March 8, 1950 Dayton, Ohio
The NICAP document states:
March 8, 1950--Dayton, Ohio. A round UFO seen by the crew of a TWA airliner, was tracked on radar, and chased by two F-51s. [VIII]1
Section VIII includes a few paragraphs:
In mid-morning, the CAA received a report from Capt. W. H. Kerr, Trans-World Airways pilot, that he and two other TWA pilots had a UFO in sight. A gleaming object was visible, hovering at high altitude. CAA also had 20 or more reports on the UFO from the Vandalia area. Wright-Patterson AFB, near Dayton, was notified, and sent up four interceptors. The UFO was also visible to control tower operators and personnel of Air Technical Intelligence Center on the base. Radar had an unidentified target in the same position.
Two F-51 pilots reported that they could see the UFO, which presented a distinct round shape and seemed huge and metallic. But clouds moved in, and the pilots were forced to turn back. The Master Sergeant who tracked it on radar stated: “The target was a good solid return. . . caused by a good solid target.’ Witnesses reported that the UFO finally climbed vertically out of sight at high speed.2
There is also a comment in the table, which provides us with the source information:
Two F-51 pilots saw “huge and metallic” UFO which ground radar detected. Object gave solid “blip”, climbed vertically.3
Note twelve states the information comes from Ruppelt and the True magazine article of August 1950. Ruppelt writes the following about the case:
About midmorning on this date a TWA airliner was coming in to land at the Dayton Municipal Airport. As the pilot circled to get into the traffic pattern, he and his copilot saw a bright light hovering off to the southeast. The pilot called the tower operators at the airport to tell them about the light, but before he could say anything, the tower operators told him they were looking at it too. They had called the operations office of the Ohio Air National Guard, which was located at the airport, and while the tower operators were talking, an Air Guard pilot was running toward an F-51, dragging his parachute, helmet, and oxygen mask.
I knew the pilot, and he later told me, “I wanted to find out once and for all what these screwy flying saucer reports were all about.”
While the F-51 was warming up, the tower operators called ATIC and told them about the UFO and where to look to see it. The people at ATIC rushed out and there it was — an extremely bright light, much brighter and larger than a star. Whatever it was, it was high because every once in a while it would be blanked out by the thick, high, scattered clouds that were in the area. While the group of people were standing in front of ATIC watching the light, somebody ran in and called the radar lab at Wright Field to see if they had any radar “on the air.” The people in the lab said that they didn’t have, but they could get operational in a hurry. They said they would search southeast of the field with their radar and suggested that ATIC send some people over. By the time the ATIC people arrived at the radar lab the radar was on the air and had a target in the same position as the light that everyone was looking at. The radar was also picking up the Air Guard F-51 and an F-51 that had been scrambled from Wright-Patterson. The pilots of the Air Guard ‘51 and the Wright-Patterson ‘51 could both see the UFO, and they were going after it. The master sergeant who was operating the radar called the F-51’s on the radio, got them together and started to vector them toward the target. As the two airplanes climbed they kept up a continual conversation with the radar operator to make sure they were all after the same thing. For several minutes they could clearly see the UFO, but when they reached about 15,000 feet, the clouds moved in and they lost it. The pilots made a quick decision; since radar showed that they were getting closer to the target, they decided to spread out to keep from colliding with one another and to go up through the clouds. They went on instruments and in a few seconds they were in the cloud. It was much worse than they’d expected; the cloud was thick, and the airplanes were icing up fast. An F-51 is far from being a good instrument ship, but they stayed in their climb until radar called and said that they were close to the target; in fact, almost on it. The pilots had another hurried radio conference and decided that since the weather was so bad they’d better come down. If a UFO, or something, was in the clouds, they’d hit it before they could see it. So they made a wise decision; they dropped the noses of their airplanes and dove back down into the clear. They circled awhile but the clouds didn’t break. In a few minutes the master sergeant on the radar reported that the target was fading fast. The F-51’s went in and landed.
