The Minot/B-52 Incident
October 24, 1968
Minot, North Dakota


Kevin Randle:
According to the Project Record Card, the conclusion for the sightings that took place are: "Ground-Visual: 1) Probable (Aircraft) (B-52). 2) Probable Astro (Sirius). Radar: Possible (Plasma). Air-Visual: Possible (Plasma)."

In the comments section, the investigating officer wrote, "The ground-visual sightings appear to be of the star Sirius and the B-52 which was flying the area. The B-52 radar contact and the temporary loss of UHF transmission could be attributed to plasma, similar to ball lightning. The air-visual from the B-52 could be the star Vega which was on the horizon at the time, or it could be a light on the ground, or possibly a plasma."

Anytime I see such a conglomeration of explanations, I have to stop to take a look at the case. If we had a situation in which UFOs had been sighted and reported in the days preceding it, I could believe that there were many people out looking and seeing what are later identified as common objects. But here we seem to have the sightings taking place with no real communication between the witnesses. Suddenly, on October 24, 1968 air police and maintenance crews on the ground, and the crew of a B1-52 on a routine training mission, begin to see flying saucers.

In other cases, I have suggested that if we link the sightings, such as those by Kenneth Arnold and then Fred Johnson, we have a strong case that defies easy explanation. Here it seems that I am suggesting that we separate the cases. Not so. I'm suggesting that as the ground sightings are taking place, that the crew of the B-52 is not aware of it until alerted by the control tower. Their sighting, which is running concurrently with that on the ground, is probably linked. The key is that the B-52 crew did not know what was being seen from the ground.

According to the file, it seems that the first sighting was made about thirty minutes after midnight by Airman Isley. No first names are found in the file. He saw a bright light in the east that apparently was just hovering.

Two hours later, Airman First Class O'Connor sighted a bright light. At the same time, Staff Sergeant Smith reported that he had seen a bright star light.

At 0308 (that is, 3:08 A.M.) a series of sightings began by maintenance teams around the Minot area. O'Connor, the maintenance team chief, reported that all members of his team saw a lighted object that was reddish orange in color. O'Connor suggested it was a large object that had flashing green and white lights. According to the report, "After they entered N-7 LF [a field site designated November Seven] the object came directly overhead with the sound of jet engines."

The report continued,
 
 

SSgt. Bond the FSC at Nov Flt [Flt means "flight" and refers to a platoon-sized organization] stated that the object which looked to him as the sun, came near the handred antenna at Nov-1. It then moved to the right and he sent the SAT out to check and see what it was. The object then moved about one mile away with the Nov SAT following. They came within ½ mile from where it appeared to be landing. When it reached the surface the lights became dimmer and finally went out. After this they could see nothing. SSgt Smith at Oscar-1 saw the object separate into two parts and go in opposite [sic directions and return and pass under each other. At this time Juliet Flt and Mike Flt Team observed the same things and described it the same way. The approximate grid coordinates of the apparently landing was AA-43. The entire observation period as near as can be determined was about 45 minutes.

At 0324 (3:29 A.M.) Staff Sergeant Wagla, Airman First Class Allis, and Airman First Class Deer sighted a UFO from one location. A minute later Staff Sergeant Halko, Airman First Class Jenkins, and Airman First Class Richardson sighted the UFO from a separate location. And ten minutes after that, the crew of a B-52 was brought into the case.

The transcript of the conversations between the tower and the aircraft are available in the Blue Book file. The times in the transcript are all in Greenwich Mean Time, but I have corrected them for local time in North Dakota so that it will be consistent with the times given for the sightings by ground maintenance and security personnel.

At 3:30 A.M., the controllers received the information that there was a UFO twenty-four miles to the northwest. At 3:34 A.M. "JAG-31" (JAG Three One), a B-52 on a calibration check, requested a clearance and was at "Flight Level 200 (2000)."

At 3:34 A.M. the pilot asked, "MIB (Minot) approach control, does JAG-31 have clearance to WT fix [a designated point on the ground] at Flight Level 200?"

"JAG-31, roger, climb out on a heading of 290 climb and maintain 5000. Stand by for higher altitude. We're trying to get it from center now.

