NEXT MORNING, in the broad light of day, the idea of space visitors somehow had lost its menace. If the disks were space ships, at least they had shown no sign of hostility, so far as I knew. Of course, there was Mantell; but if he had been downed by some weapon on the disk, it could have been self-defense. In most cases, the saucers retreated at the first sign of pursuit.
My mind was still reluctant to accept the space-travel answer, in spite of the old reports. But I kept thinking of the famous aircraft designer who thought the disks were space craft; the airline pilots Purdy had mentioned; Blake's copilot, Chuck.
Now that I recalled it, Blake had been more embarrassed than seemed called for when he told about Chuck. Perhaps he bad been the one who believed the saucers were space ships, instead of his absent copilot.
After breakfast, I went over the list of sightings since June 1947. There were several saucers that actually had been described as projectile-like ships. The most famous of all was the Eastern Airlines case.
It was 8:30 P.M., July 23, 1948, when an Eastern Airlines DC-3 took off from Houston, Texas, on a flight to Atlanta and Boston. The airliner captain was Clarence S. Chiles. During the war, he had been in the Air Transport Command, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He had 8,500 flying hours. His first officer was John B. Whitted, a wartime pilot on B-29's. Both men were known in Eastern as careful, conservative pilots.
It was a bright, moonlit night, with scattered clouds overhead. The DC-3 was twenty miles west of Montgomery, at 2:45 AM., when a brilliant projectile-like craft came hurtling along the airway.
Chiles saw it first and took it to be a jet plane. But the next instant both pilots saw that this was no jet fighter.
"It was heading southwest," Chiles said later, "exactly opposite to our course. Whatever it was, it flashed down toward us at terrific speed. We veered to the left. It veered
sharply. too, and passed us about seven hundred feet to the right. I saw then that it had no wings."
The mystery ship passed on Whitted's side, and he a fairly close look.
"The thing was about one hundred feet long, cigar-shaped and wingless," he described it. "It was about twice the diameter of a B-twenty-nine, with no protruding fins."
Captain Chiles said the cabin appeared like a pilot compartment. except for its eerie brilliance. Both he and Whitted agreed it was as bright as a magnesium flare. They saw no occupants, but at their speed this was not surprising.
"An intense dark-blue glow came from the side of the ship," Chiles reported. (It was later suggested by engineers that the strange glare could have come from a power plant of unusual type.) "It ran the entire length of the fuselage - like a blue fluorescent light. The exhaust was a red-orange flame, with a lighter color predominant around the outer edges."
Both pilots said the flame extended thirty to fifty feet behind the ship. As it passed; Chiles noted a snout like a radar pole. Both he and Whitted glimpsed two rows of windows.
"Just as it went by," said Chiles, "the pilot pulled up as if he had seen the DC-three and wanted to avoid us. There was a tremendous burst of flame from the rear. It zoomed into the clouds, its jet wash rocking our DC- three."
Chiles's estimate of the mystery ship's speed was between five hundred and seven hundred miles an hour.
As the object vanished, Chiles went back into the cabin to check with the .passengers. Most had been asleep or were drowsing. But one man confirmed that they were in their right senses. This passenger, Clarence McKelvie of Columbus, Ohio, told them (and a Project "Saucer" team later) that he had seen a brilliant streak of light flash past his window. It had gone too swiftly for him to catch any details.
The A.P. interviewed Mr. McKelvie soon after he landed, and ran the following story:
"Kennett Square, Pa., July 24 (AP). Clarence L.McKelvie, assistant managing editor of the American Education Press, said he was the only passenger on the EAL Houston-Boston plane who was not asleep when the phantom craft was sighted.
'"I saw no shape or form,' Mr. McKelvie said. 'I was on the right side of the plane, and suddenly I saw this strange eerie streak out of my window, It was very in tense, not like lightning or anything I had ever seen.'
"The Columbus man said he was too startled and the object moved too quickly for him to adjust his eyes to it."
In Washington, Air Force officials insisted they could shed no light on the mystery. Out in Santa Monica, General George C. Kenney, then chief of the Strategic Air Command, declared the Air Force had nothing remotely like the ship described.
"I wish we did," General Kenney told reporters. "I'd sure like to see that."
The publicized story of this "space ship" set off another scare - also the usual cracks about screwball pilots. But Chiles and Whitted were not screwballs; they were highly respected pilots. The passenger's confirmation added weight. But even if all three had been considered deluded, the Air Force investigators could not get around the reports from Robbins Air Force Base.
