May 4, 1966
Charleston, West Virginia
Dr. J. Allen Hynek:
Another representative Radar-Visual case, illustrative not only of Radar-Visual cases in general but also of the operation of the "Blue Book Theorem" involved two commercial airlines pilots and an Air Traffic Control Center operator. (See Appendix 1, RV-2.) Blue Book dismissed the case as "landing lights" on the word of a reluctant American Airlines pilot, who clearly did not wish to get involved. I received a letter from the air traffic controller, who answered my inquiry for further information thus:
"I have pondered on whether to make a reply to your letter... However, the more I thought about the explanation the Air Force gave for the incident, the more disturbed I have become... I have been an air traffic controller for 13 years, three actual years of control in the U.S. Air Force and ten with the FAA. What happened on May 4, 1966, is as follows: I was assigned the Charleston, West Virginia, high altitude radar sector on the midnight shift. . . . At approximately 04:30 a Braniff Airlines Flight 42 called me on a VHF frequency of 134.75 and asked if he had any traffic for his flight. I had been momentarily distracted by a land-line contact, and when I finished (10 to 15 seconds), I looked at the radarscope and observed a target to the left of Braniff 42, who was heading eastbound on jet airway 6, about 5 miles off to his 11 o'clock position.
"I advised Braniff 42 that I had no known traffic in his vicinity but was painting a raw target off to his 10 o'clock position; however, it was not painting a transponder and was probably at the low altitude sector (24,000 feet and below). Braniff 42 advised that the object could not be at a low altitude because it was above him and descending through his altitude, which was 33,000 feet, ...I was completely at a loss for explanation for I advised him [that] at the time there were only two aircraft under my control - his flight and an American Airlines flight about 20 miles behind him. I asked Braniff 42 if he could give me a description of the object, thinking it might be an Air Force research aircraft or possibly a U-2 type vehicle. Braniff 42 advised that whatever it was, it was not an aircraft, that the object was giving off brilliant flaming light consisting of alternating white, green, and red colors and was at this time turning away from him. At the same time the American flight behind the Braniff, who had been monitoring the same frequency, asked the Braniff if he had his landing lights on. Braniff advised the American negative. Even if Braniff 42 had had his landing lights on, American wouldn't have seen more than a dull glow, for they were 20 miles apart and going in the same direction! which means to me that the American saw the same brilliant object. When I asked the American if he could give me any further details, he politely clammed tip. Most pilots know that if there is an official UFO sighting, they must (or are supposed to) file a complete report when getting on the ground. This report, I understand, is quite lengthy.
"I contacted Braniff 42 and said I saw this target come at him from about eight to ten miles at his ten o'clock position and at a distance of about three miles, make a left turn, and proceed northwest bound from the direction it had come from. Braniff 42 confirmed this and added that it was in a descending configuration at about 20 degrees off the horizon.
"As I have stated, I think my previous experience speaks for itself, and I know what I saw; and I'm sure the pilot of Braniff 42 was not having hallucinations. The target I observed was doing approximately 1,000 miles an hour and made a complete 180- degree turn in the space of five miles, which no aircraft I have ever followed on radar could possibly do, and I have followed B-58s declaring they are going supersonic, all types of civilian aircraft going full out (in the jet stream), and even SR-71 aircraft, which normally operate at speeds in excess of 1,500 miles per hour.
"Doctor, that concludes my statement. I am forwarding a diagram showing the geographic location of the jets and the object."
Conflicting evidence was given by the American Airlines captain in a letter to Project Blue Book:
"I did not place any significance to the incident, and to me it only appeared to be an airplane at some distance, say six or eight miles, who turned on his landing lights and kept them on for three or four minutes, then turned them off.
"I asked the radar operator if he had a target at my nine or ten o clock position, and he replied that he did not have, and I said, "Well there's one there all right." I had no idea he was going to turn in a UFO report. I thought nothing further of it. I presume it was the air force reflieling. I still think it was just an airplane with its landing lights on."
The air traffic controller's testimony, combined with that of the Braniff captain, is consistent, whereas the American Airlines pilot's sketchy statement is not. It is inconceivable that an air force refueling mission, which involves at least two maneuvering planes, would be in progress six or eight miles ahead of an airliner on a commercial jetway. A refueling mission invariably shows a great many lights. Why would American ask Braniff whether he had his landing lights on especially when Brainiff was miles ahead of him and facing the wrong way? Further, both Braniff and the controller placed the object at Braniff's ten o'clock position and thus ahead of the Braniff, which itself was twenty miles ahead of the American.
Yet American did say he saw something at his ten o'clock position, and if brightness caused American to misjudge the distance and place it much closer to him, hence apparently behind Branjif; this still would not account for the ten o'clock position. Again, if it was some dozen miles behind Braniff why ask Braniff if he had his landing lights on?
Since Project Blue Book seized on the testimony of the American Airlines pilot and did nothing to follow up this case by obtaining depositions from the air traffic controller, from Braniff, and from American, this case and many similar to it do not constitute scientific data, and little can be proved by them.
THE UFO EXPERIENCE: A SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY, 73
Dr. J. Allen Hynek
Case Directory For Hynek RV2
NICAP Home Page