Friday, December 23, 2022

"Operation Close Encounter" Down Under - cautionary lessons, deep diving & the need to face "the UFO question"

“Operation Close Encounter” Down Under – cautionary lessons and deep diving.


Throughout the modern history of the UFO mystery and the more recent somewhat ad hoc adoption of the term of UAP, (which itself has now transitioned to meaning “unidentified anomalous phenomena” under the watch of the new All-domain Resolution Office (AARO)), the core phenomenon has had a varied relationship with the evolution of radar.  This variability and ambiguity may be reflected in one of Luis Elizondo’s “5 variables” namely: “low observability” – which Elizondo has elaborated as follows. “You’re looking at an object that you should be able to detect very clearly and yet when you look at it with the naked eye it’s opaque, kind of blurry, not well defined, I’m not really sure what I’m looking at. Other times it looks like it’s jamming some of the best radar systems that we have in our inventory.” 


The degree and ambiguity of UFO/UAP radar detection covers the spectrum, from no detection, ambiguous detection, detection which varies, partial detection and even more robust consistent solid detection.  Is this variability a signal on the nature of a possible true anomaly?  Or is it a function of the particular circumstances of an episode?  Or is simply an indication that a possibly anomalous event may not have any radar evidence to help determine its nature.


If we are dealing with a UFO/UAP event that might have a measure of radar support (or indeed, any form or level of multi-sensory data) one needs to have a clear chain of probative evidence to confirm it.  


The fascinating 2004 USS Nimitz case is an intriguing example of a case with enforced gaps in potentially potent radar and other multiple-sensory data, with a lot of that possible evidence in part or wholly shut off from access on the grounds of national security, particularly if capabilities in cutting edge or breakthrough technologies are involved. Part of the Nimitz battle fleet included the USS Princeton which provided air defence protection in part via its then new and cutting edge SPY-1 Aegis radar system.  We had there the unusual benefit of the Princeton’s then Operations Specialist Senior Chief Kevin Day, now an asset to UAP/UFO research, not only as a witness to the complex goings on the multi-sensory monitoring that apparently happened during that event, including the radar systems, in multiple ways, but he memorably described his perception of what was happening high in the skies over the ocean off the southern Californian/northern Mexican coasts: “It’s raining UFOs.” He also said, “I am very sure these things were real; they were solid objects.” He said that with a certain power in his words, because of his knowledge of, and his role with the Aegis radar system and the Princeton’s CEC (Cooperative Engagement System) which merges all the multi-sourced radars in play in the Nimitz battle fleet.


The picture with the July 1983 Sydney airport radar UFO flap is far less compelling and certainly less merged or engaged. Only one radar – the Area Approach Control Centre (AACC), Mascot – the RSR (Route Surveillance Radar) – had the mystery radar detection “paints”. The Round Mountain site near Armidale and the radar at Williamtown would have been able to “paint” radar detections if they had been solid objects in the target locations. 


It is useful to review the 1983 “radar” events as it offers a lesson in quality control in the UFO data and a case study of the complexity of gathering this sort of evidence.


The events occurred against a backdrop of a range of events that might be credible UFO or UAP “close encounter” type events by members of the public.  No apparent correlations with the Mascot radar returns were evident with these reported UFO/UAP events.  In this case the partial radar detection was ultimately suggested to be a result of radar interference due to unusual atmospheric conditions, but perhaps its worthwhile to reconsider the affair.  However, the conclusions were rather nuanced, depending on who you asked in the Aviation and Defence departments.  


The most detailed account of “Operation ‘Close Encounter’” was prepared by SQNLDR K.A. Keenan and dated 14 July 1983. He was with 3CRU – No 3 Control and Reporting Unit, a RAAF surveillance unit at Williamtown – responsible for conducting surveillance of Australia’s airspace and air battle management for RAAF flying squadrons. Keenan’s report is a 6-page record of 3CRU’s investigation into “UFO reports.” The National Archives of Australia (NAA) has a digital copy on their web site with additional data such as 3CRU’s documentation of the events and their “Operation Close Encounter”, NAA: A9755, 8 from the original Department of Defence file number 17/26/AIR Part 1 entitled “Exercise Close Encounter.” 


3CRU’s conclusions drove the 4 July 1983 meeting (referred to below) with their internal tests of the RSR data receiving chain, which “proved beyond reasonable doubt that the unidentified objects reported by Sydney were generated entirely by radar interference affecting the RSR”, and that “the radar contacts in question were not man made” and by implication were not “aircraft” returns.


