Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Update on Williamtown "Abnormal Radar Returns" Case

I have recently been submitting very targeted, precise Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to various Australian government agencies, and those requests have been based on previously obtained information from those agencies. This is one of the easier aspects of obtaining really useful government documentation: When you have already got some worthy material, and that material mentions other material (by code name, document class, etc) then the flood gates can sometimes open. One such batch of initial interesting material was furnished to me by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the 19th of March, 2015. The material was simply years and years worth of UFO-type occurrences held in their databases, which I have already discussed in previous blog posts. One possible case of interest in that massive dollop of records related to abnormal primary radar returns at Williamtown, NSW on the 21st of March, 2014. The ATSB data on this event, some five pages of it, told us that at 0610hrs local time (EST) the Williamtown Department of Defence primary radar experienced what they referred to as “abnormal radar returns”. The ATSB documentation stated:

“Please note that this occurrence is a notification only and has not yet been investigated. After being issued departure instructions and a take-off clearance [redacted] take-off clearance was cancelled due to multiple unidentified system tracks that appeared on the Australian Defence Air Traffic System (ADATS) Situational Data Displays (SDD). The tracks presented as primary radar returns only, with no associated secondary surveillance radar (SSR) data. These tracks appeared at approximately 30NM south of WLM and disappeared from all SDD screens at approximately 8NM south of WLM. No further returns were observed and [redacted] was subsequently departed without further incident.”

Furthermore, the ATSB material indicated that a Defence Air Safety Occurrence Report (ASOR) was raised because of the event. ASOR’s are a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) report. So, assuming that there was an ASOR still on record, plus, hopefully, a whole pile of other records, the evening of the 22nd Mar 2015 saw me submit an FOI request to the Defence Department asking for:

“….any material held by the Department of Defence, regarding the above matter. The material may well be held at the Directorate of Defence Aviation and Air Force Safety (DDAAFS) and/or at Williamtown RAAF. Specifically, I wish to obtain ASOR material; any internal Defence emails, or emails to and/or from external agencies (the ATSB for example); any investigative reports; any material held on the Defence Aviation Hazard Reporting and Tracking System (DAHRTS); any material held on the Closed Loop Hazard/ASOR Review and Tracking System; imagery from the actual Situational Data Displays (SSD); primary radar system test results; general opinions and conclusions of RAAF officers; logs of phone calls made regarding the incident; etc.”

On 12 May 2015 I received a reply from Defence, including a 5 page PDF of material relevant to my request. The ASOR, plus a Defence “Technical and Preventative Service Request”, are presented below:

           Importantly, the material indicates that the events of the 21st of March, 2014 were radar glitches, and not any sort of unusual or unknown bodies being picked up by the radar system. The above records state that since 2007 RAAF Williamtown has experienced a “DEFECT”, which was specified as “SDD Erratic Target Tracks”. SDD is an acronym for Situational Data Display. It goes on to say, in part:

“DP&D SDDs display erratic target tracks within approximately 8Nm of the WLM and multiple coating tracks.” 


“The problem only appears to happen following circumstances:
               a.      Display is in SYS mode, and
         b.      When an aircraft transponder is transmitting in the lines. It is not labelled with an alpha              numeric label designator.”

Furthermore, under the “Action Taken” section, it is stated, in part, that:

“21 Mar 14 – Another incident of Duplicate Code observed at 0655 h loc. TMD screen captures, data tapes and rip of SDD images provide to cAEO for further investigation.”

So, on this occasion, I think we can safely say, that the event described in all this material there is no hint of anything but an unusual system malfunction, probably software related judging by the jargon on these and other pages furnished to me. If nothing else, the material shows us what an Defence Department Air Safety Occurrence Report looks like. Two years ago, I submitted an FOI to the Defence Department for all ASORs which contained events that related to unknown and unusual flying objects, air prox events with such, unsolved low flying events, etc. I got no where. Which is not surprising, because months later I found out that the relevant area of Defence had probably not even searched their ASOR databases for the keywords and topics I had asked for. I will be revisiting that matter quite soon. As for Williamtown and the above event, if anyone wants a copy of the whole file, I am more than happy to send it out.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Two Australian Aircraft Encounter UFO: And That's Official

