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Project Blue Book unexplained cases:

Pilot Joseph Shell's sighting, Southern Oregon, May 27, 1949:

One of the Project Sign unexplained case which became part of Project Blue Book's file was an experienced pilot's sighting of a close formation of objects in Southern Oregon, May 27, 1949.

Blue Book case number: 404.

Project Blue Book lists this sighting as "unknown.".


On May 27, 1949, South-central Oregon. 2:25 p.m, pilot and businessman Joseph Shell, ferrying an SNJ trainer for North American Aviation from Red Bluff, California, to Burns, Oregon, saw five to eight oval objects, twice as long as wide, and 1/5 as thick. They flew in trail formation, with an interval equal to 3-4 times their length, except that the second and third were closer together.

USAF Project Sign report:

Page 1:







8 JULY 1949


D[???] B. A00


27 May 1949


DC/19 Fairfield-Suisum AFB, Calif.


8 July 1949


DO/20, McChord AFB, Washington






None, this is an initial report.


Investigation requested by District Commander, DO #29, Fairfield-Suisum Air Force Base, California. This office received from ONI [Office of NAval Investigation], 12th Naval district, San Francisco, California, a report of investigation which set forth information that JOSEPH C. SHELL, a reputable business man and pilot of Los Angeles, California, had sighted six (6) or seven (7) unidentified flying objects, which were not conventional aircraft, in southern Oregon on May 27 1949. No investigation is being conducted by this District Office at this time relative to this matter insomuch as all pertinent leads are in District Office #18 and #20.


CG, AMC (Action) 2
DO #5 (INFO) 2
DO #18 2
DO #20 2
Hq, OSI 2 File 2


Commanding General
Air Material command
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Dayton Ohio



Colonel, USAF


Page 2:


DETAILS: 190 OSI 24-15

1. This investigation was requested by District commander, district Office #19, Fairfield-Suisum Air Force Base, upon receipt of a report of investigation conducted by Naval Intelligence at San Diego, California, date 23 June 1949, File: D10-11ND 38-49, which is summarized as follows:

a. "On Friday, 27 May 1949, JOSEPH C. SHELL of 4575 Northbridge Drive, Los Angeles, California, was flying his privately owned SNJ-type aircraft from Red Bluff, California, to Burns, Oregon. He departed Red Bluff at 1332 hours P.C.T and arrived at Burns at 1458 hours P.S.T. At 1425 hours, same date, SHELL observed the sun reflecting on an object, or objects, at a considerable distance ahead and a few points to the starboard. He continued to watch the course taken by the reflecting material, expecting it to materialize into a conventional aircraft at the distance larsened between him and the object or objects. As the objects reached the long bluffs (shown on the Bois (V2) Aeronautical Charts as Hart Mountain), which run for a number of miles along the coast side of some dry lakes (Swamp, Flagstaff, Campbell and [?]tone Corral Lakes), he observed that instead of a single object there were several which seemed to be flying in formation. At this point the objects appeared to have changed their course so that they were paralleling his course and were following the bluffs rim at about 1000 to 1500 below SHELL's altitude at a distance which he estimates to have been 5-1/2 to 7-1/2 miles since the bluffs were less than ten (10) miles away and he could see the objects outlined against the bluffs."

b. The objects that SHELL saw are described by him as follows:

"Size of the object: Considerably smaller than a fighter plane, probably less than 20' in length. All of the separate objects appeared to be the same in size.

Shape of objects: There was no break in the outline. SHELL is certain he would have recognized conventional aircraft. They had a solid configuration, and no great thickness. They were elongated oval, perhaps twice as long as wide, and perhaps five times as long as thick. SHELL points out he observed the objects from an angle from above and should not easily estimate their thickness; they could possibly have been egg-shaped, and could conceivably be perfectly oval. The objects seemed definitely solid objects - there was nothing ethereal about them.

Speed of objects: SHELL is confident they were traveling at least as fast as his own plane (212 MPH). SHELL had a tail wind of 15 to 18 MPH and the objects would therefore have been doing over 230 MPH air speed. The objects were traveling south/southwest, opposite to SHELL's course. Calculating the speed of the objects, several different ways from the facts at hand, the speed of the objects varies between 190 to 260 MPH. SHELL concluded at the time of observation that he could not possibly have turned

Page 3:


DETAILS: (Cont'd) 190 OSI 24-15

around and caught up with the objects, They were definitely traveling faster than a group of birds, and slower than jet planes. No trail of smoke or exhaust was observed. The speed of the objects appeared to be steady.

Terrain, elevations, population etc., in area: SHELL flew at 9000' MSL which was between 4000' and 5000' above terrain. During most ofthe time of observation, the objects were 1000' to possibly 1500' below SHELL's plane. Towards the end of sighting when SHELL had begun to come down he was also almost on a level with them in altitude.

"The valley through which SHELL flew north, and the object flew south, is roughly 12 miles wide. The floor of the valley is between 4000' to 5000' in elevation. The East side of the valley is dominated by Hart Mountain (8020' in elevation). Hart Mountain stands on an elongated bluff, which has an almost sheer drop of around 1000'. The bluff, and all the terrain, against which SHELL saw the objects is quite dark in color. The objects stood out in contrast to the dark color. The objects appeared to be unpainted metal."

