NATIONAL AVIATION  REPORTING  CENTER  ON  ANOMALOUS  PHENOMENA

  NARCAP TR - 1
  Date of Report: 10-15-2000

 

Aviation Safety in America
A Previously Neglected Factor (1)

Richard F. Haines (2)
Chief Scientist

National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena
-NARCAP-

October 15, 2000

 


(1) This paper was supported by a grant from the International Space Science Organization (ISSO).

(2) Sr. Research Scientist (ret.). NASA-Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA Former Chief, Space Human Factors Office. For other biographical information see current edition of Who’s Who in America.


This paper is deliberately not copyrighted to help facilitate its wide distribution. Unauthorized textual changes or significant omissions that change the meaning or intent of this reort are prohibited.

 


Executive Summary

This paper addresses the question of whether there is reliable data demonstrating a significant relationship between aviation safety in America today and unidentified aerial phenomena [UAP] (also called unidentified flying objects [UFO] or flying saucers). Three kinds of reported UAP dynamic behavior and reported consequences are addressed, each of which can affect air safety: (1) near-miss and other high speed maneuvers conducted by the UAP near the aircraft, (2) transient and permanent electromagnetic effects onboard the aircraft that affect navigation, guidance, and flight control systems, and (3) close encounter flight performance by the UAP that produces cockpit distractions which inhibit the flight crew from flying the airplane in a safe manner. 

More than one hundred documented close encounters between UAP and commercial, private, and military airplanes are reviewed relative to these three topics. These reports are drawn from several sources including the author’s personal files, aviation reports prepared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration administered "Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS)." Interestingly, all of the U.S. government sources illustrate the fact either that pilots don’t report their UAP sightings at all or, if they do, they almost never use the term UAP, UFO, or flying saucer when reporting their near-miss and/or in flight pacing encounters. 

I conclude that: (1) In order to avoid collisions with UAP some pilots have made control inputs that have resulted in passenger and flight crew injury. (2) Based upon a thorough review of pilot reports of UAP over the conterminous United States between 1950 and 2000 it is concluded that an immediate physical threat to aviation safety due to collision does not exist because of the reported high degree of maneuverability shown by the UAP. However, (a) should pilots make the wrong control input at the wrong time during an extremely close encounter the possibility of a mid-air collision with a UAP still exists, and (b) if pilots rely upon their instruments when anomalous electromagnetic effects are causing them to malfunction the possibility of an incident or accident exists. (3) Documented UAP phenomena have been seen and reported for at least fifty years by pilots but many of these reporters have been either ridiculed or instructed not to report their sighting publicly. (4) Responsible world aviation officials should take UAP phenomena seriously and issue clear procedures for reporting them without fearing ridicule, reprimand or other career impairment and in a manner that will support scientific research, (5) Airlines should implement instructional courses that teach pilots about optimal control procedures to carry out when flying near UAP and also what data to try to collect about them, if possible, and (6) A central clearing house should be identified to receive UAP reports (e.g., ASRS; Global Aviation Information Network (GAIN). This unclassified clearinghouse should collect, analyze, and report UAP sightings for the continuing benefit of aviation safety as well as scientific curiosity. Whatever UAP are they can pose a hazard to aviation safety and should be dealt with appropriately and without bias.

 

 

Introduction

As most pilots realize, they will experience a wide range of visual phenomena over the course of their flying career. Most of these unusual visual sightings are soon explained to their satisfaction. However, some remain unexplained even after all known laws of science and natural phenomena have been considered. The witness of this residuum of cases is left with a lingering uncertainty, a doubt about the core identity of what was seen. 

If a pilot has experienced an unidentified visual phenomenon while flying and has suffered overt or covert ridicule or even persecution for submitting a report it is likely that he or she will never make another report should one be called for. I call this the "law of diminishing reports," a type of psychological negative feedback system that inhibits more and more people from simply telling the whole truth. 

The long-term and progressive effect of this "law" is that less and less reliable data is brought forth for serious study. The scientist, who rightly claims that he or she cannot study a phenomenon without data, is seemingly justified for not becoming interested in the phenomenon! The result is that an already rare "anomalous" phenomenon becomes even rarer, from the viewpoint of traditional science. 

Yet, since the objective phenomenon does not stop occurring it continues to yield a small residue of highly interesting cases that beg to be investigated. The present paper focuses on some of these cases of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), more commonly called unidentified flying objects (UFO), and their relationship to aviation safety in America today.

The primary objective of this paper is to determine if reliable data exists to show a significant relationship between aviation safety in the United States of America today and so-called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena reportedly flying near aircraft. What is considered to be a significant relationship? A significant relationship exists if the presence of one or more UAP near an aircraft leads to some deviation in normal cockpit procedures, flight path, and/or onboard or ground equipment function that could have contributed to an incident or accident had the flight crew and/or ground personnel not taken appropriate action(s) or the UAP had not taken appropriate action.

The term UAP is defined as follows:

An unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) is the visual stimulus that provokes a sighting report of an object or light seen in the sky, the appearance and/or flight dynamics of which do not suggest a logical, conventional flying object and which remains unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence by persons who are technically capable of making both a full technical identification as well as a common-sense identification, if one is possible. (Haines, Pp. 13-22, 1980)

This definition clearly excludes most of the prosaic explanations one hears about to explain UAP including rare atmospheric phenomena (e.g., sprites; sheet and ball lightning; mirages, sub-suns, etc.). The residual of cases that remain after all known physical phenomena are considered and rejected truly confront the scientific mind with mysteries and challenges in spite of the fact that up to now science has shown no genuine or lasting interest in them. (McDonald, 1968)

I do not presume here that UAP are extraterrestrial nor do I presume that they are not. The data must be permitted to "speak" for themselves. I have, however, collected and analyzed hundreds of UAP reports over the years which appear to suggest that they are associated with a very high degree of intelligence, deliberate flight control, and advanced energy management (cf. Haines, 1979, 1983, 1993, 1994, 1999). Others have done the same (Good, 1988; Hall, 1964; Hall, 2001; Ruppelt, 1956; Hynek, 1972).

Aviation Safety. Air safety is the second subject of concern in this paper and is of central concern to more and more people around the world. For as prosperity in general increases so does the number of people who can afford to fly. Indeed, the term "safety" embodies a large and very complex concept composed of hundreds of independent and interacting parameters; it is this complexity that makes it so difficult a subject to study. 

An ongoing NASA-sponsored analysis of U.S. aviation accidents has subdivided government aviation statistics into scores of categories (Turnbull and Ford, 1999). This Langley Research Center activity is known as the "Aviation Safety Analysis and Functional Evaluation" (ASAFE). These researchers found that between 1990 and 1996 private pilots (a category called "general aviation") accounted for 12,407 fatal aviation accidents (almost 85% of the total) and 4,374 fatalities (77% of all fatalities). 

Commercial aviation (a category called "Large Air Carriers") account for 143 accidents which is under one percent of the total and 300 fatalities (0.3% of all known U.S. fatalities). U.S. military aviation operations were not considered in ASAFE.

UAP as Possible Causal Agents in Accidents. Since there are no specific categories in which UAP may be considered as a causal factor in aircraft accidents or incidents on the FAA, NTSB, or ASRS data recording forms no such events are found in Turnbull and Ford’s otherwise excellent and comprehensive work. Of course, such reports may perhaps be found under a different rubric. 

