|The Selfridge AFB Incident,
Case 650 (RV)
March 9, 1950
Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star
Selfridge Sighting: Officer's Narrative Report (295):
On the night of 9 March 1950, our radar station was in operation monitoring
night flying by units of the 56th Night-Interceptor Group, Selfridge AFB,
Mich. I came on duty approximately at sundown, relieved 1st Lt. Mattson at
the PPI scope (of the AN/CPS-5 Radar Sight), and established contact with
the F-80s already airborne. Lt. Mattson, Sgt. McCarthy, and Cpl. Melton, who
made up the rest of our crew for this night flight, mentioned to me at this
time that an aircraft had been picked up intermittently on the HRI scope of
the AN/CPS-4 height finder radar at 45,000 feet and over. I knew the highest
assigned altitude of the F-80s was 24,000 feet; the target was not at that
time visible on either radar scope, so I attributed the report of the high-flying
aircraft to interference, crew inexperience, or both. Over the next fifteen
minutes the rest of the crew, mentioned above, repeatedly reported this high-flying
target at apparently rapidly changing altitudes without being able
to turn around rapidly enough from my monitoring of the F-80s in the area
to observe for myself. Finally, however, I saw this target which was a very
narrow and clear-cut presentation on the HRI scope. It was at approximately
47,000 feet about seventy miles out, and the indication was definitely not
that of a cloud or atmospheric phenomena. I checked pilots in the area by
VHF and was assured by F-80 pilot at the highest assigned altitude that he
was at 24,000 feet. The clarity, narrowness, and definition of the presentation
was definitely that of an aircraft. The target gave a similar presentation
to that given by an F-80, and if anything, narrower. It was definitely at
this time not presenting a very large reflecting surface toward our station
and I could not at this time pick up the target on the CPS-5, ruling out B-36
or other large aircraft. Further indications of this aircraft were picked
up intermittently but with increasing regularity for the next 45 minutes or
an hour, and entries were made of these occurrences in the controller's log;
though relatively fairly correct, (they) are inaccurate, due to the extreme
inaccuracy of Sgt. McCarthy's watch. During this period, approximately 1945
to 2030 (7:45 to 8:30 pm), this target seemed to stay in the area in which
our fighters were flying, sometimes approximating their courses, but 20,000
feet above them. During this same 4 minute period, Lt. Mattson and other members
of the crew reported both from the HRI scope of the AN/CPS-4 and another PPI
scope of the AN/CPS-5, that the target hovered in one position and also
that it progressed from a position given as 270 degrees, 78 miles at 45,000
feet to a position at 358 degrees, 53 miles at roughly the same altitude in
4-5 minutes. This would give it a speed upwards of 1,500 mph for this run.
I cannot substantiate this speed. Coverage of target during this run was reportedly
intermittent and the times were not to my knowledge accurately tabulated at
actual instances of radar pickup during this run. Subsequent individual questioning
I undertook with members of the crew bears out the possibility of inaccuracy
in timing during this run. I knew only that this target was very fast. I observed
during this period, by momentarily turning around and watching the HRI scope.
several extreme instances of gaining altitude and losing altitude. I was not
able at this time to take down the actual figures, but observed it losing
and gaining up to 20,000 feet very rapidly.
I was able, at 2046 (8:46 PM) EST, to identify this aircraft on my PPI
scope (AN/CPS-5) and simultaneously on the HRI scope. The only actual timing
and figures I took down on this target I did during the six minutes from 2046
to 2052 (8:46 to 8:52 PM), during which time this aircraft was giving indications
on both scopes without fade. I took down the range and azimuth on the minute
for this period and Sgt. McCarthy took down the altitudes. (Sgt. McCarthy's
times were off as afore-mentioned but in this case, due to the fact that we
were both following the same target, I have reconstructed these times into
my own, which were taken in grease pencil directly on the scope head, and
later transcribed.) Information recorded as follows:
Time Azimuth Range in miles Altitude in feet
2046 1560 45- 25,000
2047 1510 49- 29,000
2048 1460 56- 35,000
2049 1420 60- 33,000
2050 1390 67- 36,000
2051 1360 73- 38,000
2052 1330 79- 33,000
These figures, although not as spectacular as some of the climbs and speeds
I observed, show definitely the erratic speed and altitude changes. The differences
in speed from one minute to the next were apparent to me as were the climbs
and dives. At 2052 the aircraft faded from the PPI scope and was picked up
for periods of one and two minutes up to 120 miles. It appeared to hover for
two minutes at approximately 110 miles distant. It faded at 120 miles for
the last time. The height-finder carried the aircraft past the six minute
period listed above to a 230, 87 mi1es, 31,000 feet where it faded for the
night from the CPS-4.
