Facteurs météorologiques dans les retours radar non identifiés

James E. McDonaldMc Donald, James E.: 14ème Conférence de Métérologie Radar, Société Américaine de Météorologie,


On pourrait dire que la météorologie radar a pris ses premières racines en tentant d'expliquer ces échos radar non expliqués avec le radar embarqué CXAM de la Marine sur l'U.S.S. Yorktown à 450 miles au large de la côte du sud de la Californie à l'été 1940 s1[Page, 1962]. Les échos furent démontrés être des retours à balayage multiples depuis la région cotière distante de San Diego, vus via les aujourd'hui fameuses conditions de propagation anormale (PA) prévalant dans cette zone. De la mêêière, une recherche productive sur ce qui fut se révéla finalement être uêe variété de types d'"anges radar" stemmed from efforts to account for peculiar echoes not identifiable as aircraft or precipitation or ground returns. Lightning echoes went through a similar period of existence as unidentified returns, as did those caused by intense tornado vortices, sea breeze fronts, etc. Clearly, unidentified radar returns, and the meteorological factors contributing to them, have provided a fruitful source of stimulating new problems in radar meteorology over the past 3 decades. Perhaps the most recent example thereof is found in current studies of the meteorological implications of the astonishing breaking-wave echoes seen on certain ultrasensitive, ultra-high-resolution radars, such as the new CW/FM vertically-pointing set developed at the Naval Electronics Laboratory. The curious scalloped and braided echo-patterns went unidentified for a time after being first noted some years back, but are now reliably attributed to index discontinuities whose shear-generated undulations and refractivity variance must come as a distinct surprise to every meteorologist on first seeing graphic records of these phenomena. In these and other cases of initially unidentified radar returns, experience has shown that close attention to recurrent features of the patterns of puzzling returns has paid off in new and important understanding of the atmosphere and its electromagnetic propagation characteristics.

L'article présent commentera upon and cite some examples of a category of unidentified radar returns that do not seem to be well-known to investigators in radar meteorology, despite the fact that the phenomena have frequently been attributed to anomalous propagation and other weather effects. These are a type of returns observed on operational radars, chiefly military and air traffic radars, intermittently over a period of about twenty years, yet never subjected to any very careful, systematic, and extended scientific scrutiny, as near as I have been able to ascertain.

Etudes passées

Il est entendu que j'exclus de cette discussion :

  1. tous les retours really extensive layer-type of the sort now fairly familiar to radar meteorologists from many studies,
  2. dot-angels of both wind-independent (insects, birds) and wind-dependent (atmospheric refractive anomalies) types,
  3. ring angels, et
  4. intense but generally really extensive and only slowly changing ground returns due to AP.

Après cette élimination, il reste toujours une classe de retours indépendants du vent, souvent hautement localisée et montrant souvent des vitesses de propagation apparentes bien au-dessus des vitesses de vents ambients et parfois même bien au-êdes vitesses des appareils connus. Dans l'examen de Plank (1956) des phénomènes d'anges, il semble avoir connaissance d'une telle classe résiduelle, qu'il intitule Anges de Type III (Echos, souvent en mouvement erratique, de sources localisées, non portées par le vent). Qu'il ait eu en tête des retours deêégorie ici en considération semble autrement confirmé par son traitement suivant (Plank, 1959, p. 23) de ce qu'il appelle un type d'écho ne provenant pas d'appareils qui apparaît soudainement, se déplace sur une question de minutes selon une trajectoire de ligne semi-droite à des vitesse de quelques 600 à 2000 miles/h, puis disparaît. Des échos de cette nature furent discutés plus tôt par Borden et Vickers (1953) suivant 2 épisodes ayant reçu une large publicité à l'Aéroport National de Washington les 19 et 26 juillet 1952 (voir également l'Air Weather Service, 1954.) Plank (1958) a également discuté brièvement ces 2 épisodes et décrit les conditions prévalant comme excessivement super-réfractives. Cependant, mes propres calculs des N-gradients pertinents in the weak surface-inversion layer present showed a value of only about half the ducting value, and subsequent checks by Plank (personal communication) revealed that a factor of two had been inadvertently omitted from his earlier computations when his estimated gradients were in error by a factor of two, on the high side. Thayer's gradient computations confirm this (he does show a thin duct on 7/26/52, but its elevation of 1 km essentially rules out trapping), yet he too attributes the episode to AP, which is difficult to understand.

To my present knowledge, the only discussion of any substantial number of cases in the category of unusual radar returns to be considered here is that of Thayer (1969), presented as part of the University of Colorado's study of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Since Thayer attributes many of his cases to AP, his analyses are of present interest. Blackmer et al. (1965) ostensibly addressed themselves to the present category, but in fact do not discuss a single specific instance that falls in the class of interest here; they merely review known propagation anomalies. Hardy (1969) has also described unusual radar echoes in a symposium whose context was that of the long-puzzling UFO problem; but all of his examples, like those touched on by Blackmer et al., were drawn from categories of known types of angels and gravity-wave effects and none from the category here under discussion, In the same symposium, I discussed in considerable detail (McDonald, 1969) four specific cases in the category of present interest, two of which cases Thayer (1969) had attributed to AP effects. I gave reasons for rejecting such an interpretation (McDonald 1969). For brevity, the category of present interest will be referred to as "radar UFOs" in the remainder of these remarks.