Some of you may know that there are actually two Australian government agencies who are equipped to, and indeed do, accept UFO reports from flight crews. They are the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and Airservices Australia (ASA). Of the two, ASA describes itself as “…a government owned corporation providing safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible services to the aviation industry.”. Earlier this year I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for any UFO, or UFO-like, reports submitted to ASA by flight crews, with the date range of 2008 to 2015. I published the results of that effort in January, 2015, and my findings can be looked at here:

You will note that my FOI request then only stipulated that ASA search their “Electronically Submitted Incident Report” (ESIR) database and the newer Corporate Integrated Reporting and Risk Information System (CIRRIS) for UFO events dating from 2008 onwards, when, in fact, I know that their databases of UFO events (and all air safety incidences) go back much further than that. The reason for me not asking for all material dating back to, say, the 1980’s, is because an FOI requestor can be knocked back if their request is to broad, or, will cause an especially large workload for staff. So, one often breaks these requests for data up into smaller date range blocks. Needless to say, as soon as the last FOI request was furnished, I submitted another one. One the 30th of January, 2015 I submitted a new FOI request to ASA for all UFO or UFO-like cases dated between 1992 and 2008. Specifically, my request stated:

“….any incidences where flight crews have reported any:

1) Unusual, Unknown, or Unidentifiable Aircraft or Objects;
2) Suspected Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles;
3) Meteoric Events, fireballs and the like;
4) Especially unusual weather phenomenon;

which are held on ESIR database(s).”

On the 18th of February, 2015 Sasha Pesic, ASA’s very helpful Freedom of Information & Privacy Contact Officer/Legal Inquiries Coordinator, asked me if I would grant them an extension of time in searching their database(s) and preparing any found material, which, despite not being famous for my patience, I agreed to. On the 7 May, 2015, I received the results of my request. At one page, in PDF form, ASA supplied me with 3 UFO or related events in table form, which is imaged below.

It doesn’t take a genius to see which one jumps out. In June, 1999 two airplanes experienced what, by anyone’s measure, must be considered a pretty serious UFO event. In ASA’s “Executive Summary” column it is dryly stated:

“Pilots of AJP and AJK enroute for Alice Springs sighted an unidentified green object in their vicinity. No details of any other traffic held by Brisbane Sector 11.”

In the “Description” column it is stated:

“At 1015 the pilot of AJP Tindal for Alice Springs reported sighting a green object climbing and descending vertically and paralleling his track for some time. The pilot of AJK Darwin for Alice Springs reported sighting this green object as well. No details of any other traffic were held by Brisbane Sector 11.”

Sounds quite interesting, does it not? It is one thing for a single flight crew to report a UFO event. But when two flight crews report the same thing, the story is much hard to brush aside. But, one must look at the data before speculating too much; and the provided data is as follows:

Year:                                       1999
Report No:                              2054
UTC Date/Time:                    199906231015
Primary Occurrence Type:    MISCELLANEOUS (INC PILOT REPORT)
Attribution:                             OTHER
Occurrence Unit: TOPS

The first problem here is that the case is 16 years old, which make it much harder to investigate. Which brings me to another matter. On the 30th of May, 2012, researcher Keith Basterfield submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Airservices Australia for:

“…any documents held by Air Services Australia, on the subject of “unidentified flying objects”.”

On the 18th of June, 2012, Keith was furnished with internal ASA material containing a number of media enquiries to ASA, enquiries to ASA from the general public, etc, but not the details of the case I speak of here, despite the fact that it should have been located and released in response to his FOI request. I mean, sure, in my FOI request I was more specific in my search demands, but they must have known what Keith was looking for, and no amount of semantics or trickery can change that fact. Put simply: This UFO case – and it is a UFO case, as we shall see - occurred in 1999. Keith’s FOI was in 2012. By rights, Keith or I should be asking ASA what went on and why. But that is for another time. Anyway, I digress.

