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A Blue Book SNAFU results in an identified “twofer”
On March 4th, I received an e-mail from Herb Taylor pointing out to me that it was the anniversary of one Blue Book “Unknown” that can’t be readily solved. It involved multiple observers, who had seen three large elliptical objects near Dubuque, Iowa on March 4, 1960. Curious, I located the file at the fold3 web site1 and told Herb I was not sure what the explanation was but some of the witnesses appeared to see them as aircraft.
Herb and I were shocked when we both looked closer at a document in the file that stated that flights of three B-52s were flying through the area on the very day the incident occurred. My first thought was that the times did not match and this is why Blue Book did not list this one identified. After converting the Zulu times to local and plotting it on Google earth, I began to realize that the B-52s were a very good match for what the witnesses saw.
Herb informed me that he had polled several UFOlogists about the case file. Meanwhile, I polled several skeptics but did not receive much of a response. Nobody seemed to find a reason to reject the explanation that these were simply aircraft. There seemed to be no good reason as to why Blue Book left this as an unknown. I have a couple of theories on why this happened but I think it would best to go over the case file so the reader can understand what transpired.
The sighting
On March 5th, 1960 the news media reported a sighting by a Dubuque, Iowa airplane instructor, Charles Morris, who saw three saucer-shaped objects flying at 200 mph at an altitude of 20,000 feet over the Mississippi river. According to the media account, he reported shooting 19 feet of film with his movie camera and that the objects were not aircraft or balloons. Morris felt the film would prove that flying saucers did exist.
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While this report received attention, another sighting took headlines a few days later when Discoverer 8 produced a display over the eastern United States. This event may have taken Blue Book’s focus away from thoroughly investigating the Dubuque case.
While this report received attention, another sighting took headlines a few days later when Discoverer 8 produced a display over the eastern United States. This event may have taken Blue Book’s focus away from thoroughly investigating the Dubuque case.
Blue Book “investigates”
Blue Book seems to have had only a mild interest in the Dubuque, Iowa sighting. They essentially made just a few calls to see if any aircraft were in the area. According to the case file:
At 0900 EST11 March 1960, Waverly AFS, Iowa was contacted regarding possible acft flights over Dubuque. The operations officer, Lt. Waddle, reported they had no record of B-52s flying around Dubuque on 4 or 10 March 60. Through the efforts of Lt Waddle, several other radar stations in the area were contacted with negative results.5
At this point, Blue Book could not identify the source of the UFO report and it was listed as “unidentified”.
Despite the statements by Morris to the press, there seems to have been no effort by Blue Book to obtain his precious film. It was not until Charles Morris wrote a letter to Major Robert Friend on April 3rd, did he actually give the film to “officials”. He clarified in the letter that he was mistaken that there was nineteen feet of film and there was only six feet. Morris described the sighting that he and his wife had made on March 4th:
On Friday March 4, 1960 at approximately 5:55 P.M. my wife and I at our home were watching a T-6 aircraft performing at approximately 2,000 feet when we saw three brightly, colored solid objects in line appear in the sky, traveling NNE. We saw them for approximately four minutes, and as they disappeared, seemed to be climbing very slightly.
The objects were about the size of a quarter, approximately 200 feet long, 60 feet thick, elliptical in shape, traveling approximately 200 miles an hour, and were about five miles from us. The objects were about 25 degrees above the horizon.
The objects did not give off smoke or any vapor trail, drop anything, change brightness, shape or color, did not explode, speed up or stand still at any time. The objects were sharply outlined and were like a bright star -- between the brightness of the moon and venus.6
He also included a sketch:7
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On the 13th of April, Colonel Shoop sent the film to the analysis section of ATIC to see if they could find the UFOs on the film. On 19 April, they sent the film back, stating:
1. Analysis of the film revealed nothing of an unusual nature nor anything as such described by Mr. Morris in his letter dated April 3, 1960.
2. It is suggested that Mr. Morris recheck his film and indicate which frames contain the three objects he refers to in his letter. 8
On the 27th, ATIC sent a memo to Major Tacker stating the same. He sent the film back to Morris on May 16th. The UFO sighting
continued to remain “unidentified” in Blue Book’s opinion.
