(Note: Back when I was taking a creative writing course in college, the instructor said to never give away your writing. That weakened the market and made it more difficult for you in the future. When one of those posters on this blog suggested I do something with the RB-47 case, my first thought was to provide a link to the book in which I had written about the sighting. A good marketing strategy. However, I just wanted to answer the question without making it seem that I was overly mercenary about it. Here is the write-up of the case. If anyone would like to buy the book, it is the UFO Dossier, and you can click on the book cover on the left which will take you to Amazon and the book.)
According to the Condon Committee report, that is, the Air Force sponsored University of Colorado investigation, they learned about the RB-47 incident at a “project-sponsored conference for air base UFO officers held in Boulder in June 1967.” The aircraft commander of the flight, then Major Lewis Chase, who was assigned as the UFO officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in 1967, mentioned his sighting that occurred in 1957. Roy Craig, who was the investigator for the study on this sighting, wrote:
According to the officer, a Major [Chase] at the time of the encounter, he was piloting a B-47 on a gunnery and electronic counter-measures training mission from an AFB [Air Force Base]. The mission had taken the crew over the Gulf of Mexico, and back over South Central United States where they encountered a glowing source of both visual and 2,800 mHz. electronic radiation of startling intensity, which, during the encounter, held a constant position relative to the B-47 for an extended period. Ground flight control radar also received a return from the “object,” and reported its range to the B-47 crew, at a position in agreement with radar and visual observations from the aircraft.
Craig tried to find the report in the Project Blue Book files or in the Defense Command records but failed. He did mention that the most important members of the crew, in relation to the sightings, were the pilot, Chase, co-pilot 1st Lieutenant James McCoid, and the Electric Counter Measures Officer, known as a “Raven” in the Number Two position, Captain Frank McClure. Those interviewed were surprised that there was no report in the Project Blue Book files, and it was clear from those interviewed that a report had been made by the base intelligence officer Captain E. I. Piwetz, the crew was debriefed at length, and the aircraft commander, Chase, had filled out the forms being used at the time for UFO reports.
During the investigation, Craig gathered additional information from the crew members he could locate and who were not serving in Vietnam at the time of his work. Craig learned that there were a series of incidents that began when the RB-47 crossed the coast of Mississippi and McClure picked up a signal on his scope. McClure was surprised to see it move “up scope” which wasn’t supposed to happen. His job was to find ground-based radar stations emitting signals at around 3000 MHz. Since these were ground based stations, the signal would, naturally, move down scope as long at the aircraft was flying straight and level. McClure thought, at first, this was an equipment malfunction and didn’t mention to either the other Ravens with him or to the aircraft commander.
Near Meridian, Mississippi, they turned toward the west, heading for Louisiana and eventually the Dallas – Fort Worth area, where they would again turn, this time to the north toward their home base. While on the east – west leg of the flight, the pilot spotted a bright white light that he believed was coming right at the aircraft. According to the Intelligence Report created by Piwetz in the hours after the encounter:
At 1010Z [that is 5:10 CDT] aircraft commander [Chase] first observed a very intense light white light with light blue tint at 11 o’clock [position] from his aircraft, crossing in front to about 2:30 position, co-pilot [McCoid] also observed passage of light to 2:30 o’clock where it apparently disappeared. A/C [aircraft commander] notified crew and the ECM operator nr 2 [McClure] search[ed] for signal described above…
The Condon Committee report noted that the pilot had seen a white light that crossed in front of the plane, “moving to the right, at a velocity far higher than airplane speeds.” The pilot, according to this report, said the light was as large as a barn. The co-pilot also saw the light.
In what might be a confusion of the events, given that the Craig was gathering the information some ten years later, he reported that after the light disappeared, McClure switched his monitoring equipment back to the original frequency and picked up something at the two o’clock position. At this point Chase requested permission to switch radio frequencies to a “ground interceptor control radar and check out the unidentified companion.” The ground radar showed the object on their radar and that it was holding about ten miles from the RB-47.