Exemples illustrant d'ovnis radar attribués à des effets atmosphériques

Nous faisons ici face à un problème sémantique quant à savoir ce qui devra être compris sous le terête>ovni radar ." Je soulignerai, d'abord, comme le fit Plank en décrivant ses anges de type Type 3, that they must be discrete echoes (often as intense as or more intense than, conventional aircraft at corresponding ranges); and, second, they must exhibit motions whose kinematic characteristics are quite distinct from those of conventional aircraft or of familiar ground-return effects. I would also add a third stipulation that they must be unlike any of the familiar interference and ECM effects (spoking, running-rabbits, blanking, etc.). Ces 3 stipulations pourraient au moins be suggestive of relevant elimination criteria, even if each calls for much more careful specification than is possible within present space-limitations.

Plank stressed "erratic" motion; but in many instances of radar UFOs, strong targets have moved in straight-line paths from one side of an operational scope to the other at speeds far in excess of aircraft speeds (i.e., several thousands of miles per hour) without any change of apparent course. In other instances, high-speed tracks have exhibited sharp direction-changes, stops, closed one-sweep course-reversals, or closed orbits at extreme g-levels, in fashion quite inexplicable in terms of known aeronautical devices. Plank's term "erratic" is thus somewhat misleading, although there certainly are cases on record where that description would fit rather well. His speed range, 600-2000 mph, is not acceptable here, at either its lower or upper limit. Cases that I have looked into include targets whose speeds have, within a single tracking episode, varied from zero to several times his suggested upper limit. However, I believe that, for initial purposes of discussion, there is probably rough correspondence between what Plank referred to as Type III angels and what I shall here term "radar UFOs", though his omission of specific details of cases he had in mind renders that conclusion a bit uncertain. Thayer was definitely concerned with the same general category that I wish to discuss, as will be seen in examples below; Hardy (1969) and Blackmer et al. (1969), to repeat, simply were not, in my opinion, treating the present problem.

Cas 1: Kincheloe AFB, 12-12 septembre 1967

Entre 22 h 42 (E), le 11 septembre et 00 h 01 (E), le 11-12 septembre 1967, des cibles furent observées avec un radar MPN-14 (bande S, portée de 60 miles, 20 scan rpm, beam tilt-range 0-10 °) au site de Rapcon, base aérienne de Kincheloe, dans le Michigan. Les phénomènes devant être décrits ci-dessousê officiellement expliqués comme une propagation anomale probable par le Projet Blue Book de Air Force ; et ThayerThayer, Gordon D. (1969), p. 164) conclut qu'il s'agit d'un cas d'observations d'écho de PA en déplacmeent produits par des conditions atmosphériques inhabituellement bien stratifiées. Ainsi nous sommes ici confrontés à un cas d'échos inhabituels ayant été attribués à des effets atmosphériques par 2 enquêtes.

My examination of the ê is based on study of file material in Air Force archives and on direct interviews with Sgt M. Y. Burns, the senior radar operator on duty during the episode. It is relevant to remark that Burns, at that time, had 7 years' experience in radar, 3 of them at Kincheloe AFB working with the equipment involved in this case. Useful information on the case has also been provided by Dr. Norman E. Levine, who was one of two investigators representing the University of Colorado UFO Project in an on-site check carried out approximately three weeks after the incident. Thayer was not at the site, nor did he interview personnel involved. Like most other cases of interest in the category of radar UFOs, this one is too involved to describe in full detail here; but salient futures will be noted, in order to suggest the kind of problems that I regard as still unsolved.

Un total de 17 cibles fut suivi pendant la durée de 80 mn environ de cet épisode. En seulement 2 occasions 2 cibles se dessinèrent sur l'écran au même moment ; les 13 autres étaient ê Au moment de l'apparition de la 1ʳᵉ cible, un B-52 qui était dehors à environ 30 miles à l'ouest était suivi routinely (relaté à moi par LevineLevine, Norman E., confirmé à moi par Burns en interview directe, et confirmé dans le fichier du cas Blue Book dans les archives), lorsqu'un 2nd blip fut noté en direction du N au S sur une trajectoire de collision potentielle avec le B-52. Le pilote fut alerté mais ne vit jamais aucun autre appareil ou objet. On lui demanda s'il jouait avec le radar mais aucun ECM n'était impliqué. Les estimations de Burns que la vitesse initiale de la cible était relativement plus grande que celle du bombardier ; mais elle ralentit soudainement à grossièrement la moitié de la vitesse apparente initiale et le B-52 cleared it, the target seeming to pass southward behind the aircraft. The blip then abruptly turned eastward and accelerated to a speed that Burns and other duty personnel estimated at approximately 2000 miles/h (1.5 mi/sweep, roughly). Burns could not recall if this first target crossed the scope; all of his original notes were given to Levine and hence are presumably in the University of Colorado archives. Burns told me that this target, like most of the subsequent targets, was stronger than the B-52 return, and that he had MTI on and it was taking out all ground clutter. In response to my query, he stated that he had looked for AP all that night but saw none at any time. He contacted Minneapolis ARTC and the ADC SAGE center, but they had nothing on such a target.

