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Pilots UFO sightings:

This page documents and assesses a case in which a UFO or supposed or alleged UFO was reported to have been observed from an aircraft in flight.

Between Wichita, Kansas and Colorado Springs, Colorado, January 1926

In French ufologist Jacques Vallée's 1965 paperback book "Anatomy of a Phenomenon" ([jve1]), we learn:

During the early twenties, according to Frank Edwards, took place the first sighting of flying discs from the air. One of the pioneers of the days of "barn-storming" flying, a pilot named Bert Acosta, told his friends that one day, as he was flying somewhere in the south-west, he suddenly noticed

... about half a dozen things flying way off his starboard wing. He said they seemed to be about two hundred yards away, and they looked just like manhole covers! He told us how they flew alongside him for five minutes or so, and had no trouble in keeping up with him. In fact they "rabbled" along beside him, and finally turned, changed course, and flew away. Bert said he had never seen anything like it before, and he had no idea what the things were, but, he had no doubt that they were very real.

Frank Allyn Edwards (1908 - 1967) was an American writer and broadcaster, one of the pioneers in radio. Late in his life, he became additionally well known for a series of popular books about UFOs and other paranormal phenomena.

It appears he would be the earliest source known to me about this sightings, but I did not find it in his 1966 book "Flying Saucers - Serious Business".

I might speculate that, maybe, Bert Acosta told this story to Frank Edwards as radio his interested in the "flying saucer mystery"; if so, there chances to find documentation contemporary to the sighting, or even 1960's documents, appears thin. Il will go back to that in the Discussion below.

In the early 2000's the Project 1947 website ([prt1]) indicated:

Screenshot.

1926: # January, 1300 hours, local, Between Wichita, Kansas and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Bert Anacosta [sic], stunt pilot, saw six "flying manhole covers."

(This is a third hand report. C. W. Finch, an Ohio researcher, went to a lot of trouble to verify the original story which came from Frank Edwards. Finch had no luck. Some accounts give 1922 as the date, but 1926 is the date in all of Finch's documents.)

A/C Code: P GXE codes: _ _ _

Source: PROJECT DELTA, by Dr. Richard Haines, page 152.

The "#" indicates the report is of doubtful reliability, Aldrich indicated.

C. W. Finch, Ohio researcher, seems to be an Ohio historian who wrote a number of local history books, not about UFOs.

It appears that the case, according to NICAP's Francis Ridge, was reported in Richard Hall's "From airships to Arnold: a catalogue of UFO reports in the early 20th century (1900-1946)", 2000, page 13.

Ridge says it came from early UFO books author Frank Edwards.

Apparently, the story was that in January 1926, at 01: p.m., six "flying manhole covers" circled the plane of noted stunt pilot Bert Acosta, then sped away, while he was en route from Wichita, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Screenshot.

The case also appears on the Web, for example on the Think About It UFO website ([tai1]), as:

Date: January 1926
Sighting Time: 1:00 p.m.
Day/Night: Day
Location: Nr. Wichita, Kansas
Urban or Rural or : Air
Hynek Classification: DD (Daylight Disc) Metallic or whitish object was seen in the day.
Duration: two minutes
No. of Object(s): 6
Height & Speed:
Size of Object(s): 3-4' diameter
Distance to Object(s): 10'
Shape of Object(s): Disc
Color of Object(s): shiny
Number of Witnesses: 1
Source: Hall, 2000, p. 13

Six "flying manhole covers" circled plane of stunt pilot. Size, according to Frank Edwards, was 3-4' diameter, approached to within 10'. Bert Acosta, a noted stunt flier, had a sighting of several circular objects that surrounded his plane, then sped away. This occurred while he was en route from Wichita, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Some of the data seem invented, for example, the 2 minutes duration, and the distance.

Discussion:

Though some of the sources I have found claimed the pilot was "Bert Anacosta", this was clearly a misspell for Bert Acosta.

