CHAPTER 3, THE CLASSICS UFO
With the Soviets practically eliminated as a UFO source, the idea of interplanetary spaceships was becoming more popular. During 1948 the people in ATIC were openly discussing the possibility of interplanetary visitors without others tapping their heads and looking smug. During 1948 the novelty of UFO’s had worn off for the Press and every John and Jane Doe who saw one didn’t make the front pages as in 1947. Editors were becoming hardened, only a few of the best reports got any space. Only the “Classics” rated headlines. “The Classics” were three historic reports that were the highlights of 1948. They are called “The Classics,” a name given them by the Project Blue Book staff, because: (1) they are classic examples of how the true facts of a UFO report can be twisted and warped by some writers to prove their point, (2) they are the most highly publicized reports of this early era of the UFO’s, and (3) they “proved” to ATIC’s intelligence specialists that UFO’s were real.
The apparent lack of interest in UFO reports by the Press was not a true indication of the situation. I later found out, from talking to writers, that all during 1948 the interest in UFO’s was running high. The Air Force Press Desk in the Pentagon was continually being asked what progress was being made in the UFO investigation. The answer was, “Give us time. This job can’t be done in a week.” the Press respected this and was giving them time. But every writer worth his salt has contacts, those “usually reliable sources” you read about, and these contacts were talking. All during 1948 contacts in the Pentagon were telling how UFO reports were rolling in at the rate of several per day and how ATIC UFO investigation teams were flying out of Dayton to investigate them. They were telling how another Air Force investigative organization had been called in to lighten ATIC’s load and allow ATIC to concentrate on the analysis of the reports. The writers knew this was true because they had crossed paths with these men whom they had mistakenly identified as FBI agents. The FBI was never officially interested in UFO sightings. The writers’ contacts in the airline industry told about the UFO talk from V.P.’s down to the ramp boys. Dozens of good, solid, reliable, experienced airline pilots were seeing UFO’s. All of this led to one conclusion: whatever the Air Force had to say, when it was ready to talk, would be newsworthy. But the Air Force wasn’t ready to talk.
Project Sign personnel were just getting settled down to work after the New Year’s holiday when the “ghost rockets” came back to the Scandinavian countries of Europe. Air attaché’s in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway fired wires to ATIC telling about the reports. Wires went back asking for more information.
The “ghost rockets,” so tagged by the newspapers, had first been seen in the summer of 1946, a year before the first UFO sighting in the U.S. There were many different descriptions for the reported objects. They were usually seen in the hours of darkness and almost always traveling at extremely high speeds. They were shaped like a ball or Projectile, were a bright green, white, red, or yellow and sometimes made sounds. Like their American cousins, they were always so far away that no details could be seen. For no good reason, other than speculation and circulation, the newspapers had soon begun to refer authoritatively to these “ghost rockets” as guided missiles, and implied that they were from Russia. Peenemunde, the great German missile development center and birthplace of the V-2 and V-2 guided missiles, came in for its share of suspicion since it was held by the Russians. By the end of the summer of 1946 the reports were widespread, coming from Denmark, Norway, Spain, Greece, French Morocco, Portugal, and Turkey. In 1947, after no definite conclusions as to identity of the “rockets” had been established, the reports died out. Now in early January 1948 they broke out again. But Project Sign personnel were too busy to worry about European UFO reports, they were busy at home. A National Guard pilot had just been killed chasing a UFO.
On January 7 all of the late papers in the U.S. carried headlines similar to those in the Louisville Courier: “F-51 and Capt. Mantell Destroyed Chasing Flying Saucer.” This was Volume I of “The Classics,” the Mantell Incident.
At one fifteen on that afternoon the control tower operators at Godman AFB, outside Louisville, Kentucky, received a telephone call from the Kentucky State Highway Patrol. The patrol wanted to know if Godman Tower knew anything about any unusual aircraft in the vicinity. Several people from Maysville, Kentucky, a small town 80 miles east of Louisville, had reported seeing a strange aircraft. Godman knew that they had nothing in the vicinity so they called Flight Service at Wright-Patterson AFB. In a few minutes Flight Service called back. Their air Traffic control board showed no flights in the area. About twenty minutes later the state police called again. This time people from the towns of Owensboro and Irvington, Kentucky, west of Louisville, were reporting a strange craft. The report from these two towns was a little more complete. The towns people had described the object to the state police as being “circular, about 250 to 300 feet in diameter,” and moving westward at a “pretty good Clip.” Godman Tower checked Flight Service again. Nothing. All this time the tower operators had been looking for the reported object. They theorized that since the UFO had had to pass north of Godman to get from Maysville to Owensboro it might come back.
