UFO UpDates
A mailing list for the study of UFO-related phenomena
'Its All Here In Black & White'
Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > May > May 5

Case Studies In Pilot Misperceptions Of UFOs

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 05 May 2007 07:43:46 -0400
Fwd Date: Sat, 05 May 2007 07:43:46 -0400
Subject: Case Studies In Pilot Misperceptions Of UFOs



Source: Peter Smith's Website

http://www.zip.com.au/~psmith/pilot-ufos.html

November 10, 2002


Case Studies In Pilot Misperceptions Of "UFOs"

James Oberg
jamesoberg.nul
voice/fax 281-337-2838

How good are pilots' "UFO reports"? There is some dispute over
whether the features they describe are imaginative
interpretations of raw visual stimuli (based on their own
aviation experience) or are sound renditions of raw perceptions.

Experienced UFO investigators realize that pilots, who
instinctively and quite properly interpret visual phenomena in
the most hazardous terms, are not dispassionate observers. Allen
Hynek wrote: "Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots
appear to make relatively poor witnesses..." The quote is from
"The Hynek UFO Report", page 261 (Barnes and Noble reprint).
(271 in original Dell, Dec 1977) He found that the best class of
witnesses had a 50% misperception rate, but that pilots had a
much higher rate: 88% for military pilots, 89% for commercial
pilots. the worst of all categories listed. Pilots could be
counted on to perceive familiar objects - aircraft and ground
structures - very well, Hynek continued, but added a caveat:
"Thus it might surprise us that a pilot had trouble identifying
other aircraft, but it should come as no surprise that the
majority of pilot misidentifications were of astronomical
objects." Dell page 271

Here are two "test cases" that are illustrative: the November 5,
1990 re-entry of the Gorizont/Proton rocket body across northern
France and Germany, and the January 28, 1994 launch of Progress
TM-21 from Kazakhstan. Both events were observed by airline
crews. Arguably, in both cases, the pilots over-interpreted
their perceptions and subconsciously introduced "deductions" and
"conclusions" to shape their remembered perceptions.

The resulting perceptions look like many other 'classic UFO
encounters" reported by pilots, encounters that superficially
have a high credibility because of the technical expertise of
the witnesses. But both of these man-made events provide a rare
opportunity to calibrate pilots' perceptions to what we know was
actually being observed, and to raise a caution flag about
accepting similar perceptions as gospel.

The first description is from the "Special Report to FSR [Flying
Saucer Review} (May 1991)", by Paul Whitehead, Summer 1991
issue, page 10"

"It was a dark, early evening (6:15 pm local time), on November
5th 1990, and a British Airways passenger aircraft was en route
to London, flying over the Alps at 31,000 ft. The crew heard a
nearby Lufthansa jet report and query 'traffic ahead'. The BA
captain peered intently ahead into the night sky. What he saw
was hardly what he expected!

"(At the time, the European press reported the incident, and the
'official line' was given: the UFOs were in fact 'space debris
from an old satellite re-entering the atmosphere'.)

"Well, MAYBE! But more details have now emerged. An airline
pilot, well known to me and based in the UK, has spoken
personally to the BA captain who logged the report, at the
request of SIGAP (Surray Investigations Group on Aerial
Phenomena). SIGAP has agreed to the captain's request not to
make public his name, in order to protect him from publicity,
and FSR respects that request. The airline pilot who spoke to
the BA captain also wishes to remain anonymous.

"What did the BA captain see? Here is his comment.

" 'I looked ahead and saw, somewhat to my surprise, ahead and to
the right and higher than we were, a set of bright lights. One
of the lights, the leading one, was brighter than the others,
and appeared bigger, almost disklike. It was followed closely by
another three that seemed to be in a V formation. As I watched,
I heard another aircraft crew also reporting seeing lights.

" 'I watched the objects intently as they moved across my field
of view, right to left, ahead and high. It was then, on hearing
the report from the other aircraft, that I realized I was
watching something much further away than I had first thought.
The other report came from France.'

"Was it a satellite re-entry? The pilot stated: 'It certainly
didn't look like that to me. I have seen a re-entry before and
this was different.'

"But it was the BA captain's further comments that are causing
amazement and intense interest. SIGAP has released the
information to UFO researcher and writer Tim Good, and we hope
to have more comprehensive details this year.

