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 Fordís
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 donít 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 ASAFEís
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 nationís 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, donít 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 Authorís AIRCAT Files
This section presents the results of a thorough fifty
year review of the authorís 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.