At one forty-five they saw it, or something like it. Later, in his official report, the assistant tower operator said that he had seen the object for several minutes before he called his chiefs attention to it. He said that he had been reluctant to “make a flying saucer report.” As soon as the two men in the tower had assured themselves that the UFO they saw was not an airplane or a weather balloon, they called Flight Operations. They wanted the operations officer to see the UFO. Before long word of the sighting had gotten around to key personnel on the base, and several officers, besides the base operations officer and the base intelligence officer, were in the tower. All of them looked at the UFO through the tower’s 6 x 50 binoculars and decided they couldn’t identify it. About this time Colonel Hix, the base commander, arrived. He looked and he was baffled. At two thirty, they reported, they were discussing what should be done when four F-51’s came into view, approaching the base from the south.
The tower called the flight leader, Captain Mantell, and asked him to take a look at the object and try to identify it. One F-51 in the flight was running low on fuel, so he asked permission to go on to his base. Mantell took his two remaining wing men, made a turn, and started after the UFO. The people in Godman Tower were directing him as none of the pilots could see the object at this time. They gave Mantell an initial heading toward the south and the flight was last seen heading in the general direction of the UFO.
By the time the F-51’s had climbed to 10,000 feet, the two wing men later reported, Mantell had pulled out ahead of them and they could just barely see him. At two forty-five Mantell called the tower and said, “I see something above and ahead of me and I’m still climbing.” All the people in the tower heard Mantell say this and they heard one of the wing men call back and ask, “What the hell are we looking for?” The tower immediately called Mantell and asked him for a description of what he saw. Odd as it may seem, no one can remember exactly what he answered. Saucer historians have credited him with saying, “I’ve sighted the thing. It looks metallic and it’s tremendous in size…. Now it’s starting to climb.” Then in a few seconds he is supposed to have called and said, “It’s above me and I’m gaining on it. I’m going to 20,000 feet.” Everyone in the tower agreed on this one last bit of the transmission, “I’m going to 20,000 feet,” but didn’t agree on the first part, about the UFO’s being metallic and tremendous.
The two wing men were now at 15,000 feet and trying frantically to call Mantell. He had climbed far above them by this time and was out of sight. Since none of them had any oxygen they were worried about Mantell. Their calls were not answered. Mantell never talked to anyone again. The two wing men leveled off at 15,000 feet, made another fruitless effort to call Mantell, and started to come back down. As they passed Godman Tower on their way to their base, one of them said something to the effect that all he had seen was a reflection on his canopy.
When they landed at their base, Standiford Field, just north of Godman, one pilot had his F-51 refueled and serviced with oxygen, and took off to search the area again. He didn’t see anything.
At three fifty the tower lost sight of the UFO. A few minutes later they got word that Mantell had crashed and was dead.
Several hours later, at 7:20 P.M., airfield towers all over the Midwest sent in frantic reports of another UFO. In all about a dozen airfield towers reported the UFO as being low on the southwestern horizon and disappearing after about twenty minutes. The writers of saucer lore say this UFO was what Mantell was chasing when he died; the Air Force says this UFO was Venus.
The people on Project Sign worked fast on the Mantell Incident. Contemplating a flood of queries from the Press as soon as they heard about the crash, they realized that they had to get a quick answer. Venus had been the target of a chase by an Air Force F-51 several weeks before and there were similarities between this sighting and the Mantell Incident. So almost before the rescue crews had reached the crash, the word “Venus” went out. This satisfied the editors, and so it stood for about a year; Mantell had unfortunately been killed trying to reach the planet Venus.
To the Press, the nonchalant, offhand manner with which the sighting was written off by the Air Force public relations officer showed great confidence in the conclusion, Venus, but behind the barbed wire fence that encircled ATIC the nonchalant attitude didn’t exist among the intelligence analysts. One man had already left for Louisville and the rest were doing some tall speculating. The story about the tower-to-air talk, “It looks metallic and it’s tremendous in size,” spread fast. Rumor had it that the tower had carried on a running conversation with the pilots and that there was more information than was so far known. Rumor also had it that this conversation had been recorded. Unfortunately neither of these rumors was true.
Over a period of several weeks the file on the Mantell Incident grew in size until it was the most thoroughly investigated sighting of that time, at least the file was the thickest.
