As an unidentified flying object the UFO presents a particular challenge to scientific authority. Observations are random, often transitory or difficult to grasp objectively, and may even appear to exceed known technological capabilities. Lacking an acceptable theory to explain how UFOs can do what they are repeatedly observed to do, the phenomenon is broadly relegated to popular myth, while the study of individual cases after the fact can only tell us that some UFOs defy conventional explanations. (See: UAP in the UK Defence Region: Executive Summary, p. 4).
Folklorist Thomas Bullard explains:
UFOs as experiential phenomenon and UFOs as popular cultural myth entangle in a knot of confusion. I suspect that this entanglement stands as one of the greatest impediments to understanding the nature of UFOs, and scientific acceptance as a subject worthy of serious attention. A historical perspective offers a grip on the end of the string, a chance to untangle the mess to some degree.
In this regard, the 24 October 1968, Minot AFB UFO case offers an exceptional opportunity to untangle the myth, particularly given the extent of the primary documentation, including B-52 radarscope photographs and independent testimonial evidence. According to astrophysicist Bernard Haisch, “To look at the evidence and go away unconvinced is one thing. To not look at the evidence and be convinced against it nonetheless is another.” This website was created to provide readers an opportunity to examine all of the available evidence of the 24 October 1968, Minot AFB UFO events, in order to determine for oneself whether it is convincing.
In 1968, Strategic Air Command (SAC) was the operational establishment of the United States Air Force, responsible for the bomber-based and ballistic missile-based strategic nuclear arsenal. Minot AFB, located in the northwestern part of North Dakota, was a principal SAC dual-wing base. The two wings headquartered at Minot included the 5th Bombardment Wing, with 15 B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers capable of delivering nuclear and conventional ordinance worldwide; and the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, responsible for 150 Minuteman, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) housed in underground Launch Facilities scattered across an area of more than 8,500 square miles. Today both wings continue operations under the major command of the Air Force Global Strike Command.
In the BACKGROUND section of this website, we have included concise histories of the Strategic Air Command, Minot AFB, and both operational wings, including mission responsibilities and routine duties of the personnel who supported the requirements of America’s strategic nuclear forces. These will be helpful in providing essential context to the military environment encompassing the UFO events. In addition, the ARCHIVES section includes official unit histories and various supplemental documents accumulated during our research.
Brief Summary of UFO Events
Initial Ground-visual Observations
Early in the morning of 24 October 1968, Oscar-Flight Security Controller Staff Sgt. William Smith received a report from a Camper Team posted at the Launch Facility (LF) designated Oscar-6 (O-6). According to Smith, the team was providing aboveground security for a Target Alignment Team working underground in the missile silo when they observed a large glowing object that "went down by some trees not far away." Shortly after, at 2:30 a.m., a missile maintenance team of Airman First Class Robert O'Connor and A1C Lloyd Isley were en route to the November-7 (N-7) Launch Facility when they reported an unusual light in the east to Base Operations. The strange light appeared to be pacing their vehicle while growing brighter. By the time they arrived at N-7, the bright UFO had taken up a position circling to the south.
In response, the Base Operations dispatcher patched in the observers at N-7 with the ground controllers at Radar Approach Control (RAPCON), established an open-line for reporting, and kept a log of the UFO activity over the next two hours. Soon, Flight Security Controllers (FSC) — the officers responsible for the security requirements at the Launch Control Facilities (LCF) — were also reporting sightings via their communications network linked to missile Wing Security Control (WSC).
In one instance, security personnel at three of the LCFs similarly described “the object separate in two parts and go in opposite directions and return and pass under each other.” In another, a FSC reported that an “object which looked to him as the sun” came near the hardened antenna within the security fencing of his LCF. It then moved away and he dispatched his two-man Security Alert Team (SAT), who followed the object to within a half-mile of where it appeared to be landing. When the object reached the ground the light dimmed and extinguished. After this, they could see nothing. Independent reports mutually described a very large, brightly illuminated aerial object that would alternate colors from brilliant white to amber and green, with an ability to hover, accelerate rapidly and abruptly change direction.
B-52 Air-radar Observations
At about 3:00 a.m., a B-52H Stratofortress returned to Minot AFB from a routine 10-hour training mission. The pilots practiced high-altitude instrumented procedures and approaches to the runway, eventually requesting clearance to fly out to the Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) initial approach fix (“WT fix”), 35 nautical miles northwest of the airbase. Given clearance to Flight Level 200 (20,000 feet altitude), RAPCON ground controllers then asked the crew to “look out toward your 1:00 [one o’clock] position for the next 15 or 16 miles and see if you see any orange glows out there. Somebody is seeing flying saucers again.”
