Summary: the answer to the question, "Why don't pilots see UFOs?" is; "They do. This question may come in just that form from persons with essentially no knowledge of UFO history. From others who do know that there have been "a few" pilot-sightings, it comes in some altered form, such as, "Why don't airline and military pilots see UFOs all the time if they are in our atmosphere?" By way of partial answer, consider the following cases.
This question may come in just that form from persons with essentially no knowledge of UFO history. From others who do know that there have been "a few" pilot-sightings, it comes in some altered form, such as, "Why don't airline and military pilots see UFOs all the time if they are in our atmosphere?" By way of partial answer, consider the following cases. (To facilitate internal reference, I shall number sequentially all cases here after treated in detail.)
1. Case 1. Boise, Idaho, July 4, 1947:
Only about a week after the now-famous Mt. Rainier sighting by private pilot Kenneth Arnold, a United Air Lines DC-3 crew sighted two separate formations of wingless discs, shortly after takeoff from Boise (Refs. 8, 10, 22, 23). I located and interviewed the pilot, Capt. Emil J. Smith, now with United's New York office. He confirmed the reliability of previously published accounts. United Flight 105 had left Boise at 9:04 p.m. About eight minutes out, en route to Seattle, roughly over Emmett, Idaho, Co-pilot Stevens, who spotted the first of two groups of objects, turned on his landing lights under the initial impression the objects were air craft. But, studying them against the twilight sky, Smith and Stevens soon realized that neither wings nor tails were visible on the five objects ahead. After calling a stewardess, in order to get a third confirming witness, they watched the formation a bit longer, called Ontario, Oregon CAA to try to get ground- confirmation, and then saw the formation spurt ahead and disappear at high speed off to the west.
Smith emphasized to me that there were no cloud phenomena to confuse them here and that they observed these objects long enough to be quite certain that they were no conventional aircraft. They appeared "flat on the bottom, rounded on top", he told me, and he added that there seemed to be perceptible "roughness" of some sort on top, though he could not refine that description. Almost immediately after they lost sight of the first five, a second formation of four (three in line and a fourth off to the side) moved in ahead of their position, again travelling westward but at a somewhat higher altitude than the DC-3's 8000 ft. These passed quickly out of sight to the west at speeds which they felt were far beyond then-known speeds. Smith emphasized that they were never certain of sizes and distances, but that they had the general impression that these disc-like craft were appreciably larger than ordinary aircraft. Smith emphasized that he had not taken seriously the previous week's news accounts that coined the since-persistent term, "flying saucer." But, after seeing this total of nine unconventional, high-speed wingless craft on the evening of 7/4/47, he became much more interested in the matter. Nevertheless, in talking with me, he stressed that he would not speculate on their real nature or origin. I have spoken with United Air Lines personnel who have known Smith for years and vouch for his complete reliability.
The 7/4/47 United Air Lines sighting is of historic interest because it was obviously given much more credence than any of the other 85 UFO reports published in press accounts on July 4, 1947 (see Ref. 8). By no means the most impressive UFO sighting by an airliner crew, nevertheless, it is a significant one. It occurred in clear weather, spanned a total time estimated at 10-12 minutes, was a multiple-witness case including two experienced observers familiar with airborne devices, and was made over a 1000-ft altitude range (climb-out) that, taken together with the fact that the nine objects were seen well above the horizon, entirely rules out optical phenomena as a ready explanation. It is officially listed as an Unidentified.
2. Case 2. Montgomery, Alabama, July 24, 1948:
Another one of the famous airline sightings of earlier years is the Chiles-Whitted Eastern Airlines case (Refs. 3, 5, 6, 10, 23, 24, 25, 26). An Eastern DC-3, en route from Houston to Atlanta, was flying at an altitude of about 5000 ft, near Montgomery at 2:45 a.m. The pilot, Capt. Clarence S. Chiles, and the co-pilot, John B. Whitted, both of whom now fly jets for Eastern, were experienced fliers (for example, Chiles then had 8500 hours in the air, and both had wartime military flying duty behind them). I interviewed both Chiles and Whitted earlier this year to cross-check the many points of interest in this case. Space precludes a full account of all relevant details.
