Between the early 1950's and 1993, a small part of the role of a number of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) intelligence officers, was to receive and process reports of "Unusual Aerial Sightings" (UAS.)
In a previous blog post ( click here) I recalled some of the experiences, back in the 1960's, of RAAF Squadron Leader Gordon Waller, drawn from a personal interview with him. Among other things, Waller investigated the famous Cressy, Tasmania case involving a reported observation of a large, "cigar" shaped object, associated with a number of smaller "disc" shaped objects.
In this blog post I wish to take a look at some of the experiences of an Air Force officer named Brett Biddington.
Biddington joined the RAAF in 1980. Between 1980 and 1990 Biddington held "Several unit intelligence and staff positions at Flight Lieutenant and Squadron Leader rank levels." (1.)
While in the RAAF "...he specialised in intelligence, security and capability development. He sponsored a wide range of command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance projects, including the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar project (JORN) and classified space projects." (2.)
Between 2002 and 2009 Biddington was a member of Cisco Systems' global space team. (3.)
However, most relevant to this blog, is that in 1982-1983 Biddington was the Command Intelligence Officer (CINTO) in the Headquarters Support Command, Melbourne. One of his responsibilities concerned the investigation of UAS in Victoria and Tasmania.
Bendigo, Victoria lies 150kms north-west of Melbourne. It was the centre of a small "flap" of UAS reports, between 20-29 May 1983. Hundreds of people reported seeing what they regarded as UAS, and some photographs were taken. There was a particular focus on the nights of 20-21 May and 21-22 May 1983.
Unusually, the RAAF sent an officer to investigate these sightings. This officer was Brett Biddington. His report noted that the observations were of bright, white lights with smaller red and green lights, all seen in the night sky. The lights were said to spin or rotate rapidly. Most were stationary, and unlike many other UAS, were visible for periods of up to three to four hours.
Biddington visited Bendigo, interviewed witnesses, collected weather data and obtained the original negatives of a series of photographs taken by a local, Mr Evans.
The conclusion of Biddington's report includes:
"CINTO has been unable to discover any evidence to date which suggests that the lights observed at Bendigo represents in any way a threat to national security. No unusual marks on the ground have been reported and no reports associating injury or damage to people, stock or property with the appearance of the lights have been received...The lights do not seem to have been projected by a flying object because no unusual radar returns were detected by Melbourne radar." The RAAF concluded that the lights were of astronomical origin, with temperature inversions adding to the confusion. My reading of the information on this file concludes that the RAAF assessment, as to cause of the sightings, was almost certainly correct.
In November 1983, Biddington was posted as a Flight Lieutenant to RAAF Base Darwin. The relevant RAAF UAS file contains a number of pieces of correspondence signed by Biddington. Most are documents relating to low interest lights in the sky from the Northern Territory. However, of interest is a statement by Biddington, located on a copy of the file found in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request, that he was preparing an "...informal UAS Handbook."
In a letter dated 23 May 1984, sent to a civilian correspondent in Bendigo, Victoria, Biddington writes "I have the basis for my 'UFO Survival Manual'...There are articles from skeptics, nuts, scientists, the well informed, the ignorant etc...to produce clear advice to future RAAF officers whose
misfortune it will be to chase green men in the future."
Interestingly, the copy of file E1327 which is now in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) does not contain certain documents which were on the copy obtained years before, under the FOI Act; for example, there is no known copy of Biddington's "informal UAS Handbook." In a communication to this author, Biddington advised me that the document was actually never completed.
Biddington advised this author that he was posted on promotion from Darwin to RAAF Base Pearce in January 1986.
On 9 June 1987, two members of the Australian Special Air Services were part of a group conducting night exercises at RAAF Learmouth, Western Australia. The exercise was a free fall parachute descent, involving a C130 aircraft.
The two witnesses reported seeing an unusual light approach them in a zig-zag manner. It arrived at the northern end of the airstrip, then hovered for 6-7 minutes. The light changed colour from white to amber. It moved upwards into light cloud, and then moved to the north-east, slowly at first, then at great speed. The Army investigating officer, a Major R A Hill wrote, "Cause is unknown."
Major Hill forwarded the report to the RAAF where it was received by Squadron Leader Biddington, then stationed at RAAF Base Pearce. Biddington forwarded it on to Headquarters Support Command; Headquarters Operational Command, and Airlift Group Headquarters RAAF Richmond.
The text of this Biddington memo, dated 12 August 1987 includes:
"Of interest, and these are points that INTELO RIC may decide to follow up are:
a. air-ground VHF comms on the night of the sighting (and on that night alone) was not achieved, and
b. that at least some of the crew of the 36SQN aircraft also observed the light but decided not to report their sighting.
2. This headquarters has no explanation for the phenomenon observed..."
Naturally, the fact that neither the Army or Biddington could explain the nature of the light observed, means nothing further than the light was just that, unidentified.
In December 1993, a telex message was sent from RAAF HQ to RAAF bases announcing that the Chief of Staff had "...reviewed RAAF policy regarding Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS)." A review had ascertained that "..consideration of the scientific record suggests that, whilst not all UAS have a ready explanation, there is no compelling reason for the RAAF to continue to devote resources to recording, investigating and attempting to explain UAS."
