News of the latest in a series of cases where aircrew have seen unidentified objects on collision course with passenger jets has emerged in The Sunday Telegraph.
In 2011 I published the result of Freedom of Information Act request that revealed the Civil Aviation Authority had logged ten UFO sightings by aircrew between December 2004 and December 2011. Between 2004 and present there have been an additional five ‘airprox’ incidents where pilots have reported a near collision with an unidentified object. This category of sighting is investigated by a joint civil-military board that reports to the CAA.
Jasper Copping describes the latest incident involving an A320 airbus, that typically carries around 150 passengers, here:
“An airline pilot has reported a near miss in which a “rugby ball”-shaped UFO passed within a few feet of his passenger jet while flying near Heathrow Airport. The captain told the aviation authorities who have investigated the incident that he was certain the object was going to crash into his aircraft and ducked as it headed towards him. The investigation has been unable to establish any earthly identity for the mysterious craft, which left the aircrew with no time to take evasive action. The incident occurred while the A320 Airbus was cruising at 34,000ft, around 20 miles west of the airport, over the Berkshire countryside”.
According to the Airprox Report (download here) the captain saw the object heading towards the jet out of a left hand side of the cockpit window in broad daylight at 6.35pm on 19 July 2013. It says:
“He was under the apprehension that they were on collision course with no time to react. His immediate reaction was to duck to the right and reach over to alert the [First Officer]; there was no time to talk to alert him….The Captain was fully expecting to experience some kind of impact with a conflicting aircraft.”
He told the inquiry the object passed “within a few feet” above the jet and described it as being “cigar/rugby ball like” in shape, bright silver and apparently “metallic” in construction. Afterwards he contacted air traffic controllers to report the incident. Nothing was seen on radar at the time of the incident, which is a common theme in these cases/
Investigators checked data recordings to establish what other aircraft were in the area at the time, but eliminated them all. It also ruled out meteorological balloons. Toy balloons were also discounted, as the investigators believe they are not large enough to reach such heights, but this cannot be ruled out.
The report concluded it was “not possible to trace the object or determine the likely cause of the sighting”.
In 2012, the head of the National Air Traffic Control Services admitted staff detected around one unexplained flying object every month. On 2 December that year the crew of an airbus A320 reported another close shave as their aircraft approached Glasgow airport.
The airprox board (UKAB) investigators found the aircraft was at 4,000 ft above the city in clear conditions when the pilot and co-pilot saw an object “loom ahead” just 100 metres away. Before they could react the object passed 300 ft beneath them, but not before they caught a fleeting glimpse of it. They described the “untraced aircraft” as blue and yellow or silver in colour with a small frontal area, “bigger than a balloon.” Air traffic control saw nothing on radar, but Prestwick did spot an “unidentified track history”east of airbus’s position, 28 seconds earlier.
Anecdotal evidence suggests aircrew are reluctant to file air-miss reports but in this case the pilot did because he believed the risk of a collision was high. This was fortunate because, in the absence of any MoD interest in UFO reports, the airprox board is the only remaining official body in the UK with a remit to conduct detailed investigations of puzzling incidents like this one, albeit purely with a safety remit.
In the Glasgow incident investigators eliminated all the likely candidates including small fixed-wing aircraft, hot-air balloons and stray gliders or para-motors. These and meteorological balloons were all ruled out as unlikely due to the lack of a radar signature, leaving the board unable to reach any firm conclusion as to the cause.