Chiles pointed out to me that they first saw the object coming out of a distant squall-line area which they were just then reconnoitering. At first, they thought it was a jet, whose exhaust was somehow accounting for the advancing glow that had first caught their eyes. Coming almost directly at them at nearly their flight altitude, it passed off their starboard wing at a distance on which the two men could not closely agree: one felt it was under 1000 ft, the other put it at several times that. But both agreed, then and in my 1968 interview, that the object was some kind of vehicle. They saw no wings or empennage, but both were struck by a pair of rows of windows or some apparent openings from which there came a bright glow "like burning magnesium." The object had a pointed "nose", and from the nose to the rear along its underside there was a bluish glow. Out of the rear end came an orange-red exhaust or wake that extended back by about the same distance as the object's length. The two men agreed that its size approximated that of a B-29, though perhaps twice as thick. Their uncertainty as to true distance, of course, renders this only a rough impression. There is uncertainty in the record, and in their respective recollections, as to whether their DC-3 was rocked by something like a wake. Perception of such an effect would have been masked by Chiles' spontaneous reaction of turning the DC-3 off to the left as the object came in on their right. Both saw it pass aft of them and do an abrupt pull-up; but only Whitted, on the right side, saw the terminal phase in which the object disappeared after a short but fast vertical ascent. By "disappeared", Whitted made clear to me that he meant just that; earlier interrogations evidently construed this to mean "disappeared aloft" or into the broken cloud deck that ray above them. Whitted said that was not so; the object vanished instantaneously after its sharp pull-up. (This is not an isolated instance of abrupt disappearance. Obviously I cannot account for such cases.)
This case has been the subject of much comment over the years, and rightly so. Menzel (Ref. 24) first proposed that this was a "mirage", but gave no basis for such an unreasonable interpretation. The large azimuth change of the pilots' line of sight, the lack of any obvious light source to provide a basis for the rather detailed structure of what was seen, the sharp pull-up, and the high flight altitude involved all argue quite strongly against such a casual disposition of the case. In his second book, Menzel (Ref. 25) shifts to the explanation that they had obviously seen a meteor. A horizontally-moving fireball under a cloud deck, at 5000 ft, exhibiting two rows of lights construed by experienced pilots as ports, and finally executing a most non-ballistic 90-degree sharp pull-up, is a strange fireball indeed. Menzel's 1963 explanation is even more objectionable, in that he implies, via a page of side-discussion, that the Eastern pilots had seen a fireball from the Delta Aquarid meteor stream. As I have pointed out elsewhere (Ref. 2), the radiant of that stream was well over 90 degrees away from the origin point of the unknown object. Also, bright fireballs are, with only rare exceptions, not typical of meteor streams. The official explanation was shifted recently from "Unidentified" to "Meteor", following publication of Menzel's 1963 discussion (see Ref. 20, p. 88).
Wingless, cigar-shaped or "rocket-shaped" objects, some emitting glowing wakes, have been reported by other witnesses. Thus, Air Force Capt. Jack Puckett, flying near 4000 ft over Tampa in a C-47 on August 1, 1946 (Ref. 10, p, 23), described seeing "a long, cylindrical shape approximately twice the size of a B-29 with luminous portholes", from the aft end of which there came a stream of fire as it flew near his aircraft. Puckett states that he, his copilot, Lt. H. F. Glass, and the flight engineer also saw it as it came in to within an estimated 1000 yards before veering off. Another somewhat similar airborne sighting, made in January 22, 1956 by TWA Flight Engineer Robert Mueller at night over New Orleans, is on record (Ref. 27). Still another similar sighting is the AAL case cited below (Sperry case). Again, over Truk Is., in the Pacific, a Feb. 6, 1953, mid-day sighting by a weather officer involved a bullet-shaped object without wings or tail (Ref. 7, Rept, No. 10). Finally, within an hour's time of the Chiles-Whitted sighting, Air Force ground personnel at Robins AFB, Georgia, saw a rocket-like object shoot overhead in a westerly direction (Refs. 3, 5, 10, 6). In none of these instances does a meteorological or astronomical explanation suffice to explain the sightings.
