NCP-06: The Oak Ridge Mini-Flap
Lawrence Fawcett & Barry Greenwood:
A flurry of reports suddenly burst into FBI files from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the fall of 1950. A few interesting events preceded this. A summary of these events follows
20 June 1949
1-6 March 1950
12 October 1950
2347. Fighter aircraft was at the position of the radar target and made three perfect interceptions but could see nothing.
13 October 1950
15 October 1950
151? hours. Fighter plane made unsuccessful passes at a good radar target four (4) miles from the East Boundary (Kerr Hollow Gate).
1520 hours. SUBJECT seen at Kerr Hollow Gate by Troopers Rymer and Zarzecki, Mr. Hightower, and Mr. Moneymaker.
1520 hours. Radar scopes at McGhee-Tyson Airport indicate unidentified targets.
16 October 1950
1520 hours. Radar scopes at McGhee-Tyson Airport giving unintelligible readings.
1956 to 2004 hours. NEPA Guards, Brown, Herron, and Davis report peculiar sounds.
20 October 1950
23 October 1950
24 October 1950
1823 to 1920 hours. Several small, slow targets appeared on radar scope.
26 October 1950
5 November 1950
25 May 1950
Certainly something big was going on. Oak Ridge was the site of the old Atomic Energy Commission's testing facilities. Unauthorized aerial craft in this area would amount to a major security breach of very great concern to the military.
A memo dated October 25, 1950 provided some details:
OBJECTS SIGHTED OVER OAK RIDGE, TENNESSEE
At 1655 hours, on 20 October 1950, Mr. Larry P. Riordan, AEC Badge No.522, Superintendent of Security at X-10 in the "Control Zone" at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, while enroute from X-10 to the Oak Ridge residential area, on Benton Valley Road, saw an object in the sky which appeared to be directly over the University of Tennessee Agricultural Research Farm. This object gave the general appearance of an aerial balloon which had lost its "basket." In other words, the object was generally round; appeared to come together at the bottom in wrinkles (rather indistinct), and something was hanging below. The balloon was described as being from eight to ten feet long; of a lead pipe or gunmetal color; and seemed to be approximately one-fourth (¼) mile from the observer, at a thirty (30) degree elevation above the horizon. The object was apparently stationary but since the observer was in a moving vehicle, he did not verify that it was stationary. As the vehicle in which he was travelling changed position, and went around a curve, Mr. Riordan noticed that this object appeared to be thinner. He concludes that by reason of his changing position, or the object changing its altitude, he observed another angle of the object which appeared to be thinner than upon his first sighting.
At the time of the observation there was adequate light and the object was plainly visible. Mr. Riordan is a responsible person, as is indicated by his position, and he has been aware of the many instances of reported objects flying in the sky. He is also very familiar with the weather balloons which are sent up hourly each day over Oak Ridge between 6:00 AM of one day until 1:00 AM of the next day. The size of these balloons vary, but generally they are similar to a circus balloon which is about twenty- four (24) inches in diameter. Mr. Riordan is certain that the object was not a weather balloon but his first impression was that this object was an experimental "gab" being utilized by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Research Farm.
Mr. Riordan has been the Security Chief of X-10 since 14 July 1943. His vision is normal except that he has negligible impairment of the right eye. Like many of the Atomic Energy Commission officials, Mr. Riordan has hoped for the opportunity to see one of these objects, and under the circumstances, he visualized it as accurately as possible.
At 1845 hours, on 24 October 1950, Mr. William B. Fry, Assistant Chief of Security, NEPA Division, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, while attending a Drive- in theater with his wife and child, at Oak Ridge, noticed an object in the sky North-Northwest of his position, at a thirty (30) to forty (40) degree elevation. This object was moving gently in a horizontal plane, back and forth, within thirty (30) degrees of his line of sight. This object emitted a glow, varying in color from red to green, to blue-green, to blue, and to orange. The variations were checked on the vertical window post of Mr. Fry's vehicle and were witnessed by Mr. Fry's wife. The attention of another observer, the Projectionist at the Drive-in theater, was also called to the object and verification of this sighting was made. The object disappeared from his sight at 1920 hours.
At 1855 hours, on 24 October, 1950, an Air Force Major, Lawrence Ballweg, NEPA Division, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, also saw from his residence an object which he described similarly. The object disappeared from the sight of Mr. Ballweg at 1920 hours, which coincides with the time of disappearance of the object from Mr. Fry's sight.
On 20 October 1950, at 1527 hours, aircraft No. AF-409, Pilot Wolf, 5th AW-Fighter Sqd., took off from the Knoxville Airport for a "local patrol." The Radar Unit at Knoxville Airport received readings on their Radar scope and sent the aircraft after these targets. The aircraft pilot was unable to identify any flying object in the vicinity of the said targets. All targets were between eighteen (18) and twenty-five (25) miles from the Airport at 320 degrees. The aircraft was landed at 1713 hours. (Attention is invited to the fact that these targets were sighted at approximately the same time, and locality, that was reported by Mr. Larry Riordan.)
On 24 October 1950, at 1823 hours, several small, slow targets were seen on the Radar screen at the Knoxville Airport Radar Site. These targets appeared in the Southeast sector of the "Restricted Flying Zone" and over the city of Oak Ridge. These targets moved from the city area to and along the East boundary of the area. At 1826 hours, the fighter aircraft was "scrambled" and proceeded to the area where it was vectored among the targets but the pilot reported no visual contact with said targets. At 1920 hours the targets disappeared from the Radar Screen and the fighter was vectored toward another target believed to be one of three (3) aircraft enroute from Andrews Field to Steward Field. (Note: 1920 hours is also the time that the object sighted by Mr. Fry and Major Ballweg disappeared from their view).
