The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects - 06
The Presses Roll—The Air Force Shrugs
The Grudge Report was supposedly not for general distribution. A few copies were sent to the Air Force Press Desk in the Pentagon and reporters and writers could come in and read it. But a good many copies did get into circulation. The Air Force Press Room wasn't the best place to sit and study a 600-page report, and a quick glance at the report showed that it required some study—if no more than to find out what the authors were trying to prove—so several dozen copies got into circulation. I know that these "liberated" copies of the Grudge Report had been thoroughly studied because nearly every writer who came to ATIC during the time that I was in charge of Project Blue Book carried a copy.
Since the press had some questions about the motives behind releasing the Grudge Report, it received very little publicity while the writers put out feelers. Consequently in early 1950 you didn't read much about flying saucers.
Evidently certain people in the Air Force thought this lull in publicity meant that the UFO's had finally died because Project Grudge was junked. All the project files, hundreds of pounds of reports, memos, photos, sketches, and other assorted bits of paper were unceremoniously yanked out of their filing cabinets, tied up with string, and chucked into an old storage case. I would guess that many reports ended up as "souvenirs" because a year later, when I exhumed these files, there were a lot of reports missing.
About this time the official Air Force UFO project had one last post-death muscular spasm. The last bundle of reports had just landed on top of the pile in the storage case when ATIC received a letter from the Director of Intelligence of the Air Force. In official language it said, "What gives?" There had been no order to end Project Grudge. The answer went back that Project Grudge had not been disbanded; the project functions had been transferred and it was no longer a "special"
project. From now on UFO reports would be processed through normal intelligence channels along with other intelligence reports.
To show good faith ATIC requested permission to issue a new Air Force-wide bulletin which was duly mimeographed and disseminated. In essence it said that Air Force Headquarters had directed ATIC to continue to collect and evaluate reports of unidentified flying objects. It went on to explain that most UFO reports were trash. It pointed out the findings of the Grudge Report in such strong language that by the time the recipient of the bulletin had finished reading it, he would be ashamed to send in a report. To cinch the deal the bulletins must have been disseminated only to troops in Outer Mongolia because I never found anyone in the field who had ever received a copy.
As the Air Force UFO-investigating activity dropped to nil, the press activity skyrocketed to a new peak. A dozen people took off to dig up their own UFO stories and to draw their own conclusions.
After a quiet January, True again clobbered the reading public. This time it was a story in the March 1950 issue and it was entitled, "How Scientists Tracked Flying Saucers." It was written by none other than the man who was at that time in charge of a team of Navy scientists at the super hush-hush guided missile test and development area, White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. He was Commander R. B. McLaughlin, an Annapolis graduate and a Regular Navy officer. His story had been cleared by the military and was in absolute, 180-degree, direct contradiction to every press release that had been made by the military in the past two years. Not only did the commander believe that he had proved that UFO's were real but that he knew what they were. "I am convinced," he wrote in the True article, "that it," referring to a UFO he had seen at White Sands, "was a flying saucer, and further, that these disks are spaceships from another planet, operated by animate, intelligent beings."
On several occasions during 1948 and 1949, McLaughlin or his crew at the White Sands Proving Ground had made good UFO sightings. The best one was made on April 24, 1949, when the commander's crew of engineers, scientists, and technicians were getting ready to launch one of the huge 100-foot-diameter skyhook balloons. It was 10:30 A.M. on an absolutely clear Sunday morning. Prior to the launching, the crew had sent up a small weather balloon to check the winds at lower levels. One man was watching the balloon through a theodolite, an instrument similar to a surveyor's transit built around a 25-power telescope, one man was holding a stop watch, and a third had a clipboard to record the measured data. The crew had tracked the balloon to about 10,000 feet when one of them suddenly shouted and pointed off to the left. The whole crew
looked at the part of the sky where the man was excitedly pointing, and there was a UFO. "It didn't appear to be large," one of the scientists later said, "but it was plainly visible. It was easy to see that it was elliptical in shape and had a 'whitish-silver color.'" After taking a split second to realize what they were looking at, one of the men swung the theodolite around to pick up the object, and the timer reset his stop watch. For sixty seconds they tracked the UFO as it moved toward the east. In about fifty-five seconds it had dropped from an angle of elevation of 45 degrees to 25 degrees, then it zoomed upward and in a few seconds it was out of sight. The crew heard no sound and the New Mexico desert was so calm that day that they could have heard "a whisper a mile away."