3. Case 3. Sioux City, Iowa, January 20, 1951:
Another of the many airline-crew sightings of highly unconventional aerial devices that I have personally checked was, like Cases 1 and 2, widely reported in the national press (for a day or two, and then forgotten like the rest). A check of weather data confirms that the night of 1/20/51 was clear and cold at Sioux City at the time that a Mid-Continent Airlines DC-3, piloted by Lawrence W. Vinther, was about to take off for Omaha and Kansas City, at 8:20 p.m. CST. In the CAA control tower, John M. Williams had been noting an oddly maneuvering light high in a westerly direction. Suddenly the light abruptly accelerated, in a manner clearly precluding either meteoric or aircraft origin, so Williams alerted Vinther and his co-pilot, James F. Bachmeier. The incident has been discussed many times (Ref. 4, 5, 10, and 28), but to check details of these reports, I searched for and finally located all three of the above-named men. Vinther and Bachmeier are now Braniff pilots, Williams is with the FAA in Sacramento. From them I confirmed the principal features of previous accounts and learned additional information too lengthy to recapitulate in full here.
The essential point to be emphasized is that, shortly after Vinther Got his DC-3 airborne, under Williams' instructions to investigate the oddly- behaving light, the object executed a sudden dive and flew over the DC at an estimated 200 ft vertical clearance, passing aft and downward. Then a surprising maneuver unfolded. As Vinther described it to me, and as described in contemporary accounts, the object suddenly reversed course almost 180 degrees, without slowing down or slowing, and was momentarily flying formation with their DC-3, off its port wing. (Vinther's dry comment to me was: "This is something we don't see airplanes do.") Vinther and Bachmeier agreed that the object was very big, perhaps somewhat larger than a B-, they suggested to newspapermen who interviewed them the following day. Moonlight gave them a good silhouetted view of the object, which they described as having the form of a fuselage and unswept wing, but not a sign of any empennage, nor any sign of engine-pods, propellers, or jets. Prior to its dive, it had been seen only as a light; while pacing their DC-3, the men saw no luminosity, though during the dive they saw a light on its underside. After about five seconds, the unknown object began to descend below them and flew under their plane. They put the DC-3 into a steep bank to try to keep it in view as it began this maneuver; and as it crossed under them, they lost it, not to regain sight of it subsequently.
There is much more detail, not all mutually consistent as to maneuvers and directions, in the full accounts I obtained from Vinther, Bachmeier, and Williams. The dive, pacing, and fly-under maneuvers were made quickly and at such a distance from the field that Williams did not see them clearly, though he did see the object leave the vicinity of the DC-3. An Air Force colonel and his aide were among the passengers, and the aide caught a glimpse of the unknown object, but I have been unable to locate him for further cross-check.
The erratic maneuvers exhibited by the unknown object while under observation from the control tower would, by themselves, make this a better- than-average case. But the fact that those maneuvers prompted a tower operator to alert a departing aircrew to investigate, only to have the object dive upon and pace the aircraft after a non-inertial course-reversal, makes this an unusually interesting UFO. Its configuration, about which Vinther and Bachmeier were quite positive in their remarks to me (they repeatedly emphasized the bright moonlight, which checks with the near-full moon on 1/20/51 and the sky-cover data I obtained from the Sioux City Weather Bureau), combines with other features of the sighting to make it a most significant case. The reported shape (tailless, engineless, unswept aircraft of large size) does not match that of any other UFO that I am aware of; but my exposure to the bewildering range of reported configurations now on record makes this point less difficult to assimilate. This case is officially carried as Unidentified, and, in a 1955 publication (Ref. 29), was one of 12 Unidentifieds singled out for special comment. A contemporary account (Ref. 28), taking note of a then recent pronouncement that virtually all UFOs are explainable in terms of misidentified Skyhook balloons, carried a lead- caption: "The Office of Naval Research claims that cosmic ray balloons explain all saucer reports. If so, what did this pilot see?" Certainly it would not be readily explained away as a balloon, a meteor, a sundog, or ball lightning. Rather, it seems to be just one more of thousands of Unidentified Flying Objects for which we have no present explanations because we have laughed such reports out of scientific court. Bachmeier stated to me that, at the time, he felt it had to be some kind of secret device, but, in the ensuing 17 years, we have not heard of any aircraft that can execute instantaneous course-reversal. Vinther's comment to me on a final question I asked as to what he thinks, in general, about the many airline-pilot sightings of unidentified objects over the past 20 years, was: "We're not all having hallucinations."
