The Big Sur UFO Filming
A Critical Analysis of the Curious Events at Vandenberg Air Force Base in September, 1964
By Bob Jacobs, Ph.D.
This is an article about the filming and subsequent U.S. Government coverup of a UFO which interfered with a dummy Atomic warhead one Autumn day in 1964 high over the Pacific Ocean off Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It is a first hand account of an event. Before dealing with it and the subsequent revelations which have come from a variety of sources since 1964, consider this brief discussion about UFOs and The Press.
It is a sad and curious fact that much of the literature surrounding the UFO phenomena appears in the highly sensationalized "tabloids." Once relegated solely to pulp newsprint this form of idiot journalism has now moved into television with personal ties like Geraldo Rivera, Morton Downey, Jr. and a growing number of other slime merchants. Owing to the prejudice toward this kind of journalism shared by intellectuals, academicians and the celebrities who frequently decry being victimized by the tabloids, such exposure has tended to desensitize the American Public to the potential seriousness of the UFO issue. Since tabloids seem to be written stylistically by and for the lunatic fringe, then UFOs are seen broadly as the purview of lunatics exclusively,
If one wanted deliberately to denigrate an issue, to relegate it to trash heap of pop culture, one could not do so more completely than to insure that the issue falls into the hands of The Star or The National Enquirer or Geraldo Rivera! Perhaps a case could be made for the UFO evidence having been delivered over to garbage journalism by design as a method of discrediting it.
We know, for example, that at the beginning of his involvement with the subject, the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, later Chairman of the Department of Astronomy at Northwestern University, was employed by the United States Air Force with Project Blue Book to "debunk" all "flying saucer" sightings. His famous "Swamp Gas" conclusion has lived in the popular mythos long after the good Doctor's formal recantation of it. And, in spite of some of the general popularizing of the subject in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., Johnny Carson, David Letterman and other television talk show heroes, still get comic mileage out of poking fun at UFO investigators, "swamp gas and the frequent loonies who claim to be incarnate space ships or to own condos on Venus. If the tabloids were not paid off to run as many mislead- ins, bizarre stories on UFOs and UFO Fringies as possible, always making these tales appear to be from or about some dimwit in the hinter lands, then they may as well have been.
Deliberate deception, Machiavellian conspiracy, coincidence or just the luck of the draw - whatever the reason, the resultant tabloid "sleaze factor" is a handicap for any scholar wishing to engage in research into what is, in fact, a fascinating and deliciously intricate field worthy of serious study.
I am a scholar, a card-carrying Ph.D., and a university professor in a department of Journalism and Broadcasting. Some years ago I was an officer in the United States Air Force, the first officer in the photography career field, by the way, to be awarded the Air Force Guided Missile Insignia; the "Missile Badge."
Those are facts. Another fact is that I have been a participant in an -official United States Government-ordered UFO coverup. I've been ridiculed by some of my colleagues in academia because in 1982 I wrote an article about this coverup and it appeared in The National Enquirer. It was not my intention to become a tabloid writer then or now. The Enquirer turned out to be the only publication I could find which was interested in printing the article at all. Both academic and mainstream journals and periodicals turned it down cold over the period of nearly a year during which I submitted and resubmitted it. I was told by editor after editor that UFO stories weren't "publishable." I thought the story was important then. That's why I let a tabloid publish it. I still think it's important. That's why I responded to the invitation to write it for this journal.
So much for preamble about the press.
Big Sur Background
Six years then, after it first broke, here is my report on what we photographed at Big Sur along with some of what has happened since 1982 in plain, unheroic, non-sensational, unexpurgated and non-tabloidized English.
I earned the "Missile Badge" for making a "significant contribution to America's Missile and Space Program" so the citation read, while I was Officer-in-Charge of Photo-optical Instrumentation in the 1369th Photographic Squadron at Vandenherg Air Force Base, California from May, 1963 to May, 1966. My work in establishing a long range tracking site at Big Sur, California in large part is what convinced the Air Force to give me that cherished award. The circumstances that took me to the "Missile Badge" ceremony as well as to that lovely and mysterious bulge of California coastline known as the Big Star ended up changing my mind about a number of things, including the nature of our government, the nature of my personal belief systems and the nature of the universe.
It began with a man named Kingston A. George. "King" George had the title of Operations Analyst for Headquarters, 1st Strategic Aerospace Division. The engineers, civilian and military, whose job it was to evaluate the instrumentation photography which we provided on every missile launch down the Western Test Range, were unhappy, he said. Shooting tracking footage from Vandenberg only provided a look up the "tailpipe" of the missile. What George said they wanted was a side look at all stages of powered flight. This side-look was not possible from anyplace on the base. Because of the tortured California coastline, such a view was possible from one spot. Big Sur.