After the UFO had held the two o’clock position and the ten-mile range and as the Chase had varied speed, heading and altitude, the number two monitoring officer, McClure, reported the object was beginning to move up-scope, to a position in front of the aircraft. According to Craig:
It moved to a position ahead of the plane, holding the ten-mile range, and again became visible. The pilot went to maximum speed. The target appeared to stop, and as the plane got close to it and flew over it, the target disappeared from visual observation, from monitor number two, and from ground radar. (The operator of monitor number two [McClure] also recalled the B-47 navigator having this target on his radar scope at the same time). The pilot began to turn back. About half way around the turn, the target reappeared on both the monitor and the ground radar scopes and visually at an estimated altitude of 15,000 ft. The pilot received permission from Ground Control to change altitude, and dove the plane at the target, which appeared stationary. As the plane approached to an estimated distance of five miles the target vanished again from both visual observation and radar. Limited fuel caused the pilot to abandon the chase at this point and head for his base. As the pilot leveled off at 20,000 ft. a target again appeared on number two monitor, this time behind the B-47. The officer operating the number two monitoring unit, however, believes he may have been picking up the ground radar signal at this point. The signal faded out as the B-47 continued flight.
Here’s where we are on this, at this point. If the information is accurate, the UFO was seen by a ground-based radar, by the aircraft-based radar, was seen visually by the flight crew, and was detected by monitoring equipment on the aircraft emitting an electromagnetic signal at about 3000 mHz. More precisely, there are three chains of evidence from the visual sighting to the radar returns and to the detection of the electromagnetic signal. That makes this a very strong case.
To add to the impressive array of evidence, according to Craig, both the co-pilot, McCoid, and the number two monitoring officer, McClure, said that they were impressed with the way the UFO disappeared and then reappeared. They said that during some of the encounter, the object could be tracked on the navigator’s radar. McClure said that he remembered the navigator, Thomas Hanley, was receiving a return on his radar and that the bearings to the object matched, exactly, what McClure was receiving on his scope.
Craig, during his investigation, developed a series of questions about the sighting. He wondered if the monitoring station might have picked up a ground-based radar or a reflected signal. He wondered if the visual sightings could be airplane lights, afterburners or meteors. He wondered if the visual sightings were actually the same as the objects on the radars. In other words, he was wondering if the sightings were separated into individual events then they might be explainable. Craig could see that the overall event was mysterious, but that elements of it might have conventional explanations.
Craig also noted that there was a sharp divergence on the report of the sighting and the data that might have been gathered. Chase seemed to believe that records in the form of scope photographs and wire recordings, which was standard on all flights including training flights, had been made, but others disagreed. They thought that this was a “shakedown” prior to deployment of the aircraft overseas and that such records were not made. In his search, Craig was unable to find any such records.
Assuming that these sorts of records were not made and therefore did not exist, Craig decided on another course. He wrote:
Since it appeared that the filmed and recorded data we were seeking had never existed, we renewed the effort to locate any special intelligence reports of the incident that might have failed to reach Project Blue Book. A report form of the type described by the pilot could not be identified or located. The Public Information Officer at ADC Headquarters checked intelligence files and operations records, but found no record of this incident. The Deputy Commander for Operations of the particular SAC Air Wing in which the B-47 crew served in 1957 informed us that a thorough review of the Wing history failed to disclose any references to an UFO incident in Fall 1957.
Later work by others would discover some documents including the form that Chase said that he had filled out. Their problem was that they had the date of the event wrong, believing that it happened in September 1957 rather than July 1957.
With no documentation, with only the testimony of the half the members of the crew taken a decade after the event, there wasn’t much else that could be done. In the conclusion, Craig wrote:
If a report of this incident, written either by the B-47 crew or by Wing Intelligence personnel, was submitted in 1957, it apparently is no longer in existence. Moving pictures of radar scope displays and other data said to have been recorded during the incident apparently never existed. Evaluation of the experience must, therefore, rest entirely on the recollection of the crew members ten years after the event. These descriptions are not adequate to allow identification of the phenomenon encountered.
