Investigation

Abstract

1. Background

2. Strategic Air Command Investigations

3. Information Unavailable to Project Blue Book

4. Project Blue Book Investigation

5. Reviewing Werlich’s Data & Conclusions

6. Project Blue Book Evaluation

Endnotes

Investigation of UFO Events at Minot AFB
on 24 October 1968

Thomas Tulien

2. Strategic Air Command Investigations

Certainly, Commanders and staff at SAC Headquarters, Offutt AFB, understood the policy objectives of the Air Force UFO Program. Moreover, strict compliance with the regulation was mandatory, even, it seems, to the extent of managing information available to Project Blue Book investigators that would not facilitate the policy of reducing the number of unidentified reports to the minimum, or support a conventional explanation.

On 24 October, following the landing of the B-52, Commanders at Minot AFB ordered immediate debriefings and investigations. These inquiries occurred before notifying Project Blue Book of the UFO events late in the afternoon, while the results were not available to Blue Book investigators. Over the next two weeks, officials at SAC headquarters monitored the progress of the Blue Book investigation, and Minot AFB investigating officer, Lt. Colonel Arthur Werlich, forwarded all the information he collated to General Hollingsworth for briefing SAC’s Vice Commander in Chief, Lt. Gen. Keith Compton.[8]

B-52 Pilot Debriefing

Following 4:21 a.m. (CDT), at the time of the B-52 pilots observation and overflight of the UFO on or near the ground, controllers at Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) relayed the following request to the pilots: “JAG 31 (garbled) requests that somebody from your aircraft stop in at baseops after you land.”[9]

Apparently, somebody in command wanted to know what the B-52 pilots had experienced, though the purpose of the debriefing and the officials in attendance are unknown. Most likely, the request came from Minot AFB Commander Col. Ralph Kirchoff, who was responsible under AFR 80-17 for providing the investigative capability necessary to submit a complete initial report of a UFO sighting.[10] The senior officer who reported to Base Operations was the non-crew pilot Major James Partin. Meanwhile, the B-52 crewmembers proceeded to the routine post-flight mechanical debriefing before eventually heading home to bed.[11] At some point, they received an order to return later in the morning for a debriefing in the office of the commander of the 810th Strategic Aerospace Division, Brig. General Ralph T. Holland.[12]

B-52 Radarscope Film Analysis

At 7:30 a.m., 5th Bombardment Wing intelligence officer Staff Sergeant Richard Clark arrived for work at the headquarters building, and was directed to set aside routine duties in order to analyze the B-52 radarscope film. In a 2003 interview he recalls:

CLARK: Our major priority was keeping up with the intelligence of the day — we were virtually always updating the bombing information for what we were going to do if we came to war over Russia…. But this turned into a priority so we informed the photo lab that we wanted it now. [13]

The primary concern was to determine whether the film confirmed the account of the B-52 crewmembers, though, Clark recalls “the big question was how fast it was going and what we felt it was.” He retrieved the processed film from the photo lab, and based on the sequence illustrated by the 14-radarscope photographs, recalls estimating a minimal average speed of the UFO at 3900 mph.[14]

By early afternoon, he had completed his report confirming the account of the B-52 crewmembers, while concluding that the speed and maneuverability of the UFO were phenomenal.  He requested two sets of 8 X 10 positive prints of the significant 14 radarscope film frames, one to include in his report sent up his chain of command, while retaining the other as a personal desk-copy.[15]

Like B-52 Navigator Capt. Patrick McCaslin, what impressed Clark were the speed and performance characteristics of the UFO:

Staff Sergeant Clark CLARK: Well, it had to have been a UFO. We had nothing that could do the kind of speed it had back then and be able to change directions. I mean, flying with the plane and changing directions while still maintaining — you’re going like this [indicating straight line motion with hand] and then all of a sudden it’s over here, and it’s still going this way. Even if we had something that could go that fast it’s going to go that fast this way — but it can’t go that way too. That’s why it was phenomenal. It had to be something other than what we were aware of, you know, I did not think our technology had anything like that as far as capability — so it’s got to be a UFO.[16]

Furthermore, someone informed SSgt. Clark

That they were sending somebody out from Washington to talk to the crew. I do not remember who asked me, but they wanted to know if I was sure about this [pointing to the radarscope photos], and I told them, ‘it’s there in black and white, there’s nothing else that it can be.’[17]

B-52 Crew Debriefing

Later that morning, the B-52 crewmembers returned to base for a debriefing in the office of the commander of the 810th Strategic Aerospace Division. At the time, Brig. General Ralph Holland was the highest-ranking officer stationed at Minot.[18] In attendance were Co-pilot, Captain Bradford Runyon; Radar Navigator, Major Charles Richey; Navigator, Capt. Patrick McCaslin; Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), Capt. Thomas Goduto; and Gunner, Technical Sergeant Arlie Judd. Not present at the debriefing were Maj. Partin, the B-52 instructor pilot from another crew who was onboard this mission being evaluated to maintain ratings by Aircraft Commander, Capt. Don Cagle; nor Cagle, who had intentionally avoided any direct involvement in the UFO events.[19]

For the first time the crewmembers learned of the extent of the ground observations and missile site intrusions. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that just a few hours after the events, Gen. Holland — or even Colonel B.H. Davidson, the 91st Strategic Missile Wing commander who briefed Holland on the situation — would have had a complete grasp of the situation. As a result, information provided to the crew by Holland may have been inaccurate or misconstrued. In particular, the recollections are not supported by the existing documentation.