"That same night, a colleague of the captain, in another BA
aircraft, reported two 'very bright, mystifying lights' while
flying over the North Sea. Two days later, an RAF Tornado pilot
told the captain that on the same evening (5th November) his
Tornado - while flying with another squadron aircraft, had been
'approached by bright lights'. The lights, he reported,
'formated on the Tornadoes'. (This expression 'formate' is
apparently used to indicate a deliberate intent)

"The accompanying Tornado pilot was so convinced that they were
on collision course with the lights (apparently nine of them
were seen) that he 'broke away' and took 'violent evasive
action'. This same pilot later added that he thought he was
heading directly for a C5 Galaxy, a giant US transport plane.
The formation of UFOs carried 'straight on course and shot off
ahead at speed - they were nearly supersonic. Some C5!', he
said, indicating that they were going faster than the speed a C5
can achieve.

"The pilot known to Paul Whitehead commented, 'This is all a
good true story, and could do with an explanation. All the
pilots are adamant that what they had seen was definitely not
satellite debris - and they should know,'"

Further details were reported in the National Enquirer, March
12, 1991, page 50: "Airline pilot in chilling brush with giant
UFO", by Fleur Brenham. Has photo of "Veteran pilot, Capt. Mike
D'Alton. He's convinced it came from outer space."

"A massive glowing UFO stunned a veteran British Airways pilot
and his crew when it shot in front of their Boeing 737 on a
night flight from Rome to London - then zoomed out of sight at
fantastic speed"

The newspaper quoted the pilot: "This thing was not of this
world," declared Capt. Mike D'Alton. "In all my 23 years of
flying I've never seen a craft anything like this."

More: "Capt. D'Alton says he's convinced the mysterious craft
came from outer space because: It was traveling at tremendous
speed, but caused no sonic boom. . . it had a bizarre shape like
nothing he'd ever set eyes on . . . and it made a sharp turn
while flying at high speeds - an impossible maneuver that would
rip any man-made aircraft to bits. Just as incredible, when
Capt. D'Alton checked with area air traffic controllers, they
hadn't detected a thing! 'There was nothing on the radar screens
of any of the control towers it was flying over,' he said."

According to the article, "The encounter began at 6:03 p.m. last
November 5 as Capt. D'Alton's airliner was flying over Genoa,
Italy. 'The rest of the crew saw it, too,' he said. 'What we saw
was one large, fairly bright light. Ahead of it was a formation
of three fainter lights in a triangle. Another faint light was
behind the large light and was slightly lower.'

D'Alton continued: "The craft was flying level, going much too
fast to be a man-made aircraft. I've flown all over the world,
and I know this thing wasn't a shooting star, space debris or
the northern lights."

Said Bob Parkhouse, the flight's chief steward: "The UFO was
moving from left to right across the horizon. It was a sight I'd
never seen before!"

"The crew watched the craft for two minutes, said Capt. D'Alton.
'Then it took a lightning-fast right-angle turn and zoomed out
of sight.' Other pilots, including a Lufthansa German Airlines
captain, reported a UFO sighting around the same time. Capt
D'Alton said. 'It had to be something from another planet -
because it was definitely not man-made!' "



Still more details from Tim Good's "UFO Report 1992", pp. 136-7.

"5 November 1990: Genoa, Italy/North Sea - British Airways
Captain Mike D'Alton reported sighting a UFO during the night
flight in a Boeing 737 from Rome to Gatwick, describing it as a
silver disc with three faint points of light in arrow formation
and a fourth light behind it.

"Captain D'Alton said the object was visible for about 2 minutes
over Genoa. 'I've never seen anything like it before and can't
explain what it was. My co-pilot and I called in two cabin crew
to see it and then it went out of sight. Ground radar couldn't
pick it up, so it must have been travelling at phenomenal
speed.' (Sunday Telegraph, London/Sunday Mail, Glasgow, 11
November 1990)

"That same night, another BA captain reported two 'very bright
mystifying lights' while flying over the North Sea, and later
spoke to an RAF Tornado pilot who, together with another Tornado
from the same squadron, had been 'approached by bright lights'
which 'formated' on the Tornadoes. The accompanying Tornado
pilot was so convinced that they were on collision course with
the lights - apparently nine were seen - that he 'broke away'
and took 'violent evasive action'. The formation of UFOs
continued 'straight on course and shot off ahead at speed - they
were nearly supersonic. . .'

"(These incidents were confirmed to Paul Whitehead of the Surray
Investigation Group on Aerial Phenomena via another airline
pilot, who had spoken with the BA pilot involved in the North
Sea incident, and reported to me by Paul in April 1991. . . . In
addition, the following report may provide corroboration.)"

