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This woman was going to fly her jet fighter into Flight 93 on 9/11

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Even a decade later, there's still astonishing things we've never known about September 11th, 2001. Like that a woman fighter pilot was ready to knock Flight 93 out of the sky if it came toward Washington — using nothing but her own plane.

Lt. Heather Penney was one of the first two fighter pilots in the air from Andrews Air Force base outside Washington the morning of Sept. 11. As she tells the Washington Post today, the base was unprepared for the idea of an air attack from inside the country; with three jetliners already crashed into buildings and an unknown number still in the air, the pilots couldn't spare any time. Their F-16 fighters had been on training missions with dummy ammunition; arming them would have taken another hour.

Penney tells the Washington Post that she and the other pilot had no choice but to take off on what they knew might be a suicide mission:

"We wouldn't be shooting it down. We'd be ramming the aircraft," Penney recalls of her charge that day. "I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot."


Of course, she didn't have to, as the passengers aboard Flight 93 took care of the plane themselves. Penney later flew missions in Iraq before retiring from the Air Force, which now keeps two fighters at Andrews armed around the clock.