Eight minutes later a second target appeared. (Following data from official case-file, and only rather sketchy information is given on most of the targets; but, on directly querying TSgt Burns, I learned that all were hard targets, not diffuse echoes of the sort typical of small elements of ground-return from AP.) This second target was seen at 250 ° d'azimut, heading towards 50ø azimuth, speed not specified in case file.

Puis entre 22 h 50 (E) et 23 h 30 (E) 9 autres ovnis furent observés sur le MPN-14 :

  1. a 270 ° tracking towards 90 degrees;
  2. a 230 °, tracking 30 °;
  3. a 380 °, tracking 100 °;
  4. a 270 °, tracking 90 °;
  5. a 230 °, tracking 30 ° pendant 20 miles, puis changea de trajectoire, directon 360 °;
  6. a 280 ° tracking 100 ° pendant 20 miles, puis tourna à 180 °. Puis ces 2 dernières cibles (5 et 6) se rejoignirent à 30 miles due ouest de Kincheloe AFB et both went eastbound at 2000 mph, passing overhead but not visually observed (Quote from original TWX from Kincheloe to Projet Blue Book, in case-file). Les 3 ovnis restants étaient :
  7. a 160 °, tracking 360 °;
  8. a 30 °, tracking 200 °; et
  9. a 30 °, tracking 270 °.

Then, at 23 h 38 (E) another target was picked up at 200 degrees, tracking 360 °. A 23 h 58 (E), un autre à 280 °, tracking 120 ° from 60 miles out until 20 miles out then turned and headed towards 270 °.

A 0000E (sur la 12ᵉ), Burns logged the second of two instances in which two unidentified targets were on-scope concurrently. One was at azimuth 200 °, tracking 90 ° but then turned to a heading of 360 °, slowed down over an interval of 8 miles, turned to a 270 ° heading, and disappeared from scope (sic). The second of the two was at 250 ° initially, and tracking 90 °, but then turned towards a heading of 360 ° and left the scope.

Finally, the seventeenth observed anomalous target, detected at 00 h 01 (E), was first picked up at 270 °, tracking 30 °, but turned to a 360 ° heading, slowed down, turned to 270 °, then turned again to a 360 ° heading, and speeded up again.

The case-file includes further comments and clarifications Lt. T. E. Leaman at Kincheloe and Lt. W. B. Stoecker, ADC (SAGE) Duluth, as well as by Blue Book officers. These include the statement noting that the sergeant who reported the sighting is very experienced and would probably know what it was if it was anomalous propagation, and statements that no interceptor scramble from Kincheloe was called because no scramble capability existed there, while none was called from SAGE Duluth because their remoted scopes did not show the unknowns (with single exception of a strobe seen from the 753rd AC&Wron near Sault Ste. Marie). Stoecker suggested that the objects may have been too low over Kincheloe to be seen from the SAGE sites; on the other hand, as the file states (and as Burns stressed to me), tower personnel at Kincheloe saw nothing visually despite good visibility and only scattered high clouds, which is puzzling, though by no means unprecedented. Burns tried beam-tilting and tended to get stronger returns at high than at low tilt. No RHI equipment was locally available, unfortunately. The case-file states that Sgt. Burns tried switching channels, as a cross-check against possible ECM, but got no change in target intensity, tending to discount that possibility. I asked Burns if he tried IFF, and he said he did but got no IFF, just skin-return. He pointed out that the 752d AC&Wron at Empire, Mich., queried him at one point during this episode, asking if he was getting a retum at about 100 mi SE, heading his way. But his MPN-14 had only 60-mi range and could not then detect it; nor did a target subsequently enter his scope from that sector. The only target that he carried which he knew to be concurrently carried by another radar was one at a bearing of about 250 degrees from Kincheloe that was also seen at least briefly by radar at the 753d at Sault Ste. Marie. Burns recalled that the 753d had a height on that target, but they did not release it to him. There is no indication in the casefile that this important point was checked by anyone.

Because targets in the radar UFO category have often been reported to stop for variable periods of time, I asked Burns what he felt the slowest speed had been. He replied that in several instances some of these targets hovered motionless for a time of the order of 10-15 seconds (3-5 scans). The MTI was set to function out to approximately 15 miles; whether the hovering targets lay within or beyond the MTI limit is not now clear.