Our UFO case here at hand occurred at UTC Date/Time: 199906231015, which is Coordinated Universal Time (the old Greenwich Mean Time), and, is simply 1999, 23erd of June, at 10:15am.. As the event occurred while both aircraft were enroute to Alice Springs, if anyone noticed, I would like to say that this incident happened somewhere over central Australia. Now, 199906231015 happens to be 1945hrs in central Australia, or, 7:45pm. At that time the sky is dark, so, one may presume that any object that is be described as “green” was almost definitely luminous. As for the planes involved (AJP and AJK), well, they are both business jets built by Israeli Aircraft Industries, model Westwind, type IAI 1124 according to online Australian aircraft registration records. They carry two crew, and operate at a maximum speed of 865km/hr at 29,000 feet, but cruise at 725km/hr at 39-41,000 feet. Seeing as the Executive Summary states “Pilots of AJP and AJK enroute for Alice Springs”, there is every chance that the aircraft were travelling at a pretty high velocity. Which means the UFO was too.
Whatever the speed, wherever the locale, even the admittedly limited data presented this one page ASA document raises some awkward questions. Firstly, what can dip up and down in the atmosphere, and then decide to track with a jet “for some time”? We can’t rule out another aircraft, but it would mean, one would assume, a very bright green light(s) aboard; as well as a desire to joyride along with no flight plan submitted, and no effort to communicate: The ASA material does state “No details of any other traffic were held by Brisbane Sector 11.”.  If it was likely another aircraft, did ASA or the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigate? If not, why? Secondly, one could go down the military ordinance path, and assume a fire-and-forget missile was involved. Does the Australian Defence Force actually employ such missile systems near known flight paths, which glow green? Thirdly, probably most importantly, what related material is ASA, or the ATSB, sitting on in regards to this event? We may soon find out. I have submitted an FOI request to both ASA and the ATSB for any associated records that could even remotely be attached to this event. If there are none, I can assure you, I will be asking why. This case is nearly as new to me as it is to you, the reader. For example, I need to find out what airlines were operating the two planes involved. And, when that is achieved, I will be kindly asking them to furnish me with the contact details of the pilots who were witness to the event. It may not be even possible though. I would also like to use this opportunity to ask any pilots, or other persons linked to the aviation industry, to contact me. History tells us there will be a great deal more cases such as this one. 

Monday, 4 May 2015

Royal Australian Air Force Officially Cancels UFO Policy Once-And-For-All With Impressive Release Of Documentation

Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I discussed the May, 2013 cancellation of the Australian Department of Defence’s (DOD) “Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1, Unusual Aerial Sightings Policy”. Historically, it will be considered, one day, an important chapter in Australian UFO history. Right now, however, it is somewhat of a non-event. The policy was a buck-passing administrative instruction that merely stated that the DOD, especially the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), doesn’t handle “Unusual Aerial Sightings” (UAS) anymore, and hadn’t done for a very long time. So the 2013 cancellation of such a policy has had little to no impact on the UFO issue in Australia. But how did it all come about at the DOD? If need be, see Part 1 for a quick update.

Now on to business. In a FASMECC (First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial and Executive Coordination and Communication) Minute, dated 28th September 2012, a three-stage review of old DOD Defence Instructions (General) policies was highlighted as being underway. The Minute states, in part:

“3. For the second stage of the review, I request that you review the list of DI(G) at Enclosure 1 and, for those DI(G) you sponsor, undertake one of the following activities:

a) advise the Directorate of Administrative Policy (DAP) that the DI(G) is no longer required and should therefore be cancelled; or
b) enter the DI(G) into the formal SoDI process by submitting a request for in-principle agreement to DAP; or
c) advise DAP that you are no longer the correct sponsor of the DI(G) so that arrangements can be made to transfer it to another Group or Service, if appropriate.”

Imaged below is the Minute provided to me by Defence.

