1948 was only one hour and twenty-five
minutes old when a gentleman from
With the Soviets practically eliminated
as a UFO source, the idea of interplanetary space ships was becoming more
popular. During 1948 the people in AT1C 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 or
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 [newspaper reporters and magazine] writers, that all during
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 those 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
Project Sign personnel were just getting
settled down to work after the New Year's holiday when the "ghost
rockets" came back to the Baltic Countries of Europe. Air Attaches in
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
Psychologists use a test called Word Association. Chances are that if the test were given to people who were ten years old, or older, in 1948, the majority would associate the word "flying saucer" with "the pilot that was killed". On January 7, all of the late
papers in the
At 1:15 on that afternoon the control tower
operators at Godman, just outside
At 1:45 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 chief's 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 Col. Hix, the Base Commander, arrived. He looked and he was baffled. At 2:30, 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, Capt. 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
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 2:45 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 man call back and ask, "What the hell are we looking for?" The tower immediately called 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 second 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 they didn't agree on the first part, about the UFO 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
When they landed at their base, Staniford 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 3:50 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 PM, airfield towers all over the midwest sent in frantic reports of another UFO. [By this time they all knew about the mysterious circumstances of Mantell’s death. Columbus, Ohio, St. Louis, Kansas City, Evansville, Indianapolis, and other cities poured reports into the CAA communications net.] In all about a dozen airfield towers reported the UFO [. All of the towers reported it] as being low on the southwestern horizon and disappearing after about twenty minutes. [The dozen towers gave a dozen descriptions of what the object looked like and what it did.] 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 Air Force can prove their claim. It wasn’t "a return of the craft that shot down Mantell".]
The people on Project Sign worked fast on the Mantell Incident, [in fact they heard about it through Flight Service while it was all in progress.] 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, off-hand 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 barb wire fence that encircled ATIC the nonchalant attitude didn't
exist among the intelligence analysts. One man had already left for
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. [It appeared to have] The story had official sanction and had quoted the Venus Theory as a positive solution. [This descrepancy was carefully pointed out in several widely publicised magazine and newspaper articles.] To clear up the situation, several of the writers were allowed to interview a Major Boggs who was the Air Force’s Pentagon expert on UFO’s. Boggs 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. Boggs answer, "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 added confusion to an already confused situation. It 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 any more than to think he has stumbled onto a big story and that some one is trying to cover it up. Many writers thought this after the interview with Major Boggs, 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 lot of queries about all of the confusion over the Mantel Incident. What was the answer?
I dug out the file. In 1949 all of the original material on the incident had been micro-filmed 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.
There were a lot of those people still around, "Red" Honacker, 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 Major Boggs and his concrete proof of Venus. I couldn't find this concrete proof in the file so I asked around about Major Boggs. Major Boggs, 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. Boggs, 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, a 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.
Looking back on it now 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
OSU Faculty Club. He wanted to refer to some notes he had on the Mantell Incident and they were in his office so we discussod UFO’s in general during lunch.
[His first comment was that he was very glad to hear that the Air Force had decided to further pursue the UFO investigation. He said that although he most certainly was not a "flying saucer" addict, he thought that the UFO’s had been written off, too hastily. I was quite amazed at his remembering the details of many of the sightings that had occurred during the 1947-49 period. He asked about any new information we might have on "nocturnal meandering lights", which I found out were his pet type of UFO. As he explained it, they were lights that meandered around the sky like a lighted weather balloon when no weather balloon was in the area. All I could tell that they were still with us.]
[I learned as much about the 1947-1949 period of the history during the brief hour we spent at lunch as he did about the 1949-1952 period. I hinted that I would certainly like to see him working for ATIC again, but he didn’t take the hint so I dropped it.]
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. [The people in the
[Dr. Hynek said that he had computed the position of Venus and the two came out close. He] Dr. Hynek referred to his notes[,] and told me that at 3:00 PM Venus had been south southwest of Godman and 33 degrees above the southern horizon. At 3:00 PM 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 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. [Mantell’s wing men had lost him in this haze shortly after they began to climb.]
