Analysis of JFK Primary Tracon Radar

There were at least 7 radar sites that recorded the last moments of TWA Flight 800.  Up to now we have concentrated on the Islip radar site because it was the closest site and had the most returns to study.  That is both a benefit and a problem since the radar picked up many small pieces of the aircraft as it disintegrated.  There are so many radar returns it is difficult to determine what is significant.  The JFK Radar, on the other hand, was farther away and while it still recorded a large number of returns, it did not record returns for the smaller objects.  This allows us to study what remains and make some intelligent extrapolations from that data.

JFK Radar PlotFirst, let me explain what this plot shows and how it was derived.  Click on the thumbnail to get a larger version, print it out and come back to this explanation.  This is a radar view, as if looking from space, directly down at the scene.  On the left side the blue line is Flight 800 up to the point where it stopped sending its position.  The explosion happened between this point and the next radar sweep, which happens every 4.69 seconds.  We have plotted each radar sweep with a different symbol so you can tell which occurred first, second, etc. The last secondary radar return occurred at 8:31:11.52 pm.  All the plotted primary returns here are between 8:31 and 8:32 pm and the legend reflects only the seconds after 8:31.  We then attempted to "connect the dots", that is, determine which returns represent the same piece of the aircraft over time.  This is of course subjective and open to interpretation, but it makes sense that major pieces should be able to be tracked over time.  To give you an idea of distance, it is roughly 3 miles from the location of the first piece of wreckage, CW504, to the last piece of wreckage at the top right.

Also, for reference, we have placed markers for the Coast Guard Cutter Adak's anchorage and the locations on the ocean floor where the Cockpit and main Fuselage were located according to the Debris Field Database.  Now, what does this all mean?

As a starting point, let us use the NTSB's hypothesis that the Nose came off within 4 seconds of the initial explosion and then the headless aircraft zoom-climbed 3,000 ft. trailing flames.  They claim that this is what hundreds of eyewitnesses saw and confused with a missile.  The problems with this are many and I will review them one by one.

1. First, the timing of the Nose separation.  As seen on this plot the fragment that landed closest to where the Nose was found on the sea floor separated from the main trajectory after 3 radar sweeps, or nearly 15 seconds after the initial explosion.

2.  Second, aircraft speed or velocity. In order to accomplish a zoom-climb, the aircraft would have to trade forward velocity for vertical velocity.  That is, in order to climb 3,000 ft. it would appear to slow down on radar because it was going up, not forward.  This did not happen.  The forward velocity is constant through radar sweep 4 after the initial explosion.  After that it starts slowing down, but by then it is also splitting into 3 major pieces.  It could not possibly climb if it is in 3 pieces.

3.  Next, lets talk about the location of the tail.  The NTSB/CIA video showed the nose-less aircraft climbing 3,000 ft. before falling straight down into the ocean.  They show the tail intact and it would have to be intact in order for the aircraft to climb.  The problem with this is that at least a half dozen eyewitnesses on boats saw the tail section floating within 1/2 mile of where the Coast Guard Cutter Adak had anchored after responding to the scene.  This puts the tail sighting directly down wind from another large aircraft fragment that separated before the nose section.  With its very large flat surfaces it would have fallen much slower and closer to JFK than the nose section, even if they both came off at the same time.  The Adak spotted the tail floating nearby at 9:09 pm, which is 37 minutes after it would have hit the water.  With the wind blowing at approximately 16 mph that evening and the tail's large flat surface, it would have easily drifted to the spot were the Adak crew reported seeing it.  It could not have drifted to that spot from the location were the fuselage and wings were found.

Conclusion:  The aircraft broke apart almost immediately and fell in a ballistic trajectory.  The location of the fuselage and wings, which were the heaviest parts of the aircraft and had the most momentum, support this conclusion and do not support the zoom-climb theory.  So, if the eyewitnesses did not see the burning aircraft streaking up like a rocket, what did they see?



  Evidence of a Missile

  Flight 800 Database

Flight 800

Poll Results

>1000 Respondents

  Missile-------- 80%


  Bomb --------  4%


  Fuel Tank --- 14%

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