Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cold UFO cases - stratospheric balloons? Part 1


I mentioned in my post dated 28 October 2010, that I came across an astronomy article describing stratospheric balloon research in Australia. The article, in part, stated that "...nearly 800 balloon flights have taken place in Australia since 1960 with over 100 being conducted from Alice Springs."

The article also revealed that as early as 1960, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was in Australia using stratospheric balloons (in a parallel mission to the USAF Operation Crowflight) to sample the air at high altitudes for evidence from nuclear test fallout.


In fact, the National Archives of Australia website digitised files on Operation Crowflight, mention that in 1960 the U.S. and Australian Governments were discussing the use of a balloon program to check on radioactive fallout.

Balloon website:

I located an excellent website at which indicated that there had been three main locations from which stratospheric balloons have been launched in Australia, namely Mildura in Victoria; Charleville in Queensland and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Mildura (Latitude 34deg 11min South, Longitude 142 deg 10min East)

Mildura was selected by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1960 as a balloon launching station as part of the global HIBAL program. This was a program aimed at collecting dust samples from between 40,000 and 135,000 feet with 20 minutes to four hours of levelled flight. 600 flights were made between 1960 and 1966. HIBAL was then extended to 1969.

Between 1967 and 1980 150 other flights were launched for astronomical purposes. Apart from Mildura, other launch sites were Longreach, Queensland; Broken Hill, New South Wales, and Alice Springs, Northern Territory.


Only two balloon launches were made to study supernova 1987-A on 29 Oct and 25 Nov 1988.

Alice Springs

The balloon launch program was established in 1975 and about 150 balloon launches have been undertaken since then. The stratocat website provides a partial list of dates for some of these balloon launches.

UFO/balloon characteristics:

What characteristics would I expect a stratospheric balloon observation to have?

1. Daylight observation.
2. Sunlight reflecting off an object.
3. Travelling in a constant direction, subject to wind direction at various altitudes.
4. Moving very slowly across the sky -hence maybe a long duration observation.
5. Object might appear as more than a point source due to the size of the balloon.
6. Seemingly very high up in the sky.
7. Location - anywhere in Australia.
8. Seen by single person or a group.
9. Silver/white in colour.
10. No sound.

UFO reports:

I started off by looking at the Disclosure Australia project archive at and their listing of RAAF UFO reports.

My initial examination comparing UFO reports with my list of expected characteristics of balloon observations gave me a list of over 20 potential balloon sightings. I then went to the National Archives of Australia website to examine the actual report form on their digital files.

More in my next post.

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