Whitted looked back just as the UFO pulled up in a steep climb.
Both the pilots had gotten a good look at the UFO and were able to give a good description to the Air Force intelligence people. It was a B-29 fuselage. The underside had a "deep blue glow." There were "two rows of windows from which bright lights glowed," and a "bright trail of orange red flame" shot out the back.
Only one passenger was looking out of the window at the time. The ATIC investigators talked to him. He said he saw a "strange, eerie streak of light, very intense," but that was all, no details. He said that it all happened before he could adjust his eyes to the darkness.
Minutes later a crew chief at Robins Air Force Base in Macon, Georgia, reported seeing an extremely bright light pass overhead, traveling at a high speed. A few days later another report from the night of July 24 came in. A pilot, flying near the Virginia North Carolina state line, reported that he had seen a "bright shooting star" in the direction of Montgomery, Alabama, at about the exact time the Eastern Airlines DC-3 was "buzzed."
According to the old timers at ATIC, this report shook them worse than the Mantell Incident. This was the first time two reliable sources had been really close enough to anything resembling a UFO to get a good
look and live to tell about it. A quick check on a map showed that the UFO that nearly collided with the airliner would have passed almost over Macon, Georgia, after passing the DC-3. It had been turning toward Macon when last seen. The story of the crew chief at Robins AFB, 200 miles away, seemed to confirm the sighting, not to mention the report from near the Virginia North Carolina state line.
In intelligence, if you have something to say about some vital problem you write a report that is known as an "Estimate of the Situation." A few days after the DC-3 was buzzed, the people at ATIC decided that the time had arrived to make an Estimate of the Situation. The situation was the UFO's; the estimate was that they were interplanetary!
It was a rather thick document with a black cover and it was printed on legal sized paper. Stamped across the front were the words TOP SECRET.
It contained the Air Force's analysis of many of the incidents I have told you about plus many similar ones. All of them had come from scientists, pilots, and other equally credible observers, and each one was an unknown.
The document pointed out that the reports hadn't actually started with the Arnold Incident. Belated reports from a weather observer in Richmond, Virginia, who observed a "silver disk" through his theodolite telescope; an F47 pilot and three pilots in his formation who saw a "silver flying wing," and the English "ghost airplanes" that had been picked up on radar early in 1947 proved this point. Although reports on them were not received until after the Arnold sighting, these incidents all had taken place earlier.
When the estimate was completed, typed, and approved, it started up through channels to higher command echelons. It drew considerable comment but no one stopped it on its way up.
A matter of days after the Estimate of the Situation was signed, sealed, and sent on its way, the third big sighting of 1948, Volume III of "The Classics," took place. The date was October 1, and the place was Fargo, North Dakota; it was the famous Gorman Incident, in which a pilot fought a "duel of death" with a UFO.
The pilot was George F. Gorman, a twenty-five-year-old second lieutenant in the North Dakota Air National Guard.
It was eight thirty in the evening and Gorman was coming into Fargo from a cross-country flight. He flew around Fargo for a while and about nine o'clock decided to land. He called the control tower for landing instructions and was told that a Piper Cub was in the area. He saw the Cub below him. All of a sudden what appeared to be the taillight of
42.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
another airplane passed him on his right. He called the tower and complained but they assured him that no other aircraft except the Cub were in the area. Gorman could still see the light so he decided to find out what it was. He pushed the F-51 over into a turn and cut in toward the light. He could plainly see the Cub outlined against the city lights below, but he could see no outline of a body near the mysterious light. He gave the '51 more power and closed to within a 1,000 yards, close enough to estimate that the light was 6 to 8 inches in diameter, was sharply outlined, and was blinking on and off. Suddenly the light became steady as it apparently put on power; it pulled into a sharp left bank and made a pass at the tower. The light zoomed up with the F-51 in hot pursuit. At 7,000 feet it made a turn. Gorman followed and tried to cut inside the light's turn to get closer to it but he couldn't do it. The light made another turn, and this time the '51 closed on a collision course. The UFO appeared to try to ram the '51, and Gorman had to dive to get out of the way. The UFO passed over the '51's canopy with only a few feet to spare. Again both the F-51 and the object turned and closed on each other head on, and again the pilot had to dive out to prevent a collision. All of a sudden the light began to climb and disappeared.
