Investigation of UFO Events at Minot AFB
on 24 October 1968
4. Project Blue Book Investigation
Throughout the 1950s the Air Force was successful in its ongoing public relations campaign. The turning point came in 1965 with a prolonged wave of sightings that continued throughout 1967. A surprisingly large number of cases were reported by scientists and technically trained observers prompting widespread press coverage and some of the first questioning — if not outright criticism — of the Air Force UFO program. Public interest grew enormously over this period, and for the first time the scientific community entered into the debate.
In March 1966, one of the most widely publicized events in the history of the phenomenon occurred over several nights in Michigan. Sightings by over 140 witnesses, including sheriff’s deputies and police officers across numerous counties, resulting in a nationwide furor.
On March 14 and 17, Washtenaw County sheriffs and police in neighboring jurisdictions reported disc-shaped objects moving at fantastic speeds, while making sharp turns, diving, climbing, and hovering. At one point, four UFOs in straight-line formation were observed, and Selfridge AFB confirmed tracking UFOs over Lake Erie.
Deputies Bushroe and Foster stated: “We would have not believed this story if we hadn't seen it with our own eyes. These objects could move at fantastic speeds, and make very sharp turns with great maneuverability. We have no idea what these objects were, or where they could have come from.”
On March 20, near Dexter, Frank Mannor and family, and dozens of other witnesses, reported a domed oval object with a “quilted” surface and lights in the center and each end, which had landed in a swampy field. Sheriff Douglas Harvey ordered all available deputies to the scene. They later chased the flying object in their patrol cars but lost it in the trees.
During the evening of 21 March at Hillsdale College, southwest of Ann Arbor, seventeen female students and the college dean watched a glowing football-shaped object hover in a swampy area. At one point the object darted toward the women’s dormitory before stopping suddenly and retreating back to the swamp. The women called Hillsdale County civil defense director, William Van Horn, who arrived with police to search the area. From the second floor of the dormitory they observed the object at a distance of about 1500 to 1700 feet. After about 10 minutes two dim lights began to grow in brilliance to red and the white. As the lights became more brilliant the object would rise to a height of approximately 100 to 150 feet, stop momentarily, and descend. The object stayed in the area for four hours before vanishing.
The next day, Michigan Congressman Weston Vivian requested an official investigation, prompting Quintanilla to send Blue Book scientific consultant J. Allen Hynek to the scene. Three days later, at the “largest press conference in the Detroit Press Club’s history,” Hynek suggested that what people had seen “could have been due to the release of variable quantities of marsh gas” in which methane gas released by rotting vegetation is spontaneously ignited.
The press pounced on the solution, and “swamp gas” became an object of wide-ranging ridicule and humor across the nation. The New Yorker was openly derisive:
We read the official explanations with sheer delight, marveling at their stupendous inadequacy. Marsh gas indeed! Marsh gas is more appropriate an image of that special tediousness one glimpses in even the best scientific minds.
The uproar was so adverse, that then Michigan Congressman and House Republican minority leader Gerald R. Ford formally called for Congressional hearings.
In April 1966, the House Armed Services Committee acted on Ford’s suggestion and held the first open Congressional hearing on the subject. Facing mounting discontent with the Air Force’s UFO policy, Secretary of the Air Force Harold D. Brown directed the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to locate a university to conduct an independent investigation of the UFO phenomenon. On 7 October 1966, the Air Force publicly announced that the University of Colorado had accepted the UFO study contract under the direction of the eminent physicist, and former head of the National Bureau of Standards, Dr. Edward U. Condon.
While the conclusions of the two-year study would eventually lead to the long-anticipated closing of Project Blue Book, for the time being, the Air Force was relieved of its public relations pressures as the focus shifted to the University of Colorado UFO study, and for the most part, the press and public adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Air Force Regulation 80-17
In September 1966, responsibility for the UFO program transferred out of the intelligence community to the Deputy Chief of Staff, Research and Development. This move put Blue Book within the Air Force scientific community, supported by the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) in the Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. A revised UFO regulation, issued on 19 September as AFR 80-17, reflected the official change in attitude concerning the importance of UFOs, while allowing Blue Book to submit UFO reports directly to the University of Colorado UFO study.
