Originally published in the Proceedings of the 1999 MUFON Symposium
For an hour the United States military was under a condition of national
emergency during the morning of December 6, 1950. Two days later the FBI was
informed that the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps had been placed on Immediate
High Alert for any information related to flying saucers. Were these two
documented events related? This paper contains a discussion of the possibility
that a flight of saucers caused the emergency and that the crash of one of them
near the Texas-Mexico border on or about December 6, 1950 caused the
immediate high alert.
PART 1: NATIONAL EMERGENCY
LOCATION: WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, D.C,
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
DATE: DECEMBER 6, 1950
TIME: 10:30 AM
(The President is preparing for a conference with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee.
The secure phone rings. It is the Undersecretary of Defense Robert Lovett.)
"Mr. President. I don't know whether this is related to the war in Korea, but it
might be. Our northern tier radars have picked up a flight of several dozen aircraft
approaching our east coast. They are unidentified and do not respond to our signalling.
They could be Russian bombers. If they proceed on the present course they will be over
Washington D.C. in several hours, having passed over major cities along the East Coast.
The Continental Air Command has scrambled and is on high alert. We have begun
preparations for a National Emergency and handling of the press. I suggest you take
any precautions you think necessary in the event that this is an attack. I'll keep you
informed. After I hang up all civilian communications with the Pentagon will be cut off.
I will keep you informed as the situation velops. Goodbye."
Shock! Could this be the realization of his worst nightmare? By resisting
the North Korean aggression had President Truman brought on the most-feared consequence,
nuclear war with the Soviet Union? Were these Soviet bombers loaded with atomic bombs
to drop on Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.?
"Impossible," he thought as he placed the phone in its cradle. "I don't believe it.
The CIA has not reported any troop movements or aircraft activity that would suggest the
Russians were preparing to attack."
And yet, the radar had detected something. It must have been something big to
cause this much activity by the Continental Air Command.
Despite his apprehension he proceeded to the meeting with Mr. Clement Atlee as if
nothing were happening.
But, in the back of his mind he knew that some aircraft were approaching the
United States. "Whose aircraft are they? Where are they going? What are they
going to do?"
What you have just read is partly fiction and partly fact. Something DID happen
that morning, something that has been glossed over in the history books as an "accident"
of the radar. But was it? Read on. What follows is NOT fiction.
PART 2: IMMEDIATE HIGH ALERT FOR FLYING SAUCERS
"URGENT. DECEMBER 8. RE: FLYING SAUCERS. This office very
confidentially advised by Army Intelligence, Richmond, that they have been put
on immediate high alert for any data whatsoever concerning flying saucers.
CIC here states background of instructions not available from Air Force Intelligence,
who are not aware of reason for alert locally, but any information whatsoever
must be telephoned by them immediately to Air Force Intelligence. CIC advises data
strictly confidential and should not be diseminated (sic)."
The above teletype message is contained in file 62-83894, the "FLYING
DISK"file of the FBI.
How very strange for the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) to be put on
immediate high alert for any data regarding objects/phenomena/craft which the U. S. Air
Force had publically and repeatedly claimed can all be explained and are no threat to
the security of the United States! Are we to presume the CIC has nothing better to do
than to run around chasing "will o' the wisps" and similar ethereal things of no
consequence to national defense? Of course not! We may imagine that Air Force
Intelligence, headquartered in the Pentagon, requested the immediate high alert
because something had happened, something related to flying saucers that demanded
immediate attention. Evidently whatever had happened was so serious a matter that the
CIC was not told the reason for the high alert. Not only that but the high alert
condition was "confidential" and "not to be disseminated" which suggests that the
CIC agent broke security by telling the FBI agent in Richmond.
What had happened? Even today we don't know ... but based on other information
we can make a guess!
PART 3: THE COLONEL"S STORY
In 1977 Retired Air Force Col. Robert Willingham filed a report with NICAP
regarding his observation of what he believed to be a Crashed Saucer.
Did he say a...... Crashed Saucer?
Yes, he did say a Crashed Saucer.
