Why September 11th Is Important To Me

I want to avoid making this a “where were you 10 years ago?” post, I already covered that.

Instead, I want to bring your attention to the Rutgers Law Review 9/11 Full Audio Transcript1 from the various agencies involved with the air traffic control and how that’s affected me. There are 114 separate audio files covering everything from American Airlines Flight 11 first check in with Boston Sector to the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS, now just Eastern Air Defense Sector) relaying that “The Region Com, the Region Commander has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our direction. Copy that?”

I want to talk about one particular line; someone at NEADS says the following:

[Background] Unknown: I just got off the phone with the Colonel and he has one E3 on, that’s on its way out here (indistinct)

The E-3 Sentry is an AWACS, the very system that I work on today:

From www.afcent.af.mil:

The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome that provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battle space, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied, and coalition operations.

From www.airforcetimes.com:

AWACS kept busy since Sept. 11

Within an hour after the first commercial airliner crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, an AWACS heading for a training flight was redirected and ordered to fly between New York and Washington, D.C., to help watch for further attacks.

“We’ve had planes flying there ever since,” said Capt. Steve Rolenc, a spokesman for the 552nd.

AWACS crews take off every day from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., to fly the racetrack-pattern route between the two cities. Each flight can last from 12 to 16 hours (at least five of which are spent just getting to and from the East Coast), and one plane doesn’t head home until its replacement arrives.

On top of that, the 552nd is flying radar flights in other parts of the country as needed by NORAD, and is flying overseas missions to support the war in Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East.

I would have never guessed ten years ago that today I would be helping continue the legacy of system that has been and can continue to help keep America’s skies safe. I take an immense amount of pride and pleasure in helping to engineer that system. And I often think about the war-fighter who has to use the system we create, I think about what would happen if we were lazy or sloppy and didn’t do good work. Then I strive to make sure the system is as perfect as I can make it. I make the best damn system I can because it matters.

I wonder if the original AWACS design team in the 60’s and 70’s thought their product would ever be used in a situation like this. I doubt it. I don’t know what future threat the AWACS will take on. I just know that when it does, I want it to work.

You don’t hear a lot about the E-3 in the news and that’s fine with me — I’m not here to seek glory or accolades.

I just wanted to share one of the reasons why September 11th, 2001, is important to me now.


  1. Hat tip to Andrea James for pointing this out, she also has a blog that I like as well 

What I Do

Here’s the project I work on. It’s from an article that came out in today’s Defense Daily:

From www.defensedaily.com:

Block 40/45 is a $2.2 billion program, with an average cost of $40 million per aircraft, according to Elavsky.

“It is, for all intents and purposes, a complete overhaul of the mission system,” he explained.

He added that commercial off-the-shelf technology “is providing improved computing to allow for better integration.”

“It’s really revolutionary–we’re finally getting a true open architecture system on board the aircraft,” he said. That open architecture will allow programmers to upgrade hardware and software regularly and establish a network for wide-band communications.

Image Source: Boeing

Alumni Profile: Andrew Ferguson ’04

Over winter break, I had a chance to talk with Michael Fiorito, a faculty member at Seattle Academy (where I went to high school). He asked me to write a “synopsis of [my] scholastic and internship experiences for the alum newsletter.” The profile I wrote was just published in the Summer 2008 edition of After SAAS. The following is the original article I sent to Michael and is slightly different then the version published in After SAAS.

I graduated in June of 2004 and spent the summer having fun (as opposed to working). I started at the Colorado School of Mines in the Fall of 2004 and I’ll be graduating in May of 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Engineering with a Specialty in Electrical Systems and an Area of Special Interest in Mechanical Systems.

I interned in the IT department at Nordstrom in Downtown Seattle the summer after my freshman year. It was a great experience and a great primer for working in the “real world.” Contrary to popular belief I was not a secretary and did not have to fetch coffee and make copies for the higher ups. My time at Nordstrom was spent helping with the 4th release of the Point-of-Sale system and included everything from helping run tests after the builds were updated (called smoke testing) to creating a database to help coordinate the nationwide training process to creating materials for the training processes.

I went back to school and studied some more. I was also the Chief Engineer for Mines Internet Radio, a new club on campus that was formed to broadcast music and sports games to students, parents, faculty, alumni, et al. We received funding from the school and I spent a large majority of my free time setting up computers, a server, remote broadcast system, website, and all the other things that fell under the per view of the Chief Engineering (which, as it turned out, was a lot). I also applied to, and interviewed with, the CIA; although I did not get in (they rarely accept students who are not juniors or seniors). However, an internship at Boeing ended up finding me. So the summer after my sophomore year, I worked at Boeing at Kent Space Center in Kent, Washington for the Integrated Defense Systems division (side note: the Lunar Rover was built in the building next to where I worked). I was tasked with writing code for a pending upgrade to the United States Air Force AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) fleet. In a word, the experience was: phenomenal. I had a fantastic mentor, an excellent boss, working at a fantastic job, doing something exciting.

I went back to school again, studied even harder and decided to come back to work for Boeing again (at the end of the previous summer, they had invited to me to come back again and placed me on Educational Leave of Absence). So I came back to the same group (USAF AWACS upgrade). But software programming wasn’t my thing. I had made this known at the end of last summer and on my last day, I asked what my other options were. I sat in on a meeting with the Mission Computing Hardware group and so I made my home there for this summer. My job this was a lot more interactive. I designed, updated, marked up Interface Control Documents (large drawings and documents that show where cables connect to, what type cable it is and what type of connector is needed). I also was tasked with selecting some of the hardware for the AWACS. Again, I had a great time and learned even more.

I’m now a non-graduating senior (4th year) with the end in sight. I left Mines Internet Radio at the end of last year to pursue other endeavors and I’m currently involved with a team on campus that is working on building a rover for a NASA contest to scoop up 150kg of lunar regolith (moon dirt) in under 30 minutes. I’ll be taking a three week field session this summer (a requirement to graduate from Mines) and then heading back to Boeing where I’ll work with the same group, but a different project which is to be determined.

Other things of note:

  • The summer after my freshman year, I spent a weekend (and then some) participating in a 72 hour film competition. I started out as an assistant and ended up editing the film when the other editor left. We won the Audience Award for our entry “No Witnesses”.
  • I’ve entered several photos over several semesters in our schools art shows.
  • I maintain a blog, https://www.andrewferguson.net, where I write several times a week.