‘Scrambled for Bogies’: an incident at RAF Sek Kong

As a young man Michael Forrest (1931-2018) spent twenty years as a fighter pilot flying Vampire, Meteor and Javelin jet aircraft for the RAF in Europe and the Far East. The strangest experience of his entire life happened in 1954 when he was based at RAF Sek Kong near Hong Kong.

RAF DeHavilland Vampire ground attack fighter of the type flown by Michael Forrest (credit: Wikipedia)

The task given to 28 Squadron was air defence of the British territory against the encircling Chinese forces. One afternoon in October he was scrambled in a Vampire 9 single-seater ground attack fighter to intercept a target detected by ground radar approaching from enemy territory.

‘The briefing told us the bogey was travelling at very high speed,’ Michael told me. ‘It appeared to be the size of an aircraft and it was a continuous trace. It didn’t appear and disappear. That’s why we had to take a look’.

Ground control told him that at times it was stationary, but it had ‘supernatural manoeuvring properties’ that included the ability to change direction and height at fantastic speeds.

Forrest and the pilot of a second Vampire were vectored onto the blip at 30,000 feet. ‘At first it seemed like a normal interception. But when we got near it into a position where we should have been able to have a visual there was nothing to see,’ he said.

‘This thing had been visible on [ground] radar for quite some time before we arrived, possibly 30 minutes or more. It was slightly worrying to be closing in on something and to hear the rising panic from the controller. He tried several times to get us closer until the two blips merged into one on ground radars. We split away again and again and all the time he was saying “its in front of you, it’s behind you!”.

RAF Sek Kong airfield circa 1953 (credit: Wikipedia)

He was convinced we were on collision course with it. Remember this was broad daylight and my No 2 tail man, who was behind me could not see anything either’.

After 15 minutes the two aircraft were ordered break off and return home. Back on base he was told that it was anaprop ‘which was the jargon they used back then for things they could not explain’.

When I interviewed Forrest in 2006 I asked what he thought it really was. ‘The entry in my logbook reads: “Scrambled for bogies: no contact”, he said. ‘I think it was some sort of anomaly in the radar in the same way you sometimes get reflections inside camera lenses. I am sure unusual weather had something to do with it’.

Forrest’s description of the blip’s odd behaviour resembles the accounts provided by US and British personnel of targets tracked by ground and airborne radars during the famous radar-visual UFO flap at RAF Lakenheath-Bentwaters in August 1956. The Lakenheath case was listed as ‘probable anaprop’ in the Project Blue Book files but later became a cause celebre for UFOlogists after radar consultant Gordon Thayer described it as ‘the most puzzling and unusual case in the radar-visual files’ for the Colorado University study published in 1969.

Thayer said he believed ‘a mechanical device of unknown origin’ was the most probable explanation. But radar meteorologist Dr David Atlas said Thayer’s comments were made before the results of NASA-sponsored research using sensitive radars to probe extremely thin atmospheric echo layers was widely known.

These experiments at Wallops Island in Virginia from 1967 identified ‘incredibly thin, specular reflecting layers like mirrors at high altitudes…that could account for the exceedingly large apparent speeds of echoes either from ground targets or moving vehicles on the ground’.

In 2002 Dr Atlas told me: ‘I am strongly convinced that these mysterious radar echoes are due to anomalous propagation somewhat different than that with which scientists in the 1950s and 60s were familiar’. He believed the large number of UFO radar reports during this period ‘was due to the lack of knowledge of their origin. Once their origin was explained the frequency of the reports decreased’.