"The rim of the bluff on the east side of the valley is about 7000' in elevation. From where SHELL saw the objects (at 9000' elevation) they were roughly in line with the rim of the bluff (7000'). Assuming the objects were one (1) to three (3) miles away from the bluff-rim, they were probably flying at about 8000' MSL, and about 3500' above the valley floor."

"The valley where SHELL sighted the objects is sparsely populated; however, there are a number of ranches there - more than are indicated on the Boise (V2) Aeronautical Chart. SHELL believes that if persons living in the valley were questioned, chances are several might be found who saw the object from the ground. SHELL has flown through this valley many times in going between California and Oregon and does not recall ever having seen another airplane in the valley where he sighted the objects. The valley is not a commercial airway route, and is seldom used by private planes. SHELL does not recall ever seeing any automobiles on the dirt road in the valley, shown as such on the Bois (V-2) section of Aeronautical Chart."

"Number and formation of objects: At the beginning of observation, when the objects were a few degrees to the starboard of dead ahead, SHELL could not distinguish separate objects - all he saw were reflections; however, as he came closer and passed them by 5-1/2 to 7-1/2 miles he definitely saw six (6) or seven (7) separate objects. to be on the safe side SHELL states with positiveness that there were no less than five (5) objects and no more than eight (8).

"The objects were always in file formation (one behind the other) and there appeared to be no change in altitude of the formation. The space between the lead object and the next one was three or four times the length of one of the objects. The distance between the second and the following objects was between one-half and two-thirds the length of the objects.

Accordingly, if the objects were 20' in length, the distance between #1 and #2 was 60 to 80 feet, and the distance between #2 and the others was between 10 and 17 feet. The distance between the objects appeared very constant.

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DETAILS: (Cont'd) 190 OSI 24-15

The objects were so close and appeared to keep their formation spacing in a manner which indicated they might have been under tow by the leading object. At the distance of sighting, no connection, if there was any, could possibly have been observed. SHELL is positive that the objects were separate objects because he was able to see terrain between them. The formation did not fluctuate in flight; the objects flew very evenly and steadily. When SHELL last saw the objects they were going out of visual range on the horizon.

"Weather and visibility at time of observation: Visibility was exceptionally good. SHELL could see Harney Lake, 60 miles distant, and could see smoke rising from the saw mills at Burns, Oregon, 75 miles distant. There were a few scattered clouds at between 14,000' and 18,000^. The weather report at the time indicated "scattered clouds at 18,000'". The air was very smooth. Normally the air in the area is light to mildly turbulent. The sun was West of SHELL, that is, SHELL's plane was between the sun and the objects."

"Location of sighting objects: (Refer to Boise V2) Sectional Aeronautical Chart). SHELL's location when the objects were first sighted was 42░27'N, 120░W. This point was not definitely established but was computed from the known ground speed and the estimated time interval during which SHELL observed the objects. This position could possibly be as much as five (5) miles SSW of the position given. SHELL's location when objects left his visual range was 42░41'N, 119░49'W. Shell flew in a straight line between these coordinates.

Location of objects when first observed: 42░28'N, 119░43'W.
Location of objects when last seen: 42░28'N, 119░48'W.
The objects made a slight change of course from quartering to paralleling SHELL's straight line of flight.

c. "SHELL is a Lt JG in A5(L) USNR (inactive), Serial No. 348375. He was commissioned Ensign 5 January 1944, served at Corpus Christi thirty (30) days AV8T), in Dallas two (2) months VRF-2(D). SHELL ferried SWJ's from North American company plants, was at Willow Groves, Pennsylvania, thirty (30) days, served at check-out base for ferry Squadron VRF(2) at Columbus, and served at Columbus until August 1945. He was then with VHF(3) at Terminal Island, California, where he became legal and personal officer. He was discharged from the Navy in January 1946 as Lt. JG. SHELL holds Naval Aviator Certificate No. 0-17945, plus a senior pilot's grade in the Ferry Wing of the Navy Air Transport Command. He also holds a commercial licence, single and multi-engine, and flight instructor's ratings. His flight time began in 1934 and now totals over 5000 hours, of which time 1300 hours were in the United States Navy. SHELL secured a private licence in 1938, and was re-issued commercial pilot's licence in 1945. From March 1942 to September 1943 he was a flight instructor, for the Navy Air Force (five months as primary instructor at Lancaster, California). From September 1943 to January 1944

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DETAILS: (Cont'd) 190 OSI 24-15

he flew for the Superior oil Company of California. Since 1940 SHELL has been Vice PResident of the Royal Petroleum Company of California, Long Beach, a concern in which he and his relations own all of the stock; he also is part owner of three (3) other oil producing concerns in Southern California. SHELL is married and has three (3) children. He has a BS and a BA degrees from the University of Southern California, he also had two (2) years of law at the University of Southern California. SHELL is thirty (30) years of age, but appears to have a background of experience few men his age posess. He is believed to be conservative, sincere, absolutely reliable, and very competent."


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