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Selfridge AFB, Michigan, March 3, 1950:

A strong case of multiple radar detection of a UFO took place on March 3, 1950 near the US Air Force base of Selfridge in Michigan.

The Air Force was really impressed by this observation, which led the Air Adjunct General, Headquarters Continental Air Command, Mitchell Air Force Base, New York, to send the following letter, classified "secret," to the Director of Intelligence, Headquarters, USAF, Washington, D.C.:

1. Attached for your information are two narrative reports concerning radar sightings of an unidentified flying object.

2. The fact that the object was sighted on the scopes of two radars is considered worthy of special note.

3. Comment of technical experts, this headquarters, was solicited and is quoted in part for your consideration.

  • a. While it is relatively well known that various ionospheric conditions cause reflections at lower frequencies used by the two radar sets mentioned except when temperature inversions or other atmospheric or tropospheric conditions cause ducting and spurious reflections. Presuming that such idealized conditions existed at the time of these observations, it is conceivable that an actual small change in physical lateral action in reference to the radar set could cause a seemingly greater change in relative position of the "object" as observed on the radar scope due to the varying path lengths the radar energy takes to and from the "object" as a function of the frequency-sensitive layers and angles of incidence of the propagated wave. However, the great difference in the frequencies of the L-Band CPS-5 and the S-Band CPS-4 radar sets and the evident correlation of the observations between these two sets almost rule out the possibility of anomalous propagation effects. Further, the magnitude of velocity and accelerations of the three dimensional movements of the "objects" reported are beyond the capability of known behavior of lighter than air vehicles in controlled flight.
  • b. Also substantiating this unlikelihood is the fact that the "object" was reported as remaining stationary in free space for a mean period of two minutes.
  • c. Further validity is lent to the contention of the reports by statements that first indications, which were at high altitudes, were observed on the CPS-4 height-finder before being observed on the CPS-5 surveillance radar set. This follows logic and field experience, inasmuch as the high-altitude coverage of the CPS-5 is known to be poor and the antenna is not capable of being automatically tilted as in the case of the CPS-4 on which the controller may tilt the antenna within wide limitations to observe any high altitude or high-angle objects. It is to be noted that previous field experience with a CPS-5 surveillance radar set has indicated that targets picked up at ranges and altitudes indicated in subject report would probably have a reflection aspect ratio in the order of magnitude of a B-29 or greater.
  • d. In the absence of detailed vertical and horizontal coverage charts for the specific radar sites and comprehensive weather reports for the area during the period of time these observations were noted a more complete study or evaluation at this time is not feasible.
  • e. In summary, no known electronic phenomena, nor combinations of several electronic phenomena could conceivably produce all of the observations covered by the attached reports.

4. The frequency of reports of this nature has recently increased; instructions have therefore been directed to all radar installations within this command to report scope sightings of unusual objects.

5. It is recommended that reports of unidentified object sightings be reconsidered for submission from all Zone of Interior Air Force agencies.

S/ Neal J. O' Brien,
Col., USAF, Air Adjutant General,
for the Commanding General.

Yet the conclusion given to this observation by Project Grudge (before Projet Blue Book) was:

"Probable balloon."

No comment, discussion or the least argument is offered to sustain this evaluation.

This is the original report by Lieutenant Francis E. Parker, USAF:

On the night of March 9, [3] 1950, our radar station was in operation monitoring night flying by units of the 56th Fighter Interceptor Group, Selfridge AFB, Mich. I came on duty approximately at sundown, relieved 1st Lt. Mattson at the PPI scope (of the AM/CPS-5 Radar Sight), and established contact with the F-80s already airborne. Lt. Mattson, Sgt. McCarthy, and Cpl. Melton, who made up the rest of our crew for this night, mentioned to me at this time that an aircraft had been picked up intermittently on the HRI scope of the ANC/CPS-4 height finder radar at 45,000 feet; and over.

I know the highest assigned altitude of the F-80s was 24,000 feet; the target was not at that time visible on either radar scope, so I attributed the report of the high-flying aircraft to interference, crew inexperience, or both. Over the next fifteen minutes the rest of the crew, mentioned above, repeatedly reported this high-flying target at apparently rapidly changing altitudes without my being able to turn around rapidly enough from my monitoring of the F-80s in the area to observe for myself. Finally, however, I saw this target which was a very narrow and clear-cut presentation on the NRI scope. It was at approximately 47,000 feet about seventy (70) miles out, and the indication was definitely not that of a cloud or atmospheric phenomenon.

I checked pilots in the area by VHF and was assured by F-80 pilot at the highest assigned altitude that he was at 24,000 feet. The clarity, narrowness, and definition of the presentation was definitely that of an aircraft. The target gave a similar presentation to that given by an F-80, and if anything, narrower. It was definitely at this time not presenting a very large reflecting surface toward our station and I could not at this time pick up the target on the CPS-5, ruling out B-36 or other large aircraft.

