Although I was working on another project, this Chiles-Whitted thing is beginning to get out of hand, so I thought I’d just run through it again based on the Project Blue Book files, various newspaper reports from the time, and what has been said
about the case in the years since by a number of UFO writers. There has
been some evolution in the sighting details over the years but I’m not
completely sure the blame can be laid at the feet of Chiles or Whitted. Their
statements, for the most part, have remained consistent.
According to the documentation, gathered in the hours after the sighting, Captain Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted were flying an Eastern Airlines DC-3 at
about 5,000 feet, heading toward Atlanta. The night was clear and the moon was bright.
They were twenty miles from Montgomery, Alabama, when Chiles saw a bright
object in front of them. He tapped Whitted on the shoulder and told him that
“Here comes a new Army jet job.” (It would seem that the glow of the jet engine
would be what Chiles thought he saw and that would mean the aircraft was flying
away from him but I digress.)
It appeared to them to be slightly above them and coming directly at them. It flashed by them on the right. Both Chiles and Whitted said that it was cylindrical in shape and that there was a double row of windows along the side. They thought it was about double the size of a B-29 fuselage in circumference and there was a long flame from the rear. As it passed them, one of the passengers, Clarence L. McKelvic, said that he saw a steak of light but no object. It seemed to climb into the clouds and disappear. The object was in sight for something like five or ten seconds.
Chiles called the company on the radio and asked if there was any other traffic in the area, meaning were there any aircraft near him. After they landed in Atlanta at 0349, they learned that the encounter had already been reported to the media. They were taken to radio station WCON and later were interviewed by William Key for the Atlanta newspaper. This provides a record of their descriptions within hours of the sighting.
The Air Force was impressed with the sighting. It might have been because both Chiles and Whitted had been military pilots during World War II. Chiles had been a lieutenant colonel and Whitted had been a first lieutenant. The report in the Project Blue Book files suggest that both were qualified observers, meaning that they were familiar with aircraft and had seen most of the natural phenomena that would be observed in the night sky.
At first the Air Force suggested a weather balloon but then switched to meteor. Chiles and Whitted both rejected the idea, explaining the object was much closer and much slower than a meteor. They also mentioned that they had to maneuver to avoid a collision. Although that information does not appear in the first official accounts, it was reported by Key in his first article. Chiles said, “We veered off to the left and the object veered off to the left.”
He also said, “There was no prop wash or rough air felt as it passed.”
In 1960, in a description of the sighting in a letter to ATIC dated February 17, an unidentified civilian wrote, “The UFO was now almost on top of them. Chiles rocked the DC-3 into a tight left turn. Just as the UFO flashed by about 700 feet to the right, the DC-3 hit turbulent air.”
In 1968, James McDonald interviewed Chiles. One of the points to come out of that was the idea that the object came out of a squall line. The weather that night was described as broken clouds in 4/10s of the sky. We are told that there was a bright moon and there is no mention of a squall line anywhere.
There was another sighting that took place about fifteen minutes earlier near Blackstone, VA. Captain Perry R. Mansfield and co-pilot Louis Feldvary on another flight saw only a streak of light that seemed to be heading west. It was in sight for only three seconds. The Air Force concluded, in 1948, after their investigation that this object was most probably a meteor, given the lack of detail and the brief length of time the object was in sight.
Donald Menzel, the Harvard astronomer and rabid debunker, reported that on the night of July 24, an amateur astronomer in Alabama counted fifteen meteors in a one-hour period. That was part of an annual meteor shower so the rate of meteors hitting the atmosphere was higher than non-shower times.
In the Blue Book files there is a note suggesting that this might be a meteor, though if it had maneuvered to avoid the aircraft, then it was not a meteor and it was under intelligent control. There was a suggestion that a passing of a meteor might produce a perceptual artifact such as the double row of windows, but that it was something to be left to the psychologists.
It turned out, based on other evidence, that such is the case. March 3, 1968, provided a textbook example. The Zond IV spacecraft reentered the atmosphere and broke up in a spectacular flaming display. Most people recognized it for what it was, but a few thought they had seen a cigar-shaped craft with windows along the side.
|Zond IV Drawings|
Taking this a step further are the videos that appear on YouTube. There are dozens that show meteors as they break up, often looking like a glowing cockpit with a stream of fragments behind it looking just like the lighted windows along a fuselage.
There are those who say that Chiles and Whitted could not have seen a meteor because it was traveling too slowly and it was much too low. They said that it disappeared into the clouds and though McDonald reported they had seen it come out of a squall line, that doesn’t seem to be accurate based on the weather data available.
An object seen against the night sky, through a broken cloud cover, can be quite deceptive. It can appear closer than it is, traveling at a slower speed then it was. Chiles thought the object passed within 700 feet of his aircraft but Whitted thought it was about 2500 feet away.
Their drawings of the object, other than the general shape, don’t match very well, given that they had about an hour to discuss this before the aircraft landed. Whitted said that he saw a double row of six windows and his illustration shows that arrangement. Chiles drawing has a different front end and no real windows like that of Whitted. Of course some of this is nitpicking, but then, the differences do suggest they weren’t actually seeing the thing the same way.
There is one other aspect that needs to be discussed and that is Walter Massey who was a ground maintenance crewman at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. I mention this so that there will be no accusations of hiding information. I’m not sure it is relevant given the timing and the distance but the Air Force as well as other civilian investigators have suggested a connection.
At about 0140 or 0145, or about an hour before Chiles and Whitted had their sighting, Massey said that he had seen a stream of fire that he said, “…was a fairly clear outline and appeared to be cylindrical-shaped object, with a long stream of fire coming out of the tail end… I noticed a faint glow on the belly of the wingless object.” He said that he was sure it wasn’t a meteor.
Massey said that the trajectory of the object was more or less straight and level. He said that it was about the size of a B-29 and that the fuselage might have had a slightly larger circumference. It was too large for a jet.
But this was an hour before Chiles and Whitted and might not be related. By separating the sightings, the explanation becomes simpler. Two separate events. Linked, then you must ask what sort of meteor stays airborne for an hour.
Given all the information, given the description of the object and given the misidentification by some of the Zond IV reentry, I believe that a meteor, or rather a fireball (bolide), is the most likely answer. Or, as some others have pointed out, there is nothing to disqualify that as an answer. All the information suggests meteor (which I say at the risk of sounding like Philip Klass who invoked the
meteor explanation frequently).
|Meteors in Flight|
And yes, as far as I know, Chiles and Whitted never deviated from their original story and their original descriptions. They rejected the meteor theory from the moment they heard it. They were convinced they had seen some sort of craft that was not part of any countries aviation inventory and was therefore extraterrestrial in origin. For me, the answer seems to be a bolide, but then, you can argue that the experienced aviators wouldn’t have been easily fooled. You just have to pick the side where the evidence seems to be the strongest.