Date: Sat, 08 Jan 2011 14:02:22 -0500
From: Joel Carpenter <>
Subject: Exotic Balloons and the UFO Phenomenon – An Intertwined Puzzle


The May/June 2004 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine contains an article titled “The Cold War’s Classified Skyhook Program: A Participant’s Revelations,” by Bernard D. “Duke” Gildenberg, a former balloon operations expert whose name will be familiar to IUR readers through his involvement with the Air Force Roswell report controversy. In the SI piece, Gildenberg describes several little-known, classified balloon systems of  unusual design and performance, which he believes had a significant impact on other aspects of UFO history beyond Roswell. Gildenberg states that by publishing the article, “[he] hope[s] to reveal many of those once-classified programs, how they generated UFO mythology, and why that relationship has not been fully addressed.” 

In addition to his discussion of balloon hardware, Gildenberg also reveals that beyond his crucial role in the execution of balloon operations, he “was also an investigator for a special Project Blue Book Office” that was set up at an air force base in New Mexico:

…At Holloman AFB, the Blue Book office was situated in our Skyhook Balloon building. That choice was biased by the significant percent of reports generated by our relatively new vehicle. The office was unique in that it, like the Wright Field Center, analyzed reports. I joined the Holloman Skyhook group in 1951 for a thirty-year tour and immediately became involved with Project Blue Book.[i]


One balloon system Gildenberg singles out as a major factor in UFO reports is Weapon System 119L, “Project Gopher,” an effort to deploy fleets of huge, camera-carrying high-altitude balloons over the Soviet Union to provide reconnaissance imagery to US war planners. Obviously a highly sensitive mission involving repeated violation of the airspace of the main adversary, Project Gopher, which was initiated in the fall of 1950, was maintained under high classification throughout its development and operational phases and was cloaked in cover stories. Gildenberg asserts that Project Gopher’s secret launch activities, including, he claims, retention of camera payloads under armed guard prior to flights, were the seed of many later  “UFO myths” concerning existence of supersecret UFO “crash-retrieval” activities – myths which evolved to such an elaborate level that they manifested in the 1980s as the allegedly MJ-12-linked “Project Aquarius.”[ii]


Perhaps Gildenberg’s most arresting and significant claim is that in 1952, “the CIA suddenly showed up at our office and at launches…and requested that we not identify most of these sharply increasing Skyhook [UFO] reports. The strategy was to generate a UFO outbreak over the USA extending to the USSR when our WS-119L skyhooks arrived there.”


He offers one specific example of this “disinformation” tactic in operation:


On October 27th [1953], we launched an unclassified payload. It failed to terminate at the scheduled twelve hour flight duration, and, six days later, it was detected by the Royal Air Force over the Atlantic headed for London! Newspapers announced it could not be a Skyhook since there was presently no such activity in Europe, but altitude and performance reports agreed with our vehicle’s capabilities. Ironically, British intelligence officers also knew that but would not disclose the object’s identity. They too were involved with the WS-119L program…


Another major balloon project that Gildenberg singles out as a sighting generator is Project Grab Bag, which, like Mogul before it, was a classified nuclear detection device. Grab Bag and a related program called Ash Can were designed to extract gases and particles from the upper atmosphere and return them to the surface, where they would be chemically analyzed for distinctive tracer materials that would provide evidence of Soviet nuclear weapons development. As Gildenberg describes it, Grab Bag had a highly unusual flight profile that involved the balloon descending to very low altitude before dropping its payload container, whereupon the balloon envelope, free of the wight of the gondola, would rocket back to high altitude. This unique flight pattern, coupled with the secretive activities of payload retrieval forces on the ground, was yet another culprit in fostering the development “UFO crash-retrieval” legends, he asserts. Since Grab Bag flights continued well into the 1960s, according to Gildenberg, many otherwise puzzling UFO cases can be attributed to this program. For instance, he blames the March 1967 Minot AFB, Montana UFO incident at a Minuteman ICBM missile site on Grab Bag recovery activities. “Grab Bag generated probably the most detailed UFO events in the literature,” he writes. “For instance, ‘A conical shaped object descended from the sky. It hovered at an estimated 3,000 feet. A smaller UFO landed within fifty feet.’ That is a precise description of the basic Grab Bag profile.”