When they reduced the data they had collected, McLaughlin and crew found out that the UFO had been traveling 4 degrees per second. At one time during the observed portion of its flight, the UFO had passed in front of a range of mountains that were visible to the observers. Using this as a check point, they estimated the size of the UFO to be 40 feet wide and 100 feet long, and they computed that the UFO had been at an altitude of 296,000 feet, or 56 miles, when they had first seen it, and that it was traveling 7 miles per second.
This wasn't the only UFO sighting made by White Sands scientists. On April 5, 1948, another team watched a UFO for several minutes as it streaked across the afternoon sky in a series of violent maneuvers. The disk-shaped object was about a fifth the size of a full moon.
On another occasion the crew of a C-47 that was tracking a skyhook balloon saw two similar UFO's come loping in from just above the horizon, circle the balloon, which was flying at just under 90,000 feet, and rapidly leave. When the balloon was recovered it was ripped.
I knew the two pilots of the C-47; both of them now believe in flying saucers. And they aren't alone; so do the people of the Aeronautical Division of General Mills who launch and track the big skyhook balloons. These scientists and engineers all have seen UFO's and they aren't their own balloons. I was almost tossed out of the General Mills offices into a cold January Minneapolis snowstorm for suggesting such a thing—but that comes later in our history of the UFO.
I don't know what these people saw. There has been a lot of interest generated by these sightings because of the extremely high qualifications and caliber of the observers. There is some legitimate doubt as to the accuracy of the speed and altitude figures that McLaughlin's crew arrived at from the data they measured with their theodolite. This doesn't mean much, however. Even if they were off by a factor of 100 per cent, the speeds and altitudes would be fantastic, and besides they looked at
the UFO through a 25-power telescope and swore that it was a flat, oval-shaped object. Balloons, birds, and airplanes aren't flat and oval-shaped.
Astrophysicist Dr. Donald Menzel, in a book entitled Flying Saucers, says they saw a refracted image of their own balloon caused by an atmospheric phenomenon. Maybe he is right, but the General Mills people don't believe it. And their disagreement is backed up by years of practical experience with the atmosphere, its tricks and its illusions.
When the March issue of True magazine carrying Commander McLaughlin's story about how the White Sands Scientists had tracked UFO's reached the public, it stirred up a hornets' nest. Donald Keyhoe's article in the January True had converted many people but there were still a few heathens. The fact that government scientists had seen UFO's, and were admitting it, took care of a large percentage of these heathens. More and more people were believing in flying saucers.
The Navy had no comment to make about the sightings, but they did comment on McLaughlin. It seems that several months before, at the suggestion of a group of scientists at White Sands, McLaughlin had carefully written up the details of the sightings and forwarded them to Washington. The report contained no personal opinions, just facts. The comments on McLaughlin's report had been wired back to White Sands from Washington and they were, "What are you drinking out there?" A very intelligent answer—and it came from an admiral in the Navy's guided missile program.
By the time his story was published, McLaughlin was no longer at White Sands; he was at sea on the destroyer Bristol. Maybe he answered the admiral's wire.
The Air Force had no comment to make on McLaughlin's story. People at ATIC just shrugged and smiled as they walked by the remains of Project Grudge, and continued to "process UFO reports through regular intelligence channels."
In early 1950 the UFO's moved down to Mexico. The newspapers were full of reports. Tourists were bringing back more saucer stories than hand-tooled, genuine leather purses. Time reported that pickpockets were doing a fabulous business working the sky-gazing crowds that gathered when a plativolo was seen. Mexico's Department of National Defense reported that there had been some good reports but that the stories of finding crashed saucers weren't true.
On March 8 one of the best UFO sightings of 1950 took place right over ATIC.
About midmorning on this date a TWA airliner was coming in to land at the Dayton Municipal Airport. As the pilot circled to get into the
traffic pattern, he and his copilot saw a bright light hovering off to the southeast. The pilot called the tower operators at the airport to tell them about the light, but before he could say anything, the tower operators told him they were looking at it too. They had called the operations office of the Ohio Air National Guard, which was located at the airport, and while the tower operators were talking, an Air Guard pilot was running toward an F-51, dragging his parachute, helmet, and oxygen mask.
