The March AFB Case
March AFB, California
September 23, 1951

Francis Ridge
 At about the time the incident occurred at March Air Force Base, California, the Air Force already had its hands full with a major and embarrassing UFO incident at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But that's another story. The March AFB case must have been just one more big headache. The Air Force couldn't get its story straight and they couldn't explain the case either. 

The original Project Blue Book Special Report No. 1, page 16, states that "an unidentified object was sighted over Long Beach, California" and "four F-86's were scrambled and the object was sighted by then over Muroc, California". When they got to 43,000 feet, the F-86's spotted the UFO which was orbiting March AFB at 50,000 to 55,000 feet. The object appeared to be a "swept wing, fighter type aircraft." 

Weather balloons had been launched from no less than three places: San Diego, Long Beach and Santa Maria. The Air Force must have figured that if somebody didn't "buy" the aircraft explanation, maybe they would "buy" at least one of the balloons. But, if the Air Force didn't believe the object was a jet or a balloon, why should anyone else?  OSI checked the balloon launches and they were told that "although the balloons were released ALL  weather station personnel stated that it would be VERY DOUBTFUL if their balloons could have traveled the course that the object traveled." 

Aircraft? "All of the major aircraft factories and installations conducting experimental flight tests were contacted. No experimental aircraft airborne at the time of the sighting." These are all AF quotes! Besides that, the original report stated that somebody sighted a UFO and four F-86's were scrambled. In Project Blue Book Special Report No. 2, page 44, the report states that the first report was "incomplete and misleading". TWO F-86's were scrambled, but on a "routine mission". No UFO was seen or tracked on radar. Fifty five minutes after the scramble, the pilots saw a UFO and it was at 50,000 feet. The object (which looked like a jet) was in a left orbit and passed right over them, but they couldn't identify it! The object was visible from the ground. The jets were running low on fuel and returned to George AFB. 

The key to this case seems to be in whether the scrambles were routine or caused by some escalated form of UFO activity in the area. Routine UFO situations do not call for jet scrambles. Suspicious objects over secret test centers, like Muroc AFB, do. 

Ten minutes later the situation must have gotten worse. At 0800 PDST four F-86's were scrambled from George AFB to relieve the two above mentioned F-86's. The four aircraft split into two, two-ship elements, denoted as Flight 2-A and 2-B on the enclosed  overlay. Flight 2-A was vectored to a position at l17-degrees 30' W and 30-degrees 20' N.. They arrived at this position at approximately 0810 and sighted the object high at 1 o'clock at what appeared to be (guess what?) over Muroc AFB. A steady climb was made to 43,000 ft. and the object was found to be near March AFB. The object appeared to be in a controlled orbit to the right and left at 50,000 to 55,000 ft. The two aircraft stayed in the area for 10-15 minutes before breaking off the intercept due to a fuel shortage and landed at 0845 EDST.  And according to the Air Force report, "the object appeared to be a swept wing aircraft." 

The second element of the group, noted as Flight 2-B on the overlay, observed the object soon after take-off. The object appeared to be going south. The flight made a series of climbing turns under the object as they climbed to 43,500 ft. The object was in a wide right turn. At approximately 0925 PDST the aircraft broke off the attempted intercept and returned to their base. This flight reported that the object appeared to be round and silver! 

No more intercepts were attempted. The report stated, "At no time was the object observed on the radar screen nor was it reported to be observed visually from: the ground."  Although radar was not mentioned in either report as confirming the UFO, it certainly could have. We'll probably never know about that. The F-86's, however, were continually tracked by radar. 

The F-86's were unable to climb to the estimated altitude of the object due to the fact that they were carrying external fuel tanks and elected not to jettison them. 

At 0700 PDST a radiosonde balloon was released from the Long Beach Municipal Airport. This balloon was lost at 0743 PDST, eight miles from the airport on a bearing of 95-degrees true, due to a malfunction of the tracking equipment.  At this time the balloon would have been at approximately 40,000 ft. The winds above 40,000 ft. are unknown but it is logical to assume that at this altitude they will be relatively constant in direction.. Assuming a relative constant direction of 70-degrees and an average velocity of 30 knots above 40,000 ft. (the wind at 40,000 ft. was 280-degrees at 21 knots) the possible flight path of the balloon can be plotted on the overlay. 

According to the Air Force report, "the original sighting by Flight 1 could very possibly have been the balloon as their heading was toward Long Beach Airport. The altitude of the F-86's at the time of the sighting is unknown but was probably below 40,000 ft. At 0755, the time of the original sighting, the balloon would be at 50,000 to 55,000 ft. and approximately ten miles directly ahead of the two aircraft." Then the flimsy explanation falls apart. The same report states, "the apparent orbiting of the balloon cannot be explained. The balloon would make a gradual turn due to wind shifts but these are so gradual that it is doubtful if the movement would be apparent from an aircraft as fast as an F-86." 

Referring to the ground track of Flight 2-A, if a 30 knot wind at 270-degrees is assumed, at 0810, the approximate time the F-86's sighted the object from a 355-degree TC, the balloon would be at B on the overlay. The balloon would probably be at an altitude of 60,000 ft. and nearly straight ahead of the aircraft. Blue Book: "Due to the size of the balloon, the distance could have been misjudged and the balloon could have appeared to be near Muroc. Once again the orbiting of the object cannot be explained." 

Blue Book: "The attempted intercept by Flight 2-B cannot be explained. If the ground track given by the leader of flight is correct it is very doubtful that the flight was observing a balloon. The time that they sighted the object is not known but if it is assumed that they flew beneath the object for 30 minutes, it is highly doubtful that a wind shift of nearly 360-degrees could occur above 60,000 ft. to give the illusion of a turn." 

The explanations do not fit. "The possibility of this object being an experimental aircraft from some Southern California aircraft plant, naval airfield, or from Edwards Air Force Base was checked with negative results. No other balloons were released in the vicinity." 

They couldn't explain the case, but still made the final comment in the report on page 45: 

"With the information available, it cannot be concluded that the object was definitely the radiosonde balloon released from Long Beach Municipal Airport. However, since the balloon was near the flight path of two of the F-86 elements, and assuming that the orbiting of the object was an illusion due to the relative motion between the balloon and the aircraft, it can be concluded that the unidentified object was possibly a radiosonde balloon."

That's assuming that the pilots couldn't tell the difference between a slow moving target and a fast orbiting one. Or a jet they "couldn't identify". 

The third attempted intercept, the one in which the object was followed in a wide turn, cannot be explained. That's their words, not mine. 

Final statement, last line: "It is not believed that further interrogation would produce any additional significant details due to the fact that since some of the personnel involved have been transferred overseas and due to the time since the incident." Very convenient. 

Something seems clear to me. Somebody saw and reported a UFO or it was tracked on radar. Something significant that resulted in the scramble of six jet interceptors. There are enough cases where jets SHOULD have been scrambled but the SOP was so tight it took quite a while to get them off the ground. But the initial report which was "inaccurate and misleading" says a UFO was observed and the jets were scrambled. Balloons don't orbit and they don't outrun F-86's. And the jet explanation doesn't hold water, either. It wasn't one of ours. If you assume the facts reported by the pilots are accurate and the findings by the OSI are correct, the conclusions of the report are ridiculous. Apparently, investigators found out very quickly what the situation was, yet this very report was listed later as item 10 on an official clearance of unidentifieds, given to to Maj. Donald Keyhoe by Al Chop of the AF Press Desk. 

Francis Ridge
NICAP Site Coordinator

 March Case Directory