Thus, it is established that some older Defence policies are either no longer required, or, otherwise unworkable or inconsistent with current DOD activities. A list of such policies was provided to me, and, our policy of interest, “Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1, Unusual Aerial Sightings Policy” happened to be in “Stage Two” of the general DOD reviews. Furthermore, all old Defence Instructions (General) polices must go through a “risk assessment” which, I believe, takes into consideration legal enforcement of any given policy, security risks, and the like. In a 12th November, 2012, email from a Joanne Terry to Wendy Marman, Assistant Director of Administrative Policy, Defence Freedom of Information and Information Management Branch (FOIIMB), it was stated that a Group Captain Watts, RAAF, had responded to the decision to review the RAAF’s UAS policy, and in Group Captain Watts response it stated:

“DI(G) ADMIN 55-1 - We have received the background brief and risk assessment for this because AF want to review it. The background brief states that AF were responsible for the handling of unusual aerial sightings, however the function ceased in 1996. It goes on to say that AF no longer monitors this field but that bases still regularly received calls from members of the public. The policy provides guidance for base personnel about what to do when they receive such calls. The risk assessment came out at LOW. As you would be aware DI(G) are a tier one document and tier one documents are our high risk administrative policy documents, they must contain a compliance paragraph as well. This policy does not need to be a DI(G). My strong recommendation is that you cancel it and replace it with SOPs to the bases. I am unable to accept this as a request for in principle agreement and cannot see any reason contained in the background brief that would give us sufficient reason to recommend its review to FASMECC. We will not take any further action on this DI(G) and will await your advice.”

The actual Defence email is imaged below:

            Say again? A RAAF officer recommends indeed cancelling the UAS policy and to “replace it with SOPs to the bases.”? In military speak, SOP merely stands for Standard Operating Procedure. So, this is saying that the RAAF were seriously considering bringing back some sort of base-level response to public enquiries or reports. An SOP on this matter will merely be a one-page, unclassified standard procedural document which sits there on a local hard drive and any RAAF base officer who receives a UFO enquiry can merely refer to the SOP and fob off the person who is making the effort to call them. I guess it could apply to media outlets who phone bases too, but, currently, the DOD Public Relations area handle those sort of enquiries and probably always will – though not very well. Whatever the situation, I will be submitting an FOI request to Defence on the SOP matter to see if anything did come of it. Anyway, as stated in the above text, Group Captain Watts stated that the “risk assessment” for the UAS policy “came out at LOW”, and that, finally, once and for all, “This policy does not need to be a DI(G).”.

          Furthermore, in a 13th of November, 2012, internal Defence email, from Wendy Marman to Squadron Leader Jodie Hatch, RAAF, it was stated, in part:

“Thank you for submitting the IPA documentation for DI(G) ADMIN 55-1. As you can see from the response from Directorate of Administrative Policy (DAP) provided below this does not meet the criteria for a DI(G) under the revised SoDI system. In the light of that advice we recommend a cancellation of DI(G) as part of Stage Two review. Our area is happy to discuss with you the most relevant form of instruction to cover this policy (Perhaps an Air Command SI?).”

        So, again, not unlike the mentioning of a base level “SOP” we see at least some sort of consideration in continuing a small degree of further responsibility for the UFO, or “UAS”, matter, however watered down. In this instance, as stated above in the email, an Air Command “SI” is eluded to. For those unfamiliar, an “SI” is a “Standing Instruction” promulgated and maintained by the Defence Department’s larger Command’s and Group’s. Once again, I will be finding out what came of this proposal quick smart. Whatever the final outcome of further and ever-weakening RAAF  response to the UFO/UAS (SOP’s or SI’s or something else?), a 14th of November, 2012, email further sent “Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1, Unusual Aerial Sightings Policy” to the grave:

“No further action necessary on this one from AF. FASMECC will shortly send out a Minute to Group Heads and Service Chiefs advising the final list for cancellation for Stage 2.”

             And that is how it 50 years of official RAAF interest, or lack thereof, in the UFO/UAP came to an end. There is of course a fair bit more in the material I was sent, but it is almost all internal DOD emails and minutes which restate the same bureaucratic issues and procedural actions over and over again. One thing that may have been of interest was the final distribution list for the cancellation of “Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1, Unusual Aerial Sightings Policy”. Below is the actual list of internal Defence agencies, offices and divisions that received news of the policy cancellation. Lucky them. When time permits, I will delve into the operations of a few of them, and see if anything useful can be gleaned.