Alerte soucoupe immédiate !

Le mystère du 6 décembre 1950

Symposium du MUFON, juillet 1999 / The UFO-FBI Connection, Llewellyn Pub., 2000

Bruce S. Maccabee

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Résumé

Durant 1 h les militaires des Etats-Unis furent dans une condition d'urgence nationale au cours du matin du 6 décembre 1950. 2 jours plus tard le FBI fut informé que le Corps du Contre-Espionnage de l'Armée avait été placé en Alerte Haute Immédiate sur toute information relative aux soucoupes volantes. Ces 2 événements documentés étaient-ils liés ? Cet article contient une discussion de la possibilité qu'un vol de soucoupes ait causé l'urgence et que le crash d'une d'entre elles près de la frontière Texas-Mexique le ou vers le 6 décembre 1950 ait provoqué l'alerte haute immédiate.

Urgence nationale

Lieu : Maison Blanche, Washington, D.C, Bureau du Président des Etats-Unis

Date : 6 décembre 1950

Heure : 10 h 30

(Le président prépare une conférence avec le 1er Ministre britannique Clement Attlee. Le téléphone sécurisé sonne. C'est le sous-secrétaire à la Défense Robert Lovett). M. le Président. Je ne sais pas si c'est lié à la guerre en Corée, mais ça pourrait l'être. Nos radars de la partie nord ont repéré un vol de plusieurs douzaines d'appareils approchant de notre côte est. Ils ne sont pas identifiés et ne répondent pas à nos signaux. Ce pourrait être des bombardiers russes. S'ils continuent sur la course actuelle ils seront au-dessus de Washington D.C. dans plusieurs heures, étant passés au-dessus de grandes villes le long de la côte est. Le Commandement Aérien Continental a décollé est en alerte haute. Nous avons entâmé des préparatifs pour une Urgence Nationale et la gestion de la presse. Je suggère que vous preniez toutes précautions que vous jugez nécessaires dans l'éventualité qu'il s'agisse d'une attaque. Je vous tiendrai au courant. Après que j'ai raccroché toutes les communications civiles avec le Pentagone seront coupées.. Je vous tiendrais informé à mesure que la situation se développe. Au revoir.

Choc ! Cela serait-il la réalisation de son pire cauchemar ? En résistant à l'agression nord-coréenne, le président Truman avait-il apporté la conséquence la plus redoutée, une guerre nucléaire avec l'Union Sovietique ? Ces bombardiers soviétiques étaient-ils chargés de bombes atomiques à lâcher sur Boston, New York et Washington, D.C.?

Impossible, pensa-t-il alors qu'il plaçait le téléphone dans son berceau. Je n'y crois pas. La CIA n'a signalé aucun mouvement de troupes ou d'activité d'appareils qui suggèrerait que les russent se préparaient à attaquer.

Et pourtant, le radar avait détecté quelque chose. Il doit y avoir eu quelque chose de gros pour provoquer toute cette activité par le Commandement Aérien Continental.

Malgré son appréhension il poursuivit avec la réunion avec Mr. Clement Atlee comme si de rien n'était.

Mais, au fond de son esprit il savait que des objets approchaient des Etats-Unis. Qu'étaient-ils ?

Ce que vous venez de lire est partiellement une fiction et partiellement factuel. Quelque chose EST arrivé ce matin-là, quelque chose qui a été qualifié d'"accident" du radar dans les livres d'histoire. Mais était-ce cela ? Lisez. Ce qui suit n'est PAS une fiction.

Haute alerte immédiate pour soucoupes volantes

URGENT. 8 DECEMBRE. RE: SOUCOUPES VOLANTES. Ce bureau a informé très confidentiellement par le Renseignement de l'Armée, à Richmond, qu'ils avaient été placés en haute alerte immédiate pour toute données quelle qu'elle soit concernant les soucoupe volantes. Le CIC indique ici un contexte d'instructions non disponibles chez le Renseignement de l'Air Force, qui ne sont pas localement au courant de la raison de l'alerte, mais toute information quelle qu'elle soit doit être téléphonée immédiatement par eux au Renseignement de l'Air Force. Le CIC indique que les données sont strictement confidentielles et ne devraient pas être disséminées (sic).

Le message télétype ci-dessus est contenu dans le fichier 62-83894, le fichier "disque volant" du FBI, les vraies X-Files ! (La Vérité Est Là-Dedans !)