Quelle interprétation doit-elle être mise sur un épisode radar tel que celui ci-dessus ? Au Projet Blue Book, l'expérience considérable de l'homme sénior en service et sa recherche spécifique bien qu'infructueuse de symptômes de PA furent plutôt ignorés casually dans le commentaire évaluateur suivant de V. D. Bryant, daté du 15 janvier 1968 et inclus dans le dossier officiel du cas : L'"excuse" ou l'"explication" évidente des observations apparaît &ecî une inversion de température. Les trajectoires erratiques prises par les "objets", leur larges variations en vitesse (de 150 à 2000 miles/h) et le fait qu'aucun bruit n'ait été entendu, même aux altitudes basses supposées, tout s'orieês une propagation anomale due à des inversions de température. Et, sur cette base, l'observation de Kincheloe est ainsi prise en charge dans les dossiers officiels. J'ai trouvé que c'était une évaluation radar représentative de Blue Book radar.

Thayer (1969), examinant ce cas dans le reviewing this case in the Rapport Condon, indique : Ceci est un bon exemple de cibles radar en mouvement qui ne peuvent être observées visuellement, où il y a un &quoêrc;ne interdit" au-dessus du site radar. Certains des retours furent même vu approcher dans les 5 à 15 miles du radar et dispara&êre, réapparaissant apparemment ensuite de l'autre côté de l'écran radar à environ la même portée où ils avaient disparu. Cette sorte de comporteêt symptomatique des échos de PA [cette erreur d'interprétation grossière du point aveugle au-dessus de tous les radars de type recherche est faite par Thayer dans d'autres cas qu'il analyse dans le Rapport Condon, y compris le cas extrêmement significatif de LakenheathLakenheath en 1956 en Angleterre (Thayer, 1969, p. 163).]

Thayer montre des profiles de réfractivité pour l'heure et le voisinage général de l'épisode Kincheloe et, sur la base d'un elevated duct dans la couche de 300 à 500 m, suggère que une forte réflexion partielle devait être attendue, et que moving AP-echoes, produced in the manner describêorders and Vickers (1953), could be expected to appear at apparent heights of between 2000-3000 ft and 7000-9000 ft. Confusingly, those heights do not match either of the diagrams he displays, one of which is, in fact, labeled 9 Nov. 1967, a month and a half after this episode. Also, Thayer systematically plots his index profiles on A-Z coordinates, yet always labels the super-refractive layers in terms of the vertical N-gradient, not the A-gradient. This is more than merely confusing; it promotes the misinterpretation that ducting is present in cases (numerical value between about -115 km^-1 and -157 km^-1), where it really is not.

A basic difficulty in examining the validity of Thayer's assertion concerning strong partial reflection is that he does not define his usage of that term. In usual practice, it has acquired two distinct meanings:

  1. Partial direct reflection, i.e., back-scatter, to put it more precisely, or
  2. partial forward-scatter.

Neither of those interpretations offers any hope of accounting for the kinematics of the reported Kincheloe targets, and certainly the former could not conceivably yield apparent radar cross-sections rather greater than that of a B-52, as Sgt. Burns characterized the intensities of these unidentified returns.

Nor does Thayer clarify his position by seeming to equate strong partial reflections with the ideas proposed by Borden and Vickers (1953). Their discussion postulates essentially specular reflection from moving waves on an inversion surface, the propagation speeds being of the order of the wind speed and the apparent targets thus being assigned roughly twice the speed at inversion level, for reasons of simple relfection-geometry. First, it must be remarked that, although the Borden and Vickers report has often been cited as if it settled the July, 1952 Washington radar UFO episodes, I find that view unsupported by the very sketchy and entirely qualitative mode they propose. Secondly, the upper-level winds at Kincheloe that night were less than 10 kts up to the 850 mb level (below which lay the only index gradients of any significance), which would scarcely account for the reported target speeds on anything remotely like the Borden-Vickers hypothesis. And third, the Borden-Vickers hypothesis of "glint" reflections from favorably disposed undulations on an inversion surface could scarcely be invoked to account for apparent target movements, whose directional variability matched that seen on the Kincheloe MPN-14 during this episode; nor could it possibly account for sudden turns, hovering, and accelerations described in the official case-file. Other slightly subtler objections could easily be raised, but those simple ones seem sufficient to reject Thayer's loose explanation (let alone the still less meaningful one contained in the official case file).

One might ask how Thayer would suggest that any form of propagation anomaly or partial reflection could explain the complex kinematics reported by the Kincheloe Rapcon Site for this night. One partial answer may be that he offers that suggestion in a mere 4-paragraph account of this intriguing case, an account that gives the reader no hint that 17 distinct targets were seen, that says nothing about turns, hovering periods, or accelerations, that omits any mention of speeds of the order of 2000 mph, and that gives no suggestion that in one instance two such targets converged from opposite directions, turned eastward together, and then moved across the scope side-by-side at about Mach 3, passing over and beyond Kincheloe AFB. Unfortunately, I must add that my detailed checking of the discussions of the 35 optical and radar analyses in the Condon Report has established that such omissions of crucial sighting details are typical, not exceptional in that Report.

