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Air traffic control and UFOs:

UFO experiences of an air traffic controller:

An interesting article published on the Internet in 2004.

UFO experiences of an air traffic controller

In response to requests following a posting on PPrune I have decided to provide details of my UFO experiences during my 35+ years as a professional Air Traffic Control Officer. I have included a number of "incidents" in which I was involved but only nos 1 and 2 really caused me alarm - they are among my most frightening experiences. The facts here are mainly of a brief nature... and to those pilots who operate out of Heathrow and who emailed me for info I can only apologise that the facts are NOT exciting! No green men running round the Tower (although, come to think of it, one of my Watch Supervisors did have almond eyes!)... no launching of military jets, no closure of airspace, etc. The incidents occurred quickly and were soon over and there was no effect on Heathrow operations.

My interest started at a very young age. I was about 5 when my mother took me to a children's library. Looking beyond the children's section I found a book about UFOs. A few pictures and what I could read of some of the text frightened me to death! Several years later, when I was able to join the library in my own right, I read a number of similar books and my fascination was stimulated. I remain fascinated by the subject and whilst I know that "UFOs" exist I do not necessarily believe that they carry small green men. However, at least two of the incidents detailed below suggest some form of intelligent control.

Just a little professional background.. I started my ATC career as a "trainee controller" at Blackbushe Airport in the mid-60s before joining IAL. After training I was posted to North Africa, where I worked as a Tower/ Approach/ Area/ FIS controller at an international airport. On my return to the UK I worked for a year at Oxford Airport before joining the Board of Trade (or whatever it was called at the time) and was posted to Heathrow in January, 1972. I spent 21 years working as a Tower/Approach/ Approach Radar controller in the Heathrow Control Tower building. In 1993 I moved with the Approach Control facility to West Drayton, Where I finished my career in 2002 having continued working solely as a Heathrow Director since moving from Heathrow. Many of my ATC colleagues, both civil and military, are interested in UFOs. But none has any explanation as to their origin.

Readers will appreciate that I am an experienced "sky-watcher" and I spent much of my career as a radar controller at a busy airport so I am fairly familiar with "things aloft". Unfortunately, I never made notes about my UFO experiences so most dates are approximate. However, the basic facts are here and I offer them in all honesty for consumption by any and everyone. I make no attempt to explain what I saw, or was involved in. Constructive suggestions would be much appreciated because several of them remain for me frightening experiences which I shall never forget.

In most cases names and precise locations have been omitted as I have no idea if I am restrained by any legislation. Nor would I wish to cause embarrassment to any former colleagues or employers.

North Africa. Late 1960s.

I was employed as an Air Traffic Controller at an international airport, located some distance inland from the nearest city. There was no radar equipment at the airport but a large military air base located nearby had extensive radar facilities where my colleagues worked under contract to the military. One of their tasks was the provision of Area Radar Control for which my unit was the parent Area Control facility responsible for the large TMA.

Basic ATC procedures called for us to telephone the radar unit and provide them with flight plans for all traffic and estimates which we received from the parent ATCC. In this way the radar unit was aware of all aircraft movements and had them readily to hand should we telephone for radar assistance. (In those days the procedural controller ran the show and the radar controller was there to provide assistance when required). The radar unit had IFF facilities (an early form of SSR).

The boundary of the TMA stretched approximately 100nm around the airfield and all aircraft movements were "known", ie nothing moved without our knowledge. There was a mixture of civil commercial operating into the airfield where I worked, military transports and fighters for the military base and a mix of overflying traffic. The only other aviation activity was one or two helicopters and a few light aircraft operated by a local flying club.

Incident 1. It was during a night shift, when the only aviation activity was overflying traffic operating between Europe and various African destinations. As usual, the ATCC routinely provided us with estimates on all traffic passing through our area and we, in turn, passed these routinely to the radar unit. During the early hours the telephone line from the radar unit rang – an extremely unusual occurrence as we rarely needed radar assistance for overflying traffic and the controllers were able to rest before the morning rush. The military ATC assistant had been idly watching the radar and had seen an aircraft approaching from the northwest and rang us to obtain details. We had no details of any traffic in that sector so we contacted the ATCC. They too had no information but requested information from the ATC authority for the country over which the object was flying. This proved negative. The object was not displaying an IFF label.

[IFF, Identification Friend or Foe, was a system inherited from the military in which the airplanes sent a signal to the ATC so that the ATC could know which airplane, which flight was spotted on their radar. No IFF label mean either that this echo was not an airplane or that it was an airplane whose IFF was turned off. IFF is equivalent to SSR or "transponder" identification.]

The radar unit ATC assistant continued to monitor the situation and soon alerted his controller. At this stage the object was moving fairly fast but could have been a conventional jet aircraft. A short while later the military GCA facility telephoned to say they were also watching the object, which was by then heading directly for the airbase. The military began to get nervous and went into an alert phase prior to declaring a full evacuation – a major event by any standards. However, things speeded up and GCA soon reported that they had the object on the PAR element and it was very low, apparently making an approach to the base. The object – a bright light - overflew the air base in full view of the tower controllers but without there being any noise. It then turned south and flew off towards the desert, accelerating to the sort of speed which no conventional aircraft could attain at that time (I recall a figure of 1300 kts being mentioned). All the controllers involved were seriously shaken by the incident.

We discussed the matter for a long time after the event but no explanation was ever forthcoming. The radar controllers (Area and GCA) were all experienced with fast jet traffic; the area controllers had all worked with RAF V-bombers using bombing ranges in the nearby desert and were far busier with military jets than they were with civilian flights. The event remains a very disturbing mystery.