In a letter to me from M.J. Anderson, Senior Engineer, Radar, Department of Aviation, dated 17 August, 1983, he indicated, “I can confirm that all of these radar returns have been explained in terms of factors relating to the radar equipment and its environment.” He attached copies of the records of “the recent spate of anomalous radar returns seen at Sydney Airport”, which were:

Minutes of a meeting at Sydney (K.S.A.) Airport regarding Unidentified Paints on Sydney radar (3 pages)

Statement agreed to by D.O.A. and RAAF at that 4 July 1983 meeting (1 page)

Minute by J.B.M. Davis, SSATC dated 21 June 1983 listing details of 6 unidentified radar returns – 6 June 2230, 13 June 0638, 13 June 0642, 17 June 0940, 19 June 0836, 19 June 1948 (1 page) with annotations

Handwritten addendum entitled “UFOs” listing 6 unidentified radar returns – 2 tracks at almost the same time on 30 June at 2219 EST, 30 June 2315, 1 July 0125, 1 July 0205, 1 July 0205, 1 July 0544 – with note on Met at KSA advice re inversion over Hunter Valley (1 page)


I also received from Ian Frame of DAFIS (Directorate of Air Force Intelligence & Security) 2 extracts from file series CAS 287/1983 dated July 1983 relating to the “Unidentified Radar Tracks” – Contingency Statement and conclusions, with supporting facts. 


I revisited the data files I had for the period of 1983 to 1984, in the wake of South Australian researcher Keith Basterfield asking me on December 7, 2022, whether I could visit the NSW branch of the National Archives to examine a Department of Defence file – File No. 5/2/Air Part 8 with a date range of September 1983 to May 1984 – a file from RAAF Williamtown that had not previously been viewed.  I examined the file on Thursday 15 December 2022.  It essentially was “the UFO (UAS/UAP) swan song” file for RAAF Williamtown, limited in scope – containing a 3 page UAS (UFO or UAP in current parlance) policy change that downgraded the RAAF’s role in the Australian UFO story. It contained no follow-up detail on Operation Close Encounter.  All that I had viewed back in 1984. 

This file was mainly low weight reports, with really only one case of possible significance – an apparent close encounter from near Boggabri, NSW, occurring on 23 January 1984. It was reported through Narrabri police and handwritten down in the file by RAAF Williamtown Flying Officer T. McDonald. Mr. Lyle Munro (with his family) of Moree was driving 3 kms north of Boggabri at 2110 hours when he “spotted an object with three bright lights (green, red and white) about ½ mile away and 200 feet above the road.  The object appeared to be about as wide as the roadway and square in shape.  He continued on and stopped his vehicle about 150 feet away from the object.  The object then moved towards his vehicle until it was directly over his car. He got out of the car and looked up at the object which looked like a chandelier from below. The object then took off at great speed making a wooshing, vibrating noise (which Mr. Munro described as more a feeling than a noise).  The object headed in an easterly direction stopping about 1 ½ kms away.  It stayed there about 4-5 minutes then disappeared heading south-east towards Gunnedah.”


My 1996 book “The OZ Files – the Australian UFO story” records the intriguing period of intense UFO activity and controversy in a brief way: “The next major wave of sightings in Australia occurred in the middle of 1983. There was a spate of nocturnal lights, supported in some cases by photos, around Bendigo and Ballarat, Victoria, during May. A burst of activity including some close encounters occurred in New South Wales, during June and early July, against a backdrop of questionable radar returns at Sydney airport. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) initiated, with perhaps tongue in cheek, what their UFO files called ‘Operation Close Encounter’, which led to RAAF aircraft being on standby. They finally concluded the radar reports were probably spurious. The UFO wave of 1983 saw the RAAF being remarkably public in their role of examining UFO sightings, indeed at a level virtually unprecedented in the history of the Australian controversy” (The Oz Files, pgs. 178-79) 


I had the opportunity to examine the RAAF UFO files for this period during a visit to the Department of Defence Russell Offices in Canberra on June 1st, 1984.  The files contained extensive material on “Operation Close Encounter” which took place from July 1 to July 4, 1983.  There was evidence of other radar reports, which did not get any media attention, that bookended the Sydney airport radar reports – unidentified radar paints on 10 April 1983 at Canberra, the nation’s capital, and an apparent radar visual event on 21 August 1983 from the control tower RAAF Darwin in the Northern Territory. Neither of these cases were supported by detailed investigations.