Plank (1958, 1959) has suggested that perhaps some of the erratically moving angels (his Type III) might be caused by "shock waves, echo being the product of direct back scatter or diversion of energy to the ground." He then notes that shock waves are thin, on the order of microns, yet can have refractive index differences across them of "several hundred N-units." The high speeds exhibited by some of the targets in this Kincheloe episode (and in many others of interest) might vaguely suggest shock phenomena, so perhaps a few remarks negating that hypothesis are in order. First, Plank really does not offer any geometric model to support the kind of kinematics found in interesting radar UFO cases. (Quite possibly he is unaware of the content of most such cases.) Only extremely simple paths would be possible; certainly his emphasis upon erratic movement goes wholly unexplained on any such model. But the greater objections are the quantitative objections. He mentions N-changes of several hundred units; but this is quite unreasonable. First, only temperature jumps and not humidity jumps could accompany shockwave passage. Secondly, in the lower atmosphere, one N-unit change is associated with approximately 1 degree C of temperature change. Third, the Rankine-Hugoniot equations permit one to relate shock-front temperature changes to concomitant peak overpressures; and an over-pressure of, say, 5 psi, is found to lead to a transient shock-heating of only about 30 ° C (hence about 30 N-units jump across shock-front), yet this is an overpressure not only great enough to take out all nearby windows but to level weak structures and collapse roofs. In brief, the only shock waves capable of giving significant radar-reflecting characteristics would be of rather severely damaging nature, would leave unmistakable after-effects, and yet could influence a radar beam for only fractions of a second. The shock-wave suggestion seems unpromising for explaining radar UFOs, in general, and the Kincheloe targets in particular. Indeed, one of the characteristic puzzles of high-speed radar UFOs (and the Kincheloe UFOs in particular) is that no discernible sonic boom is associated with cases where the radar-deduced speeds are markedly supersonic.

In summary, it is by no means clear that one can accept any known kind of anomalous propagation for targets in the class exemplified by the Kincheloe targets. However, we are doubtless still unaware of certain types of propagation anomalies in our atmosphere, and the breaking-wave echoes may attest to interesting surprises yet to come. But there seems to exist so large a margin of separation between any of the now-suspected atmospheric effects and the characteristics of what I am terming radar UFOs that I do find it difficult to understand how AP and "weather effects" have so long been casually employed to explain radar unidentified targets within Projet Blue Book, and how they have more recently been invoked in the Condon Report by Thayer in essentially similar manner.

Perhaps a clue to the latter is found in a curious introductory definition of what Thayer (1969, p.117) terms "blip-like" radar returns: Cases where the radar target (or targets shared characteristics similar to the return from a solid object (such as an aircraft, etc.) and where the target did not display erratic or discontinuous behavior. Acceleration or velocity in excess of known aircraft capabilities, or periods of immobility were not considered to be contrary to normal target behavior. I fear that this definition be paraphrased fairly by saying that Thayer adopted at the outset explicatory rules by which completely abnormal radar returns were agreed to be quite normal. Many examples in support of such a paraphrase have come to my attention in follow-up investigations of the Condon Report, whose handling of the radar UFO cases I find almost wholly uncritical, generally tendentious, and often absurd -- and, more than that, disturbingly incomplete with respect to the scientifically most puzzling features of many of the cases (cf. McDonald, 1969). If we are to learn anything meteorologically interesting from radar UFOs, it will come only from much more discriminating and more thorough analyses than any now at hand.

Cas 2: U. S. Naval Air Station, North Island, San Diego (Californie), 14 octobre 1957

As another illustration of past radar UFO cases that have been officially explained in terms of meteorological effects, we might consider one that, unlike the preceding case, involves visual as well as radar observations, and for which the radar observations were made from the air rather than from the ground. Cases of both the latter types are scattered through the Air Force archives, and some, like this one, emanated from another service. I have not interviewed any of the observers in this particular case, so, in order to fulfill written agreements with the Air Force, I cannot cite witness-names. Instead, I shall be forced to use merely initials of the Navy personnel involved. (I am currently challenging Air Force structures against citation of names of military and government-agency witnesses in past UFO cases, contending that they are blocking full and credible scientific discussion of case details and arguing that these strictures stand in violation of P.L. 552. It is the present Air Force position (SAFOI letter, 7 Aug 1970) that scientific citation of witness names would constitute an invasion of privacy, despite the fact that these were personnel of the military, FAA, USWB, etc,, whose observations and official reports were made in regular line of duty. At this writing, my efforts to get the Air Force to rescind these strictures have not yet proved successful, so unfortunately I am obliged to omit all names from this account of my checks on this scientifically significant case. No strictures against citation of names of investigative and evaluative personnel have ever been imposed in the course of my investigations, so I do cite certain names in those categories, since they, too, are of obvious documentational relevance.)