About a year later the Air Force released its official report on the incident. To use a trite term, it was a masterpiece in the art of “weasel wording.” It said that the UFO might have been Venus or it could have been a balloon. Maybe two balloons. It probably was Venus except that this is doubtful because Venus was too dim to be seen in the afternoon. This jolted writers who had been following the UFO story. Only a few weeks before, The Saturday Evening Post had published a two-part story entitled “What You Can Believe About flying Saucers.” The story had official sanction and had quoted the Venus theory as a positive solution. To clear up the situation, several writers were allowed to interview a major in the Pentagon, who was the Air Force’s Pentagon “expert” on UFO’s. The major was asked directly about the conclusion of the Mantell Incident, and he flatly stated that it was Venus. The writers pointed out the official Air Force analysis. The major’s answer was, “They checked again and it was Venus.” He didn’t know who “they” were, where they had checked, or what they had checked, but it was Venus. The writers then asked, “If there was a later report they had made why wasn’t it used as a conclusion?” “Was it available?” The answer to the last question was “No,” and the lid snapped back down This interview gave the definite impression that the Air Force was unsuccessfully trying to cover up some very important information, using Venus as a front. Nothing excites a newspaper or magazine writer more than to think he has stumbled onto a big story and that someone is trying to cover it up. Many writers thought this after the interview with the major, and many still think it. You can’t really blame them either.
In early 1952 I got a telephone call on ATIC’s direct line to the Pentagon. It was a colonel in the Director of Intelligence’s office. The Office of Public Information had been getting a number of queries about all of the confusion over the Mantell Incident. What was the answer?
I dug out the file. In 1949 all of the original material on the incident had been microfilmed, but something had been spilled on the film. Many sections were so badly faded they were illegible. As I had to do with many of the older sightings that were now history, I collected what I could from the file, filling in the blanks by talking to people who had been at ATIC during the early UFO era. Many of these people were still around, “Red” Honnacker, George Towles, Al Deyarmond, Nick Post, and many others. Most of them were civilians, the military had been transferred out by this time.
Some of the Press clippings in the file mentioned the Pentagon major and his concrete proof of Venus. I couldn’t find this concrete proof in the file so I asked around about the major. The major, I found, was an officer in the Pentagon who had at one time written a short intelligence summary about UFO’s. He had never been stationed at ATIC, nor was he especially well versed on the UFO problem. When the word of the Press conference regarding the Mantell Incident came down, a UFO expert was needed. The major, because of his short intelligence summary on UFO’s, became the “expert.” He had evidently conjured up “they” and “their later report” to support his Venus answer because the writers at the Press conference had him in a corner. I looked farther.
Fortunately the man who had done the most extensive work on the incident, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, head of the Ohio State University Astronomy Department, could be contacted. I called Dr. Hynek and arranged to meet him the next day.
Dr. Hynek was one of the most impressive scientists I met while working on the UFO Project, and I met a good many. He didn’t do two things that some of them did: give you the answer before he knew the question; or immediately begin to expound on his accomplishments in the field of science. I arrived at Ohio State just before lunch, and Dr. Hynek invited me to eat with him at the faculty club. He wanted to refer to some notes he had on the Mantell Incident and they were in his office, so we discussed UFO’s in general during lunch.
Back in his office he started to review the Mantell Incident. He had been responsible for the weasel worded report that the Air Force released in late 1949, and he apologized for it. Had he known that it was going to cause so much confusion, he said, he would have been more specific. He thought the incident was a dead issue. The reason that Venus had been such a strong suspect was that it was in almost the same spot in the sky as the UFO. Dr. Hynek referred to his notes and told me that at 3:00 P.M., Venus had been south southwest of Godman and 33 degrees above the southern horizon. At 3:00 P.M. the people in the tower estimated the UFO to be southwest of Godman and at an elevation of about 45 degrees. Allowing for human error in estimating directions and angles, this was close. I agreed. There was one big flaw in the theory, however. Venus wasn’t bright enough to be seen. He had computed the brilliance of the planet, and on the day in question it was only six times as bright as the surrounding sky. Then he explained what this meant. Six times may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. When you start looking for a pinpoint of light only six times as bright as the surrounding sky, it’s almost impossible to find it, even on a clear day.
Dr. Hynek said that he didn’t think that the UFO was Venus.
I later found out that although it was a relatively clear day there was considerable haze.
I asked him about some of the other possibilities. He repeated the balloon, canopy reflection, and sundog theories but he refused to comment on them since, as he said, he was an astrophysicist and would care to comment only on the astrophysical aspects of the sightings.
I drove back to Dayton convinced that the UFO wasn’t Venus. Dr. Hynek had said Venus would have been a pinpoint of light. The people in the tower had been positive of their descriptions, their statements brought that out. They couldn’t agree on a description, they called the UFO “a parachute, an ice cream cone tipped with red,” “round and white,” “huge and silver or metallic,” “a small white object,” “one fourth the size of the full moon,” but all the descriptions plainly indicated a large object. None of the descriptions could even vaguely be called a pinpoint of light.
This aspect of a definite shape seemed to eliminate the sundog theory too. Sundogs, or perihelia, as they are technically known, are caused by ice particles reflecting a diffused light. This would not give a sharp outline. I also recalled two instances where Air Force pilots had chased sundogs. In both instances when the aircraft began to climb, the sundog disappeared. This was because the angle of reflection changed as the airplane climbed several thousand feet. These sundog-caused UFO’s also had fuzzy edges.