4. Case 4. Minneapolis, Minn., October 11, 1951:
There are far more private pilots than airline pilots, so it is not surprising that there are more UFO sightings from the former than the latter. An engineer and former Air Force P-38 pilot, Joseph J. Kaliszewski, flying for the General Mills Skyhook balloon program on balloon-tracking missions saw highly unconventional objects on two successive days in October, 1951 (Refs. 5, 7, 10). Both were reported through company channels to the official investigative agency (Bluebook), whose report (Ref. 7) describes the witnesses as "very reliable" and as "experienced high altitude balloon observers." On October 10, at about 10:10 a.m., Kaliszewski and Jack Donaghue were at 6000 ft in their light plane, climbing toward their target balloon, when Kaliszewski spotted "a strange object crossing the skies from East to West, a great deal higher and behind our balloon (which was near 20,000 ft at that time)." When I interviewed Kaliszewski, he confirmed that this object "had a peculiar glow to it, crossing behind and above our balloon from east to west very rapidly, first coming in at a slight dive, leveling off for about a minute and slowing down, then into a sharp left turn and climbing at an angle of 50 to 60 degrees into the southeast with a terrific acceleration." The two observers had the object in view for an estimated two minutes, during which it crossed a span of some 45 degrees of the sky. No vapor trail was seen, and Kaliszewski was emphatic in asserting that it was not a balloon, jet, or conventional aircraft.
The following morning, near 0630, Kaliszewski was flying on another balloon mission with Richard Reilly and, while airborne north of Minneapolis, the two of them noticed an odd object. Quoting from the account submitted to the official agency (Ref. 7, Rept. No. 2):
"The object was moving from east to west at a high rate and very high. We tried keeping the ship on a constant course and using the reinforcing member of the windshield as a point. The object moved past this member at about 50 degrees per second. This object was peculiar in that it had what can be described as a halo around it with a dark undersurface. It crossed rapidly and then slowed down and started to climb in lazy circles slowly. The pattern it made was like a falling oak leaf inverted, It went through these gyrations for a couple minutes and then with a very rapid acceleration disappeared to the east. This object Dick and I watched for approximately five minutes."
Shortly after, still another unknown object shot straight across the Sky from west to east, but not before Kaliszewski succeeded in radioing theodolite observers at the University of Minnesota Airport. Two observers there (Douglas Smith, Richard Dorian) got fleeting glimpses of what appeared to them to be a cigar-shaped object viewed through the theodolite, but could not keep it in view due to its fast angular motion. In my conversations with Kaliszewski about these sightings , I gained the impression of talking with a careful observer, in full accord with impressions held by three other independent sources, including Air Force investigators.
The October 10 sighting is officially categorized as "Aircraft," the October 11 main sighting as "Unidentified." When I mentioned this to Kaliszewski, he was unable to understand how any distinction could be so drawn between the two sightings, both of which he felt matched no known aeronautical device. Clearly, objects performing such intricate maneuvers are not meteors, nor can they be fitted to any known meteorological explanations of which I am aware. Instead, these objects seem best described as devices well beyond the state of 1951 (or 1968) technology.
5. Case 5. Willow Grove, Pa., May 21, 1966:
Skipping over many other pilot observations to a more recent one which I have personally checked, I call attention to a close-range airborne sighting of a domed-disc, seen under midday conditions by two observers. One of them, William C. Powell, of Radnor, Pa., is a pilot with 18,000 logged flight hours. He and a passenger, Miss Muriel McClave, were flying in Powell' s Luscombe in the Philadelphia area on the afternoon of 5/21/66 when an object that had been first spotted as it apparently followed an outbound flight of Navy jets from Willow Grove NAS made a sharp (non-banking) turn and headed for Powell's plane on a near-collision course. As the object passed close by, at a distance that Powell put at roughly 100 yards, they both got a good look at the object. It was circular in planform and had no wings or visible means of propulsion, both witnesses emphasized to me in interviews. The upper domed portion they described as "porcelain-white", while the lower discoid portion was bright red ("dayglow red" Powell put it). It was slightly below their altitude as it passed on their right, and Powell pointed out that it was entirely solid, for it obscured the distant horizon areas. His brief comment about its solidity and reality was, "It was just like looking at a Cadillac." He estimated its airspeed as perhaps 200 mph, and it moved in a steady, non- fluttering manner. He estimated its diameter at perhaps 20 feet. Miss McClave thought it might have been nearer 40 feet across. Each put the thickness-to- diameter ratio as about one-half. After it passed their starboard wing, Powell could see it only by looking back over his shoulder through a small aft window, but Miss McClave had it in full view when suddenly, she stated to me, it disappeared instantaneously, and they saw no more of it.
