Radar ScreenIn October 1959 I was the radar operator in a U.S. Navy Patrol Plane aircrew, consisting of myself and ten other souls.  We were performing a routine, night patrol in the East China Sea.  Our location was approximately

200 miles north of Taipei, Taiwan, and 150 miles east of the China coast. We were flying in scattered clouds at an altitude of 2500 feet with broken clouds below. The time was a few minutes before midnight. We had been flying for two to three uneventful hours when we were “intercepted”. Interception was a term used when we were closely approached by aircraft from an unfriendly or unidentified source. Interceptions were not frequent, nor were they rare either. Within the realm of general   knowledge, this was the first incident of a nighttime interception. Whenever an interception occurred, we were required to make immediate notifications to several of our military superiors via radio communications.


We had endured many minutes of humdrum silence punching holes in the sky when the incident started. The pilot broke the silence when he casually asked the copilot “Did you see that light?”. The copilot responded “What light?”. “It just passed across the bow from left to right” said the pilot. “No, I didn’t see any light” said the copilot. A minute more of silence passed, when the copilot stated “I see a light.  It’s at one o’clock right now.” The pilot responded “I see it also.”  The light then disappeared into some clouds.


I had been constantly monitoring radar and had not seen anything unusual until the copilot located the light at one o’clock.  At that time, I picked up a small radar blip at one o’clock at a distance of eight miles from our aircraft.  From that time until the end of this incident I had constant radar contact with this item.


As the contact had disappeared into the clouds at the one o’clock position, visual contact was lost, but I still had radar contact.  I kept telling the crew exactly where it was at all times.  It flew from one o’clock to two o’clock to three o’clock, etc. When it reached a position of five o’clock, it broke out of the cloud cover and was spotted by our aft observer. The observer said “I see the light at five o’clock.”  Several other crew members also spotted it at that time. It was at this time that our pilot decided that we did have an interception.  He ordered our radio operator to send the appropriate messages; then we took some evasive actions.


We descended deep into the cloud cover to an altitude of 200 feet and increased our speed from 200 knots to 325 knots.  The contact followed us down and continued to circle. As we were in dense broken clouds, we emerged only occasionally.  Whenever we broke out, the contact would be visually located by various members of the crew exactly where the radar located it. There was never a disparity between the radar and the visual sightings. The contact was flying complete circles around us in a time of 30 seconds while maintaining a distance of eight miles.  This calculates to a speed of about 6000 miles per hour.


Immediately upon the realization that we had been intercepted, we headed south toward Taipei. The contact continued to circle us while maintaining an eight-mile distance. The complete encirclements continued to take 30 seconds. Visual sightings and radar locations continued to reinforce each other.  After 20 minutes of attempted evasion, we were about 50 miles from Taiwan. At that time our radar picked up a squadron of Chinese Nationalist F-86 Sabre-jet fighters that had been dispatched to our aid. I could see the F-86s and the unknown contact all on the radar scope. As the F-86s approached us to within 10 miles, the unknown contact veered off and headed toward the China coast. The F-86s apparently had some kind of awareness of the contact, as they attempted to follow, but it was hopeless. I had radar contact with the unknown target for only a couple more sweeps.  The contact’s departure speed was calculated at an incredible 25,000 miles per hour. It is stressed that during this incident, every member of the crew saw this light numerous times, and that every visual sighting agreed with the radar location.


That was the end of the incident except that on the following day, the Pilot, the Navigator and I had to meet with the Admiral’s staff aboard his flagship, be questioned, and be talked into the concept that we had experienced nothing at all.


Ronald C. Moore ATC USN (Ret.)

Comments are closed.