In addition to showing some of the best evidence cases, I’ve also attempted to clarify what I believe to be mistaken cases or witnesses as well.
The misunderstanding of some of these items, in my opinion, greatly affects the ridicule or disbelief factor in regards to UFOs being otherworldly
spacecraft. Past examples have included charlatans such as George Adamski or Billy Meier, largely debunked by many in the field, and on this site.
(Simple rule, beware of ANYONE who seems to be able to conjure up such craft seemingly at will, with hundreds of pics of various supposed craft,
Another such example though, is the classic Mantell case. Many new to the subject are quick to accept that Mantell died while chasing an ET
spacecraft. In fact, many believe him to be the first documented case of a pilot dying in a UFO encounter (true in the sense that it was unidentified
at the time). However, the evidence in the case clearly points to a more terrestrial origin (imho), so in the hopes of dispelling such a
misconception, (and in a unique approach, actually accepting the military’s explanation this time, as it fits the evidence), I wanted to present why
many believe the Skyhook balloon answer, whether UFOlogist, or Skeptic.
Captain Thomas Mantell
First, an account of the sighting….
About 1:15pm, January 7th, 1948, the tower at Godman AFB in Louisville, KY received a call from the Kentucky State Highway Patrol, regarding a UFO.
Other towns had also reported the object, as large, around 250-300 feet and moving fairly quickly, variously described as either a sphere or cone
(rather like an ice cream cone, is how many described it, and this fits well with a balloon). The tower then saw the object around 1:45pm.
Being classified at the time, the large Skyhook balloons weren’t known about to those outside the project.
F-51 Mustang (personally, I’ve always known these as P-51’s, but most print sources refer to them as this regarding this case)
About 2:30pm, Captain Thomas Mantell and his men, flying F-51’s, came into view, and then requested to investigate. They had climbed to about
10,000 ft, and Mantell pulled ahead. At 2:45pm, Mantell reports the object as being large in size and reflective. He then said he was going to
20,000 feet, as he was gaining on the object. This is really the one remaining mystery. Pilots were explicitly told not to go higher than 15,000
feet without oxygen. It seems odd that Mantell would have done such a foolish risk, according to those who knew the man. Still, this IS what he told
the tower, and apparently proceeded to do.
Mantel, (front row, second from the right) with the 166th Fighter Squadron
The wingmen were at 15,000 feet, and tried to raise Mantell, but no luck. Eventually, the wreckage was found, and contrary to rumors that flew at the
time, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Late papers of the 7th would carry headlines similar to that of the Louisville Courier, “F-51
and Capt. Mantell Destroyed Chasing Flying Saucer”.
Picture of the wreckage
Another shot of the wreckage
In usual fashion, the military at first attempted to use some of the (by now) standard answers. At first, they said it must have been Venus or a
weather balloon. This was chosen because Venus would have been in the right place at the time in question. Oddly enough, this explanation was
offered by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, of Bluebook fame, and later a UFOlogist, in a 1949 USAF report. Later, he would explain, in a conversation with fellow
Bluebook scientist Edward Ruppelt, that he didn’t believe Venus was the culprit, due to the fact it would have been “barely” visible in the sky,
and hardly worthy of chase. This is when Hynek was of course one of the men charged with the coverup effort at the time.
The Venus explanation remarkably stuck for a while, despite a weather balloon fitting the facts bigger. Of course though, the idea of such a large
balloon seemed rather ridiculous at the time, so it was easily the more ignored idea. However, unknown to the public, and most in the military, such
large balloons WERE being launched at the time…called Skyhook balloons.
The use of Skyhook balloons began in 1947. Though I could find no specific start date, due to many factors, it appears to have begun in the late
summer/early fall (after Roswell, for those curious).
A frequent cause of "unidentified aerial object" reports is the sighting of "Skyhook" balloons at high altitudes. The huge balloons (73 feet in
diameter and 129 feet long) ascend to altitudes as high as 100,000 feet. The translucent polyethylene plastic of which the balloons are made gleams
brightly in the sun. At higher altitudes, Skyhook balloons tend to lose their spheroid shape and undulate slowly in air currents, often assuming
the shape of eggs or discs. Skyhook balloons are released regularly from west coast launching sites by the Air. Force under Project "Moby Dick."
They have been known to drift across the entire United States on their mission of obtaining weather data in the upper reaches of the earth's
atmosphere. The launching of one of these sky monsters is shown in the photo below. Below that, is a Skyhook balloon depicted shortly after the
launching as it begins its long trip skyward. The smaller spheres to the left are three-foot weather balloons, which are used to compute winds
The launching of a Skyhook balloon.
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Ice Cream Cone-like shape (other normal weather balloons were used in this particular experiment also)
Such balloons were extremely large (even larger than the dimensions given above, for some).