Just about one hour before the DC-3 incident, a strange flaming object came racing southward through the night skies over Robbins Field, at Macon, Georgia. Observers at the air base were astounded to see what appeared to be a huge, wingless craft streak overhead, trailing a vari-colored exhaust. (The witnesses' description tallied with those of Chiles and Whitted.) The mystery ship vanished swiftly; all observers agreed that it disappeared from the line of sight just like a normal aircraft.
While I was working on this case, a contact in Washington gave me an interesting tip.
"Within forty-eight hours after that Eastern sighting, Air Force engineers rushed out blueprint plans and. elevations of the 'space ship,' based on what the two pilots told them."
Whether or not this was true, I found that the Air
Force engineers did compute the probable speed and lift of the mystery craft. The ship was found to be within the bounds of aerodynamic laws for operations in our atmosphere Here is the Air Force statement:
Application of the I'randtl theory of lift indicated that a fuselage of the dimensions, reported by Chiles and Whitted could support a load comparable to the weight of an aircraft of this size, at flying speeds in the sub-sonic range. (This supports Chiles's estimate of 500-7OO m.p.h.)
Four days after the space-ship story was published, a Navy spokesman was quoted as hinting it might have been a high-atmosphere rocket gone astray from the proving grounds in New Mexico. The brief report appeared on the editorial page of the Washington Star on July 28, 1947. It ran as follows:
"The Navy says that naval technicians have been testing a 3,000-mile-per-hour rocket in New Mexico. If one went astray, it could travel across our continent in a short time."
At first glance I thought this might be the real answer to the Chiles-Whitted case. But after a few minutes I saw it was almost impossible.
First, rockets at White Sands are launched and controlled with utmost care. There have been no reported cases of such a long-distance runaway.
Second, if such a rocket had gone astray, it would certainly have caused wild confusion at White Sands until they found where it landed. Hundreds of people would have known about it; the story would be certain to leak out.
Third, such a rocket would have had to travel from White Sands to Macon, Georgia, then circle around south of this city for over forty, minutes. (if it had kept on at the speed observed at Robbins Field, it would have passed Montgomery long before the DC-3 reached the area) In addition, the rocket would have had to veer sharply away from the airliner, as both pilots testified, and then zoom into the clouds. No high-atmosphere test rocket has automatic controls such as this would require.
And if it had gone astray from White Sands, the station's remote control would no longer be guiding it.
The Eastern Airlines "space ship," then, was not just a fugitive rocket. But it could be a new type of aircraft, something revolutionary, developed in absolute secrecy.
Other airline pilots had reported flying disks racing along the airways, though none that I knew of had described projectile-like objects. Chiles and Whitted insisted the mystery ship was not a disk, and the report from Robbins Field agreed on this point. Man-made devices or not, it seemed fairly certain there was more than one type of saucer.
The more I studied the evidence, the harder it was to believe that this was an earth-made ship. Such a wingless rocket ship would require tremendous jet power to keep it in the air. Even our latest jet bombers could not begin to approach its performance.
Going back over the Project "Saucer" preliminary report. I found strong evidence that the Air Force was worried. In their investigation, Project teams had screened 225 military and civilian flight schedules. After nine months, they reported that the mysterious object was no conventional aircraft.
On April 27, 1949; the Air Force admitted that Project "Saucer" had failed to find the answers The "space ship" was officially listed as unidentified.
"But Wright Field is still working on it," an Air Force officer told me. "Both Chiles and Whitted are responsible pilots, and McKelvie has a reputation for making careful statements. Even without the Robbins Field confirmation, no one could doubt that they saw something."
The Chiles-Whitted "space ship" was not the first of this type to be reported. Another wingless aircraft was sighted in August 1947, by two pilots for an Alabama flying service. It was at Bethel, Alabama, just after sunset, when a huge black wingless craft swept across their course. Silhouetted against the evening sky. it loomed larger than a C-54. The pilots saw no wings, motors, or jet exhausts.
Swinging in behind the mystery ship, they attempted to follow. But at their speed of 170 m.p.h. they were quickly outdistanced. Careful checking showed there were no
other planes nearby that could have been mistaken for this strange craft.
On New Year's day, 1948, a similar rocket-shaped object was sighted at Jackson, Mississippi. It was first seen by a former Air Force pilot and his passenger, and later by witnesses on the ground. Before the pilot could begin to close in, the odd wingless ship pulled away. Speeding up from 200 to 500 m.p.h. it swiftly disappeared.