This regulation establishes the Air Force program for investigating and analyzing UFOs over the United States. It provides for uniform investigative procedures and release of information. The investigations and analyses prescribed are related directly to the Air Force's responsibility for the air defense of the United States. The UFO Program requires prompt reporting and rapid evaluation of data for successful identification. Strict compliance with this regulation is mandatory.
The program objectives were two-fold, omitting the third objective in previous regulations concerning the mandate to reduce the percentage of unidentifieds to the minimum:
To determine if the UFO is a possible threat to the United States and to use the scientific and technical data gained from study of UFO reports. To attain these objectives, it is necessary to explain or identify the stimulus which caused the observer to report his observation as an unidentified flying object (AFR 80-17, Sec. A, par. 2).
To implement the program, UFO reports were referred to the nearest Air Force base and each base commander was required to provide an investigative capability. In this case, Minot AFB Commander Col. Ralph Kirchoff designated Lt. Col. Arthur Werlich, head of the 862nd Combat Support Group, Operations Division, as liaison to the UFO program. Werlich’s primary responsibility was to collect data, collate a formatted list of Basic Reporting Data, and provide his initial analysis and comment on the possible cause or identity of the stimulus in a supporting statement. He will make every effort to obtain pertinent items of information and to test all possible leads, clues, and hypotheses. The investigating officer who receives the initial report is in a better position to conduct an on-the-spot survey and follow-up than subsequent investigative personnel and analysts who may be far removed from the area and who may arrive too late to obtain vital data or information necessary for firm conclusions. The investigating officer's comments and conclusions will be in the last paragraph of the report submitted through channels (Sec. C, par. 10).
This was Col. Werlich’s first official UFO investigation.
Notifying Blue Book
Following the UFO events on Thursday, 24 October, in the afternoon Col. Werlich contacted SAC headquarters requesting technical assistance for his investigation. Denied assistance, Col. J. A. Weyant in Operations directed him to act in accordance with AFR 80-17. At 4:30 p.m. (CDT), he telephoned Project Blue Book duty officer SSgt. Harold Jones at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, reporting that:
The crew of a B-52 had sighted and photographed an UFO and that the Base Commander and Major General Nichols of the 15th Air Force were both interested.
Jones called assistant Lt. Carmon Marano, who returned to the office to inform Blue Book chief Lt. Col. Hector Quintanilla before phoning Werlich back at Minot AFB. Since it was such an unusual sighting, Werlich wanted to know if Blue Book could help in any way. Marano then asked him for the details of the sighting.
At about 0300 hours local, a B-52 that was about 39 miles northwest of Minot AFB and was making practice penetrations sighted an unidentified blip on their radar. Initially the target traveled approximately 2-1/2 miles in 3 sec — or about 3,000 mph. After passing from the right to the left of the plane it assumed a position off the left wing of the 52. The blip stayed off the left wing for approximately 20 miles at which point it broke off. Scope photographs were taken. When the target was close to the B-52 neither of the two transmitters in the B-52 would operate properly but when it broke off both returned to normal function.
At about this time a missile maintenance man called in and reported sighting a bright orangish-red object. The object was hovering at about 1000 ft or so, and had a sound similar to a jet engine. The observer had stopped his car, but he started it up again. As he started to move the object followed him then accelerated and appeared to stop at about 6-8 miles away. The observer shortly afterward lost sight of it.
In response to the maintenance man’s call the B-52, which had continued its penetration run, was vectored toward the visual which was about 10 mile northwest of the base. The B-52 confirmed having sighted a bright light of some type that appeared to be hovering just over or on the ground.