Good then describes a case labeled "5 November 1990: Near
Rheindalen, Germany/North Sea", and writes:

"According to a highly placed RAF Germany source, two terrific
explosions were heard on two separate occasions at night in the
Rheindalen area. After the second explosion (at 22:00) the crew
of a Phantom jet reported UFOs headed north in a 'finger'
formation.

"Separately, two Tornado jets over the North Sea encountered two
large round objects, each with five blue lights and several
other white lights around the rim. As the Tornadoes closed to
investigate, one of the UFOs headed for one of the jets, which
had to take violent evasive action to avoid collision. The two
unknowns then headed north until they were out of sight. Nothing
showed on the radar screens of the Tornadoes."

A third report was labeled "5-6 November 1990: Belgium, France,
Germany, Italy, Switzerland", and Good wrote:

"Mysterious aerial objects, variously described as orange balls,
triangles and points of light were reported during the night by
hundreds of witnesses in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and
Switzerland. Some described a moving shape comprising three,
five or six brilliant points of light. Experts in Munich and
other countries suggested that a meteorite or satellite re-entry
was to blame.

"But in Belgium, dozens reported a triangular object with three
lights, flying slowly and soundlessly to the south-west, and the
air force said it was studying the reports in liaison with
neighboring air forces. Several crew members of civilian and
military planes also sighted UFOs, including a British pilot,
who reported four objects flying in formation over the Ardennes
hills in south Belgium.

"In France, Jean-Jacques Velasco, director of Service for the
Investigation of Re-entry Phenomena, said an investigation would
be launched, and confirmed that several airline pilots had
reported sightings but that no radar contact was recorded in
French airspace. One Air France pilot told a radio interviewer:
'We were on a flight to Barcelona at about 33,000 feet at 19:03
hours when we first saw the shape. It couldn't have been a
satellite (re-entry) because it was there for three or four
minutes'.

"In Italy, six airline pilots reported 'a mysterious and intense
white light' south-east of Turin. Pilots also reported five
white smoke trails nearby. Police in Bavaria were swamped with
calls from people reporting streaks of light with tails of fire
at about 19:00 on 5 November (Glasgow Herald, 7 November 1990)."

Now, what can we make of these impressive testimonials? The
satellite reentry was occurring right before their eyes, and
these pilots made many, many perceptual and interpretative
errors, including:

1. In FSR, the anonymous BA pilot (obviously D'Alton) recalls:
"One of the lights . .. was brighter than the others, and
appeared bigger, almost disklike." It was just as light, a piece
of burning debris, and the "disk" interpretation was a mental
pattern conjured up from previous experience, not from this
actual apparition. Note that later, Good alters this comment to
have the pilot unequivocally call it "a silver disc".

2. The main light "was followed closely by another three that
seemed to be in a V formation," according to the pilot.
Referring to a "formation" is an assumption of intelligent
control. The pieces of flaming debris were scattered randomly in
a group and stayed approximately in the same relative positions,
but the pilots misinterpreted this to mean they were flying in
formation.

3. FSR reports the pilot saying "I watched the objects intently
as they moved across my field of view, right to left," but the
objects' actual motion was left to right, as reported elsewhere
correctly. Either the FSR writer, or the pilot, jumbled this key
piece of information.

4. The pilot did not believe the apparition was a satellite re-
entry because "I have seen a re-entry before and this was
different." These re-entries are particularly spectacular
because of the size of the object, and the pilot was speaking
from an inadequate experience base here.

5. The RAF military pilots in the Tornadoes concluded that "the
lights 'formated on the Tornadoes', which is the kind of thing a
fighter pilot is trained to detect and avoid, not
dispassionately contemplate. The lights, of course, never
changed course, but the pilots who were surprised by them feared
the worst.

6. The accompanying Tornado pilot was so convinced that they
were on collision course with the lights that he "broke away"
and took "violent evasive action". This move would be prudent in
an unknown situation, but there's no need to believe that the
perception of dead-on approach was really accurate. Since the
flaming debris was tens of miles high, no real "collision
course" ever existed, outside the mind of the pilot.

7. D'Alton in the National Enquirer is quoted as claiming " it
made a sharp turn while flying at high speeds - an impossible
maneuver that would rip any man-made aircraft to bits. " Again,
the actual object never made such a turn, and the pilot's over-
interpretation of what the object MUST be experiencing was based
on mistaken judgments of actual distance and motion.