HOW DARE HE say such a thing!
Well, this is what happened, according to the affadavit he filed with the
National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and now in the file of
the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). (This original NICAP was a civilian UFO reseach
group founded in the latter half of the 1950's. It was the largest such group in
the 1960's but it closed in the late 1970's. An internet-based organization has
taken the same name and has been active in compiling UFO information in recent
years. CUFOS, founded in the early 1970's, still exists in Chicago.) The complete
affadavit is presented in A History of UFO Crashes by Kevin Randle (Avon Books,
NY, 1995). What follows is the affadavit with supplemental information in parentheses:
"Down in Dyess Air Force Base in (Abilene) Texas, we were testing what turned out
to be the F-94 (Lockheed Starfire, jet fighter, top speed about 600 mph, operational
in 1950). They reported on the scope that they had an unidentified flying object at a
high speed going to intercept our course. It became visible to us and we wanted to
take off after it. Headquarters wouldn't let us go after it and we played around a
little bit. We got to watching how it made 90 degree turns at this high speed and
everything. We knew it wasn't a missile of any type. So then, we confirmed it with
the radar control station on the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line (NORAD - North
American Defense Command) and they kept following it and they claimed that it crashed
somewhere off between Texas and the Mexico border. We got a light aircraft, me and my
copilot, and we went down to the site. We landed out in the pasture right across from
where it hit. We got over there. They told us to leave and everything else and then
armed guards came out and they started to form a line around the area. So, on the way
back, I saw a little piece of metal so I picked it up and brought it back with me.
There were two sand mounds that came down and it looked to me like this thing crashed
right between them. But it went into the ground, according to the way people were
acting around it. So we never did get up to the site to see what had crashed. But you
could see for, oh I'd say, three to five hundred yards where it went across the sand."
"It looked to me, I guess from the metal that we found, that it either had a little
explosion or it began to disintegrate. Something caused this metal to come apart."
"It looked like something that was made because it was honeycombed. You know how
you would make a metal that would cool faster. In a way it looked like magnesium steel
but it had a lot of carbon in it. I tried to heat it with a cutting torch. It just
wouldn't melt. A cutting torch burns anywhere from 3200 to 3800 degrees Fahrenheit and
it would make the metal hot but it wouldn't even start the metal to yield."
According to Willingham, some time later he took the metal to the Marine Corps
testing lab in Hagerstown, MD and gave it to some person for testing. When he returned
for the results a few days later he was told there was no such person working there. Later
was told never to talk about the incident and he signed a secrecy oath (which he
apparently broke in 1977).
Todd Zechel, who was active in UFO research in the latter 1970's, investigated
Willingham's story. In the middle 1980's Zechel told me some of the information he had
learned from his investigation. According to Zechel this crash occurred between Dec. 5
and Dec. 8, 1950. (Randle lists the date as December 6.) It was Zechel's opinion based
on Willingham's story and a document (discussed below) that the crash occurred on December
5, the recovery occurred on December 6, a general alert to counterintelligence was sent
out on December 7, and the FBI learned about it on December 8. Zechel told this author
that in 1978 he and a Japanese TV documentary team chartered a plane and flew, with Col.
Willingham, to the location of the crash. It was roughly in the vicinity of Del Rio,
Texas (Zechel did not tell me the exact location). Del Rio is about 230 air miles from
According to Zechel, Willingham said that the UFO was at an altitude of about
50,000 ft (nearly the maximum altitude of the F-94) and traveling 3 to 4 times faster than
the jet, i.e., several times the speed of sound. It did a right angle turn, then slowed
and started wobbling. Then it dropped downward continuously and went out of the pilot's
sight. Radar in Texas tracked the object until it went off the screen in a manner which
suggested a crash. Willingham and the copilot returned to Dyess AFB, landed and got a small
civil air patrol plane and flew to the border area where they thought it had crashed.
(Depending upon the speed of the small aircraft and the exact location along the border,
it could have taken two hours or more from the time the object appeared to crash until
Willingham reached the site.) Willingham said that the Mexican military had reached the
site before he got there. The Mexican military cordoned off the area and waited for US Air
Force personnel to arrive.