Comme il est étrange pour le Corps de Contre-Espionnage (CIC) de l'Armée d'être placé en alerte haute immédiate sur toute données touchant aux objets/phénomènes/appareils dont l'U. S. Air Force a publiquement et répétitivement déclaré qu'ils pouvaient tous être expliqués et ne représentaient aucune menace pour la sécurité des Etats-Unis ! Devons-nous présumer que le CIC n'a rien de mieux à faire que de courir alentours chasser les "feux follets" et autres choses éthérées semblables sans conséquences pour la défense nationale ? Bien sûr que non ! Nous pourrions imaginer que le Renseignement de l'Air Force, basé au Pentagone, a demandé l'alerte haute immédiate parce que quelque chose était arrivé, quelque chose lié aux soucoupes volantes qui demandaient une attention immediate. A l'évidence quoi qu'il soit arrivé le sujet était si sérieux que le CIC n'avait pas été informé de la raison de l'alerte haute. Non seulement cela mais la condition d'alerte haute était confidentielle et ne devant pas être disseminée, ce qui suggère que l'agent du CIC avait rompu la sécurité en en parlant à l'agent du FBI de Richmond.

Qu'était-il arrivé ? Même aujourd'hui nous ne le savons pas ... mais sur la base d'autres informations nous pouvons faire une supposition.