The CPS-5 was very accurate on this particular night which was supported
by F-80 pilots' agreement with many geographical positions given them off
the CPS-5. The AN/CPS-4, though a more erratic piece of equipment, could not,
through any known or prevalent weakness in its operation, account for this
manner of extreme changes in altitude. I went over all possible errors which
could be induced by an error exhaustively with my technical personnel.
We are continuing investigation at this station.
I have been rated pilot since 12 April 1943, and have been assigned to
controller duties for approximately two and one-half years.
S/Francis E. Parker
lst Lt. USAF
|Military Classification: SECRET
"The frequency of reports of this nature has recently increased;
instructions have therefore been directed to all radar installations within
this command to report scope sightings of unusual objects."
Sighting verified by two experienced radar operators who observed it
for several hours as starting and stopping and gaining and losing
altitude up to 6,000 feet in one second (at times the object attained
speeds of 1,500 miles per hour); balloon not possible. Reported by the
56th Fighter/Interceptor Gp.
The Selfridge sighting so impressed certain highly-placed individuals
in the Air Force that it led the Air Adjutant General, Headquarters, continental
Air Command, and, Mitchell AFB, New York, to send the following
letter, classified SECRET, to the Director of Intelligence, Headquarters,
USA?, Washington, D.C.:
1) Attached for your information are two narrative reports concerning
radar sightings of an unidentified flying object.
2) The fact that the object was sighted on the scopes of two (2) radars
is considered worthy of special note.
3) Comment of technical experts, this headquarters, was solicited
and is quoted in part for your consideration.
a. While it is relatively well known that various ionospheric conditions
cause reflections at lower frequencies, it is usually considered that
those layers have no effect at the frequencies used by the two radar sets
mentioned except when temperature inversions or other atmospheric or tropospheric
conditions cause ducting and spurious reflections. Presuming that such
idealized conditions existed at the time of these observations, it is
conceivable that an actual small change in physical lateral action in
reference to the radar set could cause a seemingly greater change in relative
position of the 'object" as observed on the radar scope due to the varying
path lengths the radar energy takes to and from the "object" as a function
of the frequency-sensitive layers and angles of incidence of the propagated
wave. However, the great difference in the frequencies of the L-Band CPS-5
and the S-Band CPS-4 radar sets and the evident correlation of observations
between these two sets almost nil out the possibility at anomalous propagation
effects. Further, the magnitude of velocity and accelerations of the three-dimensional
movements of the "objects" reported are beyond the capability of known
behavior of lighter than air vehicles in controlled flight.
b.. Also substantiating this unlikelihood is the fact that the "object"
was reported as remaining stationary in free space for a mean period of
c. Further validity is lent to the contention of the reports by statements
that first indications, which were at high altitudes, were also observed
on the CPS-4 height-finder before being observed on the CPS-5 surveillance
radar set. This follows logic and field experience, inasmuch as the high-altitude
coverage of the CPS-5 is known to be poor and the antenna is not capable
of being automatically tilted as in the case of the CPS-4 on which the
controller may tilt the antenna within wide limitations to observe any
high altitude or high- angle objects. It is to be noted that previous
field experience with a CPS-5 surveillance radar set has indicated that
targets picked up at ranges and altitudes indicated in subject report
would probably have a reflection aspect ratio in the order of magnitude
of a B-29 or greater.
d. In the absence of detailed vertical and horizontal coverage charts
for the specific radar sites and comprehensive weather reports for the
area during the period of time these observations were noted, a more complete
study or evaluation at this time is not feasible.
e. In summary, no known electronic phenomena, nor combinations of several
electronic phenomena could produce conceivably all the observations covered
by the attached reports.
4) The frequency of reports of this nature has recently increased;
instructions have therefore been directed to all radar installations
within this command to report scope sightings of unusual objects.
5) It is recommended that reports of unidentified object sightings
be reconsidered for submission from all Zone of Interior Air Force agencies.
S/Neal J. O'Brien,
Col., USAF, Air Adjutant General,
for the Commanding General
Source: The Hynek UFO Report, 123
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