Légèrement avant 19 h 00 (PST), le 14 octobre 1957, at NAS North Island, AC/3 VEE (initiales du contrôleur de la tour de la Marine enlisted) remarqua une lumière brillante, ronde et blanche d'environ la taille d'une dime, orientée 210 ° T depuis la tour et approximativement 300 pieds au-dessus de la masse de terre de Point Loma, selon un rapport au Bureau des Enquêtes Spéciales de l'Air Force du 1957-10-17 de l'Officier de Renseignement du District, 11ème District Naval. VEE observa l'objet rester stationnaire pendant 2 mn environ et puis s'atténuer. 1 ou 2 mn plus tard une lumière semblable, a priori la même, réapparut soudainement légèrement plus au nord et un peu plus bas qu'aênt, et maintenant un peu plus brillante. Après être restée stationnaire pendant 2 mn environ, elle s'atténua à nouveau, note le rapport. Quelque part dans cette séquence, VEE alerta 2 autres enlisted personnel, DC et MD, également en service dans la tour ; et tous utilisèrent des jumelles dans les dernières portions des observations visuelles, d'après la synthèse de renseignement. Elle réapparut bientôt une fois de plus, à nouveau plus au nord et à nouveau plus bas ; elle semblait maintenant vaciller légèrement et montrait un demi-halo sur sa portion supérieure, avec une teinte bleuâtre sur un côté. Aucune estimation angulaire n'est donnée.

Concurrently, a Navy S2F tracker (anti-sub-marine search aircraft), attached to VS-21 at NAS North Island, moved into position for takeoff, and AC/3 VEE had to divide his attentions between the unexplained light over Pt. Loma and the S2F ready for takeoff. In the process of controlling the takeoff and vectoring the aircraft to attempt a search, VEE lost the object, the reasons becoming clearer below.

According to Air Intelligence Information Report 01-03-57, dated 23 October 1957, prepared by Maj. L. W. Bruner, 27th Air Division, Norton AFB, Calif., based on a signed summary statement by the S2F pilot, Lt. ALR (initials), the aircrew, during engine warmup, had heard the tower operator take three radio calls to an "unidentified aircraft", requesting identity and intentions, but getting no reply. On requesting and getting takeoff clearance, Lt. ALR was asked by the tower operator to maintain 200 ft altitude after liftoff and proceed to Pt. Loma to identify a stationary light source apparently hovering at that estimated altitude. Lt. ALR notes that both the copilot, Lt.(jg) GTC, and he observed the light, while still on the runway before starting their run.

Après le décollage, je turned outbound over the channel, écrivit le lieutenant ALR dans le msg VS-21 152348Z d', et grimpais à 200 pieds, gardant pendant tout ce temps la lumière en vue. Mes intentions étaient de proceed seaward of the light so as to silhouette its airframe against the lights of San Diego. However, when we drew abreast of it off our right wingtip, we observed it undergoing a rapid acceleration away from us and to the west. I noted relative motion between it and the lights of San Diego. As our range opened the light began to alternately vary in color and intensity. The extremes were bright red and a blue white, with no regular period of change from one to the other."

I turned West and assumed a heading of 230 mag. with the light then dead ahead. In about four or five minutes (warm-up time) our radar operator reported a target dead ahead at seventeen miles and above us. The weather was clear ahead and above, with a discernable horizon and low clouds 30 miles west. The stars were bright and clear but small and dim compared with the light we were following. During the chase there was always evident a relative motion between this object and the background of stars."

From Pt. Loma on out the object climbed steadily and I followed in a gradual ascent à 240 noeuds IAS, closing irregularly. At 4500 ft the object leveled off 12 miles ahead, and then drifted right 10 ° in about five seconds. I turned right to 240 mag., leveled off and increased speed to 160 noeuds. The range closed to 10 miles and stabilized. After following for about three minutes at 10 miles I decreased speed to 120 noeuds but observed no range-rate on radar. I then advanced speed to 180 noeuds IAS and still observed no range-rate."

The object in the meantime drifted 20 ° to the left (220 mag.) in no more than 10 s, and then closed range to 8 miles in one rotation of the radar antenna (7.5 seconds). The range stabilized again at 8 miles and we began another gradual climb. At 8000 pieds et environ 40 miles de Pt. Loma l'objet leveled off and shortly after disappeared visually and on radar. Fifteen seconds later it reappeared visually but not on radar although the operator switched to sector-scan and searched continuously."

Lt. ALR concluded his summary with the comment that they maintained visual contact until the S2F was 50 miles from Pt. Loma, at which time they lost visual contact, too (fadeout), terminating the incident. His statement notes that all four aircrewmen saw it and can substantiate his descriptions. (The two enlisted men aboard were WES and WPC.)

This is only one more of many radar UFO cases I have recently been studying as a result of extensive searches through the Air Force archives and only one of many hundreds of UFO cases I have checked during the past four years. Each case has certain unique features, but many have the common feature that it is exceedingly difficult to propose for them conventional explanations. Yet, here as in almost all the rest that have received the Project Blue Book evaluations, a conventional explanation has been assigned by Blue Book.

I quote from that explanation, extracted from Air Force archives, since it invokes atmospheric phenomena of potential interest to radar meteorologists and atmospheric physicists:

Distortion of light and changing colors attributed to probable inversion off coast. That Arcturus was the object is ... indicated by the fact that the pilots could not close on the object. Its jumping around and the spurious radar returns caused by inversion or other weather conditions conclusive to distortion of atmospheric optics. Sighting was of short duration and Arcturus set at about the time of object's disappearance."

