Part 2 - 5:  Balloon Deflated

May 31, 2006

One of the many reasons why I never believed the Mantell case was actually explained was the LIFE Magazine article in 1952. On May 31st, I mentioned this and listed it as part of the record. On April 7, 1952, four years after the incident mind you, in this article, cleared by the Air Force, Robert Gina of LIFE Magazine states:

"Nevertheless in serious moments most people were a little worried by all the 'chromium hubcaps,' 'flying washtubs' and 'whirling doughnuts' in the sky. Buried in the heap of hysterical reports were some sobering cases. One was the calamity that befell Air Force Captain Thomas F. Mantell on Jan. 7, 1948. That afternoon Mantell and two other F-51 fighter pilots sighted an object that looked like "an ice-cream cone topped with red" over Godman Air Force Base and Fort Knox, Ky. Mantell followed the strange object up to 20,000 feet and disappeared. Later in the day his body was found in a nearby field, the wreckage of his plane scattered for a half mile around. It now seems possible that Mantell was one of the very few sighters who actually were deceived by a Skyhook balloon, but the incident is still listed as unsolved by the Air Force files."

Barry Greenwood has pursued the UFO topic since 1964. He specialized in researching government documents in the late 1970s, leading to co-authoring the book "Clear Intent" (with Larry Fawcett) in 1984. He also edited the newsletter "Just Cause" for "Citizens Against UFO Secrecy" (CAUS) from 1984 to 1998. Other research has been published in the "MUFON Journal," "Flying Saucer Review" and a variety of international publications since the mid-1970s. In more recent years, he has specialized in UFO history, compiling "The New England Airship Wave of 1909" and editing "U.F.O. Historical Revue," a newsletter issued from 1998 to date. He also published the online "Union Catalog of Periodical UFO Articles," a massive listing of UFO articles published in worldwide periodical literature and is an associate of "Project 1947" and the "Sign Historical Group" (SHG), and is an overseer of one of the larger archives of historical UFO materials in existence, having spent thousands of hours in library and archive research.

On this same day, Greenwood responded to Brad Sparks May 29 email:

Barry Greenwood:
Since you dismissed the Camp Ripley data in my Just Cause article as "not worth the paper they are written on," perhaps you can explain why you continue to carry the General Mills sighting at Arrey, NM on 4-24-48 as an unknown since the main witness, Charles Moore, is not credible by your reckoning. If he lied about Roswell and lied about Mantell, why should the Arrey report hold any credence?
Fran Ridge:
Barry, it's no reflection on you or your great work, which I have always admired. It just turns out that Moore fooled us all...for a while. The more we dig; the more we find. Exactly what you would expect if there is something to all this. And the most surprising thing about it all, to me (as I told the WFIE reporter), is that the evidence is right in front of us in the Blue Book files.

Barry Greenwood:
Might we safely say that we can now dismiss the 1949 General Mills sighting as a hoax because Charles Moore was involved, based upon what we've seen here today? If he is a liar and forger, there can be no other conclusion.

Brad Sparks:
Moore wasn't the only witness on April 24, 1949, and we have the statements from the other four Navy witnesses obtained by AFOSI (William Akers, Richard G. Davidson, Clifford E. Fitzsimmons, Moorman).

Fran Ridge:
Remember the famous balloon at Sandy Hook that was chased by the T-33 after the Fort Monmouth incident? Everybody wanted to toss that case out, too. Ruppelt (like Moore) placed the balloon at the right place and the right time. We (the report) went from a reference in Ruppelt's book to a full report almost 2" thick that blew that (explanation) out of the water once and for all. It is now listed as an unknown!!!

Jan Aldrich is the creator and coordinator of Project 1947, an ongoing and unprecedented effort to collect and archive UFO data. Aldrich's project has compiled a massive amount of data ranging from government documents, newspaper stories, magazine clippings, and other documents. Jan is also the author of several UFO articles. He is also a member of the NICAP A-Team.