And that was the end of it. This was an intriguing case that contained some interesting evidence that could lead to some important conclusions. Visual sightings of the UFO, radar contacts on the ground and in the air and electromagnetic radiation from the UFO, all possibly documented with wire recordings, scope photographs and with written reports by crew members and ground radar stations.
Although the details of the case as they were known then by two members of the Condon Committee who had quit in a dispute over the ultimate purpose of the study, it was Dr. James McDonald who straightened out the mistakes in the case. David R. Saunders and R. Roger Harkin published UFOs! Yes! in 1968, before the final report from the Condon was issued.
McDonald determined that the date of the sighting was July 19, 1957 rather than September, which was why they couldn’t find the case file. When it was located, many of the things that the Condon Committee reported were found to be untrue. In fact, part of the massive report included an appendix Q, which were weather records for Mineral Wells, Texas on September 19, 1957, but are wholly irrelevant to understanding the case.
There are four long analyses of this case. As mentioned, McDonald and Klass wrote opposing views. Later Brad Sparks and Tim Printy did the same thing. Sparks endorses the extraterrestrial believing this is one of the best cases for that. Printy’s analysis points out the problems with the case but in the end, isn’t sure what it proves.
Taking a page from Klass, which was to deal with each element of the sighting alone rather than as a whole, some of the flaws in the case can be seen. What we know was that the aircraft had flown from Forbes Air Force Base in Kansas, south out into the Gulf of Mexico for a gunnery exercise and as a problem in celestial navigation. When that was finished, they turned north heading toward Meridian, Mississippi. As they approached the coast, the Number Two Raven, McClure, saw a radar signal that was confusing to him.
According to McClure, the detected signal started at the rear of his scope and began to move upward, in what is now thought of as the “Up Scope Incident.” This sort of thing was, according to nearly everyone, impossible. The purpose of the monitoring system in the aircraft was to detect the signal emitted from enemy ground-based radars and therefore, they would always be moving down scope. The system is passive which means they don’t emit a signal but search for other radar signals. The only way for them to move up scope was if the radar was airborne and the craft carrying it was approaching the RB-47 and then passing it.
McClure, interviewed by the Condon Committee in 1967, said:
I had… a radar receiver…. It had a DF capability which can tell you the bearings from you to the object… Any ground radar that you intercept has to go down your scope because the airplane is moving forward… This particular signal… it was behind me and it moved forward which indicates it was either in the air or the aircraft was in a turn…. So I called the front because I asked them were they turning. He said, “No.” They were flying straight and level. So I just ignored the thing because I figured that’s something that can’t happen and I’ll just forget about it…
Chase would tell investigators that at this point McClure changed frequencies that he was searching. He was thinking that his equipment had malfunctioned in some fashion. McClure didn’t think much about it at the time it happened. Only after the other events of the evening, did McClure and the others attach significance to this sighting.
Philip Klass in studying this aspect of the sighting believed that the problems were a malfunction in the equipment and a signal received from a station near Biloxi, Mississippi.
Sparks, in his analysis said that the aircraft crossed the coast closer to Gulfport, which meant there were no ground-based radars to account for the signal. He based this on the information that Chase had supplied to the Condon Committee. He also said that the radar site, at Keesler Air Force Base was not in operation at the time. It was a training site, and this was summer and long after midnight.
While the source of the signal has not been identified, according to Printy, the site could well have been in operation on July 17, early in the morning. It is true that the site was a training facility but they did hold late night classes and they did work on the radars in the hours when it would necessarily conflict with nighttime training.
In the end, there is no evidence that the signal came from a ground source, but it does mimic one of the types of radars being used at the time. It was radiating on the proper frequency. In other words, there is no positive solution for this part of the case.
Raven Two, McClure, didn’t mention this problem to the pilot at the time, other than request information about the attitude of the aircraft. If it was in a turn, then the strange movement of the return could be explained. If they were in straight and level flight, then there was some sort of a problem.