The unidentified radar displays at Canberra in April 1983 were DOA Form DOT 22SP Air Safety incident reports:

“0722Z Unidentified return observed in bound to Canberra. Ground speed observed 300-400Kts.

“Sydney sectors have no details on a/c nor does Melbourne control on paints observed at 0729 & 0733

“0755 Further paints observed & plotted as per radar plot attached.

“0920 No explanation offered through RAAF channels.

0925 Sec advised Submit calls RAAF Canberra (based operations) given copy of calls & radar plot.

“HQFBN memorandum 13 Apr

2. The returns were observed by DofA Air Traffic controller, SATCO Fairburn & civil and RAAF controllers at Sydney Airport.  The radar displays on which the returns were observed in Sydney receive their inform(ation) from the radar head at Canberra.

3. No explanation of the returns can be offered.”


The Darwin radar visual anomaly of August 1983 was reported by the RAAF ATC from the control tower RAAF Darwin. 21 Aug 0630Z/1500 local. Duration of observation (through binoculars) was 10 minutes. An object about the apparent size of a light helicopter was observed.  It seemed to brightly reflect light like a reflection of light off a windscreen. The object’s bearing was 120 degrees at approx. 2000’.  It seemed to be travelling at about the speed of a Cessna and maintained a SW track.  The object gave an intermittent radar contact, insufficient to plot track or ground speed accurately.


During July 1983 I prepared a report on the Sydney radar reports that had led to the RAAF’s “Operation Close Encounter” – “The Sydney Airport radar mystery examined” – based on communications with DoA (Department of Aviation), RAAF and a survey of the widespread media coverage.


My 1983 report:

Over a period of more than a month from about June 7th(or late May), 1983 to early July 1983, the Sydney Airport (Mascot) route surveillance radar tracked more than 30 unidentified radar returns.  None were correlated with any visual sightings and no other radar facilities corroborated Mascot’s signals.  While the probability of spurious returns seems high, the events occasioned widespread interest and therefore this report is intended to present the facts as they are known to date (9.7.83 – B.C.)


The story broke on Thursday June 30th, 1983 (Daily Mirror newspaper, Sydney).  By that stage 10 unidentified returns had been logged on the UHF radar at Mascot over the previous 6 weeks.  It was not clear at this stage whether the returns had been occurring since late May.  The first definite date given was June 7(June 6th2230 hours according to a SSATC minute (SSTAC was M. Davis – the Sydney supervisor for ATC), although in the same document the RAAF Sydney representative states “the first sighting (on radar) was on the 8thJune.” – B.C.) Other dates included June 23rd, 24thand ostensibly June 25th, at 5.45 pm (Saturday).  At that stage there seemed to be a brief respite, although reports resumed with a vengeance, coincident with the advent of intense media publicity.


A return was picked up on Wednesday afternoon, June 29th. Between 10.19 pm Thursday night (June 30th) and 1.34 pm Friday afternoon (July 1st) 7 further returns were logged.


The majority of returns had been concentrated in a region 100 to 260 km north of Sydney.  Speeds of up to 2780 km per hour were noted with others a little over 1300 km per hour. The returns were all generally characteristic of aircraft paints and in some cases appeared to be at a high altitude. Most returns occurred between 5 pm and midnight and had been tracked for periods as long as 4 minutes.  The majority however were less than a minute.


Mascot operations controller, Pat Townsend, was quoted on June 30th, as saying: “We have seen so many queer things in our time.  Normally they are a ghosting effect coming from another area.” He said that none of the returns had caused any conflict with aircraft in the area and he hoped that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) would investigate the possibility of the returns being of bona fide UFOs. Although speeds of more than twice that of sound were logged, no sonic booms were reported. (Daily Mirror newspaper Sydney June 30 1983)


That night, Mike Davis, senior Area Controller at Mascot, stated: “They are moving paints, as the radar aerial goes around, the radar paints show up at a distance apart that would give a speed between 1200 & 1500 mph, and I don’t think we have aircraft in Australia that have been as fast as some of the faster sightings.” (Channel Ten News, June 30th, 1983 (Sydney))


As a result of the publicity and a formal request from the Department of Aviation (DoA), the RAAF began an investigation.  They at first began trying to correlate the radar signals with known air activity during June, but with no success.


