NOVEMBER 23, 1953
"If a man lies about an apparently inconsequential thing,
then that thing is not inconsequential".
Source: On Pilots and UFOs by Willy Smith 1997 pp. 49-62
Although the so-called Kinross case has a low information content, it has attracted the attention of many authors, among others the late Dr. Donald Menzel --once upon a time a well-known debunker--who used it as a platform to attack the credulity of some "civilian saucer groups". On the other hand, some reputable ufologists, as for example, Richard Hall and Major Donald Keyhoe, wrote in a serious vein and provided us with a more balanced narrative.
In the view of the Air Force, the case was not considered a UFO incident, and it is only listed in the Blue Book files as an unrelated accident. Yet, no satisfactory explanation has ever been advanced, and the case is still mentioned by the new generation of debunkers as a typical example of how ufologists, in their desire to establish the existence of the UFO phenomenon, magnified an insignificant episode into an encounter with a craft of unknown provenance.
There are two reasons to discuss again this incident: (i) new information, dormant in the official files and brought to light thanks to the efforts of J. L. Aldrich, has definitely established that the information provided by Keyhoe was very much correct, while the version provided by Dr. Menzel is full of lies and distorted facts; and (ii) the uncanny similarities that in hindsight one finds between the Kinross case (531123) and a more recent (781021) and much better known incident •-the Valentich case-- that occurred on the other side of the world.
On the evening of November 23, 1953, the radar at Kinross AFB in Michigan detected a target which did not correspond to any known flight in the area. An F-89C jet was scrambled to intercept and was guided by the controller, 2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart. Here is what the official records say (433rd, 1976):
On November 23, 1953, an F-89C of Detachment #1, 433rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Kinross AFB, Michigan, took an active air defense mission. GCI had control of the fighter and was directing it from 25,000 ft down to 7,000 ft. The fighter and bogey blips merged on the GCI radar scope. There was no further transmission from the fighter, the bogey (sic: typing error, base was meant) was not aware of any aircraft in the area, and GCI saw no blips break off from the target. Both pilot (First Lt. Felix E. Moncla) and radar observer (Second Lt. Robert R. Wilson) are missing and are now officially listed as dead.
where the words in italics have been added for clarity. A few more details appear under OPERATIONS:
. . . the blips merged on the scope. Radar and radio was lost with the F-89 at this time and the aircraft was never sighted again. The search for the missing aircraft was under the direction of the Canadian Air Force; and the United States Coast Guard, Air Force, and Canadian Air Force participated in the search. No trace was found of the plane and the crew of two.
Since the main detractor of this case is Dr. Menzel, it is appropriate to start the analysis with his published interpretation.
DR. MENZEL'S VERSION
With his usual flair Dr. Menzel disposes of this incident in exactly 400 words of text (Menzel, 1963) which are reproduced in full at the end of this chapter. As he did many times in his career, he ignores and distorts the facts to conform with his aprioristic ideas of the nonexistence of the UFO phenomenon. It never ceases to amaze me that a scientist of his stature, whose contributions to astronomy are undisputed, could write such balderdash, ignoring the basic tenets of serious scientific writing. It would take too much space to debunk the claims of the debunker, specially when, of course, no references are listed, but the distortions of fact can't be disregarded. Among others, the perspicacious reader will notice that:
(a) While Donald Menzel states that the Air Force plane crashed into Lake Michigan, all sources agree the last known location of the F-89 was 70 miles east of Keeweenaw Point (State of Michigan) and 160 miles NW of Soo Locks, where the unknown target was first spotted. This places it in the middle of Lake Superior.
(b) Menzel claims the intercept was accomplished and the plane identified as a Canadian C-47. True, a flight plan had been filed that night for a C-47 from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Sudbury, Ontario (Hall, 1964). There are numerous reasons to assume the intercept never took place:
(i) Since a flight plan had been filed, the presence of the C-47 was known and an intercept was not justified.
(ii) The C-47 was traveling over Canadian territory, and that alone would seem to make such an intercept unlikely (see Royal Canadian Air Force official letter in Hall, 1964).