I had always heard a lot of wild speculation about the condition of Mantell’s crashed F-51, so I wired for a copy of the accident report. It arrived several days after my visit with Dr. Hynek. The report said that the F-51 had lost a wing due to excessive speed in a dive after Mantell had “blacked out” due to the lack of oxygen. Mantell’s body had not burned, not disintegrated, and was not full of holes; the wreck was not radioactive, nor was it magnetized.
One very important and pertinent question remained. Why did Mantell, an experienced pilot, try to go to 20,000 feet when he didn’t even have an oxygen mask? If he had run out of oxygen, it would have been different. Every pilot and crewman has it pounded into him, “Do not, under any circumstances, go above 15,000 feet without oxygen.” In high altitude indoctrination during World War II, I made several trips up to 30,000 feet in a pressure chamber. To demonstrate anoxia we would leave our oxygen masks off until we became dizzy. A few of the more hardy souls could get to 15,000 feet, but nobody ever got over 17,000. Possibly Mantell thought he could climb up to 20,000 in a hurry and get back down before he got anoxia and blacked out, but this would be a foolish chance. This point was covered in the sighting report. A long-time friend of Mantell’s went on record as saying that he’d flown with him several years and knew him personally. He couldn’t conceive of Mantell’s even thinking about disregarding his lack of oxygen. Mantell was one of the most cautious pilots he knew. “The only thing I can think,” he commented, “was that he was after something that he believed to be more important than his life or his family.”
My next step was to try to find out what Mantell’s wing men had seen or thought but this was a blind alley. All of this evidence was in the ruined portion of the microfilm, even their names were missing. The only reference I could find to them was a vague passage indicating they hadn’t seen anything.
I concentrated on the canopy reflection theory. It is widely believed that many flying saucers appear to pilots who are actually chasing a reflection on their canopy. I checked over all the reports we had on file. I couldn’t find one that had been written off for this reason. I dug back into my own flying experience and talked to a dozen pilots. All of us had momentarily been startled by a reflection on the aircraft’s canopy or wing, but in a second or two it had been obvious that it was a reflection. Mantell chased the object for at least fifteen to twenty minutes, and it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t realize in that length of time that he was chasing a reflection.
About the only theory left to check was that the object might have been one of the big, 100-foot-diameter, “skyhook” balloons. I rechecked the descriptions of the UFO made by the people in the tower. The first man to sight the object called it a parachute; others said ice cream cone, round, etc. All of these descriptions fit a balloon. Buried deep in the file were two more references to balloons that I had previously missed. Not long after the object had disappeared from view at Godman AFB, a man from Madisonville, Kentucky, called Flight Service in Dayton. He had seen an object traveling southeast. He had looked at it through a telescope and it was a balloon. At four forty five an astronomer living north of Nashville, Tennessee, called in. He had also seen a UFO, looked at it through a telescope, and it was a balloon.
In the thousands of words of testimony and evidence taken on the Mantell Incident this was the only reference to balloons. I had purposely not paid too much attention to this possibility because I was sure that it had been thoroughly checked back in 1948. Now I wasn’t sure.
I talked with one of the people who had been in on the Mantell investigation. The possibility of a balloon’s causing the sighting had been mentioned but hadn’t been followed up for two reasons. Number one was that everybody at ATIC was convinced that the object Mantell was after was a spaceship and that this was the only course they had pursued. When the sighting grew older and no spaceship proof could be found, everybody jumped on the Venus band wagon, as this theory had “already been established.” It was an easy way out. The second reason was that a quick check had been made on weather balloons and none were in the area. The big skyhook balloon Project was highly classified at that time, and since they were all convinced that the object was of interplanetary origin (a minority wanted to give the Russians credit), they didn’t want to bother to buck the red tape of security to get data on skyhook flights.
The group who supervise the contracts for all the skyhook research flights for the Air Force are located at Wright Field, so I called them. They had no records on flights in 1948 but they did think that the big balloons were being launched from Clinton County AFB in southern Ohio at that time. They offered to get the records of the winds on January 7 and see what flight path a balloon launched in southwestern Ohio would have taken. In a few days they had the data for me.