By Friday, July 1st, it was becoming clear that Mascot radar (the route surveillance radar) was the only facility picking up the mystery returns.  Nothing was noted at radar installations at Canberra, Nowra (Navy), Williamtown (RAAF) or Round Mountain, near Armidale.


Although it was becoming increasingly evident that anomalies peculiar to Mascot Sydney radar tracking were involved, the Department of Defence ordered Mirage jets at Williamtown Air base near Newcastle to investigate “any unexplained radar contacts reported by the RAAF operators at Williamtown.” Mirage aircraft are capable of 2400 km/hour at 9100 metres and have a maximum ceiling of more than 21,350 metres.


It was determined that the Mascot returns were ostensibly occurring in an area within the range of Williamtown radar.


Six pilot units were involved in a weekend alert.  While 4 of the pilots waited on standby, 2 spent rotating hours in the cockpit of a Mirage, throughout the nights, where temperatures were as low as 4 degrees C. The pilots’ mission was to locate and photograph any unidentified radar signals that were correlated by Williamtown RAAF radar with any returns noted by the Mascot surveillance radar.  The pilots were on standby in aircraft cockpits at times similar to past Mascot radar returns.


No such RAAF Williamtown/DoA Mascot correlations of radar tracking occurred over the weekend, despite Mascot operators detecting 15 more returns.


On Tuesday July 5th, a DoA spokesman stated that the mystery signals were probably caused by unusual atmospheric conditions, equipment interference or a combination of both.  However, the spokesman emphasised that the phenomena could not be positively explained. They were not affecting actual returns from aircraft.


The DoA spokesman stated, “Technical staff at Sydney airport are continuing to observe the performance of the route surveillance radar in order that the nature of this phenomena can be positively identified.”


Because of the lack of Williamtown radar confirmation of the Mascot returns over the preceding weekend, a RAAF spokesman suggested, “Either (Mascot) are getting some interference or their equipment is having problems.”


The DoA replied, “Sydney Airport’s radar equipment has to operate efficiently and is checked regularly. We haven’t found anything wrong with it and as far as we know, its perfect.”


A formal DoA statement indicated, “the consensus is that the phenomena, produced only by the Sydney Airport route surveillance radar, could be caused by unusual atmospheric conditions occurring in the vicinity of the (middle) Hunter River district.”


It was reported on July 7 that DoA had admitted that the returns were caused by faulty equipment. (“The Sun” newspaper, Sydney, July 7, 1983), however Mr. John Death of the DoA told me on July 8, that the reference to “faulty equipment” was incorrect, but that it may have been based on their earlier statements about equipment interference or unusual atmospherics. These findings were confirmed to me, also on July 8, by the Intelligence Liaison Officer for the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (ILO-DAFI), who coordinates the processing of UFO reports examined by the RAAF, in the Canberra headquarters of the Department of Defence. The ILO-DAFI did advise me that it appeared at one point that a radar correlation may have occurred between Mascot and Williamtown equipment, however it turned out that a “correlation” had not occurred.  Following a query from Mascot, Williamtown did note a return (subsequently felt to be spurious) but it was not in the same area.


(End of my 9 July report)


There was an extraordinary amount of reported UFO activity happening in Australia in the period between late May and early August 1983.


Most notably, a bizarre night time game of “tag” and “pursuit” lasting several hours with a strange structured object, involving police in the Melbourne suburb of Melton, Victoria, took place on July 22, 1983.  The early morning nocturnal event made front page news in the Sydney afternoon dailies.  I contacted Melton police that same afternoon and was able to interview some of the actual police witnesses. I described the case in my OZ Files book.


Also on July 22, a “a dark metallic, cylindrical (bullet shaped) object” was seen by 2 people for between 2.30 to 3 pm for about 2 minutes, between 5 and 10 kilometres from Weismantels, while driving on an unsealed road to Dungog, near the Barrington Tops National Park, in New South Wales. First seen at a distance, the object was suddenly directly above their car at an altitude of about 200 feet. As the driver slowed down to get a better view, the object was already in the distance, disappearing near the mountains.  No sound was noted, which would seem to rule out a buzzing from a military aircraft. I interviewed the lady driver soon after the incident.  There were a number of close encounter reports during this period.  