Enter CUFOR
Probably the most interesting thing one can find in the case file is a report by a group calling itself Civilian UFO research (CUFOR) out of Chicago, Illinois. They conducted their analysis from March 28th to August 7th. It opens with the author of the report stating that this was a very confusing case.
What caused the confusion was the fact that the organization had declared the case as “unknown” on July 9th. This was apparently based on the report by Mr. Morris and a Mrs. H.V. Ludovissy. She had reported:
I looked, and going toward the NW in the sky, were three bright metallic objects; they were traveling VERY slowly, almost floating, THEY WERE NOT PLANES.....We watched for almost ten minutes, and, as we watched, one of them, the one in the middle, gave a flash, or white glow, and at the same time a puff of white smoke came from the back of it. The sun was setting in the west at the time, and I figured if it was the sun that made the flash, all three would have it; because they were so close together; but only the middle one had the glow.9
CUFOR appeared to be ready to close the book on this sighting, when they received more information about the case on July 29th. This information came from observations by more witnesses, who had also seen these UFOs. However, they reported they were actually large aircraft. According to CUFOR, Ferdinand Nesler of Dubuque, observing them in 7X50 binoculars, stated:
I saw a group of three large aircraft, which appeared to be flying one behind the other at lower than usual jet altitude and at just medium speed. They were flying NNW, time 5:50 PM. I saw them not once, but three time within about 15 or 20 days always at the same time and place. 10
Another witness, Allan Jones, used 10X50 binoculars to make his observations:
They were flying a rather loose formation on a course SE to NW. Their speed (slow) was the most unusual part of the whole affair. I could not determine the type, but aircraft they definitely were. I saw them several times after that (different days) and they were following about the same routine. 11
He would add that he felt they were at 40,000 feet and reported an elevation angle of 75 degrees. He noted that the airplane’s tails and contrails were like a B-52’s. CUFOR added that there was an additional witness, who also saw these objects as airplanes.
CUFOR responded by making inquiries to various aircraft companies and Strategic Air Command (SAC) to see if they had any aircraft in the area. All the civilian companies gave a negative report but, on August 4th, CUFOR received a response from SAC that stated:
Investigation here with our flight scheduling branch revealed that Strategic Air Command did have some 2-cells and 3-cell flights operat- ing over Dubuque, Iowa for a 25 hour period which included 5:50PM on 4 March 1960. While we can not say definitely, it’s highly possible that the sighting at the time could have been KC-135’s or B-52’s of this command.12
This had CUFOR trying to rationalize what the witnesses actually saw. They put great weight in Morris’ observations because he was a pilot and saw the objects “at rather close range” (even though the sketch showed the objects at least three miles away!). According to CUFOR, Morris stated they could not be jets because they moved too slowly. He also felt they could not be aircraft reflecting light because the intensity would change as they moved across the sky.
While CUFOR felt that the case involved aircraft, they chose to present the remote possibility that some of the witnesses actually saw three UFOs that happened to appear at the same time as three aircraft flying in the sky. In that scenario, all the witnesses would have missed the other three objects in the sky.
Credit goes to CUFOR for their investigation but it must be noted that, before they became aware of the aircraft witnesses, they were perfectly willing to call this unexplained based on the testimony of only two witnesses.
Blue Book gets the hint
CUFOR apparently sent a copy of their report to ATIC or ATIC became aware of it from another source. On the 22nd of August, ATIC responded to their findings. Colonel Evans seemed a bit upset about the charge that they did not identify these B-52s and considered the case to be “insufficient evidence”. He pointed out that they had contacted radar stations and the air defense sec- tor headquarters to look for such aircraft and received a negative response. He did admit that they had not contacted SAC but he seemed to feel it was unnecessary. He apparently could not understand how SAC’s aircraft could avoid being recorded by the radar or noted by the Air Defense Sector’s headquarters.
To ATIC’s credit, they did not disregard the information and wrote to SAC headquarters on September 2nd:
The Air Force has been receiving queries concerning the possibility of SAC aircraft flying the Dubuque, Iowa area on the evening of 4 March 1960. Request all available information concerning such flights be forwarded to ATIC as soon as possible; i.e. number and type aircraft, altitude, time and direction of flight.13
They also wondered if it was policy to notify the local radar units and the air defense sector when their units were flying through the area.
