The 701 club
Case 6663 Feb 27, 1960 Rome, New York
Don Berlinner’s list describes it as follows:
Feb. 27, 1960; Rome AFB, New York. 6:27 p.m. Witnesses: control tower officer Capt. J. Huey and four other tower operators. One light trailing a white fan shape, made a mild descent for 3-4 minutes. 5:55 p.m. 1
The Blue Book record card gives the following description:
Round object size of large head of a pin at arm’s length passed in front of star Cirus (sic). Elevation 20 deg Azimuth at 170 deg. Moved to 150 deg at disappearance behind cloud bank. Looked like white fan trailing.2
The duration was listed as 3-4 minutes and the direction of travel is listed as “West”.
Blue Book investigation
There seems to be confusion on the part of Blue Book in their investigation. The record card says the motion was to the west but the direction describing on the record card indicates an eastward motion (azimuth 170 to 150). This is confirmed in the UFO analysis sheet where the direction of motion was SSE. They dismissed aircraft (too slow), Satellites (wrong direction - even though they got the direction of motion wrong), balloon (wind heading at right angles to the object), and a mirage (too distant an object and motion too constant). The UFO analysis sheet suggested a possible refraction of the star Canopus, which isn’t even visible from this far north.3
The message traffic also corrected another error on the record card. While the record card stated the fan trailing the UFO was white, the UFO analysis sheet stated it was “...white with an orange or red fan shaped streamer behind...”. 4 Blue Book was stumped. However, as we will discover, their investigation was inadequate. There was a vital clue that was readily available to them if they had simply read the papers.
Had Blue Book’s investigator’s simply looked at some news papers for the date in question or contacted NASA, they would have been quick to label the sighting as “Identified”.
On February 27, 1960, NASA launched, from Wallops island, a 100-foot diameter test of the Echo balloon satellite. The tests from Wallops Island were referred to as “Shotput” tests. This one was launched to an altitude of over 200 miles and was to test the inflation of the balloon and see if it was possible to reflect radio transmissions off of it. The launch was announced ahead of time with the Associated Press (AP) stating it would be visible from a distance of 500 miles or more in good weather.5
According to the Astronautix web site, the time of the launch was 2320 GMT (Zulu). 6 This is 6:20 PM EST, just seven minutes prior to time recorded for the sighting. This coincidence hinted that it might have been the source of the sighting.
The question remains, could this launch have been visible from Rome, New York, about 400 miles from Wallops Island? The press release prior to launch suggested it was possible but was this the case. Many of the press reports after the test indicated it was visible from most of the east coast. One news report stated it was even visible from Canada!
It was visible as far north as Montreal as it hung in the clear evening sky, reflecting the rays of the setting sun, already below the horizon at sea level. Druval Airport at Montreal reported many telephone calls from residents who sighted it. Switchboards were jammed at New York, Stanford, Conn. and other cities as ground viewers called to report a “star-like glowing object” or a white light trailed by rocket smoke. 7
The Lowell, Massachusetts newspaper contained a local story where residents called the local authorities about a strange sighting in the sky that night. The test was obvious to casual observers in the area. Lowell had a better viewing angle of the launch but was at the same approximate distance as Rome, New York.
LOWELL — Greater Lowell residents deluged police and fire department switchboards and The Sun with telephone calls last night concerning
a bright object in the skv which turned out to be a balloon released by the Nationa1 Aeronautics and Space Agency from Wallops Island, Va.
The NASA announced the 100-foot “radio mirror” balloon was fired into space at 6:20 p. m. to test the ejection and inflation of the sphere, which was folded into a 26-inch container. The ‘test’ was similar to the ones conducted Oct. 28 and Jan. 16, when the balloon was visible along the eastern seaboard.
Residents in the Lowell area reported seeing the object, bearing a red hue and trailed by a bright flash is it sped across the sky.8
So it was visible from these locations far to the north of Wallops island. If one looks at the azimuths listed in the Blue Book file for the sighting, we see that they line up correctly with the trajectory of the rocket launch/satellite test launched eastward from Wallops Island.
What about the red “hue” or “fan shaped streamer” reported by the witnesses? Recall that this is a preliminary test of the, soon to be launched, Echo satellite. The previous two tests had problems with the sphere. On the initial launch, the balloon had exploded after inflating. The test had used water to inflate the balloon and it was believed that there had been a leaky container for the water and it had not filled slowly but rapidly. The water had boiled explosively, bursting the balloon. In order to help identify problems with the balloon, it was decided to add a red fluorescent powder to help identify any tears that might occur. The February 27, 1960 launch did have such a tear in the balloon and it produced a display for observers on the ground to see. Despite the tear, the balloon still acted well enough to be used by Bell labs to transmit a voice message from New Jersey to Massachussets.9
Blue Book classified another sighting of the test incorrectly
It is interesting to note that there is another Blue Book sighting from Vermont on the same date around the same time (2328Z). The sighting was towards 170 degrees and it moved towards the east just like the Rome, New York sighting. It was incorrectly identified as an airplane afterburner since there was a nearby air base.10 Again, Blue Book missed the most important clues (date, time, direction) that could correctly identify this case.
As was the case in most Blue Book investigations, the degree of effort put into the identifying a cause was usually determined by the officers at the individual commands. Blue Book was far too undermanned to conduct its own investigations and, as a result, misidentifications like this occurred. However, there was nothing sinister behind these failed identifications. It was more of an apathetic approach to these reports by the investigating officers.
There seems to be every reason to conclude that this UFO sighting was caused by the Echo Shotput test from Wallops island. The times are correct, the direction of observation is correct, and it was possible to see the test from Rome, New York. This one should be considered “IDENTIFIED” and removed from the list of Blue Book “UNKNOWNS”.
I want to thank Herb Taylor for pointing me towards this case. I had originally overlooked it until he noticed that the UFO report sounded a lot like a familiar IFO and asked me to look at it. Herb’s instincts proved correct and the case should now be considered “closed”.
Quelle: SUNlite 1/2014