Incident 2. Following the closure of the civil airport for some days, I was the first controller to return to duty – for a night shift, primarily to oversee the departure of a VIP flight around midnight.

Basic facts are: The aircraft was cleared for take off on a north facing runway. As it started to roll, an extremely bright ball of light appeared to the east of the airfield, apparently just above ground level. To me it appeared stationary. However, as it was such an extraordinary event I alerted the crew as they rolled down the runway and they acknowledged that they had the object in sight. Soon after the aircraft took off the light vanished and the aircraft continued on its journey.

A week later I met the (British) pilot of the jet and he immediately spoke about the object. As they lifted off it had been apparent that the bright light was moving at some considerable speed towards them and had seriously frightened the crew. However, as they climbed away it remained beneath them and disappeared.

At the time of the event I made as many enquiries as I could with the limited resources available to me - local police, military, etc., with no success. The area from which the object had come was largely "desert" with virtually no habitation apart from odd shanty villages. There was no military activity there and no other aircraft flying at the time.

Incident 3. Not quite as exciting, more curious – particularly in view of Incident 8 below. Afternoon shifts were always quiet for the first couple of hours with just a few scheduled commercial jets and maybe one or two smaller aircraft flying about. It was a bright, sunny day and I wandered out on to the tower balcony. I saw a bright shining object in the sky, not much bigger than a pinhead, and alerted my Watch Supervisor (an ex-RAF Canberra pilot). One look through the binoculars and he announced: "It's just a met balloon", and walked inside to ring the met office, which was just one floor down. The met people had no information and were unaware of any ascent in the area. We made enquiries to the nearby military air base and everywhere else we could think of (not many out there!) but drew a blank. Air traffic started so we logged the event and got on with our work.

Incident 4 A week or two later as we were driving in for another afternoon shift my Supervisor joked: "Be funny if that UFO was there again!" Incredibly it, or something very similar, WAS there! We passed the information to our colleagues on other watches so that they could watch out but there were no other reports of the stationery shining ball.

Oxford Airport 1971

Incident 5. Upon return to the UK I was employed at Oxford Airport and was there at the time the "UFO" was recorded by a TV crew. I can't recall too much – just a very fast moving trail in the sky. It's probably documented elsewhere.


Incidents 6 and 7 Both occurred during my time at Heathrow. Unfortunately, without access to the ATC logs I cannot provide too many details. The incidents were logged and investigated at the time and, so far as I know, no explanations were forthcoming.

Incident 6. UK registered passenger jet in, or close to, the Ockham holding area. The crew reported seeing an orange disk shaped object pass close to their aircraft. Nothing was seen on radar. When the aircraft landed the somewhat shaken Captain contacted ATC and said he thought the best way to get the matter properly investigated was to file it as an airmiss rather than as a UFO report. We checked with other ATC units but none had seen anything unusual nor received any reports from aircraft. I cannot recall fully the result of the investigation but I believe it to have been inconclusive.

Incident 7. Foreign-registered passenger jet near Lambourne reported a black "missile-shaped" object passing close by. So far as I recall, nothing was seen on radar and I do not know how far any subsequent investigation went. Several people suggested it could well have been a real missile which had "gone astray" from one of the ranges out to the east.

Finchampstead 2004

Incident 8. On the afternoon of 6th September, whilst my wife and I were taking afternoon tea in our garden around 2pm and watching the aircraft heading for Heathrow (09L for landing), my attention was drawn to something glinting in the sky directly above us which I assumed to be a high-flying aircraft, but it was hardly moving. Prolonged examination through powerful binoculars revealed what appeared to be a shiny metallic "ball" and the focus adjustment of the binoculars suggested that it was somewhat higher than the high over-flying aircraft which could be seen passing nearby. The "ball" would fade and almost vanish from sight and then, seconds later, become so bright that it was clearly visible to the naked eye and too bright to look at through the binoculars. I contacted our son – a keen amateur astronomer living near Portsmouth – to ask if any "stars" could be viewed in daylight, for that is exactly what it appeared to be to the naked eye. He assured me that it wasn't a star (and it wasn't twinkling either). Venus and Jupiter – the only objects which I would imagine to be bright enough – were both above our horizon, but not close to the position of the object. (I checked the location of the planets using my Starry Night computer programme). It certainly was not a satellite either – these are not, to my knowledge, visible in bright sunlight and they usually move fairly rapidly across the sky.

I had no idea who else to contact - being so slow moving it would not have painted on ATC radars. I wondered if it might be a meteorological or other type of, balloon... but its movement was against the wind, which ruled out that possibility.

We watched the object over our garden on and off for over 45 minutes – occasional passage of clouds obscuring our view - but we could not locate in it in the night sky later that evening due to the many stars which were visible. It was not seen on subsequent days.

Although the upper wind was blowing from the east, albeit at low speed, the object drifted towards the east, traversing maybe 5 degrees of sky in the 45 minutes or so during which we watched it. When we first saw it, it was slightly northeast of overhead and moved almost imperceptibly eastward during the period of observation.

See Incidents 3 and 4 above. The object over Finchampstead bore remarkable resemblance to those seen in north Africa, which I had completely forgotten until 6th September.

And that's it - no Aliens, no Grays, no Green Men, no flying saucers but definitely a few Unidentified Flying Objects.

Anyone wishes to contact me please email me at: heathrow

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