|The Project Card from the Air Force Files.|
There are some cases in the Blue Book files that create problems for UFO researchers. That is, a solution has been offered, but it is a solution that doesn’t seem to fit all the facts. Such is the report made by an airline pilot and members of his flight crew on June 30, 1954.
Captain James R. Howard, a pilot for British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), and who had crossed the Atlantic 250 times, spotted something that he could not identify. According to his statement as published:
I was in command of a BOAC Boeing Strato cruiser en route from New York to London via Goose Bay Labrador (refueling stop). Soon after crossing overhead Seven Islands at 19,000 feet, True Airspeed 230 kts, both my co-pilot and I became aware of something moving along off our port beam at a lower altitude at a distance of maybe five miles, in and out of a broken layer of Strato Cumulus cloud. As we watched, these objects climbed above the cloud and we could now clearly see one large and six small. As we flew on towards Goose Bay the large object began to change shape and the smaller to move relative to the larger…
We informed Goose Bay that we had something odd in sight and they made arrangements to vector a fighter (F94?) on to us. Later I changed radio frequency to contact this fighter; the pilot told me he had me in sight on radar closing me head-on at 20 miles. At that the small objects seemed to enter the larger, and then the big one shrank. I gave descriptions of this to the fighter and a bearing of the objects from me. I then had to change back to Goose frequency for descent clearance. I don’t know if the fighter saw anything as he hadn’t landed when I left Goose for London (Gillmor, 1969, p. 139).
Jenny Randles (1987), writing in The UFO Conspiracy, expanding on this, mentioned that Lee Boyd, the first officer, alerted Goose Bay that there was an unidentified object escorting them. Goose Bay told them that an interceptor would be launched with the call sign of Pinto One.
Although the BOAC crew never saw the interceptor, and the radar on the fighter never painted the object, the BOAC crew were told that the radar at Goose Bay did see it. That would, of course, eliminate some sort of natural phenomenon given the observations of the flight crew. It also provided a bit of instrumentality for the sighting, something that was outside the problems of human perception.
According to Randles, when the aircraft landed at Goose Bay at 1:51 a.m., the crew was met by both US Air Force and Canadian officials that included intelligence officers. Both pilots, Howard and Boyd, were taken away to be debriefed. The navigator H. McDonnell, said that the flight logs were taken by the Air Force and that he was questioned about their airspeed and direction. His interrogation didn’t last very long. He said the pilots were gone much longer.
That wasn’t the end of it. Once they reached London, the pilots were ordered to the Air Ministry. The explanation offered then for the sighting was that the crew and some of the passengers had seen a solar eclipse. The trouble was that the eclipse had not begun when the sighting was made.
Howard, in a report in the New York Times (1954) said that the objects resembled “a large burst of flak and six smaller blobs.” He had refined the description in other reports, saying that the UFO was opaque, dark and jelly-fish-like. He also said that all but one of the crew and many of the passengers had seen the object. In one newspaper article, Howard said, “sometimes it was wedge shape, sometimes like a dumbbell, sometimes like a sphere with tail-like projections. The six smaller objects dodged about, either in front or behind (Project Blue Book; Associated Press, 1954).”
McDonnell met up with Howard some months later. He asked Howard what had happened at the Air Ministry. Howard responded, “Sorry. I can’t say. You know the score.”
Howard, his crew and passengers, however, were not alone spotting the strange object. According to the Blue Book file, more information came from a ship, USS Edisto, in the area. They described the same thing. The ship’s crew identified the object as Mars and suggested that there were “mirage conditions” on that date which could have influenced the sighting from the air.
The file confirmed the attempted intercept. The fighter pilot, who wasn’t identified by name, said that no intercept was made. He also said that he did not make radar contract with the unidentified object.
The file also contained a message that had been sent to various commands. It said, “NEAC evaluates sighting as unknown natural phenomena cma (comma) possibly a mirage as a temperature inversion in referenced area made this condition possible pd (period).”
The Blue Book file also provided some additional information. Howard estimated that they watched the objects for about eighteen minutes. Eleven other crew members verified the information. One of the messages ended with “No further information available. Duty officer regards as improbable threat to US.”
|Part of the Joint Message Form about the sighting.|
Given this lack of information, this certainly not one of Blue Book’s best cases. The explanation seems to be clear, and while some might reject that explanation because it came from the Air Force, it is based on observations made at the time by another set of witnesses. There seems to be no reason to reject their solution.
|Newspaper article covering part of the sighting.|
The Condon Committee, however, thought the case deserved more attention. That might be explained by their interest in weather related phenomena that could cause UFO sightings. In a chapter called, “Optical and Radar Analysis of Field Case,” it was noted, “Very little meteorological data are available for this part of the world on the date in question, so that the presence of significant optical propagation mechanisms can be neither confirmed nor ruled out. This sighting was examined because of the ‘Mirage’ explanation. In fact, the author noted, “Nevertheless, certain facts in the case are strongly suggestive of an optical mirage phenomenon (Gillmor, 1969).”
The Condon scientists went on to explain that the mirage might have been caused by a reflection from over the horizon. This is called superior mirage and has been reported often over the ocean. They then qualified that by writing:
The principal difficultly with this explanation, besides having to hypothesize the existence of the mirage-producing layer, is how to account for the anisotrophy [being directionally dependent] of the mirage. Anisotrophy of this sort, i.e. a mirage limited to certain viewing azimuths, is common in earthbound mirages when viewed from a single location. But a mirage layer through which a reflected image could be seen only in one, constant principal direction (plus a view smaller “satellite” images over a distance of 85 n. mil [nautical miles] is quite unusual (Gillmor, 1969).
What this says is that the Air Force was happy with the mirage answer, and with the suggestion that Mars was the culprit. And it says that the Condon Committee, looking at cases in which some sort of weather phenomenon is suspected, ended up not agreeing with the Air Force.
They added that there was a “slim possibility” that the aircraft itself was responsible for the “image layer through intensification (by compression induced by the shock wave of the aircraft’s passage through the air) of a barely subcritical layer, i.e. one in which the temperature gradient is just a little bit less than the value required to produce a mirage.”
But none of this is really all that important. It is the final conclusion, published in the Condon Committee’s report which says, “This unusual sighting should therefore be assigned to the category of some almost certainly natural phenomenon, which is so rare that it apparently has never been reported before or since.”
Or, in other words, they had no real explanation for it but believed it to be natural, but they didn’t know what that would be. They just refused to say that they had failed to identify the source of the sighting which would have been the honest thing to do.
And that last paragraph from the Condon Committee report on the sighting is what demanded its inclusion here. It gives an insight into the mission of the Condon Committee, and it provides a look at the Air Force investigation. True, the Air Force relied on the observations of the crew of a ship in the region, but that doesn’t seem to be unreasonable. Had the “mirage, Mars” answer been left intact, that would be a reasonable conclusion. Since it was taken a step further, there is no reasonable conclusion. It is “Unidentified.”