Radar Analysis – Aircraft – UFO Sighting Near Picayune, MS – April 13, 2013
Author: William Puckett (MT State MUFON Director)
(Updated Sep 30, 2013)
Background: On April 13, 2013 a pilot had just taken off from Slidell, LA Airport with his Cessna 172. He was flying at 2,500 feet and as he approached the Picayune, MS VOR he saw a disk shaped craft to his right for a few seconds. The object drifted off to the south after a few seconds. He was flying north and the sighting occurred at about 3:30 PM CDT.
Watch Radar Animation of Aircraft & UFO (YouTube):
Analysis: I read the article written by Richard Hoffman in the MUFON Journal and case description in MUFON’s Case Management System (CMS). Given my interest in radar and pilot UFO sightings I immediately requested radar data from Hill AFB (Air Force Base) near Ogden, UT. The radar data is archived by the Air Force and stored for long periods. The Air Force shares several long range radar units with the FAA for the JSS (Joint Surveillance System). I received the data in the first week of August and began work immediately.
Results: Seven radar units were included in the data provided by the Air Force. See map in Figure 1 below for the locations of the radar sites.
Radar tracked an object (UFO) at about “one minute and as much as two minute” intervals near Picayune, MS from 3:17 PM to 3:26 PM. (See maps in Figures 3, 4 and 5.) The UFO flew at around 190 MPH to the Southeast, then changed direction and flew Northeast at about 60 MPH and continued in a general East-Northeast direction at speeds of 36 to 46 MPH with a few small direction changes. The flight vectors are shown in Figure 6. The aircraft appeared on radar around 3:17 PM. The aircraft moved closer to the UFO and by 3:24 PM the aircraft was about 5 miles due west of the UFO. (See map in Figure 4.) By 3:26 PM the aircraft was slightly north of west from the UFO. (See map in Figure 5.) At this time the UFO may not have been visible “off his right wing.” This was near the time (3:30 PM) reported by the witness. However, the witness described his time estimate as “approximate.” From this statement one could infer that the time estimate may not have been completely accurate.
The returns displayed on the maps below were from the Citronelle, AL and Slidell, LS radar sites. (See the map in Figure 2.) All of the “primary” (possible UFO) returns were detected by the Citronelle, AL radar site which is about 95 miles East-Northeast of the Picayune, MS VOR as shown by Figure 2 below. The aircraft “transponder returns” were plotted from the Slidell, LS radar.
Figures 3, 4 and 5 below show the first part of the flight of the Cessna 172 and the unusual radar returns (red triangles). The blue arrows indicate the direction of movement of the Cessna. (The blue dots are the actual transponder returns.) The possible UFO returns were detected between 3:17 and 3:26 PM CDT. The red arrows indicate the movement of the UFO. The UFO returns initially were several miles to the North-Northeast of the aircraft (one to two o’clock position). The aircraft first was detected by radar at around 3:17 PM as it took off from Slidell Airport. The UFO was moving generally East-Northeast with some minor changes in direction. The first UFO return on the map below was just south of the Picayune, MS airport. The time was 3:17 PM CDT. The closest that the UFO return would have been to the aircraft is at the top of the map (Figure 6) which is about 5 miles. (The aircraft was moving much faster than the UFO.) The UFO was positioned slightly south of east of the aircraft at the top of the map.
So why could these returns be a UFO? Figure 6 is a “zoom in” showing the position of the UFO at each radar detection. One reason is the abrupt change in direction. (The UFO first streaked to the Southeast at 190 MPH and then changed direction to the North-Northeast at 60 MPH. The object then slowed to 35 to 40 MPH and moved East to Northeast.) The UFO was not detected at each rotation of the radar and sometimes would only be detected at intervals up to 2 minutes. (The radar makes one sweep every 12 seconds or 5 sweeps /minute.) What could be the reason for the “intermittent” detections? Of course perhaps the object could vanish or change position so as to not have sufficient cross sectional area for radar detection. Another possibility is that the object could have been changing altitude and may have been too low for the Citronelle, AL radar to detect. (Given the curvature of the Earth the Citronelle, AL radar would have not detected objects below 570 feet.) Another possibility is that the object could have periodically hovered. In this case the radar may not detect it because of the moving target protocol which means that the radar will only detect objects at a certain minimum speed (say 20 to 30 MPH). This is done so that radars don’t detect stationary objects (like bridges, towers, etc.) This type of radar signature is what one expects to see from a strange object. If the object was an aircraft or helicopter, it would have been detected at every revolution of the radar. This was not the case. (This is assuming that the aircraft or helicopter did not have their transponder on.) Of course the returns could have been “radar angels,” anomalous propagation or weather phenomena. This is not likely because the object moved progressively at each sweep or in multiple sweeps of the radar in an ascending time progression (12 second intervals or in multiples of 12 seconds). Unfortunately the UFO was not detected by other radars. The radar in Slidell, LS did not detect the UFO. This radar was closer to the aircraft and UFO than the Citronelle, AL radar.
The pilot only saw the object for a few seconds at around 3:30 PM. The radar showed the unusual returns were detected between 3:17 PM and 3:26 PM. At 3:26 PM the aircraft was slightly north of west of the UFO. At this time the UFO was about 5 miles from the aircraft. However, the pilot described the object as quite small and close to his aircraft in a later communication: I would guess that the size of the object was 3 – 4 times larger than a regulation football and no more than 8 feet off my wingtip. If his distance and size estimates are correct, the radar would not have picked up the object. However, perhaps the object was much farther away and therefore larger than the pilot estimated. His observations were only for a few seconds so it would have been more difficult for him to provide a good estimate of the distance before the object was no longer visible? In conclusion the radar shows unusual returns several miles to the northeast of the aircraft when it first took off from Slidell Airport. Several minutes later (at 3:24 PM) the aircraft was located almost due west of the unusual radar return. By 3:26 PM the aircraft was slightly north of west from the UFO. (See maps in Figures 5 and 6.) At this time the UFO may not have been visible off of his right wing. The object was no longer detected by radar after 3:26 PM. The radar is not entirely consistent with what the pilot reported, but it does indicate an unusual return to his right at about 5 miles near Picayune, MS near the time of the sighting (3:24 PM). The aircraft was moving faster to the north than the UFO and therefore the UFO would have visible for a brief time to the pilot’s right hand side.
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