Bert Acosta

Bert Acosta, aka Bertrand Blanchard Acosta (photo above), born January 1, 1895 in in San Diego, California, died September 1, 1954, was a well-known, record-setting aviator and test pilot, posthumously inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2014.

He taught himself to fly in August 1910 and built experimental airplanes up until 1912 when he began work for Glenn Curtiss as an apprentice on a hydroplane project. In 1915 he worked as a flying instructor. He went to Canada and worked as an instructor for the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service in Toronto. In 1917 he was appointed chief instructor, Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps at Hazelhurst Field, Long Island where he test flew early open-cockpit aircraft such as the Continental KB-1 over New York in below freezing conditions.

"He was a multi-task aviator; flew all of the light planes in the 1910's and 1920's - up to the first heavy Transport Planes; laid the first Air Mail routes while carrying Air Mail; was considered to be the first true light aircraft Test Pilot as well as the first heavy Air Transport Test Pilot (as acknowledged by his peers); an aircraft mechanic; a record setter; a barnstormer; an Aeronautical Engineer; a Flight Trainer; an inventor; and a military and passenger aircraft demonstrator."

He won The Pulitzer Trophy Race in 1921 and the same year set an airspeed record of 176.9 miles an hour. In 1922 he served as a test pilot for the Stout Batwing Limousine, Stout's forerunner to the Ford Trimotor. In 1925 he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and was living at 1 Winslow Court in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

In April 1927, he and Clarence D. Chamberlin set an endurance record of 51 hours, 11 minutes, and 25 seconds in the air, reported in Time magazine reported on April 25, 1927.

On June 29, 1927, thirty-three days after Charles Lindbergh's record setting transatlantic flight, Acosta flew from Roosevelt Field on Long Island to France with Commander Richard E. Byrd, Lieutenant George O. Noville and Bernt Balchen. A short film of Acosta, Byrd, George Noville, and Grover Whalen giving a farewell speech was filmed in the Phonofilm sound-on-film process on June 29 and released as America's Flyers. During the flight, the (perhaps apocryphal) story was that Byrd had to hit Acosta over the head with a fire extinguisher or a flashlight when he got out of control from drinking during their flight.

Indeed Acosta was known as the "bad boy of the air", receiving numerous fines and suspensions for flying stunts such as flying under bridges or flying too close to buildings.

(See for example http://www.airmailpioneers.org/content/Pilots/Acosta.htm )

So, we have a known pilot, a "star" pilot, as alleged witness. But no contemporary written source, only late, second hand sources with Vallée's 1965 book as the earliest source.

It seems possible to me that Bert Acosta had told his story at some time in the fifties to radio host Frank Edwards. Edwards possibly told about it in one of his earliest, "Fortean" books, "Strangest of All", 1956; or "Stranger Than Science",1959; or "Strange World", 1964. And maybe Vallée picked it up there.

Edwards became interested in UFOs in the early post-Arnold days in 1947; in 1948, he had read "Flying Saucers Are Real", the famous magazine article then book by retired U.S. Marine Corps Major Donald E. Keyhoe. That is when Edwards began mentioning UFOs on his radio program, He was fired in 1954, because of his UFO talks he claimed, but then hosted a syndicated radio program, "Stranger Than Science", where he freely discussed UFOs and other Fortean topics.

It is known that Acosta had a drinking problem, and he appears to have been quite a merry fellow, with a sense of humor and amusement. I cannot exclude that he made up his story in the 1950's for the benefit of Frank Edwards, or the pleasure to tell a good and "fashionable" story on a radio show. This of source is not proven; it is only a possibility I cannot exclude for now.

Which means that although the case appears of high strangeness, the credibility is quite unknown.

Evaluation:

High strangeness, but unknown credibility.

Sources references:

* = Source is available to me.
? = Source I am told about but could not get so far. Help needed.

File history:

Version: Create/changed by: Date: Description:
1.0 Patrick Gross August 6, 2021 Creation, [jve1], [rhs1], [prt1], [rhl1], [tai1].
1.0 Patrick Gross August 6, 2021 First published.

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This page was last updated on August 6, 2021.