(iii) Although the pilot asked for and was granted permission to descend to 7000 ft (Gross, 1990), he never reported any further information.
(iv) The C-47 was obviously moving west to east, while the unknown was initially reported as moving east to west, as evidenced by the details of the intercept as appeared in the accident report records of the U.S. Air Force (Hall, 1980: 197).
(v) Finally, the Royal Canadian Air Force was unable to locate any records of such an intercept (Hall, 1964: 115).
(c) the phantom blip. Since Dr. Menzel's purpose was to attribute the incident to a defective radar and/or incompetent operators, a phantom blip mirroring the motions of the jet was necessary, and it was created. Thus, he says,
"As the ground radar at Kinross had tracked the returning jet, the scope had picked up a phantom echo in the neighborhood of the jet..."
As we have seen above, the reality is that the blips representing the jet and the unknown merged and disappeared on the radar scope during the final stage of the intercept. I can't really condone Dr. Menzel's cavalier disregard for the facts to suit his hidden agenda, whether he was or was not a member of the MAJESTIC-12 group. The levity in the remarks used to close his piece is unbecoming for the scientist he was supposed to be.
It is interesting to note that galley proofs of the pertinent pages of Dr. Menzel's book --reproduced here in Appendix B-- are part of the official Blue Book files (PBB: #20). Since the book was published in early 1963, the insertion of the proofs verifies that a revision of the files took place in late 1962, very likely during the tenure of Major Robert Friend as Blue Book director, which extended from October, 1958 to January, 1963 (Hynek, 1977).
Before letting Dr. Menzel rest in peace, I must mention his failure to disclose that the F-89 jet was an all-weather Scorpion interceptor and very unlikely to crash for unknown reasons on a night when conditions were not extreme: the air was stable and precipitation was coming from scattered cloud layers at 5,000 and 8,000 ft (Gross, 1960).
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
By placing together the bits of information found in the literature available to us, we can obtain a coherent version of what happened. Unfortunately, some details are simply not there, such as the time frame and the overall duration of the incident, but from the narratives it follows that all events listed below occurred during a winter night.
(1) weather. From the official accident file, as quoted by Gross (Gross, 1990) and Hall (Hall, 1980), there were scattered cloud layers at 5,000 and 8,000 ft, and some snow flurries in the general area. The air was stable and there was little or no turbulence.
(2) An identified target was detected on the GCI radar scopes flying over the Soo Locks area (Keyhoe, 1955: 14), moving east to west (Gross, 1990).
(3) An F-89C all-weather jet interceptor was scrambled from Kinross AFB and directed toward the unknown by radar, and vectored first WNW and then due west, as noted in the Air Force accident report (Hall, 1980 and Gross, 1990), while climbing to 25,000 ft (433rd, 1976).
(4) The pilot requested a change of altitude (Gross, 1990) and was directed down to 7,000 ft by GCI (433rd, 1976). The F-89C turned ENE and "dived on the unknown" (Gross, 1990).
(5) The controller --2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart (433rd, 1976)-- had positioned the fighter for the final stage of intercept when the blips merged and disappeared from the scope. Quoting from the same document:
"radar and radio (contact) was lost with the F-89 at this time and the aircraft was never sighted again no trace was (ever) found of the plane and (the) crew of two."
(6) All sources agree that the last reported position of the plane was 70 miles east of Keeweenaw Point and about 150 miles NW of Kinross AFB, which places the crash site in the middle of Lake Superior and within USA territory.
An interesting anecdote is quoted by Jerry Clark (Clark, 1992). When some time in 1959 civilian ufologist Tom Comella confronted the then head of Project Blue Book, Capt. George T. Gregory, by asking him about the Kinross incident, the Air Force officer looked shocked, left the room for a short period and returned to state: "Well, we just cannot talk about those cases." This behavior, if true, tends to confirm the suspicion that the Air Force probably had something to hide about the Kinross event
The documentation found in the files of the 433rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron leaves no doubt concerning the reality of the incident and the simultaneous disappearance of both blips from the radar screen. Probably we will never know exactly what happened, but it is evident that the Air Force felt compelled to discredit the case and did not hesitate to issue absurd explanations and contradictory statements.