The B-52 cell flight
SAC responded to the query on the 29th of September stating that they had three B-52 cell flights (planes in groups of two or
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three) going north that passed east of Dubuque on three different occasions on March 4th. The most important “cell” flight oc-
curred between the 2327 to 2358Z time frame. This is 5:27 to 5:58 PM CST, which includes the time of the actual sighting. Plotting the flight path on Google earth we see the following:
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An airliner seen from a distance of about 28-30 miles. The image to the left was taken with a 70mm lens. The image to the right was taken with a 300 mm telephoto lens. if no contrail had been present, the planes would appear as described tby the primary witness.
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The actual distance between the witness and the aircraft was something like 25 miles. This would create an angular speed of about 16 degrees per minute, which accounts for the apparent slow speed of UFOs noted by the witnesses. At this distance, the angular size of the planes would have been pretty small for observers not using optical aid (see images above). The aircraft would probably appear to have no shape.
All of this seems to indicate that Blue Book had their explanation handed to them on a silver platter. Yet, for some reason the case remained “unidentified”.
A case forgotten or misplaced?
What happens next in the case file is really bizarre. About one year after discovering that the cause was a three plane cell of B-52s, Blue Book (Major Coleman) received a letter, dated 6 September 1961,from an individual asking about the case and what happened to the film. They had contacted Dr. Hynek asking him if he had seen the film. Dr. Hynek replied that he had not and he would like to do so. One would think Coleman’s office would look up the case file and see what was found. This apparently did not happen because Coleman would offer, on 13 September 1961, the following response:
....we do not know where such film is. We telephoned Mr. Morris and requested that he send the film for evaluation. We then wrote Mr. Morris requesting the film which he earlier promised. This was several months ago. We have not received the film as of this date.15
He added that would love to see the film. He seemed totally unaware that the film had been received, analyzed, and returned to Morris.
This response indicates that the case file was unavailable/lost/incomplete or Coleman’s office did not even bother to look this up before responding. It seems to have been a bureaucratic SNAFU. Could this be one of the reason’s the case remain “unidentified”?
Upon reading the case file, I came to several reasons why the case remained on the list of unidentifieds:
1. Blue Book did not link the plane flights to the sighting because the record card and analysis sheet used local time while SAC listed Zulu times.
2. Blue Book personnel did not make the link to the plane flights and simply filed the SAC response in a bureaucratic mistake. This may have been the case as the record card makes no mention of SAC’s letter and appears to have been based on the earlier query to the Air Defense Command.
3. Blue Book felt that the B-52 explanation was inadequate. Considering how UFOlogists portray Blue Book’s “debunking”, this seems very unlikely.
4. Blue Book purposefully left this unexplained because the mission of the B-52s was classified. This seems unlikely because the document sent by SAC was not classified.
5. Blue Book purposefully left this unexplained to avoid publishing the fact that the radar network did not detect the B-52s or that the Air Defense Sector headquarters was completely unaware of flights in their zone.
I suspect there are other possibilities. Whatever the reason, Blue Book seems to have inadvertently left this on their list of un- knowns.
The twofer
Interestingly enough, this case also finds a place in the UFO evidence document published by NICAP. While Blue Book seems to have ignored the explanation offered by SAC, NICAP ignored the solution offered by CUFOR. I doubt that NICAP would not have heard of CUFOR’s report. For an organization such as this to be unaware of other UFO group’s conclusions about UFO reports seems unlikely and CUFOR probably sent their investigation report to somebody in NICAP. Either NICAP was ignorant of the investigation or they purposefully chose to ignore its findings when they chose to produce their UFO evidence document.
I can see no reason to dismiss the possibility that these three B-52s were the cause of the sighting. As a result, we can eliminate this case from the various lists of unknown/unidentified UFO sightings.
I would like to thank Herb Taylor for pointing out the case to me and providing feedback as we examined the case file.
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Quelle: SUNlite 3/2013
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