[Dr. Hynek said that he was almost positive that the object, whatever it was, was not Venus, although by sheer coincidence Venus had been in the same location.]
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 only care to comment on the astrophysical aspects of the sightings.
This aspect of a definite shape seemed to eliminate
the sundog theory, too. Sundogs, or Parhelion 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. [One of these
occurred at ____a AFB in
I had always heard a lot of wild speculation about the condition of the Mantell's crashed F-51, so I wired for a copy of accident report. It arrived several days after my visit with Dr. Hynek. [From the reports of the eye witnesses at the crash scene it was obvious that] the report said that the F-51 had lost a wing due to excessive speed in a dive. After Mantell [had tried to climb to 20,000 feet but] had "blacked out" due to the lack of oxygen. [The aircraft was ___ced]
[to climb so it went on up until the high altitude caused the power to drop, allowing the F-51 to gradually level off. The propeller torque pulled it into a left turn and as it turned it started a shallow dive. The dive steepened until the speed became excessive and first the wing, then the tail, pulled off. To me, as an aeronautical engineer, this sounded ____ logical.] Mantell’s body was not burned, not disintegrated, and 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." During 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 got 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 report. A long time friend of Mantell’s went on record to say that he’d flown with him several years and know him personally. He couldn't conceive of Mantell 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.
[This may be the excuse.]
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 that they hadn't seen anything.
I concentrated on the canopy reflection theory. It is widely believed that many flying saucers are caused by pilots 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 15 to 20 minutes and it is inconceivable that he wouldn't realize in that length of time that he was chasing a reflection.
[It was now apparent that no one would ever know for sure what Mantell was looking at when he made that last radio call, so I switched my line of investigation to what the people in the tower saw. I thought that it was safe to assume that Mantell was chasing the same UFO since he was headed directly toward it when he was last seen.]
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
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 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 space ship and that this was the only course they had pursued. When the sighting grew older and no space ship 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 everybody was 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 that supervises
the contracts for all the "skyhook" research flights for the Air
Force is located at Wright Field, so I called them. They had no records on
flights back in 1948 but they did think that the big balloons were being
launched from Clinton County AFB in southern
Unfortunately the times of the first sightings, from
the towns outside
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 Godman tower, the UFO was south of the airbase. 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 timewise the descriptions ran "huge", ''small", "one-fourth the size of a full moon" and "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 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 could never 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
It could have been a balloon. This is the answer I phoned back to the Pentagon.
All during January and February of 1948 the reports
of "ghost rockets" continued to come from Air Attaches in foreign
countries bordering the
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 "12 o'clock high" to buzz their transport.
As the snow of the winter of 1948 turned to slush and then dried up, ATIC was deluged with UFO reports. Many of them were poor but the few good ones kept ATIC’s interest high.
On February 18, 1948, the first reports from
On the morning of April 5, three scientists at
On May 28 the crew of an Air Force C-47, flying at 6,000 feet over Michigan, observed three disk-like objects descend from above the C-47, level off at the C-47’s altitude, and zip by at a terrific speed. Soon two more followed. They were silver-gold in color.
On July 21, a curious report was received from the
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
Both of 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 "50 foot 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 Robbins 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-South Carolina state line
reported that he had seen a "bright shooting star" in the direction
According to the old timers at ATIC this shook them
more than the Mantell Incident. This was the first
time two reliable sources had gotten 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
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; the estimate was that they were interplanetary.
It was a rather thick document with a black cover and it was printed on legal size paper. Stamped across the front were the words TOP SECRET.
It contained the Air Force's analysis of many of the incidents which I have told you about plus many other similar ones. All of them had come from scientists, pilots and other equally as credible observers and each one was an "unknown."