Jan Aldrich:
I am sorry but this is completely untrue.  I have always said that the AF's explanation was flawed here (Sandy Hook).  This is based on the AF claims that a balloon can act like a high speed aircraft and out distance the chase plane in low winds.  I am not the only one that said that and have posted on the case several time on UFO Updates. As far as the Mantle (sic) case...there were UFOs in the area?  So what!   Are the two connected?  Look at Mantel's (sic) description. There were sightings of a big balloon in the area afterward. It is your opinion that a pilot would not go above 20,000 without oxygen. An NG pilot did the same thing in 1956 and from the same outfit as Mantell. Why?  Probably, because of lack of judgement when flying at high altitudes with lack of oxygen.   Thinking that they can just go that little extra altitude and get back down before being effected.

Fran Ridge:
Jan, You supported us when we redid that entire (Fort Monmouth) report. When I made the comment I meant that MOST of the UFO community was satisfied with Ruppelt's explanation by doing nothing and letting it lie. You were one of the people that helped (us), so when I said "everyone" I meant that, if we hadn't created the full report with all the documents, it would still be written off.

Brad Sparks:
But that's the whole point Jan -- the "Skyhook-like" sightings 4 HOURS after Mantell crashed and 2 HOURS AFTER SUNSET at high altitude, made by numerous competent Clinton County AFB tower personnel (and others elsewhere including at the Mantell crash site) with binoculars who MADE DRAWINGS.  How do you explain this????  Ice-cream cone shaped intense red light, just like red sunset light.  Gotta be a Skyhook balloon right???  How can it be otherwise???  How can you have such a "coincidence" otherwise??? See full rebuttal at

I had noticed that Bill Booth had made some great comments on our show, so I posted the URL for the web site. This is what Booth said:

"Thomas Mantell Dies Chasing UFO is a skillful piece of writing, and the gentleman who wrote it certainly did his research. It is rare that I say this, but the video that accompanies the article is a must see. It is surely a professional creation with great facts mixed with archival footage from the U S Air Force. I must give credit where it is due. Reporter: Drew Speier, New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss, both of you, KUDOS! A well balanced report giving both sides of the argument. Once again, we face the familiar argument of the debunkers who say that Mantell was merely chasing a top secret balloon. Where have we heard this before? The proponents of the UFO theory point out that even Project Blue Book, who were interested in the case because Mantell was a pilot, would assert that the maneuverability of the object was beyond the capabilities of a balloon. The documents with this information were originally left off of the official report. There the mystery rests."

Joel Carpenter is a pilot and a member of NICAP's A-Team, He is a consultant on early UFOs and "foo-fighters".

Joel Carpenter:
Why doesn't anyone think he recovered consciousness in the last seconds, tried to pull out of the dive, began to, and lost the wing in up-bending -- just as the report says. In this case, the plane would not be in a screaming nosedive from 20,000 ft, but would be decelerating tumbling debris. (Note: There were certain control settings that implied that he had regained consciousness and reset things just before impact -- I don't recall exactly -- fuel pump, carb setting, something like that -- that wasn't in positions that would be expected during a high-speed climb. This is similar to the kind of thing NASA said about the Challenger astronauts -- certain switches were set to positions that they weren't in at launch, which implied that at least a couple of the astronauts had survived the explosion and tried to prepare for a crash.) <snip> I believe the report specifically noted that a fuel switch was in a position that wouldn't be expected in a climb, which implied that he might have recovered consciousness and changed it in the last seconds.

Joel then provided information on problems noted with the P-51, over three years prior to the Mantell crash.  He quotes the internet source:

"The loss of a P-51 Mustang fighter and the tragic death of its pilot over Preston in mid-1944 is probably one of the lesser-known local incidents of the Second World War. Yet this was the second such loss in identical circumstances in a matter of weeks and the potential consequences for the American and British Air forces were immense.

