Over the last several weeks I have been looking into the RB-47 UFO sighting from July 17, 1957. It is an interesting case with the possibility of multiple chains of evidence but that is a discussion for another time. Right now I’m more interested in the problem of original sources.
Let me explain.
I thought that I would see what Richard Dolan had to say about the case and was a little surprised that he devoted only about a half page to it. What I found more interesting is a second case he described on that same page. He wrote, “On the same day as the RB-47 incident, an airliner one hundred miles east of El Paso nearly collided with a UFO ‘at least the size of a B-47.’ Two passengers were injured and hospitalized; no known aircraft was near.”
Well, I recognized the report because this aspect had been presented in some of the RB-47 case notes I had seen and was actually connected to it. The footnote didn’t provide much illumination. It took me to Timothy Good’s 1988 book, Above Top Secret and page 283.
Good reported, “On 17 July 1957, Flight 655 en route from Dallas to Los Angeles with Captain E. [identified as Ted in some sources] Bachner at the controls had a near miss with an object ‘at least the size of a B-47,’ 100 miles east of El Paso, Texas. Two passengers suffered slight injuries and had to be taken to hospital on landing. No known aircraft were in the vicinity at the time.”
His footnote cited Coral and Jim Lorenzen in UFOs: The Whole Story which was published in 1969. They mentioned it on page 79 in the Signet paperback. I didn’t have this book in my library and the reason seemed to be that I spent most of 1969 outside the United States. I didn’t have the opportunity to see it.
But, knowing Coral Lorenzen and the way she created her books, I thought that there might be a mention of this in The APRO Bulletin. I checked the September 1957 issue and on page three found another reference, which would be indirectly, I believe, the original source of the quotes by Dolan and Good.
Here we learn that “Ted” Bachner of American Airlines was flying a DC-6 and was about an hour out of Dallas. He said that he spotted an object about ten miles away, climbing fast. It was coming at him and he said that when he saw it wasn’t going to miss, he “dumped my ship [dived] 200 feet in a right turn. It whipped only 50 feet over our heads. It sure looked big up there.”
Lorenzen concluded her report writing, “It has been definitely established that no planes were in the area at the time.”
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. In the original reports found in the Project Blue Book file, it was suggested that the other aircraft was a B-36 but there were none of those in the area at the time which doesn’t, of course, eliminate all aircraft.
The El Paso newspapers, not to mention the Blue Book files, establish that American Airlines Flight No. 655, did serve to avoid another object. Two passengers were injured, and this, because it was a near miss, required documentation, reports and investigation. The mysterious object in the near miss was American Airlines Flight No. 966.
Brad Sparks interviewed American Airlines Director of Operations Larry L. Strain on February 3, 1976, who said that both Bachner and the captain of 966, T. A. Hinson, agreed in their written statements on file that they had been involved in the near miss on July 17. In other words, the pilots of both aircraft had been found and both had submitted the required documentation for a near miss, which allowed investigators to identify the specific flights.
There is additional documentation. In a November 8, 1957 letter by Roy Keeley of the Department of Commerce to Brigadier General Harold Watson and eventually forwarded to Major George Gregory at Blue Book, Keeley wrote, “….incident mentioned occurred on July 17, 1957, near El Paso, Texas, and involved American Airlines’ Flight No. 655. Investigation of this incident definitely established the fact that the unidentified flying object was American Airlines’ Flight No. 966, which had previously departed El Paso, Texas, enroute to Dallas, Texas.”
It is certain that this “UFO” case has been identified. Coral Lorenzen can be forgiven because, when she prepared The APRO Bulletin, the information was that Flight 655 had nearly missed an unidentified object. The solution wasn’t provided until some months later. That solution was part of the Blue Book file which was not only classified in 1957 and in 1969 when her book was published, but misfiled so that even the Condon Committee investigators couldn’t find it in the late 1960s.
But decades later, when Good and Dolan were writing, that solution was available. The August/September 1957 issue of NICAP’s U.F.O. Investigator contained information about the incident with the note that “a scheduled flight of an eastbound four-engine airliner was undoubtedly the ‘unknown’ though no negligence was indicated.” (Which was published after Coral Lorenzen’s note in the APRO Bulletin, but before her book was published… she should have known about it at that time.)
Klass referenced it in his 1974 book UFO’s Explained as part of his flawed analysis of the RB-47 case (which is a discussion for another time… but he puts Flight 966 in the traffic pattern at Love Field, Dallas when it was actually nearer El Paso).
I found the problems with the sources by following the trail. I shouldn’t have had to do that. Other writers should have done it first when they cited the case. I found it all because I was attempting to verify, from original sources, what was claimed. I had an advantage, having read the various other accounts of the RB-47 incident that predated either Dolan’s or Good’s books but they should have found some of them as well.
The footnote I could have created for this aspect of the case would be (remembering that Good’s book was published in 1988 and Dolan’s in 2000):
Clark, Jerome. UFO Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998: 781 – 783; Dolan, Richard. UFOs and the National Security State. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000: 199; Gillmor, Daniel S. ed. The Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam Books, 1969: 260 – 266; Klass, Philip J. The RB-47 Case – A New Explanation. Washington, D.C.: The Author, December 30, 1971 (see also, Klass, Philip J. UFOs Explained. New York: Random House, 1974; 186 – 215); McDonald, James E. “Science in Default: Twenty-two Years of Inadequate UFO Investigations.” In Carl Sagan and Thornton Page, eds. UFOs – A Scientific Debate, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972: 56 – 70; Printy, Tim. “The RB-47 Case: UFOlogy’s Best Evidence?” SUNlite 4,1 (January/February 2012): 1, 5 – 38; Project Blue Book Files, Microfilm Roll 28, Case 4810; “Scientists Say Near Collisions May Involve Space Vehicles,” The U.F.O. Investigator, August/September 1957: 9,; Thayer, Gordon David. “RB-47 Radar/Visual Sighting.” In Ronald Story, ed. The Encyclopedia of UFOs. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1980: 297 – 298; “Two Planes In Near Collisions With UAO,” The A.P.R.O. Bulletin, September 1957: 3
These entries refer, for the most part to the American Airlines flights and how they crept into this case. In the last few years I have tried to make the footnotes and citations as complete as possible. Quoting a single source that is not the original source doesn’t have the credibility that a footnote that refers to the original source or that provides information on a variety of sources has.
And for those who had not been keeping score, it is clear that the Air Force explanation for the RB-47 case, that it was the American Airlines airplane does not work because the aircraft were nowhere near one another. At the time the crew of the RB-47 was reporting a visual UFO sighting, that airliner was more than four or five hundred miles away in El Paso, sitting on the ground.