Former fighter pilot recalls duties on 9/11

Remembering 9/11

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Before retiring, Colonel Tony Basile spent a lot of time in an F-16.

He explained how the gun worked on it. “It’s a six barrel, gatling gun, 20 millimeter. Fires 6,000 rounds per minute,” Basile said. As an aircraft it’s small but mighty. “It’ll do about 1,500 miles an hour,” he added.

Basile served in the military for three decades. He flew in desert storm. In 2001, he was the Vice Commander of the 174th Fighter Wing. That year, on the morning of September 11 he shared what he was doing.

“We actually had most of our aircraft pilots, and maintainers were deployed to Saudi Arabia, enforcing the no-fly zone in Southern Iraq,” Basile recalled, “So we had a very limited flight schedule going on here. It was just kind of a normal day.”

That quickly changed when an administrative assistant had him and his wing commander watch the news.

“With not a cloud in the sky and both of us being pilots, wondering how could that happen? Then we saw the second aircraft hit the building, the other building,” Basile explained.

He quickly got ready for whatever he would be tasked with. The situation becoming personal for him.

“My wife was flight attendant at the time, so I had just put her on an airplane to go to work,” he said, “She commuted to Detroit for work with Northwest Airlines. So, I’m watching airplanes hit buildings.”

“It was pretty chaotic,” he said.

The airspace had been closed. Then he gets a call about another plane heading toward the capital. His team’s job was to intercept it.

“As it turned out, by the time we got airborne that airplane already hit the ground,” Basile said of that day.

The 174th’s job was to enforce the no fly zone, utilizing all their aircraft. Then, they were given two more aircraft. Basile was one of two pilots left.

“We flew the jets up to Fort Drum tried to burn down as much gas as we could. And I told the maintainers at Fort Drum don’t put any gas in it, just loaded with missiles,” he explained, “We’re going to run back and put him back on status and then I’m going home and get some rest.”

Minutes after take off, in an F-16, the Defense Sector gives him a target.

“They had seen a small aircraft flying circles around the nuke plants in Oswego and I remember my first thought, well, geez, I wish I’d put some gas in this thing,” Basile said.

Amid the day’s chaos, an update on his wife. “They had only gotten as far as Buffalo, and she called me and said, ‘Do you know what’s going on?’ I said ‘Yeah, I know what’s going on. Here’s what’s going on and I’m a little busy. I’m so glad that you’re on the ground, but I need to get back to work now.’ So at least that part of the stress was off of me by then,” Basile said.

Now 20 years have passed. What was the hardest part for him on that fateful day?

“Watching those towers come down,” Basile recalled choking back tears, “You can see, it still affects us. I was born and raised in Syracuse. I went to school in New York City. I was at those towers all the time through my college years. Knowing the impact, what was happening. That was the hardest part, still is.”

And it will always be. He shared what he’s most proud of. “Wearing the uniform for 31 years,” he said proudly. Colonel Basile is now the Chief Operations Officer at NUAIR (Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, Inc.).

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