At 3:35 A.M., the controller asked, "And, JAG-31, on your way out to the WT fix request you look out toward your one o'clock position for the next fifteen or sixteen miles and see if you see any orange glows out there."

"Roger, roger. . . glows 31."

"Someone is seeing flying saucers again."

"Roger I see a . . ." The rest of the transmission from the aircraft is garbled.

At 3:52 A.M., the controller then radioed, "Three one, the UFO is being picked-up by weathers radar also. Should be at our one o'clock position three miles now.

The pilot said, "We have nothing on our airborne radar and I'm in some pretty thick haze right now and unable to see out that way."

At 3:58 A.M., though the transmissions have nothing to do with the sighting of the UFO, there is a strange event. The pilot requested a straight TACAN approach, and received instructions from the controller about that. The pilot called, and then, apparently, the radio went dead. Although they could hear the instructions from the ground, they could no longer transmit. The controller asked them to "squawk ident" which meant to use the aircraft's transponder which would "paint" the controller's radar with a large, glowing blip for easy identification.

At 4:00 A.M., the controller again suggested, "JAG 31, if you hear me squawk ident. JAG 31 ident observed. Cleared for the approach attempt. Contact on frequency 271 decimal three and you're cleared for the low approach."

They continued to have radio troubles for another couple of minutes. At 4:02 A.M., they were again able to communicate easily. The pilot said, "Our UFO was off to our left there when we started penetration [penetration refers to turning inbound for the low approach]."

"Roger. Understand you did see something on your left side."

"We had a radar return at about a mile and a quarter nine o'clock position for about the time we left 200 to about 14...."

They discussed the troubles with the transmissions and then, at 4:03 A.M., the controller asked, "Affirmative. I was wondering how far out did you see that UFO?"

"He was about one and a half miles off our left wing at thirty-five miles when we started in and he stayed with us till about ten."

"I wonder if that could have been your radio troubles."

"I don't know. . . . But that's exactly when they started."

At 4:13 A.M., as they are working the "low approach" the controller asked, "JAG-31, are you observing any more UFOs?"

"Negative on radar. We can't see anything visually."

"JAG-31, roger. The personnel on from the missile site advise they don t see anything anymore, either."

Finally, at 4:21 A.M., the controller said, "JAG-31, [garbled] requests that somebody from your aircraft stop in at base ops after you land."

"Roger, 31. We'll give them a call."

What we have, then, is a group of sightings made by men on the ground, at the missile sites scattered around the Minot Air Force Base. There is a radar sighting on the ground, the "weathers" radar. Later, there is a visual sighting from the crew of the B-52, and there is a radar sighting from the aircraft as well. Although the first sightings began just after midnight and the last was made about four in the morning, they were not continuous. There were a number of sightings made by a number of men at various times at various locations.

Project Blue Book was alerted about the sightings that same day. In a "memo for the record" dated October 24,1968, Lieutenant Marano began to receive telephone calls. He learned that the commander of the base at Minot, and Major General Nichols at 15th Air Force Headquarters, were interested in what had happened. Apparently a lieutenant colonel named Werlich had been appointed the local - meaning Minot - UFO officer. He would conduct the investigation.

The "memo for the record" explained the incident.
 
 

At about 0300 hours local, a B-52 that was about 39 miles northwest of Minot AFB and was making practice penetrations sighted an unidentified blip on their radar. Initially the target traveled approximately 2-1/2 miles in 3 sec or about 3,000 mi/hr. After passing from the right to the left of the plane, it assumed a position off the left wing of the 52. The blip stayed off the left wing for approximately 20 miles at which point it broke off. Scope photographs were taken. When the target was close to the B-52 neither of the two transmitters in the B-52 would operate properly but when it broke off both returned to normal function.

At about this time a missile maintenance man called in and reported sighting a bright orangish-red object. The object was hovering at about 1,000 feet or so, and had a sound similar to a jet engine. The observer had stopped his car, but he then started it up again. As he started to move, the object followed him then accelerated and appeared to stop at about 6-8 miles away. The observer shortly afterward lost sight of it.