Zechel further told me that in 1975 he was fortunate to obtain a declassified but
formerly Top Secret document which stated that Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas,
had recovered some foreign object on December 6 or 7. He said the document referred to a
high alert status because of the nature of the recovery, but the document did not specify
what had been recovered. (Zechel did not provide me with a copy of this document.)
(For what it's worth, the controversial "Eisenhower Briefing Document" released in
1987 by Timothy Good and, independently, by William Moore, also claims a crash near the
Texas-Mexico border on December 6.)
There is a discrepancy in Willingham's story which could be a result of faulty memory.
He said that the UFO was detected by "the radar control station on the DEW (Distant Early
Warning) line "and that the DEW radar "kept following it and they claimed that it crashed
somewhere off between Texas and the Mexico border." The DEW line was not established until
late 1953 and it was located in Alaska and northern Canada, so it could not possibly have
tracked an object over Texas. The closest Air Defense Command radar at the time was at Walker
AFB at Roswell, NM. However, this was also too far away. On the other hand there were Air
Force bases in Texas which probably had radar installations that could have tracked the object
reported by Willingham. Dyess AFB at Abeline is more than 200 miles from the Del Rio area
of Texas. This is beyond the range of typical radar installations of the time (see discussion
below) and so a radar at Dyess would not have been able to determine that an object went below
the radar horizon or crashed at the distance of Del Rio. However, a radar installation at
Kelly AFB, Brooks AFB or Randolph AFB, all near San Antonio, could have tracked an object to
the vicinity of Del Rio without exceeding the range of the radar.
PART 4: DISCONNECTED EVENTS?
So far we have three seemingly disconnected events: a documentable (see below)
"national emergency" by the Defense Department on December 6, 1950, a documentable immediate
high alert for saucer related information on December 8 and witness testimony about a flying
saucer crash near the Texas-Mexico border on or about December 6, 1950. Could these be
The existence of the FBI teletype message raises (at least)two related questions: why
an immediate high alert, and why on December 8? Neither of these questions can be definitely
answered at the present time because the CIC and Air Force records relating to this simply
have not been found, even after a search, at my request, of CIC records by the Army Security
agency. However, I can speculate that if a saucer had crashed on December 6 and been retrieved
on the 6th or 7th, the Air Force intelligence may well have issued requests for immediate
information in order to find out if any sightings had been made or if any other saucers had
crashed. The high alert condition could then have been communicated to the FBI in a
confidential way a day or so later (i.e., Dec. 8).
Whether the Air Force intelligence or the CIC received any special UFO information is
not known. However, there were sightings on December 6 which are in the Blue Book file:
one at West Springfield, Massachusetts (near Westover AFB) at 8:16 AM (one object, half-moon
shaped, fast, flying in a southerly direction) and one at Fort Myers, Florida at 5 PM (a
former aircraft purchasing agent and four boys, using 10-power binoculars, saw a 75'
object, 3-4' thick with a bubble on top, silver colored with a red rim and having two white
and two orange jets along the side; the center revolved when the object hovered and then it
flew away very fast). The first object was "identified" by Project Blue Book as an aircraft;
the second was unidentified. (The next sighting listed in the Blue Book file was in London,
England, on December 9. Another of the only about 700 sightings that were not identified
by Project Blue Book occurred on December 11, 1950 in Alaska.)
