Transcript of interview with John Brady, RAF (retired), Costessy, Norwich. February 11, 2001.
DC: David Clarke; AR: Andy Roberts
JB: Venom 3. We hadnt time to replace the Mark 2 Venom which had an inferior AI and did not have power controls. The Venom Mark 3 did have power controls with manual conversion. You didnt do much flying in manual and rarely did you practice much of going into manual. As a night-fighter I thought it was extremely effective at the time - it could have done with a little more poke, a little more altitude..it was rather fun to fly, it was noisy but it was a fighter. It could be thrown about all over the place, it was very small, and at night when you came up close to it you had to be at a certain angle so that you could see him properly. You had a little jet flame, the pilot would see a little circle coming out of the rear of it the jet and you had to get quite close in order to get a proper visual on a dark and rainy night, and so with full evasive action it was quite difficult aircraft to aircraft. But it was a delightful little aeroplane to be thrown about the sky in, and it was quite noisy inside, the navigation aid was a G Mark 3, a little box about so big, which was a development from the G used in the war, and one or two other little things. As far as I remember you had an ECM counter-measures thing whereby if a jammer was operating you tell from the frequencies because you got a little cross like this, and you would know whether he was above, below, left or right. Normal sortie time would be about from an hour to an hour 15. It was quite fast, 85-86 maximum which was pretty reasonable for those times, but at 45,000 or thereafter it was struggling
DC: Where would you sit, in relationship to the pilot?
JB: You would sit to the right, slightly behind and slightly lower. If I may Ill show you a picture that will show what I mean [shows illustrated article Nights Black Agents from Flight Magazine, December 1955] So basically we went down to [RAF] Waterbeach for this Operation Fabulous some of us went by car I cant remember how I went it must have been by car I think, and we were accommodated in the mess and the squadron dispersal was on the far side of the airfield and with huts there and you would have one or two, a couple of aircraft would be out there one or two minutes cockpit readiness, which we were at the time when we were scrambled and another one at ten minutes and if you went the other one came up to two minutes. On the night in question I can remember some chat immediately prior to scramble with Neatishead and then they called for a Venom, and I think it went by Waterbeach, yes, Waterbeach - one Venom, scramble, Vector so and so, on whatever frequency it was. Well, we were airborne probably within two minutes because the Venom was a cartridge start start-up system. The pilot just pressed the cartridge and you got this terrific whooosh from the cartridge gasses as it drove the turbines and the starter mechanism round there was no warming up in a jet, we just roared off and we were thinking what the Dickens is this? but we had a vague idea that the Americans wanted us to go and look for something
DC: And where did that idea come from?
JB: Well it must have come from Neatishead, probably the chap was saying the Americans want you to go and look for something they got I cant remember very clearly on that anyway, off we went and we called Lakenheath, and they were directing us towards this thing at around 7,000 feet. The first run we had at it I saw nothing. The next time we went beyond, and I can remember saying to David [David Chamber, the pilot] CONTACT and he kept saying to me Where is it? Where is it? I cant see it as we rushed past on each pass. And it would go down the right hand side or the left hand side, depending which way we went at it and it would be a little paint like that [moves hand in a diagonal jerky fashion to indicate movement of radar contact across the tube] and it was fairly obvious that whatever it was, it was stationary. There was no movement, and if you remember in that little film [BBC 1996] they said well, couldnt you intercept it?, well I had to say you cannot intercept something that is stationary. You just cant do it. But there WAS something there, and when we went back and landed and when Ivan and Ian Fraser-Ker came back I had a word with Ivan and he said: Did you see something? Did you..? Yes, and I said So did I And it was just this little, faint paint. You wouldnt call it a real positive blip. It was the sort of thing that Ive seen a Met balloon, with a radar reflector on it before on AI and 21, and I reckon it was probably that..or something like that. In the end we just turned round and went back home when we were getting a bit low and had several runs at it but each time I would say to David There its out 45 starboard now at one mile and hed be looking out and hed see nothing and said: What is it? What is it? and Id said: I dont know and there it was.
DC: So how many runs did you have?
JB: 3 or 4.
DC: At what altitude?
JB: around 7,000 feet and at around 300 knots.
DC: 7,000 feet is very low isnt it? Its not the normal height for an interception?