The B-52 crew observed nothing out of the ordinary during the flight out. Approaching the WT fix, they initiated a standard 180-degree turnaround that would eventually bring them back over the WT fix on a straight approach to the runway. At 3:52, as they started the wide turn, ground controllers informed the crew “the UFO is being picked up by the weathers [sic] radar also, should be your 1:00 position 3 miles now.”
The B-52’s own radar detected the radar return (UFO) co-altitude at three miles away, sparking air safety concerns among the crew. However, as the B-52 banked around the roughly 6-mile diameter turn the UFO maintained a constant three-mile separation, moving to the northeast — outside of the turn radius and to the left of the B-52 as it finally rolled out.
Upon clearing the WT fix to begin the descent back to the runway, the radar return suddenly changed position. In one sweep of the radar — less than three seconds — the UFO appeared to close distance to one mile, while subsequent sweeps would indicate that the return was matching the forward velocity of the B-52. The seemingly phenomenal and instantaneous movement of the UFO startled B-52 navigator Captain Patrick McCaslin:
I knew whatever it was that there was something there that I’d never seen on radar. I don’t know of anything that could go laterally in three seconds, two miles, and just stop. It was maintaining our descent rate, and then just laterally to one mile… perfect formation.
At the same instant as the return’s abrupt change of position, the B-52’s two UHF radios ceased transmission on all frequencies with RAPCON. The UFO continued pacing the aircraft off the left wing for nearly 20 miles. Near the end of the descent trajectory, the radarscope camera filmed the UFO as it appeared to spiral around behind the B-52, after which the radar return disappeared and radio communications returned to normal.
B-52 Air-visual Observations
Following the inexplicable radar encounter, the B-52 pilots practiced a missed approach to the runway and were vectored back around to land. However, on final approach to the runway a General officer radioed a request not to land, but to continue around in order to fly over and photograph the object if possible. Accordingly, RAPCON controllers vectored the B-52 once again onto the traffic pattern, to the location of a stationary UFO on or near the ground, roughly 16 miles north-northwest of the airbase. Immediately after turning onto the downwind leg of the pattern, both pilots observed an illuminated object more than 10 miles ahead of the aircraft. The non-crew pilot Major James Partin compared the UFO to “a miniature sun placed on the ground below the aircraft.”
Upon reaching the object the B-52 flew alongside and executed a left turn over and around it. As the B-52 banked over the object, copilot Capt. Bradford Runyon was able to observe the UFO through the pilot’s window as it passed beneath the aircraft. He described a huge egg-shaped object with a surface that appeared to give off a dull reddish color like molten steel. As they began the turn, he noticed a smooth metallic tubular section extending horizontally from the long-end of the elliptical object, connecting to the mid-point of a curved crescent-shaped protuberance, not unlike a bumper. This section encompassed the width of the body and emanated a greenish-yellow glow from its interior back, illuminating the tubular section and the front of the egg-shaped main body of the object. Once again, their radios would not transmit during the very close approach.
The B-52 turned left onto the base leg of the traffic pattern and lost sight of the UFO. They continued around to the runway at Minot AFB and came to a terminal landing at 4:40 a.m. At 4:49, both the outer and inner-zone security alarms sounded at the missile Launch Facility Oscar-7, and SSgt. Smith immediately dispatched his Security Alert Team to investigate. The team discovered the front gate unpadlocked, and an access hatch on site standing open, but no other evidence of intruders. In the meantime, November security personnel continued reporting a UFO west of N-7, until the light gradually diminished around 5:30.
Following the early morning events Strategic Air Command initiated investigations. Later that afternoon, Minot AFB investigating officer Col. Werlich informed Project Blue Book per Air Force Regulation 80-17. Over the next couple days, six of the ground observers completed the Air Force Form 117 Sighting of Unidentified Phenomena Questionnaire (AF-117). Although Maj. Partin completed an AF-117 the following week, Blue Book investigators did not interview the B-52 crewmembers during the official investigation. Not until recently have they publicly discussed their experiences. Given their clearances and responsibilities, Capt. Runyon understood at the time they were not to discuss the matter. Aware that the Air Force was engaged in an ongoing investigation of the UFO phenomenon, he naturally assumed that conclusions would eventually be available to the public. However, over 30 years later, still lacking any explanation for what they had observed that morning, Runyon’s curiosity led him to contact the J. Allen Hynek, Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in Chicago, and complete a UFO Sighting Questionnaire regarding his experience.
