Guns and Gear

Rep. Chip Cravaack: ‘What if our pilots had been armed on 9/11?’

AWR Hawkins, Ph.D. Conservative Writer
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To this day, when video plays of the hijacked passenger planes crashing into the World Trade Centers, there is a hush that comes over many, and a feeling of angst that takes our minds back to that September morning. We think of the bravery of Todd Beamer and those who fought alongside him in the Pennsylvania sky, and we remember watching the black smoke rising from the Pentagon on our televisions, while so many news anchors around the world were all alike trying to calculate just how many Americans might have died in the cowardly acts committed by cowardly men.

Quick question: How would this scenario have changed if the pilots of the four hijacked airplanes had been armed?

The short answer: There’s a good chance the World Trade Centers would still be standing and thousands of Americans who died that day would still be alive.

George W. Bush recognized this, and shortly after 9/11, an armed pilot program called the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program was launched. Under this program, “eligible flight crewmembers are authorized by the Transportation Security Administration Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service to use firearms to defend against an act of criminal violence or air piracy attempting to gain control of an aircraft.”

The good news: The program is operated in such a way that only a very small number of people know which planes are being piloted by an armed pilot at any given time. Thus, as concealed carry laws in our states put would-be robbers in the tough position of having to guess who is and isn’t armed before they attempt a robbery, so too the FFDO program forces the would-be terrorist to consider the fact that if he breaches the cockpit door he could be facing an H&K .40 cal on the other side.

As I said, that’s the good news. And here’s the bad news: The Obama administration wants to eliminate the program. And not only do they want to eliminate it, they have even made public when the cuts to the program are going to begin. This means would-be terrorists can mark their calendars, because Obama & Co. are telling the world when our pilots will be unarmed (and therefore defenseless).

On Friday I spoke with Congressman Chip Cravaack (R-MN) about the approaching end of the FFDO program, and he spelled out in no uncertain terms exactly what’s at stake here. (And as you read Congressman Cravaack’s comments, please keep in mind that he spent time in the FFDO program: so unlike so many in Washington, he knows that of which he speaks.)

Congressman Cravaack described pilots in the FFDO program as “the last line of defense,” and talked at length about how having such pilots in the sky keeps would-be terrorists trapped “in a guessing game.” Nevertheless, Homeland Defense Secretary Janet Napolitano wants to phase out the program beginning next year, based on her belief that there are more important “risk-based” airline security measures toward which federal money could be applied.

In other words, she’s framing her reasons for ending the program in such a way as to give the impression that the program is too costly. But Congressman Cravaack undercut that line of thinking completely when he pointed out that pilots involved in the FFDO program “actually pay more into the program than it costs.”

He said “the FFDOs take time off from their work to go for training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy. And they train on a bi-yearly basis on their own.” In the end, because the pilots do so much on their own time, Congressman Cravaack said it only costs the federal government about $15 a flight to have an armed pilot aboard.

Think about that folks: For $15 we have a “last line of defense,” but Napolitano (and by extension, the Obama administration) wants to end it.

By the way, no matter what administration officials say about how this is an effort to save money or to spend it in better places, it’s actually just the natural outworking of their flawed ideology. Thus, whereas Congressman Cravaack is contending that the program needs to be saved because armed pilots are the “last line of defense,” Napolitano is on record saying that “armed cockpit doors” are the best last line of defense. (I can only assume that she is referencing the reinforced cockpit doors installed in airplanes after 9/11.)

However, what happens when someone figures out a way around (or through) those doors? (And you know that’s going to happen.) Or what will happen if someone succeeds in creating an in-flight, makeshift weapon that allows them to gain control of the passenger area of a plane?

At that point, what can prevent another 9/11?

The answer is simple: an armed pilot.

Folks, this is no time to take guns away from the pilots who are in the FFDO program, nor is it the time to end that program. We need to keep the terrorists guessing, and we desperately need the “last line of defense” armed pilots provide us.

As Congressman Cravaack asked rhetorically when I spoke with him Friday, “What if our pilots had been armed on 9/11?”

AWR Hawkins is a conservative columnist who has written extensively on political issues for, Pajamas Media,, and Andrew Breitbart’s,,, and He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. military history from Texas Tech University, and was a visiting fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in the summer of 2010. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.