In the early hours of Saturday, July 24, 1948, the pilots of Eastern Air Lines reported a remarkable series of sightings of bizarre objects over the southeastern US. Their accounts, particularly one that described a dramatic encounter with an object that seemed to be a giant rocket, generated a great deal of publicity and concern. The incident split the Air Force's UFO intelligence analysts into two camps. One group, centered in Project SIGN's headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, allegedly issued a top secret intelligence "estimate" that argued that the objects were genuine interplanetary spaceships. The other faction, within the Air Force Intelligence heirarchy in the Pentagon, pursued the "Soviet secret weapon" angle for the remainder of the year, and produced an equally fascinating top secret report in December that examined the possibility that the objects were some sort of Russian reconnaissance vehicles:
Chiles-Whitted Case Report
On July 21 a curious report was received from the Netherlands, The day before several persons reported seeing a UFO through high broken clouds over The Hague. The object was rocket shaped, with two rows of windows along the side. It was a poor report, very sketchy and incomplete, and it probably would have been forgotten except that four nights later a similar UFO almost collided with an Eastern Airlines DC-3.
On the evening of July 24, 1948, an Eastern Airlines DC-3 took off from Houston, Texas. It was on a scheduled trip to Atlanta, with intermediate stops in between. The pilots were Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted. At about 2:45 A.M., when the flight was 20 miles southwest of Montgomery, the captain, Chiles, saw a light dead ahead and closing fast. His first reaction, he later reported to an ATIC investigation team, was that it was a jet, but in an instant he realized that even a jet couldn't close as fast as this light was closing. Chiles said he reached over, gave Whitted, the other pilot, a quick tap on the arm, and pointed. The UFO was now almost on top of them. Chiles racked the DC-3 into a tight left turn. Just as the UFO flashed by about 700 feet to the right, the DC-3 hit turbulent air. Whitted looked back just as the UFO pulled up in a steep climb.
Both the pilots had gotten a good look at the UFO and were able to give a good description to the Air Force intelligence people. It was a B-29 fuselage. The underside had a "deep blue glow." There were "two rows of windows from which bright lights glowed," and a "Biot trail of orange red flame" shot out the back.
Only one passenger was looking out of the window at the time. The ATIC investigators talked to him. He said he saw a "strange, eerie streak of light, very intense," but that was all, no details. He said that it all happened before he could adjust his eyes to the darkness.
Minutes later a crew chief at Robins Air Force Base in Macon, Georgia, reported seeing an extremely bright light pass overhead, traveling at a high speed. A few days later another report from the night of July 24 came in. A pilot, flying near the Virginia North Carolina state line, reported that he had seen a "bright shooting star" in the direction of Montgomery, Alabama, at about the exact time the Eastern Airlines DC-3 was "buzzed."
According to the old timers at ATIC, this report shook them worse than the Mantell Incident. This was the first time two reliable sources had been really close enough to anything resembling a UFO to get a good look and live to tell about it. A quick check on a map showed that the UFO that nearly collided with the airliner would have passed almost over Macon, Georgia, after passing the DC-3. It had been turning toward Macon when last seen. The story of the crew chief at Robins AFB, 200 miles away, seemed to confirm the sighting, not to mention the report from near the Virginia North Carolina state line.
In intelligence, if you have something to say about some vital problem you write a report that is known as an "Estimate of the Situation." A few days after the DC-3 was buzzed, the people at ATIC decided that the time had arrived to make an estimate of the Situation. The situation was the UFO's; the estimate was that they were interplanetary!
It was a rather thick document with a black cover and it was printed on legal sized paper. Stamped across the front were the words TOP SECRET.
It contained the Air Force's analysis of many of the incidents I have told you about plus many similar ones. All of them had come from scientists, pilots, and other equally credible observers, and each one was an unknown.
The document pointed out that the reports hadn't actually started with the Arnold Incident. Belated reports from a weather observer in Richmond, Virginia, who observed a "silver disk" through his theodolite telescope; an F47 pilot and three pilots in his formation who saw a "silver flying wing," and the English "ghost airplanes" that had been picked up on radar early in 1947 proved this point. Although reports on them were not received until after the Arnold sighting, these incidents all had taken place earlier.
When the estimate was completed, typed, and approved, it started up through channels to higher command echelons. It drew considerable comment but no one stopped it on its way up.
A matter of days after the Estimate of the Situation was signed, sealed, and sent on its way, the third big sighting of 1948, Volume III of "The Classics," took place. The date was October 1, and the place was Fargo, North Dakota; it was the famous Gorman Incident, in which a pilot fought a "duel of death" with a UFO. - Case investigator Captain Edward J. Ruppelt
U.S. House pf Representatives Hearings, 1968
Another one of the famous airline sightings of earlier years is the Chiles-Whitted Eastern Airlines case (Refs. 3, 5, G , 10, 23, 24, 25, 26). An Eastern DC-3, en route from Houston to Atlanta, was flying at an altitude of about 5,000 ft.. near Montgomery at 2 :45 a.m. The pilot, Capt. Clarence S. Chiles, and the co-pilot, John B. Whitted, both of whom now fly jets for Eastern, were experienced fliers (for example, Chiles then had 8500 hours in the air, and both had wartime military flying duty behind them.). I interviewed both Chiles and Whitted earlier this year to crosscheck the many points of interests in this case. Space precludes a full account of all relevant details.
