Case Histories : Howden Moor Incident> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ 7 ¦ 8 ¦ 9 ¦ 10 ¦ 11 ¦ 12 ¦ 13 ¦ 14 ¦ 15 ¦ 16 ¦ next]


Early in April, 1998, Helen Jackson tabled one further written question in Parliament which read:

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his Answers of 30th March, Official Report, column 414, if the military exercises were carried out over the Sheffield area; what regulations govern (a) military and (b) other aircraft breaking the sound barrier; and if the sonic booms detected by Edinburgh University Seismology Unit above Sheffield, on 24th March 1997, were the result of aicraft breaking the sound barrier.

Reply: 7 April. John Spellar: It is not possible, twelve months after the case in question, to state precisely where military aircraft activity was being carried out. Records kept show only that aircraft were booked to carry out low-flying over the Peak District between 2030 and 2107 hours local time on the evening of 24th March 1997. No low level flying is permitted over the Sheffield urban area, or any other major conurbation. Records of flying at medium level - between 2,000 and 24,000 ft - are not maintained so it is possible that there were aircraft in the area at medium level

The regulations governing military aircraft flying at supersonic speeds are contained in the Joint Service Publication entitled ‘Military Flying Regulations,’ an extract of which was provided in the answer I gave her on 1 April 1998 (Official Report, Cols 547-548). The regulations which apply to civil aviation are a matter for my hon Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the
Environment, Transport and the Regions.

As for the sonic event detected by the British Geological Survey at Edinburgh University, I refer my hon Friend to the answer I gave her on 30 March 1997 (Official Report, Col 414).

Afterwards Mrs Jackson gave her opinion that the MOD were not being entirely straightforward in their answers to the questions. She said:

“I tabled a number of written Parliamentary questions about what did happen that night. The responses came from the RAF a bit reluctantly and slowly. They did admit that there were military aircraft flying over South Yorkshire that night. They did not admit to the possibility of any of them breaking the sound barrier.”

Following the Parliamentary questions, the pressure was continued upon the Ministry of Defence with a series of direct questions to the RAF Press Office spokesmen, Alan Patterson and Flight Lieutenant Tom Rounds during the spring and the late summer of 1998. In October Flt Lieut Rounds provided a list of the 13 locations from where complaints of low-flying aircraft had been received on the night of March 24, Unfortunately, the times of the complaints were not officially recorded. The locations included, from the south coast of England: Sherborne, Dorchester and Bridport in Dorset, Saltash in Cornwall and Westbury in Wiltshire; Brecon and Sibenfro in Wales; Alyth and Arbroath in Tayside; Maryport in Cumbria, and in the Midlands from Rugeley (Staffs), Aston in Birmingham and two complaints from Birstall, near Leicester. This infomation only added to the impression that a major RAF/NATO exercise was underway that evening, involving a number of military aircraft from bases across Britain.

Flt Lieut Rounds said he was unable to specify which squadrons were involved but said:

“These complaints form a normal pattern. Most of the low flying is done in the Southwest, Wales and Scotland. We rarely do so, but we can fly inland between Manchester and Leeds. It’s very high ground, up to 2,000 feet in places, and is a very risky place for us to be flying at low-level, especially if there is low cloud, as this could lead us to penetrate built-up areas. An additional hazard for military flying is that above this area is airline traffic above Manchester and Sheffield. However, if the weather is good this would not stop us.”

Obviously, the weather was “good” on the evening of March 24, which was a clear and still frosty spring evening - ideal for a covert military exercise. Although Flt Lieut Rounds was unable to specify the squadron involved, the civilian PRO Patterson said he understood the aircraft came from RAF Marham in Norfolk. He said at least two Tornado GR1 Strike aircraft were involved in the exercise, which may have involved other military aircraft including Jaguars at various stages. He said Marham’s GR1s were reconnaisance and bomber aircraft and would not be the type that would be scrambled to pursue a UFO. All flights that evening were pre-booked training exercises, he said, which did involve low-flying above the Peaks sometimes as low as 250 feet above sea level where conditions permitted. He said this type of low level training is carried out regularly over areas such as the Scottish Highlands, the Lakes and the Peak, and it was essential to give pilots experience for possible future action in troublespots such as the Gulf, the Balkans and elsewhere.

RAF Marham’s PRO Ed Bulpitt made inquiries on my behalf and established that six aircraft from 2 Squadron were involved in the exercise on March 24. These were Tornado GR1A’s, the photo reconnaisance version of the Tornado fighter. He said the first left Marham at 6.45pm and landed at 9.10pm. A second left at 6.50 and returned at 9pm, while two others left at 7.40 and landed at 9.30, along with a fifth which had left at 7.50. The final aircraft involved left at 7.55 and was safely back by 9.35. “They were on routine low-flying through the Peak District and all returned safely,” he said.

I followed this by directly challenging the RAF Press spokesman over claims that there had been a cover-up over the incident on March 24. I also asked if they would confirm or deny that military jets had been scrambled to pursue and Unidenfied Flying Object, or whether one of the jets taking part in the exercise had inadvertently broken the sound barrier while exercising or pursuing an unidentified target. The full text of Mr Patterson’s reply, which is in effect is a summary of the MOD’s official stance on the Howden Moors incident, is reproduced here in full:

“There has been no cover up over this incident and I can confirm we did not scramble aircraft that night to intercept a UFO. All missions were regular pre-booked training flights. We have to fly low at night for training pilots for action in places like the Gulf, but we don’t fly over the urban conurbations and
would have avoided Sheffield. We don’t break the sound barrier over land, and we don’t fly below 250 feet although operational low flying is allowed in the Scottish Highlands as low as 100feet.

Our pilots know very well they should not fly at twice the speed of sound over land and would face disciplinary action or even a police investigation if this was proved. It is not impossible that a pilot would accelerate to supersonic speed in order to take avoiding action if a civil aircraft was detected in their flightpath. We could only prove this by comparing radar traces from the night in question, but these would not show anything for the night in question as theexercise was over when the booms took place.

“We responded to a request from the police to help them search for a crashed aircraft and we sent a helicopter along to help. We have not been chasing UFOs. It was not an exercise but rather a low flying sortie by two aircraft, booked long beforehand and they were a long way away before this explosion was reported.

“We would send fighters to intercept if we picked anything up on radar screens. It has happened before, not so much now but certainly in the past. Radar is constantly looking out and can spot incoming objects, and we have a requirement to defend the UK from attack, whether that be from Libya or from Mars. But often we find objects picked up on radar are caused by people in light aircraft wandering onto the screens and not having notified us.

“We are only interested in establishing if there is a threat to UK airspace. We don’t discount there may be unexplained phenomena in the sky, but we are not funded to investigate them. We would admit the fact if we had chased a UFO.
There were no intercept missions that night. There is no cover-up.We don’t know what caused the sightings and the sonic booms and the whole thing remains a mystery to us. We don’t know what went on and there will always be people who seize on mysteries like this to make claims about cover-ups.” »

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