A better image of one the balloons, with a lot of inflation left to go…
At sea on the flight deck of the USS Valley Forge,
the Skyhook Project crew prepares the electronic gear
for attachment to the balloon skyhook.
Prior to other means of recon of the Soviet union, Skyhook balloons were made even larger, to accommodate very large payloads. Below, a 4 ton recon
camera is being prepped, later to be carried by a Skyhook.
About the only theory left to check was that the object might have been one of the big, 100-foot-diameter, "skyhook" balloons. I rechecked the
descriptions of the UFO made by the people in the tower. The first man to sight the object called it a parachute; others said ice cream
cone, round, etc. All of these descriptions fit a balloon. Buried deep in the file were two more references to balloons that I had previously
missed. Not long after the object had disappeared from view at Godman AFB, a man from Madisonville, Kentucky, called Flight Service in Dayton. He had
seen an object traveling southeast. He had looked at it through a telescope and it was a balloon. At four forty-five an astronomer living north
of Nashville, Tennessee, called in. He had also seen a UFO, looked at it through a telescope, and it was a balloon.
In the thousands of words of testimony and evidence taken on the Mantell Incident this was the only reference to balloons. I had purposely not paid
too much attention to this possibility because I was sure that it had been thoroughly checked back in 1948. Now I wasn't sure.
Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt (former Project Bluebook head)
Ruppelt continues (this was in his “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects”)…
The group who supervise the contracts for all the skyhook research flights for the Air Force are located at Wright Field, so I called them. They had
no records on flights in 1948 but they did think that the big balloons were being launched from Clinton County AFB in southern Ohio at that time. They
offered to get the records of the winds on January 7 and see what flight path a balloon launched in southwestern Ohio would have taken. In a few days
they had the data for me.
Unfortunately the times of the first sightings, from the towns outside Louisville, were not exact but it was possible to partially reconstruct the
sequence of events. The winds were such that a skyhook balloon launched from Clinton County AFB could be seen from the town east of Godman AFB, the
town from which the first UFO was reported to the Kentucky State Police. It is not unusual to be able to see a large balloon for 50 to 60
miles. The balloon could have traveled west for a while, climbing as it moved with the strong east winds that were blowing that day and picking up
speed as the winds got stronger at altitude. In twenty minutes it could have been in a position where it could be seen from Owensboro and
Irvington, Kentucky, the two towns west of Godman. The second reports to the state police had come from these two towns. Still climbing, the
balloon would have reached a level where a strong wind was blowing in a southerly direction. The jet-stream winds were not being plotted in 1948 but
the weather chart shows strong indications of a southerly bend in the jet stream for this day. Jet stream or not, the balloon would have moved rapidly
south, still climbing. At a point somewhere south or southwest of Godman it would have climbed through the southerly-moving winds to a calm belt at
about 60,000 feet. At this level it would slowly drift south or southeast. A skyhook balloon can be seen at 60,000.
When first seen by the people in Godinan Tower, the UFO was south of the air base. It was relatively close and looked "like a parachute," which a
balloon does. During the two hours that it was in sight, the observers reported that it seemed to hover, yet each observer estimated the time he
looked at the object through the binoculars and timewise the descriptions ran "huge," "small," "one fourth the size of a full moon," "one tenth
the size of a full moon." Whatever the UFO was, it was slowly moving away. As the balloon continued to drift in a southerly direction it would
have picked up stronger winds, and could have easily been seen by the astronomers in Madisonville, Kentucky, and north of Nashville an hour after it
disappeared from view at Godman.
Somewhere in the archives of the Air Force or the Navy there are records that will show whether or not a balloon was launched from Clinton County
AFB, Ohio, on January 7, 1948. I never could find these records. People who were working with the early skyhook projects "remember" operating
out of Clinton County AFB in 1947 but refuse to be pinned down to a January 7 flight. Maybe, they said.
The Mantell Incident is the same old UFO jigsaw puzzle. By assuming the shape of one piece, a balloon launched from southwestern Ohio, the whole
picture neatly falls together. It shows a huge balloon that Captain Thomas Mantell died trying to reach. He didn't know that he was chasing a
balloon because he had never heard of a huge, 100-foot-diameter skyhook balloon, let alone seen one. Leave out the one piece of the jigsaw puzzle
and the picture is a UFO, "metallic and tremendous in size."
My conclusions are the same as Ruppelt’s, because that’s what the evidence indicates. I wanted to discuss this case simply because I believe
it’s a bad idea to hold even classic cases as a kind of “Sacred Cow”. If the evidence in a case leads to a conclusion other than UFOs from
other worlds, then so be it. While not conclusive evidence, I think the evidence for the Mantell sighting being a Skyhook balloon is the most likely
answer. It fits the witness accounts, and the circumstances of the sighting, and therefore is a logical conclusion, albeit a tragic one, as such a
misidentification resulted in the death of a pilot.
[edit on 12-5-2005 by Gazrok]