Background: On April 13, 2013 a pilot had just taken off from Slidell, LA Airport with his Cessna 172. He was flying at 2,500 feet and as he approached the Picayune, MS VOR he saw a disk shaped craft to his right for a few seconds. The object drifted off to the south after a few seconds. He was flying north and the sighting occurred at about 3:30 PM CDT.
Analysis: I read the article written by Richard Hoffman in the MUFON Journal and case description in MUFON’s Case Management System (CMS). Given my interest in radar and pilot UFO sightings I immediately requested radar data from Hill AFB near Ogden, UT. The radar data is archived by the Air Force and stored for long periods. The Air Force shares several long range radar units with the FAA for the JSS (Joint Surveillance System). I received the data in the first week of August and began work immediately.
Results: Several radar units were included in the data provided by the Air Force. See map in Figure 1 above for the locations of the radar sites.
Radar did not show any objects in the area and at or near the time reported by the witness. The radar path of the aircraft suggests that the aircraft passed the Picayune, MS VOR at 3:24 PM versus 3:30 PM as reported by the witness. However, the pilot stated that he saw the object “around 3:30 PM.” From this statement one could infer that the time was approximate.
The returns displayed on the maps above were from the Citronelle, AL and Slidell, LS radar sites. (See the map in Figure 2.) All of the “primary” (possible UFO) returns were detected by the Citronelle, AL radar site which is about 95 miles East-Northeast of the Picayune, MS VOR as shown by Figure 2 above.
Figures 3 and 4 above show the first part of the flight of the Cessna 172 and unusual radar returns (red triangles). The blue arrows indicate the direction of movement of the Cessna. (The blue dots are the actual transponder returns.) The possible UFO returns were detected between 3:17 and 3:24 PM CDT. The UFO returns were several miles to the North-Northeast of the aircraft (one to two o’clock position). The aircraft first was detected by radar at around 3:17 PM as it took off from Slidell Airport. The UFO was moving generally East-Northeast with some minor changes in direction. The first UFO return on the map above was just south of the Picayune, MS airport. The time was 3:17 PM CDT. The closest that the UFO return would have been to the aircraft is at the top of the map (Figure 4) which is about 5 miles. (The aircraft was moving much faster than the UFO.) The UFO was positioned almost due east of the aircraft at the top of the map.
So why could these returns be a UFO? Figure 5 is a “zoom in” showing the position of the UFO at each radar detection. One reason is the abrupt change in direction. (The UFO first streaked to the Southeast at 190 MPH and then changed direction to the North-Northeast at 60 MPH. The object then slowed to 35 to 40 MPH and moved East to Northeast.) The UFO was not detected at each rotation of the radar and sometimes would only be detected at minute intervals. (The radar makes one sweep every 12 seconds or 5 sweeps /minute.) What could be the reason for the “intermittent” detections? Of course perhaps the object would vanish or change position so as to not have sufficient cross sectional area for detection. Another possibility is that the object could have been changing altitude and may have been too low for the Citronelle, AL radar to detect. (Given the curvature of the Earth the Citronelle, AL radar would have not detected objects below 570 feet.) Another possibility is that object could have hovered. In this case the radar may not detect it because of the moving target protocol which means that the radar will only detect objects at a certain minimum speed (20 to 30 MPH). This is done so that radars don’t detect stationary objects (like bridges, towers, etc.) This type of radar signature is what one expects to see from a strange object. If the object was an aircraft or helicopter, it would have been detected every revolution of the radar. This was not the case. (This is assuming that the aircraft or helicopter did not have their transponder on.) Also the pilot did not see any known aircraft in this position. Of course the returns could have been “radar angels,” anomalous propagation or weather phenomena. This is not likely because the object moved progressively at each sweep or in multiple sweeps of the radar in an ascending time progression (12 second intervals or in multiples of 12 seconds). Unfortunately the UFO was not detected by other radars. The radar in Slidell, LS did not detect the UFO. This radar was closer to the aircraft and UFO than the Citronelle, AL radar.
So why was the object seen by the pilot not detected by radar? The pilot only saw the object for a few seconds. Perhaps it was not detectable because it could have rapidly increased altitude or streaked away? (This behavior is frequently seen with UFO craft.) Also the UFO could have been so close to the aircraft that the resolution of the radar could not distinguish the two objects and would paint them as one return. (The radar antenna was over 90 miles away which would make it more difficult to distinguish objects close together.) Perhaps the object detected by the radar could have been related to the object seen by pilot?
In conclusion the radar does not show the object in the position and time seen by the pilot. However, a few minutes before the pilot saw the object another strange object was detected by radar several miles to the North-Northeast of the aircraft. This object was first detected by radar when the Cessna first became visible to the radar (via transponder beacon return) at around 3:17 PM CDT.
The above analysis was done by UFOs NorthWest.