Two USAF Fighters Encounter UFO
In early March, UFOData Magazine was contacted by Chris Rolfe, of UFO Monitors East Kent (UFOMEK), with regard to an audio file that had come into his possession. The file apparently recorded the observation of an unidentified object by at least two United States Air Force (USAF) F-15 fighter jets from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. The actual location of the incident is not yet known.
Chris had read about the incident in an article published in Radio User magazine by Kevin Patterson, an aviation reporter who has also contributed to UFOData Magazine. Kevin has a regular column in Radio User entitled ‘Military Matters’. Chris contacted Kevin and discovered that an audio record of the event had been made by an anonymous radio enthusiast. Kevin passed on the recording to Chris, who, in turn, forwarded it to us. Kevin reported that London Military Air Traffic Control had picked up the object at between three and four thousand feet and had requested the jets to investigate. The F-15s, call-sign ‘Gator’ duly manoeuvred and encountered the object.
The audio appears to be a conversation between three men and they pick up an object on their radar. It is at an altitude of seventeen thousand feet, rising to seventeen thousand seven hundred feet, considerably higher than when London Military ATC first detected it. Its airspeed varied from a dead stop to eighty knots and the planes made at least two passes of it, flying both beneath and above the object.
Below is a transcript of the audio recording. It may not be a hundred percent accurate, given the noise in the file, but it should be pretty close:
Voice #1: Alright, dude. No kidding. I just flew over Bullseye zero zero eight for twenty. I had a radar hit and it was swinging, looked like thirty knots. There was something there. It looked like, it didn't look like a bird. It looked like a rock to me. I... CQ negative. I have no idea what it was, but, er, basically this... heads up, try to stay away from seventeen thousand feet, keep your nugget on, so I have no idea what it was. I'm gonna use our radar and see if I can pick this object up again. I picked it up twice, the first time I picked it up, my radar broke lock, so I thought it was just, er, some kind of bad lock or superficial chaff. I'm gonna turn back towards the north a little bit.
Voice #2: Fuel pick up trail.
Voice #1: Thanks, I'm gonna start coming back towards the west... I think zero zero four for about twenty... I got it again. It's at seventeen-seven. Three miles off my nose. Yeah at seventeen-seven. I'm flying that way now, I'm gonna slow down. I'm not gonna get below three hundred knots, but, er...
Voice #3: ...back towards you. Something small. Very small, black object. I had it at seventeen-seven. He just flew... it just flew right over me.
Voice #2: Confirm the object appears stationary.
Voice #1: Well, I couldn't tell, because [unintelligible static].
Voice #2: Nearer eighty knots.
Voice #1: My radar shows at between
thirty and sixty, so I have no idea what it is actually doing. But
it went from seventeen, the first time I saw it, to seventeen-seven.
It's not falling. I don't think it was a bird
Voice #2: [unintelligible]
Voice #1: What's that?
Voice #2: Are you taking a manual lock or is it a auto-guns lock?
Voice #1: I'm getting a auto-guns every time. Got it at Bullseye zero zero nine for fifteen. Showing, basically, no airspeed on it.
Voice #2: [unintelligible] is clean.
Voice #1: Say again.
Voice #2: Two was clean. Two was locked! Full burn. Zero one two continue to ten thousand.
Voice #1: [unintelligible]... I'm up [unintelligible] here. I wanna try and look at it, then you follow in behind me, if you can.
Voice #2: I'm at fifteen thousand.
Voice #1: Dude, I have no idea what that is. But it has passed over me... I got it at seventeen thousand feet. Eight miles off my nose. Bullseye zero four nine for twenty. Seventeen thousand, I wanna get down to sixteen-five. Two point five miles off my nose right now. Seventeen thousand feet. I'm not even gonna slow down as much as you are. Maybe you can slow down a little bit more and get a better look. [interference]... twenty knots, not manoeuvring.
Voice #2: Have you confirmed the merge [unintelligible]
Voice #1: I am about to merge right now. I'm seeing him. Going underneath me now and I'm going to get my airspeed back before I manoeuvre. Are you locked or clean?
Voice #2: I'm no joy, approaching line abreast with you, two thousand feet higher, eighteen-five.
Voice #1: Copy that. I'm gonna need your right hand turn... You said you're at eighteen?
Voice #2: Yeah, contact, I'm at eighteen-five now. At your six o'clock, er, about thirty miles.
Voice #1: Copy that.
Voice #2: Clear, you're well clear. I won't descend at this time. [unintelligible] are we clear of this target?
Voice #1: I'm not sure. It stays between seventeen and eighteen, so... I believe I'm in the vicinity of it. I'm not, er, a hundred percent positive. [unintelligible]. I have visual now. I'm gonna fly underneath him.
Voice #2: Copy. At that time I still could not make out what it was.
Voice #1: You didn’t see it?
Voice #2: Confirmed.
Voice #1: I'm gonna circle back around.
Voice #3: Follow [unintelligible] see if we can see it through the HUD.
Voice #2: Have we got somebody else back here with us?