"The first incident occurred on 12th June 1944 when P-51D Serial No. 44-13403 embedded itself in the Ribble mud close to BAD2 at Warton killing it's pilot, Second Lieutenant W. T. Clearwater. Detailed examination of the recovered wreckage showed that there had been catastrophic structural failure of the wing assembly. It was some two weeks later that another BAD2 test pilot, 2nd Lt. Burtie Orth, was making a similar test flight in P-51D Serial No. 44-13593 on the morning of 27th June 1944. Weather conditions were not ideal with frequent thunder showers and 7/10th cloud cover at 1400 feet, but there were clear areas and the pilot may well have flown over Preston in order to carry out his testing schedule in just such an area. Although the aircraft's movement were not observed prior to the crash, it is believed that Burtie would have adhered strictly to the limitations on aerobatics flying which had been placed following the crash two weeks earlier. Exactly what happened next will never be known, but as in the case of previous crash, the first indication to those on the ground was the scream of the engine running out of control. At approx. 9:00 am morning assembly was taking place at Fulwood and Cadley School, when the children's attention was diverted by the noise and many ran to the windows in time to glimpse the last moments of the aircraft, a memory that was to stay with them for the rest of their lives. It appeared to those watching that the pilot somehow had some partial control over the direction of the aircraft's descent and it "steered" away from the school and houses below. The stricken plane exploding on impact, on an area of farmland in the Cadley area of the town. Those first on the scene quickly realised that they could do nothing for the unfortunate pilot.

"At the time of the accident it was suggested that although there was a recognised weakness in the wing of the new P-51D, the actual failure of the structure could have been triggered by the Starboard main undercarriage leg inadvertently lowering into the slipstream at cruising speed and placing immense pressure on the wing spar. However examination of the official crash reports for both incidents clearly places the blame on a weakness in the front wing spar assembly and associated stressed skin structure between "Rib stations 75 to 91.5, i.e. the Gun Bay area. The report on Orth's aircraft does go on to suggest that failure of the retracting/locking system could be a contributory factor, but merely recommends further investigation.

"For many years local enthusiasts believed that both these incidents occurred close to the site of BAD2 at Warton and one group actually went so far as to identify the crash site of an American fighter on the marshes at Freckleton as being that of 44-13593 and partially excavated the site! (See "Flypast" Nov. 1983 & Mar.1985) However a brief examination of the known details soon showed that this deduction was flawed. Inspection of local papers close to the date of the accident revealed little, though a small note about local school children sending flowers for the funeral of an American pilot put us on the right track. Following information appeals in the local press we soon had several witnesses to interview - mainly former pupils at the local school - which the aircraft had narrowly missed. Pinpointing the exact site proved a little harder - it had been well guarded and few of those interviewed had got near, also photos of the site obtained from the BAD2 Association clearly showed a substantial farm building in the background - which we failed to locate. Fortunately the present owner of the former farmhouse recalled demolishing the aforementioned building many years before and we were soon systematically searching a nearby field with a metal detector. Just days later the crash report arrived from Craig Fuller of AAIR, confirming the location beyond question.

"Our excavation of the site took place, coincidentally, on 27th June 1998 and we knew from the start that little was likely to be left, though our trusty Forster Locator was giving a good signal! Considering the importance placed at the time on discovering the cause of these two tragic accidents, we were most surprised to discover the top section of the starboard undercarriage leg. This comprised of the complete pivot casting from the top of the leg encased in the corroded remains of the magnesium pivot block, mounted on a section of the front wing spar and including the undercarriage locking mechanism. The position of the casting in the block clearly showed that the leg had in fact been in the fully retracted position at the time the remainder of the leg had been torn off. The force of the wing breaking away, with the wheel presumably held fast in the wheel well, had exerted immense pressure on the four bolts holding the leg into the pivot casting collar and these had sheared allowing the wing to break completely away and the heavy undercarriage leg to fall free. The latter falling in nearby Mill Lane according to one witness interviewed. Other finds included; the remains of three instruments, radio tuner control, spare lamp-bulb locker cover, drop tank release handle, an electric motor and many very small fragments, such as a locking cone from the pilot's parachute pack. As predicted the finds petered out at less than one meter in depth and the rest of the day was spent carefully checking through the spoil for missed items and reinstating the site just as we found it."

Richard Hall enlisted in the fledgling U.S. Air Force in 1949 and served into early 1951, followed by six years in the Air Force Reserve. After returning to civilian life he enrolled at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1954. Attracted by then emerging news about sightings of "flying saucers" (UFOs) in the 1950s he opted to make himself available to the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) then being formed. After working for NICAP for about 10 years, Hall resigned to find paying work because of his impending marriage. For a number of years thereafter, he worked for various trade associations in Washington, D.C., and for some "Beltway Bandit" consulting firms as a writer-editor. His final formal job before semi-retirement was as an abstractor-indexer at Congressional Information Service, Bethesda, Maryland for about 10 years. (See full resume below.) Hall served as Chairman of the Fund for UFO Research, 1993-1998, and is the author of several books. He is a prime member and consultant to the NICAP A-Team.