Unfortunately the times of the first sightings, from the towns outside Louisville, were not exact but it was possible to partially reconstruct the sequence of events. The winds were such that a skyhook balloon launched from Clinton County AFB could be seen from the town east of Godman AFB, the town from which the first UFO was reported to the Kentucky State Police. It is not unusual to be able to see a large balloon for 50 to 60 miles. The balloon could have travelled west for a while, climbing as it moved with the strong east winds that were blowing that day and picking up speed as the winds got stronger at altitude. In twenty minutes it could have been in a position where it could be seen from Owensboro and Irvington, Kentucky, the two towns west of Godman. The second reports to the state police had come from these two towns. Still climbing, the balloon would have reached a level where a strong wind was blowing in a southerly direction. The jet stream winds were not being plotted in 1948 but the weather chart shows strong indications of a southerly bend in the jet stream for this day. Jet stream or not, the balloon would have moved rapidly south, still climbing. At a point somewhere south or southwest of Godman it would have climbed through the southerly moving winds to a calm belt at about 60,000 feet. At this level it would slowly drift south or southeast. A skyhook balloon can be seen at 60,000.
When first seen by the people in Godinan Tower, the UFO was south of the air base. It was relatively close and looked “like a parachute,” which a balloon does. During the two hours that it was in sight, the observers reported that it seemed to hover, yet each observer estimated the time he looked at the object through the binoculars and time wise the descriptions ran “huge,” “small,” “one fourth the size of a full moon,” “one tenth the size of a full moon.” Whatever the UFO was, it was slowly moving away. As the balloon continued to drift in a southerly direction it would have picked up stronger winds, and could have easily been seen by the astronomers in Madisonville, Kentucky, and north of Nashville an hour after it disappeared from view at Godman.
Somewhere in the archives of the Air Force or the Navy there are records that will show whether or not a balloon was launched from Clinton County AFB, Ohio, on January 7, 1948. I never could find these records. People who were working with the early skyhook Projects “remember” operating out of Clinton County AFB in 1947 but refuse to be pinned down to a January 7 flight. Maybe, they said.
The Mantell Incident is the same old UFO jigsaw puzzle. By assuming the shape of one piece, a balloon launched from southwestern Ohio, the whole picture neatly falls together. It shows a huge balloon that Captain Thomas Mantell died trying to reach. He didn’t know that he was chasing a balloon because he had never heard of a huge, 100-foot-diameter skyhook balloon, let alone seen one. Leave out the one piece of the jigsaw puzzle and the picture is a UFO, “metallic and tremendous in size.”
It could have been a balloon. This is the answer I phoned back to the Pentagon.
During January and February of 1948 the reports of “ghost rockets” continued to come from air attaches in foreign countries near the Baltic Sea. People in North Jutland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany reported “balls of fire traveling slowly across the sky.” The reports were very sketchy and incomplete, most of them accounts from newspapers. In a few days the UFO’s were being seen all over Europe and South America. Foreign reports hit a peak in the latter part of February and U.S. newspapers began to pick up the stories.
The Swedish Defense Staff supposedly conducted a comprehensive study of the incidents and concluded that they were all explainable in terms of astronomical phenomena. Since this was UFO history, I made several attempts to get some detailed and official information on this report and the sightings, but I was never successful.
The ghost rockets left in March, as mysteriously as they had arrived.
All during the spring of 1948 good reports continued to come in. Some were just run-of-the-mill but a large percentage of them were good, coming from people whose reliability couldn’t be questioned. For example, three scientists reported that for thirty seconds they had watched a round object streak across the sky in a highly erratic flight path near the Army’s secret White Sands Proving Ground. And on May 28 the crew of an Air Force C-47 had three UFO’s barrel in from “twelve o’clock high” to buzz their transport,
On July 21 a curious report was received from the Netherlands, The day before several persons reported seeing a UFO through high broken clouds over The Hague. The object was rocket shaped, with two rows of windows along the side. It was a poor report, very sketchy and incomplete, and it probably would have been forgotten except that four nights later a similar UFO almost collided with an Eastern Airlines DC-3. This near collision is Volume II of “The Classics.”
On the evening of July 24, 1948, an Eastern Airlines DC-3 took off from Houston, Texas. It was on a scheduled trip to Atlanta, with intermediate stops in between. The pilots were Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted. At about 2:45 A.M., when the flight was 20 miles southwest of Montgomery, the captain, Chiles, saw a light dead ahead and closing fast. His first reaction, he later reported to an ATIC investigation team, was that it was a jet, but in an instant he realized that even a jet couldn’t close as fast as this light was closing. Chiles said he reached over, gave Whitted, the other pilot, a quick tap on the arm, and pointed. The UFO was now almost on top of them. Chiles racked the DC-3 into a tight left turn. Just as the UFO flashed by about 700 feet to the right, the DC-3 hit turbulent air. Whitted looked back just as the UFO pulled up in a steep climb.
Both the pilots had gotten a good look at the UFO and were able to give a good description to the Air Force intelligence people. It was a B-29 fuselage. The underside had a “deep blue glow.” There were “two rows of windows from which bright lights glowed,” and a “Biot trail of orange red flame” shot out the back.
Only one passenger was looking out of the window at the time. The ATIC investigators talked to him. He said he saw a “strange, eerie streak of light, very intense,” but that was all, no details. He said that it all happened before he could adjust his eyes to the darkness.
