Over the weekend, a former combat pilot was on hand at a Minnesota fundraising event where she shared her powerful story of the sacrifice she was prepared to make on Sept. 11, 2001.
Retired U.S. Air Force pilot Maj. Heather Penney shared her little-known story about 9/11 when she nearly became a kamikaze pilot to stop the terrorists who had hijacked United flight 93, WCCO-TV reported.
On Saturday, Penney presented her program "Girls Fly Boldly" at the Wings of the North Air Museum at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.
Penney recalled that she was reporting for duty at Andrews Air Force base on Sept. 11, 2001, where she was a D.C. National Guard pilot.
“I was just coming to work, just as every other American,” she said.
Many Americans watched their TVs in horror as terrorists crashed two hijacked commercial jetliners into New York City's Twin Towers.
A third plane crashed into the Pentagon. And a fourth hijacked jetliner — United 93 — was headed to its intended target in Washington, D.C.
The National Guard ordered Penney and another pilot Marc Sasseville into the air to conduct a ramming mission to take down United 93 before it reached the U.S. Capitol.
“Because we had no weapons, no missiles, we were essentially going to be Kamikaze pilots,” Penney explained, adding there was no time to arm the two F-16s before taking flight.
The pilots would ram the United jetliner's cockpit and tail.
“The decision was easy. Anyone who saw that footage that morning would have made the same decision that I did," Penney said.
As it turned out, Penney and Sasseville did not have to complete the mission.
The passengers on that flight had learned about the suicide attacks from cellphone calls and revolted against the terrorists.
Shortly after, the Boeing 757-222 crashed in a Pennsylvania field, where all 44 people onboard, including four terrorists, died. No one on the ground was injured.
“Those of us who have flown fighter aircraft when we hear that story, we scratch our heads and wonder how I would have done that?” Wings director Bob Jasperson told WCCO.
Does she still fly?
Yes, and she gave charity flights in a fully restored Stearman Navy trainer over the weekend.
“What’s so special about this Stearman is that President George H.W. Bush flew this Stearman when he was a pilot training for World War II, in this very aircraft," Penney told the news station after she climbed out of the cockpit.
The plane was used to train pilots at the Twin Cities Naval Air Station. It's part of a collection of historical planes kept at Wings.
Penney hopes more girls will be inspired to become pilots.
“If you look at the numbers, women today represent less than 6 percent of all rated pilots in the United States,” said Penney, who served two combat tours and earned multiple air medals.
Penney currently serves as senior resident fellow for the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Virginia.