I suggest four possible conclusions for this lack of a reporting category for UAP: (1) the incidence of such (UAP) events is so low that they don’t warrant inclusion or serious statistical consideration, (2) pilots cannot or will not use the term UAP or UFO officially when relating an aerial encounter that results in an accident, (3) pilots do not report such aerial encounters at all, and/or (4) this class of causal agents are deliberately deleted from official databases. In my experience I believe possibilities 2 and 3 are most likely to account for this effect.

Let us take a further look at current U.S. aviation accident statistics presented in Turnbull and Ford (Ibid.) to see if other insights may be gained concerning UAP/UFO sightings. I will concentrate on two types of aviation operations, general aviation (private) and large air carriers (commercial) since together, they account for the largest number of accidents. 

Statistical analyses of aviation accidents show that skill-based errors by the flight crew "...are responsible for an overwhelming number of civil aviation accidents... (and is)... the top causal factor (in every category of air operation) ... accounting for 20-25% of the total number of causal factors." (pg. 7) In other words, a breakdown in pilot judgment and/or flying skills are thought to play a central role in contributing to aviation accidents. If a UAP is maneuvering erratically at high speed nearby an airliner and the pilot is trying to avoid it great skill and judgment are called for. Unless that pilot actually reports seeing the unidentifiable UAP the encounter will not be logged at all and therefore will not be reflected in official aviation statistics.

In investigating aviation safety its definition must be broad enough to encompass every possible causal event, otherwise investigators are liable to overlook subtle and low probability of occurrence events that can have disastrous consequences. As will become clear in this paper, one sub-set of events that has been largely left out of official reporting forms and protocols to date is the presence of UAP operating near aircraft. This is true, by the way, for almost every nation on earth. 

When pilots, airport operators, and Air Traffic Control (ATC) personnel encounter UAP in the course of their routine operations the consequences can be not only unexpectedly stressful but can lead to unanticipated and potentially dangerous situations. They do not need or deserve other aviation officials acting toward them in an adversarial, demeaning, or threatening manner.

The definition of increased aviation safety that results from the above discussion and which is used in this paper is qualitative rather than quantitative:

Increased aviation safety results from the continual conduct of ground and air operations in a manner such that no personnel are killed or injured, no aircraft or ground support vehicles or equipment are damaged, and the potential and/or actual impact of all conceivable causal events upon the successful operation of all aircraft are taken into account.

Of course, decreased aviation safety might be defined as the opposite of the above conditions where people are injured or killed and aircraft (and ground equipment) are damaged and the impact of all conceivable causal events are not taken into account, including UAP. In the words from a recent Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine article (Pg. 54, August 14, 2000), "Insurers prefer to leave CAT (clear air turbulence) in the "act-of-God" category, which tends to keep liability to a minimum." The same thing might be said of UAP!

UAP and an Accident Taxonomy. A comprehensive consideration of U.S. aviation safety must incorporate recognition and use of a taxonomy (an organizational scheme) that includes all conceivable factors related to aviation safety, including UAP. The modified ASAFE taxonomy proposed in Turnbull and Ford (Pp. 184-188, 1999) represents an important step in this direction for it includes the Human Factor Analysis and Classification System (HFACS) (Anon., 2000). 

The earlier ASAFE taxonomy failed to include the kinds of errors that were being made, why they occurred, and what were the preconditions that contributed to making these errors. The HFACS was added to ASAFE’s taxonomy primarily because approximately 70% of all causal factors of aviation accidents are human error-related in some way

Indeed, the "human element" is found in virtually every phase of aviation operations and can be viewed as both an interconnected series of strong and weak links in the causal chain of an accident or incident. It is well known that humans possess perceptual limitations under certain circumstances (e.g., faulty hearing, visual illusions, vertigo), physical limitations (e.g., anoxic effects, stress-coping, g-load tolerance), and mental/cognitive limitations (e.g., sustained alertness, memory encoding and retrieval). But humans also possess extraordinary capabilities (e.g., systematic, logical decision making, excellent vision under most conditions, good eye-hand coordination, and many others) (cf., Haines and Flatau, Chapters 2 - 6, 1992).

The modified ASAFE accident taxonomy contains eight basic coding categories and a total of 229 possible causal factors for aviation accidents. Thirty one causal factors found in their list

were identified as possibly related in some way to a UAP close encounter. They are listed in Appendix 1. Of course at the present time there is no way to know how many incident and accident reports involving one or more of the above 31 causal factors actually involved UAP. It is true that scientists cannot investigate a new phenomenon unless it has reliable data to study.

Potential UAP Eye Witnesses. There are a great many potential eye witnesses to UAP in America and indeed, around the world. In America today there are about 68,500 commercially rated pilots [58,000 Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) members; 10,500 Allied Pilot Association (APA) members]. There are about 12,295 active U.S. Air Force (USAF) pilots. The number of pilots flying for the U. S. Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Forestry Service, [National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)] is not known but must number in the tens of thousands combined. In addition there are about 600,000 FAA certified pilots holding a current medical rating, some of which may be represented in the ALPA and APA figures above. These numbers represent an extremely large number of eyewitnesses to atmospheric visual phenomena of all kinds as seen from the air. It is reasonable to suggest that the longer one flies aircraft the greater is the likelihood that one will see something that cannot be identified.

When the large (mean) number of hours of flight time per pilot per year is considered along with the relatively large visual field available from the cockpit, the long slant range visibility (particularly in Visual Meteorological Conditions), and the large surface area beneath their aircraft are taken into account there exists a truly significant chance that if there is something unusual and interesting to be seen from the air it will be seen, particularly after dark when self-luminous phenomena become more conspicuous.

Flight Time and Distance Statistics. Current Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) activity data for U.S. domestic and international operations air carriers provides the number of aircraft departures, hours flown, and miles flown for each of 117 airlines. http://nasdac.faa.gov/bts Considering only the 16 airlines listed that operated more than 100,000 departures in 1998 collectively, they made 7.486 million departures, flew 12.357 million hours and 4,815.81 million miles (TD c). 

If statistics for the nation’s two largest air cargo airlines (Federal Express Corp.; United Parcel Service) are added these numbers swell to 7.957 million departures, 13.139 million hours, and 5,147.46 million miles (TD t) flown. Assuming two and a half flight crewmembers in each cockpit and an average of four departures per aircraft (per day) yields 4,678,656 potential air crew witnesses for all these passenger aircraft and 4,973,032 potential cockpit eye witnesses for passenger and cargo aircraft. 

To these statistics must be added all of the flight crews, departures, and miles flown by the other 101 U.S. air carriers, the thousands of private pilots who fly fewer miles and hours per year, and even the passengers who fly on these commercial flights. Of course aircraft flight tract also must be considered since high altitude operations across continental USA typically follows pre-established routes. These statistics can be used as normalizing factors in subsequent statistical analyses.

Commercial Airline Flight Routes
. The preceding statistics imply that these flight miles cover the U.S.A. homogeneously but, of course, they do not. Commercial aircraft, for instance, don’t fly everywhere above the continental USA for reasons of safety and air traffic control effectiveness. (Hopkin, 1995) Indeed, airlines follow highways in the sky called "airways" or "jetways" that are carefully marked by radio navigation beacons. Aircraft flying on different magnetic headings also fly at different altitudes to help separate them. 