8. After two minutes of flying straight, said D'Alton, ". . .it
took a lightning-fast right-angle turn and zoomed out of sight."
But we know that the actual observed object never made such a
maneuver, but D'Alton remembered it clearly when trying to
explain in his own mind how it disappeared so fast.

9. The newspaper account, quoted in Good's book, has D'Alton
claiming that "ground radar couldn't pick it up, so it must have
been travelling at phenomenal speed." Actually, the speed would
have had nothing to do with radar failing to pick it up, but the
actual distance - which D'Alton misjudged, leading to subsequent
erroneous interpretations - did.

10. The Tornado pilots described the flaming debris as " two
large round objects, each with five blue lights and several
other white lights around the rim." Since they were used to
seeing other structured vehicles with lights mounted on them,
when they spotted this unusual apparition, that's the way they
misperceived and remembered it.

11. "In Belgium, dozens reported a triangular object with three
lights, flying slowly and soundlessly to the south-west," but
these were separate fireball fragments at a great distance,
which witnesses assumed were lights on some larger structure.
Their slow angular rate was misinterpreted to be a genuine slow
speed because their true distance was grossly underestimated.

12. "A British pilot . . . reported four objects flying in
formation over the Ardennes hills in south Belgium." The pilot
may have been over southern Belgium, but the objects he saw
didn't have to be, they were hundreds of miles away. And despite
his instinctive (and wrong) assumption the lights were "flying
in formation", they were randomly-space fireball fragments.

13. Note that Good writes that "Jean-Jacques Velasco,. . . said
an investigation would be launched," but Good saw the results of
that investigation before his book went to press, and he
neglected to tell his readers that Velasco proved the lights
were from the satellite re-entry.

Such selective omissions make many such stories appear far
stronger than they really are.

14. One Air France pilot told a radio interviewer: '. . . It
couldn't have been a satellite (re-entry) because it was there
for three or four minutes', but such reasoning is groundless
since near-horizontal re-entriers can be seen for many minutes,
especially from airplanes at high altitude. The pilot didn't
know this, and rejected that explanation erroneously.

15. "In Italy, six airline pilots reported 'a mysterious and
intense white light' south-east of Turin. Pilots also reported
five white smoke trails nearby." They may have been near Turin
when they saw the lights and assumed incorrectly they were
'nearby', but the lights were far, far away.

Hynek's assessment of the accuracy of "UFO reports" from pilots
appears to be right on target. It is not meant as an insult to
their intelligence, integrity, or professional competence. It
does, however, reflect the training their minds have gotten from
years of flight experience.

A second case is the so-called "Tajik Air" UFO, on January 28,
1994. It is based on message from the American Embassy in
Dushanbe, Tajikistan (Mr. Escudero), Jan 31/0310Z. Selected
passages follow:

"1. Tajik air chief pilot, amcit [american citizen] ed rhodes,
and his two american pilot colleagues reported jan 29 that, on
january 27, they had encountered a ufo while flying at 41,000
feet in their boeing 747 at lat 45 north and long 55 east, over
kazakhstan. They first encountered the object as a bright light
of enormous intensity, approaching them from over the horizon to
the east at a great rate of speed and at a much higher altitude
than their own. They watched the object for some forty minutes
as it maneuvered in circles, corkscrews, and made 90-degree
turns at rapid rates of speed and under very high g's. Captain
rhodes took several photos with a pocket olympus camera and will
send copies to the embassy and tajikistan desk (lowry taylor) in
the department, if they come out. After some time, the object
adopted a horizontal high-speed course and disappeared over the
horizon.

"2. As it was dark when the object was observed, the crew were
unable to discern its shape. They described the light it emitted
as having a 'bow wave' and as resembling a high-speed photo of a
bullet in flight, in which a very small object gives off a much
larger trailing wave of heat/light. Some forty-five minutes
after the initial sighting, as the sun was rising, the aircraft
flew under the contrails which the object had left behind. The
plane was making over 500 knots. Rhodes estimated the altitude
of the contrails at approximately 100,000 feet, noting that
there is too little air/moisture at that extreme altitude to
enable the creation of contrails by the propulsion mechanisms of
ordinary aircraft which might be able to reach that height. The
paths of the contrails reflected the maneuvers of the object,
i.e., circles, corkscrews, etc.