I knew the pilot, and he later told me, "I wanted to find out once and for all what these screwy flying saucer reports were all about."
While the F-51 was warming up, the tower operators called ATIC and told them about the UFO and where to look to see it. The people at ATIC rushed out and there it was—an extremely bright light, much brighter and larger than a star. Whatever it was, it was high because every once in a while it would be blanked out by the thick, high, scattered clouds that were in the area. While the group of people were standing in front of ATIC watching the light, somebody ran in and called the radar lab at Wright Field to see if they had any radar "on the air." The people in the lab said that they didn't have, but they could get operational in a hurry. They said they would search southeast of the field with their radar and suggested that ATIC send some people over. By the time the ATIC people arrived at the radar lab the radar was on the air and had a target in the same position as the light that everyone was looking at. The radar was also picking up the Air Guard F-51 and an F-51 that had been scrambled from Wright-Patterson. The pilots of the Air Guard ’51 and the Wright-Patterson ’51 could both see the UFO, and they were going after it. The master sergeant who was operating the radar called the F-51's on the radio, got them together and started to vector them toward the target. As the two airplanes climbed they kept up a continual conversation with the radar operator to make sure they were all after the same thing. For several minutes they could clearly see the UFO, but when they reached about 15,000 feet, the clouds moved in and they lost it. The pilots made a quick decision; since radar showed that they were getting closer to the target, they decided to spread out to keep from colliding with one another and to go up through the clouds. They went on instruments and in a few seconds they were in the cloud. It was much worse than they'd expected; the cloud was thick, and the airplanes were icing up fast. An F-51 is far from being a good instrument ship, but they stayed in their climb until radar called and said that they were close to the target; in fact, almost on it. The pilots had another hurried radio conference and decided that since the weather was so bad they'd better come down. If a UFO, or something, was in the clouds, they'd hit it before they could see it. So
they made a wise decision; they dropped the noses of their airplanes and dove back down into the clear. They circled awhile but the clouds didn't break. In a few minutes the master sergeant on the radar reported that the target was fading fast. The F-51's went in and landed.
When the target faded on the radar, some of the people went outside to visually look for the UFO, but it was obscured by clouds, and the clouds stayed for an hour. When it finally did clear for a few minutes, the UFO was gone.
A conference was held at ATIC that afternoon. It included Roy James, ATIC's electronics specialist and expert on radar UFO's. Roy had been over at the radar lab and had seen the UFO on the scope but neither the F-51 pilots nor the master sergeant who operated the radar were at the conference. The records show that at this meeting a unanimous decision was reached as to the identity of the UFO's. The bright light was Venus since Venus was in the southeast during midmorning on March 8, 1950, and the radar return was caused by the ice-laden cloud that the F-51 pilots had encountered. Ice-laden clouds can cause a radar return. The group of intelligence specialists at the meeting decided that this was further proved by the fact that as the F-51's approached the center of the cloud their radar return appeared to approach the UFO target on the radarscope. They were near the UFO and near ice, so the UFO must have been ice.
The case was closed.
I had read the report of this sighting but I hadn't paid too much attention to it because it had been "solved." But one day almost two years later I got a telephone call at my office at Project Blue Book. It was a master sergeant, the master sergeant who had been operating the radar at the lab. He'd just heard that the Air Force was again seriously investigating UFO's and he wanted to see what had been said about the Dayton Incident. He came over, read the report, and violently disagreed with what had been decided upon as the answer. He said that he'd been working with radar before World War II; he'd helped with the operational tests on the first microwave warning radars developed early in the war by a group headed by Dr. Luis Alvarez. He said that what he saw on that radarscope was no ice cloud; it was some type of aircraft. He'd seen every conceivable type of weather target on radar, he told me; thunderstorms, ice-laden clouds, targets caused by temperature inversions, and the works. They all had similar characteristics—the target was "fuzzy" and varied in intensity. But in this case the target was a good, solid return and he was convinced that it was caused by a good, solid object.
And besides, he said, when the target began to fade on his scope he had raised the tilt of the antenna and the target came back, indicating that whatever it was, it was climbing. Ice-laden clouds don't climb, he commented rather bitterly.
