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The 2009 Air Force One Flyover of New York City

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air force one flyover

On the morning of April 27, 2009, a Boeing 747 – Air Force One – flew at a low altitude over the Upper New York Bay, the site of the Statue of Liberty Monument and close to the World Trade Center. The plane was followed closely by a U.S. Air Force F-16.

The residents of New York had not been informed in advance about what the military later said was a photo opportunity and training exercise, so the incident caused panic in Lower Manhattan, at a time when low flying planes triggered memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

According to the Guardian, several buildings in Manhattan ordered evacuations, emergency services were inundated with calls, and a pregnant woman had to go to the hospital in distress.

Even Michael Bloomberg, the New York Mayor, wasn’t informed about the so-called “training exercise”, and referred to the incident as “insensitive” for flying so close to the sites of the 9/11 attacks. (1)

The event was allegedly intended to update a stock photo of the presidential plane that is used for distribution to the media. Apparently, even President Barack Obama was unaware of the activity, and was reportedly ‘furious’ about the mission.

The president later accepted the resignation of Louis Caldera, the director of the White House military office and a former US army secretary, who took full responsibility for approving the mission.

In a letter to President Obama, Caldera had said that the controversy had made it impossible for him to effectively lead the White House military office, stating that the incident had become a distraction in the important work Obama was doing as president. (2)

Unanswered Questions

The approved US air force photo op had, according to various reports, cost $35,000 in fuel alone and had cost US taxpayers an estimated $328,835.

Almost three years later, the dust may have settled from the panic caused by what has been referred to as a “major White House blunder”, but the answers as to why such an embarrassing mistake may have occurred remain ambiguous and unanswered.

The insistence that the defense department wanted to take photos of military planes zooming around the World Trade Centre remains somewhat implausible, as the New York Mayor bluntly referred to in his statements about the event:

“Why the defence department wanted to do a photo op right around the site of the World Trade Centre catastrophe defies the imagination. Poor judgement would be a nice way to phrase it…. Had I known about it, I would have called them right away and asked them not to.” (3)

The day after the flyby had taken place in New York City, Robert Gibbs, a spokesperson for the White House, said that the incident would be investigated and stated in a press briefing, “Because this was a training mission, the only people on the plane were Air Force personnel.” (4)

According to an unclassified document published at the Black Vault, from the United States Northern Command, an official noted that the large volume of media coverage and high frequency of blogs and comments circulating on the Internet about the flyover photo op were focused primarily on the lack of public notification.

The document refers to NYPD spokesman Paul Browne admitting that “typically a flight like this would be publicized to avoid causing panic, but they were under orders not to in this case.” (5).

air force one flyover

More Questions than Answers

In the same document, the Black Vault also published a memo that had been sent to Susan Romano, public affairs director at the United States Air Force from a USAF colleague, which said:

“FFA conveyed that for security purposes people are very sensitive about keeping the event (not to mention the photos) very close hold. I will work with them directly to see what I can do, so please pass that on to any that have been coordinated with already.”

If the 2009 Air Force Flyover had been just a ‘photo op’ and ‘training exercise’, why would the photos taken on the morning of April 27 2009, which was intended to update a stock photo of the presidential plane against a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty for the distribution to the media, be kept so secretive?

The so called photo-op explanation was naturally coupled with intense criticism, and many people around the Internet circulated their own theories regarding the reasons for such a monumental and insensitive blunder.

air force one flyover nyc

The Official Explanation

The Air Force tried to characterize the event as a breakdown in communication that led to an action that “freaked out New York City”. However, questions regarding that explanation included the fact that the President of the United States himself had no idea that the US Defense Department was taking his own Air Force One private jet out for a photo op over New York City.

Other questions surfaced about why there were two jet planes involved in the “photo op” mission, as RT put it, “Wouldn’t one fighter jet suffice for this stupid mission?” (6)

Too many questions surround the plausibility of such a monumental blunder, with so many key figures being unaware – including the President and the Mayor of New York. That fact alone makes the official explanation a bit ridiculous.

Besides, a photographer taking stock photographs of the president’s private jet for media distribution and two jet planes circling the World Trade Centre for the training of Air Force personnel are two completely separate missions, are they not?

As a Citizens Against ProObama Media Bias blogger pointed out, “Why did it take Caldera eight hours to make a statement?…How much time does it take to come up with a lie and a scapegoat?” (7)

References & Image Credits:
(1) Guardian
(2) Guardian
(3) Guardian
(4) Wikipedia
(5) The Black Vault
(7) Citizens Against Pro-Obama Media Bias
(8) Captain Sherlock

Originally published on

  • numberonejason

    When the government does something that stupid and otherwise commits no harm or crime, one must look at what else they are doing that they need to create such a distraction.

“The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it.” -Conor McGregor

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