Sightings continued into December 1950 around Oak Ridge. On December 14, the following information was reported.
A. Location and Time of Sighting: From 1605 hours for about three (3) hours, on 14 December 1950, on the Radar Scopes of the 663rd AC and W Squadron, McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, Tennessee.
B. Weather at the Time: At 1600 hours on 14 December 1 950-"Ceiling- 2100 feet; Broken overcast; Seven (7) miles visibility; temperature, 37 degrees F.; and Wind-Southwest at thirteen (13) miles per hour.
C. Names, Occupations, and Addresses of Witnesses: Personnel of the 663rd AC and W Squadron, 30th Air Division, McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, Tennessee, who were on duty at the time. Their occupations are Radar operators, Supervisors and experts.
D. Photographs of Objects, if available: No photographs taken. See "F" below.
E. Objects Sighted: A group of targets blanketed the Radar Scopes in the area directly over the government Atomic Energy Commission projects at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. These objects could not be identified from the radar image and a perfect fighter interception met with negative results.
F. Any other pertinent information: Lt. Robinson of the 663rd AC and W Squadron, McGhee-Tyson Airport, Knoxville, Tennessee took photographs of the scope readings with a personal, four (4) by five (5) Speed Graphic Camera, using Plus-X civilian procured film, a lens opening of F-2.5, and a shutter speed varying from twenty (20) to forty-five (45) seconds. The negatives were printed and forwarded to the 30th Air Division, Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan, which installation printed the negatives and sent copies thereof to the 663rd AC and W squadron. The numerous targets can be readily identified from the permanent radar echos by comparing the photographs.
The Army sent a report to the FBI on a sighting by employees of the Nuclear Energy for Propulsion of Aircraft project (NEPA) at Oak Ridge:
On December 18,1950, at sometime between 0820 and 0830, the following NEPA employees were riding in a vehicle on the Turnpike within the Controlled Area toward the NEPA Project approximately one mile short of the "Y" cutoff to White Wing entrance. The passengers, with the exception of . . . who did not attempt to participate in the viewing, observed a light emanating in the shape of a circle, of an intensity much greater than that of a bright moon, through the windshield of the vehicle. The viewers had the impression that there was form in connection with the light rather than merely a point source. The light was white in appearance and did not show any signs of refraction into a band or continuous spectrum. It appeared to be from 15 to 30 degrees elevated above the horizontal and on an azimuth between west and northwest, and appeared to be traveling in a northwesterly direction. The impression of it traveling is due to the fact that the object appeared to diminish considerably in size during the approximate thirty seconds during which it was viewed. The vehicle remained in motion and in following the course of the road, changed its relative position so that the object was viewed during the last few seconds from the side windows. As the vehicle proceeded down the road a nearby ridge obstructed the view of the object, and although the vehicle completed the turn toward K-25 at the "Y" intersection and the passengers had a relatively clear view at points along the road, the object was not viewed again. The observers were unable to estimate approximate size, speed, or vertical elevation; and, therefore, were not certain whether the object was over the Controlled Area or a considerable distance away. There was no vapor trail or any other visible condition within the vicinity of the object and there were no clouds which could have obscured it. The observers were unable to identify the object in terms of mass or shape, other than the circular appearance of the light. However, the circular area appeared to darken, starting at approximately 7:00 to 9:00 o'clock along the perimeter and continuing to darken along the perimeter and inner area until the light was concentrated in approximately 1:00 to 3:00 o'clock position of a very small diameter, at which point it appeared somewhat similar to a large star.
The observers were not in complete agreement as to whether the object was moving at a speed which caused it to diminish in size or actually was diminishing in size without any great velocity of travel due to the darkening effect described above.
Another radar report was received on December 20 as follows:
Object sighted: The radar log of the 663rd AN and C Squadron, McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, Tennessee contained the following entry: "20 December 1950.1247 hours. Small paint in area (Oak Ridge Controlled Area). Very very slow. Made perfect intercept (with F-82 Fighter aircraft) and orbit surrounding small smoke cloud.
A very cryptic teletype appears here as the final entry for 1950. Whether it relates to the activity at Oak Ridge or elsewhere remains to be explained. No other file has been found relevant to the information contained in it. It is dated December 3, 1950.
RE: flying saucers. This office very confidentially advised by Army Intelligence, Richmond, that they have been put on immediate high alert for any data whatsoever concerning flying saucers. CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) here states background of instructions not available from Air Force Intelligence, who are not aware of the reason for alert locally, but any information whatsoever must be telephoned by them immediately to Air Force Intelligence. CIC advises data strictly confidential and should not be disseminated.
So, flying saucers, once again, upset the military to such an extreme that an "Immediate High Alert" must be declared. This is hardly what to expect from an illusion.
Most UFO information in the FBI files from this point on is sporadic in nature. A number of unusual reports appear, however. This teletype is dated May 26, 1952.
RE Flying Saucers, information concerning. Three women saw strange objects floating in sky over Ashland, KY. At eight fifty PM, EST, May twenty- five last for two or three minutes. Objects described as looking like large oysters with fishtails floating low like a cloud. They were oval in shape and according to observers could have been balloons. They came in over Ashland from the north, circled and went back in the opposite direction. Above information for Bureau. No action here.
An important admission is made in the first paragraph of this July 29, 1952 memo:
SUBJECT: FLYING SAUCERS
To advise at the present time the Air Force has failed to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion in its research regarding numerous reports of flying saucers and flying discs sighted throughout the United States.