Dick Hall:
For heavens sakes, guys! I thought my memory problems were bad, but you all make me feel better. The whole business about oxygen in the Mantell case has been on the record all along. A quick look at the two-volume edition of Jerry Clark's Encyclopedia found at:

"Mantell's right wingman, 1st Lt. Albert Clements, put on his oxygen mask. Already the air was getting dangerously thin [at 16,000 feet] and Mantell and the left wingman, 2nd Lt. B.A. Hammond, had not brought oxygen masks with them. Mantell, without oxygen, said he wanted to go up to 25,000 for 10 minutes, then if he could get no closer he would abandon the chase.

"The wingmen broke off the pursuit at 22,500 feet, and the last they saw of Mantell he was "still climbing almost directly into the sun," according to Clements. A couple of minutes later his plane was seen circling lazily around, and it seems obvious that he had passed out from lack of oxygen. The ground witness saw it start to spiral down and it started to break up in the air before pancaking to the ground.

"The best guess is that Mantell was excited by the object he was viewing and committed a lapse of judgment under the very unusual circumstances."

Don Ledger is the author of three books, "Maritime UFO Files" which catalogues some 135 UFO sightings in eastern Canada, "Swissair Down" a detailed look at the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia and more recently “Dark Object” which chronicles the Shag Harbour Incident of October 4, 1967. Don has been investigating the UFO phenomenon for 20 years and presently concentrates on UFO sightings by pilots. He is the Canadian Affiliate and technical specialist for NARCAP, the National Aviation Reporting Center for Anomalous Phenomena. He has appeared in numerous documentaries, television and radio, lectured at various UFO conferences around North America and has contributed to various periodicals and magazines. Don is a member of the NICAP A-Team.

Don Ledger:
That's one I'd never heard before. As you say, hearsay, however. That portion of dialogue between the controllers and Mantell has never been mentioned, either to support that Mantell had the oxygen or that he did not. Frankly it has always bothered me that an experienced fighter pilot would ever climb past 12,000 feet [daytime flight] without oxygen. Excited he may have been about chasing the "object" but it would not compare with the various and heightened emotions that fighter pilots would experience when engaging an enemy.

Fran Ridge:
That part has always bothered me, and you expressed it very well. I had said that Mantell had been in stressful situations in aerial combat, yet going after an unidentified object in broad daylight shouldn't have affected his mind enough to do something life threatening. And while it was true that Mantell would have trouble reaching the balloon height (his 30,000 verses 50-100,000 ' for the balloon), the speed of the then one of the fastest airplanes we had of almost 450 mph would have overshot the higher object very quickly, not traveling faster or even "at half my speed".

Don Ledger:
Though the F-51 was capable of speeds in excess of 425 mph in straight and level flight under optimal conditions, it would have been a very rare day for it to reach 450 mph. Easy downhill mind you. In a climb it would have been struggling at its maximum climb angle of 17 degrees [the wing would stall over that angle even with engine laboring and blower at high readings in inches of manifold pressure] to get up to or over 200 mph. Even then it would have been probably mushing. The greater the altitude the less the rate-of-climb [ROC] versus forward speed. But yes, the real puzzler was Mantell's disregard for anoxia. He knew better. I can't understand why he would have gotten so excited about this object, more excited than if he had been in combat, to ignore this obvious danger.

Although I had mentioned this earlier in this report, this is a good time to once again look at the facts. This is what Mantell's friends had to say:

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."

One of these (friends) was General Sory Smith, now Deputy Director of Air Force Public Relations. Later in my investigation, General Smith told me: 'It was the Mantell case that got me. I knew Tommy Mantell very well - also Colonel Hix, the C.O. at Godman. I knew they were both intelligent men -not the kind to be imagining things."

