Fargo, North Dakota
October 1, 1948
Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe:
It was about nine o'clock in the evening, October 1, 1948. Gorman, now an Air National Guard lieutenant, had been on a practice flight in an F-51 fighter. The other pilots on this practice patrol had already landed. Gorman had just been cleared by the C.A.A. operator in the Fargo Airport tower when he saw a fast-moving light below his circling fighter.
From his altitude, 4,500 feet, it appeared to be the tail light of a swiftly flying plane. As nearly as he could tell, it was 1,000 feet high, moving at about 250 m.p.h.
Gorman called the tower to recheck his clearance. He was told the only other plane in the area was a Piper Cub. Gorman Could see the Cub plainly outlined below him. There was a night football game going on, and the field was brightly lighted.
But the Cub was nowhere near the strange light.
As the mystery light raced above the football field. Gorman noticed an odd phenomenon. Instead of seeing the silhouette of a plane, he saw no shape at all around the light. By contrast, he could see the Cub's outline clearly.
Meantime, the airport traffic controller, L. D. Jensen, had also spotted the queer light. Concerned with the danger of collision--he said later that he, too, thought it a plane's tail light--he trained his binoculars on it. Like Gorman, he was unable to distinguish a shape near the light. Neither could another C.A.A. man who was with him in the tower, a Fargo resident named Manuel E. Johnson.
Up in the F-51, Gorman dived on the light, which was steadily blinking on and off.
"As I closed in," he told Project "Saucer" men later, "it suddenly became steady and pulled up into a sharp left turn. It was a clear white and completely roundabout six to eight inches in diameter.
"I thought it was making a pass at the tower. I dived after it and brought my manifold pressure up to sixty, but I couldn't catch the thing."
Gorman reported his speed at full power as 350 to 400 miles per hour. During the maneuvers that followed, both the C.A.A. men watched from the tower. Jensen was using powerful night glasses, but still no shape was visible near the mysterious light. The fantastic dogfight continued for twenty minutes. Gorman described it in detail.
"When I attempted to turn with the light, I blacked out temporarily, owing to excessive speed. I am in fairly good physical condition, and I don't believe there are many, if any, pilots who could withstand the turn and speed effected by the light and remain conscious."
During these sharp maneuvers, the light climbed quickly, then made another left bank.
"I put my fifty-one into a sharp turn and tried to cut it off," said Gorman. "By then we were at about seven thousand feet, Suddenly it made a sharp right turn and we headed straight at each other. Just when we were about to collide I guess I lost my nerve. I went into a dive and the light passed over my canopy at about five hundred feet. Then it made a left circle about one thousand feet above and I gave chase again."
When collision seemed imminent a second time, the object shot straight into the air. Gorman climbed after it at full throttle.
Just about this time, two. other witnesses, a private pilot and his passenger, saw the fast-moving light. The pilot was Dr. A. D. Cannon, an oculist; his passenger was Einar Nelson. Dr. Cannon later told investigators the light was moving at high speed. He thought it might be a Canadian jet fighter from over the border. (A careful check with Canadian air officials ruled out this answer.) After landing at the airport, Dr. Cannon and Mr. Nelson again watched the light, saw it change direction and disappear.
Meanwhile, Gorman was making desperate efforts to catch the thing. He was now determined to ram it, since there seemed nothing solid behind it to cause a dangerous crash. If his fighter was disabled, or if it caught fire, he could bail out.
But despite the F-51's fast climb, the light still outdistanced him. At 14,000 feet, Gorman's plane went into a power stall, He made one last try, climbing up to 17,000 feet. A few moments later, the light turned in a north-northwest direction and quickly disappeared.
Throughout the dogfight, Gorman noticed no deviation on his instruments, according to the Project "Saucer" report. Gorman did not confirm or deny this when I talked with him. But he did agree with the rest of the Project statement. He did not notice any sound, odor, or exhaust trail.
Gorman's remarks about ramming the light reminded me of what Art Green had said. When I asked Gorman about the court-martial rumor, he gave me a searching glance.
"Where did you hear that?"
"Several places," I told him. "At Chicago, in Salt Lake City--in fact, we've been hearing it all over."
"Well, there's nothing to it," Gorman declared. He changed the subject.
Some time afterward, a Fargo pilot told me there had been trouble over the ramming story.
"But it wasn't Gorman's fault. Somebody else released that report to the A. P. The news story didn't actually say there was an Air Force order to ram it, but the idea got around, and we heard that Washington squawked. Gorman had a pretty rough time of it for a while. Some of the newspapers razzed his story. And the Project 'Saucer' teams really worked on him. I guess they were trying to scare him into saying he was mistaken, and it was a balloon."
When I asked Gorman about this, he denied he'd had rough treatment by the Project teams.
"Sure, they asked about a thousand questions, and I could tell they thought it might be a hoax at first. But that was before they quizzed the others who saw it."
"Anybody suggest it was a balloon?" I said casually.