For example, following are pertinent recollections of Capt. Runyon regarding the debriefing.

Capt. Bradford Runyon Jr. RUNYON: Well instead of asking us any questions, he just informed us as to what had gone on during the previous night, about outer and inner alarms going off at one of the missile sites. He did mention that there had been two different instances having to do with missiles within a week, one at another base — and I couldn’t differentiate the things that were going on from one opposed to the other. There had been outer and inner alarms activated and Air Police [Security Alert Team] had been sent to investigate. The first Air Police had not reported in. Other Air Police were sent to check and found the first Air Police either unconscious or regaining consciousness, and the paint was burned off the top of the vehicle. The last they remembered is that something was starting to sit down on them — and they started running. The Air Police did go onto the missile site and the 20-ton concrete blast door — he might have called it blast door — anyway, the 20-ton concrete lid had been moved from the top of one of our Minuteman missiles, and the inner alarm had been activated. He also mentioned that Air Police had seen us fly over, and had seen the object take off and join up with us. Basically that was it. I think that he asked us for any additional input. I don’t remember whether I mentioned anything or not.

INTERVIEWER: You never described the object you overflew?

RUNYON: I don’t think I ever did. Maybe to some of my friends in Stanboard, or to my crew when they asked about it. Maybe they thought I never looked outside the airplane; I have no idea why I was ignored.[20]

Capt. McCaslin recalled less detail, however the essential experience of the Security Alert Team (Air Policemen) is similar.

INTERVIEWER: Do you recall other topics of discussion?

Captain McCaslin

MCCASLIN: No, not really. I remember he volunteered the information about the Air Policemen. He volunteered the information about the missile alarms going off. I’m sure he talked about other things, I just don’t remember — those are the things that stick in my mind …. My memory is that General Holland said that there were two — and he was saying it like he was very sympathetic toward these two Air Policemen. You know, like, imagine being in this position — that at the time our aircraft did the low approach there were two poor Air Policemen out there with this thing hovering, or something hovering directly over their pickup truck. I think he said they were responding to one of the missile alerts that had gone on in the missile —

INTERVIEWER: Alarms?

MCCASLIN: Yeah. And there may have been more that responded, but they were either the team — the Air Policemen responding, or one of the crews of Air Policemen responding, and that this thing was directly over their vehicle.

INTERVIEWER: Did it damage the vehicle in any way?

MCCASLIN: Don’t know if he told us that. The only memory I have is that it was lit in some fashion when it was over the top of them, and my impression is that it was very close to their vehicle, and that they were scared to death. And at the point these Air Policemen saw our aircraft taking off or doing a low approach — they didn’t know which — at the base, my impression is it was off to their left, that this thing went dark and began to climb in the direction of our aircraft.[21]

The impression is that the crewmembers were struggling to incorporate the information related by Holland with their own experience, in order to create a coherent picture of the events. It is unclear, however, whether Holland’s information describes additional undocumented events at other missile Launch Facilities, or was misconstrued from the facts.

For example, when the missile maintenance team of Airman (A1C) Robert O’Connor and A1C Lloyd Isley arrived at the N-7 Launch Facility around 3:00 a.m., they reported the UFO circling to the south to SSgt. James Bond at the November-Launch Control Facility. November-Security Alert Team member A1C Joseph Jablonski recalls O’Connor’s hysteric-sounding voice over the radio as he was apparently describing the bright object hovering directly over them at the N-7.[22] Later, when the personnel at N-7 (by this time including Jablonski and Adams) observed the incoming B-52 in the west, the UFO they had been observing for over an hour in the southeast disappeared, which could be construed as, the UFO “went dark … at the same time they saw our airplane.” For example:

McCASLIN: My memory is that it was at that briefing where I learned that they saw that thing leave them … my memory is that he said that it went dark — it was hovering over them — went dark and lifted up. And, at the same time they saw our airplane making that initial approach it took off in the same direction our airplane was going.[23]

McCaslin assumes this occurred during their initial approach to the runway before flying out to the WT fix, which is also when RAPCON requested they look out for “any orange glows out there.” In other words, the UFO described by Holland as brightly lit while hovering over the top of a security vehicle, suddenly “went dark,” and followed the B-52 up to altitude in the northwest where it first appeared on radar. According to the existing documentation, this could not have been the UFO observed by personnel at N-7, or have occurred at the Oscar-7, since the break-in was after the terminal landing of the B-52.