Once the flight reached the area of Meridian, Mississippi, they turned to the west, heading toward the Dallas – Fort Worth area, or to a point somewhat south of there, north of Waco. According to the Wing Intelligence report, quoted above, the bright light startled Chase. He thought it was another aircraft heading directly at his, at the same altitude, and that he would have to take evasive action. Chase warned the crew to prepare, but then the light flashed by from left to right. Chase said, according to the documentation in the Condon files:
I didn’t have any time to react at all – that’s how fast it was and it went out to about the 2 o’clock position and all the lights go out on… I asked him [McCoid], “Jim,” I said, “Did you see that?” He gave me some remark like, “Well, I did if you did.” He wasn’t going to admit to anything… Then one of us made the remark, “Well, it must be a flying saucer.” … We were laughing about it in the interphone.
According to the Air Defense Command sighting questionnaire, filled out by Chase some three months after the event, the object or light, was an intense “blue-white light.” He thought it was about two miles away, but then it was a light seen in the sky without a point of reference. He told the Condon investigators that it was impossible to estimate the distance to an unknown light in the sky. Or, in other words, it could have been much farther away if it was a very bright object.
Interestingly, nearly everyone who has studied the case agree with the idea this was a meteor. It matches descriptions of other such fireballs seen under a variety of conditions. Sparks, in fact, wrote, “This meteor fireball sighting is the only part of the RB-47 incident having a mundane explanation, in this case as a natural phenomenon.”
It was during the next phase of the flight, as the RB-47 approached the next turn that the sighting changed in nature. According to what Chase told Klass:
We actually turned over Meridian, but by the time we got over Jackson we have to be very accurately on course, straight and level for the work to be done. So Meridian would have been the actual turning point with the ECM mission starting at Jackson, in other words the Navigator would have to have a precise fix and you’re on course with no turns so he chart the points along the line.
After the visual sighting and the discussion of “flying saucers,” McClure began to search for some sort signal. At about 4:30 (CST), McClure found a signal that mimicked the characteristics of the CPS-6B radars and like the signal he had detected when they had crossed the coast into Mississippi earlier. The signal was scanning at the same rate as that of the radar, meaning there would be a signal, it would disappear as the radar antenna spun and reappear when the antenna was pointed at the aircraft.
McClure wondered if the UFO that had been seen earlier was the source of the signal that he was now watching. If it was, then it would suggest that the UFO had changed course and was pacing the aircraft, clearly something that no ground station could do. McClure told Chase about what he was seeing on his scope and wondered if he had visual contact with anything out there. He continued to make his observations.
The wing intelligence report, which was created within hours of the aircraft landing said:
A/C [aircraft commander, Chase] notified crew and ECM NR 4 [McClure] for signal described above, found same approximately 1030Z [4:30 CST] at a relative bearing of 070 degrees; 1035Z, relative bearing of 068 degrees; 1038Z, relative bearing 040 degrees. At 1039Z A/C sighted huge light which he estimated to be 5000 feet below aircraft at about 2 o’clock. Aircraft altitude was 34,500 feet, weather perfectly clear. Although A/C could not determine shape or size of object he had a definite impression [sic] light emanated from top of object. At 1040Z ECM operator nr 2 reported he then had two signals at relative bearings of 040 and 070 degrees. A/C and co-pilot saw these two objects at the same time with the same red color. A/C received permission to ignore flight plan and pursue object. He notified ADC site UTAH and requested all assistance possible. At 1042Z ECM nr 2 had one object at 020 degrees relative bearing. A/C increased speed to Mach 0.83, turned to pursue, and the object pulled ahead. At 1042.5Z ECM nr 2 again had two signals at relative bearings of 040 and 070 degrees. At 1044Z he had a single signal at 050 degrees relative bearing. At 1048Z ECM nr 3 was recording interphone and command position conversations. ADC site requested aircraft to go to IFF mode III for positive identification then requested position of object. Crew reported position of the object as 10NM (nautical miles) north west [sic] of Ft Worth, Texas, and ADC site UTAH immediately confirmed presence of object on their scopes. At approximately 1050Z object appeared to stop and aircraft overshot. UTAH reported they lost object from scopes at this time and ECM nr 2 also lost signal. Aircraft began turning, ECM nr 2 picked up signal at 160 degrees relative bearing, UTAH regained scope contact and A/C regained visual contact. At 1052Z ECM n2 had signal at 200 degrees relative bearing, moving up his D/F scope. Aircraft began closing on object