Topographically, Big Sur is both north and west of Vandenberg. We reasoned that we might get the shot the engineers wanted if we could get high enough to provide both a line-of-sight to the base and to put us well above the offshore fog bank which blankets the California shoreline much of the year. Because of the 124 mile distance from Vandenberg to Big Sur, the final things needed were a lens with a very long focal length, a recording device capable of enhancing the image and a tracking system on which to mount them.
According to George, such a device was built and ready to go. It was the Boston University telescope, owned by the Air Force Eastern Test Range (AFETR) at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida and under the direction of Mr. Walter Manning in the Aerospace Sciences Division at AFETR. The optical segment of the device was a folded Gregorian telescope with a 24- inch diameter objective mirror and a 240-inch focal length. The lens apparatus was sealed from the air and insulated against heat and cold. A set of Barlow extenders could yield effective focal lengths of from 480 to 2,400 inches. (The normal focal length lens for a 35mm camera is about two inches!)
The light sensing element of the instrument was an image orthocon (television) tube. The I.O. could enhance the optical image, convert it to a series of electrical signals and display on a Kinescope where it was photographed with 35mm motion picture film. Because the I.O. had remarkable low noise, the gain could be "cranked quite high to record very low light level objects. Such a device could record sources of light emission or reflection which were tens of times too weak for detection by other photographic methods.
The B.U., as it was called, was ideal for the purpose. One of the primary goals of our mission, according to George, was to provide information on the "minute events following propellant depletion - at distance of from 300 to 800 nautical miles. (italics mine)
If we could find a level place accessible to the B.U. (not easy, considering that the scope with its tracker was just a little smaller than a conventional moving van and had be hauled by a heavy duty, cross- country type diesel truck) and see the missile through the haze well enough to lock in on it with the tracking mount, we still had one problem left. Engineering sequential photograph is of little use to the viewer without the addition of timing marks on the film. This time code received from Wheeling, West Virginia tagged each individual frame of film with a reference point in real time to the moment of engine ignition and launch. The coded pips of light were recorded on the sound track area of the film by an exciter lamp driven by the signal from WWV. On the base, timing signals were sent to the cameras by hardlines from the blockhouse. Running a line to Big Sur with the necessary amplifiers would have been to costly, particularly for what was only a feasibility test. We had to try something else. The solution was really very simple.
On June 10,1964 I lead a group of people to the area I had discovered earlier near Anderson Peak at an elevation of 3,400 feet on a Forest Service fire trail, 9 miles into the woods and uphill from Highway 1 in Big Sur. With me on that sunny summer day were my NCOIC, Chief Master Sergeant Ike N. Davis, Jr., NCOIC of my Tracking Section, Staff Sergeant Jules Devine, Kingston A. George, with a Technical Sergeant Porter from 1st STRATAD and a Mr. Paulson from Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Kennedy. All of us agreed that the truck could certainly pull the B.U. up to this site with no trouble. Could we now get timing pips to it?
We had with us that day a portable radio transceiver which we used at Vandenberg to communicate from my office to the mobile vehicles and our tracking sites on base. At Vandenberg I had Airman First Class Joseph Williams standing by. He had wired the output of one of the timing signals to an identical transceiver to the to the one I had. At my command he activated the radio and transmitted flawless timing signals to us at Big Sur, just as we had in a test weeks earlier. All that was necessary with the B.U. would be to patch-in our receiver to its timing signal input on the 35mm motion picture camera. Timing was no problem. There was happiness on the site and my "Missile Badge" was assured that day.
On August 28,1964, I lead a convoy up the Pacific Coast Highway through Pismo Beach, past Hearst Castle at San Simeon and into what would be history. Technical Sergeant Thomas Dodd was my NCOIC for the remote site. He would operate our standard M-45 tracking mount with conventional 35mm Mitchell film cameras to compare with the results of the B.U. Telescope. A1C Joseph Williams was along to handle communications and timing. A1C Daryl Winters was also along. As a sad sideline, Winters would become the first and only Air Force photo man to be killed in action in Vietnam a little over two years later. Our Air Force troop camped at the preselected fire trail turnout near the summit of Anderson Peak, set up our M-45 and waited.
