|Occurred : 3/4/1999 19:55 (Entered as : 3/4/99 1955)
Reported: 3/5/1999 04:21
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Duration:2 X 2 min.
|Possible rocket launch unknown to Air Traffic Control.
Departing PHX flying westbound sighted over SW PHX area at approx 16000' what can best be described as a large bright comet shaped object. It resembled a rocket lauch contrail and I suspect that is what it was. Unlike other rocket lauches I have seen it was traveling horizontally at a relatively slow speed (200 kt est) and the contrail was fully lit up with a bright white light uniformally. At the front was a single point of bright white light. As we got close to the dissapating contrail we thought that possibly an aircraft in front was dumping fuel and the residue was being lit by the city lights below. We asked PHX tracon about this possibility and they were very unhelpful and almost argumentative. The only known traffic was another aircraft 15 miles ahead that we also had in sight. The object was in view for approx. 2 min from a point I would estimate over Goodyear AZ traveling WSW originating at 15000' and climbing to possibly 18000'. Several aircaft reported it and queried ATC. We flew through the extreme tail end of the contrail with no odor. The object faded from view after approx. 2 minutes and the reappeared after another 1-2 minutes at a point I would estimate as 20-25 miles SW of PHX again traveling WSW at an estimated 18000'. It was in view for approx 2 minutes at that time also and at least one other aircraft reported it. We were then in contact with ABQ center ATC and queried them about the object. They had nothing on radar they reported. I have seen rocket launches before and this was different in several regards. First the point that would be the rocket and the contrail were both uniformally bright white. Not bright at the origin and fading to orange as would be expected. Second the contrail was very wide and had the shape of a fan or as I said it had the shape of a comet but was very large. Third and very unusual was the fact that Air Traffic Control had no knowledge of a launch. They always give prior alerts to any such launch. I would appreciate any feedback on this object.