Based on Runyon’s sighting report we initiated a search for documentation pertaining to the 24 October 1968 Minot AFB UFO case, and were fortunate to discover 145 pages of primary documents in the declassified operational files of Project Blue Book. All of the documents are available in the DOCUMENTATION section of this website. In order to provide a sense of the evidentiary value of the source materials, we have categorized the documents into four basic types.
Transactional Documents are primary evidence produced in compliance with official military regulations. In this case, Air Force Regulation 80-17 established the Air Force UFO program, and specified the responsibilities (actions) for investigating, analyzing, and submitting UFO reports. The regulation required Minot AFB investigating officer Lt. Colonel Arthur Werlich to have principal witnesses complete the AF-117 Sighting of Unidentified Phenomena Questionnaire, and compile information in response to a formatted list of questions (Basic Reporting Data). Upon receipt, Project Blue Book was required to evaluate the data and prepare a final case report. The transactional documents total 83 pages.
Selective Documents are primary evidence recorded during the events, which the recorder deemed important or worth noting. These include logs of events noted by the Base Operations Dispatcher and missile Wing Security Controller, and a Transcription of Recorded Conversations between the B-52 copilot and RAPCON. The records also contain timelines useful for reconstructing the events. In addition, during the B-52 radar encounter the navigator filmed the radarscope, which shows the UFO and its relative movements. A targeting studies officer analyzed the film and selected fourteen 35mm frames from the larger sample as indicative of the UFO’s performance characteristics. These first-generation 8x10 positive prints contain quantitative information of the UFO encounter, and provide a means for assessing physical characteristics of the UFO. Werlich also prepared a map overlay (transparency superimposed on a classified 200-series map), plotting the B-52 flight track, and relative positions and movements of the UFO. The selective documents total 19 pages, plus 2 maps.
Memo[s] for the Record document telephone conversations between Blue Book staff and Minot AFB investigating officer Lt. Col. Werlich. Also included are conversations between Headquarters, Strategic Air Command/Operations with Blue Book staff, and the assistant Deputy Chief of Staff/Intelligence at SAC with Blue Book chief Lt. Col. Quintanilla. These conversations provide more details, insight into the process of the official investigation, and especially personal information and attitudes generally absent in transactional documents. The memoranda of conversations, including two telex communications, total 20 pages.
Oral History Interviews. During our research, we conducted more than 30 interviews with military observers and witnesses to the events. Transcriptions of the interviews are available in the INTERVIEW section of the website. While an oral report may be a true description of an event, it is crucial to understand that information in an oral history interview is a selective recollection, removed from the original event and further abstracted by human memory. Nevertheless, there are ways to evaluate reliability, and in this case, the oral history interviews make an important contribution to our understanding. For example, regarding the B-52 crewmembers, individual recollections reflect particular situations at the time of the event respective to their stations in the aircraft. We can compare individual recollections to cross-validate any particular memory claim with more reliability given to claims independently recalled by more than one witness. In some instances, the way something is recollected, or even the lack of a recall can be meaningful.
Although oral history is subjective interpretation, it is eminently valuable in recovering levels of experience and understanding other perspectives that are not normally available to historians. Moreover, we can assess the validity of the recollections by contrast and comparison to the event itself as revealed in the primary source materials. A statement is not necessarily more accurate or true if written down at the time than if recalled later in testimony. Written documents possess immediacy and are uninfluenced by subsequent events, however, the documents can be incomplete, in error, or even written to mislead. In this case, the cumulative recollections of various witnesses form a general narrative of the events, which reveals significant information that is missing and unavailable in the official record.
Sign Oral History Project
In May 1999, independent researchers, writers, and historians established the Sign Historical Group (SHG) and convened a foundational workshop in Chicago to discuss the application of traditional historical methodology to the “sometimes sketchy, often misinterpreted and always incomplete” subject of UFO history. One area identified as lacking was the collection of oral testimonies, so we resolved to establish the Sign Oral History Project (SOHP) to preserve first-person accounts and significant historical information.
In May 2000, along with SHG colleague and Project 1947 director Jan Aldrich, we interviewed Bradford Runyon. Runyon’s testimony reasonably corroborated the events as revealed by the Blue Book documentation, while providing supplementary details and lines of inquiry not evident in the official documentation. In many respects, the case presented exceptional opportunities for historical research, particularly since it had never received any publicity. The events evolved over a three-hour period, involving a significant cross-section of officers and military personnel. Since various groups had no contact with each other, it was possible to examine a body of testimonies untainted by other’s experiences and interpretations. The extent of the primary evidence provided an abundant means by which to assess, cross-validate, and corroborate information by seeking correspondence with multiple sources.
