The 23 Squadron Scrambles at
14:0200 & 0240 -
Not under GCI Control
An Opinion by Martin Shough
When John Brady and Ivan Logan first described their scrambles on video in an interview with Jenny Randles televised in 1996, I was struck by two things: 1) The unexpected lateness of the hour shown in black and white in the log book presented to camera; and 2) the less obvious fact that the only ground radar that they seemed to be aware of was the American radar at Lakenheath, whose instructions they were following. When Dave Clarke contacted me about the case in April 2001 I brought up this issue as going to the heart of the relationship between these airmens' recollections and that of the RAF Chief Fighter Controller, F. H. C. Wimbledon, who in 1978 had described the control of the Lakenheath Venoms by his interception team at Neatishead. Wimbledon had denied any American ground radar involvement at all, often and heatedly, in the intervening years. How could these be accounts of the same incident?
The unexpectedly late times of these scrambles had already led others to speculate that what had been discovered was a quite different and previously unknown event, meaning that there must be aircrews involved in a 'missing interception' still to be located. I suggested that the issue of GCI control was an additional pointer in that direction. This led to a great deal of debate. Based on further interviews By Dave Clarke and Andy Roberts with all four RAF officers, other members of the collaboration were convinced that Chambers, Brady, Logan and Fraser-Ker were describing an interception under GCI control and were the 'correct' aircrew.
Was it safe to assume that all airmen involved that night had now been found? The issue of GCI control became a test of that question. After much textual and contextual analysis it was agreed that the apparent absence of GCI control should be checked by means of a carefully worded question put to John Brady. As a result of this debate I believe it can now be stated as certain that these two aircrews were exclusively under control of USAF radar operators at Lakenheath. One piece of evidence will suffice here: I asked Jenny to check the original video tape of her first interview with Brady and Logan. This is what she found:
I gave the full session another listen to check this point for you and it is very clear (there's a lot that wasn't on TV, of course, as the documentary wasn't about this case). Here are some quotes (J is John Brady - I Ivan Logan)
J: 'We were looking for something that the Americans said was there - which we eventually did find - we think!'
J: 'They took us to various parts of the sky to look at things.'
I: 'We were at the time in contact with the ground - Lakenheath - which wasnt normal.'
J: 'There was quite a lot of chat. They were saying - you're coming up to it now.'
J: 'We were scrambled to go and look at something that the Americans had on their radar tubes. We were directed by the Americans.'
I: 'They (the Americans) seemed a little bit excited. The contacts were not normal.'
At one point I asked if they were told by the ground that there had been any visual sightings earlier that night - other than the radar trackings that they were now being asked to check out - and Ivan insisted that the first time they knew of such things had occurred was when I told him the story of the UFO legend a few weeks earlier (Jan l996). At the time of the intercept they only knew of the US radar trackings. Not, it seems, even of any RAF radar trackings.
I then got a clear statement out of John as to who was controlling the intercept and asked him to clarify. He did.
'We were scrambled by the people at Waterbeach but at the request of the Americans. We were sent around the sky and vectored onto it by the Americans.'
I asked why they took this control [away] from the RAF and he said that the object was quite close to the base at Lakenheath at the time of the requested intercept. He seemed to infer that was why the Americans took command and it seemed reasonable that they did.
So - according to this - the scramble was initiated by the RAF but was always at the behest of the Americans. If they knew that Wimbledon was tracking something as well they dont recall this as a primary cause of the scramble. They were told nothing about the target they were looking for until they got airborne. But once up there the Americans took control and 'they' vectored them towards this target that was very near Lakenheath base and thus considered a problem to the Americans for that reason.
Hope that clears things up.
This is supported by numerous other interview statements by Chambers, Brady and Logan. There is no question that they were vectored onto the target repeatedly by Lakenheath. They were not in contact with their usual GCI controller. Both aircraft were scrambled by the Waterbeach Operations Controller in the usual way, but otherwise the situation was not usual.
In the normal course of events a scramble would be authorised by a 'phone call from Sector Control, reacting to a changing threat situation - a plotting-board representation of the radar picture, synthesizing reports from various Sector Operations Center radars such as Neatishead. On the duty airfield a Venom crew sits at readiness in the cockpit, awaiting instruction. The aircraft is connected to the Operations platform by a secure telebriefing landline over which the pilot would be given a call-sign and a control frequency. The landline plug would then pull out automatically as he taxied for take-off, his VHF radio would come alive and within two minutes he would be airborne. Once clear of the airfield he would be handed off from Waterbeach and would switch to his GCI control frequency. In the normal way this would have been Neatishead. On this occasion, however, the coded channel supplied was that of a USAF Approach Control frequency at Lakenheath.
The first obvious question is "Why were these Venoms not placed under normal GCI control?" That two successive RAF fighters were instructed to use up their fuel attempting unsuccessful interceptions on this target, under instructions by non-specialist USAF radar controllers who had no height-finding radar, without once resorting to the aid of professional interception controllers at Neatishead, can only reasonably be explained if Neatishead's help was not available. This suggests that radar at Neatishead some 40 miles away could not "see" this target, and this in turn would suggest that the target might have been at unusually low altitude below Neatishead's radar horizon. And indeed both Venom crews recollect strongly that this was one very unusual feature of their scrambles - instead of being sent to 40,000' over the sea as expected they were sent to around one tenth of this altitude over Lakenheath. Evidently, then, Neatishead could not assist. If they couldn't see the target the request for a scramble logically originated elsewhere - presumably someone at Lakenheath sought authorisation through Sector Control - and probably Neatishead had no reason even to know what was going on at this time.
(FW also states (freddie1) Type 7 used, NOT Type 14 gap-filler,
"Going back to the initial radar tracking you made of it - do you recognise any of those [handing him list of radars listed at Neatishead in PRO file] So which one of those radar was used to track this object?
FW: Thats all correct. Type 7, yes. Type 14 is for lower, but in the main we were using the Type 7 and the Type 13 Height Finder, those were the two we were using." (FW-interview.htm)
so THAT target NOT at marginallly detectable low altitude)