Gildenberg continues on to assert that sightings of “motherships” associated with planes being attacked by saucers were actually provoked by unwitting witnesses observing balloon payloads, dropping under parachutes, being snatched from the sky by special aircraft. Going further, he attributes the widespread “Black Helicopter” phenomenon, and even the entire cattle mutilation mystery, to misidentification of Project Grab Bag payload recovery helicopter operations.



Exotic Balloon Systems and UFOs


How should Gildenberg’s article be evaluated? Is it a genuinely new window into previously unknown information that ought to provoke a complete reevaluation of the history of the post-WWII UFO story? Is there significant new data among his claims?


I, for one, approached Gildenberg’s article with considerable interest and high expectations. My longstanding desire has been to gain insights into the precise area that Gildenberg covers – possible relationships between covert aerospace projects and the UFO phenomenon. Because of the their weird, saucer-like appearance under certain conditions, their unexpected flying characteristics, their frequently classified applications and great numbers, the Skyhook-class plastic balloon programs have always been a focus of concern to UFO historians.


There is no disputing that Gildenberg is a legitmate expert on Skyhooks. A massive, official 1958 Air Force history of balloon activities at Holloman AFB contains numerous citations of Gildenberg’s papers on technical aspects of balloon flight operations.


And there is absolutely no question that extremely high-altitude plastic balloons of the Skyhook type were responsible for untold numbers of UFO reports in the US in the 1940s and ‘50s. Seminal cases like the 1948 Mantell incident are now generally accepted to have been caused by Skyhook-class balloons. This author has written about a May 1952 incident where a probable Project Gopher test flight originating in Minneapolis was sighted by Coral Lorenzen in Wisconsin, an incident which helped provoke her to launch the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, one of the first civilian UFO study groups.[iii] The balloons were always one of the first potential culprits that Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book considered during investigation of UFO reports.


In spite of these facts, it seems fair to say that Gildenberg’s article, though advancing numerous claims that would, if proven, require reconsideration of many fundamental assumptions about the Cold War-era UFO phenomenon, provides little more than anecdotal evidence to support them. To be blunt, the article seems to represent another example of a phenomenon that is familiar to UFO researchers – participants in formerly classified activities who come forward and assert that their unique project was responsible for the whole UFO myth. (Not long ago, members of the development team behind the CIA’s U-2 reconnaissance aircraft asserted that their classified vehicle was responsible for “half the UFO sightings” of the 1950s.)


Moreover, the basic claims of Gildenberg’s article are far from new.


Although the specifics of the missions of many of the balloons were not described at the time, there was public discussion of the relationship between Skyhooks and UFOs almost from the beginning of the program. In early 1951, over a half century before Gildenberg came forward with his revelations, Office of Naval Research official Urner Liddell, a senior scientist in the Navy’s Skyhook program, published an article in “Look” magazine (and similar ones in technical journals) in which he claimed that "there is not a single reliable report of [a UFO] observation which is not attributable to the [Skyhook balloons].”



Exotic Balloon Projects


Just what was a Skyhook balloon and what kinds of payloads could it carry?


The project initially began with Navy and then Air Force support shortly after World War II, when the military became interested in studying the environment at extreme altitudes. Development of extremely thin-film plastics (similar to common kitchen Saran Wrap) enabled fabrication of huge, but very light-weight gas envelopes that could support scientifically useful payloads and lift them to altitudes more than twice as high as airplanes could fly. While rockets could go higher, their cost was enormous and their endurance at peak altitudes was short. Relatively inexpensive plastic balloons could be launched in large numbers and could expose payloads to stratospheric conditions for many hours at a time. The largest, around 75 feet in diameter, were called “Project Skyhook” by the Navy, and the name came to be used generically to describe all large plastic military research balloons.