JB: Oh yes..and of course our fuel consumption was pretty high, which governed the sortie length, we only did 50-55 minutes. But the other interesting thing on that film of course they showed a Venom in plan-form going by, and it isnt a Venom, its a Vampire NF-10..if you look at it its got taper on the leading and trading edges and there are several other differences compared to the Venom NF-3 which is a superior aircraft in every respect.
DC: So when you touched down, what would be the procedure?
JB: Just got back..talked to the chaps in the crew..filled in the log book..the Ops Man probably wrote a bit down in his log and at some stage I suppose a signal went off, but I cant remember anything about that.
DC: So it would have just been a standard report?
JB: Yes, a standard interception report from the Exercise. It would go off to Fighter Command who would probably signal Air Ministry, MOD or whatever they were called then.
DC: So you werent debriefed or anything of that kind?
JB: Yes, but no big raving debrief like you would get now, where you would walk in and we just walked in and you were asked Well, did you see anything? Yes and that was it.
AR: And who did the debrief?
JB: Another squadron chap as far as I can remember. But a day or two later it was all forgotten about, and no one put any more emphasis on it. But I have to say, one was a bit sceptical of the Americans and one tended to be a bit dismissive about the whole thing but the fact remains that I saw something, Ivan saw something and we had a go at it, and we both agreed that it was stationary, and that was about it.
DC: Had you seen similar radar returns at any other stage in your career?
JB: Apart from the Met balloon I have seen nothing similar to what I saw on that night, no.
DC: So nothing other than the time you picked up a Met balloon?
JB: Yes, and youd say well it was probably a Met balloon or something and that would be it.
DC: You say it was all forgotten about in a day or two..so then it was a 40 year leap before it came up again so how did that come about?
JB: Well I was rung by Ivan who said: Ive had this chap I met who works for BBC2 and they are doing a little exercise which will lead to a programme on UFOs and they have discovered that, through reading through the records which Im sure you did, that apparently this incident is quite well known within UFO circles, and they dug through and found that we were the Venom crew, and they got onto us. Well, he found that we were the Venom crew through Ivan actually running into this fella who was doing this survey. But they found that a Venom was launched and had a go at this thing, whatever it was, and he then coincidentally happened to speak to Ivan Logan and that was it
DC: I think they were initially looking at another incident involving 115 Squadron from 1951 thats what Ivan told us when we visited him, and the BBC contacted him and he said I dont know about that, but I do know about this one because I was involved in it.
JB: Yes, thats it! There we are, and everything went from there. Ivan and I went down to Lakenheath, the BBC paid us £40 expenses, and we were interviewed down there in front of the station, and that was it.
AR: And the section of your interview that was shown on the TV programme, was that the entirety of it..or
JB: No, no. Some inconsequential stuff they would have cut out. It was edited and I can remember saying to one of them probably the lady who was conducting the interview I think it was a Met balloon and Ivan was more or less agreeing with me. But that did not come up on the film.
AR: Going back to the night of the interception - what time would you have come on duty that night?
JB: I couldnt tell you. There was a set time. You would come on and you would be on all night and you would have the rest of the day off, and then you would come back for an air test or something at 2 oclock.
DC: So there would not be any chance, would there, that there could have been another Venom crew who could have gone out before you between midnight on the 13th and 2am on the 14th, when you were scrambled?
JB: No chance.
DC: Because presumably you would have been sat there on the airfield waiting for orders between midnight and 2am?
JB: Yes, thats right.
DC: Presumably also if someone else had been scrambled before you, you would have been told about this during the pre-scrambled briefing?
JB: Almost certainly yes. I dont know what day-flying took place earlier that day. One would have to get hold of the authorisation sheets to establish that. Very little, I would think. But if anything had been scrambled from us [Waterbeach] earlier that day we would have known about it. That was all exciting new stuff to us.
[Pause for tea]
DC: Weve mentioned the Americans, well it seems that their version of what happened that night is the source of much subsequent confusion.
JB: Basically, the chap at Lakenheath was manoeuvring us. We were setting up a run really, one from the south, one from the north, all criss-crossing like this [indicates with hands] and each time we would see or not see this thing and thats how it went on. And at the end of time, when we had done these several runs and we were getting a bit low on fuel we went home but at the time we were going home we knew they were scrambling another Venom
DC: Would you have been able to speak to the pilot or navigator of this other aircraft?
JB: Well we could have if we had thought it was necessary. But I think at the time they were getting airborne and we were going back, so we would be fed into the approach and we would be talking to the airfield as they would have gone off and would have been taken over by the chappy at Lakenheath through the Neatishead control.
