Rookie Fighter Pilot Remembers Her 9/11 Mission With No Ammo

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Basically, Lieutenant Heather "Lucky" Penney is the bravest. She was the first female F-16 pilot in the D.C. Air National Guard's 121st Fighter Squadron after getting her flying license while a literature major at Purdue. On September 11, 2001, she volunteered to go after United Airlines Flight 93, which was headed toward Washington. The planes weren't prepared, but the pilots were:

The one thing she didn't have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.
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Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757.

"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."

Due to separate heroic acts on the highjacked plane, Penney's Armageddon-style sacrifice wasn't necessary, and like a true bad ass, she downplays her role, despite spending the rest of that day guarding the airspace and escorting the president. "I was just an accidental witness to history," she says.

F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11 [WP]