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The Bellefontaine, Ohio, radar/visual/photographic case, 1952:

A radar, visual and photographic UFO sighting and investigation of 1952 recorded by US Air Force project Blue Book which concluded the UFO is indeed an "unknown" before finding the series of coincidences which explained the case as being caused by a jet and a weather balloon.

Table of content:

This page The events, a summary.
Click! The events, by Major Donald E. Keyhoe, ret., of NICAP.
Click! The events, by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, head of Project Blue Book, USAF.
Click! The report in the Project Blue Book archives, USAF.
Click! The Condon Report investigators invent an erroneous explanation.
This page References.

Summary of the case:

The observations:

On August 1, 1952, the radar tracking station of Bellefontaine detects a blip moving at 400 kts. It is possible that people on the ground observed an UFO in a concordant manner, but I have been unable to find a bulletproof confirmation of this starting from the documents which are available to me, and thus I cannot hold this for certain.

This echo prompted an interception mission. Here again, I could not determine exactly why; later Blue Book personnel found out that a low flying jet plane was there but the radar tracking station was not informed of this flight, or, this could be due to the fact that it was indeed a UFO which had been seen visually by witnesses on the ground.

The interception mission consisted in directing two F-86 jet fighters, which were already on mission in the area towards the point where the unidentified blip was located by the ground radar. The radar tracking station of Bellefontaine was not equipped with radar; which could measure the height of a target, only the point of interception could be communicated to the two pilots, who soon reached exactly the point where the ground radar indicated the presence of the UFO.

Here again, it is somewhat strange that a simple radio operator contact had not established that object was simply an unannounced plane, and the interception mission has all the features of a UFO hunt; but due to lack of precise documentation, we must admit that was indeed plane and that the radar station of Bellefontaine considered it to be a UFO simply because the flight of this plane had not been communicated to them.

At the very moment when both F-86 joined the location of the unidentified radar echo, the ground radar broke down. Consequently, the two pilots could not count anymore on a tracking of the intruder from the ground, and had to count only on their visual observation of the sky above and below them to locate their target.

They saw an object when looking up and after various manoeuvers which enabled them to make sure that it was not some sort of reflection, they tried to close in. A first attempt ended when the jet engine of the first F-86 stalled at 48.000 feet, an altitude which was a limiting altitude for this type of plane. A second attempt was slightly more successful, at 48.000 feet the jet had still enough stability for its pilot to see the UFO as a round, silvery solid shape, which he was also able to film with his gun-camera, and to detect it with its airborne radar as a quite weak echo. Knowing the range of his airborne radar, having had a relative visual measurement through his gunsight device, the pilot estimated that according to the altitude of the object, it probably measured between 25 minimal to 40 feet in diameter. The film, once developed, would show a round shape but too blurry so that what was filmed could not be precisely determined.

At this point, Major Keyhoe, US Marines retired and ufologist irritated by the general denial attitude on UFOs by the US authorities, explains in an article that the object then accelerated brutally and left at high speed out of the sight of the pilot. Here again, I cannot regard this potentially essential point as being certain, as the other sources at my disposal (the Blue Book report and the testimony of its chief Ed Ruppelt in particular) do not give any precision on what put an end to the chase. Let's consider for the moment that the fast departure of the object did not take place. (Of course if it did, then the case should be called "unidentified.")

The initial investigation:

It is primarily Lieutenant Andy Flues who assisted Captain Ruppelt of the Project Blue Book, the official study of UFOs by the US Air Force who worked on the case. Initially he was not able to find a convincing explanation about the observations and he filed it in the category "unknown," in Blue Book's terminology this is equivalent to "no explanation account for the facts unless it was a flying object unknown on this earth."

However Lieutenant Flues remained convinced that there must have been a conventional explanation, he thought, in particular, of a weather balloon which was known to be in the area at the time, and of the correspondence between descriptions of the visual witnesses and the description of a balloon. What did not fit, of course, was the 400 knots speed for the object according to the ground radar.

Flues finally found the following explanation: the radar echo at 400 kts detected by the Bellefontaine radar station was caused by a low flying jet whose flight plan was not communicated, by mistake. Once the two jets F-86 arrived on the spot, with the radar of Bellefontaine having broken down, this plane could not be followed any more, otherwise the two jets would have finally seen it. Without indications of the radar on the ground, they made the only possible thing: to look above and below, and it is by doing this that they spotted what was the weather balloon, at very high altitude. If one omits the few bizarre aspects of the events as I mentioned above, we have a satisfactory explanation: it is a combination of circumstances, a coincidence, which made the pilot consider that there was a link between the weather balloon above them and the fast radar track.

Condon's pseudo-investigation, correct conclusion, pathetic reasoning:

Years later, the "Colorado Project" of that University, which had accepted to check "once and for all" if UFOs are a serious business or not, and who will come to the famous conclusion in the Condon Report that science has nothing to gain in studying UFOs, seized this case as if it had not been explained already, and once again "found" an explanation, that of the balloon.

What occurred shows the null level of the Condon group's investigation. They did not at all consult the initial investigators, they simply took and copied almost word for word the first report of the Air Force with its "unknown" conclusion and fabricated an the explanation by a balloon through confusing discussion as of the problem of the 400 knots speed. Their trick was to say that the initial measurement of 400 kts, combined with the cartography of the object under observation of both F-86 in a quasi-stationary position during more than one quarter of hour, gives an "average speed" of 44 kts, which they thus announced as a speed "compatible with the speed of a balloon." It is thus by this pathetic juggling act that they arrived at the correct conclusion. This is one of the innumerable examples in which the Condon group, through armchair research, without worrying to get the opinion of the best informed people - in this case the Blue Book investigator who solved the case in a correct manner - arranged the facts to suit their goal to "explain" all UFOs (which they didn't, though).

Professor James E Mcdonald was not mistaken there when he put the Bellefontaine case in a short list of cases "explained" by the Condon group for which he was suspicious that their explanation did not hold upright and would not resist a thorough examination.

The final word?

There are still for me some shady areas in this case, but as long as I do not find additional documents which would call seriously into question what seems to be the generally agreed course of the events, I do not see any reason not to consider that the explanation found by Andy Flues of Blue Book is the correct one.

I want to leave the final word to Captain Ed Ruppelt:

"It also points up the fact that our investigation and analysis were thorough and that when we finally stamped a report "Unknown" it was unknown. We weren't infallible but we didn't often let a clue slip by.


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This page was last updated on February 5, 2003.