Because of these facts the above statistics for number of hours and miles flown do not represent an accurate picture of the geographic coverage of the continental USA by commercial aircraft. If the conterminous U.S.A. (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) consists of 3,022,387 square miles and a pilot above 25,000 feet altitude can see (in clear weather during daylight hours) a high contrast reflecting object (larger than his or her distance acuity limit) at a slant range of at least thirty miles to each side of the flight path, then each air mile represents a sixty mile wide swath of potential object visibility (V). When V is multiplied by TD this gives some idea of the total ground area covered by these 16 commercial airlines for 1998:

16 Major Commercial Airlines . . . . . 288,948.6 million square miles . . . 9.6% of land area

Plus two largest Air Cargo Airlines . . 308,847.6 million square miles . . . 10.2% of land area

The above values must also be reduced by a factor that represents the geographic lateral spacing of the airways and jetways. This complex calculation has not been attempted here. Suffice it to say that pilots have a unique vantage from which to sight anomalous aerial phenomena both during the day and nighttime.

Review of Pilot Reports from the Author’s AIRCAT Files

This section presents the results of a thorough fifty year review of the author’s Air Catalog (AIRCAT) UAP database from 1950 to 2000. AIRCAT currently contains well over 3,400 sighting reports from foreign and domestic pilots of most of the nations of the world. 

Cases were selected because they appeared to impact aviation safety in at least one of three primary safety areas: A. Near-miss and nearby pacing incidents with UAP reported by U.S. (and some foreign) aircraft while flying over the United States of America and its continental waters. Mid-air Collisions and Missing Aircraft cases are also discussed. B. Electromagnetic (E-M) effects which occur onboard an aircraft flying over the United States of America when the UAP is seen to be (relatively) nearby. If the E-M system(s) either returns to normal function after the UAP departs or is permanently damaged is considered, and C. Situations, apparently produced by the presence of UAP, which cause confusion, panic, attentional capture, or other dangerous conditions aboard U.S. or foreign aircraft flying over the United States of America or its continental waters. Case report abstracts are presented in Appendices 2 through 5.

Passenger-carrying commercial and military flights make up the majority of the following cases with a small number of private pilot sightings. These reports strongly suggest that air safety could have been compromised in some way. It is acknowledged that near-miss incidents are a common occurrence in America even today due to many factors. (Turnbull and Ford, 1999) Do such incidents include UAP encounters? When a pilot cannot honestly identify the other vehicle and resorts to using the term unidentified flying object or other related term I do not believe that they necessarily mean anything other than just that. The term UFO is likely used as a convenience and does not necessarily mean the witness believes the other object was extraterrestrial as is often imputed by the press or aviation officials.

A. Near-Miss and Nearby Pacing Incidents with UAP Reported by U.S. (and some foreign) Aircraft

Table 1 summarizes 56 cases identified in this AIRCAT review in which the pilot(s) reported a near-miss and 38 more involving aircraft pacing by a UAP with particular emphasis upon the kind of UAP approach flight maneuver(s) that was made relative to the aircraft. There were twenty four different maneuvers found from the perspective of a plan view (i.e., looking down from above). Each is represented here by a simple diagram.

 

Table 1

Reported UAP Flight Maneuvers Performed
Near the Aircraft From a Plan View Perspective


Flight Maneuver Diagram Case Number and Aircraft Classification


      
 

When the pilot report emphasized the vertical motions of the UAP it was possible to classify some UAP approach maneuvers from a side view (elevation) point of view. Those cases, associated with sixteen different maneuvers, are presented in Table 2. Of course some pilot reports described three-dimensional motions, particularly when the UAP flew in highly ‘exotic,’ i.e., non-inertial, non-aerodynamic fashion. These cases are included in both Table 1 and 2 in the single dimension that most clearly describes them.

Number of Eye Witnesses. A total of 229 pilot and passenger witnesses were involved in the cases presented in Tables 1 and 2. This represents an average of 2.4 witnesses per aircraft. It simply is not true that people see UAP only when they are alone. The presence of a second, third, or fourth witness onboard an aircraft is an important factor in motivating the air crew to follow company or U.S. Government agency reporting procedures rather than merely forgetting about the encounter. Nevertheless, in 11 of these cases representing 32 eye witnesses (Mean = 3.4 witnesses per aircraft) no one reported their sighting officially.

Passenger Injury Cases. Passengers were injured in the following cases (aircraft classification follows each hyphen) when the pilot executed an abrupt avoidance maneuver, fearing a collision with the UAP: 28-UC; 31-UC; 45-UC; 49-UC; and 50-UC. Aviation safety is clearly implicated when passengers are injured during flight.

Hourly Distribution of Cases. Table 3 presents a summary of the local times for each of the 94 cases reviewed here for which time of occurrence was reported. Note that the majority occurred after dark, a finding that corresponds to findings of numerous other UAP studies (e.g., Hall, 1964; Hatch, 1999; Vallee, 1965). Note that there is also a skew in this time-of-day curve well into the full daylight hours which is reasonable considering that most commercial aircraft fly during the daytime. Of the twelve E-M cases (Nos. 71, 83, 92, 98 – 105) four (33%) took place during daylight hours.

 


 

Table 2 

Reported Approximate UAP Flight Maneuvers Near the Aircraft
From a Side Elevation Perspective
(Aircraft flight path dashed)

(U = US aircraft; F = foreign; C = Commercial; M = military; P = private)


Flight Maneuver Diagram Case Number and Aircraft Classification


..

Table 3

Hourly Distribution of Near-Miss
and Pacing Incidents in 30 minute increments


Local Time Case Number(s)


Midnight 

0030 

0100

0130 

0200 

0230 

0300 

0330 

0400 

0430

0500 

0530 

0600

0630 

0700

0730

0800

0830

0900

0930 

1000 

1030

1100

1130 

--------------

Noon 

1230

1300 

1330 

1400

1430 

1500 

1530 

1600 

1630 

1700 

1730 

1800 

1830 

1900 

1930 

2000 

2030 

2100 

2130 

2200 

2230 

2300 

2330 

87-UP

28-UC; 63(a)-UP; 88-UP

...

41-UC

13-UC

69-UC

16-UC; 61-UP

17-UC; 45-UC

73-UC

...

56-UM

35-UM

...

37-UM

...

...

...

...

...

77-UC

52-UM

...

...

48-UP; 97-UM

---------------

8-UP

...

79-UP; 82-UP

5-UM; 78-UP; 80-UP

...

10-UC

30-UM; 59-UP; 83-UP

9-UM; 19-UM; 81-UP

65-UC; 91-UP

86-UC

26-UM

90-UC

92-FC

12-UM

1-UM; 3-UM; 24-UM; 68-UP; 76-UP

22-UP

6-UP; 14-UM; 51-UC; 64-UC; 75-UC; 89-UC 

4-UC; 23-UM; 25-UM; 46-UM; 58-UP; 72-UP,UC

32-UM; 33-UC; 34-UC; 36-UM; 39-UC,UM; 53-UM

44-UC; 47-UC; 66-UP; 84-UP

2-UP; 18-UP; 21-UC; 43-UC; 50-UC; 54-UP; 62-UP; 94-FC

70-UP; 85-UP

38-UC; 40-UM; 42-UC; 71-UM

55-UP; 74-UC


Others: 

            "Day" 93-UC; "Afternoon" 29-UM; "Dusk" 57-UC; "Late Evening" 31-UC;

            "Twilight" 7-UM; "Night" 15-UM; 20-UP; 60-UP; 67-UC; 95-UC; 96-UM;

            "Not specified" 27-UM; 49-UC

Distribution of Cases by Year and Aircraft Classification. Table 4 presents the distribution of all cases by year, aircraft classification, and local time. Note that the great majority of the military pilot reports occurred between 1950 and 1958 while commercial and private pilots reported their sightings relatively consistently over the entire fifty year period.