By the early 1950s, improvements in materials, fabrication methods, altitude control systems and operational techniques led to the ability to fly payloads weighing over a thousand pounds to the edge of space on a regular basis, and the list of Skyhook applications constantly grew. The balloons grew in size as well – by the late 1950s balloons of over a million cubic feet in volume with diameters of over 300 feet had been flown.


Some of the earliest applications involved nuclear research. The Navy flew stacks of film plates on its Skyhooks to record cosmic rays in an effort to gain more insight into the high-energy particles both for basic nuclear science and to help understand the radiation environment that high-altitude aircraft would encounter. (The balloon that Captain Mantell died chasing may have been one of these cosmic ray flights). The Air Force’s Project Mogul was another early nuclear-related program that flew acoustical sensors designed to detect and pinpoint the location of Soviet nuclear weapon detonations and missile launches.


By 1949, Skyhooks were being used at White Sands, New Mexico to carry special projectile-like research vehicles to high altitude where they would be released to fall at supersonic speed, gathering data as they dropped. From the mid 1950s, the Navy Rockoon and Air Force Balrok projects used balloons as carriers to lift missiles to high altitude, where they would be launched hundreds or thousands of miles into space. The Air Force’s first operational air-to-air guided missile, the Falcon, required development of special target balloons that could be used to perfect homing systems. Some balloons were covered with silver foil to reflect radar signals, and others were equipped with brightly burning flares to emit heat that the missile’s infrared seeker could detect. Later versions of these target balloons were equipped with sophisticated turrets that could slew to different angles and launch multiple target missiles for the Falcon to attack.


Other projects flew plants, seeds, and small animals on Skyhooks. Primates sealed in special capsules were used to test environmental control systems. By the late 1950s, spacesuit-wearing human researchers flew to the edge of the atmosphere under Skyhooks, becoming little-known forerunners of the astronauts who would soon be sent into orbit.


As the capabilities of the balloons grew, the Air Force looked beyond scientific applications and began considering them for operational military missions. Among the first of these to be funded was Project Gopher, the reconnaissance camera payload, which began flight testing in early 1951 and was finally deployed operationally over the USSR in early 1956. As an adjunct to Gopher, a meteorological and operational research project known as Moby Dick was set up. Gopher and Moby Dick involved many hundreds of launches from bases all over the United States, since one aim was to gather high-altitude wind data over a long span of time and a wide geographic area in order to calibrate trajectory prediction techniques for operational military balloons.


Gopher had conceptual relatives that were far less benign than cameras and thermometers. One early idea was to deploy radar and radio jamming transmitters on Skyhooks. In wartime, mass waves of these countermeasures devices would be launched toward the USSR in advance of a US bomber attack, helping to keep defenses off-balance. A more sinister derivative was Flying Cloud, a highly sophisticated development of the WWII Japanese Fu-Go bomber balloons. Flying Cloud, or Weapon System 124A, was intended to carry actual weapons over the USSR, probably containers of biological warfare agent cluster bombs. Gildenberg states in his Skeptical Inquirer article that he participated in proof-of principle flights of the Flying Cloud system, but because of its classificiation he says he was not aware of the actual function of the devices at the time.


Interestingly, Flying Cloud was singled out as a potential UFO generator at the time of these tests. In an October 1954 report by the Air Force’s 4602d Air Intelligence Service Squadron, which was tasked with making field investigations of UFO reports for Project Blue Book, it is noted that


Captain Chaney, Headquarters ADC [Air Defense Command], was contacted to determine the expected effect Operation Flying Cloud will have on reports of UFOB's. Captain Chaney stated that this operation has been in effect for some time and he does not anticipate a rush of UFOB reports.[iv]


Projects Grab Bag and Ash Can and related systems constitute an even more shadowy aspect of the Skyhook story, since their payloads were utilized by some of the most secretive activities of the US intelligence community – nuclear weapons monitoring activities.


Grab Bag was designed to collect air samples that were studied in a search for a rare gas known as krypton 85. Kr 85 is a radioactive isotope that is produced in nature by cosmic rays and artificially by uranium fission in nuclear reactors or weapons. Since its natural background level (and amounts emitted by US and UK reactors) was known, any increase in kr 85 levels would be a vital clue to the presence – and size – of a Soviet nuclear program. Ash Can was a similar system that utilized filters to obtain radioactive particulate debris – fallout – from weapons tests. Like other nuclear monitoring techniques, these activities were kept highly classified to prevent the Soviets from taking countermeasures that would reduce their effectiveness.