Nor did the pilot of one of the F-51's agree with the ATIC analysis. The pilot who had been leading the two-ship flight of F-51's on that day told me that what he saw was no planet. While he and his wing man were climbing, and before the clouds obscured it, they both got a good look at the UFO, and it was getting bigger and more distinct all the time. As they climbed, the light began to take on a shape; it was definitely round. And if it had been Venus it should have been in the same part of the sky the next day, but the pilot said that he'd looked and it wasn't there. The ATIC report doesn't mention this point.
I remember asking him a second time what the UFO looked like; he said, "huge and metallic"—shades of the Mantell Incident.
The Dayton Incident didn't get much of a play from the press because officially it wasn't an unknown and there's nothing intriguing about an ice cloud and Venus. There were UFO reports in the newspapers, however.
One story that was widely printed was about a sighting at the naval air station at Dallas, Texas. Just before noon on March 16, Chief Petty Officer Charles Lewis saw a disk-shaped UFO come streaking across the sky and buzz a high-flying B-36. Lewis first saw the UFO coming in from the north, lower than the B-36; then he saw it pull up to the big bomber as it got closer. It hovered under the B-36 for an instant, then it went speeding off and disappeared. When the press inquired about the incident, Captain M. A. Nation, commander of the air station, vouched for his chief and added that the base tower operators had seen and reported a UFO to him about ten days before.
This story didn't run long because the next day a bigger one broke when the sky over the little town of Farmington, New Mexico, about 170 miles northwest of Albuquerque, was literally invaded by UFO's. Every major newspaper carried the story. The UFO's had apparently been congregating over the four corners area for two days because several people had reported seeing UFO's on March 15 and 16. But the seventeenth was the big day, every saucer this side of Polaris must have made a successful rendezvous over Farmington, because on that day most of the town's 3,600 citizens saw the mass fly-by. The first reports were made at 10:15 A.M.; then for an hour the air was full of flying saucers. Estimates of the number varied from a conservative 500 to "thousands." Most all the observers said the UFO's were saucer-shaped, traveled at almost unbelievable speeds, and didn't seem to have any set
flight path. They would dart in and out and seemed to avoid collisions only by inches. There was no doubt that they weren't hallucinations because the mayor, the local newspaper staff, ex-pilots, the highway patrol, and every type of person who makes up a community of 3,600 saw them.
I've talked to several people who were in Farmington and saw this now famous UFO display of St. Patrick's Day, 1950. I've heard dozens of explanations—cotton blowing in the wind, bugs’ wings reflecting sunlight, a hoax to put Farmington on the map, and real honest-to-goodness flying saucers. One explanation was never publicized, however, and if there is an explanation, it is the best. Under certain conditions of extreme cold, probably 50 to 60 degrees below zero, the plastic bag of a skyhook balloon will get very brittle, and will take on the characteristics of a huge light bulb. If a sudden gust of wind or some other disturbance hits the balloon, it will shatter into a thousand pieces. As these pieces of plastic float down and are carried along by the wind, they could look like thousands of flying saucers.
On St. Patrick's Day a skyhook balloon launched from Holloman AFB, adjacent to the White Sands Proving Ground, did burst near Farmington, and it was cold enough at 60,000 feet to make the balloon brittle. True, the people at Farmington never found any pieces of plastic, but the small pieces of plastic are literally as light as feathers and could have floated far beyond the city.
The next day, on March 18, the Air Force, prodded by the press, shrugged and said, "There's nothing to it," but they had no explanation.
True magazine came through for a third time when their April issue, which was published during the latter part of March 1950, carried a roundup of UFO photos. They offered seven photos as proof that UFO's existed. It didn't take a photo-interpretation expert to tell that all seven could well be of doubtful lineage, nevertheless the collection of photos added fuel to the already smoldering fire. The U.S. public was hearing a lot about flying saucers and all of it was on the pro side. For somebody who didn't believe in the things, the public thought that the Air Force was being mighty quiet.
The subject took on added interest on the night of March 26, when a famous news commentator said the UFO's were from Russia. The next night Henry J. Taylor, in a broadcast from Dallas, Texas, said that the UFO's were Uncle Sam's own. He couldn't tell all he knew, but a flying saucer had been found on the beach near Galveston, Texas. It had USAF markings.