L'histoire du colonel

En 1977 le colonel de l'Air Force à la retraite Robert Willingham remplit un rapport pour le NICAP concernant son observation de ce qu'il pensait être une soucoupe écrasée. Quoi ? Avait-il dit une soucoupe écrasée ? Oui, il l'avait dit. Et voici ce qui arriva, selon l'affadavit qu'il remplit auprès du Comité National d'Enquêtes sur les Phénomènes Aériens (NICAP) et aujourd'hui dans les archives du Centre pour le Etudes sur les ovnis (CUFOS) (NICAP était un groupe civil de recherche sur les ovnis fondé dans la dernière moitié des années 1950s. C'était le plus grand groupe dans les 1960s mais il ferma à la fin des années 1970s. Le CUFOS, fondé au début des années 1970s, existe toujours à Chicago). L'affadavit complet est présenté dans A History of UFO Crashes de Kevin Randle (Avon Books, NY, 1995). Des informations supplémentaires sont entre parenthèses : A la base Air Force de Dyess à (Abilene) Texas, nous testions ce qui se révéla être le F-94 (Lockheed Starfire, chasseur à réaction, vitesse maximale d'environ 600 miles/h, opérationnel en 1950). Ils signalèrent sur l'écran avoir un objet volant non identifié à haute vitesse qui allait intercepter notre course. Il nous devint visible et nous voulions décoller pour être après lui. Headquarters wouldn't let us go after it and we played around a little bit. Nous got to watching comment il faisait des virages à 90 ° à cette haute vitesse et tout. Nous savions que ce n'était pas un quelconque type de missile. Donc alors, nous le confirmâmes avec la station de contrôle radar de la ligne DEW (Distant Early Warning) du NORAD (North American Defense Command) et ils continuèrent à le suivire et ils déclarèrent qu'ils s'était écrasé quelque part au loin entre le Texas et la frontière mexicaine. Nous prîmes un avion léger, moi et mon copilote, et nous partîmes vers le site. Nous atterrîmes dans le pâturage juste à travers là où il avait touché. Nous nous y rendîmes. Ils nous dirent de partir et tout le reste puis des gardes armés sortirent et commençèrent à former une ligne autour de la zone. Alors, sur le chemin du retour, je vis un petit morceau de métal et le ramassais donc pour l'emporter avec moi. Il y avait 2 monticules de sable qui descendaient et il me sembla que cette chose s'était écrasée juste entre eux. Mais il était parti dans le sol, d'après la manière dont les gens s'agitaient autour. Donc nous n'avons jamais pu aller jusqu'au site pour voir ce qui s'était écrasé. Mais vous pouviez voir sur, oh je dirais, 300 à 500 yards où il était allé à travers le sable. Il me semblait, je suppose d'après le métal que nous avions trouvé, qu'il avait eu une petite explosion ou avait commencé à se désintégrer. Quelque chose avait amené ce métal à se séparer. On aurait dit quelque chose de fabriqué parce qu'il était alvéolé. Vous savez la manière dont vous fabriqueriez un métal qui se refroidirait plus vite. D'une certaine manière on aurait dit du fer de magnesium mais il y avait beaucoup de carbone dedans. J'essayais de le chauffer avec une cutting torch. Ca ne voulait simplement pas fondre. Une cutting torch brûle n'importe où de 3200 à 3800 °F et cela rendrait le métal chaud mais çà ne commença même pas à faire dégager de la chaleur au métal. D'après Willingham, un peu plus tard il apporta le métal au laboratoire de tests du Corps des Marine à Hagarstown, MD et le donna à une personne pour qu'il soit testé. Lorsqu'il revint pour les résultats quelques jours plus tard on lui dit qu'il n'y avait personne de ce nom qui travaillait ici. Par la suite on lui demanda de ne jamais parler de l'incident et il signa un serment de secret (qu'il a apparemment rompu en 1977). Todd Zechel, qui fut actif dans la recherche sur les ovnis dans la fin des années 1970s, enquêta sur l'histoire de Willingham. Au milieu des années 1980s Zechel me raconta certaines informations qu'il avait apprises de son enquête. D'après Zechel ce crash avait eut lieu entre le 5 décembre et le 8 décembre 1950 (Randle liste la date comme étant le 6 décembre). L'opinion de Zechel, basée sur l'histoire Willingham et 1 document (discusté ci-dessous), était que le crash avait eut lieu le 5 décembre, la récupération le 6 décembre, une alerte générale au contre-espionnage envoyée le 7, et le FBI apprenant l'affaire le 8. Zechel dit à cet auteur qu'en 1978 lui et une équipe de documentaire TV japonais louèrent un avion et volèrent, avec le colonel Willingham, au lieu du crash. Il était grossièrement dans le voisinage de Del Rio, dans le Texas (Zechel ne me dit pas la localisation exacte). Del Rio est à environ 230 miles aériens de Abilene. D'après Zechel, Willingham dit que l'ovni était à une altitude d'environ 50 000 pieds (à peu près l'altitude maximum du F-94) et voyageant 3 à 4 fois plus vite que le jet, i.e., plusieurs fois la vitesse du son. Il fit un virage à angle droit, puis ralentit et commença à vasciller. Puis il tomba vers le bas de manière continue et fut perdu de vue par le pilote. Le radar au Texas suivit l'objet jusqu'à ce qu'il disparaisse de l'écran d'une manière qui suggérait un crash. Willingham et le copilote retournèrent à la base de Dyess, atterrirent et prirent un petit avion de patrouille civil et volèrent à la zone de la frontière où ils pensaient qu'il s'était écrasé (en fonction de la vitesse de petit appareil et de la localisation exacte le long de la frontière, cela aurait pu prendre 2 h ou plus entre le moment où l'objet avait semblé s'écraser et celui où Willingham rejoignit le site). Willingham dit que les militaires mexicains avaient rejoint le site avant qu'ils n'y arrivent. Les militaires mexicains avaient bouclé le périmètre et attendait que le personnel de l'USAF arrive. Zechel me dit également qu'en 1975 il eut la chance d'obtenir un document déclassé anciennement Top Secret indiquant que la base aérienne de Carswell, à Fort Worth, Texas, avait récupéré un objet étranger le 6 ou 7 décembre. Il dit que le document faisait référence à un statut de haute alerte en raison de la nature de la récupération, mais le document ne spécifiait pas ce qui avait été récupéré (Zechel ne me fournit pas de copie de ce document). (Pour info, le "Document de Briefing de Eisenhower" controversé publié en 1987 par Timothy Good et, indépendamment, par William Moore, parle également d'un crash près de la frontière Texas-Mexique le 6 décembre). Il y a une anomalie dans l'histoire de Willingham qui résulte probablement d'une mémoire défaillante. Il dit que l'ovni fut détecté par la station de contrôle radar sur la ligne de DEW (Distant Early Warning) du NORAD (North American Defense Command) et que le radar de la DEW continua à le suivre et ils déclarèrent qu'il s'était écrasé quelque part entre le Texas et la frontière mexicaine. La ligne DEW ne fut pas établie avant fin 1953 et était située Alaska et dans le nord du Canada, donc elle n'aurait pas pu détecter un objet au-dessus du Texas. Le radar du Commandement de la Défense Arienne le plus proche à l'époque se trouvait à la base aérienne de Walker à Roswell, dans le Nouveau Mexique. Cependant, c'était également trop éloigné. D'un autre côté il y avait des bases de l'Air Force dans le Texas qui avaient probablement des installations radar qui auraient pu suivre l'objet rapporté par Willingham. La base de Dyess à Abeline est à plus de 200 miles de la région de Del Rio du Texas. Ceci est au-delà de la portée d'installations radar typiques de l'époque (voir la discussion ci-dessous) et un radar à Dyess n'aurait donc pas été capable de déterminer qu'un objet était passé sous l'horizon radar ou s'était écrasé à la distance de Del Rio. Cependant, une installation radar à la base aérienne de Kelly, de Brooks ou de Randolph, toutes près de San Antonio, auraient pu suivre un objet dans le voisinage de Del Rio sans dépasser la portée du radar.

