The Navy sighting was dynamite.
It was early in '59 when I learned of this hidden report - a startling encounter with a UFO (Unidentified Flying Object). The lead came in a brief message from Admiral Delmer S. Fahrney, former Navy missile chief, whom I had known for years:
"Captain James Taylor, USN, Ret., has an important UFO sighting made by a naval pilot and his crew. Call him at Spacetronics, Inc., in Washington, District 7-9481.
That night, when Captain Taylor gave me this dramatic Navy report, I could see why it had never been released to the public Later, Admiral Fahrney and I met at the Army=Navy Club and discussed the details. Fahrney knew, as well as I did, of other hidden UFO cases - some of them highly significant. But this one stood out in importance.
It had happened in 1956.
Cruising at 19,000 feet, a Navy R7V-2 transport - a four- engine Super-Constellation - was flying west across the Atlantic Ocean. The next stop was Gander, Newfoundland. Final destination, Naval Air Station, Patuxent, Maryland.
The night was clear, visibility unlimited.
In the senior pilot's seat, Commander George Benton was checking the dim-lit instruments.1 At thirty-four, Benton had a decade of Navy flying behind him. He had made the Atlantic crossing more than two hundred times.
Back in the cabin were two extra Navy air crews, en route home from foreign duty. Most of these men were asleep. Including Benton's regular and relief crews, there were nearly thirty airmen-pilots, navigators and flight engineers --- aboard the Constellation.
As Commander Benton finished his cockpit check, he glanced out at the stars. Then he leaned forward, puzzled. A few minutes before, the sea below had been dark. Now there was a cluster of lights, like a village, about twenty-five miles ahead.
Benton looked over at his co-pilot, Lieutenant Peter J. Mooney.
"What do you make of those lights?"
Mooney peered down, startled.
"Looks like a small townl"
"That's what I thought." Benton quickly called the navigator, Lieutenant Alfred C. Erdman. "We must be way off course. There's land down there."
"It can't be land." Erdman hurried forward from his map table. "That last star sight shows---"
He broke off, staring down at the clustered lights.
"Well?" said Benton.
"They must be ships," said Erdman. "Maybe a rendezvous for some special operation."
"They don't look like ships," said Benton. He called Radioman John Wiggins. No word of any unusual ship movements, Wiggins reported. And no signals from the location of the lights. If they were ships, they were keeping radio silence.
"Wake up those other crews," Benton told Erdman. "Maybe somebody can dope it out."
In a few moments, two or three airmen crowded into the cockpit. Benton cut off the automatic pilot, banked to give them and the men in the cabin a better view.
As the transport began to circle, the strange lights abruptly dimmed. Then several colored rings appeared, began to spread out. One, Benton noticed, seemed to be growing in size.
Behind him, someone gave an exclamation. Benton took another look. That luminous ring wasn't on the surface-- it was something rushing up toward the transport.
"What the devil is it?" said Mooney.
"Don't know," muttered Benton. He rolled the Constellation out of its turn to start a full-power climb. Then he saw it was useless. The luminous ring could catch them in seconds.
The glow, he now saw, came from the rim of some large, round object. It reached their altitude, swiftly took shape as a giant disc-shaped machine.
Dwarfing the Constellation, it raced in toward them.
"It's going to hit us!" said Erdman.
Benton had known normal fear, but this was nightmare. Numbed, he waited for the crash.
Suddenly the giant disc tilted. Its speed sharply reduced, it angled on past the port wing.
The commander let out his breath. He looked at Mooney's white face, saw the others' stunned expressions. Watching out the port window, he cautiously started to bank. He stopped as he saw the disc.
It had swung around, was drawing abreast, pacing them at about one hundred yards. For a moment he had a clear glimpse of the monster.
Its sheer bulk was amazing; its diameter was three to four times the Constellation's wing span. At least thirty feet thick at the center, it was like a gigantic dish inverted on top of another. Seen at this distance, the glow along the rim was blurred and uneven. Whether it was an electrical effect, a series of jet exhausts or light from openings in the rim, Benton could not tell. But the glow was bright enough to show the disc's curving surface, giving a hint of dully reflecting metal.
Though Benton saw no signs of life, he had a feeling they were being observed. Fighting an impulse to dive away, he held to a straight course. Gradually, the strange machine pulled ahead. Tilting its massive shape upward, it quickly accelerated and was lost against the stars.
Commander Benton reached for his microphone, called Gander Airport and identified himself.
"You show any other traffic out here?" he asked the tower. "We had something on the scope near you," Gander told him. "But we couldn't get an answer."
"We saw it," Benton said grimly. "It was no aircraft."
He gave the tower a concise report, and back at Gander teletype messages were rushed to the U.S. Air Defense Command, the Commanding Officer, Eastern Sea Frontier, the Director of Air Force Intelligence and the Air Technical Intelligence Center.
When the Constellation landed at Gander, Air Force In telligence officers met the transport. From the start, it was plain they accepted the giantdisc sighting as fact. For two hours, Benton and the rest were carefully interrogated, separately and together: How close did the object come? What was its size . . . estimated rate of climb . . . any electrical interference noted . . . what happened to the other luminous rings?
From the answers to scores of questions, the majority opinion emerged. The flying disc was between 350 and 400 feet in diameter, and apparently metallic. No interference with ignition noted; instruments not observed and radio not operating during this brief period. Time for the giant disc to climb to the transport's altitude, between five and eight seconds, indicated speed between 1,400 and 2,200 knots; the disc had accelerated above this speed on departure.
Not all the men in the cabin had seen the luminous rings. Of those who had, most were watching the huge disc approach and did not see the "rings" disappear. If they, too, were flying discs, in a rendezvous as some suggested, they apparently had raced off while the other one was checking on the Constellation.
At one point, an Intelligence captain asked Benton if he had seen any indication of life aboard the disc.
"No, but it was intelligently controlled, that's certain. Benton looked at him closely. "That size, it would hardly he remote-controlled, would it?"
"I couldn't say," replied the Air Force man. Nor would he tell what the Gander Airport radar had shown about the disc's speed and maneuvers.
"What's behind all this?" demanded Mooney. "Up to now, I believed the Air Force. You people say there aren't any flying saucer---"
"Sorry, I can't answer any questions," said the captain.
"Why not? After a scare like that, we've got a right to know what's going on.
The Intelligence officer shook his head. "I can't answer any questions," he repeated.
As quickly as possible, Intelligence reports with full details were flashed to the four Defense commanders already notified, with an extra message for the Director of Naval Intelligence.
After the Constellation reached Patuxent, the air crews were interviewed again, by a Navy order. Each man made a written report, with his opinion of what he had seen.
Five days later, Commander Benton had a phone call from a scientist in a high government agency. "I'm informed you had a close-up UFO sighting. I'd like to see you.
Benton checked, found the man was cleared by the Nayy. Next day, the scientist appeared, showed his credentials, listened intently to Benton's report. Then he unlocked a dispatch case and took out some photographs.
"Was it like any of these?"
At the third picture, Benton stopped him.
"That's it!" He looked sharply at the scientist. "Somebody must know the answers, if you've got photographs of the things."
The other man took the pictures.
"I'm sorry, Commander." He closed his dispatch case and left.
At the time when I learned of this case, I had served for two years as Director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.