In a first statement released to the Associated Press by Truax AFB, and quoted by Keyhoe (Keyhoe, 1955), it was admitted that the plane had been followed by radar until it merged with an object 70 miles off Keeweenaw Point, at a distance of more than 150 miles from the original position of the unknown over the Soo Locks. Had the unknown been a C-47 cruising at a speed of 165 mph, it would have been overtaken by the jet, moving at more than 500 mph, in a relatively short period of time. Thus, what the jet was chasing was not a C-47, and as narrated by Keyhoe (Keyhoe, 1955: 18-19), the Air Force had great difficulty explaining its official statement.
We then have the matter of the conflicting answers given by the AF in an effort to rationalize why no traces of the alleged accident were ever found (UFO Inv.,1961). In the first version, while attempting to identify a low-flying airliner, the pilot banked underneath it and caused the crash by striking the water with his wing. But of course, such an accident would have left considerable debris and would reflect total incompetence by Lt. Moncla. Thus, the second version was substituted: the F-89 exploded for unknown reasons at high altitude, the debris being scattered over such an extensive area that nothing was ever found. But the fighter was not more than 8,000 ft. high and as we know from recent airplane disasters --such as TWA flight 800 in July 1996-- plenty of floating debris is always recovered.
The deception extended to the relatives of the pilots. When Lt. Moncla's widow was first visited by Air Force officers to convey messages of sympathy, she was told that the pilot had flown too low while identifying the supposed Canadian airliner and crashed into the lake. But in one of those mix-ups that curse officialdom, a second officer was sent to offer condolences, and was asked by Mrs. Moncla why the body had not been recovered. The reply was that the jet had exploded at high altitude, destroying the plane and its occupants (Keyhoe, 1973: 202).
There is no point in extending the discussion any further. A jet, scrambled to identify an intruder, after a lengthy chase finally approached the unknown, at which point the radar blips merged and disappeared from the screen. We will never know what the pilot saw in the few seconds preceding the end; and when Dr. Menzel suggests tongue in cheek that the plane was taken aboard a spacecraft because an English instructor was needed, perhaps he was not being sarcastic, but as the good scientist he used to be, he felt ashamed of his conduct and decided to leave a hidden hint for posterity.
As indicated above, there is a similar case (Haines, 1987) in which a plane disappeared without a trace after a close encounter with an unknown object. It took place over Bass Strait, Australia on October 21, 1978, and during the incident the pilot, Frederick Valentich, maintained continuous radio contact with Moorabbin airport. Also in this case no traces of the plane or the body of the pilot were ever found, and by now the incident has been forgotten by both ufologists and the public. Years after, persistent ufologists such as Paul Norman located eyewitnesses on the ground who had noticed the proximity of the plane and the anomalous green light mentioned by Valentich during the event.
It is hard to believe that Lt. Moncla did not have the time or the presence of mind to radio what he had found after achieving visual contact. True, the weather was not perfect, but he must have seen something, at least on his radar screen, and said something on the open radio channel. Yet, the official files are silent about it. Realistically an Air Force which had no qualms about misinforming the relatives of the pilots would hardly have hesitated to suppress whatever Lt. Moncla could have radioed.
The proper classification of the Kinross incident should be:
A) NORTHROP F-89C SCORPION
The jet involved in this incident was a Northrop F-89C Scorpion, of which a total of 164 were produced. This plane was first flown on October 25, 1951, and remained in the active USAF inventory until 1954. At sea level its maximum speed was 650 mph, and 562 mph at 40,000 ft; it had a maximum range of 905 miles, and its initial rate of climb was 12,300 ft/min.