 

Table 4

Case Distribution by Year, Aircraft Classification,
and Local Time (in 2400 hr format)


Aircraft Classification

Year  

Private Commercial  Military


     .     
1950   

1951  

1952   


1953


1954  


1955  

1956

1957  


1958 

1959

1960

1961 

1962

1963 

1964 

1965 

1966 

1967 

1968  


1969 

1970  

1971 

1972

1973  

1974 

1975

1976

1977 

1978 


1979 

1980 


1981 


1982

1983

1984

1985 

1986  

1987 

1995 

1997 

case no. hour

2-2200

6-2000; 8-1250

18-2200; 20-night;
22-1940

...


...


...

...

48-1132

...

...

...


54-2215

...

55-2345

...

...

58-2052; 59-1515

60-night; 61-0300

62-2220; 63(a)-0031; 63(b)-0040

...

66-2130

68-1910

...

70-2230; 72-2035 

...

...

...

...

76-1910; 78-1330;
79-1315; 80-1340

81-1530

82-1315; 83-1500; 84-2130

85-2240; 87-0010; 88-0030

...

...

...

...

91-1600

 

1-2025

 4-2030

10-1430; 13-0227;
16-0300; 17-0330

28-0010


31-late evening; 33-2104; 34-2104

38-2300; 39-2100 

41-0145; 42-2300; 43-2210

44-2145; 45-0345; 47-2135; 50-2215; 51-2015

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

57-dusk

...

...

64-2000


65-1600

67-night

...

...

69-0230
73-0415

...

...

...
74-2340

75-2000; 77-0934

...

...

...

86-1646

...

...

...

...
89-2000; 90-1731

92-1800

93-day

94-2220

95-night

 

3-1915

5-1340; 7-twilight;

9-155312-1834; 14-2026; 15-night;19-1540; 23-2046;

24-191525-2030; 26-1700; 27-n/a; 96-night

29-afternoon; 30-1520; 32-2100


35-0544; 36-2107; 37:0655

40-2305; 97-1140

46-2035


52-1017; 53-2103

...

...

...

...

...

56-0529

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

...
71-2305


Totals 32  36 27                Grand Total = 95

There does not appear to be any trend in local time of a UAP sighting over this span of years.

 

B. Mid-air Collisions and Missing Aircraft

There is no doubt that a single mid-air collision has a significant impact on the public’s consciousness of aviation safety. The primary question here is what did the aircraft collide with? Or in the case of a missing aircraft, what caused the event? In both cases there seldom are eye witnesses. Only secondary, circumstantial evidence may be available (cf. Berlitz, 1977; Haines, 1987).

In their comprehensive review of "Aviation Accident Analysis," Turnbull and Ford (1999) discuss mid-air collisions for six operational classes within current U.S. aviation, viz., general aviation, rotary wing (helicopter), cargo flights, air taxis, commuter air carriers, and large air carriers. They analyzed the assumed series of causal sequence events leading up to mid-air collisions using six causal factors (AF: aircraft failure; ATE: air traffic environment; USO: unsafe supervision/organizational influences; HF-G: human failure-ground personnel; HF-F: human failure-flight personnel; and W: weather). Their Figure 229 presents the array of causal sequences of mid-air collisions involving the "See-and-be-seen" principle of flight for all six operational classes as a function of these six causal factors. Only the general aviation (GA) data is reviewed here because only it has sufficient data for statistical analysis (except rotary wing). Interestingly, HF-F is the overwhelming causal factor in GA mid-air collisions during see-and-be-seen flight. It accounts for almost 90% of the causal factors in each of the five defined sequence events. Since the pilots are killed in the majority of mid-air collision accidents definite causative data must be obtained from other sources including eye witness testimony; the fact remains that these pilots cannot defend themselves or otherwise clear their record. USO and ATE also contribute a minor amount to most of the five sequences. If a UAP actually had been involved in any of these mid-air collisions only ground radar and the pilot’s recorded voice transmissions would be available to implicate it. Two such possible cases (No. 96, 97) are presented in Appendix 3 from Air Force and other records. According to researcher Leonard Stringfield who used to work for the Air Defense Command, General Benjamin Chidlaw, former Chief of the nation’s Continental Air Defense Command in the 1950s allegedly admitted, "We have lost many men and planes trying to intercept them" (UFO).

I have become convinced over thirty years of personal study that since UAP encounters may potentially influence one or more of the above causal factors it is incumbent upon aviation safety planners and decision-makers to not prohibit the inclusion of these often unusual, bizarre data in the data collection and analysis process and thereby help us better understand how to reduce unsafe air crew and ATC behavior in their presence as well as help us understand better the true nature of UAP.

There are several reports of actual impacts with unidentified aerial objects during aircraft flight. Of course the primary issue is what actually collided with the airplane? (cf. Crain, 1987) In many cases the impact is with birds that fly at very low as well as relatively high altitudes [e.g., FAA Incident Report No. 19890213009059G; Local Time: 02/13/1989 In this instance the pilot reported a "noise and bump inflight... Unidentified object had damaged various parts of aircraft."]. Bird strikes involve all classes of aircraft, however, the higher the altitude at which a unexplainable mid-air collision occurs the less likely it was caused by a bird strike. In case 2 below a strange looking aerial phenomenon approached and struck the propeller of a light aircraft, exploding like a bomb. Fortunately, no damage to the propeller or any other part of the fuselage or wings could be found upon landing.

 

C. Transient and Permanent Electromagnetic (E-M) effects

Associated with UAP

This section reviews 24 pilot reports where one or more instruments and/or displays were affected when the UAP was seen nearby the airplane. Case abstracts are found in Appendix 4. It seems reasonable to suggest that aviation safety can be compromised if the flight displays, controls, navigation system, and/or other electromagnetically controlled equipment fail to operate normally during flight. This is precisely what has been reported on numerous occasions involving UAP as the following review makes clear.

Fortunately, in most of these instances the electromagnetically sensitive equipment returned to normal function after the phenomenon or object departed! This finding in itself raises important and puzzling questions about the nature of UAP. In some cases the flight crew lost confidence in the reliability of the system(s) and ignored readings altogether. In most instances tests conducted after landing showed that the instruments were operating normally again. Clearly, such events pose potential hazards to air navigation, radio communications, flight path control, flight crew distraction, and cockpit discipline in general, to name but a few. Of course, one important implication of the occurrence of such transient EM effects is that the UAP are radiating energy of one or more kinds.

Interested readers should consult (Anon., 1978) for a particularly interesting and detailed transcript of conversations between several commercial aircraft and various ground controllers on the night of June 24, 1978 involving simultaneous radar-visual contact with a fascinatingly beautiful UAP seen in Wisconsin airspace. Soon after this prolonged charter aircraft encounter had ended ground controllers vectored a second (North Central flight 577) commercial aircraft with a passenger on board to deviate off his original course "in order to get a closer look at it."

The literature contains a number of scholarly articles on various electromagnetic effects, allegedly originating from UAP, on a variety of man-made objects such as automobile engines and lights, aircraft cockpit instruments, radar and radio equipment, and other devices. (Falla, 1979; Haines, 1992; Johnson, 1983; Johnson, 1988; Rodeghier, 1981)

A total of 24 cases with 36 different EM events were found in this review of AIRCAT files in which one or more onboard cockpit displays or controls were adversely affected on U.S. aircraft when the UAP was flying near the aircraft and/or the UAP was registered on ground and/or airborne radar. Of course many other similar foreign cases also exist. If the phenomenon was registered on cockpit instruments or influenced the functioning of cockpit instruments only during the encounter it is marked as transient. If the aircraft systems were damaged permanently, allegedly as a result of the encounter, it is marked as permanent. Table 5 summarizes these findings.

