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UFO Case Report:

Airliners Paced by three UFOs (The Killian Case)

Date: February 23, 1959
Location: Williamsport, Pennsylvania, United States

The sighting of three glowing objects by several airline crews February 24, 1959 is one of the most thoroughly investigated (and, ironically, one of the most controversial) on record. The key witness, Capt. Peter W. Killian, was interviewed by NICAP personnel. A detailed investigation report, including weather data, air navigation maps, etc. , was submitted to NlCAP by the New York City Affiliate. The Akron UFO Research Committee co - operated in the investigation, adding valuable details.

An American Airlines DC-6

Capt. Killian

Classification & Features

Type of Case/Report: MajorCase
Hynek Classification: 
# of Witnesses: Multiple
Special Features/Characteristics: Pilot/Aircrew, Witness Photo

More Articles on this Case

Blue Book Pearls: The Killian Case

Dr. Willy Smith

On the night of February 24, 1959 a scheduled American Airlines flight from Newark to Detroit encountered three lights over Pennsylvania. They were also observed by the crews of two other planes flying much farther to the south, as well as by the tower operators in Pittsburgh. PA.

The Truth About the "Orion Belt" Sightings

Ray Palmer's "Flying Saucers" magazine, July 1959 (credit: ufologie.net)

On February 24, 1959, an American Airlines four-engine DC-6 airliner captained by Peter Killian, sighted three flying saucers. Crew and passengers observed them for 45 minutes. Other airliners were radioed and also reported seeing the same three objects.

Full Report / Article

Source: Richard Hall, UFO Evidence, 1964 (NICAP)
[go to original source]

The sighting of three glowing objects by several airline crews February 24, 1959, is one of the most thoroughly investigated (and ironically, one of the most controversial) on record.

On February 24, 1959, Captain Peter W. Killian and First Officer James Dee, American Airlines, were flying a DC-6B nonstop from Newark to Detroit. It was a clear night, with stars brightly visible and no moon. At 8:20 P.M. (EST) the plane was approximately thirteen miles west of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, flying on a heading of 295 degrees at 8,500 feet. Off the left wingtip, Captain Killian noticed three bright lights, which he first thought was the three stars making up the belt of the constellation Orion. But then he realized that Orion was also visible, higher overhead. The UFOs were about 15 degrees above the plane.

As he and Flight Officer (F/O) Dee continued to watch, the objects pulled ahead of the wingtip. At this point, in the vicinity of Erie, Pennsylvania, Captain Killian contacted two other American Airlines planes in the area. One, at the "Dolphin checkpoint" (over the northern shore of Lake Erie), saw the objects directly to the south over Cleveland. The other aircraft, near Sandusky, Ohio, and heading toward Pittsburgh. spotted the objects a little to the left of their heading, to the southeast.

As the DC-6B continued west, the UFOs occasionally pulled ahead and dropped back until they were in their original position with respect to the left wingtip. Then Captain Killian began letting down for landing in Detroit, and the crew no longer had time to watch the objects.

During the forty-five minute observation, the UFOs continuously changed brightness, flashing "brighter than any star," and then fading completely. This did not occur in any apparent pattern. The color fluctuated from yellow-orange to a brilliant blue-white at their brightest. The last object in line moved back and forth at times, independently of the generally western motion of the formation.

Visibility was unlimited. The pilots agreed: "It could not be any clearer than it was that night above 5,000 feet."

When the plane began letting down for landing, about 9:15 P.M., Captain Killian and F/O Dee lost sight of the objects. At 9:30 P.M. in Akron, Ohio, George Popowitch of the UFO Research Committee received a phone call from a contact at the Akron airport. A United Airlines plane
(Flight 937) had just landed for a fifteen-minute stop and reported sighting three UFOs which had followed their plane for thirty minutes. Popowitch had already received nine reports from local citizens between 9:15 and 9:20 of there UFOs seen in the area, so he arranged to interview the crew of the airliner.

Captain A. D. Yates and Engineer L. E. Baney said they had tracked the object from the vicinity of Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, to Youngstown, Ohio, between 8:40 and 9:10 P.M. United Airlines flight 321, also, had discussed the objects by radio. Captain Yates had seen the UFOs pacing his plane to the south. But in the vicinity of Warren, Ohio, the objects passed the aircraft, veered to the right, and finally disappeared to the northwest.

On May 6, 1959, Major General W. P. Fisher, Air Force Director of Legislative Liaison, in a letter to Senator Harry Byrd, stated: "The investigation of this incident revealed that an Air Force refueling mission, involving a KC-97 and three B-47 aircraft, was flown in the vicinity of Bradford, Pennsylvania, at the time of the sighting by Captain Killian. The refueling operation was conducted at 17,000 feet altitude at approximately 230 knots true air speed (about 265 mph) for a period of approximately one hour."

THE NATIONAL INVESTIGATIONS COMMITTEE ON Aerial PHENOMENA pointed out several discrepancies in this explanation:

(1) Bradford was to the north of the airliner's flight path; the UFOs were seen to the south.

(2) Triangulation’s of the pilots' sighting did not conform to the altitude and position information given for the refueling operation.

(3) The American Airlines crews checked with Air Traffic Control at the time and were told that no three aircraft were in the area and, after landing, were told that no jet refueling tankers were in the area.

Queried by the press, Captain Killian said: "If the Air Force wants to believe that, it can. But I know what a B-47 looks like and I know what a KC-97 tanker looks like, and I know what they took like in operation at night. And that’s not what I saw."

The Air Force subsequently released a (unsigned) statement which they said was made by Captain Killian, saying that the UFOs might have been a refueling operation and that he was not aware of what this looked like at night. In the ensuing controversy, American Airlines instructed Captain Killian to keep silent. The Air Force officially concluded that the UFOs were aircraft

Case ID: 1105 edit: 1105

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