Monday, December 28, 2015

Two unusual high speed, large, black objects - Adelaide, South Australia - 23 March 1920

Hi readers,

In February 1947, several South Australian newspapers carried articles relating to the observations of five egg shaped objects in the sky, as seen from Port Augusta, and Lock, both in South Australia. For my post on this intriguing event click here.

One of the articles, by an amateur astronomer, appeared in "The Advertiser" [Adelaide, SA: 1931-1954] on page 2 of the Tuesday 25 February 1947 edition, see the image below.

A second letter to the editor that day
What very few people will be aware of, is that a second letter to the editor appeared in that same issue on that same page. It referred to a much earlier intriguing observation. It would appear that the appearance of articles about the Port Augusta and Lock observations, caused H N Wicks of Balhannah, in the Adelaide Hills, to write in about his own sighting.
The account
"Objects in the sky.
To the Editor.
Sir - When the late Sir Ross Smith was covering the last phase of his epic flight from England to Australia, and was scheduled to arrive in Adelaide during the early afternoon, the late Harry Butler left Adelaide in his small monoplane , nicknamed the Red Devil to meet the big Vickers Vimy over the Adelaide Hills. Being a little ahead of his schedule, Harry Butler filled in his time with aerobatics and stunting. Most of which occurred over our nurseries situated just S.E. of Mount Barker.
While watching him very intently, two large black objects travelling at terrific speed in a parallel course, passed very high above him, travelling from north to south. These were quite large and were very high but nevertheless their speed was such as to make Harry Butler's machine appear as if it were stationary.
The day was cloudless and for a moment I thought my eyes were playing tricks, but subsequently my foreman, who was a half a mile away at the time, asked me what the two black things were that passed Butler's machine. During the evening of the same day my father-in-law who lived about a mile away, asked an identical question. Both these people gave the same  description and direction of flight which exactly coincided with my own observations.
The speed and density of the objects definitely precluded any possibility of their being a mirage.
H.N. Wicks.
Balhannah Nurseries Balhannah.
My research notes
1. When was this observation of two high speed, large, black objects?
A search of Internet sources determined that Sir Ross Smith and crew left England on 12 November 1919 and arrived in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia on 10 December 1919.
Image source

The "Barrier Miner" [Broken Hill: NSW 1888-1954] Tuesday 23 March 1920 page 4, describes the arrival of Sir Ross Smith in Adelaide on 23 March 1920 in his Vickers Vimy biplane. The article also mentions Captain Harry Butler, a famous stunt pilot, in a monoplane, flying alongside Smith at 1.23pm on that day. A third aircraft, piloted by Captain J R Moore was also present.
It would therefore appear, that the observation by H N Wicks, as described in the "Advertiser," Adelaide, dated 25 February 1947, was made around 1.23pm on 23 March 1920.
2. Who was H. N. Wicks?

Can we establish him as a real, historical figure in Adelaide in 1920?
A search through TROVE located an article on page 8 of the "Daily Herald" [Adelaide, SA: 1910-1922] for Friday 13 February 1914, which places H N Wicks at Balhannah, helping establish an orchard and nursery.


H N Wicks appears in the book "Who's Who: South Australian Centenary, 1936." He is also mentioned in the 21 March 1934 ( page 13) edition of the "The Advertiser" Adelaide, as at the Balhannah flower show, see the image below.
It is therefore, a reasonable assumption that H N Wicks may have been present on 23 March 1920 in Adelaide, at Balhannah, as he states in his 1947 letter to the editor.
3. The weather
H N Wicks' 1947 letter to the editor, described the day of his observation, as "cloudless." Can we confirm this?
I checked the weather section of the 23 March 1920 "The Advertiser," Adelaide for the state forecast. This read "Lower South Australia Fine with warmer temperatures and light, variable winds, chiefly south-east to north-east." There is no mention about the state of cloudiness. Fine, merely means, no rain.
Advertiser, Adelaide 23 March 1920.

4. Discussion

What might the two objects have been?

a. My first thoughts were that, could Wicks have possibly confused the aircraft he thought was Butler's, with Ross Smith's? If this were so, perhaps the two black objects were in fact Butler's and Moore's aircraft? However, Butler's aircraft was a monoplane, and Smith's was a much larger biplane. In addition, Smith's plane would not have been performing acrobatics and stunting, whereas Butler's smaller, monoplane was capable of acrobatics and stunting; in fact, Butler was renown for his acrobatic performances. It would seem, from the available facts, that H N Wicks was indeed watching Butler's aircraft when the black objects went by.

b. Could the two black objects have been birds? High speed black objects in the sky could indeed have been birds. However, if we accept that three independent witnesses all saw large objects at around the same time, from distances up to a mile apart, this suggestion would seem unlikely.

c. I note that there is no mention of the two black objects leaving a condensation trail. There is also no associated noise reported from the objects.

5. In summary
We have confirmed that H N Wicks was a real, historical figure, almost certainly living in Balhannah on 23 March 1920, the date he reports his observation occurred. The other details of the day, e.g.. the arrival of Sir Ross Smith, are historically correct.
Here then we have an observation, dated 23 March 1920,  of "...two large black objects travelling at terrific speed in a parallel course, passed very high above him, travelling from north to south. These were quite large and were very high but nevertheless their speed was such as to make Harry Butler's machine appear as if it were stationary." These were reportedly observed by three people who were a considerable distance apart, albeit belatedly reported in February 1947. There, however, appears to be a valid reason why H N Wicks only reported it to the newspaper, in February 1947. The observation predates Kenneth Arnold's sighting, by several months.
 On the reported facts, I have no suggestions as to a mundane stimulus for this observation.
Have any readers, ideas?

Update 29 Dec 2015

Sydney based researcher Bill Chalker forwarded me his thoughts:

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