Further indications of this aircraft were picked up intermittently but with increasing regularity for the next 45 minutes or an hour, and entries were made of these occurrences in the controller's log; though relatively fairly correct, are inaccurate, due to the extreme inaccuracy of Sgt. McCarthy's watch. During this same 45-minute period, approximately 1945 to 2030 (7:45 to 8:30 pm), this target seemed to stay in the area in which our fighters were flying, sometimes approximating their courses, but 20,000 feet above them.

During this same 45 minute period, Lt. Mattson and other members of the crew reported, both from the HRI scope of the ANC/CPS-4 and another PPI scope of the AN/CPS-5, that the target hovered in one position and also that it progressed from a position given a 270 degrees, 78 miles at 45,000 feet to a position at 358 degrees, 53 miles, at roughly the same altitude in 4 - 5 minutes.

This would give it a speed upwards of 1,500 miles per hour for this run. I cannot substantiate this speed. Coverage of target during this run was reportedly intermittent and the times were not to my knowledge accurately tabulated at actual instances of radar pickup during this run. Subsequent individual questioning I undertook with members of the crew bears out the possibility of inaccuracy in timing during this run. I knew only that the target was very fast. I observed during this period, by momentarily turning around and watching the HRI scope, several extreme instances of gaining altitude and losing altitude. I was not able at this time to take down the actual figures, but observed it losing and gaining up to 20,000 feet very rapidly.

I was able at 2046 (8:46 pm) EST, to identify this aircraft on my PPI scope (AN/CPS-5) and simultaneously on the HRI scope. The only actual timing and figures I took down on this target I did during the six minutes from 2046 to 2052 (8:46 to 8:52 pm), during which time this aircraft was giving indications on both scopes without fade. I took down the range and azimuth on the minute for this period and Sgt. McCarthy took down the altitudes. (Sgt. McCarthy's times were off as aforementioned but in this case, due to the fact that we were both following the same target, I have reconstructed these times into my own, which were taken in grease pencil directly on the scope head, and later transcribed.)

Information recorded is as follows:

Time Azimuth Range in Miles Altitude in Feet
2046 1,560 45 25,000
2047 1,510 49 29,000
2040 1,460 56 35,000
2049 1,420 60 33,000
2050 1,390 67 36,000
2051 1,360 73 38,000
2052 1,330 79 33,000

These figures, although not as spectacular as some of the climbs and speeds I observed, show definitely the erratic speed and altitude changes. The differences in speed from one minute to the next were apparent to me as were the climbs and dives. At 2052 the aircraft faded from the PPI scope and was picked up for periods of one and two minutes at approximately 110 miles distant. It faded at 120 miles for the last time. The height-finder carried the aircraft past the six-minute period listed above to a 1,230, 87 miles, 31,000 feet where it faded for the night from the CPS-4.

The CPS-5 was very accurate on this particular night which was supported by F-80 pilots' agreement with many geographical positions given them off the CPS-5. The AN/CPS-4, though a more erratic piece of equipment, could not, through any known or prevalent weakness in its operation, account for this manner of extreme changes in altitude. I went over all possible errors which could be induced by AN/CPS-4 error exhaustively with my technical personnel.

We are continuing investigation at this station.

I have been a rated pilot since 12 April 1943, and have been assigned to controller duties for approximately 2 1/2 years.

S/Francis E. Parker
1st Lt. USAF

Short discussion:

Probable ballon, ballon impossible:

It is totally obvious obvious that what is detected there is not a balloon. Speed, changes of altitude, hovering periods, accelerations, all that completely excludes a balloon explanation. Note that Lieutenant Parker's amazement is indeed caused by the performances and the behavior of the object, impossible for the best jet fighter of that time, the F-80, present here. How the personnel of Grudge could estimate that an echo of such a nature can be a balloon when the problem was that the echo was indicating an impossible behaviour for USAF's jet fighters? Quite simply because in this period of the UFO history, the policy was that UFOs do not exist; this policy created a state of total negligence in the treatment of UFO reports. There was no research, all that was done was to label any sighting with any "explanation", whatever its inanity.

US Air Force UFO politics at the time of this sighting:

I propose a very brief recall on this subject for the readers not familiar with the facts. The details of the story can be found in a great number of articles and books, I urgently recommend the reading of Captain Rupplet's book to those who wish to better understand the context.

The first project to study the flying saucers, Project Sign, had led to a summary reports, the famous "estimate of the situation," which had concluded that unidentified flying objects were extraterrestrial vehicles. This estimate was rejected by General Vandenberg, and consequently, it had become the appropriate attitude in the military to consider UFO reports as jokes, errors and confusion, including those coming from military sources. A new investigation, called Project Grudge, which functioned at the time of this observation, thus labelled any case with any trivial explanation without any effective research. In the case we dela with here, that explanation was "probable balloon."

