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9/11 Pilot Hani Hanjour Took Extra Flights to Check Out D.C. Airspace

In this series, Newsweek maps the road to 9/11 as it happened 20 years ago, day by day.

Hani Hanjour used a computer for more than an hour at Kinko's in College Park, Maryland, on August 10, researching flights and communicating with friends and relatives in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi national had checked into the nearby College Park Motel on August 6, traveling with one of his musclemen. He took a check ride with flight instructors at Freeway Airport in Bowie, Maryland, on the 9th.

Saudi citizen Hani Hanjour, the last of the pilots to arrive in the United States, and the only Saudi among the four pilots, first came to the United States in October 1991 and enrolled in English language school in Tucson. In 1996, he returned to pursue flight training, completing language training in Oakland, California, before moving to Arizona where he obtained his pilot's license in 1999. Hanjour returned to Saudi Arabia but couldn't get a job with any commercial airline.

After failing to secure employment (or so the story goes) in late 1999, Hanjour traveled to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda. His pilot and English language skills were immediately identified, as was his Saudi citizenship, and he was asked to join three other pilots to prepare for the planes operation and the 9/11 attacks. (An intended fourth pilot, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni national and member of the Hamburg four, failed to get a visa for the United States after numerous tries.)

The other three arrived in the U.S. in June 2000, and in December, Hanjour arrived at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, continuing on to San Diego where he picked up Nawaf al-Hazmi—the orphaned muscleman who had been abandoned by Khalid al-Mihdhar. The two drove to Mesa, Arizona, where Hanjour took flight lessons to renew his certification, practicing handling the controls of large commercial airliners. He then did simulator training at Arizona Aviation and Pan Am International Jet Tech.

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Hani Hanjour familiarized himself with D.C. airspace before piloting a hijacked commercial jet into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. SUSAN WALSH/AFP via Getty Images

His certification renewed, in April 2001, Hanjour and al-Hazmi moved to Northern Virginia, then to New Jersey, and then finally to Maryland. At each location, Hanjour continued flight training. By August 10, he knew that his flight would be leaving from Dulles International Airport. Hanjour took many flights in the Washington DC metropolitan area, familiarizing himself with the airspace—the only pilot in the group to do so.

Hanjour would go on to fly AA Flight 77 at high speed and at treetop level to strike the Pentagon building at a challenging angle, practically at ground level upon impact. The flying skills he demonstrated in doing so were impressive, yet after 9/11 there were numerous news media stories of him being a bad pilot and a failure in flight training.

Follow the Newsweek live tweet of September 11, 2001 (based upon the new book On That Day) starting at 4:45 a.m. EST @Roadto911.

Newsweek is reconstructing the road to 9/11 as it was constructed 20 years ago, day by day. Each day a new story will be published here. On September 11 we'll live tweet the events of the day, minute by minute, starting at 4:45 a.m. EST, @RoadTo911.