11. DATE: June 23, 1955 TIME: 1245 local CLAS S: R V ground radar multiple air visual
LOCATION: SOURCES: Thayer (Condon 143)
N.Y./ Boston, Mass. RADAR DURATION: unspecified
EVALUATIONS: Thayer - unknown
PRECIS: A Mohawk Airlines DC-3 was cruising at 3000' in good daylight visibility below a 4000' overcast, about 15 miles E of Utica, N.Y., on a heading ESE to Albany, N.Y. at 160 knots. At about 1215 both pilot and copilot saw an object come over the top of their aircraft from behind, an estimated 500' above their altitude, on a heading that made a 20-degree angle with the vertical as it crossed the windshield. They estimated the length of the object at about 150'. It was described as:
"light gray, almost round, with a center line .... Beneath the line there were several (at least four) windows which emitted a bright blue-green light. It was not rotating but went straight. [The lights] seemed to change colour slightly from greenish to bluish or vice versa [as the object receded]. A few minutes after it went out of sight, two other aircraft (one, a Colonial DC-3, the other I did not catch the number) reported that they saw it and wondered if anyone else had seen it. The Albany control tower also reported that they had seen an object go by on Victor-2 [airway]. As we approached Albany, we overheard that Boston radar had also tracked an object along Victor-2, passing Boston and still eastbound."
NOTES: Thayer's study of this case notes that the crew computed the speed of the object, based on the times of the contacts near Utica and Boston, at 4,500 - 4,800 mph, and he questions the "absence of a devastating sonic boom" which should have been caused by a 150' ellipsoid exceeding Mach 6 below 4000'. On this basis Thayer concludes that the Boston GCA radar report was probably coincidental, and whilst he evaluates the residue as "a most intriguing report that. . . pending further study . . . defies explanation by conventional means" the lack of a related radar track clearly must reduce the interest of the case.
There is an inconsistency here, however. The total travel time for an object flying the 220 miles between Utica and Boston at 4,500 mph is only 3 mins., yet "a few minutes" had already passed before the crew heard reports from other aircraft and Albany control tower, by which time the obj ect should already have been beyond Boston and probably well out to sea. The likelihood seems to be that the error lies in the estimate of speed, which is itself plainly inconsistent with the visual sighting from the DC-3 crew, who watched the object "for several miles" as it moved ahead of them, had time for a clear view and were not rocked by the turbulence of a near air-miss with a large, hypersonic body.
Firstly, we should note that the times given in the report for the beginning and end of the above-described sequence of events, 1215 -1245, are consistent with the DC-3's trip from Utica to Albany at approx. 160 knots. If the crew heard the report of the Boston tracking as they "approached Albany" at or near 1245, as stated, then the implied average speed of the
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<>object is in the region of 450 mph. not 4500 mph.. a factor-ten error which suggests a (not unique) corruption somewhere in the Blue Book reporting chain. This value is in turn consistent with the Albany fly-past reported "a few minutes" after the Utica encounter at 450 mph the object would pass Albany about 8 minutes later. There does not appear to be any evidence that the object was hypersonic, and thus there is no reason to discard the Boston report on this basis.
We are left with consistent multiple reports of an obj ect flying between Utica and Boston at approximately 450 mph and detected by radar. The object seen from Albany control tower and two other commercial aircraft is undescribed, but presumably was unidentifiable by the reporters. The radar target is similarly undescribed, but again presumably was unidentified if only because it failed to conform to any flight plan and/or did not respond to radio interrogation.
The Utica sighting, however, is much more circumstantial and prima facie does indeed defy explanation. The overall performance is not itself inconsistent with a jet aircraft, but the description is difficult to reconcile in this way. An aircraft flying just within the overcast might conceivably be difficult to identify, and might even create unusual cloud turbulence in its wake which would obscure its true shape, but the rather specific configuration and lighting pattern are grossly at odds with such an hypothesis.
If the overcast were thin the lighting pattern might relate to a military air refueling tanker (always brightly lit) just above the clouds; but such an operation would never be conducted on a commercial airway, much less without warning, and the hypothesis would still leave a great deal to be added by the witnesses' imaginations. Presumably there could have been unusual towed drones and targets, as well as classified military airborne radar experiments with unusually configured radomes that might have been unfamiliar to commercial pilots in 1955, but this is highly speculative. The Grumman WF-2 Tracer was the first known Airborne Early Warning platform to use a saucer-shaped dorsal radome; the glassfiber structure was massive in relation to the aircraft and in certain circumstances might have given rise to "UFO" reports. But the prototype WF-2 did not fly until March 1957, and no hypothetical early version can easily ..be squared with the object described.
In summary, the specificity of the Utica description, the independent visual reports from ground and air, the radar tracking (albeit unconfirmed), and the internal consistency of reported times, distances and headings all suggest the probability of a large, unidentified, ellips oidal obj ect travelling at about 450 mph low over the Eastern S eaboard of the United States.