The Main Bang – A Must Read

I doubt that many – if any – read the air traffic contollers’ blogs.  There is one called The Main Bang, written by John Carr, that I most vigorously advocate for inclusion here.  I would be ecstatic if John became a front pager here.  He is the past president of NATCA – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association.  That is the union formed after Reagan gutted PATCO and fired controllers en masse in August of 1981.

Today’s post from John, who at one time was an air traffic controller in Cleveland, and where the nearby Oberlin center is the busiest en route center in the US, if not the world, chronicles a narrative that we should all know, but that we don’t. Please read the excerpt below the fold, and then take a few moments to visit The Main Bang and read through the archives. Leave John some love and an invitation or three to blog here. You will be very glad that you did.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country on September 11, 2001.  I gave the following speech on Flag Day 2002 at a ceremony in Oberlin, Ohio, dedicating a memorial to Cleveland Center’s handling of United 93.

“Good morning. I am honored to be with you all this morning, in the presence of so many great folks. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you, and I’d like to personally welcome Mr. Doug MacMillan to the world’s busiest air traffic control facility, Cleveland Center here in Oberlin, Ohio.

“You know, Flag Day has long been one of the least recognized of our nation’s special days. Actually, the very origin of the flag is probably a mystery to most of you, even in these patriotic times. The Continental Congress defined the symbolic meanings of the colors red, white, and blue as they are used in our flag thusly: “White signifies Purity and Innocence; Red, Hardiness and Valor; and Blue, Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.” It’s also worth noting that one of the first American flags flown by the patriots of the early Revolutionary War was not the Stars and Stripes but a banner showing a coiled snake, with the inscription “DON’T TREAD ON ME.”


“On the morning of September the 11th a new war for freedom began, not with a speech from the President, but with cell phone calls from the back of an airplane. In the air, almost directly above this location, United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked and began its suicide mission towards our Nation’s Capitol. People call the perpetrators terrorists. I hope you don’t mind, I call them cowards. And the cowards who hijacked that aircraft counted on the passengers in back to cower in fear. They counted on intimidating the passengers and the crew. But on that horrific morning, when hell was in session, what the terrorists didn’t count on was ordinary citizens doing some extraordinary things. They didn’t count on hardiness and valor. They didn’t count on justice.

“Sir Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” On that morning those passengers took responsibility for delivering an entire nation’s first strike against terror, and they most certainly did achieve the greatness Winston Churchill spoke of. And when the men and women on Flight 93 rose up and headed down that aisle to strike the first blow in the war on terrorism, it wasn’t the passengers who were afraid. It was the terrorists.

“And then, from out of the thin air came the calls. “We’re going to do something,” Tom Burnett told his wife. Jeremy Glick joked that he would use his butter knife from his breakfast. Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw filled pitchers with scalding water to throw. Todd Beamer prayed the 23rd Psalm with a Verizon supervisor. Lorne Lyles told her husband, “they’re getting ready to force their way into the cockpit.” Honor Wainio said, “I need to go, they’re getting ready to break into the cockpit.” Sandy Bradshaw told her husband, “Everybody’s running to first class, I’ve got to go.” And Todd Beamer uttered a phrase that will be forever known as the beginning of our nation’s conquest against tyranny when he said, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

“And roll they did. The bravery and courage the men and women of United Flight 93 showed should serve as an inspiration to us now, and forever. Thomas Paine wrote, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. He whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

“Here on the ground, at Cleveland Center, a different kind of hell was in session. People saw the unspeakable, heard the unthinkable, and thought the unimaginable. Men and women, controllers, supervisors, technicians, managers, staff—all of them given a front row seat on a nation’s nightmare, with the audio and the video provided by the devil himself.

“When United 93 reversed course controllers tried desperately to communicate with the aircraft, even as they issued rapid-fire transmissions, bursting onto the airwaves, moving other aircraft out of harm’s way. The radios and the radarscopes betrayed an agony beyond reason, and yet—a job was yet to be done.

“On the morning of September the 11th, there were somewhere between a quarter and a half a million people in the air over the United States. The order was given to land every single one of them.

“The controllers at Cleveland Center, the busiest air traffic control facility in the world, participated in the greatest recovery of aircraft in our nation’s history. In the first five minutes almost seven hundred aircraft were landed, and in a little over two hours almost five thousand were put safely on the ground, leaving our nation’s skies as quiet as they were the morning the Wright Brothers ran down the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk.

“Based on what I have seen and what I know I am convinced to this day that the grounding of aircraft on September 11th prevented other hijackings and other horrors from taking place. I am not alone in that belief.

“The men and women who work here, and in air traffic control facilities all over this great nation of ours, did something extraordinary that day, yet each and every one of them would tell you they were only doing their jobs. They, too, embodied the full measure of our nation’s colors. They were vigilant, and they persevered. The profound sorrow in their heart did not still their voices as they worked feverishly to save lives that terrible morning. The same shock and sorrow which engulfed our nation visited here, too, and yet they kept on working until every aircraft under their control was down.


“I hope long after the vinyl flags fall off your car windows, and long after the one in the front window back home is faded and yellow and torn, I hope you will all remember the feelings which inspired you to hang that flag out in the first place. I’d like to leave you with a quote. It’s always been one of my favorites, and last night, while researching this speech, I discovered for the very first time that Lisa Beamer found this quote in Todd’s belongings. I think it applies equally well to United Flight 93 and to Cleveland Center. It’s by Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

There will be other days and other times to explore how the FAA is gutting the nation’s air system.  Other times to reference NATCA’s contributions to air passenger safety.  For today, read, remember, reflect and express your appreciation for the calm in the crisis, the intellect in the insanity, and the passion for perfection of the nation’s air traffic controllers and their vital contributions on that fateful day.

Posted at 08:46 AM | Permalink


  1. I know this is much too much, but the intent is to lure you directly to John’s blog and open up the world of the air traffic controllers to you.  Please zap me if you think I took way too much liberty.

    The other must read blog is called the FAA Follies. Both blogs chronicle abuses of workers’ rights and protections aqnd how those abuses imperil the safety of air passengers, crews and workers everywhere and at all times.

Comments have been disabled.