgone conclusion.

"Its already been determined years ago the olsen calls
Have serious credibility everbody knows.."

Everybody doesn't know, and now that you acknowledge that the Olsen calls have serious credibility issues, why then would you believe that terrorists took over Fl77, and that their names were identified as said hijackers, given your statement below ?

"The events that happened in the plane are subjective you cant prove or disprove"

Neither can the Official Story that you believe.

"And to try to formulate what happened in the plane to disprove the plane was hijacked makes no sense"

Repetition of the Official Story as a forgone conclusion again.

Your "proof" of the SM of Fl77 begins and ends with the crash into the Pentagon which I have already told you I cannot disprove.

Calls to war immediately afterwards fingered Islamic terrorists ultimately sent by Osama Bin Laden.

That part of the SM of Fl77 remains unproven.

You can't get it out of your mind, that only one or two aspects of Fl77 are needed to be proven false, and the whole story then becomes suspect.

The suspicion then falls on those that made the story up, whether whole or in part.

That utterly obvious fact of the day still escapes you.

Your belief of the SM of Fl77 takes in all the unevidenced aspects of Fl77 as well, based only on a crash of an airliner into the Pentagon.

Macky, Auckland
April 16, 2014 3:54pm

No your incorrect if one or two things are proven wrong then one or two things are proven..simple math

Also you have a big hurdle..the DNA from the human remains collected at the pentagon belong to the crew and passenger's that were on a AA flight that departed D. Airport shortly before an airliner that was hijacked and slammed into the Pentagon..your the one saying that that flight didnt hit the pentagon and the passengers that died at the Pentagon didnt board that flight. The burden of proof is on you to show that the forensic tests are not valid, and the burden of proof is on you to prove and show cause that the human remains were not collected at the Pentagon and the crew and Passenger died elsewhere.

Only one or two aspects of your of your story needs to be proven false for your story to fall apart.

Heres two for AA airliner in the pentagon and the crew and passengers that boarded it at D.airport died there.

One more Fact..the plane was hijacked by terrorists.

Seems like your completely lost about the facts of the day. .

It also seems like you dont know the definition of terrorism and skyjacking..

Your futile efforts to prove that 4 planes weren't hijacked by terrorists on 9-11..isnt going to get you anywhere. ..though keep can keep debating it for as long as you want..because at the end of all your effort. 4 planes will still of been hijacked by terrorists and thousands of people will still of died on 9-11!

Facts of the day!

dave festa, florida
April 16, 2014 5:55pm

"No your incorrect if one or two things are proven wrong then one or two things are proven..simple math"

Cock-eyed logic.
It wasn't me that brought the story of Fl77. It was the US govt. If I find one or two things wrong with it, as I have and provided evidence, then the whole story is suspect.

"Also you have a big hurdle.."

Not at all. I have never asserted that FL77 did not hit the Pentagon, only that there is no proof for it, outside what the US govt has told you.

"One more Fact..the plane was hijacked by terrorists"

Another example of asserting the Official Story as a forgone conclusion when it has never been proven, and which has much evidence against it.

The Olsen "phone calls" were an enormous part of the Fl77 SM, in fact that's where the terrorist thing came from in the first place, as far as Fl77 is concerned.

You've already destroyed your own argument by admitting that the Olsen phone calls have a serious credibility problem.

You then finish yourself off by stating that "The events that happened in the plane are subjective you cant prove or disprove"
directly against your statement
"One more Fact..the plane was hijacked by terrorists."

Nothing but multiple statements of the Official Story as somehow proving the Official Story true.

Now you even contradict your own repetition of the Official Story with probably the first piece of sensible logic that you've ever posted on Fl77 to Skeptoid.

And you've firmly tied yourself up in doing so.

Macky, Auckland
April 17, 2014 12:28am

How does my lack of logic prevent you from posting your proof that terrorists hijacked 4 AA and killing thousands is just an American urban myth?

Dont let me stand in your way of posting your proof.

What are you waiting for?

Just do it..

dave festa, florida
April 17, 2014 10:00am

Already posted on March 31, dave.

Macky, Auckland
April 17, 2014 3:02pm

I think Brian sayed it best.

In reference to how he reacts to the the lack of intelligence in regards to the potu sparkplug artifact .He says and i'll quote" will someone please slap me in the forehead and give me a list of how many things are wrong with this"

Though if someone confronts me with a sparkplug found imbedded in what ever and claims that proves that ancient civilizations had gas combustion engines that used thinking this has got to be the stupidest,most ignorant ,dillusional individual that ever walked the planet earth

Now on 9-11 in broad daylight 2 planes are flown into the world trade centers killing thousands and collapsing 2 towers initially and billions of dollars of damage.

Then a third plane is flown into the pentagon killing many and a 4th plane crashes in Pa. killing all aboard.

Now when somebody claims that 4 planes being hijacked by terrorists on 9-11 is just a myth because they have evidence of phone calls,luggage and opionins on the abilities of hanjour to pilot a plane..that these claims or evidence negates that facts the planes were hijacked by terrorists i suppose the politically correct thing to day is.

Will.someone please slap me on the forehead and give me a list of how many things are wrong with this.

Though on the bright side. .ill give this one more shot .

Macky lets start from the begining early morning Est.a plane hits the pentagon.

Walk me through this you go first.

dave festa, florida
April 17, 2014 6:44pm

Okay, you first have to lay aside all the other flights and concentrate on Fl77.

Early morning a plane hits the Pentagon as you say. Could be Fl77, or not, because nobody watching it fly into the Pentagon can tell. Debris and bodies, yes, but only later does the public "learn" it's Fl77.

Who tells the public ? And why is the cam footage of the fly-in still withheld from the public scrutiny ?

Assuming Fl77 actually left Dulles that morning (which BTS stats. says it did not), 40 minutes before an airliner hit the Pentagon, ATC lost contact with "Fl77" and NEVER AGAIN regained it.

It disappeared into thin air.

Meantime, alleged phone calls from "Fl77" asserts that terrorists have hijacked the plane and herded crew and passengers to the rear.

This news is flashed around the world, and because a well-known personality Barbara Olsen was supposed to have made them to her husband, the solicitor-general, the public were completely taken in by the story, fed through the Idiot-Box (TV) and news reports.

Apart from cell-phone calls being proven to not be technologically possible from Fl77 in 2001, Pentagon historians do not place any credence to the Olsen story, AND your beloved FBI files completely debunk the Olsen calls.

But the Olsen calls etc were the ONLY intimation that Fl77 was "still in the air", and that terrorists actually existed in the first place on Fl77.

As you say, now that the Olsen calls have been debunked, nobody knows what went on at all....


Macky, Auckland
April 18, 2014 12:48am

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