DC: Ah, well thats the crux of the problem isnt it? At what stage - now I know its difficult to remember after all these years - when do you think at what stage during this scramble would you have first spoken to the Americans? And who would have given the order for you to contact Lakenheath?
JB: It would either have been the chappy on the ground - the Ops man at Waterbeach, but Im almost certain it would have been Neatishead Control - call Lakenheath on such and such a frequency and that would have been it.
DC: So it would have been Neatishead who originally scrambled you?
JB: Oh yes. They had control of us, not the Americans. We were under British control of course, and they would have scrambled us and the Americans would have asked Neatishead for us. And we were scrambled by Neatishead, who then gave us over to the Americans.
AR: Right, so the controller at Neatishead would have been in full knowledge that you were in communication with the Americans?
JB: I cannot think otherwise.
AR: This is the crux of the problem, because the Controller claims the Americans were not involved at all at any stage.
JB: I cant believe that!
AR: This is the sort of thing that the Americans pick up, and say: Well if he is saying that it must be true.
JB: Thats the way I see it anyway.
DC: Would you have had the facilities in the cockpit to change frequencies between Neatishead and the Americans at Lakenheath?
JB: Oh of course, yes! There was a large number of frequencies. We knew what they were, we had a frequency card. No problem.
DC: Now could the Americans at Lakenheath have overheard the conversation between yourselves and Neatishead as it was going on?
JB: Now I dont know. Its possible. I dont know about that.
DC: Well it does seem that they did overhear some of the conversation, because it does seem that they heard some of the codewords such as Judy
JB: I cant remember ever remember saying Judy. Judy meant that you had a target that you were capable of intercepting and can bring to a satisfactorily conclusion. Now there was never any stage of that. I can remember saying CONTACT to David Chamber - to him - but I did not broadcast that myself. And Im quite certain that David, if he was asked did you see anything, would have said yes, Contact. Or got contact.
DC: So thats possibly where the confusion arose about there being a visual sighting by the pilot?
JB: Never at any stage was there a visual sighting, since there was nothing to see as far as David Chambers was concerned. And I was incapable of carrying out an interception upon this thing, because it just wasnt there - it was ephemeral. It was coming down the tube and I think it was stationary, and I think Ivan will corroborate that.
DC: So at the stage at which you were turned over to the Americans - what information would they have been able to provide that Neatishead would not have been able to provide?
JB: Nothing really except that they would have been operating the radar and could see this thing close in, what I was looking at.
DC: Was there some significance in the fact that you had written USAF in your log entry for the scramble?
JB: Yes! Thats the whole thing! Right! Yes! It was at their behest that we were scrambled. If they hadnt have been involved we would never have left the ground in the first place.
DC: Before you left the ground, were you given information about what had gone on earlier that night?
JB: It was something about the Americans had got something which they want you to go and look at, and apart from that, thats about all I can remember.
DC: And would you have received that information on the ground or whilst in the air after take off?
JB: On the ground I would think. Its just too hazy. Scramble, the Americans want you to look at something, bang, on with the radar and you are worried about that not anything else.
DC: Would that information have come via a radio message?
JB: Oh yes, tele-scramble. You were plugged in, you had a tele-scramble, which connects you to Neatishead, through land-lines etc.
DC: In order to put this incident in context. Can you remember any other instances where you were scrambled to look for something at the behest of the Americans?
JB: No, no.
DC: So this was the only time?
JB: That was the only time. That was one of the reasons why it stuck in the mind.
DC: So it was unusual then?
JB: Oh yes, extremely unusual.
DC: Presumably also unusual because this thing was already over land when you were scrambled?
JB: Yes, over land and at low altitude.
DC: Was there any other contact with the Americans after this was all over? Did you hear anything on the base grapevine?
JB: No, nothing.
DC: Were you sceptical about the information that the Americans had given you?
JB: I dont know why. Mainly because we really did not believe in UFOs. And that was at the basis of the scepticism. But once you got up there and you were running up and down looking for this thing, you didnt do away with your scepticism of UFOs, what it made you think about was what the Dickens is it? But if someone had said, Youve got a UFO I think you would have laughed, frankly. Any of the squadron guys would have laughed at that, but when you see something like this you have to look around for a reason, and that was the only reason that I could think of, that it might have been a Met balloon or something, because they can hang around at that altitude and they dont shift other than with the wind. Thats all I can think of.