When the target faded on the radar, some of the people went outside to visually look for the UFO, but it was obscured by clouds, and the clouds stayed for an hour. When it finally did clear for a few minutes, the UFO was gone.
A conference was held at ATIC that afternoon. It included Roy James, ATIC’s electronics specialist and expert on radar UFO’s. Roy had been over at the radar lab and had seen the UFO on the scope but neither the F-51 pilots nor the master sergeant who operated the radar were at the conference. The records show that at this meeting a unanimous decision was reached as to the identity of the UFO’s. The bright light was Venus since Venus was in the southeast during midmorning on March 8, 1950, and the radar return was caused by the ice laden cloud that the F-51 pilots had encountered. Ice laden clouds can cause a radar return. The group of intelligence specialists at the meeting decided that this was further proved by the fact that as the F-51’s approached the center of the cloud their radar return appeared to approach the UFO target on the radarscope. They were near the UFO and near ice, so the UFO must have been ice.
The case was closed.
I had read the report of this sighting but I hadn’t paid too much attention to it because it had been “solved.” But one day almost two years later I got a telephone call at my office at Project Blue Book. It was a master sergeant, the master sergeant who had been operating the radar at the lab. He’d just heard that the Air Force was again seriously investigating UFO’s and he wanted to see what had been said about the Dayton Incident. He came over, read the report, and violently disagreed with what had been decided upon as the answer. He said that he’d been working with radar before World War II; he’d helped with the operational tests on the first microwave warning radars developed early in the war by a group headed by Dr. Luis Alvarez. He said that what he saw on that radarscope was no ice cloud; it was some type of aircraft. He’d seen every conceivable type of weather target on radar, he told me; thunderstorms, ice laden clouds, targets caused by temperature inversions, and the works. They all had similar characteristics — the target was “fuzzy” and varied in intensity. But in this case the target was a good, solid return and he was convinced that it was caused by a good, solid object.
And besides, he said, when the target began to fade on his scope he had raised the tilt of the antenna and the target came back, indicating that whatever it was, it was climbing. Ice laden clouds don’t climb, he commented rather bitterly.
Nor did the pilot of one of the F-51’s agree with the ATIC analysis. The pilot who had been leading the two ship flight of F-51’s on that day told me that what he saw was no planet. While he and his wing man were climbing, and before the clouds obscured it, they both got a good look at the UFO, and it was getting bigger and more distinct all the time. As they climbed, the light began to take on a shape; it was definitely round. And if it had been Venus it should have been in the same part of the sky the next day, but the pilot said that he’d looked and it wasn’t there. The ATIC report doesn’t mention this point.
I remember asking him a second time what the UFO looked like; he said, “huge and metallic” — shades of the Mantell Incident.4
The August 1950 issue of True states the following:
Early on the day of March 8, 1950, three TWA pilots at Vandalia airport, the municipal field for Dayton, Ohio, were among the many observers of a gleaming object that hovered in the sky at high altitude. They were W. H. Kerr, D. W. Miller, and M. H. Rabeneck. All noted the strange appearance of the object, which, though small to the eye, was presumably huge since it was visible at great height.
Meantime, other observers at Vandalia had phoned Wright Field, headquarters of Project Saucer. Scores of Air Force pilots and ground men watched the disk as four fighter planes raced up in pursuit. The mysterious object streaked vertically upward, hovered for a while miles above the earth, and then disappeared.
Later, Captain Kerr made a report to the Civil Aeronautics Authority. A C.A.A. Official said that they already had a full report coming from Vandalia, with affidavits from twenty qualified witnesses.
Captain Rabeneck’s observation, made through binoculars, has a special value. He happens to be an amateur astronomer of considerable experience.
“One thing is certain,” he told Captain N. G. Carper, chairman of the TWA unit of the Air Line Pilots Association. “This was no star, planet, meteor. . . . Not that I believe that any air-line pilot who saw the thing would need an astronomer to tell him that.”