This suggests that there were additional undocumented UFO events at other missile Launch Facilities. For example, Runyon recalls that Gen. Holland “did mention there had been two different instances having to do with missiles within a week — one at another base.” This confused Runyon, since he could not “differentiate the things that were going on from one [event as] opposed to the other.” In addition, Richard Clark recalls hearing about alarms at three missile sites, and alludes to the experience of the missile security personnel as recalled by the crewmembers:

CLARK: I don’t know how accurate it is, and I can’t remember whom I heard it from but it had to be somebody in the wing. I heard they sent a crew out to one of the missile silos after the alarms went off and that something similar to that happened to the crew, you know, the motor stopped, the lights went off — but I cannot remember. I don’t even remember which three silos went off.

INTERVIEWER: Three silos?

CLARK: Three separate silos went off, and they ended up — what I did hear was that they could not find anything. Nobody could have been in there.[24]

Capt. Goduto also recalled a discussion about security intrusions at three missile sites:

GODUTO: I can’t remember, it could have been a discussion at a later time when they said there were possibly three intrusion alarms that had gone off at the missile silo sites. This would have been the same evening, right at the time when things were occurring …. Security [Alert] Teams responded but they found no locks, or no entries there.[25]

In any event, the consensus of the B-52 crewmembers was that the debriefing seemed perfunctory, and not concerned with effectively interrogating them to obtain useful information regarding the events or their particular experiences. Goduto felt “the right questions weren’t asked by the interviewers,” while Arlie Judd assumed the debriefing was merely pro forma “in case somebody happened to ask them.”[26] Moreover, during the Blue Book investigation, none of the B-52 crewmembers were interviewed, nor completed an AF-117 Sighting of Unidentified Phenomena Questionnaire regarding their experience.

Oscar-7 Launch Facility Break-In

At 4:49 a.m., nine minutes after the B-52 landed, Oscar-7 Outer-zone (OZ) and Inner-zone (IZ) security alarms sounded underground in the Oscar-Launch Control Center. It was not unusual for the sensitive perimeter alarm system to activate because of animal activity, equipment malfunctions, and even drifting snow; however, the triggering mechanisms for the inner-zone alarms were isolated from the local environment, and both alarm zones activating at the same time was an exceedingly unusual situation. Oscar-Flight Security Controller, Staff Sergeant William Smith Jr., immediately dispatched his Security Alert Team of A1 Donald Bajgiar and A1C Vennedall to O-7.

O-7 Launch Facility

Oscar-7 Launch Facility located 24 miles north of Minot AFB, looking south-southeast; and (inset) the weather cover has been raised and the vault door removed, providing access to controls for opening the large primary door (A-plug) to gain access to the missile silo. In this instance, the weather cover had been raised and the combination dial turned off its setting, thus triggering the IZ alarm.

When the team arrived, they found the front gate unlocked and open, while a weather cover protecting the controls for access to the missile silo was left standing open. Inside, somebody had turned the combination lock dial on the vault door off its setting, thus triggering the inner-zone alarm. The security team conducted a procedural investigation of the site but found no additional evidence of intruders.[27] Later the same day, SSgt. Smith met another team sent out by the 91st Strategic Missile Wing headquarters to conduct a further investigation at O-7.

Staff Sgt. Smith SMITH: I was still on duty the next day. I think it was a maintenance Lieutenant that came and was doing the investigation, so I went out as well to let them know that this is strange because we had never in my experience found a gate wide open with those locks that we had — unless you had a key. The lock was not broken. We just knew we had somebody on that site with all the weird things going on. So we did go through the process of investigating the site, but that gate being open, we were not happy with that. In fact, I think that's why they sent somebody out, and they did find radiation on part of the site that was away from the missile — on the parking area. You had the missile and you had a service area right next to it. We had keys to get down inside and check it out.

INTERVIEWER: Right, the support equipment.

SMITH: Yes, when I was working as an inspector I used to hide down there from the guys and scare the doo-doo out of them under the sub floor and things like that. Well, we went through that whole process, and I was with my crew when they did that — as supervisor I decided that I needed to go out there and find out what's going on. I stayed with the crew, which I did not have to being in charge of security.  Anyway, that is how I knew what went on. When the Lieutenant was out there, they did find a circular ring of low-grade radiation, and he called it low grade such that it would not be enough to contaminate people, but it was nonetheless a circular pattern of radiation. That freaked us out. I am telling you, right then I said, ‘Oh, shucks.’ He was serious about that, and I was there and saw where he had seen this pattern, and I [wondered] ‘Now, what could that be?’”[28]

3. Information Unavailable to Project Blue Book ››