until the estimated range was 5NM. At this time object appeared to drop approximately 15,000 feet altitude and A/C lost visual contact. UTAH also lost object from scopes. At 1055Z in the area of Mineral Wells, Texas, crew notified UTAH they must depart they must depart for home station because of fuel supply. Crew queried UTAH whether a CIRVIS report had been submitted and UTAH replied the report had been transmitted. At 1057 ECM nr 2 had signal at 300 degrees relative bearing but UTAH had no scope contact. At 1058Z A/C regained visual contact of object approximately 10NM northwest of Ft Worth, Texas, estimated altitude 20,000 feet, at 2 o’clock from aircraft. At 1102Z aircraft took up heading for home station. This placed area of object off the tail of the aircraft. ECM nr 2 continued to D/F signal of object between 180- and 190-degrees relative bearing until 1140Z when aircraft was approximately abeam Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At this time signal faded rather abruptly. 55SRW DOI has no doubt the electronic D/F’s coincided exactly with visual observations by A/C numerous times thus indicating positively the object being the signal source.
The report was taken by Captain Elwin T. Piwetz within hours of the aircrew landing in Kansas. The memories of the crew would be fresh and suggest these are the best of the interviews conducted. Those held some ten years after the fact don’t agree precisely with these statements, but the discrepancies are all minor and relatively unimportant.
This interview, conducted by the Wing intelligence officer, would seem to provide a good case. Observations that were backed up by both airborne radars and ground-based radars. But the Blue Book file has some contradictory information in it. There is a TELEX alerting those at ATIC and Blue Book that a sighting had been made. Most of the information in that TELEX reflects what the Wing intelligence report said, but there is one line that is troublesome. Although partially hidden by a piece of paper obviously put there to hide some of the information, the line says, “UTAH had negative contact with object.”
On the TELEX someone had identified UTAH as the ground radar and had also written, “Note,” with an exclamation point. This document created within hours of sighting as well and is in direct contradiction of what was reported by Chase and his crew. They also reported that all the documentation they had created had been removed by someone and none of that appear in the Blue Book file.
This demonstrates that the Blue Book file is no help in resolving the questions raised by the sighting. It seems inconceivable that the aircrew would believe that the ground radar station reported they had tracked the object and that those at that station would deny it.
The same can be said for the CIRVIS report. The aircrew said the report had been filed, but if there was no radar contact on the ground, then the report might not have been filed. Or, the ground station filed the report based on what the aircrew said. The search for the CIRVIS report is ongoing.
It also seems odd that the Condon Committee investigators could not find the Blue Book file on the case. True, in 1967, as they were investigating UFOs, some of them had access to the Blue Book files. Ironically, as they investigated a series of sightings at Malmstrom Air Force Base, they were dealing with the base UFO officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Chase. In the course of that investigation, or rather the documents surrounding it, it became clear that some members of the Condon Committee had been granted security clearances so that they could pursue specific sightings.
What that means, simply, is that had they wanted to follow up on what Chase had told them about his sighting in 1957, they had access to the files. Granted, the information supplied by Chase gave the sighting date as September 1957 instead of July, but even a limited search of the records should have turned it up. After Condon finished his work and after Blue Book was closed, James McDonald did find the case file. It wasn’t as if it would have been in another file cabinet, or that the Project Card didn’t contain sufficient information to suggest that it might be the case. Their conclusion that the information is no longer available is inaccurate.
Brad Sparks, in his report published in Jerome Clark’s massive UFO Encyclopedia, Second Edition, wrote:
The RB-47 incident is the first conclusive scientific proof for the existence of UFOs. Calibrations of the RB-47’s electronic measurements provide an irrefutable case. By comparing the measures of the airborne UFO microwave emissions against a known microwave source (the Duncanville, Texas, air defense radar [known in the documentation as UTAH]), with both signals compared simultaneously, the accuracy of the UFO measurements becomes scientifically unassailable. Since both signals were measured at the same time as 30 degrees apart, this proves that it was impossible for the UFO signal to have been a misidentification of the Duncanville radar signal. The UFO signal was the dominant signal since the Duncanville signal was not detected until the RB-47 flew into the strongest part of the Duncanville radar beam.