An object with similarities to the thing observed in the Melton police case was observed by a Sydney policeman and his family while driving along Avoca Drive on the Central Coast of New South Wales on 8 July 1983 around 10.17 pm.  I interviewed him on July 27th, after he reported his experience in the wake of the publicity associated with the Melbourne suburb sighting at Melton on July 22. 

A wave of sightings followed on the central coast including a woman driving just after 10 pm on Monday August 1stencountered a circular object the size of a small plane.  It was silent with green, blue and red lights around it and appeared to hover in various locations.  Just as it passed over her car, the driver Jenny Ross reported “my radio went berserk – there was terrible static” (Daily Mirror, August 3rd, 1983)   There was speculation that an airship was operating, but researchers Moira McGhee and Bryan Dickeson described in their book “The Gosford Files” an encounter by a male driver travelling along Manns Road, West Gosford, on the evening of August 3, with what appeared to be a 8 to 10 metre wide brightly lit “jellyfish-shaped” aerial object, which appeared to rapidly approach from the left. Fearing a collision, the driver braked and the object, which appeared to be internally lit, and lighting up the road, stopped “dead” about 15 metres from the car, about 7 metres up in the air.  It then appeared to take off straight up into the sky.  Was somebody operating a powered illuminated airship in the central coast area?  RAAF Williamtown advised that it wasn’t one of their aircraft, but suggested maybe it was civilian in origin. However, a RAAF Williamtown “UAS (Unusual Aerial Sightings) Reportings” list for events from 1 January to 5 August 1983, that I found in the RAAF Williamtown UAS file I examined, lists 5 reports from the Lake Macquarie area, to the north of the central coast, all attributed by the RAAF to misidentifications of Venus, for 1/2 August, and 2 out of 3 reported on 3 August also as Venus.


One of the largest UFO exhibitions in the world opened in Sydney’s spectacular Centrepoint Tower on August 18, 1983 and ran for about 2 years.  My group consulted closely with the organisation that ran the exhibition and there was no evidence they were involved with deploying powered illuminated airships at the time in the Central Coast, let alone airships in the Sydney area. I was there for the opening. The venue and event alone were sufficient drawcards. No need to use phantom radar returns or unknown airships to generate “UFO fever” for the UFO exhibit – better to keep UFO/UAP “theatre” separate from UFO/UAP reality.


Back in October 2021 retiring Chief of Air Force Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld brought up the 1983 Sydney radar UFOs while responding to Greens’ Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, in Senate Estimates, about his UAP/UFO questions:

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Could I ask whether the Australian Air Force or the Australian military also have a taskforce looking at UAPs? Is this something that you're familiar with at all in your brief?

Air Marshal Hupfeld: I'm not familiar with nor have I seen any reports or information regarding UAPs in an Australian airspace context. There's no Air Force led taskforce that looks into this phenomena (sic).

Senator WHISH-WILSON: We don't do any monitoring of this at all?
Air Marshal Hupfeld: There have been no reports that I'm aware of, Senator.
Senator WHISH-WILSON: No informal reports from pilots or across other military activities?

Air Marshal Hupfeld: None from any aircrew or aviation organisation that I'm aware of. The only experience that I have in this was over 40 years ago when some reports were made and we launched Mirage aircraft. The phenomena turned out to be errors on the radar screens in our normal civil air-traffic control system, but no physical objects were detected.


The RAAF used the lack of a coherent threat in their 1983 "Operation Close Encounter" to finally resolve their ongoing dilemma - that much of their public involvement in the UFO controversy fell well outside the RAAF's military/security domain. What of the "breaches" at North West Cape in 1973 and at Rockbank in 1983. Both incidents had clear links to the clandestine world of military intelligence. Predictably it was not long before the RAAF changed their UFO policy. 


The Defence News Release of May 2nd, 1984 carried the details: 


The RAAF in future will investigate fully only those Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) which suggest a defence or national security implication. 

The Minister for Defence, Mr Gordon Scholes, said today that while the RAAF would continue to be the first point of contact, UAS reports not considered to have a defence or security implication would not be further investigated. Instead they would be recorded and the UAS observer would be given the address of civilian UAS research organisations if the observer wished to pursue the matter further. 

Mr Scholes said that in the past the RAAF's investigation of all UAS reports had often proved time consuming, unproductive and had led to many man-hours of follow-up action by the RAAF and other agencies such as the Department of Aviation and the Bureau of Meteorology. 

