A "cruise missile type of thing" spotted by AA2292

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Article:
At approximately 1:19 CST on the Albuquerque Center frequency of 127.850 MHz or 134.750 MHz (recording wasn't frequency stamped) the pilot reported: "Do you have any targets up here? We just had something go right over the top of us - I hate to say this but it looked like a long cylindrical object that almost looked like a cruise missile type of thing - moving really fast right over the top of us."




American later confirmed this to Tyler Rogoway at The Drive:

Article:
We immediately followed up [with American Airlines] looking for clarification on that statement, especially in regards to if the pilots had been directly asked about this or not, and noting that we had clearly heard the flight number's identification in a longer version of the clip provided to us by master radio interceptor Steve Douglass who originally recorded it. We also mentioned that we are likely to get more information about the event from the FAA and that we really need clarification so that there weren't any embarrassing discrepancies. The response was completely different than the company's first missive, stating:

"Following a debrief with our Flight Crew and additional information received, we can confirm this radio transmission was from American Airlines Flight 2292 on Feb. 21. For any additional questions on this, we encourage you to reach out to the FBI."


1:19 CST is 19:19 GMT/UTV

At 19:10 GMT, there's a close encounter, 5,000 feet above, with N738RJ, travelling very fast at 500knots
2021-02-24_02-34-37.jpg
N738RJ is a Lear Jet 60 XR, somewhat cruise missile-like, from a mile or so away.

2021-02-24_02-42-53.jpg

2021-02-24_10-40-33.jpg

2021-02-24_10-51-37.jpg


2021-02-24_11-27-06.jpg
The closest they get is about 11,000 feet horizontally (about 15 seconds after the above position), with a 5,000 feet vertical difference. Closer than the Zion misidentification (42,000 feet away, 15,000 feet vertical)

5,000 in 11,000 is looking up about 25 degrees at the closest point, less before and after that.
 

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If the timestamps are right, it doesn't seem likely that the pilot would have waited eight or nine minutes before contacting ATC. I downloaded the full hour-plus long audio file, assuming it's full of course and altitude instructions from ATC, which could then be cross-checked with the corresponding planes' ADS-B data to get an approximate correlation with actual time. Someone with more time/patience might need to take this on, though - there's a lot of dead air to skip through.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
In the full ATC file, at 00:59:10 the controller says "Time now is 19:04" (he seems to be telling a pilot he can do practice landings at a particular airport until 19:45, and is giving current time for reference)

The "Do you have any targets up here" query audio is at 01:13:14, i.e. 14 minutes later.

So the time of the query would be 19:04 + 14 = 19:18.

So 19:19 sounds about right, assuming it's a raw unedited audio recording.

This does seem like a long time to wait from the plane crossing at 19:10
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
2021-02-24_07-55-54.jpg

Actually, on the nose at 19:19, we have LYM5412, N395DC. at 35,000 feet it's 1000 feet below, and would cross underneath and behind, so does not seem to fit particularly well.
 
The nature of the "do you have any targets up here?" enquiry also suggests that nothing was showing up on AA2292's TCAS, so the mystery object didn't have an ADS-B transponder active. So it would make sense that it can't be found on FlightRadar etc. either.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Splitting the difference we have N 703QS, at 41,000 feet, but passing 12 miles to the right at about 19:15 2021-02-24_08-15-21.jpg

An all-white Bombardier BD-100-1A10 Challenger 350, would be a white tic-tac shape at that distance.
2021-02-24_08-18-12.jpg
 

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deirdre

Senior Member.
This does seem like a long time to wait from the plane crossing at 19:10

unless it was a series of events. i'm sitting on the left side of the plane. i see a ufo come flying over the plane. i'm freaking out telling my husband who doesnt believe me. a lady 3 rows up stops a flight attendant to tell her i saw something. the flight attendant asks me. i tell her, my husband is making "she's crazy" gestures to the attendant by circling his finger by his ear, but the attendant knows this is a sometimes restricted air space so she tells the pilot.

the pilots know the N738Rj went over them but now 8 mins have passed and they forgot about it. but the passenger description sounds like a cruise missile so they want to check. they call it in.