Chiles pointed out to me that they first saw the object coming out of a distant squall line area which they were just reconnoitering. At first, they thought it was a jet, whose exhaust was somehow accounting for the advancing glow that had first caught their eyes. Coming almost directly at them at nearly their flight altitude, it passed off their starboard wing at a distance on which the two men could not closely agree: one felt it was under 1000 ft., the other put it at several times that. But both agreed, then and in my 1968 interview, that the object was some kind of vehicle. They saw no wings or empennage, but both were struck by a pair of rows of windows or some apparent openings from which there came a bright glow "like burning magnesium." The object had a pointed "nose", and from the nose to the rear along its underside there was a bluish glow. Out of the rear end came an orange-red exhaust or wake that extended back by about the same distance as the object's length. The two men agreed that its size approximated that of a B-29, though perhaps twice as thick. Their uncertainty as to true distance, of course, renders this only a rough impression. There is uncertainty in the record, and in their respective recollections, as to whether their DC-3 was rocked by something like a wake. Perception of such an effect would have been masked by Chiles' spontaneous reaction of turning the DC-3 off to the left as the object came in on their right. Both saw it pass aft of them and do an abrupt pull-up; but only Whitted, on the right side, saw the terminal phase in which the object disappeared after a short but fast vertical ascent. By "disappeared", Whitted made clear to me that he meant just that; earlier interrogations evidently construed this to mean "disappeared aloft" or into the broken cloud deck that lay above them. Whitted said that was not so; the object vanished instantaneously after its sharp pull-up. (This is not an isolated instance of abrupt disappearance. Obviously I cannot account for such cases.)
Discussion. This case has been the subject of much comment over the years, and rightly so. Menzel (Ref. 24) first proposed that this was a "mirage", but gave no basis for such an unreasonable interpretation. The large azimuth-change of the pilots' line of sight, the lack of any obvious light source to provide a basis for the rather detailed structure of what was seen, the sharp pull-up, and the high flight altitude involved all argue quite strongly against such a casual disposition of the case. In his second book, Menzel (Ref. 25) shifts to the explanation that they had obviously seen a meteor. A horizontally-moving fireball under a cloud-deck, at 5000 ft., exhibiting two rows of lights construed by experienced pilots as ports, and finally executing a most non-ballistic 90-degree sharp pull-up, is a strange fireball indeed. Menzels 1963 explanation is even more objectionable, in that he implies, via a page of side-discussion, that the Eastern pilots had seen a fireball from the Delta Aquarid meteor stream. As I have pointed out elsewhere (Ref. 2), the radiant of that stream was well over 90-degrees away from the origin point of the unknown object. Also, bright fireballs are, with only rare exceptions, not typical of meteor streams. The official explanation was shifted recently from "Unidentified" to "Meteor", following publication of Menzel's 1963 discussion (see Ref. 20, p.88).
Wingless, cigar-shaped or "rocket-shaped" objects, some emitting glowing wakes, have been reported by other witnesses. Thus, Air Force Capt. Jack Puckett, flying near 4000 ft. over Tampa in a C-47 on August 1, 1946 (Ref. 10, p.23), described seeing "a long, cylindrical shape approximately twice the size of a B-29 with luminous portholes", from the aft end of which there came a stream of fire as it flew near his aircraft. Puckett states that he, his copilot, Lt. H. F. Glass, and the flight engineer also saw it as it came in to within an estimated 1000 yards before veering off. Another somewhat similar airborne sighting, made in January 22, 1956 by TWA Flight Engineer Robert Mueller at night over New Orleans, is on record (Ref. 27). Still another similar sighting is the AAL case cited below (Sperry case). Again, over Truk Is., in the Pacific, a Feb. 6, 1953, mid-day sighting by a weather officer involved a bullet-shaped object without wings or tail (Ref. 7, Rept. No.10). Finally, within an hour's time of the Chiles-Whitted sighting, Air Force ground personnel at Robins AFB, Georgia, saw a rocket-like object shoot overhead in a westerly direction (Refs. 3, 5, 10, 6). In none of these instances does a meteorological or astronomical explanation suffice to explain the sightings. - Statement by Dr. James E. McDonald
Definitely read this report - Analysis of the CHILES-WHITTED Sightings, July 24 1948
- also includes links to the Project Blue Book Archives
The Government UFO Files: The Conspiracy of Cover-Up
Legends and Lore of Birmingham & Central Alabama (American Legends)
Dr. James E. McDonald, Prepared Statement on Unidentified Flying Objects, Page 42-43, Hearings, 1968
Brief Encounters in the Sky: 15 Chilling True Stories of the Unexplained That Will Have You Believing We Are Not Alone!
Unexplained!: Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena