Space Shuttle Endeavour - Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, November 29, 2001
Operation Noble Eagle, the military’s Homeland Defense mission, officially began on September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy fighters began flying combat air patrol missions over major cities and critical infrastructure locations such as power plants, bridges, airports, and port facilities across the United States. These sites were covered on a continuing basis for several months before a gradual phase down of Noble Eagle operations began. One of the many locations covered by Operation Noble Eagle was the space shuttle launch facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Protecting the space shuttle Endeavour, this Florida Air National Guard F-15 from the 125th Fighter Wing in Jacksonville is just one of the hundreds of military aircraft protecting the nation’s assets on a daily basis. The Endeavour, the last space shuttle built for NASA and the last to be retired, flew 25 missions during its 20 years of service. All of the space shuttles that occupied the launch pad from September 2001 to the end of the space shuttle era were protected under Operation Noble Eagle. Security in the air was very important just as it was on the ground. To fill other roles under Operation Noble Eagle, a total of 35,000 military men and women were called upon to participate. Among them were National Guard civil support teams, used primarily at Ground Zero and the Pentagon in the roles of rescue and recovery. Many of the 35,000 were utilized to provide additional security at locations such as airports and other major transportation hubs across the country. Military aircraft in support of Operation Noble Eagle have flown more than 61,000 sorties, the bulk of which were flown by the Air National Guard. During these combat air patrols, fighters have been diverted more than 2,350 times to investigate suspicious aircraft.