Even if this statement is considered to be hyperbole, it does suggest that the case was mishandled by the both the Air Force and the Condon Committee. It screamed for a follow up in 1957, when the aircrew was reporting radar contacts from the air, reporting electromagnetic radiation detected emanating from the UFO and with visual sightings of the UFO. As noted, the Blue Book file contains contradictions that should have been resolved in 1957. Did Duncanville track the object or not? And if they didn’t, why did the flight crew believe they did? Those simple questions should have been answered in 1957.
Tim Printy, at his skeptical website wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the case as was Sparks. Printy wrote, “Is the case solved? I would never suggest so unless there was much more evidence as to aerial activities that morning. As a result, the case is still unidentified.”
Which, of course, seems to be a proper solution here because there are so many aspects that were not explored when various individuals and entities had the opportunity. In 1957, with the Air Force charged with the investigation of UFOs, and with a case that seemed to have so many independent chains of evidence, it would be expected that the Air Force would investigate. That investigation was apparently reduced to having Chase fill out their questionnaire, and paying attention only to the visual sighting that took place near Fort Worth. According to the Project Card, the case file referred only to the “1st sighting,” which, of course, it was not. They claimed that it was solved as an aircraft, specifically American Airlines flight number 655. Unfortunately for the Air Force, that flight was on the ground in El Paso, Texas. What this demonstrates was that they simply didn’t care to continue to investigate.
Klass concluded that the sightings were a combination of things and taken separately, they were all explainable in the conventional. The first radar sighting was a simple electronic error that flipped the image on the radar screen so that it appeared traveling up scope rather than down. The first visual sighting was of a meteor with which Brad Sparks agrees. The other radar sightings from the ground were misidentifications of the ground radar beams since the frequencies of those beams matched, to a degree the pattern emitted by the UFO. The second visual sightings were American Airlines flight number 966, which according to Klass, “If American Airlines flight #966 was on time, it would have been approaching the Dallas airport at the time that the Duncanville radar operators noted an unidentified target in the same location…. On final approach, the airliner’s landing lights would have been turned on, and this could explain the RB-47 crew’s observation that it had overflown a bright light northwest of Dallas.”
Unfortunately for Klass, American Airlines flight number 966 was involved in a near miss situation in west Texas and was nowhere near Dallas at the time. There is no explanation for the sighting, which doesn’t mean that it was alien, only that it is unidentified.
It is interesting, however, that Klass acknowledges the Duncanville [UTAH] radar tracking an object when the Blue Book file suggests otherwise. Again, this is one of the unresolved points in the case.
In the end, the consensus seems to be that this case is unidentified. The explanations offered for it or rather the radar displays on the airborne detectors might be explained, in part, by ground stations. As noted, there is no evidence that the radar at Biloxi was in operation at the time, and if that is the case, then the explanation fails at that point.
It should also be noted that the flight crew, while unsure of how much was recorded or when the recording started, all agree that there were some recordings made and photographs of the scopes taken. Those have all disappeared and there is no evidence that they were ever part of the Blue Book file.
Given what has been documented, there should be other evidence somewhere. The Condon Committee had the best opportunity to find it in the late 1960s. Members of the team had the clearance to see the files, unless there was something there that would be considered a threat to national security and classified at a level that would not have allowed review by the civilians of the Condon Committee. Chase told one of the committee members who was attempting to learn about the Belt, Montana, sightings in 1967 that related to the allegations that missile launch capability had been compromised that he couldn’t get into that because of the classified nature of the reports.
However, given the instructions the Air Force had given Condon, it is not surprising that nothing came from that information. To probe too deeply could have exposed a significant case. Today, we have the remnants of the case and nothing else. Condon did his job, but here it was not in the public interest.