Two nights later a Los Angeles television station cut into a regular program with a special news flash; later in the evening the announcer
said they would show the first photos of the real thing, our military's flying saucer. The photos turned out to be of the Navy XF-5-U, a World War II experimental aircraft that never flew.
The public was now thoroughly confused.
By now the words "flying saucer" were being batted around by every newspaper reporter, radio and TV newscaster, comedian, and man on the street. Some of the comments weren't complimentary, but as Theorem I of the publicity racket goes, "It doesn't make any difference what's said as long as the name's spelled right."
Early in April the publication that is highly revered by so many, U.S. News and World Report, threw in their lot. The UFO's belonged to the Navy. Up popped the old non-flying XF-5-U again.
Events drifted back to normal when Edward R. Murrow made UFO's the subject of one of his TV documentaries. He took his viewers around the U.S., talked to Kenneth Arnold, of original UFO fame, by phone and got the story of Captain Mantell's death from a reporter "who was there." Sandwiched in between accounts of actual UFO sightings were the pro and con opinions of top Washington brass, scientists, and the man on the street.
Even the staid New York Times, which had until now stayed out of UFO controversy, broke down and ran an editorial entitled, "Those Flying Saucers—Are They or Aren't They?"
All of this activity did little to shock the military out of their dogma. They admitted that the UFO investigation really hadn't been discontinued. "Any substantial reports of any unusual aerial phenomena would be processed through normal intelligence channels," they told the press.
Ever since July 4, 1947, ten days after the first flying saucer report, airline pilots had been reporting that they had seen UFO's. But the reports weren't frequent—maybe one every few months. In the spring of 1950 this changed, however, and the airline pilots began to make more and more reports—good reports. The reports went to ATIC but they didn't receive much attention. In a few instances there was a semblance of an investigation but it was halfhearted. The reports reached the newspapers too, and here they received a great deal more attention. The reports were investigated, and the stories checked and rechecked. When airline crews began to turn in one UFO report after another, it was difficult to believe the old "hoax, hallucination, and misidentification of known objects" routine. In April, May, and June of 1950 there were over thirty-five good reports from airline crews.
One of these was a report from a Chicago and Southern crew who
were flying a DC-3 from Memphis to Little Rock, Arkansas, on the night of March 31. It was an exceptionally clear night, no clouds or haze, a wonderful night to fly. At exactly nine twenty-nine by the cockpit clock the pilot, a Jack Adams, noticed a white light off to his left. The copilot, G. W. Anderson, was looking at the chart but out of the corner of his eye he saw the pilot lean forward and look out the window, so he looked out too. He saw the light just as the pilot said, "What's that?"
The copilot's answer was classic: "No, not one of those things."
Both pilots had only recently voiced their opinions regarding the flying saucers and they weren't complimentary.
As they watched the UFO, it passed across the nose of their DC-3 and they got a fairly good look at it. Neither the pilot nor the copilot was positive of the object's shape because it was "shadowy" but they assumed it was disk-shaped because of the circular arrangement of eight or ten "portholes," each one glowing from a strong bluish-white light that seemed to come from the inside of whatever it was that they saw. The UFO also had a blinking white light on top, a fact that led many people to speculate that this UFO was another airliner. But this idea was quashed when it was announced that there were no other airliners in the area. The crew of the DC-3, when questioned on this possibility, were definite in their answers. If it had been another airplane, they could have read the number, seen the passengers, and darn near reached out and slugged the pilot for getting so close to them.
About a month later, over northern Indiana, TWA treated all the passengers of one of their DC-3 flights to a view of a UFO that looked like a "big glob of molten metal."
The official answer for this incident is that the huge orange-red UFO was nothing more than the light from the many northern Indiana blast furnaces reflecting a haze layer. Could be, but the pilots say no.
There were similar sightings in North Korea two years later—and FEAF Bomber Command had caused a shortage of blast furnaces in North Korea.