On August 31, 1964 the B.U. Telescope arrived on site with its truck and its caravan of people for a 30-day test period. Walt Manning was with it along with a crew of three operators and one supervisor. We were also joined by two people from Vandenberg: Chief Warrant Officer Guy M. Spooner from the Operations Section of the 1369th and Major Florenz J. Mansmann from 1st STRATAD. With a celebratory air, the B.U. was set in place and made ready to perform. Mansmann and Spooner went back to Vandenberg. The rest of us settled in to prepare for the first of what could be a total of 11 launches from the base during the 30 day test. Nine of these would be photographed through a major portion of powered flight by both the B.U. Telescope operating with effective focal lengths ranging from 1200 inches to an average of 720 inches, and with the conventional cameras and shorter lenses of the 1369th's M-45 mount.
One of these launches would inspire an official government coverup and provoke an investigation and search for the filmed record which goes on to this day. Here is what happened.
To the best of my recollection and based on sketchy records - the date of the event was most probably either September 2nd, 3rd, or 15th, 1964 The launch was of an Atlas missile. It was an Atlas-F as I recall strongly, but it may possibly have been an Atlas.D. The flight was in support of the Nike-Zeus objectives. Nike Zeus was one of the United States' projects to develop an anti-missile missile. This particular mission was part of a test of an enemy radar-defeating system. The whole program in hindsight seems very primitive, possibly futile and even a bit silly. Nearly a quarter of a century ago in 1964 it was deadly serious business.
At the Big Sur tracking site we were ready to go as the countdown from Vandenberg progressed loud and clear on our radio. At the call of "ignition.... liftoff" all cameras rolled and scanned to the southeast for something to photograph. "There it is!", I shouted out as the Atlas leaped through the snow-white coastal fog blanket and both tracking mounts homed-in on the majestic "bird" in flight. The big Atlas could not have been more clean, clear and majestic We were "Go" for the operation.
The magnification of the B.U. was truly impressive. The exhaust nozzles and lower third of the Atlas missile literally filled the frame at this distance of over 100 nautical miles. With one tracking mount and one on elevation working completely manually, it was not easy to keep the image centered in the early stages of flight. As the nosecone package approached T + 400 seconds, sufficient angle of view had been established that we were literally locked down with the whole inflight package centered in the frame. No one on the site was watching the screen by this point. Our mission to provide the engineers with a side look at three stages of powered flight had been accomplished and we were a very happy bunch, congratulating each other and letting the film run out in the 35mm motion picture camera focused on the Kinescope.
I took fhe cans of exposed film and headed down the coast to Vandenberg and our laboratory. Processing of the film would occur that night and the results would be ready for viewing the next day.
Men in Grey
I was back at my desk enjoying the feeling of accomplishment from the Big Stir expedition when I was called by Major Mansmann, who asked me to come right away to his office at the Headquarters building. When I arrived, I found a movie projector set up in the office and a group of people waiting. Among these I recall two men in plain grey suits who spoke little and watched me intently as the lights were dimmed and the film played on a bright screen. (Mansmann has since stated that there were actually three men present.)
It was a surprise and a delight for me to be seeing the kinescope recording from Big Sur after all the months of planning and weeks of work. I was quite amazed and very pleased with the quality, especially at the distance involved as we could make out quite plainly the separated nosecone, the radar experiment and the dummy warhead all sailing along beautifully about 60 miles straight up from planet Earth and some 300 to 500 nautical miles down range. As we neared the end of the camera run, Mansmann said, "Watch carefully now, Lieutenant Jacobs."
At that point the most remarkable vision of my life came on the screen. Another object flew into the frame from left to right. It approached the warhead package and maneuvered around it. That is, this ... "thing"...flew a relative polar orbit around our warhead package which was itself heading toward the South Pacific at some 18 thousand miles an hour!
As the new object circumnavigated our hardware, it emitted four distinct bright flashes of light at approximately the 4 cardinal compass points of its orbit. These flashes were so intense that each "strike" caused the I.O. tube to "boom" or form a halo around the spot. Following this remarkable aerial display the object departed the frame in the same direction from which it had come. The shape of the object was that of a classic "flying saucer." In the middle of the top half of the object was a dome. From that dome, or just beneath it, seemed to issue a beam of light or which caused the flashes described.
Subsequently the warhead malfunctioned and tumbled out of suborbit hundreds of miles short of its target. This ... unidentified flying ... "thing" had apparently "shot down" an American dummy atomic warhead!
The lights came on and Major Mansmann said, "Lieutenant Jacobs, were you or any of your people fooling around up there at Big Sur?
"No sir," I answered honestly. I was shaking with excitement.
"Then tell me ... what the Hell was that?"
I looked Major Mansmann straight in the eye. "It looks to me like we got a UFO," I said.
There was a stifling silence among the men in grey, civilian suits who continued to stare at me. Major Mansmann gave them what I can only describe as a "let me handle this" look.