A news story from Wright Field next day said the object had been identified as the planet Venus — although it had been seen in broad daylight, when Venus is practically invisible. When the C.A.A. report reached Washington, I asked to see a copy. I was told it had been rushed to Air Force Intelligence. When I asked the Air Force to let me see it, I was told the report had been sent to Wright Field. Since then, the C.A.A. has officially told me that all such cases reported to them are “in the province of the military” and therefore confidential. I got that answer when I inquired whether the South Bend radio-range operator had seen the Saucer reported by Flight 117. In spite of this, the Air Force still insists that Project Saucer has been disbanded, its investigation ended.
Blue Book file
Examining the Blue Book file, the information collected there does not quite reflect what we find in Ruppelt’s book or the NICAP files. Based on what is in the files, there seems to have only been an F-80 and F-51 involved in chasing the UFO (not two to four F-51s as the other sources indicate).
The file is pretty complete including the results of the ATIC investigation mentioned by Ruppelt. All of the principle witnesses, including the F-51 pilot (contrary to what Ruppelt had stated), were interviewed. It is probably best to list the sequence of events based on what is in the files6:
0650 AM EST - Mr. George Barnes, Dayton air traffic controller, reported seeing an object in the ENE at a bearing of about 70 degrees. It moved rather fast, was bullet shaped, bright, and left a vapor trail. It stopped at a bearing of 120 degrees after five seconds. The angle of elevation the entire time was 15 degrees.
0715 AM EST - Mr. Barnes calls others to view the object. Chief air traffic controller, Mr. Sherman Seydler and Miss J. Kesling, as well as a few others, all viewed the UFO. It appeared to be a sphere made of Aluminum. Mr. Fordham also saw the object and, based on the statements of Mr. Barnes, assumed it was some form of meteor that had been captured into orbit around the earth. To him it appeared to be a weather balloon. TWA flight 21 was coming into Vandalia airport. The pilot, D. W. Miller, was told to look for the object. He did not see it until he turned into a south/southwest direction. According to Mr. Seydler, it took Miller fifteen minutes to finally see the object and it was not very clear to him. Mr. Barnes then called Patterson control tower.
0730 AM EST - Mr. Stevens, the weather bureau chief, arrived at the tower and observed the object in binoculars. He stated it looked like a cosmic ray balloon and it moved against the wind.
7:45 AM EST - Captain Robert Howe was told to look for a UFO by the Patterson control tower. They had been informed that two airline pilots had reported seeing a UFO to the Vandalia tower. The UFO was approaching from the northwest and was described as a long slender body. The Vandalia control tower could see the UFO in binoculars.
0800 AM EST - Lt. Colonel Dale Shafer, Chief Operations Officer of the Vandalia National Guards squadron, went outside to see what the excitement was about. He went to the tower and observed the object in binoculars. He did not see details that some of the others saw and, to him, it looked like a bright star.
0810 AM EST - Major Chilstrom took off in an F-80 in search of the UFO. Vandalia tower reported seeing the object for the next hour at an azimuth of 155-160 degrees and an altitude over 30,000 feet.
0830 AM EST - Captain Howe calls for radar assistance but no radar was able to track the object. Vandalia reports they are trying to vector Major Chilstrom in his F-80 towards the UFO with no success.
0900 AM EST - Colonel Shafer, based on what Mr. Barnes had told him, gets into his F-51, and tries to intercept it. He reported that he went up to 38,000 feet and followed it for 20-30 minutes along a bearing of 165-170 degrees azimuth. He then returned back to the airport. Shafer assumed it was some sort of “heavenly body” and checked with an Astronomy professor at the University of Dayton (Newspaper reports stated this was Dr. Louis Saletel). He reported that the professor told him it was the planet Venus.