AR: So you think it was deifinitely something solid rather than a radar anomaly of some sort?
JB: I dont know, Ive never had to answer that question. I think I would have to go with that it was something that was causing a return. And what makes you have a return on a radar is another question again. But I suppose it would have to be something fairly solid. You get various meteorological things, but that would be unlikely at that position and at that altitude, on that radar.
DC: So it was not likely to have been the result of a temperature inversion at that altitude?
JB: Most certainly not.
DC: So we are down to Met balloons or something suspended in the airstream?
JB: Yes, something like that. But what amazed me was to learn about all these things 40 odd years after the event, and to hear what they had to say about what had gone on in East Anglia earlier and I thought well goodness me, is this mass hysteria or what is it? Im still very sceptical about the whole thing as regards UFOs.
DC: So all the information about what had gone on before midnight
JB: Was completely unknown to us, and to me, until I spoke to those people at Lakenheath in 1996
DC: At that time did you remember hearing anything about UFOs or flying saucers from within the RAF?
DC: In the media?
JB: No, well youd hear about UFOs and little green men in the media occasionally, and something like that, and someone had reported seeing a UFO.
DC: Another thing which might be relevant is what was going on in the outside world at that time. Do you remember anything?
JB: 1956 - the Suez business and the Hungarian crisis wasnt it?
AR: So was there any atmosphere of potential enemy activity?
JB: No, nobody ever mentioned that during the course of squadron life.
DC: What we are trying to get at is what might have made the Americans at little jumpy, to coin a phrase.
JB: Yes, I can see your point. But it certainly hadnt made us jumpy in that respect.
DC: Do you think it possible the Americans might have over-reacted?
JB: Certainly our feeling of the Americans was that there was a tendency to over react to most things. This would have fitted into that category very well. Over reaction. Something floating through the air. Lets go and have a look at it! Spiced life up a bit for us, but thats about all!
DC: Would the American you spoke with at Lakenheath have identified himself?
JB: No I dont know. We would have had a frequency we would have had to call for, and there would have been a call sign we would have had to have used. But goodness knows what that would have been at the time. I dont know if Ivan would have remembered it.
DC: You know you said you were running low on fuel, was that the primary reason you returned?
JB: No, we were not proving anything one way or another, and we couldnt do any more than we did at the time. That said we flew 55 minutes at 7,000 feet or thereabouts, lets go home, were not doing anything, that was it. They had got another one scrambled to come and replace us anyhow. So that was it.
DC: So presumably it must have been treated seriously at that time?
JB: Oh yes, or else they would not be scrambling a second one.
DC: So further up the chain of command, even above Neatishead, there must have been someone giving authorisation for all this?
JB: Again the Neatishead people would be the ones to answer this. Coltishall was parenting Neatishead as far as I know. Neatishead was administered from Coltishall.
DC: The Neatishead controller remains certain the Americans were not involved
JB: How he can say that the Americans were not involved at all when the sole reason for us being ordered off was because of the Americans! Neatishead, where he was operating from, has gone through several make-overs since then, principally caused by the whole thing flying on fire one or two years after this. Then there was a major rebuild, and finally they rebuilt the thing above ground. Whereas when we would go there for liason with the controllers it was all underground the control cabins etc.
DC: Have you read any of the published accounts of this case since you were first contacted by the BBC? What do you think of them?
JB: Well its a lot of hearsay, and frankly a lot of weird stuff which never happened. One of them said that that the UFO which was tracked by three ground radars now appeared to circle behind the aircraft and followed it despite the pilots evasive efforts, - ROT!! [laughter]
DC: Thats one of the mainstays of the case from the UFO believers perspective.
JB: We just had a racetrack going up and down there, Im sure Dave Chambers and Ivan will remember that. We are also alleged to have called Judy - I dont believe that.
AR: So can you go over again the circumstances in which that term - Judy - would be used.
JB: Judy? You have a firm contact and you are prepared to take over the interception of the aircraft without further help. And in all our PIs when we were practising interceptions at high level, medium level, you would be going along and youd get a contact, and shout Contact but you would still be under the control of the people on the ground. And as it got nearer you would still be talking to the pilot and the people on the ground, and then you would say Im happy - Judy and he would say Judy. And then they would shut up and you would get on with it. But we never got to this at any stage.