Minutes later a crew chief at Robins Air Force Base in Macon, Georgia, reported seeing an extremely bright light pass overhead, traveling at a high speed. A few days later another report from the night of July 24 came in. A pilot, flying near the Virginia North Carolina state line, reported that he had seen a “bright shooting star” in the direction of Montgomery, Alabama, at about the exact time the Eastern Airlines DC-3 was “buzzed.”
According to the old timers at ATIC, this report shook them worse than the Mantell Incident. This was the first time two reliable sources had been really close enough to anything resembling a UFO to get a good look and live to tell about it. A quick check on a map showed that the UFO that nearly collided with the airliner would have passed almost over Macon, Georgia, after passing the DC-3. It had been turning toward Macon when last seen. The story of the crew chief at Robins AFB, 200 miles away, seemed to confirm the sighting, not to mention the report from near the Virginia North Carolina state line.
In intelligence, if you have something to say about some vital problem you write a report that is known as an “Estimate of the Situation.” A few days after the DC-3 was buzzed, the people at ATIC decided that the time had arrived to make an Estimate of the Situation. The situation was the UFO’s; the estimate was that they were interplanetary!
It was a rather thick document with a black cover and it was printed on legal sized paper. Stamped across the front were the words TOP SECRET.
It contained the Air Force’s analysis of many of the incidents I have told you about plus many similar ones. All of them had come from scientists, pilots, and other equally credible observers, and each one was an unknown.
The document pointed out that the reports hadn’t actually started with the Arnold Incident. Belated reports from a weather observer in Richmond, Virginia, who observed a “silver disk” through his theodolite telescope; an F47 pilot and three pilots in his formation who saw a “silver flying wing,” and the English “ghost airplanes” that had been picked up on radar early in 1947 proved this point. Although reports on them were not received until after the Arnold sighting, these incidents all had taken place earlier.
When the estimate was completed, typed, and approved, it started up through channels to higher command echelons. It drew considerable comment but no one stopped it on its way up.
A matter of days after the Estimate of the Situation was signed, sealed, and sent on its way, the third big sighting of 1948, Volume III of “The Classics,” took place. The date was October 1, and the place was Fargo, North Dakota; it was the famous Gorman Incident, in which a pilot fought a “duel of death” with a UFO.
The pilot was George F. Gorman, a twenty-five-year-old second lieutenant in the North Dakota Air National Guard.
It was eight thirty in the evening and Gorman was coming into Fargo from a cross-country flight. He flew around Fargo for a while and about nine o’clock decided to land. He called the control tower for landing instructions and was told that a Piper Cub was in the area. He saw the Cub below him. All of a sudden what appeared to be the taillight of another airplane passed him on his right. He called the tower and complained but they assured him that no other aircraft except the Cub were in the area. Gorman could still see the light so he decided to find out what it was. He pushed the F-51 over into a turn and cut in toward the light. He could plainly see the Cub outlined against the city lights below, but he could see no outline of a body near the mysterious light. He gave the ’51 more power and closed to within a 1,000 yards, close enough to estimate that the light was 6 to 8 inches in diameter, was sharply outlined, and was blinking on and off. Suddenly the light became steady as it apparently put on power; it pulled into a sharp left bank and made a pass at the tower. The light zoomed up with the F-51 in hot pursuit. At 7,000 feet it made a turn. Gorman followed and tried to cut inside the light’s turn to get closer to it but he couldn’t do it. The light made another turn, and this time the ’51 closed on a collision course. The UFO appeared to try to ram the ’51, and Gorman had to dive to get out of the way. The UFO passed over the ’51’s canopy with only a few feet to spare. Again both the F-51 and the object turned and closed on each other head on, and again the pilot had to dive out to prevent a collision. All of a sudden the light began to climb and disappeared.
“I had the distinct impression that its maneuvers were controlled by thought or reason,” Gorman later told ATIC investigators.
Four other observers at Fargo partially corroborated his story, an oculist, Dr. A. D. Cannon, the Cub’s pilot, and his passenger, Einar Neilson. They saw a light “moving fast,” but did not witness all the maneuvers that Gorman reported. Two CAA employees on the ground saw a light move over the field once.
Project Sign investigators rushed to Fargo. They had wired ahead to ground the plane. They wanted to check it over before it flew again. When they arrived, only a matter of hours after the incident, they went over the airplane, from the prop spinner to the rudder trim tab, with a Geiger counter. A chart in the official report shows where every Geiger counter reading was taken. For comparison they took readings on a similar airplane that hadn’t been flown for several days. Gorman’s airplane was more radioactive. They rushed around, got sworn statements from the tower operators and oculist, and flew back to Dayton.