In response to the maintenance man's call, the B-52, which had continued its penetration run, was vectored toward the visual which was about 10 miles northwest of the base. The B-52 confirmed having sighted a bright light of some type that appeared to be hovering just over or on the ground.

Now comes one of the most interesting parts, and one that seemed to have slipped by the Air Force investigators at Blue Book. "Fourteen other people in separate locations also reported sighting a similar object. Also, at this approximate time, security alarm for one of the sites was activated. This was an alarm for both the outer and inner ring. When guards arrived at the scene they found that the outer door was open and the combination lock on the inner door had been removed."

With command emphasis on the sightings, and with more than one general officer interested in the case, it was "investigated" by Blue Book. I use the quotation marks because of a line in one of the "memos for the record." On October 30, 1968, Quintanilla, now a lieutenant colonel himself had a telephone conversation with Colonel Pullen at SAC Headquarters. Asked if he had "sent anybody up to investigate the sighting," Quintanilla replied, "We did not send anybody up because I only have four people on my staff, myself, an assistant, a secretary, and an admin sergeant. I talked to Colonel Werlich for over thirty minutes and since this didn't appear unusual I didn't send anyone up."

What we have is a sighting that involved both ground and airborne radars. We have visual sightings to corroborate those returns from both the aircraft and people on the ground. In fact, there are people at separate locations who reported seeing the UFO, but according to Quintanilla, there was nothing unusual about the case. Just let the local boys look into it and then write it off

This is in stark contrast to the way Ruppelt, during his tenure as the chief of Blue Book, operated. He'd fly around the country making personal investigations. A look at the files showed that he was in Lubbock to investigate the Lubbock lights, he was in Florida to investigate the case of the burned scoutmaster, and, had he been able to convince the Air Force bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., that he needed to stay overnight, he would have personally investigated the Washington National sightings in the days that followed them.

But now, fifteen years later, the case of a radar sighting, an airborne sighting with radar confirmation, wasn't unusual. Quintanilla, with his small staff couldn't go to Minot to interrogate the various military witnesses himself. Instead, he sat in his office at Wright-Patterson, read the reports, written by others, made a telephone call or two, and then made his determination about the sighting.

In a November 1 "memo for the record," Lieutenant Marano noted, "Colonel Werlich, the Minot officer in charge of the investigation, said that he had already had the people fill out AF Forms 117," which were the long forms the Air Force used to gather UFO data. Werlich told Lieutenant Marano, "I monitored them while they filled them out, but I can't see where the navigator can help. . ."

Later, in that same "memo," Lieutenant Marano noted, "The one we are mainly interested is the one that cannot be identified. The one of radar and the aircraft correlated pretty well."

Using maps, they attempted to identify the low-flying light that could have been on the ground. According to the report, "There is nothing there that would produce this type of light. The same for O'Conner and Nicely from November 7 [that is, two of the maintenance men from the silo designated N or rather November Seven] which is near Greno."

Later, in response to a question about the object on the ground, Marano was told, "They were able to see a light source while the 52 got in real close, then it disappeared."

The account, in the files, and the memos for record, are somewhat confusing. It seemed that they were suggesting that the men on the ground who saw the lights and then heard a roar like that of jet engines had seen the B-52. "Almost 80 percent were looking at the B-52. If you would look at an aircraft at 20,000 feet, then you wouldn't see much but I'm am [sic] to place logic in that it was there and what they saw was there. There is enough there that it is worth looking at. Nobody can definitely say that these people definitely saw the aircraft, but within reason they probably saw it."

What this seems to be suggesting is that the officers at Minot think the ground sightings might be of the B-52, but they're not sure. It's almost as if they are trying to convince themselves of the answer. But it also seems that they realize they are suggesting that the men stationed at Minot are incapable of identifying a huge bomber that is assigned to SAC, remembering, of course, that Minot is a SAC base. How could that many men, some of whom had been around SAC and B-52s for years, suddenly be incapable of recognizing the aircraft? It is an explanation that is ridiculous. The men, had they been looking at a B-52, would have identified it as such.