UFO sightings by airline pilots always interested me as much as any type of sighting. Pilots in general should be competent observers simply because they spend a large part of their lives looking around the sky. And pilots do look; one of the first things an aviation cadet is taught is to "Keep your head on a swivel"; in other words, keep looking around the sky. Of all the pilots, the airline pilots are the cream of this group of good observers. Possibly some second lieutenant just out of flying school could be confused by some unusual formation of ground lights, a meteor, or a star, but airline pilots have flown thousands of hours or they
wouldn't be sitting in the left seat of an airliner, and they should be familiar with a host of unusual sights.
One afternoon in February 1953 I had an opportunity to further my study of UFO sightings by airline pilots. I had been out at Air Defense Command Headquarters in Colorado Springs and was flying back East on a United Airlines DC-6. There weren't many passengers on the airplane that afternoon but, as usual, the captain came strolling back through the cabin to chat. When he got to me he sat down in the next seat. We talked a few minutes; then I asked him what he knew about flying saucers. He sort of laughed and said that a dozen people a week asked that question, but when I told him who I was and why I was interested, his attitude changed. He said that he'd never seen a UFO but he knew a lot of pilots on United who had. One man, he told me, had seen one several years ago. He'd reported it but he had been sloughed off like the rest. But he was so convinced that he'd seen something unusual that he'd gone out and bought a Leica camera with a 105-mm. telephoto lens, learned how to use it, and now he carried it religiously during his flights.
There was a lull in the conversation, then the captain said, "Do you really want to get an opinion about flying saucers?"
I said I did.
"O.K.," I remember his saying, "how much of a layover do you have in Chicago?"
I had about two hours.
"All right, as soon as we get to Chicago I'll meet you at Caffarello's, across the street from the terminal building. I'll see who else is in and I'll bring them along."
I thanked him and he went back up front.
I waited around the bar at Caffarello's for an hour. I'd just about decided that he wasn't going to make it and that I'd better get back to catch my flight to Dayton when he and three other pilots came in. We got a big booth in the coffee shop because he'd called three more off-duty pilots who lived in Chicago and they were coming over too. I don't remember any of the men's names because I didn't make any attempt to. This was just an informal bull session and not an official interrogation, but I really got the scoop on what airline pilots think about UFO's.
First of all they didn't pull any punches about what they thought about the Air Force and its investigation of UFO reports. One of the men got right down to the point: "If I saw a flying saucer flying wing-tip formation with me and could see little men waving—even if my
whole load of passengers saw it—I wouldn't report it to the Air Force."
Another man cut in, "Remember the thing Jack Adams said he saw down by Memphis?"
I said I did.
"He reported that to the Air Force and some red-hot character met him in Memphis on his next trip. He talked to Adams a few minutes and then told him that he'd seen a meteor. Adams felt like a fool. Hell, I know Jack Adams well and he's the most conservative guy I know. If he said he saw something with glowing portholes, he saw something with glowing portholes—and it wasn't a meteor."
Even though I didn't remember the pilots' names I'll never forget their comments. They didn't like the way the Air Force had handled UFO reports and I was the Air Force's "Mr. Flying Saucer." As quickly as one of the pilots would set me up and bat me down, the next one grabbed me off the floor and took his turn. But I couldn't complain too much; I'd asked for it. I think that this group of seven pilots pretty much represented the feelings of a lot of the airline pilots. They weren't wide-eyed space fans, but they and their fellow pilots had seen something and whatever they'd seen weren't hallucinations, mass hysteria, balloons, or meteors.
Three of the men at the Caffarello conference had seen UFO's or, to use their terminology, they had seen something they couldn't identify as a known object. Two of these men had seen odd lights closely following their airplanes at night. Both had checked and double-checked with CAA, but no other aircraft was in the area. Both admitted, however, that they hadn't seen enough to class what they'd seen as good UFO sighting. But the third man had a lulu.
If I recall correctly, this pilot was flying for TWA. One day in March 1952 he, his copilot, and a third person who was either a pilot deadheading home or another crew member, I don't recall which, were flying a C-54 cargo airplane from Chicago to Kansas City. At about 2:30 P.M. the pilot was checking in with the CAA radio at Kirksville, Missouri, flying 500 feet on top of a solid overcast. While he was talking he glanced out at his No. 2 engine, which had been losing oil. Directly in line with it, and a few degrees above, he saw a silvery, disk-shaped object. It was too far out to get a really good look at it, yet it was close enough to be able definitely to make out the shape.