1000 AM EST - Vandalia tower lost the object from view because it had disappeared behind cloud cover.
1130 AM EST - The Radar electronic subdivision called and stated they had an unknown target (100 mils width) 35 miles east of their station at a relative bearing of 105 degrees on their SCR-584 radar. Sgt. Guzi, the radar operator, stated that the signal was very large and exhibited random motion, which indicated, to him, that it was not due to weather. He had reported that the bearing changed over an area of 90 degrees and range of 20-40,000 feet. Electronics branch experts Mr. R. L. James and Mr. R. A. Johnson went to the radar site. They felt the contact looked like it was due to weather conditions. An F-80 was vectored to the location of the target and they reported only seeing ice laden clouds at 10,000 feet.
1140 AM EST - The Radar site had lost the target since it had approached within 15 miles of the airfield.
The file also included several newspaper clippings. They stated that three other F-51 pilots, Captain William Littlejohn, Captain Charles Cook, and Major Henry Sturtevant also took off in search for the elusive object. There is no indication if they saw anything. There is mention in the Blue Book file of a Colonel Paul, who, after 1030 AM, sent up observation aircraft. It is possible that these are those aircraft since Lt. Colonel Shafer made no mention of having any wingmen with him. As far as we know, he was the only pilot in an F-51 that saw and pursued the UFO that morning.
Keyhoe, in his True magazine article, mentioned three TWA personnel seeing the object:
D.W. Miller - The only pilot mentioned in the Blue Book file and he had difficulty finding it until directed where to look.
W.H. Kerr - Another pilot, who filed a CAA report. His description in the “UFO Evidence” is that all he saw was a “gleaming object at high altitude”. In the True article it was stated that the object was “small” and “hovering” . One can summarize this description to be some form of stationary bright point source of light above the plane’s altitude.
M.H. Rabeneck - Observed the object through binoculars indicating he probably was on the ground. Rabeneck stated it could not have been a star or planet and that he was an amateur astronomer. Rabeneck’s story did not appear in the media and he is not in the Blue Book file. His story is apparently second hand because Keyhoe quotes the chairman of the TWA Airline pilots association. That makes one wonder about the story’s accuracy.
Blue Book determined this to be Venus. It is important to note that Venus was at greatest brilliancy the morning before (March 7) and was shining at magnitude -4.4. Through binoculars, Venus would have appeared to be a thin crescent if the binoculars were stable and of sufficient magnification. Even though sunrise was at 6:58 PM EST, Venus would still have been easily visible, at this magnitude, until about 7:15-7:30. Since the observers were already tracking it, they should have been able to follow it in daylight for several hours especially if they used binoculars.
The next step is to compare the azimuth and elevation of Venus for Dayton Ohio and what values can be found in the Blue Book report:
These values indicate they were looking in the same part of the sky where Venus was located. There was good reason that Blue Book considered Venus to be the explanation.
I also tried to see if it was possible this was a research balloon but this seemed unlikely. I could not find any mention of research balloons in the Stratocat directory or the Newspaper Archive. I would think that Lt. Colonel Shafer would have been able to see the balloon from 38,000 feet and observers with binoculars would have seen the teardrop shape. Therefore, the possibility this was a research balloon seems unlikely.
There is only one “fly in the ointment” for the Venus explanation. The initial witness, Mr. Barnes, said he saw the object move from the NE to SE in about five seconds and leave a trail. This is similar to the story he told to the media, where he stated it was shaped like a bullet and had left a trail.7 ATIC investigators suggested he had been working on the night shift and probably was fatigued. I think he might have seen a meteor that disappeared near Venus and then merged the two observations together. After this initial observation, Barnes began to point towards the object everyone else was looking at. At that point, Barnes now described it as a “silver ball”. This acted just like Venus so one has to assume that Mr. Barnes either made a mistake about his initial observations or combined two events into one.
There is also the radar contact. Contrary to what Ruppelt and NICAP state, there is no relationship between the radar contact and the visual observations. The radar contact did not even appear until after the UFO was no longer visible! To top it off, that contact was to the east, while the last sighting of the UFO was to the south. Trying to tie the two together is just wishful thinking. As Mr. Johnson wrote, based on his observation of the radar contact and what the F-80 sent to investigate discovered, it seems likely that this contact was due to weather.