(En fait, je doit faire remarquer qu'il y a une légère confusion sur l'évaluation officielle de ce cas, Although the above case-summary explains the sighting in terms of Arcturus and some form of anomalous propagation, the casecard in the archives shows it as "Possible Balloon." There is no evidence of any real analysis of either hypothesis, no weather data, no computations of positions, or other quantitative assessment; but the original teletype message from AIRASRON-21 to Wright-Patterson AFB, which notes how the object drifted across chase plane's course at speeds estimated by pilot to be in excess of 1000 mph, has a pencil-sketch of a top-view of an aircraft flying past a sphere, with arrows and lines evidently intended to depict the viewpoint contained in evaluating annotations that nearly obliterate parts of the TWX: Tests have shown that when a/c slipstream from wing tip hits balloons it sends it rapidly sideways. Le croquis et les commentaires d'évaluation au stylo, typiques de nombreux documents dans les archives sur les ovnis, sont signés du capitaine George T. GregoryGregory, George T., qui était l'officier du Projet Blue Book dans la période 1957/1959. Nombre de tels rapports d'ovnis furent processed in about this way over the years.

But this one has the alternative (and evidently officially preferred) explanation of suggested inversion effects on Arcturus and the S2F's radar. Consider certain difficulties with that explanation:

  1. The tower observers reported to Navy intelligence interrogators that the light shifted three times, from its azimuth of first appearance at 210 ° T. Vers 19 h 00 (PST) on this date, Arcturus was nearing the horizon at about 290 ° T. This light over Pt. Loma was seen by the cockpit crew from the runway and held in sight until they drew nearly abreast of it, viewing it off the right wingtip, whereupon it suddenly accelerated westward and started climbing.
  2. The subsequent air chase involved a sequence of pursuit headings stated to be 230 ° mag, then 240 ° mag, then 220 ° mag, the source finally pulling away and fading out at 230 ° mag, after an approximately 20-minute visual-radar chase, at about 230 ° mag. The magnetic variation off the San Diego coast is about 15 degrees E, whence the bearing to Arcturus would have been about 275 ° mag, some 35 to 50 ° from the luminous object's reported azimuth, far in excess of uncertainties that would affect observations under these conditions.
  3. Viewed from the S2F, the object appeared to climb, then level out, on two occasions. And it executed fast lateral shifts to both left and right, through arcs stated by the Navy pilot to approximate 10 ° and 20 ° of relative azimuth.
  4. The aircraft was flying, after the first few minutes, at altitudes well above the coastal subsidence inversion whose refractive effects are adduced in the official explanation to account for angular image-excursions whose amplitudes dwarf the 10's of seconds of arc displacement associated with stellar scintillation effects, even under unfavorable viewing conditions at the surface, let alone at 4-8000 ft level.
  5. Nor does the official explanation that the inversion and weather conditions were responsible make better sense of the reported radar behavior. Ranges opened and closed, angular altitude varied, and azimuths shifted, all this during a 40-mile pursuit, at altitudes ultimately near 8000 ft.
  6. The estimated lateral speeds (order of 1000 mph) came from rough calculations based on radar ranges, plus compass-based angular estimates. A target at 10-mile radar range that moves 20 ° en 10 s has exhibited an apparent velocity near 1200 miles/h.

To suggest that optical refraction effects plus anomalous propagation could cause such extreme behavior, and to suggest it without the slightest supporting argument, is simply not reasonable.

Could there be some truly phenomenal optical and radar-propagational anomalies of the atmosphere that might be capable of yielding visual and radar indications of this sort? The archives have many more such anomalies that will require at least equal extensions of present scientific knowledge if we are to account for them along the lines of application of atmospheric physics that I have found typical of Projet Blue Book UFO explanations over the past two decades.

Cas 3: Gulf of Mexico, B-29, 6 décembre 1952

With so large a number of previously unknown cases that I could discuss and so little space available here, it is difficult to select a final example. But because of my strong concern over the serious inadequacies of the radar-optical UFO case-analyses in the Condon Report, I choose a last one that exhibits some of those deficiencies, that is explained in terms of alleged atmospheric effects, and that happens to be a rather famous case in UFO annals. I believe that the ad hoc panel that reviewed and endorsed the Condon Report (NAS, 1969) could not possibly have scrutinized carefully the level of analysis of cases such as this in that Report, a point that I have elaborated elsewhere (McDonald, 1969b).

