This report is part of the book by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects".
At nine-forty on the evening of the 29th (July 1952) an Air Defense Command radar station in central Michigan started to get plots on a target that was coming straight south across Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron at 625 miles an hour. A quick check of the flight plans on file showed that it was an unidentified target.
Had the press been aware of some of the other UFO activity in the United States during this period, the Washington sightings might not have been the center of interest. True, they could be classed as good reports but they were not the best that we were getting. In fact, less than six hours after the ladies and gentlemen of the press said "Thank you" to General Samford for his press conference, and before the UFO's could read the newspapers and find out that they were natural phenomena, one of them came down across the Canadian border into Michigan. The incident that occurred that night was one of those that even the most ardent skeptic would have difficulty explaining. I've heard a lot of them try and I've heard them all fail.
At nine forty on the evening of the twenty-ninth an Air Defense Command radar station in central Michigan started to get plots on a target that was coming straight south across Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron at 625 miles an hour. A quick check of flight plans on file showed that it was an unidentified target.
Three F-94's were in the area just northeast of the radar station, so the ground controller called one of the F-94's and told the pilot to intercept the unidentified target. The F-94 pilot started climbing out of the practice area on an intercept heading that the ground controller gave him. When the F-94 was at 20,000 feet, the ground controller told the pilot to turn to the right and he would be on the target. The pilot started to bring the F-94 around and at that instant both he and the radar operator in the back seat saw that they were turning toward a large bluish white light, "many times larger than a star." In the next second or two the light "took on a reddish tinge, and slowly began to get smaller, as if it were moving away." Just then the ground controller called and said that he still had both the F-94 and the unidentified target on his scope and that the target had just made a tight 180 degrees turn. The turn was too tight for a jet, and at the speed the target was traveling it would have to be a jet if it were an airplane. Now the target was heading back north. The F-94 pilot gave the engine full power and cut in the afterburner to give chase. The radar operator in the back seat got a good radar lock-on. Later he said, "It was just as solid a lock-on as you get from a B-36." The object was at 4 miles range and the F-94 was closing slowly. For thirty seconds they held the lock-on; then, just as the ground controller was telling the pilot that he was closing in, the light became brighter and the object pulled away to break the lock-on. Without breaking his transmission, the ground controller asked if the radar operator still had the lock-on because on the scope the distance between two blips had almost doubled in one sweep of the antenna. This indicated that the unknown target had almost doubled its speed in a matter of seconds.
For ten minutes the ground radar followed the chase. At times the unidentified target would slow down and the F-94 would start to close the gap, but always, just as the F-94 was getting within radar range, the target would put on a sudden burst of speed and pull away from the pursuing jet. The speed of the UFO - for by this time all concerned had decided that was what it was - couldn't be measured too accurately because its bursts of speed were of such short duration; but on several occasions the UFO travelled about 4 miles in one ten second sweep of the antenna, or about 1,400 miles an hour.
The F-94 was getting low on fuel, and the pilot had to break off the chase a minute or two before the UFO got out of range of the ground radar. The last few plots on the UFO weren't too good but it looked as if the target slowed down to 200 to 300 miles an hour as soon as the F-94 turned around.
What was it? It obviously wasn't a balloon or a meteor. It might have been another airplane except that in 1952 there was nothing flying, except a few experimental airplanes that were far from Michigan, that could so easily outdistance an F-94. Then there was the fact that radar clocked it at 1,400 miles an hour. The F-94 was heading straight for the star Capella, which is low on the horizon and is very brilliant, but what about the radar contacts? Some people said "Weather targets," but the chances of a weather target's making a 180 degrees turn just as an airplane turns into it, giving a radar lock-on, then changing speed to stay just out of range of the airplane's radar, and then slowing down when the airplane leaves is as close to nil as you can get.
What was it? A lot of people I knew were absolutely convinced this report was the key - the final proof. Even if all of the thousands of other UFO reports could be discarded on a technicality, this one couldn't be. These people believed that this report in itself was proof enough to officially accept the fact that UFO's were interplanetary spaceships. And when some people refused to believe even this report, the frustration was actually pitiful to see.
