Wednesday, May 28, 2014

HIBAL Westall hypothesis under test

Hi all,

In a previous post (click here) I postulated a novel hypothesis as an explanation for the 6 April 1966 Westall case. Since then, I have spent time seeking to disprove the hypothesis myself, as have others. HIBAL flight 292 was at the centre of the conjecture.

Counter argument:

One counter argument put forward, was that perhaps the reason why the Bureau of Meteorology HIBAL files, do not contain a list of actual balloon launches for April 1966, and the success/failure status of each flight, was that perhaps April 1966 was a month of failures, i.e. there were no successful flights, and therefore flight 292 could not have made its way to Westall.

In order to check on this possibility of no successful flights in April 1966, I went searching in contemporary newspapers.


I first looked through microfiche copies of the "Adelaide Advertiser" and the Adelaide "Sunday Mail." There were no articles in either paper, during April 1966, concerning HIBAL flights.

I then checked through a physical copy of the Mildura based "Sunraysia Daily" for April 1966, held in the State Library of South Australia. This was because the HIBAL program mainly launched balloons from Mildura. I thought that if any paper would contain details of flights, the "Sunraysia Daily" would. I located two, April 1966, articles about HIBAL. These were:

Article one:

(Sunraysia Daily, Thursday 21 April 1966, page 3.)

"Balloon launch delayed.

Plans for the launch of another super balloon, from Mildura airport today have been dropped because of an approaching front.

Conditions earlier yesterday suggested the weather would be suitable today for the sending of a balloon of 242 foot diameter to a height of 120,000 feet.

But tests with weather balloons yesterday afternoon showed that winds at the high levels would swing the balloon too close to Swan Hill at the time its payload should be released and that the increasing northerlies could swing it south - well outside the allowable impact zone.

An effort would be made to launch the big balloon as soon as conditions improve.

The Balloon Launching Crew had success on Tuesday with a balloon which went to 105,000 feet and dropped its payload on Til Til station property, north of Balranald and about 100 miles north-north-east of Mildura. The flight was a success in all respects."

Article two:

(Sunraysia Daily, Thursday 28 April 1966, page 1.)

"Giant Hibal balloon in successful flight.

A super giant Project Hibal balloon was sent aloft from Mildura Aerodrome for a successful six and a half hour flight yesterday.

It was the biggest balloon ever launched in Australia to complete a successful flight, and followed in the shadow of failure to launch a similar balloon here in February.

The balloon was sent aloft to gather atmospheric data for the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

The huge balloon - 242 feet in diameter was launched from Mildura Airport by the Hibal crew at 7.30 yesterday morning. It climbed gradually and reached the required height of 120,000 feet.

Hibal officials expected the balloon to land about 90 miles east of Mildura.

But it was caught by winds estimated at 80 knots and landed some 250 miles east of Mildura, 15 miles south-west of Narrandera.

The payload parachuted to earth from the burst balloon at 2pm.

The Hibal recovery crew travelled to the spot where the payload landed and returned with the equipment late last night.

The launching of the balloon was scheduled for 6.45am but because of the size of the huge balloon, an extra hour was involved in preparing it for launching, compared to the smaller balloons.

The balloon was sent to Mildura from America.

A similar Project Hibal balloon was successfully launched from the airport about the middle of February this year, but burst prematurely at 31,000 feet.

It was believed that a freak wind jet was responsible for this failure."

Flight details:

The Bureau of Meteorology HIBAL file has a memo on it, which gives the dates of the proposed launches for April 1966. These dates were:

1. April 5th - flight 292 - 90,000 feet.
2. April 13th - flight 293 - 80,000 feet.
3. April 19th - flight 294 - 105,000 feet.
4. April 21st - flight 295 - 120,000 feet.

There is also mention of an additional non HIBAL April flight to 120,000 feet.

The Bureau file has no memo on it which gives the dates of the actual flights, however I have now confirmed the following:

1. Flight 292 -?????
2. Flight 293 - Confirmed by the log book of one of the HIBAL chase aircraft pilots, to me. Successful.
3. Flight 294 - Confirmed in the "Sunraysia Daily' of 21 April 1966. Successful to 105,00 feet.
4. Flight 295 - Rescheduled from April 21st to April 27th as stated in the "Sunraysia Daily" of 21 and 28 April. Successful to 120,000 feet.

I found no information on the additional non-HIBAL flight to 120,000 feet.

So, the idea that there were no successful HIBAL flights in April 1966, is proved incorrect.

Flight 292:

What about flight 292? The one the HIBAL hypothesis suggests caused the Westall event? None of the papers I consulted contains any articles on this flight. We are none the wiser as to its status.


There is however, one interesting piece of information I gathered from the "Daily." Shane Ryan from Canberra, asked me if I knew the direction of the wind on 5 April 1966 at Mildura. This date was the scheduled launch date for flight 292. When Shane asked me, I did not. I do now.

The "Daily" for 5 April 1966 (page 1) provides the forecast for Mildura, the site of the HIBAL launches. The surface wind direction was from the north to north-west, meaning that near the surface the HIBAL balloon would have travelled south to south-east, the direction in which Westall lies from Mildura. Now, of course, as we have no details of the upper wind direction, this piece of information has minimal value.

However, it is interesting to note that the "Daily" article of 21 April 1966 speaks of delaying a launch because the high altitude winds were from the north, potentially driving the balloon south - "well outside the allowable impact zone."

The 27 April 1966 HIBAL launch landed 250 miles east of Mildura, after high altitude winds also drove it outside the predicted impact zone.

In summary:

Despite a search of a local Mildura newspaper which carried regular articles on HIBAL since 1960, no record of flight 292 was located. The mystery continues.

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