Il est mardi 24 février 1959 à 19:10, et vous êtes le capitaine Peter Killian.
Dans 1 h environ vous allez couper le pilote automatique et diriger votre immense appareil down, down, down, out of this clear beautiful night - down through the clouds below you onto the spacious runway at the Detroit airport.
When you bring down the flaps and drop into the "overcast" now more than 3000 ft. below you, you will be temporarily lost in another world, a world of tumultuous winds, and haze - with only the "beep-beep-beep" reassuring you that you are still somewhere in the world. Then you will see the lights of the city and then the airstrip, right where the flight pattern and the radar and your flight engineer said it would be. From Newark, N. J., the flight has been uneventful, as all good flights are. Still you will be glad to sit down in Detroit, though you mull over what you will do that night. After all, your wife and kids are in Syosset, N. Y. where you have left them at home. Maybe you will go to a movie, or maybe sit around the restaurant awhile, chatting with other pilots.
You'd better have the stewardess bring the tray now, for though the flight has not been a long one, you are a bit tired, and hungry. And after all this meal came for free, along with your pride in flying an American Airlines flagship.
"I thought this flight was first class!" you kid Beverly, the hostess.
You've used the joke before, and she gives you the old answer, "Sorry no liquor for pilots. You know the rules, sir. Besides, first class stops at the propellers."
She knows you seldom touch alcohol, even on the ground.
"Now how about the tip for the hostess, Captain!"
"Honey, you know the rules," you kid right back.
Co-pilot John Dee speaks up with something like, "What do they say about lovin'," and Beverly makes as if she is going to hit him.
You settle back and break the salt container, sprinkle it on the neatly-packed trayful of food.
Then something outside the window either catches your attention, or you're looking out as you always do, by habit, every few seconds through the corner of your eye.
Then you automatically turn and look around the cockpit. It isn't reflections you see. But what is it?
Three lighted things hang out there, too big, too bright to be stars. Probably the constellation Orion, which can do funny things, viewed from a plane in the sky. You look again. You DO see the constellation Orion, but at the same time you see the other things too!
One of them disappears, and now there are only two. The things had been very bright when you first noticed them, but now they have dimmed almost out of sight. Suddenly the other object comes back into view, and all three of them start getting bright again. It hurts your eyes to look at them.
"Take a look over there!" you tell John; then the navigator looks up from work and whistles.
All three of you see on of the objects suddenly lag behind the others, then, just as suddenly, pull up with them again.
The other two are probably scared, like you are, until you get used to the idea of watching the things, which by now have pulled ahead of the plane and are now dropping back to pace you again.
"Well, I guess it's THEM. We've heard about them so much we might as well see them too," John spoke up, with pretended gravity.
But nobody comes out and says "flying saucers" - not even the more respectable term, "UFO."
While the others whistle under their breaths and make some more jokes to hide their natural concern, you're mulling over another thought in your mind. One of your friends was made to appear rather ridiculous a few months back. He saw the damned things too. They interviewed him all night after a long flight, very understandingly and courteously. The next day headquarters came out with a news release which made him look like a fool. They not only explained away what he had seen, but, along with the release, some official had made the remark that people who see flying saucers "can't remember anything when they sober up next day."
You push a switch, and the two hostesses are in the cockpit with the dispatch usual to the rigid discipline among crew members. The other two men point and the girls, Edna LeGate and Beverly Pingree, are seen dumfoundedly gazing at the objects too.
Whatever it is, you are morally obligated, as well as under orders, to report it. But some of your friends lately have been just forgetting what they see in the skies. They don't want to be ridiculed the next day.
You ask one of the hostesses, "anyone back there who isn't enjoying the flight?"
She knows you mean is there anyone who has been nervous during the flight, and that you are considering calling the attention of the passengers to the things.
"We have an old lady who keeps imagining the wing is going to fall off, but I think she's enjoying the possibility that something might go wrong. She probably just wants to talk to somebody."
If you tell the passengers you'll have witnesses. Then they CAN'T laugh it all off when you make the report.
"Walk back casually and let me know if I'm exciting anyone," you tell the girls.
"Hello, this is Captain Peter Killian. Not that handsome guy who walked up the aisle an hour ago - he was the co-pilot."
That always got a pleasant laugh.
"We're approaching Detroit and they tell us the weather's fine there. You'll have about half an hour though before the "no-smoke" signal. I think I'll have one myself."
What would be something funny you could say about now to get into the subject?
"I just had a cup of tea. I WISH it were something else, but only passengers are allowed anything stronger."
"Are any of you girls back there wearing anything purple? I hope not, for if you'll look out the left window, you'll see some purple people eaters."
"maybe those lights are the flying saucers that go with my tea cup!"
"Seriously, don't worry about the lights. They're a long way off and much higher. They always turn out to be some conventional object, but nevertheless they are responsible for these flying saucer stories we hear. Personally I don't think there's much to all these tales."