In the file on the Gorman Incident I found an old memo reporting the meeting that was held upon the ATIC team’s return from Fargo. The memo concluded that some weird things were taking place.
The historians of the UFO agree. Donald Keyhoe, a retired Marine Corps major and a professional writer, author of The Flying Saucers Are Real and Flying Saucers from Outer Space, needles the Air Force about the Gorman Incident, pointing out how, after feebly hinting that the light could have been a lighted weather balloon, they dropped it like a hot UFO. Some person by the name of Wilkins, in an equally authoritative book, says that the Gorman Incident “stumped” the Air Force. Other assorted historians point out that normally the UFO’s are peaceful, Gorman and Mantell just got too inquisitive, “they” just weren’t ready to be observed closely. If the Air Force hadn’t slapped down the security lid, these writers might not have reached this conclusion. There have been other and more lurid “duels of death.”
On June 21, 1952, at 10:58 P.M., a Ground Observer Corps spotter reported that a slow moving craft was nearing the AEC’s Oak Ridge Laboratory, an area so secret that it is prohibited to aircraft. The spotter called the light into his filter center and the filter center relayed the message to the ground control intercept radar. They had a target. But before they could do more than confirm the GOC spotter’s report, the target faded from the radarscope.
An F-47 aircraft on combat air patrol in the area was vectored in visually, spotted a light, and closed on it. They “fought” from 10,000 to 27,000 feet, and several times the object made what seemed to be ramming attacks. The light was described as white, 6 to 8 inches in diameter, and blinking until it put on power. The pilot could see no silhouette around the light. The similarity to the Fargo case was striking.
On the night of December 10, 1952, near another atomic installation, the Hanford plant in Washington, the pilot and radar observer of a patrolling F-94 spotted a light while flying at 26,000 feet. The crew called their ground control station and were told that no planes were known to be in the area. They closed on the object and saw a large, round, white “thing” with a dim reddish light coming from two “windows.” They lost visual contact, but got a radar lock-on. They reported that when they attempted to close on it again it would reverse direction and dive away. Several times the plane altered course itself because collision seemed imminent.
In each of these instances, as well as in the case narrated next, the sources of the stories were trained airmen with excellent reputations. They were sincerely baffled by what they had seen. They had no conceivable motive for falsifying or “dressing up” their reports.
The other dogfight occurred September 24, 1952, between a Navy pilot of a TBM and a light over Cuba.
The pilot had just finished making some practice passes for night fighters when he spotted an orange light to the east of his plane. He checked on aircraft in the area, learned that the object was unidentified, and started after it. Here is his report, written immediately after he landed:
As it [the light] approached the city from the east it started a left turn. I started to intercept. During the first part of the chase the closest I got to the light was 8 to 10 miles. At this time it appeared to be as large as an SNJ and had a greenish tail that looked to be five to six times as long as the light’s diameter. This tail was seen several times in the next 10 minutes in periods of from 5 to 30 seconds each. As I reached 10,000 feet it appeared to be at 15,000 feet and in a left turn. It took 40 degrees of bank to keep the nose of my plane on the light. At this time I estimated the light to be in a 10-to-l 5 mile orbit.
At 12,000 feet I stopped climbing, but the light was still climbing faster than I was. I then reversed my turn from left to right and the light also reversed. As I was not gaining distance, I held a steady course south trying to estimate a perpendicular between the light and myself. The light was moving north, so I turned north. As I turned, the light appeared to move west, then south over the base. I again tried to intercept but the light appeared to climb rapidly at a 60 degree angle. It climbed to 35,000 feet, then started a rapid descent.
Prior to this, while the light was still at approximately 15,000 feet, I deliberately placed it between the moon and myself three times to try to identify a solid body. I and my two crewmen all had a good view of the light as it passed the moon. We could see no solid body. We considered the fact that it might be an aerologist’s balloon, but we did not see a silhouette. Also, we would have rapidly caught up with and passed a balloon.
During its descent, the light appeared to slow down at about 10,000 feet, at which time I made three runs on it. Two were on a 90 degree collision course, and the light travelled at tremendous speed across my bow. On the third run I was so close that the light blanked out the airfield below me. Suddenly it started a dive and I followed, losing it at 1,500 feet.
In this incident the UFO was a balloon.
The following night a lighted balloon was sent up and the pilot was ordered up to compare his experiences. He duplicated his dogfight – illusions and all. The Navy furnished us with a long analysis of the affair, explaining how the pilot had been fooled.
In the case involving the ground observer and the F-47 near the atomic installation, we plotted the winds and calculated that a lighted balloon was right at the spot where the pilot encountered the light.
In the other instance, the “white object with two windows,” we found that a skyhook balloon had been plotted at the exact site of the “battle.”