PART 5: A RADAR EMERGENCY
So, what really happened on December 6 that nearly caused a national emergency?. The
full story is not known, but the available information is intriguing. As you read the
following discussion keep in mind that the global political situation was "hot". There
were two wars and two races: a Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union and a Hot
War in Korea, a missile race and an atomic bomb race. Russia and China were becoming potent
Communist adversaries of the capitalist democracies. Their stated purpose was to overthrow
the capitalism. They were investing major portions of their countries' resources into
armaments and armies. The war in Korea was viewed as the first real military contest between
communism and capitalism, and it was not going well for the USA and South Korea. Ever since
the beginning of the war in June, 1950, the U. S. government had been worried about the
Chinese response to the attempt of the United Nations to preserve the independence of
South Korea. These worries increased after General MacArthur landed at Inchon in September
and succeeded in driving the North Korean army back across the 38th parallel (the agreed-upon
northern boundary of South Korea). In October and November U. N. troops pushed into North
Korea under MacArthur's orders to destroy the North Korean army. Finally on November 25
the Chinese counterattacked with about 200,000 men, a number which doubled over the next
month. U.N. forces, numbered at about one half the Chinese force, were once again in danger
of complete defeat. This was causing a near panic situation in the USA. President Truman
was worried about the possibility that the war would widen, even bringing on World War III,
which could necessitate a nuclear response and "nuclear armageddon." On December 5th,
President Truman wrote in his diary, "It looks like World War III is here. I hope not - but
we must meet whatever comes - and we will." The Joint Chiefs of Staff (the "top brass"
of all the armed services) had sent a warning to U. S. forces commanders throughout the world
of a heightened possibility for world war. It was against this background of war jitters that
a large group of "unidentified aircraft" was suddenly detected approaching the USA from the
north, from the general direction of the Soviet Union! Was this the feared attack? Some
important people were afraid it was!
There are three published versions of what happened during the morning of December 6.
The version presented here first comes from the autobiography of Secretary of State, Dean
Acheson, Present at the Creation (W.W. Norton Pub., NY; pages 479-480). The second
version, published in The Wise Men by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas (Simon and Shuster,
NY; 1986; pages 544-545) is based in an interview with Mr. Acheson. It differs slightly from
Mr. Acheson's own version. The third is in Memoirs of Harry S. Truman: Years of Trial and
Hope 1946-1952 (Vol. 2, page 405 ). Looking first at Secretary Acheson's autobiography we
find that on the morning of December 6,
"soon after my arrival at the (State) Department, Deputy Secretary of
Defense Lovett telephoned a report and an instruction from the President.
Our early warning radar system in Canada had picked up formations of
unidentified objects, presumably aircraft, headed southeast on a course
that could bring them over Washington in two or three hours. All
interception and defense forces were alerted. I was to inform but not
advise the Prime Minister (Clement Atlee of Britain). The Pentagon
telephones would be closed for all but emergency defense purposes and he
could not talk again. Before he hung up, I asked whether he believed that the
objects that were picked up were Russian bombers. He said that he did not.
Getting Oliver Franks (the British ambassador) on the telephone I repeated the
message. He asked whether the President had canceled the eleven-thirty
meeting with Attlee, and was told that he had not. We agreed to meet there.
Before ending the talk, he wondered about the purpose of my message. I
suggested fair warning and an opportunity for prayer. As we finished, one of
our senior officials burst into the room. How he had picked up the rumor I
do not know, perhaps from the Pentagon. He wanted to telephone his wife to get
out of town, and to have important files moved to the basement. I refused to
permit him to do either and gave him the choice of a word-of-honor commitment
not to mention the matter to any one or being put under security detention.
He wisely cooled off and chose the former. When we reached the White House,
Lovett told us that the unidentified objects had disappeared. His guess was
that they had been geese."
There are several important points to keep in mind as you read the following versions
of what happened. Acheson said that "early warning radar in Canada" had detected "formations"
(plural) of "unidentified objects, presumably aircraft" which were headed "southeast" in a
direction that could put them over Washington, DC in 2 to 3 hours. Using an estimated top
speed of 300 mph for Soviet bombers, this would put them a mere 600 - 900 miles from Washington.
Acheson's story indicates that President Truman already knew about the unidentified aircraft
and wanted Acheson to inform the British ambassador. Acheson ended his story by saying that,
after he arrived at the White House, that is, at about 11:30 AM, Defense Undersecretary Lovett
told him he "guessed" that the objects were geese.
