|Reconstruction of the actual view of the object as seen from the DC-3 cabin|
In 1948, earth-grazing fireballs were not recognized by science. The AFOSI investigators did not get the information in the terms later standard for scientific analysis. They asked the witnesses to estimate the distance, size, and speed of a luminous object sighted at night. This required the implicit assumption that it was the size of man-made objects and flying at speeds and altitudes contemporary aircraft might achieve. Later standard Blue Book forms would ask the observers to estimate the apparent size (compared to the moon), the elevation above the horizon, and the direction and duration of a sighting. This kind of information could then be analyzed to determine if it matched a small, slow, close object or a much faster, larger object farther away.
Based on the assumptions that the mundane speeds and distances reported were correct and the 'fact' repeated over and over that 'it couldn't be a meteor because meteors do not fly horizontally' AFOSI convinced themselves it was an extraterrestrial object.
The sightings of that evening were:
- Eastern Air Lines pilot Feldvary, Trip 573, reported sighting an object from his DC-3, flying from Washington DC to Raleigh, North Carolina. It was some time after he had checked in with Blackstone control at 0219. He estimated the time at about 0230. The object was traveling about 20 deg over the western horizon, at a heading of around 230 deg (e.g. slightly west from his heading of 215 deg), and travelled through an arc of 80 degrees. Although no duration was given, it seemed to have 'terrific speed'.
- Eastern Air Lines pilot Mansfield, Trip 571/23, reported sighting an object from his DC-3, flying from waypoint Blackstone to Greensboro, North Carolina. It was also some time after he checked in with Blackstone. He also estimated the time as 0230 (it may be he discussed the sighting with Feldvary and assumed the same time). The object was traveling 'in a horizontal direction, slightly above the horizon, at a heading of around 210 deg (e.g. slightly east from his heading of 240 deg). He did not report the arc of travel, but said it was only in sight for 3 seconds. This was probably a good estimate of the duration of the sighting, since the object "…was brighter than any I have seen before…" and he couldn't have avoided seeing it immediately as it began to flare in the large right side cockpit window of a DC-3.
At the time of these two sightings, Feldvary was flying about 60 miles east of Mansfield. So clearly the object had to be a considerable distance west of both aircraft to be low on the western horizon for both of them. If we average the two bearings reported, the object would have a bearing of 220 degrees, which is consistent with a bearing west of Feldvary and east of Mansfield.
- Eastern Air Lines crew Chiles and Whitted, Trip 576, were en route from Houston to Atlanta, 25 miles southwest of Montgomery, Alabama, on a bearing of 50 deg when the famous sighting occurred. A strange object was sighted 'coming toward us at a high rate of speed'. It was flying straight and level, and created no noise or turbulence. It passed to the right side of the DC-3, at what they estimated as a distance of half a mile, a speed of 700 mph, at an altitude of 500 feet above their 5000 foot level. The object seemed to be 100 feet long, cigar shaped with rows of brilliantly illuminated portholes, with a stream of red fire trailing behind. What this translates to in objective terms was an object approaching at a bearing of 230 deg, at an elevation of 12 deg above the horizon, with an apparent size at closest approach of 3.4 deg (about seven times larger than the full moon). The object was only in view for at least 5 and not more than 10 seconds. Of course the close view in which details were seen would have been only for an instant as the object flashed by. The actual view from the cockpit at closest approach, as shown above, was rather mundane compared to the typical artists concepts of the encounter.
- Air Force contract employee Massey sighted a cigar shaped object with a trail of flame from the aircraft ramp at Robins AFB, near Macon Georgia. Unfortunately he was not asked the elevation of what he saw above the horizon. He saw it first 'overhead'. This apparently meant in the sky to the west of his position, since although he stated he was facing north, he didn't see it come 'out of the north' and people normally watch things in their field of vision, not straight above them. It then traveled in a southwest direction, until disappearing in the distance. He estimated the object to be traveling straight and level at 700 mph, an altitude of 3000 feet, and having the 'size of a B-29'. He estimated the duration as 20 seconds and the time of the sighting as 0140 or 0150 based on the departure time of an aircraft he was preparing (this one-hour difference from the other sightings is not commented on by AFOSI, although they considered this the same sighting as Chiles). Massey was asked if the thought it was a meteor and said no, because 'a shooting star falls perpendicular. This object was on a straight and level plane'. Massey claimed to have seen V-1's in flight and even a V-2 launch in World War II, the latter 'during the Battle of the Bulge'. This was perhaps possible. V-2 Gruppe Sued operated within 50 miles of the front lines near the south Ardennes in November-December 1944 before being moved behind the Rhine.
Putting together in terms of the positions and bearings of the aircraft and the objects sighted, and the locations of the observers, the following consistent result is obtained:
|Plotting of the four sightings show a consistent course for the object|
AFOSI's assessment was that the first two sightings were of a different event - because the object was 'meteor-like', travelled at 'terrific speed', and flew 'parallel to the horizon', which was seen as different from the other two (which were reported as flying at 700 mph by 'trained observers'). They did not seem to notice that the bearing of the object sighted in the first two sightings was the same as that observed by Chiles and Massey, or that estimates of the size and distance of an object at night would be based on it being a conventional object, not something unknown to science or popular culture at the time.
The sighting was sensationalized by the press in books, including that ghost-written for one-time Project Blue Book commander Ruppelt. The sighting was later embellished, with the object coming 'within 700 feet', the aircraft being 'buffeted by turbulence', Chiles having to 'swerve to avoid collision'. None of which was in the original report…
In fact the original sighting report is rather mundane. The object was only in sight for perhaps only 5 seconds, was seen to be about seven times the size of a full moon (but only for a second at closest approach), appeared to be coming head on but then passed the aircraft to the right, at a closes approach estimated at half a mile, and caused no noise or turbulence. Based on this brief glimpse, Chiles and Whitted produced these sketches (considerably more informative than the later 'cleaned up' versions):
Today, after many movies about asteroid impacts, and especially the very real Chelyabinsk event, no other conclusion would have been reached by the observers or investigators but that this was a meteor. The cigar-shaped (dark, unseen) form was defined by the brilliant 'windows' on the object, which were undoubtedly the object disintegrating into glowing fragments as it passed through the atmosphere.
Complete article at UFO DNA