The data presented in Table 5 raise genuine concerns about aviation safety when one is flying near some UAP. The 24 cases listed here represent 23% of the total 105 UAP reports. Since four of these cases involved airborne radar and 11 cases involved ground radar contact with the UAP these cases may be considered, in general, as contributing to aviation safety because of the detection capability provided by radar contact. It is the remaining 12 cases (11.4% of 105 cases) involving 21 different detrimental E-M events that should be of interest to scientists and of concern to aviation officials. About one in ten close UAP encounter reports include a reference to one or more failures of onboard displays and/or controls, or radio communications. It is fair to say that these EM cases offer the scientist a rich field for further study.


Table 5

Electromagnetic Effects Reported When UAP Was Nearby the Aircraft


Case No. 

 

Date 

Aircraft System or Sub-System Affected (and Radar contact)  

Transient (T) Permanent (P) 
Not known (N)


15 

21 

24 

39 

44 

47 

54 

60 

69 

71 

72 

80 

83  

92 

...

96 

98 


99 



100 

101 

...

...
102 

103 

...

...
104 


105 

November 7, 1950

July 11, 1952

Autumn 1952 

December 10, 1952

December 11, 1955

March 8, 1957   

June 3, 1957 

July 4, 1961 

January 1967 

February 14, 1973

October 18, 1973

October 19, 1973 

August 27, 1978 

September 28, 1980

November 17, 1986

...

November 23, 1953 

August 13, 1959 


June 29, 1967 



November 28, 1974 

March 12, 1977 

.....

...
November 18, 1977 

May 26, 1979 

...

...
April 8, 1981 


March 1, 1986 

Radio transmission failure (142.74 MHz) 

Airborne radar contact 

Ground radar contact 

Airborne radar contact (ARC-33) 

Ground radar contact 

Ground radar contact 

Ground radar contact 

Ground radar contact 

Ground radar contact 

Airborne radar contact 

Radio transmit/receive inoperative 

Ground radar contact 

Ground radar contact 

Radio became inoperative 

VHF radio interference 
Airborne (X band) weather radar contact 
Ground (USAF) radar contact 
...
Ground radar contact 

Magnesyn compass (slow rotation) 
Magnetic compass (spun "crazily") 

Compass began to spin 
Electrical system failed 
Circuit breaker panel shorted out 

Magnetic compass rotated slowly (4 rpm; CCW) 

Gyrocompasses pointing in wrong directions 
Auto-pilot (heading mode) commanding direction change (left) 
Magnetic compass pointing in wrong direction

Transponder failed (DME was OK) 

Magnetic compass spun Automatic Direction Finder spun 
Radio receiver experienced heavy static 
Engine ran rough 
Ground radar contact 

Radios (2) transmit/receive inoperative 
Distance Measuring Equipment failed 

Radio became inoperative with heavy static 

N

T

T

T

T

T

T

T

T

N

T

T

T

T

T
T
T

N

T
T

T
P
P

T

T
N

T

T

N
N
N
N

T
T

T


Total = 24 cases 

Total = 36 events  Total: T = 26 72.2%

P = 2 5.6%

N = 8 22.2%

D. Attention Distraction in the Cockpit

This section briefly considers the important matter of the focus of attention of the flight crew during an encounter with one or more UAP. One of the tenets of current Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) air crew training is that everyone must work with one another as an integrated team. Each member should back up the other during periods of high workload, high stress, complex decision-making, and difficult flight control. But when the crew is faced with an extremely bizarre, unexpected, and prolonged luminous and/or solid ‘phenomenon’ cavorting near their aircraft that could affect their safety it is possible for cockpit discipline to break down. To panic in the cockpit is to lose the capability to maintain full and safe control of one’s aircraft. If passengers should panic then it is equally difficult to maintain a completely safe flight. Fortunately most pilots are able to exercise exceptional self-control during these stressful encounters. And, it is also most fortunate that the Air Force no longer requests commercial pilots to chase UAP for them as they used to do. (e.g., Buffalo Evening News, Buffalo, NY, April 10, 1956; Hall, R.H., The UFO Evidence, Pg. 41, 1964)

These kinds of pilot reports are very hard to locate because they are seldom reported; they can be used against a pilot by aviation authorities. The air crews who reported here are to be congratulated on coming forward with these disclosures. Appendix 5 presents several such examples in addition to Case 28, 34, 45, 49, 50, 60, and 61 specifically and all of the others cited here generally.

It is interesting to note the wide range of pilot responses to these UAP encounters. Some pilots are curious about what they are seeing and try to fly nearer to the phenomenon. Some pilots fear for their lives and carry out immediate evasive maneuvers. And some pilots don’t do anything but watch the light show in awe and fear. In any case it can be argued that their attention has been captured by the other object(s) or light(s) so that they cannot concentrate as fully as before on normal cockpit duties.

II. Abbreviated Review of Official U.S. Government
Incident Reports

This section presents a small collection of official U.S. government aviation incident reports which contain interesting and potentially valuable data on the present subject. These incident reports are sadly but understandably lacking in any clearly identified references to UAP. Reasons for this are many and are discussed elsewhere in this paper.

IIA. Review of Federal Aviation Administration’s
Near Midair Collisions System Search Database

The first set of intriguing reports is from the Federal Aviation Administration’s "Aviation Safety Data" Near Midair Collisions System Search" <http://nasdac.faa.gov/lib/vtopic.exe> This database contains reports only from 1992 to the present. A near midair collision (NMAC) is defined as "an incident associated with the operation of an aircraft in which a possibility of a collision occurs as a result of proximity of less than 500 feet to another aircraft..." (Ibid., pg. 9) (italics mine) Of course, according to this restricted definition a NMAC with a UAP or a bird, etc. cannot be counted. Nevertheless, a relatively large number of such reports (5,053) are included in this database. Clearly, the door is open for the inclusion of UAP sightings in the future when government policy is established that encourages pilots to report such encounters and when pilots become courageous enough to do so.

One problem that continues to stand in the way of achieving this important objective is the subtle, almost unconscious prejudice many have against the very idea of UAP. This attitude seems to be reinforced at most levels within the aviation community, particularly at the highest levels. The current law requires that "all NMAC reports are thoroughly investigated by FAA inspectors in coordination with air traffic controllers." (Ibid., pg. 9) However, if there is any amount of covertly held prejudice about the subject of UAP, all UAP-related NMAC reports are likely either to be redefined in terms of conventional aircraft or dismissed completely in some other acceptable means. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure whether any past NMAC reports involved UAP. Nevertheless, as the following selected entries suggest, pilots may have used other more acceptable words for UAP such as "(conflicting) traffic," "unidentified aircraft," "balloon," etc. The more likely event is that pilots simply don’t report NMAC events at all when the other vehicle is not clearly identified as being an airplane or other conventional object. This view is supported by data that is presented below.

It is interesting to note in the FAA’s Near Midair Collisions System Search database that: (1) Pilots never used the term "flying saucer," "UFO," "disk," or other such description of the "other" aerial vehicle. Several possible reasons why this is the case are given in the discussion section. (2) Other possible synonyms for UAP were found in this database. They included:

"Unidentified aircraft which passed closely off FLT 452’s left wing. Traffic had not been observed..." (e.g., Rept. No. NCERICT98003, GMT Date: 12-15-98).

"Other aircraft" (e.g., Rept. No. NSWROKC97001, GMT Date: 9-12-97).

"Unknown aircraft made a 180 degree turn and came back towards (the reporting aircraft), at which time (reporting aircraft) took evasive action."