Powell flies executive transports for a large Eastern firm, after years of military and airline duty. I have discussed the case with one of his superiors, who speaks without qualification for Powell's trustworthiness. At a UFO panel discussion held on April 22, 1967 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors , Powell was asked to summarize his sighting. His account is in the proceedings of that session (Ref. 30). I know of no natural phenomenon that could come close to explaining this sighting. The visibility was about 15 miles, they were flying in the clear at 4500 ft, and the object passed nearby. A pilot with 18,000 hours flight experience is not capable of precise midair distance and speed estimates, but his survival has probably hinged on not commonly making errors of much over a factor of two. Given the account and accepting its reliability, it seems necessary to say that here was one more case of what Gen. Samford described as "credible observers seeing relatively incredible objects". I felt that Powell's summary of his sighting at the ASNE meeting was particularly relevant because, in addition to my being on the panel there, Dr. D. H. Menzel and Mr. Philip J. Klass, both strong exponents of meteorological-type UFO theories, were present to hear his account. I cannot see how one could explain this incident in terms of meteorological optics nor in terms of ball lighting plasmoids. Here again, we appear to be dealing with a meaningful observation of some vehicle or craft of non-terrestrial origin. Its reported instantaneous disappearance defies (as does the same phenomenon reported by J. B. Whitted and numerous other UFO witnesses) ready explanation in terms of present-day scientific knowledge. Powell reported his sighting at Willow Grove NAS, but it engendered no interest.
6. Case 6. Eastern Quebec, June 29, 1954:
A case in which I have not been able to directly interview any witnesses, but about which a great deal is on record, through contemporary press accounts, through the pilot's subsequent report, and through recent interviews by BBC staff members, occurred near Seven Islands, Quebec, just after sunset on 6/29/54. A BOAC Stratocruiser, bound from New York to London with 51 passengers, was followed for 18 minutes (about 80 miles of airpath) by one large object and six smaller objects that flew curious "formations" about it. The pilot of the Stratocruiser was Capt. James Howard, a highly respected BOAC flight officer still flying with BOAC. At the time, he had 7500 flight hours. About 20 witnesses, including both passengers and crew, gave statements as to the unprecedented nature of these objects (Refs. 4, 10, and Associated Press wire stories datelined June 30, 1954).
The flight was at 19,000 ft in an area of generally fair weather, with good visibility, attested by Howard and by weather maps for that day. No obvious optical or electrical explanation seems capable of accounting for this long- duration sighting. The objects were dark, not glowing, and their position relative to the sunset point precludes sundogs as an explanation. Mirage phenomena could not account for the eighty-mile persistence, nor for the type of systematic shape-changes described by the witnesses, nor for the geometrically regular formations taken up by the satellite objects as they shifted positions from time to time. Just before an F-86 arrived from Goose AFB at Howard's request, First Officer Boyd and Navigator George Allen, who were watching the objects at that moment, said the small objects seemed to merge into the larger object. Then the large object receded rapidly towards the northwest and was out of sight in a matter of seconds. Such a maneuver of a number of satellite objects seeming to merge with or to enter a larger object has been reported in other UFO incidents around the world.
7. Case 7. Goshen, Ind., April 27, 1950:
Another early airline sighting that seemed worth personally crosschecking involved the crew and passengers of a TWA DC-3 on the evening of 4/27/50 (Refs. 4, 5, 10, 23). I have interviewed both the pilot, Capt. Robert Adickes, and the copilot, Capt. Robert F. Manning, and confirmed all of the principal features first reported in detail in a magazine account by Keyhoe (Ref. 31). The DC-3 was at about 2000 ft, headed for Chicago, when, at about 8:25 p.m., Manning spotted a glowing red object aft of the starboard wing, well to their rear. Manning sent to me a copy of notes that he had made later that night at his Chicago hotel. Quoting from the notes:
"It was similar in appearance to a rising blood red moon, and appeared to be closing with us at a relatively slow rate of convergence. I watched its approach for about two minutes, trying to determine what it might be. Then I attracted Adickes' attention to the object asking what he thought it was. He rang for our hostess, Gloria Henshaw, and pointed it out to her. At that time the object was at a relative bearing of about 100 degrees and slightly lower than we were. It was seemingly holding its position relative to us, about one-half mile away."
