Friday, December 8, 2017

2017 UK UAP files release - the 1990 Tornado incident


This is the fifth in a series of posts, drawn from material to be found in the 2017 release of UAP files by the United Kingdom government. As previously mentioned, I am not intending to provide a comprehensive catalogue of the contents of the files, I will leave UK researchers to do that. There are particular aspects of the files, namely certain documents, which have caught my attention, and this is what I am writing about. This post concerns a sighting by the pilot of a RAF Tornado aircraft on 5 November 1990, which at first glance, appears highly intriguing.

The report

Image courtesy of Google Maps

An 'unclassified' telex/teletype dated 6 November 1990 is to be found on file DEFE 24/3127/1 page 182. It is from RAF West Drayton to MODUK AIR, subject 'Aerial Phenomena.' It reads:

'A. 5 Nov 1990
B. One large aeroplane (shape). 5 to 6 white steady lights. 1 blue steady light. Contrails from blue area.
C. In the air. M.C. 6 area. Fl270 YPENBURG
D. Naked eye
E. Heading 100 degrees same alt Fl270
F. Into our 12 o'clock
G. One quarter mile ahead
H. Steady
J. N/k
K. N/k
L. Working Dutch Mill radar
M. [Redacted} 2 AC SQN
N. Nil
O. 2 others from Laarbruch
P. Other info. Aircraft was under Dutch mil control. UFO appeared in our right hand side same level. We were travelling at Mach point 8. It went into our 12 o'clock and accelerated away. Another 2 Tornadoes seen it and possible identified it as a stealth aircraft.'

More detail

On pages 171-174 of the same file, there is an expanded, more easy to understand summary of the sighting. This is included as part of a 'Loose Minute' dated 30 October 2000 to DAS4a1(Sec), responding to D/Sec(AS) 64/3/5 dated 25 Sep 00, titled 'Information on Air Defence matters.'

'3. A Tornado aircraft, probably one of a formation of 3GR1s, (1) was conducting a routine eastbound transit from an airfield in UK to Laarbruch in Germany during the evening of Monday 5 Nov. 19. The aircraft was following a standard TACAN route to join TACAN BLUE  6 at the Flight Information Region  (FIR) boundary at a military reporting point known as MC6. Shortly before reaching MC6 control of the aircraft was  transferred by the London Military air traffic controller at RAF West Drayton to his counterpart at Dutch Mil Radar in the Netherlands in accordance with standard procedure.

At 1800z, the time the aerial phenomena was observed, the aircraft was leaving UK airspace in the MC6 area at Flight Level 270 (FL270), heading 100 degrees at speed Mach 0.8.

The aircraft was overtaken on the right by an aircraft shaped object, displaying 5/6 steady white and one blue light, at the same altitude which then proceeded to its 12 o'clock position at a range of 440 yards. The probable route of the Tornado is shown on the map at Annex A. It is assumed that the aircraft was still in contact with West Drayton on this second radio and chose to report the incident to UK authorities rather than the Dutch.

4. The incident is unusual in that the aircraft chose to report the incident as an aerial phenomena rather than as  an Air Proximity Report (AirProx) to highlight the loss of standard separation between aircraft (at this altitude separation  should be 1,000 ft or 5 nautical miles). There is no record of an AirProx report being made on this date in the UK. It is not known, however, whether AirProx of Aerial Phenomena reports were filed with Dutch authorities.

At 1800z on 5 Nov it is dark both on the ground and at FL270. This explains the reference to lights and to  'one large aeroplane (shape)' rather than a more specific description which would be expected of a professional military observer. In these low light conditions, it is generally difficult to judge range and relative motion and it may well be that the aircraft captain had subsequently revised his appreciation of the incident and  decided not to take the major step of reporting an air proximity hazard. (2)  Significantly, had controllers at West Drayton or Dutch Mil witnessed a loss of standard separation on radar, they would have raised Air Prox Reports in their own right, this was certainly not done at West Drayton.

5. Finally, since the incident clearly involved one or more aircraft departing UK airspace, it is highly improbable that the situation generated any UK Air Defence interest....

8. The 3 Tornados on 5 Nov 00, were not air defence aircraft and were not on an operational mission. There is no evidence that the UK Air Defence radar network either did or did not detect the 'unknown.''

There were two notes which I have labelled as (1) and (2) above:

1. Air Defence Tornado F3s are unlikely to have been flying to Laarbruch.

2. GR's do not carry cameras. 'In addition, the GR1 radar at that time, designed for terrain following, had a very limited air to air capability...'

File DEFE 24/3128/1 page 18 contains a fully unredacted copy of the 6 November 1990 telex/teletype which shows that the reporting pilot was 'SQNLDR Garwood 2 AC SQN.'

An exceptional report?

From all of the above material, one could conclude that something rather unusual had been flying past the Tornados that night, over the North Sea. However, a number of the details rang alarm bells for me and I went off to search for additional information.

In 2009, and then again in 2011, the story hit the media, which conveyed additional details. This reported that there was no radar detection by the Dutch military, nor by the Tornado crew of two.
However, it was on the blog written by UK researcher, Dr David Clarke, that I found an answer.

In a 2009 blog post about the third release of UK UAP files, Clarke wrote that there were documents on files DEFE 31/180:180-182 about this sighting. Later, he wrote:

'It later emerged that the RAF Tornado pilots had actually seen burning debris from a Soviet rocket body, used to launch a satellite into orbit, that fell back to earth, re-entering the atmosphere in a spectacular light show over Central Europe. A re-investigation into the incident during 2005 by Dutch researchers - plus a recording of the discussion between the pilots and Dutch ground controllers - can be found here.' (KB - unfortunately the link provided, is now broken.)

Additional sources of information

I then went to a website run by Ted Molczan which contains a record of visually observed satellite re-entries and there it was. At 1800z on 5 November 1990, object 1990-094c, a Russian Gorizont 21 rocket, had been observed re-entering the earth's atmosphere over Belgium, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Italy. Notably, there were no observations from the UK.

The data base of the French government research group, GEIPAN also contained sightings of the re-eentry.

Further sources and discussion

I wish to thank Wim Van Utrecht, a researcher from Belgium, for providing me with links to other sources of both information, discussion and analysis of this event. For anyone interested in reading more, here are those links.

A lesson to be learned

This incident is a perfect reminder that at night, it is extremely difficult for even trained professionals, such as aircraft pilots, to gauge the distance of objects seen in the sky. Secondly, that if someone simply came across the data on this incident in the UK files, and published only this, then the observation would seem to have been of some 'unknown' object. Thirdly, the UK files present only one observation. Once we have access to multiple others, spread across several countries, then the total picture of a re-entering object emerges. 


  1. Hi Keith - As I'm detailing in the item I'm writing about the files, one of the other new files contains further documents that refer to the satellite decay explanation and express some skepticism about that explanation. That other file also include an article from FSR (which I've located) which quotes various relevant pilots - who apparently dismissed the satellite decay explanation.

  2. Hi Isaac, thanks for this. Nice to know that there is other material, which adds to a discussion of the proposed satellite re-entry hypothesis.


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