(e.g., Rept. No. NWPRSCT97015, GMT Date: 9-5-97)

 

None of these reports gave any information about the identity of the "other aircraft." No explanation is given for the lack of this very important information. Appendix 6 presents several representative NMAC reports found in this database. In a non-trivial number of the reports I reviewed none of the pilots of aircraft involved in near-miss incidents ever returned telephone calls from official investigators trying to obtain further details, perhaps for obvious reasons (one example is Rept. No. NSWROKC97001, GMT Date: 9-12-97).

In summary, how many near-miss events were actually due to UAP but which were labeled "traffic," "unidentified aircraft," "unknown object" or even "balloon" (e.g., Rept. No. NCECZKC96001, Date: 4-25-96) to avoid embarrassment, paperwork, or possible career impairment? There is no way to answer this vital question at this time. Future reporting requirements for all such near-miss incidents should permit the pilots and air crew to use whatever words they deem necessary without fear of reprimand or ridicule.

 

IIB. National Transportation Safety Board’s
Aviation Accident/Incident Database

 The second source of possibly relevant data to this study came from the files of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent Federal agency that is charged by Congress to investigate and document "every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in the other modes of transportation...". <http://nasdac.faa.gov/safety_data> An aviation accident basically involves death or serious injury or substantial aircraft damage. A preliminary NTSB form (6120.19A) must be filed within 5 working days of the event and a factual report (form 6120.4) within a few months. The NTSB Aviation Accident/Incident database includes events that took place between 1983 and the present. A recent review showed that there were 44,580 such reports currently on file. Appendix 7 presents three interesting relatively current cases from this database which were selected to illustrate the fact that near misses with unidentified flying objects continue to occur in our skies.

 

IIC. Federal Aviation Administration’s
Incident Data System

The third source of aviation safety-related information is the FAA’s "Incident Data System." This database contains aviation incident data records for all categories of civil aviation where the events are not serious enough to meet the (above) personal injury or aircraft damage thresholds. Data is only available between 1978 and the present. As before, no reports in which the terms "flying saucer," "UFO," "disk," etc. could be found in any of the reports that were reviewed.

However, many reporters used terms that might have masked an actual UAP encounter. These terms included:

"unknown object" which struck the tail and damaged a Braniff Airways DC-8-51 aircraft flying at cruise altitude. (Rept. No. 19790627017539C, Local Date: 6-27-79).

"Cessna CE-310-D was struck by an "unknown object" on VOR final approach to landing. (Rept. No. 19790327011749G Dated: 3-27-79)

"Cessna CE-172-P received a dent in the leading edge of a wingtip on approach to landing from an "unidentified object." (Rept. No.19841129074319G, Dated: 11-29-84).

"Cessna CE-177-B incurred a bump (and simultaneous noise) inflight by an "unidentified object" that "damaged various parts of aircraft."

[Note: The FAA analysts typically explained the cause of such incidents as bird strikes although no supporting data for this explanation was ever reported. Of particular interest in this paper are alleged "bird strikes" at very high cruise altitudes. ]

 

IID. NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System

A fourth source of official and intriguing aviation incident reports is found in the FAA funded and NASA administered "Aviation Safety Reporting System" (ASRS). This system is a volun-tary, confidential, anonymous incident reporting program established under FAA Advisory Circular 00-46D. Anyone working in the aviation industry is encouraged to use the ASRS procedures to "identify hazards and safety discrepancies in the National Airspace System (NAS)" and to help "formulate policy and to strengthen the foundation of aviation human factors safety research." <http:// nasdac.faa.gov/safety_data, pg. 8> The exact time, flight number, pilot name(s), and other identifying information are purposely deleted to help maintain the reporter’s anonymity. I did not review all 332,290 currently available reports. I did, however, carry out many scores of selected database searches using the following key search words [number of total "hits" or "reports" found are given in parentheses for each word(s)]:

"near miss, unknown aircraft, unknown object" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(5,098 reports)

"near miss, unknown aircraft, unknown object and

‘primary problem area’ "Flight crew human factors" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (973 reports)

"in-fight encounter/other and ‘primary problem area’

"Aircraft and Their Subsystems" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (125 reports)

"unidentified object" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (9 reports)

"unidentified traffic" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(3 reports)

"UFO" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(1 report)

"flying saucer, flying disk" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (0 reports)

"unidentified aerial phenomena" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (0 reports)

The only report found in which the term UFO was used was Report No. 82260 (1988/02) but it did not appear to implicate UAP or impact air safety and therefore is not reviewed here. When the terms "unidentified object" and "unidentified traffic" were reviewed none of them were related specifically to "UAP" encounters. Seven provocative ASRS reports were found and are included in Appendix 8.


Discussion

This discussion will focus on two subjects, the safety-related issue of UAP and pilot reporting dynamics which are closely related both to safety and to scientific study of UAP.

Aviation Safety and UAP. It can be argued that, since almost all of the reports presented in this paper eventually were submitted to some person or agency, the reporters lived to tell about their unusual encounters and aviation safety was not seriously impacted. However it is important to realize that in many of the present UAP reports from project AIRCAT files it was the UAP and not the pilot who avoided a collision at the last moment. Only in case 2 did something actually strike the aircraft (propeller) without doing any discernable damage. In only one case (No. 53) did the Air Force admit that,"the UFO presented a hazard to aircraft operating in the area." (Blue Book file WDO-INT 11-WC23)

Considering the many kinds of UAP flight maneuvers which have been reported (cf. Table 1 and 2) it is clear that whatever the phenomenon is it appears to be able to outperform high performance aircraft in every respect. The diagrams of UAP flight paths presented in Table 1 and 2 do not adequately convey this fact.

In the majority of these pilot reports the aircraft appears to be the focus of ‘attention’ of the phenomenon, as if the UAP either was trying to communicate with humans in some way or was performing surveillance of the current state of aeronautical development. This observation has been supported by many hundreds of high quality foreign pilot reports as well (Weinstein, 2000).

Considering the time of day (and ambient illumination) during which the present UAP were reported it is clear that they tend to approach aircraft during hours of darkness. At the same time UAP radiate colors that are readily discriminated either within relatively small, localized regions (similar to individual light sources) and/or more diffusely over the entire surface of their surfaces. The appearance of the UAP’s lighting patterns take many different forms; they might be interpreted as some type of aircraft anti-collision or navigation lights, even though intense blue lights are reported in some cases (their use is against the law in America).

Considering the distribution of UAP sighting reports over the years it is clear that the present cases tend to occur in bunches with periods of several years in between them for some unknown reason. This finding tends to argue in favor of a pilot reporting bias effect where one pilot will read about the sighting of another pilot (or ground witness) and thereby be more predisposed to misinterpret an otherwise ambiguous visual stimulus as being a UAP. Arguing against this possibility is the fact that pilots tend not to report their sightings, as will be discussed in the following paragraphs. If this "law of mimicking," as I call it, is occurring one might expect a much greater degree of reported similarity of appearance and flight behavior of UAP within a group of reports on the same phenomenon. Such is clearly not the case.

The most reasonable conclusion to come to at this time with regard to whether UAP represent a threat to America’s aviation safety is:

Based upon a thorough review of pilot reports of UAP over the conterminous United States between 1950 and 2000 it is concluded that an immediate physical threat to aviation safety does not exist. However, should pilots make the wrong control input at the wrong time the possibility of a mid-air collision with a UAP does exist. Likewise, if pilots depend upon erroneous instrument readouts safety may be compromised.