Fourteen other people in separate locations also reported sighting a similar object. Also, at this approximate time, security alarm for one of the sites was activated. This was an alarm for both the outer and inner ring. When guards arrived at the scene they found that the outer door was open and the combination lock on the inner door had been moved.
Quintanilla then requested information on other radars and control tower personnel observations; observational data from the 14 witness sightings to determine if they were looking at the same object, or stellar bodies; and whether anyone had observed a physical object. Finally, it was determined that exact time sequences for the events were necessary and Werlich agreed to gather the information.
Over the next four days, Werlich gathered and collated the information necessary to complete the formatted list of Basic Reporting Data prescribed in AFR 80-17. On Friday, 25 October, the November security personnel returned to base, and both Airman First Class Joseph Jablonski and A1C Gregory Adams completed the AF-117 Sighting of Unidentified Phenomena Questionnaire. On Saturday, November-Flight Security Controller SSgt. James Bond, and Oscar-FSC SSgt. William Smith completed AF-117s. During his interview, Smith recalls informing Werlich of numerous, earlier reports of lights observed near the Oscar-2 missile silo — up near the Canadian border. He maintains that afterwards Werlich took a camper vehicle and spent some time up at O-2. What came of this is unknown. There is no mention to Blue Book, and any results were never reported back to Smith.
On Monday, 28 October, the missile maintenance team of A1C Robert O’Connor and A1C Lloyd Isley recall being awakened early in the morning and instructed to report to Base Operations. Isley recalls being informed by Werlich that a B-52 had picked something up on radar, but the main purpose was to have them complete the AF-117’s.
In the Basic Reporting Data, Werlich includes B-52 navigator Capt. Patrick McCaslin, and the non-crew pilot Maj. James Partin in his list of military observers, though none of the B-52 crewmembers were interviewed. Partin completed an AF-117 on Wednesday, 30 October, two days after Werlich submitted the Basic Reporting Data to Blue Book.
Werlich also declared,
NINE OTHER MILITARY MEMBERS STATED THAT THEY VISUALLY OBSERVED AN OBJECT, HOWEVER, ONLY ONE [OF] THESE WAS IN A POSITION TO CONTRIBUTE ANY PERTINENT INFORMATION.
He does not name these additional witnesses, though presumably they include security personnel at Mike-1, Juliet-1, and the Security Alert Team at Oscar-1, identified in the list of observers by the Wing Security controller in his summary. In any case, it is unfortunate that he didn’t at least record basic observational data, specially those at diverse locations such as Mike-1, Juliet-1, and O-6; which, combined with observations at N-1, N-7, and O-1, would have provided a means of triangulation to determine whether they were all observing the same object. Surely, it would have resolved any probability they were observing a fixed celestial object.
SAC Headquarters Intervenes
At 11:15 a.m. (EST) Monday, 28 October, Blue Book duty officer SSgt. Jones received a call from Col. J. A. Weyant in Deputy Chief of Staff/Operations at SAC headquarters inquiring about the procedures by which Blue Book receives and investigates UFO reports, while underscoring that
‘The investigator [Werlich] would handle it in accordance with AFR 80-17.’ Sgt Jones told him that was right. Col Weyant then said, ‘then you can’t do anything until you receive their report,’ Sgt Jones said, ‘that’s right.’
Weyant asked Jones if there have been “any other reports for that period of time from that area” and requested that whoever was responsible for handling the report give him a call, before ending the conversation. Shortly after, at 12:50, Weyant phoned again and spoke with Lt. Marano, wanting to “know if we (Lt Marano) had received any indication of any other reports from Minot. Marano informed him that we haven’t received any other reports from that area.” After establishing that both Marano and Quintanilla had spoken with Werlich, who had agreed to do the investigation,
Col Weyant said he was trying to determine whether ADC [Minot AFS] had any known phenomena on radar. Col Weyant asked Lt Marano if we [Blue Book] ever participated in any investigations. [Marano responded] Very seldom do we ever go out in the field. As far as Lt Marano was concerned Col Werlich was quite competent and he did not feel that Col Werlich needed any additional help at this time.