Manning's account then notes that Capt. Adickes sent the stewardess back to alert the passengers (see Keyhoe's account, Ref. 31), and then banked the DC-3 to starboard to try to close on the unknown object. Manning continues in his 4/27/50 notes:
"As we turned, the object seemed to veer away from us in a direction just west of north, toward the airport area of South Bend. It seemed to descend as it increased its velocity, and within a few minutes was lost to our sight..."
Although, in my interview, I found some differences in the recollected shape of the object, as remembered by the two TWA pilots, both were positive it was no aircraft, both emphasized its red glow, and both were impressed by its high speed departure. Manning remarked to me that he'd never seen anything else like it before or since; and he conceded, in response to my query, that the decreased number of airline reports on UFOs in recent years probably stems chiefly from pilot reluctance to report. Both he and Adickes, like most other pilots I have asked, indicated they were unaware of any airline regulations precluding reporting, however. I mentioned to Adickes that there is indirect indication in one reference (Ref. 5) that the official explanation for this sighting was "blast-furnace reflections off clouds." He indicated this was absolutely out of the question. It is to be noted that here, as in many other pilot sightings, an upper bound, even if rough, is imposed on the range to the unknown by virtue of a downward slanting line of sight. In such instances, meteor-explanations are almost automatically excluded. The Goshen case has no evident meteorological, astronomical, or optical explanation.
8. Case 8. Newport News, Va., July 14, 1952:
Another case in which experienced pilots viewed UFOs below them, and hence had helpful background-cues to distance and size, occurred near 8:12 p.m. EST, July 14, 1952. A Pan American DC-4, en route from New York to Miami, was at 8000 ft over Chesapeake Bay, northeast of Newport News, when its cockpit crew witnessed glowing, disc-shaped objects approaching them at a lower altitude (estimated at perhaps 2000 ft). First Officer Wm. B. Nash, at the controls for Capt. Koepke (who was not on the flight deck during the sighting) and Second Officer Wm. H. Fortenberry saw six amber-glowing objects come in at high velocity and execute a peculiar flipping maneuver during an acute-angle direction change. Almost immediately after the first six reversed course, two other apparently identical discs shot in under the DC-4, Joining the other six. I am omitting here certain other maneuver details of significance, since these are on record in many accounts (4, 5, 10, 11, 25). Although I have not interviewed Nash (now in Germany with PAA, and Fortenberry is deceased), I believe that there has never been any dispute as to the observed facts. Nash has stated to T.M. Olsen (author of Ref. 11) that one of the most accurate accounts of the facts has been given by Menzel (Ref. 25), adding that Menzel's explanation seems entirely out of the question to him. A half-dozen witnesses on the ground also saw unknowns at that time, according to official investigators.
The objects had definite edges, and glowed "like hot coals", except when they blinked out, as they did in unison just after the first six were joined by the latter two. When the lights came back on, Nash and Fortenberry saw them climbing westward, eight in line, north of Newport News. The objects climbed above the altitude of the DC-4 and then blinked out in random order and were seen no more.
Menzel explains this famous sighting as resulting from a searchlight playing on thin haze layers, an almost entirely ad hoc assumption, and one that will not account for the amber color, nor for the distinct edges, nor for the final climb-out of the objects. The rapid motion, abrupt course- reversal, and the change from negative to positive angles of elevation of the line of sight to the unknowns seem to preclude any meteorological-opti explanation, and there is, of course, no possibility of explaining cases like this in terms of ball lightning, meteors, balloons, or many of the other frequently adduced phenomena. Nash has stated that he feels these were "intelligently operated craft." This case is officially "Unidentified".
9. Many other pilot-sightings, both recent and old, could readily be cited. Not only civilian pilots but dozens of military pilots have sighted wholly unconventional objects defying ready explanation (see esp. Ref. 10 and Ref. 7 for many such instances). Thus, the answer to the question, "Why don't pilots see UFOs?" is; "They do."