"Well," he smiled cordially, "let's just say it never happened. You are to say nothing about this footage to anyone. As far as you and I are concerned, this never took place, you understand?"
I looked at the men in the grey suits. They were not smiling. I felt hot and anxious. I was sweating badly. I think I just sat for a minute looking blankly at Major Mansmann. I had just seen the most fantastic event of my life. It etched a path in my memory as deep as the one put there almost a year earlier when President John F. Kennedy had been shot to death in Dallas. I wanted more than anything to see it again, to study it under a magnifier, to analyze the pictures frame by frame.
Major Mansmann did smile, nicely. "I don't need to remind you of the seriousness of a security breach, do I Lieutenant?", he asked.
"No, sir," I replied.
"Good," he said, motioning for me to stand.
He walked me to the door, speaking confidentially. "What you just saw did not take place," he repeated. "It never happened."
I looked at him once more. Something flickered way back deep in his eyes as he again looked at the men in grey then back to me.
"But ... if at some time in the future," Florenz Mansmann said finally, "you are pressed by someone about this and you can't get out of answering, just tell them ... tell them it was flashes from laser tracking, O.K.?"
And with that, I was ushered out the door and into over a decade of silence on the subject. Never mind that in 1964 we did not have laser tracking, nor did we or any other power on Earth have spacecraft capable of flying circles around a suborbital capsule. I tried to sublimate the whole incident out of loyally and respect for Florenz Mansmann whom I liked a great deal. While I did not talk about the event with anyone. I did begin a period of intense research into the UFO phenomena.
My research interest in the field continues to the present. Of particular fascination is the relationship of the press to the UFO. This great Liberal bastion of free enquiry, this body of muckrakers which prides itself so highly on prodding and upsetting political figures, has played very prettily into the hands of those same government minions who wish to obfuscate the whole field of discovery, discussion and debate about the most perplexing and possibly most important scientific conundrum in the history of our species. While chasing after Pulitzer Prizes for such relatively petty mischief as political dirty tricks at Watergate, or poor old Gary Hart and his happy harlots or the hapless Dan Quayle and his colorless, but merely mediocre background, The Press has persistently missed one of the really imperative stories of our time.
I told my small portion of it first, tentatively, on a late night talk show which I hosted in Eureka, California in 1973 on station KFML-FM. The response I got to my revelation was almost as astonishing as had been the event itself. My program director, Richard Van Pelt, came forth to tell his own tale of a CE3K which happened to him while he was an Air Force Security NCO in Iceland 20 years earlier. A university physics professor at California State University, Humboldt who had worked on the H-bomb project came forth to tell about his firm belief in the extraterrestrial nature of UFOs. Since then I have met a number of other people whom I respect, whom I know not to be "fringies" or cranks or crackpots, but who share common experiences with UFO sightings and encounters.
And, finally, in 1982, Idecided that my story needed to be aired to a broader audience. Eighteen years had gone by. I could not get it out of my mind after all that time. Then, first in the trade journals, later in the popular press, there were hints of a new weapon system in the offing. It was some kind of satellite-smasher we were told. Soon we would hear President Reagan himself disrobe the rumors and give us Star Wars (SDI). There were the rumors of aircraft being built which were invisible to radar (some said to the human eye, as well!) "Stealth," they were called. It is significant to recall that until very recently, the Air Force denied that they existed, too! There were persistent stories of something called Project Snowbird where American pilots were being shown how to operate captured (or donated) alien space craft. Something about the Big Sur film seemed to be part of the overall pattern. I held back writing my story because of the Security angle until the truth occurred to me. There was no "security breach" in this story. The damn thing had never been "Classified SECRET' or anything else. I had been told simply that it "NEVER HAPPENED"! Therefore, I was free to tell the story to whomever I pleased since it was about a non event officially.
I wrote my article. I shopped it around. In the end The National Enquirer published it. And as now retired Major Florenz J. Mansmann put it, "Jacobs opened Pandora's Box."
I was contacted by a variety of investigators, buffs, cranks, proponents and detractors alike. James Oberg, a frequent "mouthpiece" for certain NASA projects and self-styled UFO Debunker wrote to disparage my story and to ask provocatively, "Since you obviously feel free to discuss top secret UFO data, what would you be willing to say about other top secret aspects of the Atlas warhead which you alluded to briefly ...?" I told Mr. Oberg where to put his misplaced cynicism.
Mansmann, now a Ph.D. research consultant at Stanford and a farmer near Fresno, California was besieged with requests for information, and for his version of what happened. My respect and admiration for him was vindicated as he categorically verified my account.
