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An Intriguing Mystery, What Happened Last Fall Over the Pacific Northwest?

F-15s Scrambled to Intercept Unknown Intruder, But Then It Vanished

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagle with the 142nd Fighter Wing on takeoff. Photo: USAF

Over the last several months, world-renowned military aviation journalist Tyler Rogoway, currently Editor of Time Inc’s “The War Zone“, has been doing some fantastic investigative work to answer questions about a really bizarre incident which occurred in the skies over the Pacific Northwest on the afternoon of Oct 25, 2017.

A mysterious aircraft was observed by numerous airline crews traveling from south to north, from California into Oregon. Moving quickly at 37,000 feet, the unidentified white aircraft was initially tracked by Oakland Center ATC southbound over Northern California at high speed, before it made an abrupt turn, vanished from radar and merged northbound with other air traffic in the airspace of Seattle ATC.

Airliner on a sunset climb. Photo: Mike Killian/AvGeekery

Not only did the aircraft not have a working transponder, but it did not show up on crews’ digital traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) either, nor did it ever communicate with ATC, and was flying within visual range abeam to nearby commercial airliner traffic as it made its way over Crater Lake and towards the Willamette Valley.

Not long after the incident, Rogoway received confirmation from both the FAA and NORAD that something did indeed happen (although he notes the FAA’s unsurprising long period of time to provide any info), and it was serious enough that the U.S. Air Force scrambled F-15 fighters out of Portland from the 142nd Fighter Wing Oregon Air National Guard, the REDHAWKS, to intercept the aircraft.

Thing is, as fast and capable as the F-15C and their crews are, they were not able to intercept, for whatever reason, which is odd to say the least, because those jets can clear a lot of ground in a very short period of time and are equipped with state-of-the-art sensors.

Two F-15 Eagles with the Oregon Air National Guard 142nd Fighter Wing in action. Photo: USAF

And what the heck was going on? Drug runners headed to Canada? Recon by the Russians or another country? Or possibly a secret U.S. military test in our National Airspace?

Read Tyler’s initial report on the incident HERE, which is quite fascinating.

Rogoway went on to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FAA and NORAD, as well as other federal parties involved, and eventually received back hours of audio recordings of radio transmissions, phone calls as the incident was occurring, pilot interviews and even conversations between FAA officials following the intriguing incident.

Together, he and The War Zone took all the information and packed it into 4 videos, with the audio recordings and radar data received from their FOIA request sync’d in real-time.

NORAD Control Center. Photo: USAF

The work they did offers a fascinating insight into the incident, we encourage our readers to check it out HERE.

In one instance, a controller even commented to an Alaska airline crew that the unidentified intruder must be in a kind of “stealth mode or something.”

Adding to the mystery, the F-15s initially scrambled south, when the aircraft they needed to investigate was heading north. Not only that, but a user on Reddit who claims to be an air traffic controller that day posted about it.

From Reddit user “The Flying Beard”, as reported by Rogoway:

F-15s with the 142nd Fighter Wing, the REDHAWKS. Photo: USAF

I was working an adjacent sector and was helping to coordinate some of the military stuff. They ended up launching F15s off of PDX to try and find it but no joy. The crazy thing is, we didn’t have a primary target or a mode C intruder, and it was out running 737s abeam it. Also, (cue conspiracy theory) our QA department was working on this today, and got a call from the commander of the 142FW at PDX and was basically told to knock it off, and we know nothing.”

He went on to say, “it made a pretty sharp turn to the North. Way harder/faster than what a commercial aircraft could handle at that speed/altitude without ripping the wings off.”

He goes on to say his colleagues thought it may have been a highly modified 737-200 operated by the USAF for radar cross section testing of stealth aircraft known as the NT-43A, but Rogoway noted that as being unlikely. And even if it was, why was it operating a test in National Airspace?

SEE PHOTOS OF IT HERE, courtesy of Brian Lockett.

Whatever the aircraft was, none of the airline crews within visual range could make out the type or identify any markings. The aircraft was also moving faster than them in cruise, but a 30-year veteran piloting a Southwest flight noted the aircraft must have been big, and that he had never seen such an incident in his entire 30 year career.

Again, we encourage our readers to watch and listen to the various recordings provided through Rogoway’s FOIA request HERE.

Whatever happened, it wasn’t just a typical plane or intercept.

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Follow Mike Killian on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @MikeKillianPhotography 

 

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Mike Killian

Written by Mike Killian

Killian is an aerospace photographer and writer, with a primary focus on spaceflight and military and civilian aviation. Over the years his assignments have brought him onboard NASA's space shuttles, in clean rooms with spacecraft destined for other worlds, front row for launches of historic missions and on numerous civilian and military flight assignments.

When not working the California-native enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, storm chasing, producing time-lapses and shooting landscape and night sky imagery, as well as watching planes of course.

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