Reluctance to Report UAP Sightings. There is little doubt that pilots and others involved in aviation continue to be reluctant to report their sightings of highly unusual visual phenomena. The present review found 11 cases out of 105 total (10.5%) in which the pilots clearly did not report their sighting to authorities and two more cases where they reported them well after the event. Table 6 lists these cases with aircraft classification and the reason given for not reporting.

Here are several other instances for not reporting UAP sightings. They were found in the author’s AIRCAT files (in sighting reports not directly related to aviation safety). We can gain a further understanding of what has contributed to the climate of fear in the minds of many pilots to this day concerning UAP sightings. A UAP sighting on November 18, 1953 by two Air Force pilots over Ohio led to threats of their court martial if they talked to the press or public about what they had seen. (Hall, The UFO Evidence. NICAP, pg. 306, 1964) What was our Air Force trying to hide from the public by this threat?

In April 1954 Air Force Captain Dan Holland saw a UAP descend vertically and come to a sudden halt some 3,000 feet above his Marine jet aircraft. He quickly reported it to his superior officers. Later he was quoted as saying, "I’d never have reported it if I didn’t believe there was something in the sky... because I knew I’d be in for a big ribbing... Two pilots have told me that on another occasion they saw what they thought was a saucer but didn’t report it because of the razzing they knew would come."

Following Captain Peter Kilian’s (American Airlines) widely publicized 45 minute-long pacing on February 24, 1959 by three UAP over central Pennsylvania and the U.S. Air Force’s poorly conducted investigation of the matter (Maney, The New UFO Policy of the U.S. Air Force. Flying Saucer Review, Vol. 6, No. 5, Pp. 7-8, Sept-Oct. 1960), Kilian issued a press statement to the Long Island Daily Press (March 24, 1959) stating (in part), "If the Air Force wants to believe that (viz., their explanation that what he and his FO saw was a KC-97 mid-air refueling operation with a B-47)... it can. But I know what (these aircraft look like) in operation at night. And that’s not what I saw." Captain Kilian stopped discussing his sighting because American Airlines, "through Air Force insistence, was forced to silence Kilian, their attitude being that good relations with officialdom must be maintained at all costs. Consequently, he was requested not to publicize "so controversial a subject." Later he stated, "I feel very deeply concerned with this loss of my own personal freedom." (Flying Saucer Review, pg. 8, 1960)

 

Table 6
Listing of Unreported Cases
with Claimed Reasons Why


Case No.  Classification           Claimed Reason for Not Reporting


21 

42 

43 

57 

61 

64 

65 
...

74 


82 

86 

101 

 

20 

69 

UC 

UC 

UC 

UC 

UP 

UC 

UC 


UC 


UP 

UC 

UC 

 

UP 

UC 

Fear of the existing climate of ridicule

They’ll think you’re nuts

I am seeking no publicity

I didn’t feel it was a near-miss - and because of ridicule

afraid of losing our (pilot’s) licenses

we wanted to avoid the paperwork

fear of skepticism by others and caution expressed by most aviation personnel following publication of Condon report

Captain had reported previous UAP and received harassment from his company and others and swore never to report another

since event didn’t qualify as a near-miss pilot didn’t report it

wanted to avoid paperwork and ridicule

wanted to avoid paperwork and ridicule

Delayed Reporting

feared ridicule

reason not given, but changed their minds one month later


Private pilot Jim Mulgannon of Del Rio, Texas had a prolonged close encounter on October 27, 1968 and said afterward, "Everyone thinks you’re some sort of a nut when you say you see these things and I hesitated a while about reporting it."

Lt. Col. W. M. and his copilot encountered a UFO during a night combat mission in early February 1969 in S.E. Asia. After it departed he wrote in a report, "Then we looked at each other and made remarks to the effect that "I didn’t see anything. Did you?" We both agreed that we didn’t see a thing. Not that we really hadn’t seen anything, just that we both knew about all the paperwork involved and the grilling we would have to undergo if we reported such a sighting. Discretion is the better part of valor, or so the saying goes. Thus we never reported this sighting of a UFO and merely retained the knowledge to ourselves." Apparently, this is a commonly held view among military, private, and commercial pilots even today.

More than fifty commercial airline pilots who have seen UAP and reported them to the U.S. Air Force (as was then required by law) issued a group statement to the press in December 1958 which blasted as "bordering on the absolute ridiculous" the Air Force’s policy of tight censorship, brush-off and denial in regard to unidentified flying objects - flying saucers." An article by Lester (1958) stated, "All (pilots) have been interrogated by the Air Force and most expressed disgust and frustration at Air Force methods and conclusions... "We are ordered to report all UFO sightings," one said, "but when we do we are usually treated like incompetents and told to keep quiet." ... This is no fun, especially after many hours of questioning - sometimes all night long.... Another pilot said he was certain many pilots "forget" to report them, at Air Force insistence to say nothing for publication."

Many of the close encounter events reviewed here involved pilot radio communication with radar control centers during the sighting asking for radar confirmation of the other object. But if the UAP do not appear on ground radar then it is somewhat embarrassing for controllers to have to admit that they couldn’t detect what the pilot was clearly seeing. In such instances some controllers may be inclined to drop the subject altogether unless the pilot makes a point of it by filing a written report (e.g., FAA incident/accident report or Near Midair Collision report). And if a written report is submitted radar controllers know that an inquiry may well ensue and that they may be called to testify. The current climate of fear surrounding UAP reporting should be eliminated to help improve the chances that data collection related to aviation safety will be improved.

Considering the following official statements made by the U.S. Air Force during the "early" years of UAP study it is no wonder that pilots were so squeamish about reporting UAP.

June 27, 1947 "We have no idea what the objects are, if they actually exist."

July 5, 1947 "No investigation is needed. The saucers are only hallucinations."

December 27, 1949 "The Air Force has discontinued its special project investigating and evaluating reported ‘flying saucers’ . . . The reports are the result of misinterpretation of various conventional objects, a mild form of mass hysteria, or hoaxes, and continuance of the project is unwarranted."

March 18, 1950 "The saucers are misinterpretations of ordinary objects, aberrations, meteorological phenomena or hoaxes."

January 1951 "We have no evidence that such objects exist; in general, such reports are hallucinations, mistakes, hoaxes or natural phenomena."

June 24, 1952 "The only conclusion we have come to so far is that ‘flying saucers’ are not an immediate and direct threat to the United States.... If the saucers turn out to be natural phenomena, we’ll drop out and turn it over to the scientists. But if they turn out to be hostile vehicles, we will keep after them."

1953 (CIA sponsored) Robertson Panel concluded that UFOs constitute a threat to the "orderly function of the protective units of the body politic because of an unwarranted mass of irrelevant information could clog vital channels of communication and continued false reports could hide indications of a genuine hostile attack."

November 5, 1957 "After ten years of investigation and analysis...the Air Force was unable to discover any evidence for the existence of "Flying Saucers."

Nonetheless, after his spectacular sighting of a disc-shaped object on the night of March 20, 1950 Captain Jack Adams of Chicago and Southern Airlines summed up the matter well when he said, "We’ve heard a read a lot about flying saucers and were as skeptical as anyone else. But when you see something with your own eyes, you have to believe it."