He said that procedures for investigating UAS reports had remained unchanged for many years. The vast majority of reports submitted by the public had proven not to have a national security significance. 

This sparked an inevitable response from the nations media, with headlines like: 

"Gordon's blow: No UFOs" (Daily Telegraph, Sydney)

"No go for the average UFO" (Courier mail, Brisbane)


 "RAAF resets UFO targets" (Canberra Times)

"RAAF gives up chase for UFOs" (West Australian, Perth) 

"UFO reports now have low rating" (Hobart Mercury) 

"RAAF turns back on UFO Investigations" (The Australian) 


I responded to the RAAF's policy change with a letter to the editor of one of Australia's leading newspapers of record: 

The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, May, 19, 1984 

RAAF now has correct UFO policy 

SIR: The Defence Ministers recent announcement of the RAAF's "new" policy on UFOs (or UASs) (Stay in Touch, May 3) is a logical and inevitable expression of the RAAF's 34 -year involvement in the UFO controversy. 

As the first civilian to have been permitted direct access tothe entirety of the RAAF's UFO files, I can confirm that the whole history of the RAAF's activity in this area has been based on two criteria - logically, national security and, predictably, political expediency. 

In the main, the RAAF UFO investigations have served their publicly stated purposes. That is, they may have allayed possible fear and alarm by the general public and satisfied the Government that there is no apparent defence implications. 

The RAAF has stated "nothing that has arisen for the 3 or 4 per cent of unexplained cases gives any firm support for the belief that interlopers from other places in this world or outside it have been visiting us". It is my contention, having examined many of those unexplained cases, that surprisingly many of them contain extraordinary details which do not lend themselves to easy explanation. These deserve to be the stuff of scientific scrutiny. 

In the great majority of cases that make up this unexplained residue, national security implications were not clearly apparent. However, in a few, violations are apparent. For example, on October 25, 1973, a UFO hovered near the sensitive North West Cape US Naval Communications base. It was observed by a US Lt-Commander and a base fire captain, before it "accelerated at unbelievable speed and disappeared to the north". The US experience is similar. For example, an alleged UFO ostensibly showed "clear intent" (according to previously classified documents) when observed hovering near a weapons storage facilities at Loring Air Force Base late in 1975. 

Therefore, I believe the recent change in policy is an appropriate one for the RAAF to adopt. It will allow the RAAF to weed out those rare occasions in which national security violations are suggested and also allow civilian groups to attempt scientific investigations of the infrequent "close encounters" that the RAAF prefers to ignore. 

Bill Chalker, May 9 


During December 1993, the RAAF formally concluded its long love-hate relationship with UFOs, or “Unusual Aerial Sightings” (UAS) as they preferred to call them. The Department of Defence “swan song” was dryly expressed in Enclosure 1 to Air Force file AF 84 3508 Pt 1 folio 18—RAAF POLICY: UNUSUAL AERIAL SIGHTINGS. In correspondence dated January 4, 1994, civilian UFO groups around Australia were informed by now-Wing Commander Brett Biddington (who became publically prominent with his 1983 Victorian UAS investigations that would set the stage for the 1983 “Operation Close Encounter” caper), on behalf of the Chief of Air Staff, that “The number of reports made to the RAAF in the past decade had declined significantly, which may indicate that organisations such as yours are better known and are meeting the community's requirements.” 


The new policy, which was an inevitable outgrowth of the downgrading of the RAAF's role back in 1984, stated: 

For many years the RAAF has been formally responsible for handling Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) at the official level. Consideration of the scientific record suggests that, whilst not all UAS have a ready explanation, there is no compelling reason for the RAAF to continue to devote resources to recording, investigating and attempting to explain UAS. 

The RAAF no longer accepts reports on UAS and no longer attempts assignment of cause or allocation of reliability. Members of the community who seek to report a UAS to RAAF personnel will be referred to a civil UFO research organisation in the first instance... 

Some UAS may relate to events that could have a defence, security, or public safety implication, such as man-made debris falling from space or a burning aircraft. Where members of the community may have witnessed an event of this type they are encouraged to contact the police or civil aviation authorities. 


