Monday, November 9, 2015

What was it in the sky?

Hi all,

A recent email inquiry from the United Kingdom, sent me looking into old RAAF UAP files. I was asked to look for any documents relating to an observation by an air traffic controller at Essendon airport, Melbourne in the 1950's. I found several documents in the National Archives of Australia on file series A703, control symbol 580/1/1 Part 1, digital pages 51-60.

When I read these documents I immediately thought of the famous 1965 incident at Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. Here, a number of air traffic controllers also saw an unusual object in the morning sky.

Canberra, 15 July 1965
The government media release on the incident
Before I provide details of the 1957 Melbourne incident, it will be worth while going back to the 1965 incident, for there are many similarities between the two sets of observations.

The source most quoted in books on UAP, is from "The Australian" newspaper 16 July 1965 page 16.

"While Earth was looking at Mars, somebody from out there could have been looking at us.

"An unidentified flying object was sighted over Canberra airport yesterday morning. And that put it in a position to eavesdrop Tidbinbilla.

"It was described as a metallic silvery object, hovering in the sky to the north-east at an elevation of between 20 and 30 degrees.

"Air traffic control staff in the main  control tower spotted the visitor about 11am.

"The officer-in-charge of Civil Aviation at the airport, Mr A B Lindeman saw it too.

"So did Flight-Lieutenant Weston, the RAAF base operations officer. But the first was an air-traffic controller Mr Tom Lindsey. He was scanning the sky to the north-east looking for a light aircraft due from Bankstown.

"Another controller, Mr A F Frodsham said it hung in the sky for about 40 minutes. He said it could have been a reflection from an aircraft. But there were no planes departing from Canberra at the time nor was there any record of other aircraft in the area.

"Mr Lindsey said there were definitely no civil aircraft in the area at the time. "I don't know what it was - your guess is as good as mine."

"Said Flight Lieutenant Weston "It's hard to say whether it was stationary. At one time it seemed to be approaching us but I'm not sure."

"He had never seriously thought about flying saucers before but he supposed they were possible. "There must be a reasonable explanation for it, but I wouldn't like to hazard a guess."

Mars paying a return visit perhaps."

The mention of Mars is in reference to Mariner 4's visit to the red planet. Tidbinbilla tracking station was the receiving point for the second picture to be beamed back from Mars.

RAAF files

I conducted a search through the National Archives of Australia for any mention of this case in RAAF files. On file series A703, control symbol 580/1/1 part 4 folio 83, there was a one page telex, dated 16 July 1965. The sender was Headquarters Operations Command. The recipient was the Department of Air. It read:

"Restricted. AI32/CINTELLO for DAFI. UFO sighting Canberra airport 15 Jul. This headquarters has concluded that object was planet Venus. No further action will be taken."

So, the RAAF's conclusion was that the observation was of the planet Venus.

The Canberra Times 16 July 1965 also carried an article

My own check

A check with an astronomical software program showed me that Venus was above the horizon. It was due north-east, at an angular elevation of 23 degrees. It was very bright, at magnitude -3.8.

 So, Venus was in the specific location mentioned by all the observers in the newspaper article. Venus as the 'UFO' fits all the details given. Over a 40 minute period it would have moved roughly northwards, through an angle of some 10 degrees, which may not have been enough for ground observers to think, during a discontinuous observation (it would appear no one watched it continuously for the whole 40 minutes,) it was other than north-east at between 20-30 degrees elevation.

 It is therefore reasonable, to suggest that this 1965  'UFO' was in fact the planet Venus.

The 1957 incident

F R Soden was a Supervisor, Air Traffic Controller, at Essendon (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) airport on 19 August 1957. At 0950 EST (UTC 2320hrs 18 Aug 1957) his attention was drawn by a phone call, to the north-eastern sky. Here he observed a "globular" shaped object, white/gray in colour. There was no structure observable. He was unable to provide an estimate of the object's height or its angular elevation in the sky. The object was stationary over a period estimated as five minutes.
Soden's RAAF proforma page 1
 During the course of the observation it appeared to change colour from white to half-white/half-gray. It "just disappeared" after five minutes. Visibility was good and there was middle level cloud to the north-east.
There was a RAAF aircraft in the area, "who could not see anything." "Radar requested to search for echo in area mentioned - nil sightings, however did pick up a blip in the Preston area.. The object had disappeared by this time and there were no known aircraft either from ML or MRB in the Preston area."
Also on the government file were proformas completed by Air Traffic Controllers named N T Burge; I C Lewitzka; and trainee Air Traffic Controller G E Fletcher.
Each of these three additional proformas told the same story as that of Soden. Some additional details supplied by Burge was that the object was observed at 045 degrees true, azimuth; its colour was "off white;" there was no sound; its elevation was approximately 25 degrees. It "disappeared in mid air."
"C47 RAAF pilot was asked for his impressions, he said the object observed from the tower may be reflection of the moon in cloud."
Burge's RAAF proforma page 1
 Lewitzka had the angular elevation down as approximately 30 degrees.
Lewitzka's RAAF proforma page 1
 Fletcher's form says the colour was "greyish-silver"; elevation 25-30 degrees."
Fletcher's RAAF proforma page 1


So, could the 1957 object also have been Venus? A check of two astronomical software programs revealed the following:

1. The Sun was up at an elevation of about 23 degrees, in the north-east sky (azimuth 50 degrees.)

2. The Moon was up at an elevation of 19 degrees, in the north-western sky (azimuth 314 degrees.)

3. The planet Venus was in the sky, in the east-north-east (azimuth 82 degrees.)

So, if the 1957 object was at an angular elevation between 25-30 degrees in the north-east (azimuth 045 degrees true) then it wasn't the planet Venus. Readers will note that the Sun was very close to the object in the sky, so the Air Traffic Controllers were looking at something very close to the Sun, which suggests that although the stated duration of the sighting was five minutes, due to the Sun's glare (if not hidden by the cited middle level clouds) they probably would not have stared in the direction of the Sun for the entire five minutes.

The cause of the 1957 sighting therefore remains a mystery. 

1 comment:

  1. Late comment on this article, but I just want to point out it is entirely possible these things make use of brighter planetary conditions as a sort of 'camouflage'. i.e. fly your ship in the sky when Venus is bright and therefore any accidental sightings can be summarily dismissed as 'oh, they saw venus'. Not outside the realm of possibility. --W