Summary: Radar sightings of UFO's are remarkably common, and also the most authentic. The word of expertly trained operators, backed up by tangible echo returns from unidentified intruders is hard to deny.
Central to virtually all UFO reports is the integrity of the witness and the reliability of their evidence. In a great many cases the actual status of the witnesses is also of crucial importance. People can genuinely believe they have witnessed a UFO, when sometimes the real explanation lies in something considerably more mundane. Weather balloons and the planet Venus are much cited examples.
The fact is that regardless of what witnesses actually see, lack of expertise in say climatology or astronomical phenomena mean that the seal of official approval is often not forthcoming. There is however one category of sighting that involves two types of expert witness - one human, the other mechanical. It is the sober and hard edged world of radar!
Radar sightings of UFO's are remarkably common, and also the most authentic. The word of expertly trained operators, backed up by tangible echo returns from unidentified intruders is hard to deny. In many cases these bizarre blips that suddenly invade military and civil radar screens are seen to execute manoeuvres completely beyond the abilities of any known aircraft. Ground speeds of up six thousand m.p.h are nothing unusual, and as if to add further credence to these incidents, many of these 'radar visuals' as they are called, have been simultaneously witnessed by naked eye observers, both on the ground and in the air!
Nor it appears is there any lack of these sightings. In his book 'The Flying Saucerers' author Arthur Shuttlewood claims he once met a retired RAF wing commander who estimated he had witnessed no less than 700 cases of 'radar visual' UFO's.
Rendlesham Forest Incident.
In December 1980 the famous incident at Rendlesham Forest near Ipswich, also began with a radar track of a strange object. This led to a full scale alert at numerous local air bases, culminating in the descent of luminous object in nearby woods. Numerous accounts speak of aliens emerging, and the base commander attempting to communicate with them through sign language!
For a fuller account of the incident please turn to our special feature on Rendlesham Forest.
In August 1973 the test launch of a Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenburg Air Force base in the USA, was closely monitored by a UFO that was picked up on radar. It was tracked at a height of around 400,000 feet as it hovered close to the ICBM's nose cone. In his book 'The flying saucerers' author Arthur Shuttlewood, sets the scene as follows: "Radar picked up an inverted saucer-shaped object to the right and above the descending nose cone and watched it across the warhead's trajectory to a point which was below and to the left of it..." The object estimated to be ten feet high and forty feet long, was tracked by two separate radar systems which also picked up at least three other unknown objects in that area.
Wright Patterson AFB.
One of the most notable "radar visuals" occurred almost directly above the headquarters of the Air Technical Intelligence Center ( ATIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force base in the USA. According to writer Ralph Blum the ATIC is one of the few official organisations ever to acknowledge UFO's as extraterrestrial visitors. In the spring of 1950 a TWA pilot in the vicinity of the headquarters reported a brilliant white object that was subsequently tracked on radar. Fighter planes were scrambled, and the object followed for several minutes before it was lost in thick cloud. The official verdict was that the radar return had been caused by an ice-laden cloud. This explanation however was subsequently denied by the master sergeant operating the equipment. As an expert who helped develop the first microwave warning radars he felt confident that whatever it was that he picked up on his radarscope was certainly no ice cloud!
In 1973 the failure of a radar system was linked to the abduction of two men aboard a UFO along the Gulf Coast, close to Pascagoula in the USA. The incident reported in the Jackson Daily News claimed that a Marion County civil defense official picked up an unusual radar return that blacked out the entire station.
In the words of the official himself: "It got rather close to the station, about three miles, then it became stationery and all of a sudden my radar suddenly jammed. I've never seen anything quite like this...." Later on that evening when the object returned, the radar unit developed streaks and numerous residents of the area reported a strange craft with bright blue lights. That same night two unnamed scientists went on record as saying they felt certain that two men had been abducted aboard a UFO that was seen hovering in the vicinity.
The Condon Report.
The whole subject of anomalous radar returns together with most other aspects of UFO sightings was covered in the minutest detail in an independent scientific report commissioned by the US Air Force. The full study undertaken by the University of Colorado, also known as the Condon report, was released to the press as a 900 page document entitled: "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects"! Here are just several of the many exciting cases covered by the report.
Case 14-N. Mobile, Alabama. 1956
An object believed to have been tracked by radar was also sighted by a Viscount aircraft on an evening flight from New York to Mobile, Alabama. The blazing white object stood out boldly against the bright starry sky. At first the crew assumed it to be a meteorite, but the object did not break up as expected, and abruptly halted right in front of the aircraft. before executing a "series of crazy gyrations", before shooting out over the Gulf of Mexico.
Case 19-B Walesville- Westmorland. 1954.
A military aircraft sent to intercept an unknown object tracked on radar abruptly burst into flames forcing the crew to eject. According to the official account: " As the pilot started a descent, he noted that the cockpit temperature increased abruptly." Scanning his instruments the pilot noticed the fire warning light was on, and both crew members ejected successfully. The report decided: "The conclusion was: unknown"!