Given the rich history of political and military machinations that quite often effectively prevented opportunities for real science, the policy statement alluding to the “scientific record” is particularly perplexing. Some scientists who have examined in detail the RAAF record can state with some certainty that their record was not particularly scientific and was largely defined by two criteria— national security and political expediency. This appeal to the “scientific record” is particularly galling as the RAAF regularly highlighted that national security, not scientific investigation, was their main focus. For example, in a December 6, 1968, memo from DAFI to HQSC in 554/1/30 Part 2, DAFI mentions, “As you are probably aware the Department of Air (later DOD (Air Office)) is concerned solely with any possible threat to Australian security and does not go into detailed scientific investigation of UFO reports.” The evidence in the history written here indicates that science rarely was utilized, despite courageous and persistent efforts by scientists like Harry Turner and Michael Duggin. 


Senator Whish-Wilson continued raising the UAP/UFO issue in Senate Estimate Hearings. On 9 November 2022 there was the following exchanges:

 Air Marshal Chipman: I started at ADFA in 1989.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I graduated from there in 1988, so I was interested if you were there while I was there.

About a year ago, I asked the previous Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Hupfeld, about the release of a US defence intelligence report, a preliminary report on UAPs, unidentified aerial phenomena. I've just got some follow-up questions for you. There's obviously been a lot happening in this space in the last 12 months, and, of course, you've taken over the role. Just to fill you in briefly: following the release of that preliminary assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, there was a defence legislation amendment in December 2021 that required the ODNI organisation to report to congress every year on any updates in relation to UAP. There was a series of congressional hearings in May this year, and then, actually only a few weeks ago, NASA set up their UAP study team or taskforce. I was hoping that, by the time I got to ask you these questions, they may have released their first preliminary assessment to congress, which was due last week, but we are waiting for that. So, with that kind of rough time line used as context, could I just ask you: since you've taken over as Chief of Air Force, in what capacity, if any at all, have you been briefed on the UAP phenomena since you've taken over the role in July?

Air Marshal Chipman: I haven't had any specific briefings in relation to UAPs since I've taken over.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you followed it on a personal level, just as a matter of interest?

Air Marshal Chipman: I do not follow it on a personal level.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: At the US Congressional hearing on UAP back in May, the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, Scott Bray, confirmed that, since the release of this preliminary report in 2021, they now had 400 case reports they were considering. Most of them were from pilots like you. He was quoted at those hearings as saying that the US had brought many allies and international partners into their discussions on UAP. Given how close we are to the US, have there been any discussions with Australian intelligence services or the Air Force in relation to their approach—

Air Marshal Chipman: I'm not aware of any formal discussions that we've held with the US.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You're 'not aware'; does that mean that this just hasn't come across your desk, or can you say categorically there haven't been any?

Air Marshal Chipman: I imagine it would have come across my desk if those discussions were held in the last four months, but I can take that on notice and see if there were any other discussions that have been held.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you. You are a pilot yourself. When our military aviators or defence personnel spot something they don't understand or can't identify in our airspace, what encouragement and reporting mechanisms are afforded to the men and women of the ADF in relation to that?

Air Marshal Chipman: We have a really strong reporting culture. If there's anything related to safety or airworthiness issues, then we strongly encourage our pilots to report those. There are also mechanisms through standard operational means: our air traffic control, and also our air defence personnel, who maintain constant surveillance of our airspace.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Back at the congressional hearings on UAP in May, the same Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence stated that Navy and Air Force crews now have step-by-step procedures for reporting on UAPs on their kneeboard in the cockpit and in their post-flight debrief procedures. Does that surprise you?

Air Marshal Chipman: We've seen no reason why we would institute those measures in Australia.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would you understand why they are implementing—

Air Marshal Chipman: No.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is there a reason you haven't had a discussion with our chief ally about why they're implementing those procedures?

Air Marshal Chipman: I was not aware of those procedures.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: As Chief of Air Force, would the establishment of a comparable reporting procedure be relatively straightforward to implement in Australia?

Air Marshal Chipman: I think so, if we saw the need. If there were issues that we became aware of that affected our safety or security of our operations in our airspace, then yes, it would be a simple matter for us to implement those procedures.


Senator WHISH-WILSON: Lastly, in the context of our strong alliance with the US, the recently executed joint vision statement with the US Air Force, would you be prepared to make a commitment to establishing comparable reporting procedures, and what process would be required for that to occur?