Balloons as UFO Generators


What distinctive characteristics of these unusual balloons made them possible culprits in UFO reports?


Primarily, the highly reflective, filmy envelopes would swell into huge and nearly spherical shapes at high float altitudes, and, particularly in the early morning and late evening hours they would blaze with light reflected from the low-angle sun. Despite their extreme altitude, the balloons could look deceptively close in the eyes of unwitting observers, and their motion could be surprisingly fast or erratic depending on conditions aloft. On the other hand, they might weirdly hover nearly stationary for long periods of time. The balloons often carried elaborate “trains” of equipment that trailed far below the envelope, and frequently supported small auxiliary balloons that were attached to these accessories to help support their weight. Sightings of “mother ships” and “satellite objects” resulted, in at least some documentable cases.


Since Moby Dick balloons were launched all over the United States, there was a concern that they might descend through air lanes and interfere with aircraft. Many were equipped with anti-collision strobe lights. It would be reasonable to assume that these lights, reflecting from the undersurface of the balloons, stimulated at least some “lights in the night” UFO reports, although specific cases are harder to identify.



Balloons Are Not The Only Solution to the UFO Problem


In spite of many clearcut Skyhook-provoked cases in the literature, the balloons simply can not be blamed for the majority of the UFO problem. Researchers who have read the Project Blue Book case files know that too many cases involve objects that transited large swaths of sky at speeds too high for balloons. There are too many low-altitude objects that have no similarity to balloon configurations. Balloons can not have been responsible for cases where UFOs were tracked on radar while being chased at high speed by jet interceptors. And balloons can not have been responsible for numerous sightings by balloon ground crews that were tracking balloons at the time.


Since these cases are so interesting, and so at odds with the thesis of Gildenberg’s Skeptical Inquirer article, summaries of the Project Blue Book case files are worthwhile.


Case 1- 24 April 1949


Balloon engineer Charles B Moore and a General Mills technical crew were preparing to launch a sophisticated balloon system for an Office of Naval Research flight test project. A cluster of three Skyhooks would lift a special missile-like device, the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory JRN-1 Free Fall Test Vehicle (FFTV), to nearly 100,000 feet altitude. Dropped from the balloon assembly, the unpowered FFTV would accelerate to supersonic speed as it fell toward White Sands Missile Range, collecting several seconds of valuable real-world aerodynamic data as it did so. In preparation for the off-range launch of the FFTV cluster, Moore’s team sent up small “pibal” balloons to measure the speed and direction of the high-level winds the huge Skyhook system would traverse.


The General Mills team was viewing the pibals through theodolites – small surveying telescopes equipped with azimuth and elevation readouts – and plotting the motion of the balloons, when one of the men noticed a whitish object far higher and speeding rapidly from south-southwest to north-northeast over White Sands. Moore was able to get the object in the theodolite’s field of view for a few seconds – long enough to see that it was elliptical, with a shadow on the side away from the sun – and tracked it as it shot toward the distant horizon. It left no trail and made no sound. Just before it disappeared, it appeared to pull up in an accelerating climb at tremendous speed. Using the time, angle and elevation data they had acquired, Moore and his technicians quickly calculated the object’s altitude as over 200,000 feet and its speed as more than seven miles per second – orbital velocity or higher.