?? just speculating.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
There was a case a while back that I think was a pilot spotting a cigar-shaped UFO, but turned out to be a nearby plane. But I can't find it. Anyone remember?
 

Dan Page

Senior Member.
My first question would be, what was ATC's answer to the pilots question "Do you have any targets up here". If the answer was "no we don't" or something similar, then this would be a big deal. The pilots of AA2292, after seeing the close flyby, were probably spending a few minutes trying to determine what it might have been, checking their ADS-B screen, and their TCAS. And perhaps discussing with each other whether or not to ask ATC about it.
Aircraft routinely pass within 1000' of each other, often straight on, sometimes ATC will let both aircraft know about the upcoming pass and sometimes not, so what I'm saying here is that a pass that is 1000' above would likely not concern the pilots, but they would be very concerned if it was say 100' above. A pass that is 12 miles either side would probably not be noticed at all unless there was a contrail, and a pass that is 5000' above or below, also would likely not be noticed.
 

dannocaz

New Member
First time here, but follow Tyler's TWZ and post frequently there. Long retired airline pilot/military pilot. Have to agree with Dan Page. Where's the reply from ABQ Center? It would be on tape at the Center. I was flying the airlines when TCAS came on-line through TCAS-II. Any aircraft that was outside of -+ 2700' and was no threat to enter the RA TA bubble would not even show up on the display. Current TCAS technology may be different and in mytime ADS-B was not a thing.
 

jarlrmai

Active Member
How accurate/frequently updates are the timings/positions for the plane? Could 9 mins be in a margin of error for a plane at 500kts intercepting a 380kts one?
 

jarlrmai

Active Member
Um I was just wondering what that plane flying past the cockpit at those speeds and altitude differentials would look like from the perspective of the flight crew.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Something vaguely like this. But not getting so close, and with no contrail.

 

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deirdre

Senior Member.
and basically "cruise missile"s fly about the same speed as N738RJ was going?

edit: oh wait, th e plane was flying faster than cruise missiles?


1614204925530.png
 

derrick06

Active Member
Small business jets can definitely look odd at certain angles. Ive seen a Honda Jet (yes that Honda) fly over my house at a certain angle as I live near an airport and man for a second it looked like a fighter jet. Turns out it's just "the power of dreams™"
 

Heaney555

New Member
Here's the N738RJ PlaneFinder data played back in 3D mode at real-time speed. Obviously the 3D models aren't to scale, but you can see the time it took N738RJ to pass over and its general flight path.


It seems to match the pilots description (and thus Mick's theory). Perhaps many are taking "right over the top of us" too literally, or it was a poor choice of words by the pilots. The question is of course: how would this look at correct 3D model scale?
 
2021-02-24_11-27-06.jpg
The closest they get is about 33,000 feet horizontally, with a 5,000 feet vertical difference. Closer than the Zion misidentification (42,000 feet away, 15,000 feet vertical)

5,000 in 33,000 is looking about 9 degrees at the closest point, less before and after that.
To add to this:

A Learjet 60 has a length of 59 ft. This means that at the closest distance, from the AAL's point of view, it had a maximum angular diameter of 6 minutes of arc, roughly 1/5 the diameter of the full moon. That's obviously not very large and presumably not too crazy for an airline pilot who's used to fly in crowded skies, let alone enough to warrant a call to ATC to let them know they 'just had something go right over the top.'

On the other hand, if you spotted the object and, for whatever reason, thought you were looking at a 'cruise missile type thing', that changes things a tad. From my cursory late-night research it would seem that the typical CM is about 20 ft in length, and if you were to base your estimates off of that, you might come to the conclusion that you're not looking at a Learjet that's passing 33,000 ft in front and 5,000 ft above, but that you're instead crossing the path of a missile that is only some 11,000 ft in front and less than 2,000 ft above (11,000 ft being about 20 secs worth of flight time at the speed they were going). In that case I suppose I could see how you'd want to check in with ATC to make sure there is no stray military stuff out there.