The following account is part of a statement submitted by James E. McDonald, Senior Physicist, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, and professor, Department of Meteorology, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics at July 29, 1968, Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, Rayburn Bldg., Washington, D.C. Full text here.
5. Case 39. Port Huron, Mich., July 29, 1952:
Many of the radar cases for which sighting details are accessible date back to 1953 and preceding years. After 1953, official policies were changed, and it is not easy to secure good information on subsequent cases in most instances. A radar case in which both ground-radar and airborne radar contact were involved occurred at about 9:40 p.m. CST on 7/29/52 (Refs. 4, 5, 7, 10, 25). From the official case summary (Ref. 7) one finds that the unknown was first detected by GCI radar at an Aircraft Control and Warning station in Michigan, and one of three F-94s doing intercept exercises nearby was vectored over towards it. It was initially coming in out of the north (Ref. 5, 25), at a speed put at over 600 mph. As the F-94 was observed on the GCI scope to approach the unknown, the latter suddenly executed a 180 degree turn, and headed back north. The F-94 was by then up to 21,000 ft, and the pilot spotted a brilliant multicolored light just as his radarman got a contact. The F-94 followed on a pursuit course for 20 minutes (Ref. 7) but could never close with the unknown as it continued on its northbound course. At the time of first radar lock on, the F-94 was 20 miles west of Pt. Huron, Mich. The GCI scope revealed the unknown to be changing speed erratically, and at one stage it was evidently moving at a speed of over 1400 mph, according to Menzel (Ref. 25), who evidently drew his information from the official files. Ruppelt (Ref. 5) states that when the jet began to run low on fuel and turned back to its base, GCI observed the unknown blip slow down, and shortly after it was lost from the GCI scope.
This case is still carried as an official Unknown. The case summary (Ref. 7) speculates briefly on whether it could have been
Menzel, however, asserts that the pilot did see Capella, and that the air borne and ground radar returns
No suggestion is offered as to how any given meteorological condition could jointly throw off radar at the ground and radar at 21,000 feet, no suggestion is offered to account for 180 degree course-reversal exhibited by the blip on the GCI scope just as the F-94 came near the unknown, no suggestion of how propagation anomalies could yield the impression of a blip moving systematically northward for 20 minutes (a distance of almost 100 miles, judging from reported F-94 speeds), with the F-94 return following along behind it. With such ad hoc explanations, one could explain away almost any kind of sighting, regardless of its content. I have examined the radiosonde sounding for stations near the site and time of this incident, and see nothing in them that would support Menzel's interpretations. I have queried experienced military pilots and radar personnel, and none have heard of anything like "ground returns" from atmospheric conditions with aircraft radar operated in the middle troposphere. If Menzel is not considering ground-returns, in the several cases of this type which he explains away with a few remarks about "phantom radar returns", then it is not clear what else he might be thinking of. One does have to have some solid target to get a radar return resembling that of an aircraft. Refractive anomalies of the "angel" type have very low radar cross-section and would not mislead experienced operators into confusing them with aircraft echoes.
6. Many other cases might be cited where UFOs have appeared on radar under conditions where no acceptable conventional explanation exists. Ref. 7 has a number of them. Hall (Ref. 10) has about 60 instances in which both radar and visual sightings were involved. A December 19, 1964 case at Patuxent River NAS is one that I have checked on. It involved three successive passes of an unknown moving at speeds estimated at about 7000 mph. It is an interesting case, one that came to light for somewhat curious reasons. A low overcast precluded any visual sightings from control tower personnel, so this is not a radar-visual case. I found no conventional explanation to account for it.
It has to be stressed that there are many ways in which false returns can be seen on radarscopes, resulting not only from ducting of ground returns but also from interference from other nearby radars, from internal electronic signals within the radar set, from angels and insects (weak returns), etc. Hence each case has to be examined independently. After studying a number of official evaluations of radar UFO cases, I get the impression that there would probably be more radar Unknowns if there were less tendency to quickly explain them away by qualitative arguments that overlook pertinent quantitative matters. Even at that, there are too many conceded unknowns in official files to be ignored.