Voice #3: Yeah, it's him. Dude, did you see anything?
Voice #2: Negative.
On March 6th, 2007, UFOData Magazine contacted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and asked for any information they had via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We also contacted RAF Lakenheath, but they have failed to reply to our correspondences.
The very next day, I received an email from Mrs Sue Welch, of the Defence Flying Complaints Investigation Team. She wanted me to phone her so that I could provide her with more information. I did this and she was very nice and thanked me for the information. She said that now she had the call-sign of the flight, she could contact the pilots in question at RAF Lakenheath. A report would be filed with the MoD and, in the fullness of time, we would hear back from them (not her).
On March 8th, 2007, I received an email from Mr Paul Welch, of the MoD Freedom of Information office. His email said:
Thank you for your e-mail of 7 March 2007 asking for any information or documentation relating to an alleged incident on 12 January 2007, when London Military Air Traffic Control tasked two USAF F-15 aircraft to investigate an unknown object that had been picked up on radar.
We have no record of London Military Air Traffic Control Centre making such a request.
I immediately sent a reply to Mr Webb, explaining that, while we appreciated his speedy reply (perhaps the fastest ever in response to a FOIA request!), he had only referred to the request from London Military ATC for the jets to intercept the unknown object. I asked if it was possible for him to look into the interception incident itself.
In the meantime, various explanations of what the object might be had been submitted by various researchers, including weather balloons, vultures, mythical birds or a helium-filled, toy balloon.
By 19th March, 2007, I had not heard back from the MoD, so I sent an email to Mr Webb, asking if he had received my initial reply. The next day, an email arrived confirming that my reply had been received and two hours and forty-two minutes later I received the following message from Mr Webb in my email inbox:
Thank you for your e-mail of 8 March 2007 asking me to look into any records of an alleged sighting of an unknown object by two USAF F-15 pilots on 12 January 2007. I am dealing with it under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The Ministry of Defence have no record of UK military air traffic control tasking USAF aircraft to undertake any such investigation on or around 12th January 2007. However, I understand that two USAF aircraft spotted an object on their onboard radar whilst on a routine training flight and, on their own initiative, made a number of passes over it. They believed the object, no bigger than a football, was floating with the wind and had probably come from a weather balloon.
I should also like to take the opportunity to explain that the unless there is corroborating evidence to suggest that the UK's airspace may have been compromised by a hostile or unauthorized foreign military aircraft, the MOD does not investigate or seek to provide a precise explanation for each of the 200-300 "UFO" reports we receive every year. However, we believe that rational explanations could be found for most of the sightings if resources were devoted to so doing, but it is not the function of the MOD to provide this kind of aerial identification service. It would be an inappropriate use of defence resources if we were to do so.
Touchy! So, it wasn’t a bird, after all. What part of a weather balloon is black, rock-like and can go from three thousand to nearly eighteen thousand feet and be locked on radar, despite being no bigger than a football? I asked Mr Webb if he could send me a hard copy of his findings and he said he would pop it in the post. All I got, however, was a printout of the email I received from him. I have asked for hard copies of the information he has received from his investigation, but have yet to receive a reply to this request.
Chris Rolfe, in the meantime, had contacted UFO researcher, Don Berliner, in the States and he made a FOIA request from over there. The reply he got, from Joanne F Kitchen, of the 48th Fighter Wing (USAFE), read as follows:
This responds to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of March 4, 2007 which you seek information and copies of all materials related to the January 12 2007 radar/visual observation from and/or attempted intercept by the crews of two RAF Lakenheath based F-15's of an unidentified object. Your request was received by this office on March 5, 2007 and assigned file number 2007-018.
A thorough search by the 48 Operational Support Squadron did not locate any records responsive to your request. The FOIA applies to existing Air Force records; the Air Force need not create a record in order to respond to a request.
‘A thorough search’ did not locate any records? This clearly contradicts the Ministry of Defence’s assertion that the pilots did encounter an object. Is this a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing, or are the MoD’s searches more ‘thorough’ than the United States Air Force’s?
In an effort to ascertain where the incident took place, Chris Rolfe is trying to find out which region of UK airspace the frequency of the radio exchange covers. As yet, he has been unsuccessful. Two frequencies were used, according to the enthusiast that recorded the transmission, one of which is used by London Military ATC and the other reserved for the 492nd and 493rd Fighter Squadrons at RAF Lakenheath. The 492nd use F-15E Eagles, while the 493rd fly F-15Cs.
According to Kevin Patterson’s original article, on the same day, there was a report of an aircraft over Norfolk executing some unusual manoeuvres at high altitude and a report from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, of ‘flaming debris’ falling from the sky. A helicopter from RNAS Gannet was despatched to investigate, but nothing was found. It is not known, though, if these incidents are related to what the American F-15 pilots intercepted.
A member of the Above Top Secret forum (www.abovetopsecret.com), ‘PW229’, who claims to work in the area of aircraft communications, has determined that the aircraft in question were F-15E Eagles, which have a pilot and a weapon systems officer and utilise APG-70 radar systems. He also stated that the APG-70 cannot attain an auto-lock on a balloon.
