Two Ultralighters Remember the World Trade Center Towers
NY skyline

Attack on America

Ben Cole took this photo of Manhattan Island, New York as he flew his single-seat Stingray up the Hudson River in late July, 2000. The twin World Trade Center Towers that once dominated the Manhattan skyline are now but a memory.

Ultralight Flying! magazine joins with America and the rest of the world in expressing great sorrow and outrage at the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. The attacks completely destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and did incredible damage to the Pentagon. The loss of life is incomprehensible.

September 11, 2001 was the day terrorists flew two hijacked passenger-carrying jets into the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center, and a third was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked jet crashed in western Pennsylvania, evidently short of its undetermined target. It's a date Americans will always remember.

These outrageous acts of terrorism shut down the national airspace system (NAS) in America for the first time since World War II. Most commercial operations have resumed. Most VFR operations, including ultralight flight and ultralight training, have resumed (see for the most current information).

While the aftermath of these events dominate the news, Ultralight Flying! magazine remembers the grandeur of the World Trade Center's towers and the people who occupied them through the eyes of two ultralight pilots who had the privilege of flying their ultralights by these American symbols of power and freedom.

In June '88 Roland Alexander flew his amphibious ultralight Buccaneer from Florida up the East Coast to Maine. One of the excursions he made en route was down the Hudson River in the special VFR corridor created for small aircraft operations.

"When I was planning my flight up to Maine, I thought I'd just skirt the Statue of Liberty and continue flying up the Eastern Seaboard," says Alexander. "A friend of mine, who is from the New York City area said, 'You've got to fly up by the Hudson River by the towers of the World Trade Center. It's a sight you'll never forget.'

"And he was right. When I reached New York City, I flew around the Statue of Liberty then headed north up the Hudson River for about 10 miles before turning around and heading back. The WTC towers were huge, perfect square pillars and I was so close to them.

"It's hard to imagine those magnificent towers are now gone."

For pilot Ben Cole, who spent July and September in '00 flying his single-seat amphibious Stingray through 49 states, the privilege of flying up the Hudson River will always be remembered.

"I actually flew closer to the World Trade Center towers than the Statue of Liberty," Cole recalls. "This was the procedure. I left New Jersey, you had to be over 500 feet and under 800 feet, and you had to be on the right side of the Hudson River if you were going north. You don't even have to talk to the controllers. You have to have a transponder and squawk 1200 and you have to announce your progress. 'This is 249 Bravo Charlie crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at 600 feet. This is 249 Bravo Charlie passing Governors Island at 700 feet.' And you'll hear other people, mostly police helicopters, sightseers or news helicopters announcing, 'This is police chopper so-and-so abeam the Lady,' (that's the expression they used, meaning they were flying by the Statue of Liberty)."

Once Cole skirted the Statue of Liberty, he flew up the Hudson River.

"The World Trade Center towers dominated the skyline on that part of the Hudson River," says Cole. "They were giant glistening towers that were absolutely beautiful. They were so tall, the wind currents through there created a good bit of turbulence.

"They were perfectly square - so simple yet so dominate, so inspiring. They were just a different dimension as far as the other buildings go. Everything else around there - the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building - were all the more traditional architecture, but these were just so distinctive. They were like the pinnacle of the architecture in New York City. They were close to the water and it just didn't seem like the ground could support them, they were so tall and massive.

"When I flew by the towers, I was probably flying at 700 feet and they were towering above me another 400 feet. I remember looking over at them and thinking, How many people are watching this little airplane go up the Hudson River. I wonder what they're thinking.

"The towers just stood there like silent sentinels. They were all-glass wonders, highly reflective."

The act of crashing two jetliners into those towers "is a watershed moment in American history," Cole says. "I haven't broken down and cried since I was a kid, and when I saw those buildings come down, I teared up. I couldn't stand it. I was watching TV, the planes had hit, the commentator was talking about something else and this building just collapses. And I'm thinking, Thousands of people just died.

"I was stunned. It just seemed incomprehensible."

No doubt, along with many other repercussions, these terroristic acts have affected the way we aviate in America, both commercially and recreationally. The future will show just how much American aviation has been and will be affected.