Over the next several years, with the assistance of SHG colleague James Klotz, we interviewed all the B-52 crewmembers and the non-crew pilot Major James Partin. Our process was to record an initial telephone interview followed by a formal videotaped interview.
In addition, we interviewed the 5th Bombardment Wing intelligence officer responsible for the radarscope film analysis (SSgt. Richard Clark); the commander of the 810th Strategic Aerospace Division (Brig. General Ralph Holland); and the 91st Strategic Missile Wing commander (Col. B.H. Davidson). In all cases, we were the first public contact the witnesses had regarding their experiences.
Unfortunately, the Minot AFB officer responsible for investigating the case, 862nd Combat Support Group/Operations Division chief Lt. Colonel Arthur Werlich, is deceased, though we have spoken with family members. The events of 24 October 1968 made a lasting impression on his then-teenage daughters Kim and Melody, when they were awakened “in the middle of the night” and overheard an urgent telephone call to their father reporting the mysterious UFO activity.
The B-52 Radarscope Photographs
While researching the case, we were fortunate to discover first-generation radarscope photographs filmed onboard the B-52 during the radar UFO encounter. Early in the morning on 24 October 1968, 5th Bombardment Wing intelligence officer Staff Sergeant Richard Clark arrived at work and was instructed to examine the original negative radarscope film. Clark requested two sets of 14 photographic prints from the larger sample, which clearly exhibit the UFO movement from front-right of the airborne B-52, as it appears to spiral around behind the aircraft to a position off the left wing. He included one set of the photos in his report and retained the other as a personal file-copy. Later, Clark passed the photographs along to his brother-in-law, fellow Minnesotan, William McNeff, who has generously contributed them for our analysis.
The 14 radarscope photographs present successive three-second, time-lapse exposures, corresponding to less than 40 seconds when the UFO echo was “painted” by the radar. The photos provide a quantifiable data set, which, among other things, allows us to determine the altitude and location of the B-52 in three dimensions at the precise time of the photograph. In addition, this allows for an extrapolation of the flight track of the B-52 in real-time, and comparison to the documentary timelines, while providing an additional means to inform the interpretation and narrative reconstruction of the events.
In addition, the radarscope photographs contain information to examine the nature of the UFO that is typically not available in the majority of UFO reports. In this instance, information in the photographs allows us to infer accelerations and trajectories, providing insight into the physical characteristics of the UFO.
Martin Shough, an experienced and critical radar analyst in Scotland, has studied the B-52 radarscope photographs. Martin has contributed an analysis to this report, entitled Anomalous Echoes Captured by a B-52 Airborne Radarscope Camera, with the goal of testing the internal consistency of the witness narratives and official records against the physical evidence, while seeking an explanation for the anomalous radar echoes. He considers many conventional interpretations of the echoes, concluding that none of the possibilities are convincing.
Building on Shough's foundation, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) French space agency scientist and astronomer Dr. Claude Poher has contributed a photometric study of the radarscope photos, entitled Analysis of Radar and Air-Visual UFO Observations on 24 October 1968 at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, USA. Incorporating a multidisciplinary approach, Poher systematically formulates hypotheses leading to theoretical considerations concerning the energetic potential of the UFO. He suggests, for instance, that if it were possible for the UFO to sustain the inferred accelerations for more than a dozen hours it could theoretically attain relativistic speeds approaching that of light, such that an interstellar voyage is possible.
In order that the reader can appreciate the historical context and circumstances surrounding the UFO events, the BACKGROUND section includes historical summaries of the Strategic Air Command; Minot Air Force Base; and two operational wings at Minot, the 5th Bombardment Wing, and 91st Strategic Missile Wing. In addition, the concise, History of the United States Air Force UFO Programs, provides a general understanding of the evolution of the USAF UFO program from 1947-1969, including official attitudes regarding the phenomenon.
The NARRATIVE section recounts the story of the 24 October 1968 Minot AFB UFO case based on the primary source materials, while the INVESTIGATION section examines the process by which the Air Force and Project Blue Book investigated the case over nearly a three-week period resulting in Blue Book's final case report. Finally, the RADAR ANALYSES section presents the contributions of Martin Shough and Dr. Claude Poher.
All of the primary documents are included in the DOCUMENTATION section, while the INTERVIEW section contains complete transcripts of many of the pertinent oral history interviews. For supplemental information, the MAPS section contains historical maps accumulated during the process of research, including a series created to illustrate the text, and the ARCHIVES section contains many relevant historical records of the Air Force, including unit histories and official publications for the period. In addition, all of the chronological sections and individual documents comprising the site can be directly accessed from the SITEMAP at the top right corner of the main page.