Just an idea, based on many assumptions. It also doesn't really explain the ten minutes that passed between this and the eventual call to ATC. It would really help if we had more information from the pilots, even something as simple as which direction the object was heading or for how long they saw it.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Cruise missiles fly at very low ground hugging altitudes though.
yea i was just contemplating the pilot described it as a cruise missile shape. and then you said 'flash past' and Mick questioned your description, so i was surprised to see that missiles are slower than some planes. as a laymen i assumed missiles were like twice as fast or faster.
 
N738RJ should have been well within TCAS coverage, but the question from the pilot doesn't seem phrased as it would have been if they'd seen another plane's transponder info on their screen during the event. And they apparently had eight minutes to check the screen.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Update:

Article:
Now, the FAA has released a short statement, which reads:

"A pilot reported seeing an object over New Mexico shortly after noon local time on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. FAA air traffic controllers did not see any object in the area on their radarscopes."​

That does not really change anything if they are looking at 12:19 MT (local time in Albequerque). The question is still when the actual sighting took place, because if it was 12:10, then the Lear Jet is an obvious candidate. If it was after that, then it was something else (which did not show up on radar).
 

Keith Beachy

Senior Member
Yes, 500 knots is very fast for a regular plane because it's not fuel-efficient. Business jets have different priorities.
Those are ground speeds, so 500 knots is not too fast, it is the speed of the aircraft and wind speed. The KC-135 would cruise at .77 MACH, which is about 450 true at 31,000 feet, I flew .82 MACH for 99 percent max range, and adjusted for the indicator in the plane = 475 true. Add 25 knot tailwind and I get 500 knots.

The learjet true airspeed runs from 420 to 466 knots, and on Radar the speed would be ground speed. The A320 would cruise at ~450 true - and can make 470 knots if needed. Apply the winds that day to the typical cruise speeds of both planes you get the Radar speed, ground speeds. The winds seem to be out of the west at about 60 knots. Anyone have the winds at 36 and 41,000 feet (I checked the history of winds at 9000m and 12000m at the time and they are consistent with the ground speed added or subtracted from typical cruise speed for each aircraft). Thus the A320 was had a lower ground speed vs true airspeed due to winds, and the Learjet had a higher ground speed vs true airspeed due to winds.

Another jet at 41,000 feet is not an unknown target, it is a known aircraft. Since the separation was 5,000 feet, I doubt Center would report the traffic. At 5,000 feet away, headon, the target seen would only grow in size, and then if seen would zip past, with a relative speed nearly 900 knots.

As for what a pilot sees in an empty sky? It is very possible the pilot seeing the Learjet could mistake if for cruise missile at 5000 plus feet. The pilot sees an object, thinks it could be a cruise missile (21 feet long), but sees a Learjet (58 feet long), and thus has the illusion the cruise missile is closer to him than traffic with 5,000 feet vertical separation.

"Do you have any targets up here? We just had something go right over the top of us - I hate to say this but it looked like a long cylindrical object that almost looked like a cruise missile type of thing - moving really fast right over the top of us."
Center had no targets right over the top of them, 5,000 feet is not right over the top. Moving really fast is due to their combined speeds. I see the fast moving in the news about this "UFO". It is Half Fast Moving - the airline had half of this speed, and the "UFO" had the other half.

Anyway, the FBI is investigating - it appears they need help. This was on national news.
 
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jarlrmai

Active Member
yea i was just contemplating the pilot described it as a cruise missile shape. and then you said 'flash past' and Mick questioned your description, so i was surprised to see that missiles are slower than some planes. as a laymen i assumed missiles were like twice as fast or faster.

Normal AA/ATG missiles are generally really fast, but cruise missiles are more like mini planes designed for precision at extreme ranges, they fly low to avoid radar and normal AA defenses though they do get shot down sometimes.
 