"I had the distinct impression that its maneuvers were controlled by thought or reason," Gorman later told ATIC investigators.
Four other observers at Fargo partially corroborated his story, an oculist, Dr. A. D. Cannon, the Cub's pilot, and his passenger, Einar Neilson. They saw a light "moving fast," but did not witness all the maneuvers that Gorman reported. Two CAA employees on the ground saw a light move over the field once.
Project Sign investigators rushed to Fargo. They had wired ahead to ground the plane. They wanted to check it over before it flew again. When they arrived, only a matter of hours after the incident, they went over the airplane, from the prop spinner to the rudder trim tab, with a Geiger counter. A chart in the official report shows where every Geiger counter reading was taken. For comparison they took readings on a similar airplane that hadn't been flown for several days. Gorman's airplane was more radioactive. They rushed around, got sworn statements from the tower operators and oculist, and flew back to Dayton.
In the file on the Gorman Incident I found an old memo reporting the meeting that was held upon the ATIC team's return from Fargo. The memo concluded that some weird things were taking place.
The historians of the UFO agree. Donald Keyhoe, a retired Marine Corps major and a professional writer, author of The Flying Saucers Are Real and Flying Saucers from Outer Space, needles the Air Force about
the Gorman Incident, pointing out how, after feebly hinting that the light could have been a lighted weather balloon, they dropped it like a hot UFO. Some person by the name of Wilkins, in an equally authoritative book, says that the Gorman Incident "stumped" the Air Force. Other assorted historians point out that normally the UFO's are peaceful, Gorman and Mantell just got too inquisitive, "they" just weren't ready to be observed closely. If the Air Force hadn't slapped down the security lid, these writers might not have reached this conclusion. There have been other and more lurid "duels of death."
On June 21, 1952, at 10:58 P.M., a Ground Observer Corps spotter reported that a slow moving craft was nearing the AEC's Oak Ridge Laboratory, an area so secret that it is prohibited to aircraft. The spotter called the light into his filter center and the filter center relayed the message to the ground control intercept radar. They had a target. But before they could do more than confirm the GOC spotter's report, the target faded from the radarscope.
An F-47 aircraft on combat air patrol in the area was vectored in visually, spotted a light, and closed on it. They "fought" from 10,000 to 27,000 feet, and several times the object made what seemed to be ramming attacks. The light was described as white, 6 to 8 inches in diameter, and blinking until it put on power. The pilot could see no silhouette around the light. The similarity to the Fargo case was striking.
On the night of December 10, 1952, near another atomic installation, the Hanford plant in Washington, the pilot and radar observer of a patrolling F-94 spotted a light while flying at 26,000 feet. The crew called their ground control station and were told that no planes were known to be in the area. They closed on the object and saw a large, round, white "thing" with a dim reddish light coming from two "windows." They lost visual contact, but got a radar lock-on. They reported that when they attempted to close on it again it would reverse direction and dive away. Several times the plane altered course itself because collision seemed imminent.
In each of these instances, as well as in the case narrated next, the sources of the stories were trained airmen with excellent reputations. They were sincerely baffled by what they had seen. They had no conceivable motive for falsifying or "dressing up" their reports.
The other dogfight occurred September 24, 1952, between a Navy pilot of a TBM and a light over Cuba.