There is another factor here. Once again we don't have a highly charged environment where everyone has been talking about flying saucers for weeks. We have a number of men who look into the night sky and see something they can't identify. Had the answer been the B-52, it seems quite reasonable that the men would have identified it as such at the time of the sighting. Just how clever would they have to be to find that answer?

The Air Force investigators, having disposed of the ground-visual sightings, after a fashion, began to attack the radar aspect of the case. But there is an interesting statement in one of the "memos for the record" which, not surprisingly, is somewhat confusing. Apparently Colonel Werlich, in a telephone communication with Blue Book officers, said, "I only stated one radar in the message because there was only one radar set. The ECM [electronic counter measures] equipment hadn't been used. RAPCOM [radar facility] was painting [meaning "operating"], IFF [identification friend or foe transponder] was operating in the airplane. It's a fairly good size blip. The object would have been covered by the blip. There is a Sage site [another radar facility] to the south. They do not remember any unidentified paints. The only one that I have is the one on the plane. The unusual part is the B-52 was in the middle of a sentence and the voice just quit transmitting right in the middle of the word. .."

Werlich seems to be suggesting here that only one radar picked up the UFO, yet he also suggests that if it was close to the bomber, then the IFF equipment, which emits a signal so that the blip on the radar is huge and stands out for easy identification by the radar operator, would have covered the UFO. He also suggests that another site's radar operators don't remember any unidentified blips, which is a fairly weak statement.

But going back through the case file, there is a mention of the weathers radar but there is no identification of this site. In fact, someone added a penciled question mark above the notation for the weathers radar. If; as suggested in the file, the "weathers radar" picked up the blip, and we know that the B-52's radar had it for a number of minutes, then two different radar sets had "painted" it. One was on the ground and the other was airborne at the time.

The other interesting point made during this conversation was that the transmitters on the B-52 shut down. UFOs have often been associated with electromagnetic effects which seem to suppress electrical systems, causing cars to stall, lights to dim, and radios to fade. But this is a selective suppression of the electrical system. The only problem is that the transmitters of the UHF radios ceased to transmit. Apparently all other electrical systems on the aircraft continued to function properly.

Werlich said, "My personal opinion is that it couldn't be a malfunction because they transmitted before and afterwards. The aircraft was not checked out afterwards because the transmission [sic] was working."

In a proper investigation, the transmitter should have been checked for a short. The coincidence of the close approach of the UFO might have been just that, a coincidence. But a short would show up again at some point. There is no indication from the Blue Book record that such is the case. Of course, if it did, there is no reason for Werlich, or anyone else at Minot, to report that to Blue Book.

During the conversation another of the Air Force's old standbys, a temperature inversion, was mentioned a couple of times. Lieutenant Marano "then explained about the many astronomical bodies that were over the area at the time and when there is quite an inversion they are magnified even greater."

The Air Force investigators were now suggesting that not only couldn't their personnel identify a B-52 when it flew over them, now they couldn't identify stars. These ill-trained ground personnel, for some unexplained reason, began to see flying saucers all over the skies above Minot on October 24.

Then on November 4, 1968, in a memo for the record, it is reported, "Talked to Mr. Goff [whoever that is] . . . who is quite familiar with air-borne radars. Mr. Goff said that from the evidence at this time it would appear to him that the sightings may have been precipitated by some type of ionized air plasma similar to ball lightning. He felt that a plasma could account for the radar blip, loss of transmission, and some of the visual sightings. . ."

This, to me, sounded like a reasonable solution to the problem. But it also sounded like someone trying to find an explanation for a case where none existed, so I called a friend who teaches physics at a major university. The first comment he made was most telling. If this is true, then why isn't the phenomenon reported more often?

What he was saying was that if plasma was a good explanation for this particular sighting, then we could expect to see similar things around other aircraft all the time. We could expect to have many reports of intermittent failures of transmitters, airborne radars plagued with plasma images, and reports of glowing plasmas following other aircraft. Yet this simply isn't the case.

During my discussion with the physicist, I kept asking about the glow, and how bright it would be. It began to sound as if we were talking about two different phenomena. What he was attempting to say was that plasmas don't glow unless there is another feature. I mentioned the glow around high power lines, and he said that the electricity could excite the plasma to make it glow, but that they didn't glow on their own. In other words, unless there was another mechanism there causing a glow, those on the ground, and in the plane, wouldn't have been able to see anything. The plasma, that is, the ionized air, would be the color of air.