Navy balloon expert J Gordon Vaeth, the ONR Skyhook program supervisor, arrived by car to join the agitated group immediately after the object had disappeared and was highly intrigued by the sighting, as was the Navy’s senior officer at White Sands, Cdr McLaughlin, who became convinced that the object was unexplainable. Because of his reputation and obvious observational expertise, Moore’s report was taken seriously by military and intelligence officials who were already concerned about similar sightings in the vicinity of New Mexico installations, and was listed as one of the most significant UFO cases of the pre-1952 period. Moore and his associates rejected the idea that the anomaly was a meteor, bird, balloon, or other conventional object, but Moore declined to endorse McLaughlin’s later claim, in an article for True magazine, that the object was an extraterrestrial spacecraft. Writing to a magazine reporter shortly after the incident, Moore stated that “it is admitted that there are other objects [which might be cited as being responsible for the sighting]. However, the only nomenclature which we can attach to the object is unidentified, having peculiar and unique performance, seeming to indicate that propulsive power was being applied to swing it into an orbit and climb.”[v]


Moore holds this position – that the object can only be described as “unidentified” – to this day.


Case 2- 22 January 1951


The Air Force began flight tests of the Project Gopher reconnaissance balloons in early 1951 at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The first four flights, of 70-foot balloons with 1300 pound payloads, took place in January and February, all four failing due to problems with the plastic balloon envelopes. [vi]


One of these initial flights – possibly the very first, and very likely launched under Gildenberg’s supervision – resulted in a peculiar UFO incident.


Tracking the flight from a C-47 transport was an Air Force crew consisting of pilot Capt Ernest W. Spradley, from the Wright-Patterson All-Weather Flying Division, and Capt. J. E. Cocker of the Wright-Patterson Aerial Photographic Laboratory, accompanied by General Mills project engineer John McAlese, who was a former colleague of Charles Moore’s in the New York University balloon group that had been responsible for Project Mogul.


Spradley and Cocker were flying at 11,000 feet about 50 miles southeast of Holloman, having followed the Gopher balloon for about an hour. Closely watching the vehicle, which was drifting between 70,000 and 100,000 feet, they suddenly noticed a star-like, whitish object next to the balloon. “Flat and round,” “like a dime,” it seemed to increase in size until it was between 1/4 and 1/2 the size of the balloon. Suddenly, it “detached” and flew off laterally at high speed to the west, emitting several flashes of light – which Cocker compared to photo flashes – at one-second intervals as it did so. The process took long enough that McAlese had time to climb into the C-47’s navigation astrodome to get an unobstructed view before the object disappeared. Soon after the anomaly moved off, the balloon began to descend, landing in Texas.[vii]


The Air Force explanation of the incident was that the balloon had leaked its hydrogen lifting gas, which had ignited and caused the flashes. This was supported by the fact that this balloon, like all four of the initial Gopher test flights, failed due to tears in the plastic envelope, which were attributed to plastic embrittlement at extreme low temperatures. [viii]


However, Professor Moore scoffs at this explanation. “The ‘most probable cause’ suggested in the [Blue Book case file] is nonsense. We used helium in those early balloons,” he wrote to historian Michael Hall. “Any leakage of helium from the balloon would not have been visible to any observer.” [ix] 


The witnesses described the object as being “milky white” and distinctly disc-shaped. In any case, the high-speed level motion over a considerable distance from the prototype reconnaissance balloon is incompatible with a flame or shedding of hypothetical fragments of the balloon envelope.


Case 3- 10 October 1951


About ten in the morning of October 10, 1951, a light plane piloted by engineers Joseph J. Kaliszewski and Jack Donaghue was flying at 4,000 feet near St Croix Falls, a few miles east of Minneapolis. The General Mills technicians were observing a “trajectory flight” of an unspecified type of Skyhook that had just been launched from a facility near Minneapolis. They were heading toward the balloon, which was nearing 20,000 feet and was about six miles ahead of them to the southwest, when Kaliszewski noticed a strange object crossing the sky from east to west, behind the Skyhook and much higher than it.


The object appeared to be 1/4 the size of their balloon and had a “peculiar glow to it.” It crossed behind the balloon in a slight dive, leveled off and continued to the west for about a minute, decelerating. It then entered a sharp turn to its left and climbed at an angle of 50 to 60 degrees with “terrific acceleration” and disappeared. The total duration of the observation was about two minutes. The object left no trail and did not appear to be a balloon, aircraft, or astronomical phenomenon.