Gorman fought a lighted balloon too. An analysis of the sighting by the Air Weather Service sent to ATIC in a letter dated January 24, 1949, proved it. The radioactive F-51 was decontaminated by a memo from a Wright Field laboratory explaining that a recently flown airplane will be more radioactive than one that has been on the ground for several days. An airplane at 20,000 to 30,000 feet picks up more cosmic rays than one shielded by the earth’s ever present haze.
Why can’t experienced pilots recognize a balloon when they see one? If they are flying at night, odd things can happen to their vision. There is the problem of vertigo as well as disorientation brought on by flying without points of reference. Night fighters have told dozens of stories of being fooled by lights.
One night during World War II we had just dumped a load of bombs on a target when a “night fighter” started to make a pass at us. Everyone in the cockpit saw the fighter’s red-hot exhaust stack as he bore down on us. I cut loose with six caliber-.50 machine guns. Fortunately I missed the “night fighter” – if I’d have shot it I’d have fouled up the astronomers but good because the “night fighter” was Venus.
While the people on Project Sign were pondering over Lieutenant Gorman’s dogfight with the UFO – at the time they weren’t even considering the balloon angle – the Top Secret Estimate of the Situation was working its way up into the higher echelons of the Air Force. It got to the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff, before it was batted back down. The general wouldn’t buy interplanetary vehicles. The report lacked proof. A group from ATIC went to the Pentagon to bolster their position but had no luck, the Chief of Staff just couldn’t be convinced.
The estimate died a quick death. Some months later it was completely declassified and relegated to the incinerator. A few copies, one of which I saw, were kept as mementos of the golden days of the UFO’s.
The top Air Force command’s refusal to buy the interplanetary theory didn’t have any immediate effect upon the morale of Project Sign because the reports were getting better.
A belated report that is more of a collectors’ item than a good UFO sighting came into ATIC in the fall of 1948. It was from Moscow. Someone, I could never find out exactly who, reported a huge “smudge like” object in the sky.
Then radar came into the picture. For months the anti saucer factions had been pointing their fingers at the lack of radar reports, saying, “If they exist, why don’t they show up on radarscopes?” When they showed up on radarscopes, the UFO won some converts.
On October 15 an F-61, a World War II “Black Widow” night fighter was on patrol over Japan when it picked up an unidentified target on its radar. The target was flying between 5,000 and 6,000 feet and traveling about 200 miles per hour. When the F-61 tried to intercept it would get to within 12,000 feet of the UFO only to have it accelerate to an estimated 1,200 miles per hour, leaving the F-61 far behind before slowing down again. The F-61 crew made six attempts to close on the UFO. On one pass, the crew said, they did get close enough to see its silhouette. It was 20 to 30 feet long and looked “like a rifle bullet.”
Toward the end of November a wire came into Project Sign from Germany. It was the first report where a UFO was seen and simultaneously picked up on radar. This type of report, the first of many to come, is one of the better types of UFO reports. The wire said:
“At 2200 hours, local time, 23 November 1948, Capt. saw an object in the air directly east of this base. It was at an unknown altitude. It looked like a reddish star and was moving in a southerly direction across Munich, turning slightly to the southwest then the southeast. The speed could have been between 200 to 600 mph, the actual speed could not be estimated, not knowing the height. Capt. called base operations and they called the radar station. Radar reported that they had seen nothing on their scope but would check again. Radar then called operations to report that they did have a target at 27,000 feet, some 30 miles south of Munich, traveling at 900 mph. Capt. reported that the object that he saw was now in that area. A few minutes later radar called again to say that the target had climbed to 50,000 feet, and was circling 40 miles south of Munich.”
Capt. – is an experienced pilot now flying F-80’s and is considered to be completely reliable. The sighting was verified by Capt. , also an F-80 pilot.
The possibility that this was a balloon was checked but the answer from Air Weather Service was “not a balloon.” No aircraft were in the area. Nothing we know of, except possibly experimental aircraft, which are not in Germany, can climb 23,000 feet in a matter of minutes and travel 900 miles per hour.
By the end of 1948, Project Sign had received several hundred UFO reports. Of these, 167 had been saved as good reports. About three dozen were “Unknown.” Even though the UFO reports were getting better and more numerous, the enthusiasm over the interplanetary idea was cooling off. The same people who had fought to go to Godman AFB to talk to Colonel Hix and his UFO observers in January now had to be prodded when a sighting needed investigating. More and more work was being pushed off onto the other investigative organization that was helping ATIC. The kickback on the Top Secret Estimate of the Situation was beginning to dampen a lot of enthusiasms. It was definitely a bear market for UFO’s.
A bull market was on the way, however. Early 1949 was to bring “little lights” and green fireballs.
The “little lights” were UFO’s, but the green fireballs were real.
Go to: Chapter 4