Chesapeake Bay. USA. 1957
The flight crew of two airliners over Chesapeake Bay were astonished to witness a brilliant white object travelling at very high speed. The object was subsequently tracked on radar, and both visual and radar sightings terminated abruptly at the same moment. In the words of one of the pilots: "the object dissolved right in front of my eyes". The Condon report concluded that "there was no known natural or astronomical object...to have caused such a mirage", and that the whole incident "was difficult to explain".
Case 2, Lakenheath, Britain. 1956.
One of the most sensational cases of Radar- Visual sighting occurred in Britain in 1956. An unusual object was tracked on radar travelling at a speed of at least 4000 miles an hour. The object was witnessed by duty personnel in the control tower and also by the crew of a passing C-47 aircraft. As the object became stationary in the sky it was picked up by numerous other radar operators, who were astonished to see it go from point to point in bursts of speed of at least 600 m.p.h. In the words of the principal witness: "There was no slow start up or build up to this speed - it was constant from the second it started to move until it stopped."
By this time the object had excited a great deal of interest and set the phone lines buzzing between numerous air bases. It was decided to scramble two RAF interceptors to investigate. The first of the pilots to sight the target managed to lock on his guns, but the UFO instantly vanished from sight, only to reappear behind him moments later. At this instant a second UFO appeared on the radar scopes.
Now feeling under threat the interceptor pilot fought desperately to shake off the UFO's, but all to no avail. In the words of one witness: "He tried everything - he climbed, dived, circled, etc, but the UFO acted like it was glued right behind him, always the same distance, very close, but we always had two distinct targets."
By this time the pilot was understandably concerned. In the words of a radar operator: "He continued to comment occasionally and we could tell from the tonal quality he was getting worried, excited, and also pretty scared." This aerial game of cat and mouse lasted until the RAF plane broke off the engagement to return to base through lack of fuel. Meanwhile the second interceptor which had been in the air for a far shorter period developed an engine malfunction and was immediately forced back to base. At this point the two UFO's, still being tracked by radar became stationary in the sky before hurtling northwards and out of contact at speeds in excess of 600 m.p.h.
The Colorado University report concluded: "The preponderance of evidence indicates the possibility of a genuine UFO in this case." It added : "In summary this is the most puzzling and unusual case in the Radar-Visual files. The apparently rational, intelligent behaviour of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting."
Case 15-B, Blackhawk, and Rapid City. 1953.
On a dark moonless night members of the Ground Observers Corp near Blackhawk, South Dakota, witnessed a red glowing light that was performing a series of unusual turns. Occasionally it would shoot "straight up", or move suddenly to the left and right. A radar operator was informed of the sighting and promptly discovered dozens of unidentified targets. These sightings continued over the next three of four hours during which the report states "a large number of unidentified blips appeared on the Rapid City radar"!
A fighter plane was scrambled to one of the stationary blips, and made chase on the object without managing to gain on it! The pilot radioed back that the UFO was pacing him, a fact corroborated by another unusual radar blip from close to the plane. The pilot later reported feeling disturbed by the incident. In addition radar gun-lock equipment on the aircraft malfunctioned at the time of the sighting, and continued to give trouble all the way back to base.
Case 5. Fort Worth, area. 1957.
A strange object was tracked at a height of 35,000 feet. Confused radar operators described it as behaving erratically, disappearing, and then reappearing. To quote one witness: "...they (the object) had maybe a hovering capability and then it would just be in a different location in no time at all." The object was tracked simultaneously on ground and air radar systems. Visual sightings reported it as "a bright white light without apparent substance. Apparently it would turn itself on and off "like throwing a switch", and also gave off an "amorphous red glow.."
The University report concluded that there "were many unexplained aspects to this sighting", and found the testimony of the radar operators "most disturbing". It therefore classed the incident "as an unknown".
Project Blue Book.
From the Project Blue Book files there is another bizarre Radar-Visual sighting that was investigated in 1957. This concerns an incident in the skies above the Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico. A radar operator reported an erratic blip that seemed to indicate a plane descending at a dangerously steep angle. Visual sightings described it as a greenish coloured object " the shape of an automobile on end" that hovered above the end of the runway at a height of about two or three hundred feet. Radar operators as well as eye witnesses then observed the object "ascend abruptly at an estimated rate climb of 4,500 feet per minute", before it disappeared off the radar screens."
However this was not the end of the incident. Twenty minutes later the object reappeared and began to follow a C-46 aircraft for approximately 14 miles. According to one radar operator: "Then the object turned north to hover over the outer marker for approximately one and a half minutes and then faded from scope. Total duration of radar sighting: 20 minutes[ as opposed to the 4 to 5 minute visual sighting].
Away from the public eye.
Although many of these sightings date back to the 1950's this does mea they are not still a frequent occurrence. What is less likely today are the chances of incidents becoming known to the public. Even aside from the obvious aspects of security there is the fact that there is simply no provision for investigating anomalous radar blips if they are thought to pose no threat to other aircraft. After all a busy radar operator is scarcely likely to jeopardise air traffic by turning his attention to some unusual object merely for the entertainment value. At best he may report it to his superiors who themselves may not have the time to adequately investigate.
The fact is that the average radar installation is simply not geared towards carrying out Ufological research, and this is what makes the above mentioned cases so unique.