"They're eating it up," Beverly, stepping into the cockpit, whispers, as if the drone of the props would not drown out anything she told me. "Nobody seems to be afraid, except one fellow. He's been reading a flying saucer magazine for the past two hours."
When you land, you've already radioed in your report, though you pale at reading the papers the next morning. But the public cannot help believing a planeload of passengers, even if they are told pilots are daffy.
Next day the papers and the wire services are after you. But one fellow, Hugh MCPherson, of a radio station, WCHC, Charleston, W. Va., has a different angle: he simply calls you up on the telephone, tells you that you are on the air, and would you please tell him about the saucers.
(And there, through the courtesy of Hugh, is an actual transcript of the tape-recorded interview):
"There Must Be Something To It"
HUGH : Cap t . Killian, how about telling our listeners about your flight last night to Detroit, Mich.
KILLIAN : I'll try my best. I was on a flight from Newark, N. J., to Detroit, non-stop, and the flight was carrying me through Philipsburg, Pa. - through Bradford, Erie, and directly across Lake Erie, on to Detroit. My flight was 8,500 ft., and I was flying by visual flight rules above an overcast. The overcast was roughly 5000 ft., and above the clouds ceiling and visibility were both unlimited.
Roughly about a quarter 'til nine while I was having my dinner (laughing) like all pilots do, once in a while . . .
HUGH : Yes, you gotta do that . . .
KILLIAN : I noticed out of my left window a - there were three lights out on my left side at nine o'clock position. * These three lights maintained this relative position for from 35 to 40 minutes. Their color was from a yellow to a light orange and these three lights were in horizontal position, and they represented - or rather assumed the same look as the belt of the constellation Orion. This position was maintained, however, the third object which was the last one in the line occasionally dropped back somewhat, also gained altitude. But generally speaking, they maintained the same position . . .
|* By "o'clock" Capt. Killian is not speaking of time throughout the interview, but is using the terminology by which the relative positions of aerial objects (such as other planes) are described. - G.B.
HUGH : Go right ahead, Captain.
KILLIAN : Occasionally, they speeded up quite a bit and pulled ahead to almost directly, let's say at 11:30 o'clock to my position, and then they would slow down again and drop back to the right off my wing tip. As I say, this went on for 35 to 40 minutes. It shook me up slightly when I first noticed them, but after looking at them for awhile I sorta got used to the idea. But anyhow, the very big thing that struck me noticeably was the brilliance or luminosity of their color. It would go from a very light dim to a very bright color - then it would go back to dim again. And during this period, occasionally the light would be extinguished completely, and I would see only two of them and maybe it would come back again and there would be three; then two lights would go out, and there would be only one; occasionally all three would go out.
HUGH : Could you tell the distance these objects were from your plane?
KILLIAN : No, I couldn't. It was impossible because I didn't know their size nor their altitude. They were definitely higher than I was. It would be the same thing if a person would have a light in the middle of a dark field at night. It would be impossible for you to know - just looking at the light - if this light were 100 ft. or 1,000 ft. away from you - for if you don't know the size, you don't get the idea of distance.
HUGH : Well, Captain, you've been flying for 15 years. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
KILLIAN : No sir, in all my period of flying, I have never in my life seen anything even remotely resembling this - in 15 years of the airlines, and also about 13 years other than that commercially. The total of about 28 years.
HUGH : How many passengers did you have on the flight?
KILLIAN : I had about 40 passengers. After I first noticed the objects, I drew this to the attention of my co-pilot, also my flight engineer. And we three sat there - the stewardesses came up, the two stewardesses - and the five of us, actually, sat there and watched them for quite a while. In the meantime I was mulling over in the back of my mind whether I should tell it to the passengers, and I finally decided to. Before I did I also told them I only had a cup of hot tea to drink, also that there were no lightning bugs in the cockpit . . .
HUGH : (Chuckles)
KILLIAN : . . . And everybody took it very well. As a matter of fact, it was most enjoyable to them. There was only one passenger who was slightly apprehensive. Several passengers wanted me to go over closer, but I thought discretion was the better part of valor and I remained on course.
HUGH : Absolutely. Well, captain, have you ever had any feelings in regard to unidentified flying objects before this?
KILLIAN : Well, of course, I suppose I'm no different than all the rest of average American individuals. We read about it, and we wonder if the person who has sighted such objects has been sober or sane or telling the truth. Generally, though, you have another feeling like you can't discount them entirely. And that was generally my feeling. I thought, "Well, there must be something to it." But what I was never sure.
HUGH : Would you think these could possibly belong to our Air Force? These things that you saw?
KILLIAN : I might like to say, an airplane always has white lights. One is a flaming light which shines straight forward, and the other is a white tail light, which you can only see if you are to the rear. So in either case, if it were either the landing light or the tail light - if it really were an aircraft it would be either flying toward me or away from me. And in no event could they stay there for 35 or 40 minutes. That would in itself refute the idea of its being an aircraft.
