The Selfridge AFB Incident, Case 650 (RV)
March 9, 1950
 AFB, Michigan

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 two minutes. 

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

(This web page was produced for the NICAP web site by Francis Ridge)

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