The telex then advises bases, that the RAAF "...no longer accepts reports on UAS..." Interestingly, the telex went on to say that "The change in policy will not be publicised by press release." The contact officer for queries from RAAF bases to Headquarters, was WG CDR B Biddington, AFPOL3.
Here then, in the wording "...whilst not all UAS have a ready explanation" was an acknowledgment that some UAS remained unidentified, but with a suggestion perhaps, that deeper study might well reveal a conventional cause.
In a communication from Biddington to the author, Biddington advised that the answer as to why the no press release, was simply that "..publicity would have brought howls of concern from a small group of "believers" which would have taken up much time to deal with."
A little while ago, Melbourne researcher Paul Dean contacted Biddington by email and posed a series of questions, which Biddington kindly responded to. I have permission from both Dean and Biddington, to post this exchange. Q = Dean and A = Biddington.
Q1 "Was there any significant UFO, or UAS event that troubled/raised serious questions of any of the staff within the RAAF, or wider DOD in general."
Q2 "Did you personally believe that there was very little evidence to support bona-fide incursions into our air space even after studying the most significant reports or cases which came to your attention?"
A2 "Yes, i.e. there was no compelling evidence."
Q3 "Were yo aware of any reports being copied or otherwise sent to other departments or agencies, particularly the Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO), the navy's intelligence arena, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), or any of the small directorates or groups which may be asked to concern themselves with such matters.?"
Q4 "Were there any UFO/UAS events that involved Australian forces overseas, or during war games exercises with other nations, which raised major questions at any official level?"
A4 "Not to my knowledge."
Q5 "Do you often get asked about the UFO matter and/or your work with DAFI in those earlier years?"
Q6 "The current departmental policy (found online at the Defence media room) on the subject of unusual aerial sightings, as set out in "Defence Instructions (General) ADMIN 55-1", dated 13 June 1996, carries a statement:
"For many years the RAAF was responsible for the handling of Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) at the official level. This function ceased in 1996 after consideration of the scientific record suggested that there was no compelling reason for the RAAF to continue to devote resources to the recording and investigation of UAS."
Before this 1996 offering there was the 1994 policy which had this to say:
"Unidentified Aerial Sightings...Consideration of the scientific record suggests that, whilst not all UAS have ready explanation, there is no compelling reason for the RAAF to continue to devote resources to recording, investigating and attempting to explain UAS. The RAAF no longer accepts reports on UAS..."
You will note that both policy statements include the phrase "Consideration of the scientific record..." I would like to ask, what scientific record is being referred to?"
A6 "I wrote the 1994 policy and had a hand in the 1996 policy as well. After the Melbourne sightings I conducted an informal (in the sense I did not document it) literature review of UAS. I also sought help from civilian UFO organisations which claimed knowledge and understanding of the domain. I could find nothing on record that was defensible or sustainable. This is the reference to the "scientific record."
Q7 "In one of your previous emails regarding UAS/UFO files you wrote to me:
"I culled all the DAFIS files when they were being consigned to the archives in the early 1990's. By the time the dross was removed as allowed by the Archives Act, there was not much left to send to the Archives."
Was the material you culled simply duplicate pages, illegible pages etc? Or was it simply collections of UFO reports that had such little information that they were useless? Or something else?"
A7 "The Archives Act has a series of disposal schedules. From memory I used Schedule 12 (which was the mandated one to use) to guide my decision-making about what to keep and what to toss. Broadly speaking anything that was a copy (ie had been originated somewhere else) was tossed out. And I can assure you, sadly in fact, that DAFIS, over many years produced little original material. I cannot tell you what I culled from the UAS files - if anything. Noting your comments that you have retrieved quite a lot of material, there is every possibility that I kept the lot, anticipating that, at some point, somebody like you would come along and attempt a systematic analysis.
You must not look at how UAS records were dealt with in isolation from the major reforms that RAAF (and the ADF) underwent during the 1980s/90s. You should also consider the international context - maturation of aspects of space activity in the 1970s in the cold war context etc. If you look at the UAS records outside of context you will run the risk of missing what happened. Bluntly, I had to cut functions in RAAF intelligence just as others were doing the same in their area of responsibility. There was no reason to maintain the charade of interest in UAS."
I believe this is the first time that we have heard directly from the actual former RAAF officer who terminated the almost 50 years of RAAF involvement with UAS. His explanation of this action, adds to our knowledge of the end of this era.
1. https://www.ecu.edu.au/faculties/health-engineering-and-science/staff/adjuncts-appointments/profiles/professor-brett-biddington accessed 1 December 2013.
2. http://aca.unsw.edu.au/profile-main/40 accessed 1 December 2013.
3. http://theconversation.com/profiles/brett-biddington-7151/profile_bio accessed 1 December 2013.
4. Bendigo. NAA file series A9755 control symbol 11, formerly file 5/6/1/Air.
5. Darwin. NAA file series E1327 control sysmbol 5/4/Air Part 6/7.
6. Perth. RAAF UAS file 5/9/Air Part 7 (located subsequent to an FOI request.)
7. Closure. NAA file series A9755 controil symbol 16, formerly file 5/3/1 Air Part 11.