Vice Adm. Johnston: We have routine practices across all of our defence capabilities. If an operationally significant event occurs, including those they might be able to explain or not, there is a reporting practice that is not limited to UAPs but anything that would accrue, whether on a vessel, aircraft, in the field, who might see something, there is an obligation to report those.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Obviously, incursions in defence training ranges by unidentified objects, intrusions by an unknown aircraft or objects would represent serious hazards to the safety of flight and potential threats to security of our operations. You obviously have strategies in place to do that here. I did raise this with the previous Air Marshal as well but are you aware of reports of US military exercises being cancelled because of concerns around air safety and observation of UAP's?

Senator Wong: Is this a UFO question?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You could call them UFOs, if you like, Senator Wong. They are now technically known unidentified aerial phenomena.

Senator Wong: Just so I am clear.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you think it is funny?

Senator Wong: I haven't been here before. I don't think I have been asked questions about this. Can we assist at all, the senator, with this line of questioning?

Air Marshal Chipman: What I would say is I am not aware of that. I am aware there is a report due in the United States. If there is anything in that reporting that raises anything that would be of concern to us in our air space then we would take that seriously.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you for that. Perhaps this is the last question for me and I will put some other questions on notice. I understand in 1996 the Air Force ceased handling reports on UAPs. It determined there was no scientific or compelling reason to continue to devote resources to that investigation. I mean, part of the reason these US structures have been set up is to provide an evidence based or a data based, including NASA's involvement, approach to: Can we eliminate this as a potential threat to national security? Are these foreign flying objects from other places? Who knows? Are you aware of any documentation around the process that led the Air Force to move away from devoting resources to investigating it?

Air Marshal Chipman: There is a history of that. We have confidence in the reporting mechanisms that the vice chief mentioned before so that if there were any issues of concern to us then they would be reported.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But if there was new data, that would shift your determination to investigate this as a potential issue such as the US reports?

Air Marshal Chipman: If there are issues raised that we thought were relevant to the safety and security of operations in our air space then we would be seriously concerned about it.


And so it goes.  With regard to Senator Penny Wong’s question, “Is this a UFO question?” Perhaps she should look at the history and deep dives Richard Casey, as External Affairs Minister, had with the “UFO question.” I include part of that rich history in my chapter, “the Australian Military and the Official Government Response” in the 2012 mammoth book “UFOs and Government – a historical enquiry.” 

One brief historical gem: Casey used his powerful intelligence connections, particularly Alfred Brookes, the head of the foreign intelligence service ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service), to secure intelligence on the subject. Casey’s man in Rome, Paul McGuire, even secured diplomatic intelligence from the American ambassador, Clare Boothe Luce, and her Air Attaché, Major General Emmett Cassady. McGuire attributed to Cassady the following information: 

The (Italian) sightings (of 1954) are constantly increasing and are up to 50 “unexplaineds” a week. The reports are now sufficiently consistent to establish the prime type as cigar or clipped-cigar shaped, about 70 metres long. They are recorded by various instruments, sufficiently to establish a physical object: i.e. to remove the assumption that they are all effects of atmospheric disturbances, or such. He says that two senior Air Generals of the U.S. Forces have met a saucer in flight. Mrs. Luce mentioned a third General. She says that her brother-in-law saw one closely while walking in New England, and “he hasn’t been the same man since”; though he refuses to talk for publication.

1983 - Operation Close Encounter.  We have been this way before - 1957 - Katoomba:


I hope that the Australian government and the Department of Defence will eventually develop serious and transparent policy and procedures to deal with the UFO/UAP/UAP reality in an informed way, rather than leaving it to “the Yanks” and “AARO”. We should not be sending toxic messages, like there is nothing to UFOs/UAP, to the Australian public and our serving military, many of whom have experienced the reality of this extraordinary and enduring phenomenon. Taking a deep dive into the phenomenon is an appropriate response to this enduring enigma.  A tipping point has occurred.  Our major ally seems on board with the subject, so seems media and science, in ever increasing ways. So should our government and military.

Our skies, our oceans and the space above our "pale blue dot" seems to be getting crowed, not just with "flying saucers", "UFOs", "UASs", "UAPs". This time of year it can get seriously congested, as this image from "FabricLove" in the UK hints at:

Congested domains, it can sure get messy, if you don't stay on top of it all.  We don't want it to get as messy as the image below:
Merry Christmas & best wishes to all my friends, fellow researchers and travellers ... 
Watch the skies, watch all domains, but have fun and stay safe.