Besides these two cases, already on record, I had the tips Purdy had given me. One wingless ship was supposed to have been seen three or four days before the Chiles Whitted sighting; like the thing they reported, the unidentified craft was a double-decked "space ship" but moving at even higher speed. At first I ran into a stone wall trying to check this story. Then I found a lead confirming that this was a foreign report. It finally proved to be from The Hague.
The tip had been right. This double-decked, wingless ship had been sighted on July 20, 1948 - four days before the Eastern case. Witnesses had reported it at a high altitude, moving at fantastic speed.
While working on this report, I verified another tip. We had heard a rumor of a space-ship sighting at Clark Field, in the Philippine Islands. Although I didn't learn the date, I found that there was such a record.
(In the final Project "Saucer" report, the attempt to explain away this sighting was painfully evident. Analyzing this case, Number 206, the Air Force said: "If the. facts are correct, there is no astronomical explanation. A few points favor the daytime meteor hypothesis - snow-white color, speed faster than a jet, the roar, similarity to sky-writing and the time of day. But the tactics, if really performed, oppose it strenuously: the maneuvers in and out of cloud banks, turns of 180 degrees or more. Possibly these were illusions, caused by seeing the object intermittently through clouds. The impression of a fuselage with windows could even more easily have been a figmnent of imagination."
(With this conjecture, Project "Saucer" listed the sighting as officially answered. The Hague space-ship case was. unexplained.)
In following up the Jackson and Bethel reports, I talked with two officials in the Civil Aeronautics Administration. One of these was Charley Planck who handled public relations. I found that the pilots concerned had good records; C.A.A. men who knew them discounted the hoax theory.
"Charley, there's a rumor that airline pilots have been ordered not to talk," I told Planck. "You know anything about it?"
"You mean ordered by the Air Force or the companies?" he said.
"The Air Force and the C.A.A."
"If the C.A.A.'s in on it, it's a top-level deal," said Charley. "I think it's more likely the companies-with or without a nudge from the Air Force."
While we were talking, an official from another agency came in. Because the lead he gave me was off the record, I'll call him Steve Barrett. I knew Steve fairly well. We were both pilots with service training; our paths had crossed during the war, and I saw him now and then at airports around Washington.
When the saucer scare first broke, Steve had been disgusted. "Damn fools trying to get publicity," he snorted. "The way Americans fall for a gag! Even the Air Force has got the jitters."
So I was a little surprised to find he now thought the disks were real.
"What sold you?" I asked.
"The radar reports," said Steve. "I know of half a dozen cases where they've tracked the things. One was in Japan. The thing was climbing so fast no one believed the radar men at first. Then they got some more reports. One was up in Canada. There was a case in New Mexico, and I think a Navy destroyer tracked a saucer up in the North Atlantic."
"What did they find out?" said Charley Planck.
Steve shrugged. "I don't know all the answers. Whatever they are, the things can go like hell."
I had a hunch he was holding back, I waited until he bad finished with Charley, and then went down the hall with him.
"You think the saucers are guided missiles?," I said.
"If I thought so, I wouldn't be talking," he said flatly. "That's not a dig at you. But I was cleared last year for some secret electronics work, and it might be used in some way with guided missiles."
"I didn't know that, Steve."
"It's O.K.," he said. "I don't mind talking, because I can't believe the saucers are guided missiles. Maybe a few of the things sighted out in the Southwest have been our test rockets, but that doesn't explain the radar reports in Canada and Japan."
"I'd already heard about a radar case in Labrador," I told Steve. He looked at me quickly.
"Where'd you pick that up?"
"True passed it on to me," I said.
"They've had some trouble tracking the things, they maneuver so fast," said Steve. "It sounds crazy, but I've been told they hit more than ten thousand miles an hour."
"You believe it?"
"Well, it's not impossible. Those saucers were tracked about fifty miles up, where there's not much resistance."
The elevator door opened. Steve waited until we were outside of the Commerce Building.
"There's one other thing that gets me," he said. "Unless the radar boys are way off, some of those saucers are enormous. I just can't see a guided missile five hundred feet in diameter." He stopped for a moment. "I suppose this will sound screwy to you-"
"You think they're interplanetary," I said.
Steve was quickly on the defensive. "I haven't bought it yet, but it's not as crazy as it sounds."
Without mentioning names, I told him about the aircraft designer and the airline pilots.
"They're in good company," said Steve. "You know the Air Institute?"
"Sure - the Air Force school down at Montgomery."
"Six months ago, I was talking with an officer who'd been instructing there." Steve looked at me, deadly serious. "He told me they are now teaching that the saucers are probably space ships."