Fwd: The PIREP Corner by Paul Kinzelman - Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
- The PIREP Corner by Paul Kinzelman - Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
There you are, at 35,000 ft, an hour from your final destination and
kicking back, because you are relying on your trusty autopilot. It's
pitch dark out there, nothing to see but sky above and sky below.
Suddenly, you see a brightly lit disk off your left wing. About the time
you and your co-pilot begin mouthing "What-the...", your DC-10 flux gate
compass commands your autopilot to turn your aircraft 45 degrees toward
the light. To make things worse, ATC has even seen the deviation. The
radio crackles with "United, where are you going?".
A bad dream? A sadistic simulator instructor? Probably, unless you are
Capt. Neil Daniels, the pilot of the DC-10 over Albany, NY, and the date
is March 12, 1977. Then it's reality.
After manually disconnecting the autopilot and exchanging a few "Did you
see that?" comments, Capt. Daniels flew the plane back on course. A few
minutes later, the light took off at a high rate of speed, and the
avionics went back to normal. No residual effects were found. After an
uneventful landing, Capt. Daniels mentioned the event to his boss. The
response? "Bad things happen to pilots who see things".
Capt. Daniels and his crew kept silent until contacted years later by Dr.
Richard Haines, a retired Chief of the Space Human Factors Office, NASA,
Ames Research Center.
By that time, Capt. Daniels had retired and was willing to go public with
the sighting, but the other two crew members (one of whom is also
retired), will not, even now, publicly make any statement about their
experience. Something is wrong with this picture.
Understanding the Phenomena
Dr. Haines initially became interested in phenomena affecting safety of
flight (such as the occurrence above) because he was sure the sightings
could all be explained. He believed that all the sightings resulted from
conventional causes, and he could explain them all by using his knowledge
of visual perception, optics, and physiological processes; in other
words, he was a confirmed skeptic.
Unlike many other skeptics however, he followed through by investigating
a number of reports of sightings by very credible witnesses. Many of
these sightings were more than just "lights in the sky"; they affected
aircraft avionics and guidance systems, thus affecting safety of flight.
He became convinced the phenomena could not be understood using
conventional explanations, and more importantly, the phenomena were a
significant potential threat to air safety.
As a result, he and executive director Ted Roe founded an organization in
2001 that focuses on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), called the
National Aviation Reporting Center For Aerial Phenomena (NARCAP).
NARCAP defines a UAP as a sighting of an unfamiliar object or light in
the sky. The appearance and/or flight dynamics indicate that the sighting
is not a known or conventional object. The UAP remains unidentified even
after close scrutiny of all available evidence by technically capable
NARCAP's mission is focused on the study of UAP's that pose a potential
threat to the safety of everyone who flys. Reports for the NARCAP
database come from pilots and air traffic controllers.
NARCAP is interested in the source of the phenomena only to the extent
that the understanding contributes to increasing the safety of air
There are many organizations that are interested in other types of
sightings and aspects; none are devoted exclusively to the safety of air
NARCAP's primary goal is to provide researchers with a source of reliable
data for study, for instance, in quantifying threats to air travel, or
what a pilot can expect from an encounter with a particular type of UAP.
NARCAP has created a reporting system similar to the NASA-administered
Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS - http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/), so
that aviation professionals can anonymously report sightings and
experiences without fear of reprisals against their livelihood. Reports
received by NARCAP go into a database and are publicly accessible for
The NARCAP database contains over 3400 unexplained cases, some of which
go back over 80 years to the 1920's. More than 30 of these cases pre-date
the famous Kenneth Arnold sighting near Mt. Baker, in Washington State,
on June 24, 1947. The newspapers coined the term 'flying saucer' while
reporting what he described.
More than 100 of these documented close encounters between UAP and
commercial, private, and military airplanes were determined to be
potentially hazardous to flight due to either a potential mid-air
collision or failures of avionics or other flight control systems at the
time of the UAP sighting.
The reports are drawn from several sources including Dr. Haines's
personal files. Other reports were prepared by the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and
the NASA-ASRS program.
To those of you who might be thinking that most UAPs are merely
misunderstood normal or natural phenomena, or are otherwise not unusual,
you are correct (but with emphasis on "most"). Studies indicate that from
75% to 80% of UAPs are eventually explained. However, this leaves at
least 20% of UAPs that do not resolve to a known phenomenon after close
scrutiny by technically competent investigators. And it takes only one
UAP to cause an incident or accident.
Interestingly, a U.S. government source illustrates the fact that pilots
either don't report their UAP sightings at all or, if they do, they
almost never use the term UAP, UFO, or flying saucer when reporting their
near-miss and/or in-flight pacing encounters. The Director of the NASA
ASRS program, Linda Connell, has acknowledged that there are indeed cases
in their database that fit the UAP profile and that she simply does not
have the resources to examine them closely.
Scientists and scientific journals are not officially interested in
studying the phenomena, and often reject the idea that unknown phenomena
might exist. However, Stanford University Professor Peter Sturrock
surveyed astronomers in the 1970's, and found that 70% wanted to see
serious studies of the phenomena funded and published in scientific
journals. In other words, most scientists won't risk ridicule by publicly
expressing an interest, but in private they are quite interested.
In most fields, scientists have the luxury of designing an experiment and
making measurements at their convenience, often by flipping a switch. In
other fields, like in astronomy, scientists often must wait for a
specific event to occur - such as an eclipse. The study of UAP falls into
the latter category. The data exists, but can't be called up at will.
Nevertheless, scientists can apply a range of scientific tools to the
Unfortunately, most pilots do not bother reporting weather pireps that
could help their fellow aviation professionals, and filing a pirep is
viewed as innocuous, not as potentially career-limiting. Thus, it is easy
to understand how difficult it is for any serious researcher to get good
Arming our pilots with the best available information about the phenomena
and how to deal with it requires collecting data and seriously studying
The NARCAP web page contains two reporting forms: "Pilot Report Form" and
"Air Traffic Controller/Radar Operator Report Form". Those without web
access can call or write NARCAP for more information.
NARCAP's web page (http://www.narcap.org) has, among other things, a paper
by Dr. Haines titled "Aviation Safety in America - A Previously Neglected
Factor". In this document, Dr. Haines describes these kinds of
characteristics of UAPs:
(1) Near-miss and other high speed maneuvers conducted by the UAP in
close proximity of aircraft.
(2) Transient and permanent electromagnetic effects that affect
navigation, guidance, and flight control systems onboard the aircraft.
(3) UAP flight performance that produces cockpit distractions that
inhibit the flight crew from flying the airplane in a safe manner.
(4) Circumstances in which passengers become very afraid or unruly.
NARCAP has representatives in many foreign countries, where the host
governments and mainstream press are far more open and interested in
understanding the phenomena than their counterparts in the United States.
The NARCAP web page has contact information for its representatives in
How You Can Help
You can assist NARCAP by getting the word out, and by contributing to the
NARCAP database if you have a sighting.
NARCAP is a non-profit organization, privately funded by members and
founders, with official 501(c)3 status pending. Support and donations
from foundations and individuals would be greatly appreciated. Checks may
be made payable to "NARCAP".
We also have members available for speaking to your organization.
Address: NARCAP, 235 Louisiana St., Vallejo, CA 94590