The APG-70 system has a feature that can recognise many different types of aircraft from a continually-updated database. The auto-guns mode of the radar locks on the first target that enters its beam between three thousand feet and fifteen nautical miles distance. The radar also features a High Resolution Map mode (HRM) which can resolve objects down to eight and a half feet across at a distance of up to twenty nautical miles. Smaller objects can be detected, but they will appear on the scope as being the minimum resolvable size of eight and a half feet i.e. much larger than a football.
‘PW229’ has also claimed that one of the voices on the recording actually came not from one of the F-15s, but from a NATO-E3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft. He said: “This aircraft tracked the object for quite some time and saw 2 very unusual manoeuvres. The first was a rapid acceleration from 30 knots indicated to around 150 knots in 6 seconds... Although this first manoeuvre was nothing outrageous, the second manoeuvre most certainly was. The target dropped from 155 knots indicated to 10 knots indicated in less than half a second at which point the E-3 lost the target (it was lost in ground clutter)... From here the E-3 telemetry is very hazy on the target... I have received additional info that there was no IFF transmission from the object.”
Chris Rolfe is attempting to contact ‘PW229’ for more information. Even though the information provided by the Above Top Secret members appears interesting and seems to come from those who know what they are talking about, we accept that such information presented via internet forums can often be unreliable and, more often than not, unverifiable.
Another Above Top Secret forum member, ‘USAF1N051’, who claims to be a member of the Texas Air National Guard, reported that the terminology used in the audio recording was accurate and consistent with the way pilots speak to each other over the radio.
On March 27th, 2007, Mr Eric Rush received a reply from the Meteorological Office in Exeter, Devon, after making enquiries about whether the object could have been a weather balloon, as suggested by the MoD:
Dear Mr Rush
Thank you for your email.
As the National Met Service and a world leading source of information and advice on the weather and natural environment we are well equipped to deal with your enquiry.
This sighting, if it was one of our weather balloons ascending then at 17000 feet it would be considerably larger than a football as at launch the balloon is approximately four feet in diameter and with the reduction in air pressure the balloon only gets larger in volume. The balloon is made is of a tranclucent [sic] latex that is beige in colour. The parachute is white. The radiosonde is also white and the size of a paperback book. If the balloon has burst and the radiosonde is descending and the parachute has deployed then that would be approximately three to four feet in diameter.
I don't believe that the radiosonde is large enough to be picked up on radar.
I think that this sighting isn't anything to do with weather balloons!
If you have any questions or need additional information please contact the Customer Centre on 0870 9000 100 where one of our advisors will be happy to help you. The number is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Customer Centre, Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, Devon, EX1 3PB, United Kingdom.
UFOData Magazine contacted NATS (National Air Traffic Services), the leading company tasked with providing air traffic control for fifteen of the UK’s largest airports, as well as ‘en route’ services for aircraft crossing UK airspace. We spoke to Richard Wright, Senior Press Officer at the NATS Press Office, and he explained that our skies are divided into two, distinct sections: controlled airspace and open airspace.
Open airspace is not covered by air traffic control, so pilots are responsible for avoiding any other air traffic. Most flights in open airspace take place during the day, although pilots with instrument training may be allowed to fly at night or in low-visibility conditions. When low-visibility is a factor, restrictions are placed on flights for reasons of safety.
As would be expected, there are more stringent controls in controlled airspace. These areas cover regions around airports and air corridors and NATS are paid to keep aircraft safely separated in these areas in any weather. All aircraft in controlled airspace are required to carry active transponders to send vital information to air traffic control about height, speed and the aircraft’s identification code or call sign. This will be displayed on the radar screen as a small box of information attached to the ‘blip’ on the ATC screen.
Any metallic object will be detected on radar and return a ‘blip’ on the screen, but unless the object carries a transponder, no other information will be displayed.
Hot air balloons generally do not carry
transponders, but they are required to stay well away from
controlled airspace. As a rule, hot air balloons will not be
detected by ATC radar. This is because they usually fly at low
altitudes and, for the most part, are non-metallic
Meteorological balloons also do not carry transponders for the most part, but they are required to be launched in areas where they will not drift into controlled airspace. A metallicised weather balloon will be detected on radar, but, unless it is carrying a transponder, will only appear as a ‘blip’ on the radar screen with no altitude data etc.
Mr Wright was familiar with this case and was sceptical of the claims being made. He found it unlikely that an object the size of a football would be visible to pilots in jets flying at several hundred miles per hour.
UFOData Magazine would like to thank NATS and Mr Wright for their invaluable assistance.
Sheffield Hallam University lecturer, Dr David Clarke has said that the weather balloon explanation offered by the pilots satisfies him, although he encouraged us to keep digging for more information on this case.
UFOData Magazine and UFOMEK are still investigating this case and if any new information comes to light, we will let our readers know in the next issue (June/July 2007).
Steve Johnson - writing for UFOData
- writing for UFOData Magazine
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Updated 16th August, 2012