(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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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.