As so often happens, I’m doing research on one thing and stumble onto something else that is interesting. Such is the case today. I was looking through Dick Hall’s The UFO Evidence when I noticed something that struck me as incorrect so I thought I would chase a footnote or two.
Hall wrote that the Chiles-Whitted UFO sighting on July 23, 1948, involved a physical manifestation which, in this case, was turbulence that rocked the aircraft. Both men reported they had seen a cigar-shaped craft that flashed by their airliner very early in the morning. Hall’s reference took us to Section V of his book, and noted that the Air Force contested the belief that there had been turbulence. The footnote said, “For additional details see Flying, July 1950; Saturday Evening Post, May 7, 1949.
Timothy Good in his Above Top Secret, wrote that Chiles said, “It [the UFO] veered to its left and passed us about 700 feet to our right and above us. Then, as if the pilot had seen us and wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame from the rear and zoomed into the clouds, its prop wash or jet wash rocking our DC-3.”
The trouble here is that in some of the first interviews conducted with Chiles and Whitted by military officials, they mentioned nothing about any sort of turbulence associated with the object. In a statement prepared by Chiles on August 3, 1948, and originally classified as “secret,” he wrote, “After it passed it pulled up into some light broken clouds and was lost from view. There was no prop wash or rough air felt as it passed.”
Whitted also provided a statement which is undated but is in his own words. He said, “We heard no noise nor did we fell any turbulence from the object.”
At some point after these statements were taken, the idea that there had been turbulence was introduced. I wasn’t sure when the idea there was turbulence was introduced but both Hall and Good mention it. Hall, in his The UFO Evidence, provided two sources and did mention that the Air Force rejected the idea. The important point here is that the case was classified so Hall did not have the benefit of those “official” interviews with the two pilots. He was working from the information in the NICAP files and from the two magazines he noted. The Saturday Evening Post article does not mention a thing about the turbulence. It gives a solid account of the sighting without that detail.
The Flying article that Hall referenced does contain the information. According to Curtis Fuller, who wrote the article, Chiles, quoted in a story written by Louis Blackburn of the Houston Press, said, “Then, as if the pilot had seen us and wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame from the rear and zoomed into the clouds, its prop wash or jet wash rocking our DC-3.”
Although I don’t have a copy of the Houston Press article, I do have another written by Albert Riley in the Atlanta Constitution. There is no date on the clipping, which was part of the Blue Book files, but the first paragraph mentioned the sighting “yesterday morning,” which does, of course provide a time frame. It contains the quote, “Then, as if the pilot had seen us and wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame from the rear and zoomed into the clouds, its prop wash or jet wash rocking our DC-3.”
And, I have another newspaper article that has no source (United Press in the dateline) but does include a date of July 24, 1948. In a quote that might be a little more invention than reality, it said that their DC-3 fluttered in the “prop-wash, jet-was or rocket-wash.”
Timothy Good quotes Chiles, but there is no footnote on the quote and the footnote on the next paragraph leads to The Coming of the Saucers by Ray Palmer and Kenneth Arnold. It doesn’t provide any solid information. I suspect his information will ultimately chase back to the Houston Press article that was quoted in Flying.
My original point here was going to be that this idea of a prop-wash had been added sometime later based on the documentation found in the Blue Book files. These were the statements allegedly signed by the witnesses but that isn’t exactly the case. Given that some of the information is redacted we are unable to see if there is a signature on Chiles statement rather than just a typed name and there is no place on Whitted’s statement for a signature which leaves us with a question or two. It does seem that within hours, they were talking about prop-wash, but all the quotes are basically the same suggesting a single source. And their statements to the Air Force, originally classified as “secret” suggest no turbulence.
It is clear that their statements are contradictory. They were all made within hours of the event. Chiles’ statement for the Air Force was completed and apparently signed days later but the newspaper quotes are from hours later. I had thought that we had a clear-cut case of embellishment based on the first statements found in the Blue Book files, but that isn’t true. We might suggest a bias by UFO researchers sometime later in adding the turbulence as an additional effect of the passing object but that isn’t correct. We might say the Air Force induced them to make the comments about no turbulence but there is no evidence of that. Given that both pilots mentioned no turbulence in their Air Force statements, I suspect both were asked the question about it during those interviews.
There really is no solution for this dilemma. I would say that the earlier statements, taken in the hours after the event are probably the most accurate, but it seems that they made both comments within hours of the sighting. In 1948, the Air Force was actually attempting to learn more about the flying saucers and the reporters who interviewed the pilots were trying to get a good but accurate story. In the final analysis, all I can say is that they mentioned turbulence and said that there had been none. Pick the quote that fits best into your own bias because I have no idea which is accurate.