"3. To our suggestion that the object might have been a meteor
entering and skipping off the earth's atmosphere, rhodes and his
crew were adament that they had seen thousands of 'falling
stars' and other space junk entering the atmosphere in their
years of flying passenger aircraft for panam. This, they
insisted, was nothing like a meteor. On the basis of its speed
and maneuverability, rhodes expressed the opinion, which his
crew seemed to support, that the object was extraterrestrial and
under intelligent control."

Rhodes appears to be a sincere witness who's convinced he saw a
true UFO. But to understand the case we need some more relevant
data and comments. First of all, this is the key: The Russian
Baikonur Cosmodrome (space launch center) is located at approx
46N 66E, east of the Aral Sea in independent Kazakhstan.

The regularly scheduled unmanned supply ship Progress M-21 was
launched toward the Mir space station at 0212 GMT on January 28
(a Friday) aboard a "Soyuz" (SL-4) booster. It blasted off and
then pitched over on a slightly north-of-east course, and nine
minutes later achieved orbit about 140 miles up, 1200 miles down
range, at a speed of 17,600 mph. During ascent it followed a
straight course on a constant heading. However, at about 2.5
minutes into the flight the four strap-on boosters separated and
fell back to Earth still trailing smoke.

The "Tajik Air" report does not provide direction of eyewitness
view or direction of motion of the airliner. However, if one
assumes it was flying eastwards, the launch would have been seen
directly in front of them and they would have passed under the
booster exhaust trail (NOT a jet engine "condensation", or
CONtrail) much later.

These booster plumes are known to last 40-60 minutes after a
launch, which would explain the air crew's feeling that they
observed the UFO for that long. The plumes are twisted into
corkscrews and zig-zags by the varying directional winds in the
upper atmosphere.

Since this is the obvious visual stimulus for this apparition,
we can see that this air crew made many, many perceptual
mistakes, including:

1. A "bright light of enormous intensity" must be calibrated
with a pilot's dark-adapted yes in a dimly lit cockpit. From
hundreds of miles away a rocket is indeed a "bright light" but
it it is hardly dazzling, blinding, or "of enormous intensity".

2. They concluded the UFO "approached them from over the
horizon" when it merely rose and grew brighter as it was at all
times flying away from their reported position. They mistook
"brightening" for "nearing", an extremely common UFO witness
error.

3. They claim to have watched "the object" for forty minutes,
although the rocket would have been out of sight in four or five
minutes. The smoke plumes, sunlit in the pre-dawn upper
atmosphere, would have been visible ahead of them in the sky for
forty minutes, but there was no "object" there.

4. The pilots reported seeing "circles, corkscrews, and 90-
degree turns" but the actual rocket did no such maneuvers.
However, the smoke trail would within half an hour have
portrayed such a path, so the pilots could have simply assumed
they were seeing an accurate history of the object's original
path, instead of a smoke trail distorted by winds. They could
NOT have actually seen the UFO performing these maneuvers, but
in hindsight they could easily believe they did.

5. The UFO maneuvered "under very high g's", according to the
pilots. But that rests on assumptions of actual distances and
actual speeds, as well as the erroneous belief that it really
changed course as reflected in the smoke trail.

6. The pilots recall that "after some time, the object adopted a
horizontal high-speed course", when the rocket had been flying
essentially straight and horizontally away from them since early
in its flight. Their report of a non-existent gross change in
course and speed must have been a rationalization to explain its
eventual disappearance.

7. The pilots "were adament that they had seen thousands of
'falling stars' and other space junk entering the atmosphere in
their years of flying. . . . This, they insisted, was nothing
like a meteor." While true, it mis-aims attention at one
explanation while omitting the other, a rocket launching.

8. The pilots concluded that "on the basis of its speed and
maneuverability, . . .the object was extraterrestrial and under
intelligent control." One last erroneous interpretation based on
all previous misinterpretations and imaginations.

These recent examples are consistent with the experience of UFO
investigators for more than fifty years. Reports of UFO
maneuvering, intelligent flight formations, responses to
witnesses, and other 'inexplicable' narratives can be engendered
from prosaic, simple, but unfamiliar phenomena. In these cases,
"UFO reports", even from pilots, did not need a "real UFO" to
create them.


[Thanks to 'The Norm' for the lead]



Listen to 'Strange Days... Indeed' - The PodCast

See:

http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/sdi/program/


[ Next Message | Previous Message | This Day's Messages ]
This Month's Index |

UFO UpDates Main Index

UFO UpDates - Toronto - Operated by Errol Bruce-Knapp


Archive programming by Glenn Campbell at Glenn-Campbell.com