Who were these observers? Kaliszewski was the supervisor of balloon manufacture for General Mills, an experienced engineer who was immersed in the production and flight testing of the Skyhook system. He was an experienced pilot who had flown P-38 Lightning fighters in the Pacific theatre during WWII. In later years he would leave General Mills to help found competitor Raven Industries, one of the most important balloon engineering firms. In the 1950s and 60s, Kaliszewski would help manage a global-scale deployment of an operational version of the Project Mogul missile acoustical-detection system.[x]



Case 4- 11 October 1951


At 6:30 AM on the day after the UFO incident, Kaliszweski was again in the air to observe another General Mills Skyhook flight – this time an early test of the classified Grab Bag nuclear detection vehicle. As he wrote in his later report,


Dick Reilly and I were flying at 10,000 feet observing the grab bag [sic] balloon when I saw a brightly glowing object to the southeast of the University of Minnesota Airport. At that time we were a few miles north of Minneapolis and heading east. I pointed it out to Dick and we both made the following observation:


The object was moving from east to west at a high rate and very high. We tried keeping the ship on a constant course and using reinforcing member of the windshield as a point [of reference]. The object moved past this member at about 5° per second. This object was very peculiar in that it had what can be described as a halo around it with a dark undersurface. It then slowed down and started to climb in lazy circles slowly. The pattern it made was like a falling leaf inverted. It went through these gyrations for a couple minutes….Two hours later we saw another one.”


Maj Gerhard Kaske, Intelligence Officer of the 133d Fighter-Interceptor Wing, St Paul, who interrogated the General Mills engineers at the request of Project Grudge, remarked that


The men mentioned in the report are all research engineers working on a classified combined AF-Navy project and three of the men are also pilots….Considering the excellent technical background of the men interviewed, their knowledge of aerodynamics and the fact that there were four men to confirm the reported sighting, the undersigned feels that this is a very reliable report for this type of observation.[xi]


Case 5- 19 December 1951


Maj Kaske may have alerted the pilots of the 133d FIW to keep an eye out for unusual objects, because another intriguing incident was reported to him not long after he interrogated the General Mills technicians. At 3:50 on the afternoon of December 19, US Air Force Capt Donald K. Slayton, the 133d’s Maintenance Flight Test Officer, was flying an F-51 Mustang at about 10,000 feet near Hastings, Minnesota. Slayton was maneuvering the aircraft and had just pulled out of a loop when he noticed a white object about a mile away and 1,000 feet below his plane. His first thought was that it resembled a kite, but he immediately realized that it would not be possible for a kite to be flying at the object’s altitude.  He was closing on it, and when he next saw it, nearly even with his left wingtip, it appeared to be round and white, about 18 inches to two feet in diameter, and seemed to be spinning. The closure rate seemed exceptionally high. He began to suspect that it was a small weather balloon, and decided to turn toward it to check.


Kaske’s report on the Slayton incident contains a diagram of the ensuing action, and continues:


At about point no (1), pilot first observed object, he made a left 180° turn which should have brought him straight into the object at point (2). At point (1) the object began to turn to the left and seemed to gain speed rapidly. The pilot turned with the object at about a 30° left bank. It was at this point that the pilot became aware that the object was not floating in space, but rather had accelerating and maneuvering abilities….The pilot kept closing in until he was at about an assumed distance of 500 yds. At point (3)….the object appeared to be two disks 18” to 2’ in diameter and approximately 1’ apart, spinning at a rapid rate….the object or objects gained speed…at a very rapid rate, and took on the appearance of a single object, and then gained speed very rapidly….Rotational effect appeared to be in a counter-clockwise direction at all times….Pilot when approaching point (4) started to turn with object at about a 270° left turn, the object picking up speed at all times. At point (4)… the pilot had an estimated speed of about 280 mph. The pilot assumes the speed of the object at this point was about 380 or 400 mph….The pilot started to straighten out then snap back into position at point (5). When pilot went back into turn he lost sight of the object…[xii]


Donald K. “Deke” Slayton had flown B-25 and A-26 bombers during World War II and was rated as an instructor. After the war he attended the University of Minnesota, graduating in only two years with a degree in aeronautical engineering. After a stint as an engineer with Boeing, he was recalled to duty with the Minnesota Air National Guard, where his sighting occurred.


