Letter from Grahame H.T. Scofield
11 June 2001
Dear Dr Clarke Thank you for your further letter. As you can imagine a number of the queries that you raise are difficult to recall but I will do my best and include a probability factor for error.
1. R/T Frequency The set would have some 20/24 fixed frequencies and we could switch from one to another. There would have been a designated frequency for the initial interception, set by the Controller at Neatishead but he could well have later switched them to the Lakenheath RATCC. We would have still been able to monitor the traffic by making a similar switch ourselves. I cannot recall if we did so but I am absolutely certain that we overheard the details of the intercept as I have already described.
2. You should ignore my suggestion that the intercept was at 20,000 feet. It was based on my knowledge that the usual altitude for high level P/Is was 40,000 feet and these interceptions were considerably lower.
3. I am certain that there were two aircraft involved. It was normal to work in pairs and I recall each aircraft in turn being vectored in by the Controller.
4. My strong recollection is that the crews involved were Chambers/Brady and Fraser-Ker/Logan. Both crews were well known to us and we would have listened to their R/T chatter when we had worked with them on other sorties. We had daily contact for over a year so their voices would have been very familiar even over any distortion. I also strongly recall that we discussed with them the nature of the intercept and joked about it on their return to the crewroom. My sense is that we on the ground thought it hugely funny, whereas they were much more subdued. I do not recall being aware at the time that Lakenheath was involved or perhaps I would have taken it more seriously.
5. I am certain that no other squadron or crew was involved. We were the readiness squadron and our flight was on duty. We would have been advised if any other night flying was taking place in the vicinity. It is just possible that a USAF pilot might have been scrambled. However, they would have been using different airborne frequencies and we could not have overheard their intercepts.
6. I think that in all the confusion of the evening the squadron log probably confused the two occurrences of the intercept and the loss of the wing tanks. The log was not always written up at the time of the incident and whoever subsequently wrote it up could well have believed what he wrote was correct without having checked with the crews. All I know for sure is the time of our own mission and the direction in which we were vectored. It is just possible that the scramble might have been related to the sighting, but I have no recollection that it was so. I am also sure that it was not mentioned at debriefing. However there was a major flap on at the time over the loss of the tanks and it is just possible that I was so concerned that as a crew we were not to be grounded, that all other matters were overlooked.
7. There still remains the problem of the timing. It is clear from my log entry that we had returned long before midnight and that our debriefing took us at least to 1100 pm before we were back in the crew room. It would be entirely normal for the other crews to have done an earlier HLPI exercise and then be instructed to remain at cockpit readiness for a further period during the night. Hence their second scramble at 0200 would be consistent with my recall of the timing but at variance with the evidence of the two ground controllers.
So my recall sits midway between the two sets of testimony. I am sure about my recall of the R/T traffic. I am sure that the two crews referred to above were the ones involved. It would be consistent for both Neatishead and Lakenheath to have been involved. At this length of time it would be easy for both to claim the lions share of the work!
As to the timing of the scrambles I would rely on the log book entries. It would still be consistent for the flap on the unidentified blip to have started around midnight but for the intercept not have taken place until later. We were operating at a very sensitive time and scrambles were very rare.
It is not unlikely that permission to engage would have been taken at a very high level with Lakenheath taking it back to USA, particularly before involving the RAF!
A possible scenario would have been that a USAF jet was scrambled first but could not close. We had airborne radar and were a night fighter squadron so were used to this type of situation. My guess (and I emphasise it is only a guess) is that the USAF tried their own intercept first, about which we would have known nothing. Then, having failed to locate and still reporting an unidentified object hovering over their main base, they would have requested help from the RAF.
There would be a flurry of high level discussion about who pays etc and eventually 23 squadron were instructed to go. This would solve some of the mystery but it would be great if you could add some more facts to see if there is any truth in my guesswork. I am still looking for my flight crew photograph, but I do not think it will add much to what I have set down.