Official Orders to Pilots not to Divulge Their Sightings. There are numerous examples of official and unofficial "requests" of pilots not to tell their sighting experiences to anyone, including family members. During the early years (i.e., up to about 1954) commercial pilots had far more freedom to report their sightings than afterward. This was due to the results of a meeting between various airline representatives and the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) held in Los Angeles on February 17, 1954. (Fowler, 1981) Suddenly airline pilots were subject to the same severe penalties that Air Force pilots were for publicly disclosing their UAP sightings! Prepared by the Joint Communications-Electronics Committee, an official reporting requirement called "Communication Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings" (CIRVIS), also referred to as Joint Army-Navy-Air Force Publication (JANAP) 146 was established. It was officially endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now any pilot could be fined up to $ 10,000 and liable to a jail term of up to ten years if convicted of telling the press or the public what they had seen. When one reads the fine print of JANAP 146 one finds a reference to "unidentified flying objects" which are listed separately from aircraft, missiles, etc. Fortunately, JANAP 146 was officially terminated in December 1969 when the Air Force ceased its involvement with UFO.

There also were examples of airlines which do not officially suppress reports of UAP sightings. One example was that of Continental Airlines (at least as of September 22, 1977) I have spoken with many commercial pilots who fly for many of the nation’s major air carriers about this matter and have found that none said they knew of current company requirements to keep one’s UAP sighting quiet. But the fact remains that U.S. airlines steadfastly avoid any association with the subject of UAP.

Aviation Officials Don’t Know What to do About UFO Reports. In an interesting report submitted anonymously to a computer bulletin board (CNI, approx. 1998), an air traffic controller at Los Angeles International Airport claimed that he had "personally been part of three bizarre encounters, non-military and non-civilian. "I’m just one of 15,000 controllers, too, so there have to be many more that go unreported," he said. "We used to have a specific (telephone) number to report ‘UFO’ sightings, he wrote, but in the late 80s the directive was replaced by an official ‘advisory’ to tell pilots, if requested, that they should contact a university or research institution, and no further paperwork was required (unless it was a near mid-air [collision])."

"On one occasion, this (alleged) controller saw another controller discuss a UFO incident with his supervisor. The controller told the supe (sic) about the encounter, and after both determined there was nothing on radar, they just kind of shook their heads and rubbed their chins, and that was that.... This I believe is what typically happens, he says. Nobody knows what to do, really." Let us hope that we won’t have to wait for a mid-air collision to occur between an aircraft and a UAP before aviation authorities will act more rationally toward UAP encounters and their reporting.

As was briefly discussed in the Japan Airlines flight 1628 case of November 17, 1986, the FAA was clearly caught between a rock and a hard place in deciding what to say publicly about the large lighted object(s) that Capt. Kenju Terauchi and his crew had reported. The FAA didn’t want to encourage public hysteria by releasing information "whose meaning it could not ascertain. It also did not want to cast aspersions on the crew - it had no reason to - or create the impression that it had anything to cover up, because it didn’t. The FAA just didn’t know. It was a lose-lose situation." (Del Giudice, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 24, 1987).

Another interesting quote was made by FAA’s air traffic manager in Anchorage, a Mr. Elias, concerning the November 17, 1986 JAL flight 1628 close encounter and alleged ground radar traces. "We come to the conclusion... that, uh, you know... we can’t confirm nor deny. If the [crew] had never said anything, we would have said, "We see that every day." " It (the UFO’s radar return) would have been passed off as a split beacon or "uncorrelated target." (italics mine) This is an interesting admission indeed. It suggests that there may be more UAP related radar traces than the FAA is willing to admit.

The Global Aviation Information Network (GAIN). The FAA has only recently (May 2000) proposed the establishment of "a voluntary, privately owned and operated network of systems that collect and use aviation safety information about flight operations, air traffic control operations, and maintenance to improve aviation safety worldwide." <http://www.gainweb.org> Both Congress and the President have recently endorsed the concept of using information proactively to improve aviation safety. This new activity was fostered as a result of the statistical fact that "after declining significantly for about 30 years to a commendably low rate, the worldwide commercial aviation fatality rate has been stubbornly constant since 1980-85." <http://nasdac.faa.gov/gain/>

Following the GAIN approach, nations would share information about aviation problems before those problems result in accidents or incidents. As a recent FAA paper stated, "The challenge is to get the information that "we all knew about" - not only from pilots, but also from flight attendants, air traffic controllers, mechanics, dispatchers, manufacturers, designers, airport operators, the people on the ramp who close the cargo doors, and others - and do something about it before people are injured or metal is bent." (Ibid., pg. 2) In the present context, will aviation officials be open minded and brave enough to acknowledge the existence of UAP and actively include them in an appropriately designed program? Will officials at the highest levels of our government support such information gathering and sharing? Will pilots of all kinds of aircraft come forth with timely sighting reports of UAP? The answer to these questions remains to be seen.

 

 Conclusions and Recommendations

This review of intriguing pilot reports has led to the following three conclusions:

Conclusion 1. In order to avoid collisions with UAP some pilots have made control inputs that have resulted in passenger and flight crew injury. However, because of the extremely good maneuverability of most of these UAP as well as the relatively small number of actual mid-air collisions that have been reported with UAP over the years, there appears to be relatively little concern for mid-air collisions with UAP unless the pilot makes an incorrect control input at the last moment or loses control due to air turbulence that is sometimes associated with the UAP.

Conclusion 2. Pilots have reported instances where their cockpit instruments (compass system, navigation and guidance systems, transponders, etc.) have been affected when a UAP flew relatively nearby their aircraft. In most instances their instruments returned to normal operation after the phenomenon departed. Such electromagnetic interference can seriously affect aviation safety if the pilot does not realize that these displays and controls are malfunctioning and particularly if the systems are permanently affected.

Conclusion 3. Official U.S. government databases contain few if any UAP reports for one or more reasons which have been discussed above. As the government data reporting, collecting, and analysis procedures and policies are now configured, our aviation incident reporting system is closed and self-governing against reporting UAP sightings. If this situation continues scientists who should be involved in the study of these anomalous phenomena will be increasingly discouraged from doing so due to a paucity of reliable data.

Several recommendations are offered:

(1) Responsible aviation officials should take UAP phenomena seriously and issue clear procedures that encourage all pilots to report them without fear of ridicule, reprimand or other career impairment and also in a manner that may support scientific research. The low probability of occurrence of a UAP encounter is not sufficient reason to ignore the subject.

(2) Airlines should implement carefully planned instructional courses that teach their pilots about optimal operational procedures when flying near UAP and, when it safe and feasible to do so, what kinds of data pilots should collect. The specific nature of the flight control procedures that should be taught depend upon such factors as: separation distance and closure rate of the UAP with the aircraft, likelihood of collision with the UAP if any flight path change is made, number of UAP present, occurrence of E-M effects, and others to be defined. This instruction also should provide a general historical background on prior close encounters and near misses by different types of aircraft and the kinds of maneuvers that worked effectively. Airlines don’t want to upset their customers by admitting that the skies may not actually be so friendly.

It is to the airlines’ benefit to take a quiet yet proactive stance toward UAP.

(3) A central clearing house to receive UAP reports should be identified. Perhaps an existing system such as NASA’s ‘Aviation Safety Reporting System’ or the FAA’s ‘Global Aviation Information Network’ would suffice. If this is not feasible then an independent reporting and data analysis center should be established. This unclassified, public access, clearing house should collect, analyze, and report all such sightings for the continuing benefit of aviation safety as well as scientific investigations. Airlines pay dearly for surprise encounters with UAP no matter how infrequently they seem to occur. Passenger and flight crew injuries that already have resulted from past UAP encounters only emphasize the need for a clearer understanding of what UAP are and how to protect against their natural or deliberate effects.

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Copyright 2000 NATIONAL AVIATION REPORTING CENTER ON ANOMALOUS PHENOMENA