Investigation of UFO Events at Minot AFB
on 24 October 1968
The results of the SAC investigations were not available to Blue Book investigators, including the pilot and B-52 crewmember debriefings, radarscope film analysis, and the O-7 break-in investigation. Little if any information was available regarding the Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) systems, and Aerospace Defense Command’s (ADC) long-range radar systems at Minot Air Force Station, located 16 miles south of Minot, ND.
Furthermore, the communications transcript notes the weather radar detection and location of the UFO in relation to the B-52, though Col. Werlich seems to remain ignorant of this fact. During a conversation with Blue Book staff on 31 October, Werlich insists that the only radar detection of the UFO was by the B-52, stating that ADC “do not remember having any unidentified paints. The only one I have is the one on the plane.” Later, after receiving supplemental information, which included the transcription, Blue Book staff attempted to contact Werlich twice to request information on the weather radar detection of the UFO, but ultimately received no response. The paucity of information in this respect seems intentional, especially since a target tracked by multiple radar systems would lend considerable weight to the argument for an airborne, radar-reflective object.
To some extent, these omissions can be understood to be a result of exceedingly restrictive security regulations in effect at a strategic nuclear airbase such as Minot. In fact, the classification levels for defense radar systems, and all activities pertaining to the operational delivery of nuclear weapons, were well beyond that which Blue Book was authorized to receive.
For instance, in the early 1960s, as Cold War tensions reached a climax during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States was completing its “strategic nuclear triad” with the implementation of the Minuteman, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), and the Navy’s Polaris, Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM), complementing the B-52 bomber force. Each force provided the United States with different strategic options to independently impose unacceptable damages on the Soviet Union. In response, war planners formed the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, in order to coordinate a National Strategic Target List, and prepare a Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) for the execution of a nuclear war. The essence of the first SIOP was the targeting for a massive nuclear strike on military and urban-industrial targets in the Soviet Union, China, and their allies. To ensure strict secrecy, an exclusive marker classification — Extremely Sensitive Information (SIOP-ESI) — was established so that only those with a “need-to-know” would have access to the documents and targeting plans. Not until the mid-seventies did the existence of the SIOP become public record, while much of the information is still highly secret and may never be declassified.
All Minot AFB personnel involved in the operational delivery of nuclear weapons to predetermined targets held SIOP-ESI clearances, including the B-52 crewmembers, all personnel whose work required access to weapons and targeting plans, and the capsule crews in the underground missile Launch Control Centers. This would restrict the information and witness testimony available to Blue Book investigators, and explain SAC headquarters’ periodic inquiries to Blue Book staff over the course of the investigation. Initially, from Colonel J. A. Weyant in the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations regarding Blue Book investigative procedures and strict compliance to AFR 80-17. Moreover, by Col. H. V. Pullen, assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Brig. General Richard Stewart, responsible for managing the dissemination of Sensitive Classified Information, in which unauthorized disclosure could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security. This concern, particularly regarding Blue Book chief Lt. Col. Hector Quintanilla’s conclusions, is evident in a telephone conversation with Pullen on Tuesday, 29 October, when
Col Pullen requested that Col Quintanilla send a preliminary report so that he could give it to General Stewart to get this thing simmered down. Send it SSO [Special Security Office] SAC, attention Col Pullen. He requested that Col Quintanilla hit a little heavy on what happened to other aircraft on occasions like this, this would help to play the issue down.
Col. Werlich was also in contact with SAC headquarters. During a conversation with Blue Book on Thursday, 31 October, Lt. Marano complained to Werlich “that SAC was giving us trouble because they wanted to know what we are doing.” Werlich then informs Marano that before notifying Blue Book on 24 October, he had phoned SAC requesting technical assistance for the investigation but “we didn’t get it and we have tried to do what we could.” Apparently, when he phoned SAC he spoke with Col Weyant, who had directed him to comply with AFR 80-17. He then mentions, “Gen Hollingsworth is interested.” Later in the conversation, he informs Marano that he has forwarded all of the information he obtained in his investigation to General Hollingsworth for briefing the second in command, Vice Commander in Chief, Lt. Gen. Keith Compton, and the briefing was probably taking place as they were speaking (3:00 p.m. CST, 31 October).