HUGH : Another thing, Captain. Did you notify any other planes in the vicinity?
KILLIAN : Yes, I did. When I was over Erie, Pa., I called on my company frequency and asked if there were any other airplanes in the vicinity, and there were two. There was one around Toledo, and another around Windsor, Canada. And both of them, who I brought it to their attention - both of them sighted the same three shining objects. And the other two also admitted they were higher than they were. I then called Airway Traffic Control and asked them if they had a flight of any three planes on an airway traffic clearance, and there were none. I also tried to pick them up on my radar screen, but our radar is primarily for weather surveillance, and not for airplanes . . .
HUGH : And you could not pick them up?
KILLIAN : . . . And so I did not get anything on my radar.
HUGH : Captain, have you been contacted by the United States Government or anyone in regard to the sighting?
KILLIAN : Not personally. However, we have a procedure with the airline that when there are unknown sightings of any kind we make a report for the company, which, in turn, reports this to the government for immediate dissemination. I immediately called my company in Detroit, and Detroit itself gave it to the Government.
HUGH : How fast were you traveling?
KILLIAN : Roughly 280 to 300 miles per hour.
HUGH : Well, I do appreciate your devoting your time to our listeners this morning. Captain, and if you are ever in Charleston, W. Va., - do you fly through this part of the country?
KILLIAN : Yes. Occasionally I do land there. I've been to Charleston many times and I've always admired your city very much.
HUGH : Thank you, Captain. And when you're here in Charleston, please give me a ring and have a bite to eat with us.
KILLIAN : Swell! It's been a pleasure talking to you.
HUGH : Thank you again.
KILLIAN : Not at all, sir.
The Air Force Explanation
We pause here to make another FLYING SAUCERS quarterly award for exceptional bravery in the field of saucery doubletalk, and again the Air Force is the winner. Along with the old copies of science fiction magazines, several bottles of hair tonic, and a few unmentionable items, Ray Palmer is sending a special statuette in the form of a bronze hand with fingers crossed.
The first inspiration the AF came up with was the constellation Orion. That was what Capt. Killian, and all the passengers, for that matter, saw. But when the Captain's interviews showed he had seen BOTH the constellation and the objects at the same time, they know they would have to come up with another one.
"How about 'jets refueling,'" we can imagine some bright young officer saying, and another officer who outranked him musing, "Jets refueling . . .jets refueling . . . yes, that's a good one. Get me the information officer, I HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT!"
But Captain Killian had already told the Detroit Times: "I thought it might be a high altitude jet refueling operation, but the varying intensity of the lights and the changing position of the objects made me toss out that theory."
Meanwhile, other testimony, unknown to Killian at the time of the radio and press interviews, poured in to back him up. The crews of three United Airlines planes had also seen the lights, confirmed independently that the objects represented, without doubt, a formation of some kind of aircraft. The separate crews had talked to each other by radio, as Killian had discussed the sighting with other American Airlines crews, while the objects were under observation.
The Akron UFO Research Group added further confirmation, reported that several local witnesses had observed lights between 9:15 and 9:20 p.m.
The dramatic sighting had touched off controversies and statements in various quarters, but the most dramatic pronouncement had been Lt. Col. Lee B. James, who is associated with Dr. Wernher Van Braun at the Army ordinance missile command, Huntsville, Ala.
He told the Detroit Times: "I know they are not from here and they are not coming from Russia. We in this civilization are not that advanced yet . . . Not discounting natural phenomena, if the passengers and several crew members saw what they really saw, it would have to come from outer space - a civilization decades ahead of ours."
But if the things had been real, the Times queried James, why had Capt. Killian not been able to pick them up on his radar?
He replied that although metals and light would reflect sufficiently to be traced on radar, "It might be a special coating or a composite of certain materials which might prevent such a reflection."
In Washington, NICAP, headed by Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, indicated that the Air Force might not, after all, be the agency to hold responsible for UFO secrecy. In the group's publication, THE UFO INVESTIGATOR, the editors stated that lately some members of the AF have given NICAP a great deal of assistance, unofficially, of course, and have conveyed the impression that many of the personnel thoroughly dislike the secrecy and doubletalk. The editors stated, "There is growing evidence that the AF is the "whipping boy" carrying out the policy of a higher agency, and we regret that our fight to end the secrecy has to be directed at the Air Force."
NICAP, however, didn't name the "higher agency" it suspected, as the writer wondered if there might have been a great deal of truth in what he, himself, Leon Davidson, Coral E. Lorenzen, and others, had suggested in the pages of FLYING SAUCERS. Take the three middle letters in the "NICAP" name, switch them around a bit, and you have the agency, which, through only a slight stretch of the imagination, could be the engineer of "the masterpiece of organized confusion" that is the saucer mystery.
But as for Capt. Killian at press-time, nothing more could be learned from him: he already had got the nod to "shush up."