The pilot had just finished making some practice passes for night fighters when he spotted an orange light to the east of his plane. He checked on aircraft in the area, learned that the object was unidentified,
44.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
and started after it. Here is his report, written immediately after he landed:
As it [the light] approached the city from the east it started a left turn. I started to intercept. During the first part of the chase the closest I got to the light was 8 to 10 miles. At this time it appeared to be as large as an SNJ and had a greenish tail that looked to be five to six times as long as the light's diameter. This tail was seen several times in the next 10 minutes in periods of from 5 to 30 seconds each. As I reached 10,000 feet it appeared to be at 15,000 feet and in a left turn. It took 40 degrees of bank to keep the nose of my plane on the light. At this time I estimated the light to be in a 10-to-l 5 mile orbit.
At 12,000 feet I stopped climbing, but the light was still climbing faster than I was. I then reversed my turn from left to right and the light also reversed. As I was not gaining distance, I held a steady course south trying to estimate a perpendicular between the light and myself. The light was moving north, so I turned north. As I turned, the light appeared to move west, then south over the base. I again tried to intercept but the light appeared to climb rapidly at a 60 degree angle. It climbed to 35,000 feet, then started a rapid descent.
Prior to this, while the light was still at approximately 15,000 feet, I deliberately placed it between the moon and myself three times to try to identify a solid body. I and my two crewmen all had a good view of the light as it passed the moon. We could see no solid body. We considered the fact that it might be an aerologist's balloon, but we did not see a silhouette. Also, we would have rapidly caught up with and passed a balloon.
During its descent, the light appeared to slow down at about 10,000 feet, at which time I made three runs on it. Two were on a 90 degree collision course, and the light traveled at tremendous speed across my bow. On the third run I was so close that the light blanked out the airfield below me. Suddenly it started a dive and I followed, losing it at 1,500 feet.
In this incident the UFO was a balloon.
The following night a lighted balloon was sent up and the pilot was ordered up to compare his experiences. He duplicated his dogfight - illusions and all. The Navy furnished us with a long analysis of the affair, explaining how the pilot had been fooled.
In the case involving the ground observer and the F-47 near the atomic installation, we plotted the winds and calculated that a lighted balloon was right at the spot where the pilot encountered the light.
In the other instance, the "white object with two windows," we found that a skyhook balloon had been plotted at the exact site of the "battle."
Gorman fought a lighted balloon too. An analysis of the sighting by the Air Weather Service sent to ATIC in a letter dated January 24, 1949, proved it. The radioactive F-51 was decontaminated by a memo from a Wright Field laboratory explaining that a recently flown airplane will be
The Classics. 45
more radioactive than one that has been on the ground for several days. An airplane at 20,000 to 30,000 feet picks up more cosmic rays than one shielded by the earth's ever present haze.
Why can't experienced pilots recognize a balloon when they see one? If they are flying at night, odd things can happen to their vision. There is the problem of vertigo as well as disorientation brought on by flying without points of reference. Night fighters have told dozens of stories of being fooled by lights.
One night during World War II we had just dumped a load of bombs on a target when a "night fighter" started to make a pass at us. Everyone in the cockpit saw the fighter's red-hot exhaust stack as he bore down on us. I cut loose with six caliber-.50 machine guns. Fortunately I missed the "night fighter" - if I'd have shot it I'd have fouled up the astronomers but good because the "night fighter" was Venus.
While the people on Project Sign were pondering over Lieutenant Gorman's dogfight with the UFO - at the time they weren't even considering the balloon angle - the Top Secret Estimate of the Situation was working its way up into the higher echelons of the Air Force. It got to the late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff, before it was batted back down. The general wouldn't buy interplanetary vehicles. The report lacked proof. A group from ATIC went to the Pentagon to bolster their position but had no luck, the Chief of Staff just couldn't be convinced.
The estimate died a quick death. Some months later it was completely declassified and relegated to the incinerator. A few copies, one of which I saw, were kept as mementos of the golden days of the UFO's.
The top Air Force command's refusal to buy the interplanetary theory didn't have any immediate effect upon the morale of Project Sign because the reports were getting better.
