The Mitchell TBM Case
January 21, 1952
Source: The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Edward J. Ruppelt, Pages 121 - 123
The morning before, on January 21, a Navy pilot had taken off from Mitchel in a TBM. He was a lieutenant commander, had flown in World War II, and was now an engineer at the Navy Special Devices Center on Long Island. At nine fifty he had cleared the traffic pattern and was at about 2,500 feet, circling around the airfield. He was southeast of the field when he first noticed an object below him and "about three runway lengths off the end of Runway 30." The object looked like the top of a parachute canopy, he told me; it was white and he thought he could see the wedges or panels. He said that he thought that it was moving across the ground a little bit too fast to be drifting with wind, but he was sure that somebody had bailed out and that he was looking at the top of his parachute. He was just ready to call the tower when he suddenly realized that this "parachute" was drifting across the wind. He had just taken off from Runway 30 and knew which direction the wind was blowing.
As he watched, the object, whatever it was (by now he no longer thought that it was a parachute), began to gradually climb, so he started to climb, he said, staying above and off to the right of the object. When the UFO started to make a left turn, he followed and tried to cut inside, but he overshot and passed over it. It continued to turn and gain speed, so he dropped the nose of the TBM, put on more power, and pulled in behind the object, which was now level with him. In a matter of seconds the UFO made a 180 degree turn and started to make a big swing around the northern edge of Mitchel AFB. The pilot tried to follow, but the UFO had begun to accelerate rapidly, and since a TBM leaves much to be desired on the speed end, he was getting farther and farther behind. But he did try to follow it as long as he could. As he made a wide turn around the northern edge of the airfield he saw that the UFO was now turning south. He racked the TBM up into a tight left turn to follow, but in a few seconds the UFO had disappeared. When he last saw it, it had crossed the Long Island coast line near Freeport and it was heading out to sea.
When he finished his account of the chase, I asked the commander some specific questions about the UFO. He said that just after he'd decided that the UFO was not a parachute it appeared to be at an altitude of about 200 to 300 feet over a residential section. From the time it took it to cover a city block, he'd estimated that it was traveling about 300 miles an hour. Even when he pulled in behind the object and got a good look, it still looked like a parachute canopy -- dome shaped --white -and it had a dark under surface. It had been in sight two and a half minutes.
He had called the control tower at Mitchel during the chase, he told me, but only to ask if any balloons had been launched. He thought that he might be seeing a balloon. The tower had told him that there was a balloon in the area.
Then the commander took out an aeronautical chart and drew in his flight path and the apparent path of the UFO for me. I think that he drew it accurately because he had been continually watching landmarks as he'd chased the UFO and was very careful as he drew the sketches on the map.
I checked with the weather detachment at Mitchel and they said that they had released a balloon. They had released it at nine fifty and from a point southeast of the airfield. I got a plot of its path. Just as in the Long Beach Incident, where the six F-86's tried to intercept the UFO, the balloon was almost exactly in line with the spot where the UFO was first seen, but then any proof you might attempt falls apart. If the pilot knew where he was, and had plotted his flight path even semi accurately, he was never over the balloon. Yet he was over the UFO. He came within less than 2,000 feet of the UFO when he passed over it; yet he couldn't recognize it as a balloon even though he thought it might be a balloon since the tower had just told him that there was one in the area. He said that he followed the UFO around the north edge of the airfield. Yet the balloon, after it was launched southeast of the field, continued on a southeast course and never passed north of the airfield.
But the biggest argument against the object's being a balloon was the fact that the pilot pulled in behind it; it was directly off the nose of his airplane, and although he followed it for more than a minute, it pulled away from him. Once you line up an airplane on a balloon and go straight toward it you will catch it in a matter of seconds, even in the slowest airplane. There have been dogfights with UFO's where the UFO's turned out to be balloons, but the pilots always reported that the UFO "made a pass" at them. In other words, they rapidly caught up with the balloon and passed it. I questioned this pilot over and over on this one point, and he was positive that he had followed directly behind the UFO for over a minute and all the time it was pulling away from him.
This is one of the most typical UFO reports we had in our files. It is typical because no matter how you argue there isn't any definite answer. If you want to argue that the pilot didn't know where he was during the chase - that he was 3 or 4 miles from where he thought he was - that he never did fly around the northern edge of the field and get in behind the UFO - then the UFO could have been a balloon.
But if you want to believe that the pilot knew where he was all during the chase, and he did have several thousand hours of flying time, then all you can conclude is that the UFO was an unknown.
I think the pilot summed up the situation very aptly when he told me, "I don't know what it was, but I've never seen anything like it before or since - maybe it was a spaceship."
I went back to Dayton stumped - maybe it was a spaceship.