Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cold case review - 31 August 1954 - 'Sea Fury' radar/visual

A classic Australian case reanalysed

One of Australia's classic cases, is an incident where a Navy pilot, on a night flight, near Goulburn, New South Wales, encountered two 'unknowns,' which were also picked up on radar.

On the Internet, the sighting is frequently, but incorrectly, referred to as the 'Nowra incident.' It would be better titled, either the 'Sea Fury' radar/visual event of 31 August 1954, or the Goulburn radar/visual event of 31 August 1954.

The sighting made headlines in many Australian newspapers, two examples of which, are shown below.

Courtesy NAA file series MP926, control symbol 3079/101/1
The case has been extensively investigated, and reported upon, by Sydney researcher Bill Chalker. I reviewed the case in two previous blog posts (click here and here.)

Courtesy NAA file series MP926, control symbol 3079/101/1
Despite all previous research, the nature of the 'unknowns' has never been resolved.

Courtesy NAA file series MP926, control symbol 3079/101/1

A fresh approach

Now, an Adelaide UFO researcher, who wishes to remain anonymous, has taken a fresh look, 'cold case,' approach to the sighting. The researcher reviewed all the published material on the event, and has come up with a very plausible, non-UFO, suggestion as to the identity of the two 'unknowns.'

Courtesy of John Stepkowski in Melbourne, we can now all read this new 'cold case' research paper.

The anonymous author (known to me) and myself, would be very interested to hear what blog readers think of the hypothesis.


  1. From a Sydney based researcher.

    I started reading it last night and finished it this morning.
    It’s certainly a novel idea and impressive bit of research.

    What would be useful, if locatable or still exists is any records
    of aircraft arrivals at Williamtown on the night of the incident.
    This I assume would be purely Williamtown RAAF local records.

    What bothers me though about the Sabre scenario is the speed
    and altitude. Its speed I assume is largely determined by its altitude.
    O’Farrell is flying at 13,000’. The Sydney Sun article August 1953

    It has already flown at above 600mph in level flight at high altitude.
    Sound speed is 660mph.

    [I thought the speed of sound was higher than this figure.] As I understand it the speed goes down with the temperature. I assume the 660mph speed is at some high altitude where th lower temperature brings the speed down lower than at near sea level where the temperature is higher. What the speed would be
    at 13,000’ I’m not sure.

    The speed above 600 mph (the Sydney Sun article) I take it would be at an altitude much higher than O’Farrell was flying at. The Sabre at this altitude would be using more fuel than at the higher altitude. The supposed acceleration and speed when they
    left O’Farrell would have to take this into account. What the acceleration and speed of the objects when they left him is it seems all down to O’Farrell’s estimation. There’s seemingly nothing else to go by. I don’t think O’Farrell suggests anything about them climbing. Supposedly they take off at high speed at much the same altitude.

    Taking his speed at 220 kts that works out to 250mph (based on 250kts =400 km/h)
    He estimates their speed at 2-3 times his, “probably around a thousand mph”
    3x = 750mph. = 33% overestimation if you take his figure of 1000mph literally.
    1000mph would be 4x his speed if his speed was 220kts.

    If assuming they came up behind O’Farrell would they have taken off from Avalon at roughly the same altitude. They would have to know O’Farrell was in the area before arriving there. This seems a bit of a stretch. Since they’re the RAAF and not the Navy how would they know? Likewise how would they know the radar was down?
    They’d also be using more fuel than would be at the higher altitude.

    Otherwise they’d just happen to be at 13,000’ for some reason and just happen to run into O’Farrell’s plane when they did. If they are on a test flight from Avalon to Williamtown they’re seemingly off course based on present day notions and at the wrong altitude as well.

    Nowra it appears doesn’t track the objects after they leave him. Mascot sees the lights approaching rapidly from the SW. The time is noted but we don’t know what it was.

    Mascot seemingly don’t mention them on their radar. If they appeared on Nowra’s radar they should appeared on Mascot’s but we don’t know any details so they where they really went from that point is uncertain. If they kept on the same course NE they’d be
    well east of Williamtown. To head to Williamtown from Mascot needs a deliberate course direction change. Without evidence it might be speculative that this actually occurred.

    Another critical point is the time of departure of the objects and his communication with Nowra. I’m not clear on this. If the objects left as he thought about contacting them then it doesn’t point to the objects being Sabres. To plausibly be the Sabres O’Farrell would have to contact Nowra in some terms about radar for them to leave as a result. Which really applies I’m uncertain.