The next version of the story, told in The Wise Men, is based on an interview with
"For a moment on the morning of December 6, he thought his
nightmare (of world war) had come true. At 10:30 AM Bob Lovett called
him from the Pentagon and abruptly informed him in his laconic voice:
'When I finish talking to you, you cannot reach me again. All
incoming calls will be stopped. A national emergency is about to be
proclaimed. We are informed that there is flying over Alaska at the
present moment a formation of Russian planes heading southeast. The
President wishes the British ambassador to be informed of this and
be told that Mr. Attlee should take whatever measures are proper for
Mr. Attlee's safety. I've now finished my message and I'm going to
ring off.' Acheson cut in, 'Now wait a minute, Bob, do you believe
this?' 'No,' Lovett replied, and hung up. Acheson sat in his office
and waited. The Air Force scrambled. A senior official burst in
asking permission to telephone his wife to get out of town and wondering
if he should begin moving files to the basement. Acheson tried to sooth
him. A few minutes later Lovett calmly called back. The radar blips
were not Soviet bombers after all. They were flocks of geese."
This version makes it seem that the alert period was very short, only a few minutes.
However, by combining the information in this version about the beginning time, 10:30 AM,
with the information in Acheson's biography about the ending time (after Acheson arrived
at the White House), about 11:30 AM, we find that the alert lasted about an hour. This
version is more specific as to where the objects were: they were detected over Alaska,
which is over 3,000 miles from Washington, D. C. If that were true it would have taken
not just two to three hours but much more than 10 hours for the planes to arrive over
Washington. President Truman wrote about the same episode:
"Shortly before we went into that morning meeting, Under Secretary
Lovett called from the Pentagon, reporting that the radar screens of
some air defense installations in the far north were reporting large
formations of unidentified planes approaching. Fighter planes were sent
up to reconnoiter and alerts were flashed to air centers in New England
and beyond. But about an hour later -- while I was meeting with (Clement)
Attlee -- Lovett notified me that the report had been in error. Some
unusual disturbance in the Arctic atmosphere had thrown the radar off."
President Truman's version of the event suggests that the objects may have been
detected north of the eastern United States rather than over Alaska. The fact that
fighter aircraft were scrambled indicates that this alert was treated as a serious
event by the Continental Air Command. Truman's explanation is somewhat different
from Acheson's. Here we learn that the radar detections were caused by some sort of
Yet another brief mention of the event is found in the official transcript of the
meeting between Truman and Atlee which is preserved at the Truman library:
"At this point (in the meeting) Mr. Connelly entered the room
and handed the President a report from Deputy Secretary of Defense
Lovett. Mr. Lovett was reporting that the 'alert' that had reached
the President an hour earlier when it was thought that a large number
of unidentified airplanes were approaching the northeast coast of the
United States, had now been due to erroneous interpretation of
atmospheric conditions. The President informed the Prime Minister
that the report of the planes was in error. The Prime Minister
expressed relief and gratification."
This version, based on notes made at the time rather than upon memories years
afterward, says the unidentified objects were approaching the northeast coast of the
United States, clearly contradicting Acheson's assertion that they were detected over
Alaska, unless, of course, there were two groups of objects. Furthermore, this version
indicates Lovett was the source of the "atmospheric effects" explanation mentioned by
President Truman. But Lovett was also the source of the "geese" explanation reported
by Acheson. So, which explanation was right? Or was neither correct?
A report carried by the International News Service is the only public
acknowledgement of the event. It reported yet another explanation:
"Washington D.C., 6 December 1950 (INS): A warning of an
impending air attack resulted in a false alarm in this capitol city
today. No air raid alarms were sounded, but functionaries charged
with the Civil Air Defense of Washington were alerted that an
unidentified aircraft had been detected off the coast of the State
of Maine at mid-day. Later, a spokesman for the Air Force stated
that interceptor aircraft had been dispatched , and that the object
in question had been identified shortly thereafter as a North American
C-47 aircraft which was approaching the continent from Goose Bay,
Labrador. The warning was said to have been useful in verifying
the efficiency of the Washington Civil Defense System. Civil Defense
officials declined to comment on the incident."
