Nuclear Connection Project
NCP Paper 

UFOIS: The UFO Sighting Wave of 1957

Fran Ridge

Date: Thursday, 3 January 2013

On January 16-18, 1957, in a demonstration of the B-52's global reach, three B-52Bs made a non-stop flight around the world during Operation Power Flight, a  full-time flying alert in case of USSR attack. During the flight 24,325 miles (21,145 nmi, 39,165 km) was covered in 45 hours 19 minutes (536.8 mph) with several in-flight refuelings by KC-97s.

And for years after WW II, both the United States and the Soviet Union had been trying to perfect a long-range missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Building on the successes of Nazi Germany in developing the V-1 and V-2 rockets that pummeled Great Britain during the last months of World War II, both American and Russian scientists raced to improve the range and accuracy of such missiles. (Both nations relied heavily on captured German scientists in their efforts.) If an alien race were observing all our activities, what would they have thought? One must remember that a little over a decade prior to 1957 (right after WWII and before the Wave of 1947 and the Roswell crash) the impetus was already on to create orbiting platforms and satellites and missiles in space. After the most peaceful nation on the face of the earth had used two A-bombs on Japan, the thought some might entertain would have been that Earth satellites and orbiting atomic bombs was a good possibility and a very bad idea.

The missile race was on. 1957 was the year of ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) launches. No one in the public really believed that the Soviets were ahead of us in military technology until Sputnik. A dangerous situation, yes. But ahead, no.

There were nine American Thor missile tests, the first three were failures as was #5. But all nine were suborbital test flights! The first flight of the Thor IRBM was on January 25, 1957. The vehicle reached an apogee of 6 inches (150 mm) whereupon contamination destroyed a LOX supply valve causing the engine to lose thrust. The Thor slid backwards through the launch ring and exploded on contact with the thrust deflector. Serious pad damage occurred. The second Thor flight (102) lasted 35 seconds after an April 1957 launch. It was ended by a range safety officer who destroyed the missile after seeing faulty data on a readout which indicated that the missile was heading inland over Florida. Thor vehicle 103 (May 1957) exploded on the pad during tanking due to a faulty main fuel valve resulting in tank over-pressurization leading to tank rupture. Thor vehicle 104 (August 1957) broke up after 92 seconds due to a loss of guidance. Thor vehicle 105 (20 September 1957), 21 months after the start of construction, flew 1,100 miles (1,800 km) downrange. Estimated range without the extra load of the R and D instrumentation was 1,500 miles (2,400 km).1957 saw five more flights, including a flight of 1645 miles (2647 km) by a stripped down Thor on 24 October. Phase II testing with the AC Spark Plug inertial guidance system began 7 December with the first successful flight on 19 December 1957. Not Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles! These were IRBMs, Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles, all suborbital.

Operation Plumbbob was conducted at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) from May through October of 1957. It was the sixth test series at NTS and consisted of 29 tests. Six of these were safety tests, and two did not produce any nuclear yield. This series addressed several objectives, including tactical weapon proof tests, safety tests, and component and mockup testing for thermonuclear systems to be detonated in Hardtack I, among other things. During Plumbbob 16,000 DOD personnel participated in the Desert Rock VII and VIII exercises. Plumbbob released some 58,300 kilocuries of radioiodine (I-131) into the atmosphere. This was more than twice as much as any other continental test series. This produced total civilian radiation exposures amounting to 120 million person-rads of thyroid tissue exposure (about 32% of all exposure due to continental nuclear tests).

In July, the United States seemed to win the missile race when the Atlas, an ICBM with a speed of up to 20,000 miles an hour and an effective range of 5,000 miles, was ready for testing. The test, however, was a disaster. The missile rose only about 5,000 feet into the air, tumbled, and plunged to earth. Just a month later, the Soviets claimed success by announcing that their own ICBM had been tested, had "covered a huge distance in a brief time," and "landed in the target area." No details were given in the Russian announcement and some commentators in the United States doubted that the ICBM test had been as successful as claimed. Nevertheless, the Soviet possession of this "ultimate weapon," coupled with recent successful test by the Russians of atomic and hydrogen bombs, raised concerns in America. If the Soviets did indeed perfect their ICBM, no part of the United States would be completely safe from possible atomic attack.

On June 11 and September 25 the U. S. had two Atlas A missile failures. The Dec. 17 shot was successful but all three Atlas A's were suborbital test flights.

The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was an international scientific project that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. It marked the end, after Joseph Stalin's death, of a long period during the Cold War when scientific interchange between East and West was seriously interrupted. Sixty-seven countries participated, although one notable exception was mainland China, which was protesting against the participation of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Both the Soviet Union and the U.S. launched artificial satellites for this event. So, in November all eyes were looking to space as people all over the world were trying to get an idea what an orbiting satellite looked like. But ours was so small there wasn't much hope, Sputnik was bigger. Everything the soviets had was bigger and better it seemed.
On Aug. 26, the Soviet Union announced that it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of being fired "into any part of the world." The announcement caused great concern in the United States and started a national debate over the "missile gap" between America and Russia.

On Oct. 4, 1957, less than two months later, the Russian satellite Sputnik 1 was successfully launched and entered Earth's orbit. Thus, began the space age. The successful launch shocked the world, giving the former Soviet Union the distinction of putting the first human-made object into space. The word 'Sputnik' originally meant 'fellow traveler,' but has become synonymous with 'satellite' in modern Russian. Concern quickly turned to fear in the United States, as it appeared that the Russians were gaining the upper hand in the arms and space races. With Sputnik orbiting and our "response": Vanguard, and other ICBMs (Atlas, Thor) exploding on the launching pads or failing to reach orbit, the public was nervous to say the least.