    It’s a original thinking which I think has to be commended. It all comes down to evidence if it’s available and what seems to be the most likely scenario.

    I don’t think the ufo angle can be easily rationalised as a another scenario, but the idea is creative and not something that had crossed my mind.

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  3. From a Melbourne researcher - part 1.
    My immediate response is that, although it is certainly highly significant that there were aircraft capable of the requisite performance, it may be going too far to say at this point that the suggested explanation is 'plausible' rather than simply possible.

    Key points that need to be addressed:
    1) what is the minimum cruising speed of the Sabre?
    2) would a pilot of a prop driven aircraft hear them if they were in close formation, or when they departed at high speed?
    3) what could be the source of a centrally located, 'very bright' light on the top of the craft? Were the Sabres equiped with anything that could serve this function?
    4) What was the external appearance of the relevant Sabres (colours, insignias etc.). Is it reasonable to maintain that these could appear as no more than a 'dark mass' when a 'very bright' light is present on the top. Would the canopy or other reflective features not be visible?
    5) (based on reports of WWII encounters with jets), is it the case that components of the jet propulsion systems would be visible at night - glowing exhaust stacks etc. (I don't know).

  4. From a Melbourne researcher - part 2
    Other potential problems.
    It is unclear to me why a 'test' or 'practice flight' between bases would warrant such secrecy - no navigation lights, no transponders, no communication with other services (including the Navy who are operating aircraft in the area) etc. Perhaps one could do some research to determine how likely such a scenario is. I would have thought that if the Sabres were still being 'tested', quite the opposite circumstance (careful tracking etc.) could perhaps be typical.
    How is it that the test pilots could 'know' the Nowra radar was not working, but then not know that it was again operational, so exposing their 'secret' flight (ex hypothesi something to be avoided, and which their superiors could presumably readily determine)?
    Further, surely such a stunt would pointlessly risk the careers of the pilots involved. They could not know that the navy pilot would not report his experience sans radar confirmation, and any such report would immediately reveal their actions to their superiors. In this case, they would be in serious jeopardy given that they not only exposed the 'secret' flight, but behaved in an extremely dangerous manner (taking into account the close approach), risking highly valuable aircraft.
    I would have thought that the pilots involved would be closely monitored in 'test' conditions, so rendering such a 'stunt' rather difficult to get away with (that they would at least need to explain any discrepancy in flight time etc., and would they be able to communicate with one another, as required to fly 'in formation', without ground control overhearing them?)
    It is also arguably problematic to propose the Sabres indeed drew so close to the Sea Fury yet, despite clear conditions and the manoeuvres (passing in front, flying along-side), could not be identified as aircraft with tails/wings etc.
    I am also not entirely convinced by the proposed reasons for and likelihood of a successful 'cover up'. Unlike the typical circumstances when such proposals are advanced, the existence of the Sabres was not itself a secret, and thus subsequently admitting their presence would not appear to be particularly problematic. Certainly the Navy would have been very aware of the presence of Sabres on the East Coast. I would suggest that the Navy would be as capable (indeed considerably more so) as the author of suspecting the proposed scenario, and would in all likelihood have made enquiries regarding this possibility. Unless given good reasons for rejecting it, it seems likely that the Navy would have actively pursued this explanation, requiring that the A.F. deliberately mislead them if indeed the Sabres were involved. A very serious course of action with potentially grave consequences for all involved - all just to protect two irresponsible pilots who would certainly be severely punished anyway? I am not convinced that this is truly 'plausible'.
    I believe the degree to which such behaviour would almost certainly be outside the norm for pilots entrusted with such an important task also deserves emphasis - the proposed actions are far more serious than just a simple prank, and again the risk of exposure (from the pilot and/or radar and/or ground observers) is very considerable. Perhaps it would be possible to get an informed opinion regarding how likely this behaviour is, and what the likely result of discovery would be.

  5. From a Melbourne researcher - part 3.
    Finally, I am bothered by the false 'extraterrestrial or human' dichotomy.

    Nonetheless, this material is doubtless of significant value. Overall, it seems to me that further evidence is required before it can be determined whether the Sabre solution is a reasonable possibility or not, but obviously anyone advancing this event as a genuine UAP encounter must address this issue.

    Realistically, though, I rather doubt anyone will care enough to seriously seek the necessary information. Certainly I don't have the time. However, if someone happens to have the right contacts, it may not be too difficult. I wonder if it would be possible to access airport or pilot logs (or the like) that establish the whereabouts of the Sabres at the relevant time? Perhaps the historian (?) who spoke on the Westall documentary could assist anyone who did want to pursue the matter further?