This report, supposedly based on an Air Force statement, says the radar target
was from a single C-47 (capable of up to 220 mph at altitudes up to 24,000 ft)
approaching from Goose Bay, Labrador, a location about 500 miles north-northeast of
the northeastern "top" of Maine. It says nothing about unknown aircraft over Alaska.
Detection of planes near or over northeastern Maine (coming from the direction of Goose
Bay) would be more compatible with the claim in Acheson's autobiography that the planes
were several hours from reaching Washington, DC (the northeastern corner of Maine is
about 700 miles from Washington, D.C., 2 1/3 hours at 300 mph).
It appears that this supposed attack did have repercussions in Alaska. The New
York Times published a story with a December 7, Anchorage Alaska, dateline which said
that "All military personnel in Alaska were called on 'alert' tonight (i.e., Dec. 6),
but Air Force officials said that the order was purely a 'precautionary measure.'
Military police rounded up soldiers and theatres and radio stations made special
announcements that troops were to return to their posts. Within a few hours there
were no military personnel to be seen on Anchorage streets. Officials at Elmendorf
Air Force Base said the alert had been in effect since the outbreak of the fighting
in Korea. But they added that the air force had increased its vigilance here in
Further evidence of the official "jitters" is in another statement in the Washington
Post on December 10 that "President Truman is 'seriously considering declaration of
national emergency' which could lead to an "immediate all-out mobilization."
Over Alaska? Over Labrador? Flocks of Geese? Arctic atmospheric effects? A single
C-47 aircraft? Or something else? Not until 1987 was further information on this event
released by the Air Force, and sparse information at that! What follows was a "lucky find"
by Don Berliner during a search of declassified files of the Office of the Secretary of
Defense, Record group 330, July 1, 1950 to December, 1951 (at the National Archives).
On December 6, Air Force Colonel Charles Winkle, Assistant Executive in the Directorate
for Plans, wrote a memorandum for Secretary of Defense George Marshall about this event. It
confirms the alert:
SUBJECT: Air Alert - 1030 Hours , 6 December 1950
1. The ConAC (Continental Air Command) Air Defense Controller notified
the Headquarters USAF Command Post that at 1030 hours a number of
unidentified aircraft were approaching the northeast area of the United
States and that there was no reason to believe the aircraft were friendly.
2. This information was further amplified at 1040 hours as follows. By
radar contact it was determined that approximately 40 aircraft were in
flight, at 32,000 feet, on a course of 200 degrees in the vicinity
of Limestone, Maine.
3. The emergency alert procedure went into effect immediately.
4. The Office of the President was notified. Brigadier General Landry
returned the call and stated that the President had been notified and that:
a. All information in this matter was to be released by the
Department of the Air Force.
b. Office of the President would release no information.
c. The substance of a and b above was to be passed to the Office of
the Secretary of Defense.
5. At 1104 hours the ConAC Air Defense Controller stated that the
original track had faded out and it appeared that the flight as originally
identified is a friendly flight.
6. ConAC took immediate action to dispatch inteceptors on the initial contact.
The technical information in this document is sparse, but there are details which, when
combined with the known capabilities of radar, call into question all of the previous
explanations. In order to understand why, one must learn about the capabilities and locations
of early warning radar installations in Maine.
By the beginning of WWII radar technology had developed to the point that aircraft
detections at 150 miles were common. After the Japanese attack in December, 1941, the Army
deployed, along the east and west coasts of the US, radar sets capable of detecting aircraft
at 150 mile range at 20,000 ft elevation. By the late 1940's there were radar sets capable
of a 200 mile range at 40,000 ft. The question now becomes, what were the capabilities and
locations of the long-range search radar installations in Maine?
A valuable reference in this regard is Searching the Skies: The Legacy of the United
States Cold war Defense Radar Program published by the USAF Air Combat Command (David
Winkler, June, 1997) which recounts the history of the early warning radar that was set up
by the Air Defense Command. These radar installations were dedicated to the detection of
incursions into US airspace from the north. Generally they were located at sites where
there already were radar installations used for other purposes such as air traffic control
of military and civilian aircraft. Of course, there were also search radar installations
at civilian airports and Air Force bases. One of these probably was at Loring AFB at
Limestone, Maine, or at Presque Isle AFB at Presque Isle, Maine.