The American government accelerated its own missile and space programs. The Soviet successes--and American failures--became an issue in the 1960 presidential campaign. Democratic challenger John Kennedy charged that the outgoing Eisenhower administration had allowed a dangerous "missile gap" to develop between the United States and the Soviet Union. Following his victory in 1960, Kennedy made missile development and the space program priorities for his presidency.

Nov. 3, 1957.  Sputnik 2, the second Soviet spacecraft launched into Earth orbit, was the first biological spacecraft. It was a 4 meter high cone-shaped capsule with a base diameter of 2 meters. It contained several compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, a regeneration and temperature control system for the cabin, and scientific instruments. A separate sealed cabin contained the experimental dog Laika. The public was on the edge of panic as nobody could envision a peaceful use of outer space by the Soviets.

The Vanguard rocket was intended to be the first launch vehicle the United States would use to place a satellite into orbit. On Dec. 6, 1957, Vanguard TV3 failed to orbit 1.36 kg (3 lb) satellite.

It wasn't until January 31, 1958 that the U.S. was rescued from the plagued space program by the launching Explorer 1, America's first satellite. Following the Soviet success with Sputnik and the embarrassing failure in December 1957 of the first American attempt to launch a satellite, the U.S. Army launched this scientific satellite using a rocket that had been developed to test guided missile components, the Redstone.

With a year of U.S failures and the fear of what the Soviets were going to do, the launching of Sputnik got people to go outside and look up into the November sky.  As people looked "up" they saw more than satellites. And by now there were objects being seen at close range. And this was the first time there was vehicle interference.

Up until 1957, the American view of UFOs was basically that of a phenomenon of lights in the sky observed by inexperienced witnesses. There were very few claims of landings or "entities," other than those by the non-believable "contactees." There were very few "close encounters" (objects within 500 feet of the witness). In Europe and South America it had been different, especially in 1954, but that was so far away and out of the "news" that you could think that these stories were just that, stories.

The military had a different perspective than we had in the U.S. or the outside world, but the end result was the same. There apparently wasn't anything to get excited about, no threat to security.  Not all intelligence people were that calm about it, but concentrating on defense and the Soviets, made it easier to ignore it. But in early November the UFOs brought about a series of close encounters never before seen in the United States, providing another major stress that the military did not need. The minority group at Wright-Patterson AFB and the Pentagon, the UFO debunkers, would have to handle that matter on their own. They had Soviet Sputniks and ICBMs on their minds.

Table 1. Air Force Project Blue Book Cases

Project Blue Book received 1,006 reports of UFO sightings in 1957. This was the third highest UFO sighting year in the 1947 through 1969 time period of official Air Force investigations. The year of 1957 was highlighted by the Levelland, Texas sightings which occurred in November.

Larry Hatch *U* Database Histogram for 1957.

America's third major sighting wave of  1957 peaked in the first week of November 1957, with at least 30 accounts of electrical devices experiencing temporary failure in connection with a UFO sighting. The files of Project Blue Book show 330 reports for that week, while the files of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) list almost 90 unexplained reports.

Out of 529 *U* Database listings for 1957, 208 were in November and 323 in North America. The busiest days 5 and 6 November (67 total listings) coincided exactly with the Taurids meteor shower. This is the only major wave to do so but if one looks at the data there is no direct connection, only a coincidence. The three busiest states were California (41), Texas (37) and New Mexico (33).

The most striking feature of this sighting wave was the concentration of "electromagnetic effect" cases around the west Texas town of Levelland. There were at least eight such reports in the space of 2.5 hours in an area to the west, north and east of Levelland. Project Blue Book sent a single investigator to Levelland to check the reports. His explanation, accepted as the official Air Force conclusion, was that: "... the major cause for the Levelland case was a severe electrical storm. The storm stimulated the populace into a high level of excitement. This excitement reflected itself in their reactions to ordinary circumstances, and resulted in the inflation of the stories of some of the witnesses concerning their experiences." Ten years after these incidents, atmospheric physicist Dr. James McDonald completed a study and determined that there had been no storm in the area, and thus no source of excessive moisture to interfere with the automobiles' electrical systems. With no "severe electrical storm" to "stimulate the populace into a high level of excitement," the official explanation falls apart.

Describing the "trough" after the 1957, is Richard Hall:

After the November 1957 wave, UFOs once again seemingly disappeared­ or drastically cut back activities if we are thinking in terms of visitors from space ­for three years. But the disappearance was mostly from the pages of newspapers and the airwaves. After-the-fact historical research shows that there was a steady flow of sightings throughout 1958, with a slight increase in October. Not a large number, but plenty to demonstrate the continuity of the phenomenon. Similarly, throughout 1959 and 1960, a steady flow of absolutely typical UFOs were reported. Again, many highly significant and classic cases occurred during the 1958­-1960 sighting trough. They included the Trindade Isle, Brazil, photographs in 1958; the 1959 Father Gill case in Papua New Guinea; and the Red Bluff, California, state police sighting in 1960.

Three years prior to 1957, in 1954, Churchill had decided that Britain should go ahead with hydrogen bomb development. Britain's first successful hydrogen bomb was detonated on November 8, 1957, over Christmas Island in the Pacific. The test had a yield of 1.8 megatons.

The first large scale American nuclear power plant went into operation in Shippensport, Pittsburgh, PA. The reactor reached criticality on December 2, 1957.

Francis Ridge,
The Nuclear Connection Project