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 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, 19 Mar 2013. Web. 29 Aug 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 827 comments

When you can prove that the dna testing of human remains found at the pentagon were falsified to cover up the true identity of the passengers and crew, when you can prove that the thousands of pieces of plane debris didnt belong to fl77. And when you can prove what other than fl77 hit the pentagon and when you can prove that the passengers and crew can be accountable to be either living elswhere or parrished elsewhere then you have a case , though because flight 77 was the plane that hit the pentagon you simply can't prove otherwise... I didnt say that the video proves it was fl77 nor does eyewitness accounts of a large commercial jet hitting the pentagon prove it was fl77...the fact that fl77 was found in and around the pentagon and the debris and the remains from the passengers prove it was fl77... Though do you actually think you opinion carries more weight than the over whelming evidence..are you that self absorbed? Your obsessive rambling proves you are.. As far as who piloted the plane or who took over the plane. it shure wasnt a plot that required thousands or hundreds of cooperating Americans on every level from law enforcement to aviation authorities thats also a fact....dream on. Though I'm sure when you read your own words your very entertained by yourself. I wont be replying back...any time soon.. Peace out.. I suppose the great pyramid is just some egyption urban legend also....? Lol...

Dave festa, florida
August 20, 2015 3:33pm

If they have nothing to hide, they wouldn't keep hiding it. It's as simple as that.
You can believe them when they tell you nothing is on those other tapes. That's what they want you to do.

Raymond, Chicago
August 20, 2015 3:42pm

Were some shadowy organization in the government or wherever (any speculation as to a missile hitting the Pentagon must also include speculation as to who fired it and why, and it's not necessarily assumable the culprit would have been the US Government) it would beg the question why use a small missile to simulate the crash of an enormous plane? Especially when the largest office building in the world holds plenty of witnesses who could look out a window and see the missile streaking in at supersonic velocity, rather than the relatively slow approach of a jumbo jet. The plan is so incredibly fraught with risk, it wouldn't make it through the proposal stage at the conspirators' brainstorming meeting.

It would make far more sense to do something less likely to be seen, such as sneaking a bomb onto the property in a truck, Tim McVey style. Surely there are trucks coming and going all day long for mundane purposes such as to restock office supplies, service vending machines, and pick up trash. Much easier, simpler, and less likely to be found out.

If someone wants to speculate the two creeps who hijacked the plane and flew it into the Pentagon may have been on the CIA payroll, have at it, but get too imaginative and say it wasn't even a plane, and that doesn't pass the simplest smell test.

Bill Kowalski, St. Louis, Missouri
August 20, 2015 4:20pm

Raymond do you actually think the feds need to prove something to appease people who cajt comprehend something as obvoius as fl77 hitting the pentagon. Thats like nasa taking seroiusly the opinions of conspiracy theorist .that believe we never landed on the they have something to prove to those wackos also. You give yourself way to much and the rest of the people who think their knowledge is superior .inspite of reality.

Dave festa, florida
August 20, 2015 4:28pm

The point why I continue to ask how you all "know" that it was Fl77, that it was hijacked, that someone called Hani Hanjour flew it, sent by Al Qaeda, headed by Osama Bin laden, JUST by watching a plane fly in and collide with the Pentagon, is simply to try and impress on you lot that the only reason you "know" anything about the above is because the US govt HAS TOLD YOU.

Nothing more.

Should it actually have been Fl77 or not, is not the point.

The plain fact is that all your "facts" about Fl77 re the alleged hijackers and who they were, is US govt-generated, US govt "proven", and US govt "confirmed" by dubious and US govt self-contradictory "evidence".

And let's be quite clear on this, who those alleged hijackers were was the justification given for all the war since, by the US govt.

It's not for me to speculate on who or what may have really happened instead of the Official Story, because that in itself is the stuff of conspiracy theory, and I am NOT a conspiracy theorist on this subject.

The US govt put out the story, not me. THEY are the ones who alleged that America was attacked by Islamic terrorists.

It is up to the US govt to provide convincing proof for THEIR conspiracy theory.

BUT there is no proof whatsoever, lack of DNA included, that the named terrorists were even aboard FL77, and along with plain critical analysis and mainstream evidence, US GOVT AGENCIES' OWN FILES DEMONSTRATE THAT PLAIN FACT INDISPUTABLY.

Have you got it now ???