After serving with front-line combat squadrons in Europe, in 1955 Slayton entered the US Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, where his skills became legendary (his aggressive maneuvering during the 1951 incident being totally characteristic of his flying style). In 1959 he survived a rigorous screening process and was accepted by NASA as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts. In 1962 he was named director of the Astronaut office, in charge of selection and training of the crews of every US manned space mission. In July 1975, Slayton flew in space as Docking Module Pilot of the last Apollo mission, the joint US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. He retired from NASA in the 1980s after supervising the training and operations planning for the first four missions of the Space Shuttle.[xiii]



Case 6- 15 October 1953


Two years after Kaliszewski’s sighting, another group of General Mills engineers reported a strangely similar incident during yet another Grab Bag balloon flight.


At 10:10 AM, the men were standing on the roof of the General Mills Aeronautical Research Laboratories building and tracking a 79-foot diameter Project 85021-Grab Bag balloon through theodolites as it drifted at 73,000 feet when they sighted a fast-moving object at high altitude. It appeared to be about twelve miles to the south of their position, and was heading southeast at a rate of about ten degrees per second at an estimated altitude of 40,000 ft, trailing a short, “comet-like” vapor or smoke trail which did not persist. Through the theodolite it appeared to be the same apparent size as the Grab Bag balloon, but no detail was visible. After speeding horizontally for about ten seconds, the object appeared to enter a vertical dive. This maneuver lasted ten to fifteen seconds, at the end of which the object leveled off, flashed two or three times and disappeared.


The object’s speed, appearance and maneuvers were so out of the ordinary that the balloon technicians were disturbed by the incident and felt that it was significant enough to report to the Air Force. They pointed out that if the object had been flying at the estimated altitude when first seen, it would have been moving at supersonic speed – about 900 mph – and the impressive (and nearly suicidal) dive should have produced a groundshaking sonic boom. In fact, no sound of any kind was heard.


The witnesses were General Mills meteorological engineer Fletcher Bartholomew (an MIT graduate and former B-17 pilot); research and development engineer Richard Reilly (pilot, two years postgraduate work in supersonic aerodynamics, and, of course, a witness to the 11 October 1951 incident); and research and development engineer James A. Winker.[xiv] (Winker later left General Mills, along with Kaliszewski, to help found Raven Industries, another pioneering balloon company with a long legacy of involvement with military balloon projects. In the 1950s, he helped develop the modern hot-air balloon.)




[i]           Gildenberg, B. D., “The Cold War’s Classified Skyhook Program: A Participant’s Revelations” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 28, No 3, May/June 2004

[ii]           Gildenberg may link the alleged UFO-related Project Aquarius to the balloon projects since FOIA requests have revealed an actual 1970s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project by that name that involved detection of ballistic missiles, ships and aircraft via advanced radar techniques.

            [see:] The operationally deployed version of Project Mogul (“Rockfish”) was intended to detect ballistic missile launches by acoustical means.

[iii]          Carpenter, Joel, The Sturgeon Bay Incident, IUR, [????]


[v]           Charles B. Moore to Adie Suehsdorf, 23 Jan 1950

[vi]          Peebles, The Moby Dick Project, p 102

[vii]         Spradley, Capt Ernest W., Routing and Record Sheet, Subject: Sighting of an Unknown Object, Project Blue Book case file [undated]

[viii]         Peebles, ibid

[ix]          Charles Moore to Michael Hall, 13 July 2000

[x]           J. J. Kaliszewski video interview by Thomas Tulien, Sign Historical Group, 1999

[xi]          Air Intelligence Information Report, 133d FIW, St Paul, Minn, 28 Novemer 1951; Subject: Sighting of Unidentified Object

[xii]         Air Intelligence Information Report, 133d FIW, St Paul, Minn. 12 December 1951; Subject: Sighting of Unidentified Object


[xiv]         AFL 200-5 FLYOBRPT, 23 Oct 1953, From: Commander, 31st Air Division, St Paul, Minn, To: Wright-Patterson ATIAA-2C [Air Technical Intelligence]