A belated report that is more of a collectors' item than a good UFO sighting came into ATIC in the fall of 1948. It was from Moscow. Someone, I could never find out exactly who, reported a huge "smudge like" object in the sky.
Then radar came into the picture. For months the anti saucer factions had been pointing their fingers at the lack of radar reports, saying, "If they exist, why don't they show up on radarscopes?" When they showed up on radarscopes, the UFO won some converts.
On October 15 an F-61, a World War II "Black Widow" night fighter was on patrol over Japan when it picked up an unidentified target on its radar. The target was flying between 5,000 and 6,000 feet and traveling about 200 miles per hour. When the F-61 tried to intercept it would get to within 12,000 feet of the UFO only to have it accelerate to an estimated
46. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
1,200 miles per hour, leaving the F-61 far behind before slowing down again. The F-61 crew made six attempts to close on the UFO. On one pass, the crew said, they did get close enough to see its silhouette. It was 20 to 30 feet long and looked "like a rifle bullet."
Toward the end of November a wire came into Project Sign from Germany. It was the first report where a UFO was seen and simultaneously picked up on radar. This type of report, the first of many to come, is one of the better types of UFO reports. The wire said:
At 2200 hours, local time, 23 November 1948, Capt. saw an object in the air directly east of this base. It was at an unknown altitude. It looked like a reddish star and was moving in a southerly direction across Munich, turning slightly to the southwest then the southeast. The speed could have been between 200 to 600 mph, the actual speed could not be estimated, not knowing the height. Capt. called base operations and they called the radar station. Radar reported that they had seen nothing on their scope but would check again. Radar then called operations to report that they did have a target at 27,000 feet, some 30 miles south of Munich, traveling at 900 mph. Capt. reported that the object that he saw was now in that area. A few minutes later radar called again to say that the target had climbed to 50,000 feet, and was circling 40 miles south of Munich.
Capt. - is an experienced pilot now flying F-80's and is considered to be completely reliable. The sighting was verified by Capt. , also an F-80 pilot.
The possibility that this was a balloon was checked but the answer from Air Weather Service was "not a balloon." No aircraft were in the area. Nothing we know of, except possibly experimental aircraft, which are not in Germany, can climb 23,000 feet in a matter of minutes and travel 900 miles per hour.
By the end of 1948, Project Sign had received several hundred UFO reports. Of these, 167 had been saved as good reports. About three dozen were "Unknown." Even though the UFO reports were getting better and more numerous, the enthusiasm over the interplanetary idea was cooling off. The same people who had fought to go to Godman AFB to talk to Colonel Hix and his UFO observers in January now had to be prodded when a sighting needed investigating. More and more work was being pushed off onto the other investigative organization that was helping ATIC. The kickback on the Top Secret Estimate of the Situation was beginning to dampen a lot of enthusiasms. It was definitely a bear market for UFO's.
A bull market was on the way, however. Early 1949 was to bring "little lights" and green fireballs.
The "little lights" were UFO's, but the green fireballs were real.
Green Fireballs, Project Twinkle, Little Lights, and Grudge
At exactly midnight on September 18, 1954, my telephone rang. It was Jim Phalen, a friend of mine from the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and he had a "good flying saucer report," hot off the wires. He read it to me. The lead line was: "Thousands of people saw a huge fireball light up dark New Mexico skies tonight."
The story went on to tell about how a "blinding green" fireball the size of a full moon had silently streaked southeast across Colorado and northern New Mexico at eight forty that night. Thousands of people had seen the fireball. It had passed right over a crowded football stadium at Santa Fe, New Mexico, and people in Denver said it "turned night into day." The crew of a TWA airliner flying into Albuquerque from Amarillo, Texas, saw it. Every police and newspaper switchboard in the two state area was jammed with calls.
One of the calls was from a man inquiring if anything unusual had happened recently. When he was informed about the mysterious fireball he heaved an audible sigh of relief, "Thanks," he said, "I was afraid I'd gotten some bad bourbon." And he hung up.
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