During 1952 six Scorpions, mostly F-89C, disintegrated in mid-air, and as a result the whole fleet was grounded. The failures were attributed to wing aero-elasticity, necessitating some major wing structural redesign, and all Scorpions were rotated through a modification program. I have included this little-known piece of information to prevent the debunkers from asserting that the Kinross incident was one more failure of a defective aircraft. The crashes occurred in 1952, and the Scorpions in service at the end of 1953, when the Kinross incident occurred, had been already refitted or would not have been flying. Besides, there is the small detail that debunkers --like Dr. Menzel-- typically ignore: the chase was initiated by the presence of an intruder, and terminated when its blip and that of the jet merged as witnessed by the radar operators. If the jet exploded at that precise moment, the unknown was simultaneously destroyed. Since there was no other plane in the vicinity, one could infer that it was a victory for the USAF over the UFOs. Interesting thought, as it would explain all the disinformation officially generated to cover up the incident, even if it adds nothing to our knowledge of the UFO phenomenon.
B) THE KINROSS CASE
Text extracted from Menzel et al., THE WORLD OF FLYING SAUCERS, pp. 154-5
Some such mechanism probably explains the radar returns reported in the Kinross case, which some saucer publications cite as a proved instance in which a flying saucer attacked a plane. On the night of November 23, 1953, an Air Force jet was scrambled from Kinross Air Force base, Michigan, to intercept an unidentified plane observed on radar. The jet successfully accomplished its mission and identified the unknown as a Dakota, a Canadian C-47. On its return to the base, however, the Air Force jet crashed into Lake Michigan and, as often happens when a plane crashes into deep water and the exact place of the crash is not known, no wreckage was ever found. As the ground radar at Kinross had tracked the returning jet, the scope had picked up a phantom echo in the neighborhood of the jet; the two blips had seemed to merge just as both went off the scope.
Since the crash was not reported as a UFO incident and did not involve any question of unidentified flying objects, ATIC was not asked to investigate the problem. The office of the Deputy Inspector General for Safety carried out a thorough inquiry and concluded that the crash had been an aircraft accident, probably caused by the pilot's suffering an attack of vertigo. As for the two blips shown by radar, the night had been a stormy one and atmospheric conditions had been conductive to abnormal returns. The phantom echo had almost certainly been a secondary reflection produced by the jet itself, and thus merged with the return from the jet and vanished with it when the plane hit the water.
Solely on the basis of this radar phantom, some civilian saucer groups have tried to transform the Kinross crash into a UFO mystery with Air Force investigators as the villains, and have suggested that the ghost blip represents an alien spacecraft that happened to be cruising over Lake Michigan that night and attacked the jet for one of two reasons: 1) The saucer might have tried to avoid close contact with the jet by employing a "reversed G-field beam" (see Chapter IX); colliding with this beam as with a stone wall, the jet crashed. 2) The saucer might have used the G-field to scoop the plane out of the air and take it aboard the spacecraft; the captured pilot might have been needed to teach the English language to his alien captors.
1. Clark, J. and Truzzi, M..; UFO ENCOUNTERS, Publications International, 1992, p. 36.
2. Gross, Loren E.; UFOs: A History; 1953: Aug.-Dec; 1990, p. 53-4.
3. Hall, Richard; THE UFO EVIDENCE, NICAP, 1964, p.114-15.
4. Hall, Richard, in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF UFOs, Ronald D. Story, Editor, 1980, p. 197.
5. Haines, R. F.; MELBOURNE EPISODE: Case Study of a Missing Pilot, LDA Press, 1987.
6. Hynek, J. A.; THE HYNEK UFO REPORT, Dell, 1977, p. 25.
7. Keyhoe, Major Donald E.; THE FLYING SAUCER CONSPIRACY, Henry Holt and Co., NY, 1955, p. 13 ff.
8. Keyhoe, Major Donald E.; ALIENS FROM SPACE, Doubleday, 1973.
9. Menzel, D. H. and Boyd, L. G.; THE WORLD OF FLYING SAUCERS, Doubleday, 1963, p. 154.
10. PROJECT BLUE BOOK, Microfilm Files, Roll #20.
11. The UFO Investigator, Vol. 1, No. 12, April-May 1961, p. 3.
12. 433rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Kinross AFB, Microfilm Records, declassified 1976.