Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cold case investigations - Operation crowflight


One of the areas of research which interests me, is examining UFO reports from the past. Looking at the data available on a case from yesteryear allows you the opportunity of doing so out of the media spotlight.

I recall that the exact opposite occurred with the 1988 Mundrabilla, Western Australia, car/ufo encounter. Here, as a member of UFO Research South Australia, I undertook interviews and investigations in the middle of a global "media circus" which demanded instant answers. There was no time for reflection or evaluation during those heady few days when each ring of the telephone heralded a call from an international media outlet. So, the opportunity to re-examine a UFO case away from this pandemonium is welcome.

In addition, sometimes the passage of time reveals additional information, relevant to a case, which was not available at the time. I became aware of its value, during the initial years of the Disclosure Australia project. This project undertook a comprehensive search for Australian Government UFO files.

Enter Crowflight:

Back in 2004 I was looking at a UFO report from Devenport, Tasmania dated 25 May 1961. At 8.35am a male witness saw a silver object in the sky "...shaped like a thermometer or a pencil..." There was no sound. It was visible to the NNW travelling in a straight line, and slowly lost to view behind bushes, indicating a small angular elevation at this point.

The man reported the observation to the RAAF, and on their official UFO report form, in a section completed by the RAAF itself, was a note "U2 aircraft over Great Lake at approximately 8.15am tracking in a northerly direction..." This simple note lead me to the discovery that the USAF was flying U2 aircraft over Australia, under an Operation named "Crowflight." I suggested to other researchers that a number of Australian UFO reports could have been caused by observations of U-2 aircraft.

A closer look:

Six years later, I decided to take a closer look at Crowflight to see if there were further insights to be gleaned. I went to the National Archives of Australia (NAA) website and using their RecordSearch function I located 13 files relating to Crowflight. These files, at the time of the Operation, were held by the Australian Government Departments of External Affairs; Defence; Air; Supply; Navy and Immigration.

The main file appeared to be 694/7/22. I had previously asked the NAA to digitise three parts of this file, so I was easily able to read these parts in detail. The file's title was "United States high altitude air sampling, 'Crowflight.' " The Operation in Australia was part of a world-wide sampling of radioactive material, and here in Australia mainly took place from aircraft flying between 40 and 45 degrees south latitude. It originally involved seven operational USAF aircraft, namely three U-2 and four JB-57, plus 175-200 personnel. The Operation flew out of the East Sale, Victoria RAAF base.

Further details:

The JB-57 aircraft were based with the 4950th Test Group, Kirkland AFB, New Mexico. Maximum speed was 500mph. Maximum altitude 35-40,000 feet.

The U-2 aircraft had a range of 3,000 miles. Maximum speed 475mph. Flight duration maximum was 7.5 hours. Maximum altitude was 70,000 feet.

From the papers on the files I was able to reconstruct the dates when Crowflight was operational in Australia. These were: 17 Oct 1960 to 15 Dec 1960; 22 Apr 1961 to 31 May 1961; 26 Oct 1961 to 27 Nov 1961; all based at East Sale.

The papers also revealed that there were three additional flights to 60 degrees south latitude on 31 Oct 1961; 16 Nov 1961 and 27 Nov 1961.

Permanent basing:

From 14 Sep 1962 Crowflight aircraft were permanently based in Australia. There were 19 U-2 flights and 25 RB-57 flights a month with two U-2 and four RB-57 aircraft based at Laverton, Victoria RAAF base, and the Department of Supply airfield at Avalon, Victoria.

There were also other Crowflights which did not travel south. There was one flight a month from Avalon/Laverton to Cooktown, north Queensland and at least one flight to Manus Island, near Papua New Guinea, mentioned on the files.


On 23 Feb 1965 the RB-57 aircraft were re-located back to RAAF East Sale.

On 1 Mar 1965 the U-2 aircraft were withdrawn, to be replaced by the RB-57F type plane.

A memo dated 12 Jan 1966 advised that the Crowflight Operation would finally cease by Feb 1966 with the final withdrawal of all Crowflight aircraft.

In summary:

Crowflight aircraft were based in Australia 17 Oct 1960 to 15 Dec 1960; 22 Apr 1961 to 31 May 1961; 26 Oct 1961 to 27 Nov 1961, and 14 Sep 1962 to Feb 1966.


Knowing the dates when Crowflight aircraft were in the country now allowed for a check against Australian UFO reports. I therefore started by searching the archives of UFO reports made to the RAAF in my Disclosure Australia files.

I found nine UFO reports which had the characteristics you might associate with observations of Crowflight aircraft. These were: description of a "pencil" or similar shape; no sound; North to South or the reverse trajectory; day time sighting; a straight line trajectory; an estimated speed around 500mph; silver or white in colour; and a location where it was known Crowflight aircraft would pass over.

After reading the relevant RAAF UFO questionnaire for each event, I narrowed possible Crowflight observations to three. There was the original 25 May 1961 Devenport, Tasmania case plus two others.

3 Nov 1962 Liffey, near Cressy, Tasmania

A witness briefly reported seeing a silver, "needle" shaped object overhead, heading soundlessly in a straight line, at 11.15am. It appeared very high up and was lost behind cumulus clouds. My conclusion is that this was possibly a Crowflight U-2 aircraft.

(Pre 9) Jan 1963 Penna, near Hobart, Tasmania

A witness saw "white vapour" at 45 degrees angular elevation due north. There was no sound as an object moved downwards in a straight line, at 11.50am. The RAAF UFO report form stated that at the time, a B-57 aircraft was at 29,000 feet climbing to 40,000 feet, over Hobart. My conclusion is that it was a Crowflight RB-57 aircraft.

I would therefore conclude that at least three known UFO reports in the RAAF UFO files were due to Crowflight aircraft, two by U-2 and one by an RB-57.

There are probably dozens more such Crowflight caused UFO reports buried in the archives of Australian UFO groups, especially the files held by the Tasmanian UFO Investigation Centre; and the Victorian UFO Research Society; possibly even that of UFO Research Queensland. I would urge researchers in these groups to take alook back through their files for the period 1960 to 1966.


  1. My boss was a chemical analyst of the collected data. Unfortunately, he has passed on; so I cannnot further interview him. Those were the good old days. I was one of the duty officers monitoring teletype support traffic.

  2. Hi

    Thank you for your comment. Did you ever come across UFO reports caused by the Crowflight aircraft?

  3. I was a member of the Adelaide University Squadron, and on a trip to Laverton Vic in 1964 witnessed the take-off and landing of a U-2 US aircraft from that base. The pilot said he was on a flight to the Antarctic to collect air samples for weather investigations. I recall we were not allowed to take any photographs.

  4. Hi Graham, Thanks for your comment. It was certainly an interesting period in aviation history.


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