According to "Searching the Skies,", in December, 1950 there was an AN/CPS-5 and also
an AN/TPS-10A radar at Dow AFB near Bangor, Maine. These are Army/Navy (AN) search radars.
The CPS-5 was a search radar and the TPS-10A was a "height finder." The combination of
these radars gave a "solid search of up to 60 miles at 40,000 ft" but often "had success
tracking aircraft as far as 210 miles away."
By combining the known radar capabilities with the information in Winkle's document
one can make a crude estimate of the speed of the objects. If we assume that the initial
detection (10:30 AM) was made by the radar at Bangor, at the limit of its detection range,
then at that time the objects were about 200 miles north-northeast of Bangor. About 10
minutes later (10:40 AM) the objects were "in the vicinity of" (over?) Limestone, Maine,
which is about 150 miles north-northeast of Bangor. Hence these objects would have
traveled about 50 miles in 10 minutes corresponding to a speed of 300 mph, the upper limit
for long range bomber aircraft in 1950, but easily attained by fighter aircraft.
This speed calculation is based on the assumption that the initial detection was not
made by a radar installation that was close to the northern border of Maine. The only
reason for making this assumption is that the existence of a long range radar at Dow AFB
is documented. I have no explicit documentation on a long range radar installation at Loring
which was near the northeastern border of Maine in December,1950. However, the capabilities
of Loring radar can be inferred from the fact that a long range radar was documented two
According to "Searching the Skies," there was an AN/TPS-1B long range search radar
that came "on line" at Loring AFB for use by the Air Defense Command or by ConAC in
February, 1951. Since such radar installations do not instantly come "on line" but rather
are used for a period of time before certification for operational use, it is quite likely
that this radar was already operating as a search or air traffic control radar at the Air
Force Base in December, 1950. This type of radar had a capability of detecting aircraft at
altitudes up to 10,000 ft at a range of 120 miles. At closer ranges it could detect
aircraft at higher altitudes.
If the Loring AFB radar made the initial detection then the estimated speed is
considerably larger than the 300 mph calculated above. Assume that the initial
detection was made when the objects were near the outer range of the radar, say,
about 100 miles from Loring. Then, ten minutes later the objects were, according
to the Winkle report, "in the vicinity of Limestone, Maine." That would mean they
had traveled nearly 100 miles in 10 minutes for a speed of 500 - 600 mph, far in
excess of anything but the fastest fighter jets of the time. Similarly, if the
detection had been made from Loring AFB by a radar with a range of 200 miles, then
the initial detection could have occurred when the objects were about 200 miles from
Limestone. To travel 200 miles in 10 minutes requires a speed of 1,200 mph.
PART 7: SNAFU OR SAUCERS?
(SNAFU: situation normal: all fouled up)
As the preceding discussion shows, there is not enough information about the
radar detections to allow an exact calculation of the speed of the objects. However, it
appears that they were traveling at 300 mph or more and quite likely twice that and
perhaps over 1,000 mph.
The radar operators tracked the objects for ten minutes and determined that there
were 40 objects ("aircraft") flying at a rather high altitude (32,000 ft) and traveling
south-southwestward (a course of 200 degrees). This course would take them over the
eastern USA, roughly toward Washington, D.C.
The fact that the air force bases scrambled aircraft to intercept and identify the
intruders means the radar images were so good that the operators were certain that these
objects were real, unidentifiable yet solid targets, presumably aircraft, and not accidents
of the radar. This is decidedly different from what the operators would have concluded
had the radar showed relatively slow moving geese or "atmospheric effects" such as a radar
mirage due to temperature inversion. Geese and atmospheric effects don't travel at hundreds
of miles per hour along continuous tracks for many minutes.
