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Chaff Incidents Not Isolated, Documents Say

December 9, 1985

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ San Diego residents first noticed the Navy’s use of bits of metal to jam radar screens when they caused a major power outage last January, but the ″chaff″ had caused headaches for air safety officials for over a year before that, according to a published report.

The San Diego Union reported Sunday that the Jan. 10 incident was an example of what Federal Aviation Administration officials said was a chronic problem that several times wiped out air traffic controllers’ radar and raised ″serious concern″ about safety.

New procedures for military tests involving chaff dumping apparently have eased the problem, the story said.

Chaff is used in wartime to confuse enemy radar. It was dumped over the ocean during a test in January and unexpectedly drifted toward land, hitting power lines, insulators and other electrical equipment and knocking out power to some 65,000 customers.

The Navy has paid nearly $50,000 to the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. in damages for the incident. Five other claims have been settled for $7,000 and another claim for $16,000 is pending.

The FAA was most concerned about the effect of the chaff on its air traffic control radar.

″We cannot continue under existing conditions without expressing serious concern for the safety of the users in our system,″ FAA official Francis Jones said in a memo to the Navy in February 1984. ″We need immediate relief from interference on our radar frequency band in the San Diego area.″

The memo was among the documents obtained by The Union under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

According to the documents, FAA controllers said their primary radar was wiped out for a total of 19 hours on four dates in September and October 1983.

Despite an Oct. 11, 1983, meeting between the Navy and the FAA, chaff later that month obliterated radar for several hours, the story said.

The FAA said there were no reports of near misses involving general aviation during the times of the radar interference.

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