It is only in 1952 that the headquarters were angry that UFO reports were treated with such disdain by Project Grudge. This lead to the set up of the "new project Grudge" baptized Blue Book in 1952, which will carry out a more serious work under the direction of the Cataon Ruppelt. The history repeated very quickly, when Ruppelt considered in 1953 that he had accumulated enough evidence of reality of the phenomenon, the project was brought down, Rupplet left, and thereafter Blue Book functionned in the same manner as project Grudge: any observation was simply described as "balloon," "Venus," "psychological" without any real investigation or care for the facts.

UFOs on radar - brief introduction:

You will be told a certain number of twaddles in connection with UFOs detected by radar. Do not believe anything of it.

First of all, you will be told you that the weather and various effects which can affect the radars have been known only "recently;" this is entirely false, the reports on this case of 1950 that I reproduce above for example show it well. Radar operators had knoledge of such problems in 1950.

Then you will be told that a false echo caused by one of these weather phenomena explains the UFOs detected by radar. Actually, the false echoes do not resemble the echoes caused by real flying objects, planes or UFOs, and radar operators, except beginners, were capable to make the difference. For example, in Lieutenant Parker's report above, you can note that the Lieutenant specifies and insists on the nature of the echo: a clear and precise echo, perhaps even clearer than that of the F-80s which flew in the area.

You will also be told that radar operators are confused folks soaked up in flying saucer ambiance or saucer worshipers, and that they loose their objectivity to make other people believe in extraterrestrial machines. Note in Lieutenant Parker' report that he is careful, sceptic, and that he does not at any moment speculate or interpret the echo. He does not want to take into account the observations by the preceding team, he sticks to the six minutes during which the figures were noted by his own care. As the speed of 1500 miles indicated by the preceding team seems impossible to him - in fact no plane could approach such a speed even by far - he does not conclude from it that the machine is interplanetary, he concluded from that that it had to be an inaccuracy of measurements and an intermittence of the echo. Lieutenant Parker does not behave like a UFO fanatic, he eliminates everything which not bulletproof or poorly logged.

An observation by two radar set - what it implies:

When freak weather conditions create false radar echoes, the radar operators have several way to discover the false nature of the echoes, unless being inexperienced, which is not the case here. False echoes consist in returns of the ground, birds, insects, objects moving on ground etc, do not move differently on the radar screen than they actually do; for example, if it is a truck on the ground which provided an echo on the radar because of a rebound of the radar waves on a layer of air of a different temperature, then, not only this echo is generally not clear, but also, if it moves on the screen, it is at the speed of a truck, and not at the speed of a plane or more. False echo caused by grounf clutter are also vague, and do not move at all.

Here, we have a radar set which gives the azimuth of the echo, and another radar set which gives its height. The two signals are concordant, that is clearly indicated in the reports. This eliminates any explanation by some anomalous radar waves propagationdue to of some weather phenomenon: when layers of air of different temperature are coexistent, with a sufficient temperature gradient so that the radar indicate an echo in the air which corresponds to something on the ground, then, two radar set give indications which are precisely not concordant.

It is not really necessary to repeat all the reasons to consider as real the detected echo, these reasons are largely given in the two initial reports reproduced above.

Radar, radar ... and visual?

The two reports which I reproduced, as much as the summary of the case by J. Allen Hynek, expose the case as a multiple case radar, and seem to indicate that there was no visual observation.

When I checked in the Project Blue Book unexplained case summaries compiled by Don Berliner, who read the AF archives in 1974, I found the following summary:

March 3, 1950, Selfridge AFB, Michigan. 11:05 p.m:

Witness: st Lt Frank Mattson. One intense, dull yellowish light descended vertically, then flew straight and level very fast for 4 minutes.

Of two things one: either Lieutenant Mattson refers to another observation the same day at the same place, or this relates to the same observation, which could not not be visual. Radar could not have indicated that the UFO appeared as an intense light, dull yellowish.

It seems obvious, that perhaps a deepened search in the Blue Book files would result in an even more striking observation than that described in the ufology literature.

Conclusion:

Close to Selfridge AFB, in Michigan, on March 3, 1950, a flying machine was detected in a reliable way by two instruments measuring physical data, both in good functioning condition. Errors of measurement are excluded, the two instruments are corroborated, weather effects, interference, and other commonplace factors could not affect the instruments. US Air Force finally concluded that it was probably a balloon, but this is stupid since the craft whatever it is showed a behaviour of flight which cannot at all correspond to that of a balloon, in fact, this behavior also excludes any plane or flying machine of human origin, whether in 1950 or 50 years later. This behavior also excluded any natural phenomenon from weather type to plasma known to date. In addition, there is not the least reason to think than the explanation of the events lies in psychology, mass hysteria, and hallucination. Although measurements by radar do not make it possible to establish what the object is, a good theory to explain it is that the object could be an artificial flying craft of extraterrestrial origin. This theory is not directly proven here; it is essentially valid due to the bankruptcy of any other theory, and it is thus a good theory until a better theory is put forth.

References:

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