All of the verifiable information indicates what was seen that morning was Venus. One might argue about the radar contact, which had no bearing on the original sighting, but it seems that the experts had their say on that. It is possible that Barnes’ initial observation was of a meteor but, after that observation, the object he was observing was Venus. This sighting should not be considered “Best Evidence” and cleared from the list.
An observation about Ruppelt
As I continue to go through the Blue Book files and read Ruppelt’s book, I begin to wonder about the accuracy of Ruppelt’s writings. For instance, the infamous “Estimate of the situation” seems to only exist in Ruppelt, and a few others, memories. Nobody has ever found solid evidence that such a document even existed and the only study that approaches what Ruppelt described was air study number 203, which was written about the same time. Because of these perceived inconsistencies, I am beginning to wonder, “Can we trust Edward Ruppelt’s book to be an accurate account of what transpired in the early years of Projects Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book?”
I recently have been re-reading the book, “Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway”. The authors of the book did a lot of research about the battle and discovered that certain “facts” about the battle were not facts at all but myths that were created by a Japanese officer, Mitsuo Fuchida, who was the Japanese air group commander at the battle of Midway. He wrote a book in the early 1950s about the battle and vividly described what had happened on the Japanese carriers. American authors had copied what he had written over the years, and as a result, his version of events have become accepted without question. However, Fuchida seems to have embellished quite a bit and the authors of this book demonstrate this convincingly. Fuchida probably was motivated by wanting to portray the Japanese as only moments away from winning the Battle of Midway before suffering a reversal that doomed the Japanese Kido Butai. A similar problem occurred with the Soviet Unions account of the battle of Prokhorovka in July 1943. Of course, that probably had to do with the Soviet Union’s portrayal of them winning the “greatest tank battle ever” against hundreds of German Tiger tanks (German records show that there weren’t very many Tiger Tanks in the area) instead of them wasting hundreds of their own tanks in a reckless charge. I remember reading “The tigers are burning” where the author (Martin Caidin) repeated this incorrect account of that battle because this had become “accepted history”. History is full of these sort of mistakes and it is up to the historians to research and correct them.
This brings me back to Ruppelt. Based on what we know about these type of “point of view” writings is that it is possible that Ruppelt may have misrepresented certain aspects about various cases in order to sell his book or was working on faulty memory. The old Chinese proverb states that “the palest ink is better than the best memory”. Ruppelt was working from two memories about the March 8, 1950 event in his book. The first was the memory of the people he described, which was several years old at the time. Their descriptions contradict the facts that are found in the Blue Book file and what was reported in the media. The second memory is Ruppelt’s recollection of what they told him. Did he accurately recall the stories? Did he remember what he wanted to remember? Did he, consciously or unconsciously, alter those stories to make them better? We do not even know if these stories are of the same event because we have no evidence these individuals were even there. Because we are working on second hand stories told years after the event, we have to be skeptical of these tales. When it comes to the March 8, 1950 case, there seemed to be very few arguments against the Venus explanation in the media accounts. Only Mr. Barnes objected publicly. Radar operator Guzi, who may have been the master sergeant in Ruppelt’s narrative, argued against the radar target being from weather and his objections were noted in the report. That being said, his protests seemed to have been overruled by the radar experts and confirmed by the search for the radar contact by the F-80, which came up empty except for some clouds of ice. As a final note, most of the witnesses, who had been part of the Grudge investigation, presented information that was consistent with the Venus explanation.
I am not stating that Ruppelt was a bold-faced liar. I am simply stating that Ruppelt may have taken some liberties in his writings, blindly accepted what people told him, or his personal memories of what people told him were flawed. In my opinion, there are just too many inconsistencies in his writings with the known record to consider his book 100% accurate. One should not “throw out the baby with the bath water” but we have to realize that this baby may not be as clean as some want it to be.
Quelle: SUNlite 2/2021