The idea of the plasma causing the sightings seems to have impressed many of the people involved here. In a teletype message from Quintanilla to Colonel Pullen at SAC, he wrote, "It is my feelings, [sic] after reviewing preliminary information submitted by Monot [sic- obviously Minot], that UFO painted by B-52 on radar and also observed visually by IP [pilot] and personnel on the ground is probably a plasma of the ball-lightning class. Plasmas of this type will paint on radar and also affect some electronic equipment at certain frequencies."

He then made a statement that is contradictory. "Plasmas are not uncommon, however, they are unique and extremely difficult to duplicate in the laboratory."

Quintanilla finished with, "Also, because of durations, feel strongly that some security guards and maintenance crew were observing some first-magnitude celestial bodies which were greatly magnified by the inversion layer and haze which was present at Minot during the time of the UFO observations. .. . Consider the UFO reports as fairly routine, except for the plasma observation which is interesting from a scientific point of view. We will study this report in more detail when we receive the raw data from Minot."

Of course, the question springs to mind, Why? You have an answer and you certainly aren't going to change it. We've already seen how the facts of a case make little impact on the solution for it. Besides, by November 13, Quintanilla had his final solutions. He wrote, "The following conclusions have been reached after a thorough study of the data submitted to the Foreign Technology Division. The ground-visual sightings appear to be of the star Sirius and the B-52 which was flying in the area. The B-52 radar contact and the temporary loss of the UHF transmission could be attributed to a plasma similar to ball lightning. The air-visual from the B-52 could be the star Vega which was on the horizon at the time, or it could be a light on the ground, or possibly a plasma. . . . No further investigation by the Foreign Technology Di vision is contemplated."

Let's see if we understand all of this. The trained men on the ground, some of whom have been in the Air Force for a long time, saw Sirius through the inversion layer and were fooled by it. Some of the others saw a B-52 on a routine training mission and were unable to identify as a B-52. Others still, saw some stars, through the inversion, and failed to identify them.

Apparently the radar sightings from the ground were not investigated because I see nothing in the file to indicate that Blue Book officers ever identified the "weathers radar." Had anyone at Blue Book asked, I'm sure the officers at Minot would have been able to identify the sighting. It is interesting that, according to the file, no one ever followed this particular lead.

And, let's see if we understand the explanation for the B-52 sighting. It could be Vega, a star seen through the inversion layer that magnified its size and brightness. Or, it could be a light on the ground, fooling the bomber crew because of the inversion layer. Or, it could be a plasma which might explain the radar return and the failure of the radios to transmit, if we can figure out how the plasma could selectively suppress the radio without affecting the other electronic equipment.

The answers provided in this case are no answers whatsoever. It is a combination of new buzzwords such as "plasma"; a belief that Air Force personnel, including bomber crews, are unable to recognize stars; and a suggestion that many of these same people can't recognize a B-52 when they see it. Here was a case that deserved more investigation but got none of that. And here is the proof for which we had been searching. Blue Book wasn't interested in investigating UFOs, they were interested in resolving UFO sightings. Once again, they made no on-site investigation but conducted it from their offices at Wright- Patterson.

In fact, that is pointed out in one of the "memos for the record." Colonel Werlich called Blue Book and said, "Thursday I called, with the personal opinion that we needed technical assistance at that time and that is what we requested and we didn't get it and we have tried to do what we could."

The Air Force explanations offered are not very good. That was why I called the physicist. I wanted to know what he thought about the plasma idea. He said, "They're reaching here. This just doesn't make good sense.

And that is exactly what I thought as I read the file. The Air Force investigators don't care what the solution is as long as they find one. Bringing in the plasmas sounds good, and for Air Force officers who know nothing about plasmas (just like the majority of us) it makes sense. But when the case file is reviewed, we find, just as we have before, that the explanation makes no sense. This should be labeled as an un identified.

Kevin Randle

Source: Project Blue Book - Exposed, pages 151-163, Randle