The winds seem to be out of the west at about 60 knots. Anyone have the winds at 36 and 41,000 feet (I checked the history of winds at 9000m and 12000m at the time and they are consistent with the ground speed added or subtracted from typical cruise speed for each aircraft). Thus the A320 was had a lower ground speed vs true airspeed due to winds, and the Learjet had a higher ground speed vs true airspeed due to winds.
These are radiosonde soundings out of Dodge City, KS. Closest I could find.

You might need to manually select from the location map on the left.
7 hrs before the incident: https://www.spc.noaa.gov/exper/soundings/21022112_OBS/
5 hrs after the incident: https://www.spc.noaa.gov/exper/soundings/21022200_OBS/

Amarillo, TX is another close one, seemed to have stronger winds at those altitudes. The data is rather sparse but a 60-ish kts headwind component for the A320 seems quite possible, as does a lower tailwind component for the Learjet. The groundspeeds would then agree with a cruise speed of Mach 0.76 - 0.78 or so for the Airbus at 36,000 ft and about 0.78 - 0.80 for the Lear at 41,000 ft. Which is all perfectly normal. There was nothing unusual about either plane's behaviour.
 

DavidB66

Active Member
There is an Arizona media report (from "AZ Central") on the incident here. https://eu.azcentral.com/story/news...lot-reports-ufo-flight-to-phoenix/6805563002/

I don't think this adds much of substance to other accounts, except for naming the source of the FAA statement as 'FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor'. If this was not a general press release, but a response to an individual question, it is difficult to interpret it without knowing the terms of that question. The quoted FAA comment that 'A pilot reported seeing an object over New Mexico shortly after noon local time on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. FAA air traffic controllers did not see any object in the area on their radarscopes', without any further context, might be taken as implying that the relevant 'area' is anywhere in New Mexico, and the relevant time is 'shortly after noon' on the stated date. But this can hardly be correct, as we know that there were several planes in this general area and time frame, including the Learjet. There might even be some uncertainty about what state the plane (or the 'UFO') was flying over at the time, as the area is close to the borders of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and the Oklahoma panhandle. A difference of 10 minutes in the time of the incident could make a difference in the relevant state.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
FAA air traffic controllers did not see any object in the area on their radarscopes', without any further context, might be taken as implying that the relevant 'area' is anywhere in New Mexico, and the relevant time is 'shortly after noon' on the stated date. But this can hardly be correct, as we know that there were several planes in this general area and time frame, including the Learjet.
that's what happened in the Chilean ufo incident. they stated no planes on radar, but they were looking in the wrong area as they misinterpreted the distance of the object they saw.

https://www.metabunk.org/threads/ex...deo-aerodynamic-contrails-flight-ib6830.8306/
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I wonder if there might be a better recording of this, or other AA2932 communications at https://www.liveatc.net/archive.php ?

Douglass says "At approximately 1:19 CST on the Albuquerque Center frequency of 127.850 MHz or 134.750 MHz (recording wasn't frequency stamped) "

Wikipedia says those frequencies are:
However as far as I can tell these don't seem to be on LiveATC.
 

jarlrmai

Active Member
Designed to. Is it possible to fly one at higher altitudes, if one wanted to?

Possibly, the internet is sparse on details regarding if this is possible likely because the main feature of cruise missiles is to fly low and navigate by terrain. So you'd probably need an expert on the various cruise missile types/variants to confirm or otherwise. They do tend to have relatively small winglets so that might affect max altitude.

Generally you have 3 delivery types ICBMs, piloted aircraft/drones or cruise missile at different altitudes.
 
I wonder if there might be a better recording of this, or other AA2932 communications at https://www.liveatc.net/archive.php ?

Douglass says "At approximately 1:19 CST on the Albuquerque Center frequency of 127.850 MHz or 134.750 MHz (recording wasn't frequency stamped) "

Wikipedia says those frequencies are:
However as far as I can tell these don't seem to be on LiveATC.
Doesn't like those sectors were recorded, no. Their transmissions can be heard later on as they approach and land at Phoenix but there's nothing out of the ordinary there.
 
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