Dans les premières heures du matin du , a B-29, on the return leg of a training flight out of Randolph AFB had turned around over Tampa and taken up a generally westbound course across the Gulf. When about 100 miles au sud de la côte de Louisiane à une altitude de 20 000 pieds, visual sighting of oilwell flares on the coast led the Instructor Navigator, 1/Lt WN, to request a student radar operator to turn on his set and try to pick up the coastline on 100 mile range. After the student operator's failure to detect the coast, WN confirmed that no coastline echo was discernible, so called for a set calibration. Some time later he was alerted to presence of some four blips ahead and in rapid closure with the B-29. [Air Intelligence Information Report No. IR-86-52, filed from Randolph AFB by Maj. J. R. Sheffield, Wing Operations Officer, 3510th Flying Training Wing, includes a summary of the events, the sightings, a map, and signed statements by three officers and two enlisted men who figure in the incident. These items, plus the original TWX and other materials in the archived case-file indicate that the B-29 had turned to a heading of 320 ° at some earlier time, after the unsuccessful search for the coastline on the navigational radar, and had reached coordinates of 28 ° 10'N, 92 ° 04'W when the sightings began. I cite these points because they are quite relevant to a point that Thayer (1969) regards as crucial, yet seem to me to be a misinterpretation of the intelligence report. I infer from coordinates and times that inability to pick up the coastline occurred while the B-29 was still just over 100 miles offshore, beyond the set's 100-mile range. Furthermore, the set was then uncalibrated, as the Instructor Navigator makes clear in his signed statement.]

Les 4 premières cibles furent observées à 05 h 25 (CST), with no specific grouping such as a radar beacon transmits apparent on the scope at 330 degrees, indiqua le lieutenant WN. Le radar avait une stabilisation d'azimut ; its scan rate was 25 rpm. The navigator, 2/Lt RKE, verified WN's assertion that these first blips advanced southeastward about 5 mi/scan, and MSgt BRP, the aircraft performance technician, using 1/Lt NK's stopwatch data and the indicated displacements per scan, informed the crew that the computed target speed was about 5000 miles/h. These targets, viewed on three repeater scopes, passed to the right of the B-29 and moved offscope at a bearing of about 70 °.

Then, immediately after a calibration-check, a second group of blips was seen coming in along a similar path. This time the pilot called off relative bearings from his repeater scope, with instructions for the crew to watch on the starboard. SSgt WJD states: I immediately looked in that position (3 o' clock bearing called out from cockpit) and saw two flashes of approximately 3 seconds, which did not alter course whatsoever. The flash was of a blue-white nature and did not change brilliance... when it disappeared. Two objects were also seen by MSgt BRP, and he was evidently forward for he saw them move rearward and disappear under the wing. In 1/Lt WN's accounc, he confirms that these flashes were seen to go from front to rear under our wing "

The interrogating officer, Maj. J. R. Sheffield, in his intelligence report from Randolph AFB, gives 18,000 ft as the approximate altitude of the objects and 20 000 pieds as the B-29's altitude, accepting the crew's statements that the objects came in below the B-29. Despite this, Sheffield states in his report that: Visual sightings are indecisive an of little confirmatory value, but no explanation of why he discounts the two crewmen's observations is given.

Like many other Blue Book reports, this case-file leaves unanswered a number of pertinent questions. The total number of objects followed on radar is not clearly specified. 1/Lt NK says he observed: about twenty objects in all, sometimes as many as two and three on the scope at one time. Crewmen refer to one radar-observed event involving a merger of targets (a feature that I have now found in a number of reports of radar UFOs). As WN described it: Contact was broken off at 0535 after a group of blips merged into a half-inch curved arc about 30 miles from our a/c at 320 degrees and proceeded across the scope and off it at a computed speed of over 9000 mph. WN also stresses one other significant target-movement: One group of blips, after the scope was calibrated, were noted, after moving from 330 degrees to 150 degrees across the scope, to arc about and swing in behind us at approximately 30 miles and maintain speed and distance for approximately 10 seconds and then disappear.

Etant donnée cette synthèse, considérez l'explication de ce cas par Thayer (1969) que Blue Book a carried as non identifié depuis 1953) : Les observations visuelles étaient probablement des météores Géminides, écrit-il. Aucune discussion étayante ; juste cette assertion. En fait, one finds that the radiant of this December shower lay at about 280 ° azimuth and about 55 ° elevation angle at 0535C on this date. Hence, any Geminids seen to the starboard of an aircraft on 315-320 ° heading at 0530C would have been descending almost perpendicular to the NE horizon, a 90 ° direct mismatch with Thayer's explanation.

The above-described multiple radar target events Thayer explains in terms of a ducting layer that showed on the 0900C Burwood radar. The strange moving targets seen on the radar were probably caused by imperfections in the atmospheric layer forming the radio duct allowing radio energy to enter the ducting layer at various points. This would create sporadic returns. The failure to pick up the coastline just prior to the UFO episode he explains as follows: A transmitter located above a radio duct and emitting a high enough frequency to be affected, as the radar undoubtedly was, does not excite propagation within the duct. This implies that the coastline below the duct would not be visible to the radar located above the duct. L'argument de Thayer est, bien sûr, assez erroné ; he has his argument upside down. And casual suggestion that the complex target behavior reported in this case was the result of "a series of gravity waves running along the duct" is mere verbalism.

Thus were radar UFOs discounted in the Rapport Condon. Perhaps the above examples will give at least some indication that there remains an unsolved scientific problem here, that there exist unidentified radar returns of a category for which atmospheric effects have been proposed as explanations, but on ground that are to date less than satisfactory.

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