Evénements déconnectés ?

Jusqu'ici nous avons 3 événements apparemment déconnectés : une urgence nationale documentable (voir ci-dessous) par le Département de la Défense le 6 décembre 1950, une alerte haute immédiate documentable sur les informations liées aux soucoupes le 8 décembre et un témoignage sur un crash de soucoupe volante près de la frontière Texas-Mexique le ou vers le 6 décembre 1950. Pourraient-ils être liés ? L'existence du message telex du FBI soulève (au moins) 2 questions liées : pourquoi une alerte haute immédiate, et pourquoi le 8 décembre ? Aucune de ces questions ne peut recevoir de réponse définitive actuellement parce que les archives du CIC et de l'Air Force traitant de ceci n'ont simplement pas été trouvées, même après une recherche, à ma demande, des archives du CIC par l'Agence de Sécurité de l'Armée. Cependant, je peux spéculer que si une soucoupe s'était écrasée le 6 décembre et avait été récupérée le 6 ou le 7, le renseignement de l'Air Force pourrait bien avoir émis des demandes d'information immédiate afin de découvrir si de quelconques observations avaient été faites ou si de quelconque autres soucoupes s'étaient écrasées. La condition d'alerte haute aurait pu avoir été communiquée au FBI de manière confidentielle un jour plus tard par exemple (i.e., le 8 décembre). On ne sait si le renseignement de l'Air Force ou le CIC ont reçu de quelconques informations spéciales sur les ovnis. Cependant, il y eut des observations le 6 décembre qui sont dans le fichier Blue Book : 1 à West Springfield, dans le Massachusetts (près de la base aérienne de Westover) à 8 h 16 (1 objet, en forme de demi-Lune, rapide, volant vers le sud) et 1 à Fort Myers, en Floride à 17 h (un ancien agent d'achat d'avions et 4 garçons, en utilisant des jumelles x10, virent un objet de 75', épais de 3-4' avec une bulle au sommet, de couleur argent avec un anneau rouge et ayant 2 réacteurs blancs et 2 oranges le long du côté ; le centre tourna alors que l'objet stationnait puis il s'envola au loin très rapidement). Le 1er objet fut "identifié" comme avion par le projet Blue Book ; le 2nd fut non-identifié (l'observation suivante listée dans le fichier Blue Book était à Londres, Angleterre, le 9 décembre. Une autre de ne serait-ce que près ed 700 observations non identifiées de la collection Blue Book qui eurent lieu le 11 décembre en Alaska).

Une urgence radar

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 2 wars and 2 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 states purpose was to overthrow the capitalism. They were investing major portions of their country's 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." 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 anyone 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 Mr. Acheson:

"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 3000 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 atmospheric disturbance.

An unpublished version of this 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 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 recent days."

Further evidence of the official "jitters" is in the 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 found by Don Berliner by accident 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:

SUJET : Alert Aérienne - 10 h 30, 6 décembre 1950

  1. Le 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:
    1. All information in this matter was to be released by the Department of the Air Force.
    2. Office of the President would release no information.
    3. 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 state 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.

Analyse radar

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 pieds d'altitude. By the late 1940's there were radar sets capable of a 200 mile range at 40 000 pieds. 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 radar installations that were closer 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 documentation on long range radar installations that may have been at Loring AFB, or at the nearby Presque Isle AFB, both of which are near the northeastern border of Maine. The capabilities of these assumed radars are unknown. However, 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. It is quite likely that this radar or one like it was already operating as an 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 we assume that a radar such as this made the initial detection then the estimated speed will be considerably larger than the 300 mph calculated above. Assume that at the initial detection was made about 100 miles from Loring AFB at Limestone. Then, ten minutes later the objects were "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 1200 miles/h.

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 least 300 mph 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 were not able to identify the aircraft from a known flight plan, nor were they able to communicate with the aircraft by radio. Had the aircraft been a single C-47 they certainly could have identified it as friendly since it would have responded to the numerous requests to identify itself. Furthermore, it would not have been as high as 32 000 pieds, flying as fast as 300 mph and there likely would have been a flight plan. The intruders, on the other hand, 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 of 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 group of friendly aircraft 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 anyone else?

There must be other Air Force documents not yet released which clarify this situation. However, based on the information available in this document 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?

Remerciements

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.

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