[It was a rather thick document, in a black cover, and on legal size paper.It was classified TOP SECRET. It concluded that UFO’s were interplanetary. As documented proof, many unexplained sightings were quoted. The original UFO sighting by Kenneth Arnold, the series of sightings from the secret Air Force Test Center, Muroc AFB; the F-51 pilot’s observation of a formation of spheres near Lake Meade; the report of an F-80 pilot who saw two round objects diving toward the ground near the Grand Canyon; and a report by the pilot of an Idaho National Guard T-6 trainer, who saw a violently maneuvering black object.]
[As further documentation, the report quoted an interview with an Air Force Major from the Rapid City AFB (now Ellsworth AFB) who saw twelve UFO’s flying a tight formation. When he first saw them they were high but soon they went into a fantastically high speed dive, leveled out, made a perfect formation turn, and climbed at a 30 to 40 degree angle, accelerating all the time. The UFO’s were oval -shaped and brilliant yellowish-white.]
included was one of the reports from the
The document pointed out that the reports hadn’t
actually started with the
theodolite telescope; an F-47 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 not received until after the the
When the Estimate was completed, typed, and approved, it started up through channels to higher command eschelons. 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
The pilot was George F. Gorman, a 25-year-old second
lieutenant in the North Dakota Air National Guard. It was 8:30 in the evening
and Gorman was coming into
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 got 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 space. Again both the ‘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 ware controlled by thought or reason," Gorman later told ATIC investigators.
Four other observers at
Project Sign investigators rushed to
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
In the file on The Gorman incident I found [an old memo to Col. McCoy, then chief of ATIC. The memo]
meeting that was held upon the ATIC teams return from
The historians of the UFO agree. Major Donald Keyhoe, 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 [it] that the light could have been a lighted weather balloon, they dropped it like a hot UFO. [They had good reason to play it down, Keyhoe says.] Some person by the name of Wilkinson, 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 PM, 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
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 put on power. The pilot could see no
silhouette around the light. The similarity to the
On the night of December 10, 1952, near another
atomic installation, the Hanford Plant in
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 TBM and a light over
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 SNB 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 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 15 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 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 crewman, 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 traveled 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 balloon was right at the spot where the pilot encountered the light.
In the other instance, with 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
[While the people working on Project Sign were pondering over Lt. Gorman’s "duel of death," before they found out that his advisary was a lighted weather balloon, two things were taking place. One, the higher The Estimate of the Situation went in the Air Force chain of command the cooler the reception it got, and two, reports of radar picking up UFO's began to come in. How far this estimate got is something that I could never determine, but it got up into the high eschelons of the Air Force before it was batted back down. The reason for batting it down was that the conclusions, interplanetary vehicles, lacked proof. A group from ATIC went to the Pentagon to sell the idea to the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, but had no luck. The evidence didn't impress him enough to make him decide to buy the interplanetary theory.]
While the people on Project Sign were pondering over Lt. 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 eschelons of the Air Force. It got to the late 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 Project Sign because the reports were getting better.
A belated report that is more of a
collector's item than a good UFO sighting came into ATIC in the Fall of 1948. It was from
Then radar came into the picture. For months the "anti-saucer" factions had been pointing their finger at the lack of radar reports saying, "If they exist why don't they show up on radar scopes?" When they showed up on the radar scopes the UFO won some converts.
On October 15, a F-61, a
World War II "Black Widow" night fighter, was on patrol over
[The radar station at
Toward the end of November a wire came into Project
"At 2200 hours, local time, 23 November 1948, Capt.
Hugh Slater saw an object in the air directly east of this base. It was at an
unknown altitude. It looked like a reddish star and and
was moving in a southerly direction across
"Capt. Slater is an experienced pilot now flying F-80’s and is considered to be completely reliable. The sighting was verified by Capt. Addis, also an F-80 pilot.
The possibility of this being 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
By the end of 1948 Project Sign had received several hundred 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 get to go to Godman AFB to talk to Col. 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 [had] dampened 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.