Brad Sparks:
I would like to verify Mantell's WWII service.  Doesn't seem likely that a mere troop transport pilot would come to the attention of brass like Gen Garland. Capt Tyler's statement says that Mantell flew "transition in B-24's" in WWII (not sure what "transition" means unless he was training for B-24 flight duty).  B-24's were bombers not troop transports, and flew much higher (to 32,000 ft), where oxygen was necessary and thus Mantell had to be familiar with oxygen requirements from personal experience.  The excuse that he only flew low-altitude transports doesn't cut it.

And my research note:
Mantell had 2,867 flying hours, 67 of them in the F-51. He was a very experienced flyer and a veteran of the Normandy Invasion, having also won a Distinguished Flying Medal. He was also then operating his own flying school. At 22,000 feet or higher could he not have recognized a high altitude balloon that should have resembled a cone-shaped object, much like ground observer Pfc Oliver described?

Steven Kaeser is an Executive Board Member, Fund for UFO Research and has been on the NICAP A-Team from day one.

Steven Kaeser:
Fran, has the original report on this crash been located?  Some sort of official investigation would have taken place after this incident, but (I) haven't seen any discussion of what it says about the accident. <snip> So, a case that is probably older than most of us discussing it, has again reared its ugly head and confused us with evidence that we can either ignore or deal with.   Frustration has been expressed regarding the re-opening of this case to debate, but to my knowledge there are no major UFO cases that have been fully proven as mundane, and the Mantell crash is no different.

Rod Dyke spearheads the Archives for UFO Research, News and Information Service in Bainbridge Island, in the US West Coast state of Washington.

Rod Dyke:
The Archives for UFO Research (AUFOR), has a copy of the Official Accident Report (Inquiry # 10-480107-1) ... 125 pages long. IF anyone requires a copy, we can supply for $20 via media mail or $25 via priority mail.

It was essential that we order the FULL official accident report report, and this was done immediately. Up until now we had pages from it, but not the whole document. It was supposed to be 450 pages; then, it turned out to be 250 pages, and when we finally got it, it was 127 pages. What happened to the other pages, and what's on those missing documents?

Also of note are some excepts from popular magazines that relate to Mantell, I recalled, in  Ruppelt's TRUE article, a note by editors. In a letter to TRUE on this point, Capt. William B. Nash, had written:

"As a pilot, Ruppelt must know that he wrote pure deception when he said of the Mantell case, 'The propeller torque would pull it into a slow left turn, into a shallow dive, then an increasingly steeper descent under power. Somewhere during the screaming dive, the plane reached excessive speeds and began to break up in the air.' Any Dilbert knows that as the speed of an airplane increases its lift increases, and the plane's nose would come up until the speed decreased again and the nose dipped once more to pick up speed and lift, thus creating an oscillation all the way to the ground-not a 'screaming dive.' The plane could spin or spiral instead of oscillate, but a spin is a stall maneuver, and planes do not come apart in a stall. This oscillation would he especially likely to occur if the airplane had been trimmed to climb . . . and . . . Ruppelt says, 'The wreckage showed that the plane was trimmed to climb."

When newsmen began asking him whether the article was Air Force inspired, Ruppelt replied that they had furnished Life with some raw data.

"My answer was purposely weasel worded because I knew that the Air Force had unofficially inspired the Life article... [and also knew that the strongly implied answer that UFOs were interplanetary] was the personal opinion of several very high-ranking officers in the Pentagon - so high that their personal opinion was almost policy."

"Nevertheless in serious moments most people were a little worried by all the "chromium hubcaps," "flying washtubs" and "whirling doughnuts" in the sky. Buried in the heap of hysterical reports were some sobering cases. One was the calamity that befell Air Force Captain Thomas F. Mantell on Jan. 7, 1948. That afternoon Mantell and two other F-51 fighter pilots sighted an object that looked like "an ice-cream cone topped with red" over Godman Air Force Base and Fort Knox, Ky. Mantell followed the strange object up to 20,000 feet and disappeared. Later in the day his body was found in a nearby field, the wreckage of his plane scattered for a half mile around. It now seems possible that Mantell was one of the very few sighters who actually were deceived by a Skyhook balloon, but the incident is still listed as unsolved by the Air Force files. (Re: April 7, 1952: Life Magazine article, "Have We Visitors From Space?) "


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