The UFO held its relative position with the C-54 for five or six minutes; then the pilot decided to do a little on-the-spot investigating himself. He started a gradual turn toward the UFO and for about thirty seconds he was getting closer, but then the UFO began to make a left turn. It had apparently slowed down because they were still closing on it.
About this time the copilot decided that the UFO was a balloon; it just looked as if the UFO was turning. The pilot agreed halfway—and since the company wasn't paying them to intercept balloons, they got back on their course to Kansas City. They flew on for a few more minutes with "the darn thing" still off to their left. If it was a balloon, they should be leaving it behind, the pilot recalled thinking to himself; if they made a 45-degree right turn, the "balloon" shouldn't stay off the left wing; it should drop ’way behind. So they made a 45-degree right turn, and although the "balloon" dropped back a little bit, it didn't drop back far enough to be a balloon. It seemed to put on speed to try to make a turn outside of the C-54's turn. The pilot continued on around until he'd made a tight 360-degree turn, and the UFO had followed, staying outside. They could not judge its speed, not knowing how far away it was, but to follow even a C-54 around in a 360-degree turn and to stay outside all of the time takes a mighty speedy object.
This shot the balloon theory right in the head. After the 360-degree turn the UFO seemed to be gradually losing altitude because it was getting below the level of the wings. The pilot decided to get a better look. He asked for full power on all four engines, climbed several thousand feet, and again turned into the UFO. He put the C-54 in a long glide, headed directly toward it. As they closed in, the UFO seemed to lose altitude a little faster and "sank" into the top of the overcast. Just as the C-54 flashed across the spot where the UFO had disappeared, the crew saw it rise up out of the overcast off their right wing and begin to climb so fast that in several seconds it was out of sight.
Both the pilot and copilot wanted to stay around and look for it but No. 2 engine had started to act up soon after they had put on full power for the climb, and they decided that they'd better get into Kansas City.
I missed my Dayton flight but I heard a good UFO story.
What had the two pilots and their passenger seen? We kicked it around plenty that afternoon. It was no balloon. It wasn't another airplane because when the pilot called Kirksville Radio he'd asked if there were any airplanes in the area. It might possibly have been a reflection of some kind except that when it "sank" into the overcast the pilot said it looked like something sinking into an overcast—it just didn't disappear as a reflection would. Then there was the sudden reappearance off the right wing. These are the types of things you just can't explain.
What did the pilots think it was? Three were sold that the UFO's were interplanetary spacecraft, one man was convinced that they were some U.S. "secret weapon," and three of the men just shook their heads. So did I. We all agreed on one thing—this pilot had seen something and it was something highly unusual.
The meeting broke up about 9:00 P.M. I'd gotten the personal and very candid opinion of seven airline captains, and the opinions of half a hundred more airline pilots had been quoted. I'd learned that the UFO's are discussed often. I'd learned that many airline pilots take UFO sightings very seriously. I learned that some believe they are interplanetary, some think they're a U.S. weapon, and many just don't know. But very few are laughing off the good sightings.
By May 1950 the flying saucer business had hit a new all-time peak.
The Air Force didn't take any side, they just shrugged. There was no attempt to investigate and explain the various sightings. Maybe this was because someone was afraid the answer would be "Unknown." Or maybe it was because a few key officers thought that the eagles or stars on their shoulders made them leaders of all men. If they didn't believe in flying saucers and said so, it would be like calming the stormy Sea of Galilee. "It's all a bunch of damned nonsense," an Air Force colonel who was controlling the UFO investigation said. "There's no such thing as a flying saucer." He went on to say that all people who saw flying saucers were jokers, crackpots, or publicity hounds. Then he gave the airline pilots who'd been reporting UFO's a reprieve. "They were just fatigued," he said. "What they thought were spaceships were windshield reflections."
This was the unbiased processing of UFO reports through normal intelligence channels.
But the U.S. public evidently had more faith in the "crackpot" scientists who were spending millions of the public's dollars at the White Sands Proving Grounds, in the "publicity-mad" military pilots, and the "tired, old" airline pilots, because in a nationwide poll it was found that only 6 per cent of the country's 150,697,361 people agreed with the colonel and said, "There aren't such things."
Ninety-four per cent had different ideas.