Macky, Auckland
August 20, 2015 4:58pm

Here are FBI files, the sort of thing true skeptics normally require as evidence, NOT from CT sites, but from the US govt agency itself that was tasked with the 9-11 "investigation".

Note the word "believed" in the title of the file, and how often said word appears in the following list of individuals believed to be the hijackers....i.e. "believed to be a pilot" etc
The word "possible" also appears often.

The beginning of the second paragraph reads "It should be noted that attempts to confirm the true identities of these individuals are still under way."

The file is dated September 28, 2001. Some 17 days after 9-11. There have been no updates since, such as "definitely established identities" etc.

The file itself however is right up to date, as the right-hand column titled "Recent National Press Releases" demonstrates.

FBI files from the following year (2002), displayed on a site that actually promotes the Official Story.

"15 sets of human remains
further identified as Males 1-5 "no name" believed to be the human
remains of the 5 hijackers from the crash sjte of American Airlines
Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001."

Note the word "believed" once again.

The US govt Official Story of Fl77 "hijackers" ID's is unproven fabrication.

Macky, Auckland
August 23, 2015 1:14am

Macky, I "believe" it is QUITE "possible" you don't know the meaning of "unproven fabrication".

It is unfortunate that you cannot see the ridiculousness of your own assertations. You say people believe the "official" story because the GOVERNMENT TOLD US TO! Yet, I personally know how wrong you are on that. Besides, what did YOU personally do to arrive at your astounding conclusion(s)? Who told YOU? Regardless, by your relentless ignorance of relevant information, and your near superhuman ability to make death-defying leaps of conclusion, whatever you HAVE done shows a severe absence of critical thinking.

MBDK, Bremerton, WA
August 24, 2015 11:07pm


Never mind what I am or not. All you have to do is read and understand what I've said through hundreds of posts, and address the evidence that has been plainly presented before you, nothing further.

If said evidence is bettered by yourself or others that believe the Official Story of Flight 77 as put out by the US govt, then I will change my views and publicly state that right here on this site, and detail what it was that you presented that overrode my evidence, and why.

Your above post, like many others, concentrates on myself instead of concentrating on the evidence, and is also nothing but assertions with no backing whatsoever e.g. "You say people believe the "official" story because the GOVERNMENT TOLD US TO! Yet, I personally know how wrong you are on that."

How do you know ?

It is a given that an airliner-type aircraft was seen to crash into the Pentagon, and I've said before that it was possibly Fl77.

But what evidence do you possess that convinces you that Flight 77 was hijacked by 5 Islamic terrorists ? Outside what the US govt has told you ?

How can you possibly make such an assertion when US govt evidence plainly shows that Fl77 never took off that day, and the 5 alleged hijackers were never scientifically identified ? That even the evidence for hijack has ben debunked by FBI files and critical analysis ?

If my critical thinking is at fault, then tell me why, and present the evidence.

That's all you or anyone else has to do. Simple.

Macky, Auckland
August 25, 2015 1:12pm

To MDBK. I concure completely to your observation about the last poster. You 200% really makes me wonder what and how people think..

Dave festa, florida
August 27, 2015 1:03pm

Wonder all you like Dave. You've never provided a shred of solid evidence to back your claims that the official story of Fl77 in its entirety is a true historical record; rather your unfounded assertions of what has been told to the people by the US govt, plus your numerous and notable examples of personal abuse, are about the sum total over almost all of your posts to Skeptoid on this subject.

I am not so much appalled that so many posters resort only to ad hominem attacks in defense of their position as 9-11 official story supporters, because frankly I don't give much of a hoot what they/you think of me.

My utter astonishment is reserved mainly for said posters' completely ignoring the official evidence that directly contradicts the US govt engineered official story.

In other words, US govt agency files directly contradict THEIR OWN official stories of 9-11.

That such "rational-thinking so-called skeptics" should never question this utterly plain fact shows that there is NO critical analysis on their part whatsoever, according to Skeptoid's mandate.

To make matters even worse, the OS supporters have no desire to even examine and discuss the files which I have clearly linked for them. Now that's close-minded, plain and simple.

Instead, all they are demonstrating is simply a belief that the US govt has told the truth re 9-11 and particularly Fl77, DESPITE US govt's own evidence.

Now that's true Tinfoil Hat-wearing if ever I saw it.

Macky, Auckland
August 28, 2015 9:52pm

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