The next day, Friday, 1 November, Quintanilla finally responded to Pullen’s earlier request to “play the issue down,” suggesting that the radar and air-visual observation by the instructor pilot, Maj. James Partin
AND PERSONNEL ON THE GROUND IS MOST PROBABLY A PLASMA OF THE BALL-LIGHTNING CLASS …. I CONSIDER THE UFO REPORTS AS FAIRLY ROUTINE, EXCEPT FOR THE PLASMA OBSERVATION WHICH IS INTERESTING FROM A SCIENTIFIC POINT OF VIEW. WE WILL STUDY THIS REPORT IN MORE DETAIL WHEN WE RECIEVE THE RAW DATA FROM MINOT.
Nearly a week later, on 7 November, Col. Pullen demanded that Quintanilla complete his report:
SAC COMMANDER AND STAFF ARE EXTREMELY INTERESTED IN THIS ITEM. REQUEST A COPY OF YOUR REPORT OF THIS INCIDENT BE FORWARDED THIS HEADQUARTERS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. IF ANY DIFFICULTY IS ENCOUNTERED SECURING RAW DATA OR ASSISTANCE FROM MINOT PLEASE ADVISE. YOUR EXPEDITIOUS HANDLING OF THIS INCIDENT IS APPRECIATED.
Clearly, SAC is closely monitoring the progress and conclusions of the Blue Book investigation. Moreover, it seems evident they are purposefully managing the information and data available to the Blue Book investigation, and thereby facilitating its function to normalize all UFO reports.
For example, following the B-52 air-radar UFO encounter, the pilots were preparing to land when they received an order from a General officer to continue back around the traffic pattern in order to overfly a stationary UFO and photograph it. The specific request by the General, or the request relayed by RAPCON and co-pilot Runyon’s response, should appear in the communications transcript — but are clearly absent. McCaslin recalls Runyon’s response to the request:
McCASLIN: My memory is that the tower asked us to go take a visual look at what was out there. I heard the pilot saying things to the tower that made it clear to me that is what they wanted, and he was not too keen to do it. He said something like, ‘Okay, look, I’ll go, I’ll do one visual pattern, and then I’m putting this thing on the ground.’
Furthermore, following 4:21 CDT (0921Z) the time-code references have been omitted for the entire final circuit of the traffic pattern. Additional omissions include the RAPCON vector directing the B-52 to turn left onto the 290-degree downwind leg, which is when the B-52 pilots observed the UFO ahead of the aircraft for several minutes before turning over it onto the base leg, and apparently any pilot-RAPCON conversations during the air-visual encounter. Capt. Runyon recalled conversations with RAPCON and the second loss of radio transmission during the close approach:
RUNYON: Okay, well [the radio] went off again, because the controllers were asking me, you know, if we had it and so forth. I’m talking to them. Then after we went by it and turned towards the runway the radios came back in. Of course, they had me change and trying different frequencies and everything, but there was [nothing] wrong with the radios.
In 2001, Maj. Partin recalled the excitement upon viewing the object:
PARTIN: When I described to the crew over the interphone what I was seeing, the navigator, the radar navigator and everybody tried to get up in our lap in the cockpit and — [laughs].
Capt. McCaslin, down in the belly of the B-52, recalls his apprehension at being invited up to have a look:
McCASLIN: I heard the pilot say something like ‘[expletive], look at this,’ and they were talking back and forth about it, apparently we flew right over the thing. At one point, I think the Aircraft Commander said, ‘Come on up here and take a look at this thing,’ and I indicated that I was not about to get out of a perfectly good ejection seat and climb upstairs with no parachute to look at whatever this was. Because it occurred to me that if I were someone in a strange place investigating things and this huge aircraft flew over me at a very low altitude — I am not sure what I would have done. I wanted to make sure that I had something that would get me out of the airplane if they took umbrage at that.
Regardless, the communications transcript reads as if the final go-around of the traffic pattern was merely routine and uneventful. At the very least, whoever transcribed the RAPCON communication tapes lacked experience and proper equipment for accurately displaying the encoded time references. On the other hand, the omissions correlate specifically to the air-visual observation of a huge, luminous UFO at very close range by highly qualified military observers.