By Francis L. Ridge
The recent release of the motion picture about the Cuban Missile Crisis, "Thirteen Days", reminded me of one of the UFO cases I investigated, but never filed or published, in the 1980's. In the 60's and early 70's, when I was with NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena), one of our major concerns was the possibility of accidental nuclear war caused by jittery air defense radarmen mistaking UFOs for Russian missiles or jets. And when we had the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 there was never a time when we were closer to a nuclear confrontation, out of the 16 times we know about, as our research from the NCP (Nuclear Connection Project) indicates. The entire U.S., Canada, and Alaska were on a top Security Option 5 alert. I can't tell you about other events around the country, but in NORAD Region 21 something slower than an incoming missile, but faster than our jet interceptors, was violating airspace all the way from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, on into Canada and Alaska, and we were ready to use tactical nuclear weapons, if necessary, to stop it.
A friend of mine was a radar expert and a defense radar operator at that time. Years before he died he told me of this incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis which fully illustrates the seriousness of the situation, plus gives us an insight into who was, or was not, the intelligence behind the UFO phenomena. This incident was just one of many, and a very interesting one, indeed.
But first, let me set the stage:
If the reader wishes to skip the next two paragraphs, concerning the F-102 and the SAGE system, the report context will not suffer.
The Convair F-102 "Delta Dagger" had the primary mission of intercepting and destroying enemy aircraft. It was the world's first supersonic all-weather jet interceptor and the USAF's first operational delta-wing aircraft. The F-102 made its initial flight on Oct. 24, 1953 and became operational with the Air Defense Command in 1956. At the peak of deployment in the late 1950's, F-102s equipped more than 25 ADC squadrons. In a wartime situation, after electronic equipment on board the F-102 had located the enemy aircraft, the F-102's radar would guide it into position for attack. At the proper moment, the electronic fire control system would automatically fire the F-102's air-to-air rockets and missiles. However, performance wise the maximum speed was only 810 mph, with a cruising speed of 600 mph. And its range was 1,000 miles with a service ceiling of only 55,000 ft.
SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) was the military response to the perceived Cold War threat that came into being almost immediately after WWII. The concern was for the Air Defense of North America. SAGE was the technical answer to the need to convert raw radar data to digital form and display it in real-time. This enabled SAGE operators to detect and direct the intercept of any unknown aircraft penetrating the air space of the North American Continent. The Air Defense Command of the United States Air Force had the command authority to operate and maintain the SAGE system. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Lincoln Lab was responsible for the system design of SAGE, both hardware and software. The computer, the AN/FSQ-7, was built and installed by IBM. SAGE was perhaps the start of the military-industrial complex that exists to this day. The origin of much of the computer technology existing today had its beginning in SAGE.
This incident took place over a wide area, but in and around the 21st NORAD Region. My friend/informant who told me this story was stationed near Palermo AFS, New Jersey, at a small and remote radar site running a height-finder, an AN/FPS-6.. In the region there were eight height-finder radars devoted to SAGE in the Air Defense Sector, and seven of these had manual lock-ons in this case because the Uncorrelated Target (UT) was over flying the lobe patterns of the search radars. Palermo was a Back Up Interceptor Control (BUIC) Phase One Site. There never was a visual sighting of this object, but this unknown worried a lot of people. There were a lot of witnesses, including many officers. The UFO that he and many others tracked that late afternoon had originally spawned an alarm from New Jersey and Pennsylvania on into New York and later into Canada with the entire Air Defense Sector on alert with a nuclear-armed F-106.
His site became involved when the alert was handed off to the Boston Air Defense Sector. The object was painted by the AN/FPS-6 height finder radar with a radar reflectivity similar to an F-106, or larger, in size. By the time the UFO had crossed into Rome, NY, airspace it was cruising straight and level at 73,600 feet, and was pulling away from an F-106 at full afterburner, which was moving at mach 2.3. All this time they were listening to the communications from the Direction Center, which was "reading the data back to them" as they were involved in the tracking.
What really impressed my friend was that there were two F-102's in the air on the scramble mission. But, at New York, once the F-106 was airborne, the UFO broke off its pattern. He told me it had a "6th sense". The UFO knew, apparently, that the F-102's couldn't reach its altitude, but the F-106 could. The F-106 took a JUDY (radar lock-on), which took control from the pilot and stayed at full afterburner for 22-23 minutes, but never saw or ever caught up with the UFO. The 102 landed with 16" less tailpipe than it started with, but not before flaming out at 75,000 feet at full power, a pretty scary situation.
The last they heard was that the UFO had passed into Canadian air space and they had nothing that could reach its altitude. Within a few hours the incident had tapped out the entire Alaskan Air Defense, which had everything in the air, which included all the "deuces" (F-102's) and the six F-106's they had.
Forty years ago, something real was tracked by at least seven
defense radars. This occurred during one of the most dangerous times in
our history, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although they call it "Thirteen
Days", this Cuban Missile crisis, itself, took in the best part
of three weeks. We were just not aware of it. The object was not a
Russian missile; ICBMs move ten times faster than that. It wasn't a
jet. It wasn't ours and it wasn't Russian. They knew it then, but we
all know now for sure. There was no visual sighting, but the UFO was 14
miles up and moving faster than anything we had in the air. Was this an
isolated incident? I really doubt it. The UFO may have been in the
wrong place at the wrong time, but if I hadn't been an Field
Investigator (FI) for the Center for UFO Studies and State Director for
MUFON at the time I got this report, this incident would not have come
to light, which indicates we have only the tip of the iceberg.