Member Commentary

Travis AFB - UFO Hysteria

Hal Russell ( writes:

According to the newspapers and TV--which became aware that something was "up" when massive numbers of aircraft began taking off--UFOs were buzzing the base, and the base also lost all communication with the outside world. It was a foggy night so the craft buzzing the base could not be seen visibly, only on radar.

The velocity of the craft apparently flying over the base ranged from a few hundred knots to more than 4000 kn. Travis, being a SAC base, followed procedure when communications were lost and went to a yellow alert and began launching all aircraft. It was bedlam!

But there was a non-extraterrestrial connection. We (USN) were conducting an extensive electronic warfare exercise against several nearby naval training facilities. Our aircraft had "free range" to jam (confuse) any radar they detected, including FAA radars--with permission, of course. It was a massive test involving many facilities in the Bay area, but not Travis.

Our special aircraft used the runway and the security of Travis to fly out of. Since I knew that Travis was not involved in the tests, I simply forgot to include them in the message traffic. AND then, when our aircraft made their initial approach to Travis--after one exercise--they forgot and left the electronic warfare stuff on, in auto-response mode.

First, the system took out the approach control radars, and then every other radar as it come on line, along with the communications systems. Travis waved off our aircraft as they went to yellow alert status. Since our aircraft had steerable antennas, turning them away had little effect on Travis' situation.

I was in a car headed for Travis--to debrief our crews on that night's activity when I became aware of the problem. I finally was able to talk my way into the Com center and use a discrete com channel to our aircraft and ask them to verify all EW were systems off line. I heard an "oops." from a couple of them and knew what had happened. My response was to head for my car and drive quickly away, to the relative safety of a naval base.

The base commander caught up with me a week later and I took the reaming. In hindsight he stated that it had been an excellent test. In real scramble tests, everyone seems to know ahead of time when it will occur and are prepared. This instance caught them unready for a test.

The papers in the area kept up their UFO reporting for weeks, not believing the Travis information office report of a surprise test. At the time, we could say nothing else due to security. Of course their had to be a massive conspiracy afoot, because our aircraft had disrupted practically every RF emitter from stereo FM up all over the Bay area.

I know that similar events have happened elsewhere, but I was the test conductor on this one. The miles long UFO seen on South American radars a few years ago was a similar instance. I wasn't involved in that one, but I am knowledgeable about the device that caused it.

As an aside, many lay people think that radar jamming is the electronic "blowing-away" of the other guy's radar. NOT TRUE!! We seek to confuse the other radar by generating false targets, or by wiping all targets off the scope--electronic stealth. If the other guy's radar is suddenly "blown-away," he'd know something was up, but if he sees no targets, he's happy. Then when he sees hundreds, he gets confused and thinks there's a problem with his radar. Tactics! Ask the Iraqui's how they liked it!


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