"At first, they were sure that's what it was," answered Gorman. "You see, there was a weather balloon released here. You know the kind, it has a lighted candle on it. The Project teams said I'd chased after that candle and just imagined the light's maneuvers--confused it with my own movement, because of the dark."
Gorman grinned. "They had it just about wrapped up--until they talked to George Sanderson. He's the weather observer. He was tracking the balloon with a theodolite, and he showed them his records. The time and altitudes didn't fit, and the wind direction was wrong. The balloon was drifting in the opposite direction. Both the tower men backed him up. So that killed the weather-balloon idea."
The next step by Project "Saucer" investigators had been to look for some unidentified aircraft. This failed, too. Obviously, it was only routine; the outline of a conventional plane would certainly have been seen by Gorman and the men in the tower.
An astronomical check by Professor Hynek ruled out stars, fireballs, and comets--a vain hope, to begin with. The only other conventional answer, as the Project report later stated, was hallucination. In view of all the testimony, hallucination had to he ruled out. Finally, the investigators admitted they had no solution.
The first Project "Saucer" report, on April 27, 1949, left the Gorman "mystery light" unidentified.
In the Saturday Evening Post of May 7, 1949, Sidney Shallett analyzed the Gorman case, in the second of his articles on flying saucers. Shallet suggested this solution: that Gorman had chased one of the Navy's giant cosmic-ray research balloons. Each of these huge balloons is lighted, so that night-flying planes will not collide with the gas bag or the instrument case suspended below. Shallett concluded that Gorman was suffering from a combination of vertigo and confusion with the light on the balloon.
As already mentioned, these huge Navy balloons are filled with only a small amount of helium before their release at Minneapolis. They then rise swiftly to very high altitudes, unless a leak develops. In Shallett's words, "These balloons travel high and fast. . . ."
Fargo is about two hundred miles from Minneapolis. Normally, a cosmic-ray research balloon would have reached a very high altitude by the time it had drifted this far. The only possible answer to its low-altitude sighting would be a serious leak.
If a leaking balloon had come down to one thousand feet at Fargo, it would either have remained at that height or kept on descending. The mystery light was observed at this altitude moving at high speed. If a Cub's outline was visible against the lighted football field, the massive shape of even a partly deflated balloon would have stood out like an elephant. Even before release, the partially inflated gas bags are almost a hundred feet tall. The crowd at the football game would certainly have seen such a monstrous shape above the glare of the floodlights, for the plastic balloons gleam brightly in any light rays. The two C.A.A. men, watching with binoculars, could not possibly have missed it.
For the cosmic-balloon answer to be correct, this leaking gas bag would have had to rise swiftly to seventeen thousand feet--after a loss of helium had forced it down to one thousand. As a balloon pilot, I know this is impossible. The Project "Saucer" report said unequivocally: "The object could outturn and out speed the F-51, and was able to attain a much steeper climb and to maintain a constant rate of climb far in excess of the Air Force fighter."
A leaking balloon? More and more, I became convinced that Secretary Forrestal had persuaded some editors that it was their patriotic duty to conceal the answer, whatever it was.
That thought had begun to worry me, because of my part in this investigation. Perhaps John Steele had been right, and we shouldn't be trying to dig out the answer. But I had already told Purdy, and he had agreed, that if national security was involved, we would drop the thing completely.
By the time I had proved the balloon answer wrong, I was badly puzzled. The idea of a disembodied light was the hardest thing to swallow that I'd come across so far.
And yet there were the other light reports--the strange sighting at Fairfield Suisan Field, the weird green lights at Las Vegas and Albuquerque. And there was the encounter that Lieutenant H. G. Combs had had one night above Andrews Field, near Washington, D. C.
When I talked with Gorman, I told him I was baffled by the idea of a light maneuvering through the skies with no airfoil to support it.
"I know," he said. "It got me, too, at first."
"You mean you know the answer?" I demanded.
"It's just my personal opinion," said Gorman. "But I'd rather not have it printed. You see, I got some ideas from all the questions those Project teams asked me. If my hunch turns out to be right, I might be talking about an official secret."
I tried to pry some hint out of him, but Gorman just smiled and shook his head.
"I can tell you this much," he said, "because it's been mentioned in print. There was thought behind every move the light made. It wasn't any radar-responder gadget making it veer away from my ship."
"How do you know that?"
"Because it reacted differently at different times. If it had been a mechanical control, it would have turned or climbed the same way each time I got near it. Instead, it was as if some intelligent mind was directing every turn like a game of chess, and always one move ahead of me. Maybe you can figure out the rest."
That was all I could get out of him. It bothered me, because Combs's report indicated the same thing. I had a strong temptation to skip the space-plans research and tell Redell what Gorman had told me. But Redell had an orderly mind, and he didn't like to be pushed.
Reluctantly, I gave up the idea. I had a feeling Redell knew the answer to the mystery lights, and it wasn't easy to put off the solution.
The letter that came from Art Green, while I was working on
the space plans, didn't make it easier:
Source: Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, "Flying Saucers Are Real", pages 90-99