The statement that there was "no reason to believe the aircraft were friendly" means
that the Continental Air Command radar operators had tried (numerous) times to make radio
contact with the objects but were not able establish communication. It also means that
they could not identify the aircraft from a flight plan that any aircraft should have
filed before the flight. (All "legal" flights would file flight plans. Legal flights would
also respond to communications from the ground. Only attacking aircraft, e.g. Soviet bombers,
would have not filed a flight plan, nor would they return communications.) Had the aircraft
been a single C-47 it certainly could have been identified friendly since it would have
responded to the numerous requests to identify itself. Furthermore, it would not have
been as high as 32,000 ft nor would it have been flying as fast as 300 mph and it
should have filed a flight plan. In contrast to "legal" aircraft, then, the intruders were
flying high, fast and were radio-silent.
According to Winkle's document the radar track "faded out" at 11:04 AM, or about 24
minutes after the objects were near Limestone. If the objects had continued on the 200 degree
course at a speed of 300 mph they would have traveled about 100 miles from Limestone and would
have been nearing the limit of a 120 mile radar range. If they had been traveling at 600 mph,
they would have been beyond the range of the Limestone radar which would explain the fading
of the track. (One would expect, however, that they would have been tracked by the Dow AFB
radar as they continued southward.)
The strangest statement in the document is: "it appears that the flight as originally
identified is a friendly flight." What does that mean, "it appears?" Didn't they know for
certain? Didn't they track the "friendly aircraft" until they were positive? Are we to
believe that the Continental Air Command scrambled aircraft and put the USA into a state of
immediate high alert and then weren't able to positively identify the aircraft?
One would expect if there had been upwards of forty friendly aircraft coming from the
north toward the USA border someone would have been aware of it. There would have been a
flight plan. At the very least these aircraft would have acknowledged the attempts to contact
them by radio, attempts which must have been made numerous times starting with the first
detection by radar. Either the flight plan or the radio identification would have been
passed to the local commanders of the Continental Air Command aircraft to prevent needless
scrambling of aircraft.
If these intruders were friendly aircraft, then why did Undersecretary of
Defense Robert Lovett tell Dean Acheson that flocks of geese flying over Alaska caused
the radar targets? Why did Undersecretary Lovett tell the President that arctic atmospheric
conditions caused the radar targets? Why did the Air Force tell the press that a single
C-47 caused the alert?
Presumably these were the explanations offered by the Top Brass after being told the
details by the people who were directly involved with the radar detections and the scramble.
Were the Top Brass embarrassed by the initial misidentification of a "friendly flight" and
afraid to admit it? (I doubt that. They "admitted" to the press that it was a single C-47.)
Or did the Top Brass, for whatever reason, not tell the President and the Undersecretary of
Defense what these targets really were? Or were these people told but, when writing about it
years later, they could not recall or could not reveal the exact nature of these objects to
There must be other Air Force documents not yet released which clarify this situation.
A FOIA request was filed for other documents, but none were found. This could be because
no one knew where to look! However, based on the information available in this document
by itself, when combined with the fact that CIC was put on immediate high alert for flying
saucer information only two days later, I can suggest another explanation: perhaps the radar
targets were flying saucers!
Perhaps one of them caused the 5 PM sighting in Ft. Myers, Florida.
And perhaps one of them flew somewhat erratically over Texas and crashed in Mexico.
Perhaps. Will we ever know?
I thank Don Berliner, Stanton Friedman, Kevin Randle, Todd Zechel, the FBI, Charles
Winkle, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and "approximately forty" high-flying "aircraft"
for making this mystery possible.
NOTE ADDED (2005): In 2000 Willingham was interviewed for a documentary on Texas UFO
cases by KHOU TV in Houston. He reaffirmed his story. On the other hand, researcher
Brad Sparks has claimed that, many years ago, Willingham claimed that he invented his
report from stories he heard as a child. Although this may add to doubt about Willingham's
testimony it, of course, has no bearing on the validity of the December 6 alert and the
FBI report of the "immediate high alert" and the reports of
flying saucers on December 6, 1950.