Academicians first gather data, then postulate conclusions based on what they find. From what I have gathered first hand, (primary evidence), pieced together from Mansmann, from a fine researcher named Lee M. Graham), from contemplation, discussion and debate of the material, as well as from the Air Force position on this and other related matters, I have come to the following conclusions:
(1) What we photographed that September day in 1964 was a solid, three-dimensional, intelligently controlled flying device.
(2) It emitted a beam of energy, possibly a plasma beam, at our dummy warhead and caused a malfunction.
(3) This "craft" was not anything of which our science and technology in 1964 was capable. The most probable explanation of the device, therefore, is that it was of extraterrestrial origin.
(4) The flashing strikes of light we recorded on film were not from laser tracking devices. Such devices did not exist then aside from small scale, laboratory models.
(5) Most probably the B.U. Telescope was brought out to California specifically to photograph this event which had been prearranged. That is, we had been setup to record an event which someone in our Government knew was going to happen in advance.
(6) What we photographed that day was the first terrestrial demonstration of what has come to be called S.D.I. or "Star Wars." The demonstration was put on for our benefit for some reason by extraterrestrials. It is this aspect of the event, not merely the recording of another "flying Saucer" which caused such consternation both on the part of Major Mansmann when he told me "it never happened" and on behalf of the government in its two and one half decade coverup of the event and the record we made of it.
It is this defense-oriented aspect of the case which has caused investigators to run into stone walls in trying to track down my story. The Air Force has alternately denied that I was ever an officer, that I was ever stationed at Vandenberg, that I was OIC of Photo-optical Instrumentation in the 1369th Photographic Squadron, that there was a tracking site at or near Big Sur, California, that an Atlas-F, or for that matter, any other missile was launched on or about the date or dates I reported.
We have been able to verify through FOIA requests and my military records everything except the specific launch and the fact of its having been filmed We have been told first that there were no launches, then that there were launches but no malfunctions. Herewith, for the first time I present the documentation for a mission malfunction in an official unclassified Air Force document which has finally surfaced in my collection of aging papers and books.
It was prepared by Kingston A George, dated 13 Oct. 1964 and entitled,
In this document, "King" George gives us a quick sketch of the whole Big Sur project, tells us that "Over the period of 30 days, from 31 August to 30 September, during which the Boston University telescope was ready to film launches, eleven flights were made from Vandenberg," that "a final report will be forthcoming in a few weeks with a complete description of the system and the operations over the past several weeks," that "a documentary film of about 30 minutes length containing several minutes of selected film clips will be assembled" and that one powered flight anomaly was observed (italics mine), and the coverage of the flights has produced enough data to show that Big Sur photography could be an important adjunct to other instrumentation."
It is not clear whether or not Kingston George was privy to the screenings of the Big Sur film which recorded the UFO. My suspicion is that he was one of those to whom Mansmann has admitted showing the film. His document, however, states clearly that a missile malfunctioned during the B.U. test period, now putting the final lie to the Air Force denials.
That is my story. It is from my own experiences, recollections, records, and hands. You are free to interpret it as you like. As a footnote I need to comment, I suppose, on the coverup. I do not believe that anyone is going to succeed in getting the film on an F.O.I.A. request. I have been asked to make such a request myself and refuse to do so. Eric Mishara, Lee Graham, T. Scott Crain, Jr. and others have done so and have run into the wall of futility. I don't believe that anyone can succeed in getting the film because the fact of its existence will have been completely expunged from the records by now.
Investigators who encounter negative replies from the Air Force, from representatives who are at Vandenberg now are not necessarily being deceived deliberately. Nearly 25 years have passed and no one presently at the base has any personal recollection of the event, much less any official record of it. Consider the very limited number of people who saw the film in the first place and you will comprehend how simple it was to make it disappear.
Finally, if the government did officially "classify" the film either back then or subsequently, then perhaps there were/are compelling reasons for it to have done so. As the B-2 "Stealth" Bomber has now been unveiled publicly at last, we can contemplate the rationale for having kept it "classified" for so long. At some point, when no harm can come from the information, perhaps the film for which I was responsible that long ago September day in the cool, clear mountains of Big Sur will be made public, along with the possibly awe some technological power which the images recorded on it represented.
One significant fact remains. The experimental tracking site which I installed near Anderson Peak became a permanent location for missile tracking on the Western Test Range. Moved nearer the peak geographically and magnitudes better technically, it is there today. You see footage from it every time a Space Shuttle reenters for a landing at Edwards Air Force Base. What else it records or has recorded and its ultimate purpose for being there is a matter for history, hopefully, to reveal.
(This web page was produced for the NICAP web site
by Francis Ridge, Bruno Mancusi, and Joe Ritrovato)