DC: Gordon Thayers account in the Journal of Aeronautics in 1971 quotes an alleged conversation by the pilot of your aircraft with the ground controllers as you approached the UFO. It says the words Roger, Ive got my guns locked on him were used.
JB: RUBBISH! [laughter]
DC: It also says he said: the clearest target I have seen on radar
JB: Rubbish. Well when you interview Chambers you tell him thats rubbish because he was the pilot.
DC [quoting]: . there was a brief pause after the pilot said he had gunlock on the target and then he said where did he go do you still have him
JB: [more laughter] Im sorry but this is just ridiculous.
DC: According to the account the pilot tried all kinds of evasive manouevres without success and the UFO continued to follow him the RAF controller then scrambled a second Venom but before it arrived on the scene the target had disappeared from our scopes
JB: The bit about them scrambling another Venom was true, but I cant comment on what happened after that. But the thing about the UFO circling behind the aircraft - no, no, no.
DC: What about the alleged conversation between yourselves and the second Venom? It is claimed the following conversation between the two was monitored by the Lakenheath Watch Supervisor: No 2: Did you see anything? No 1: I saw something but Ill be damned if I know what it was.
JB: [laughter] I cant remember any communication with the other aircraft.
DC: No 2: What happened? No 1: He, or it got behind me and I did everything I could to get behind him and I couldnt. Its the damnest thing Ive ever seen.
JB: Thats American language - its not us talking. Its rubbish. I suggest to consign all that to the rubbish bin.
AR: You never realised you had got a place in history - with your story going all over the world, John.
JB: Well, what do they say - every man has his five minutes of glory. Its hilarious.
DC: The only other thing we wanted to ask you is for an account of your service history. When you joined the RAF etc.
JB: I joined at the end of 1951. I spent some time on the ground and found myself at a place called Middleton St George in Teeside, and after a while I thought I like the RAF, I want to volunteer for air crew. I was recommended by my flight commander and I eventually ended up at training school. I was commissioned in 1953, trained in Northern Ireland and at Thorney Island in Hampshire on Anson and Varsity aircraft..once Id qualified I went to RAF Middle Wallop for six months awaiting my senior course..and while I was there I was assistant to the Station Navigation Officer whose job was to teach navigation and meteorology to Army pilots, light liason courses and artillery spotting courses - a fascinating job and lovely place to be. At the end of that I went to Thorney Island again for a refresher course and then for another month awaiting an OCU to 12 Group headquarters which at that time was at Newton, near Nottingham. I spent a month there and then went to 238 OCU on Brigands at Colerne, near Bath. Two or three months there then to 228 OCU at North Luffenham to crew up with a pilot called David Chambers on Meteor 12s and 14s night fighters. There we were taught the black arts, and to our consternation we were posted to a Venom squadron at Coltishall. Thereafter we converted onto Javelins in April 1957. And in March 1959 I was sent to Leeming in Yorkshire on a Javelin OCU to instruct which I did for two lovely years, it was a wonderful job and then I went into the V-force. Valiants, at Marham. I served on that until the beginning of 1965. Between 62 and 65 the Valiants were grounded due to airframe problems, killed one crew, and lots of troubles. Then I trained recruits for two years, moved through the Canberra OCU to 6 Squadron in Cyprus, did 11 months there before they folded the squadron and replaced it with Vulcans out there. I was sent home to 360 Squadron at Cottesmore. From there I did another ground tour as a member of a selection board at Biggin Hill, and had a wonderful two years deciding whether Her Majesty should spend X thousands pounds on pilots and navigators - deciding whether they were suitable for training. From there I went back into the V-force as radar reader on 101 Squadron Vulcans. From there I went on to join Air Reconnaisance and Intelligence Centre for two years, then to Strike Command for another two and then to the Ministry of Defence. I left the RAF there at the age of 58 and stayed on as a civil servant. I retired at the age of 60 in 1993.
DC: During that time you must have gained substantial experience on the workings of radar, and different types of radar?
JB: Yes. I would not say expert, but I certainly operated many kinds. I was familiar with anomalous returns and that sort of thing. While at Coltishall you went to Neatishead and also to their satellite at Trimmington which at that time had a Type 80 radar and certainly when you had anomalous propagation we were there one day when they had it very bad the Norwegian coast was about 30 miles off Cromer when you looked on this radar! Certainly anaprop was a very common occurrence in certain high pressure conditions.
© Dave Clarke & Andy Roberts