NARCAP TR - 1
Date of Report: 10-15-2000
Aviation Safety in America
A Previously Neglected Factor (1)
Richard F. Haines (2)
National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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).
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.
"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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Hourly Distribution of Near-Miss
and Pacing Incidents in 30 minute increments
Local Time Case Number(s)
28-UC; 63(a)-UP; 88-UP
5-UM; 78-UP; 80-UP
30-UM; 59-UP; 83-UP
9-UM; 19-UM; 81-UP
1-UM; 3-UM; 24-UM; 68-UP; 76-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
38-UC; 40-UM; 42-UC; 71-UM
"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.
Case Distribution by Year, Aircraft Classification,
and Local Time (in 2400 hr format)
|case no. hour
62-2220; 63(a)-0031; 63(b)-0040
82-1315; 83-1500; 84-2130
85-2240; 87-0010; 88-0030
31-late evening; 33-2104; 34-2104
41-0145; 42-2300; 43-2210
44-2145; 45-0345; 47-2135; 50-2215; 51-2015
24-191525-2030; 26-1700; 27-n/a; 96-night
29-afternoon; 30-1520; 32-2100
35-0544; 36-2107; 37:0655
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
Electromagnetic Effects Reported When UAP Was Nearby the
Aircraft System or Sub-System Affected
(and Radar contact)
Transient (T) Permanent (P)
Not known (N)
| November 7, 1950
July 11, 1952
December 10, 1952
December 11, 1955
March 8, 1957
June 3, 1957
July 4, 1961
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;
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
Total = 24 cases
| Total = 36 events
|| Total: T = 26 72.2%
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
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
"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
(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
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:
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
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)
Listing of Unreported Cases
with Claimed Reasons Why
Case No. Classification
Claimed Reason for Not Reporting
| 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
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
wanted to avoid paperwork and ridicule
wanted to avoid paperwork and ridicule
reason not given, but changed their minds one month
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
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
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
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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