What follows is a somewhat cryptic comment indicating that Weyant had already been in contact with Werlich:
Col Weyant said he gave Col Werlich the guidance and he guessed that Col Werlich got our telephone number out of the regulation. Col Weyant said he felt that we couldn’t give him any more information so he ended the conversation.
Basic Reporting Data and Format
Late on Monday, 28 October, Col. Werlich completed the Basic Reporting Data section per AFR 80-17. At 10:28 p.m. (CST), he electronically transmits the eight-page report via Teletype (TWX) to Project Blue Book (FTD), and several other Air Force agencies specified in the regulation. Supplying Blue Book staff with data and information necessary to prepare the final case report fulfilled Werlich’s principal responsibility under the regulation. However, over the next two weeks Blue Book staff continued to request supplemental information.
Tuesday morning, 29 October, Lt. Marano phoned Minot hoping to speak with Werlich, who was unavailable since he was flying that morning. He then spoke with a Mr. Carber who informed him that the UFO report was completed and “sent out this morning or would be sent out today.”
Earlier in the day, it appears Blue Book received an inquiry from SAC headquarters, since at 3:30 p.m. Quintanilla telephoned Colonel H. V. Pullen, assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, who requested “a brief rundown on the Minot sightings.” Quintanilla began to wander through possible, if tenuous, explanations for the various observations, suggesting that the B-52’s radio transmitter might have caused the radar echo, “since it occurred for only a short period of time.” Then, referring to the lengthy sighting period, “I feel some of the men were looking at celestial bodies” because of a temperature inversion in the lower atmosphere causing the stars to scintillate. He adds, “there were a number of stars in the area at the time.” Pullen then said that he would “like to receive a preliminary report giving a quick look.” Quintanilla consented to the request, while explaining that the sightings took place over a period of more than two hours, which “is too long to make an accurate report.” Finally submitting he was “pretty sure” the B-52 radar return “was either caused by an internal radar malfunction that also caused the blip or because of the [temperature] inversion he might have also picked up an anomalous blip.” Pullen asked whether they had sent anyone to Minot to investigate, to which Quintanilla responded,
We did not send anyone up because I only have four people on my staff, myself, an assistant, a secretary and an admin sergeant. I talked to Col Werlich for over thirty minutes and since this didn’t appear [too] unusual I didn’t send anyone up. 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 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.
Early Wednesday morning, 30 October, Lt. Marano phoned Minot Base Operations to learn that Col. Werlich was still flying. He spoke with a Sgt. Hoy, requesting that Hoy have Werlich obtain additional information and TWX it to him. The first part is a request to, “Have the navigator [McCaslin] accompany someone and go out and interview the individual observers at the missiles sites.” By this time, Werlich had already interviewed principal ground witnesses, though he had not forwarded the completed AF-117 Sighting of Unidentified Phenomenon Questionnaires.
Marano also requested statements from aircraft personnel regarding the B-52 radar and air-visual sighting (which may have prompted Werlich to have Partin complete his AF-117 that same day). He also requested information on other radar systems in the Minot area, if additional radars or ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) onboard the B-52 painted anything, and whether the equipment was checked out by ground maintenance after the B-52 landed. Werlich had suggested in the Basic Reporting Data that “the Oscar-7 alarms could be attributed to a circumstantial effort of pranksters,” and Marano requested “a statement that the missile sites had been broken into before and what results.” Finally, he requested that additional materials be sent by mail, including a map of the area; a plot of the B-52 flight path from 02:58 CDT until landing with time sequence markings; the AF-117 reports from each observer; and copies of the B-52 radarscope photos.
On Thursday afternoon, 31 October, Werlich telephoned Blue Book. Over the course of a long conversation, he endeavors to address all of the supplemental questions solicited by Marano, while qualifying his comments and conclusions in the Basic Reporting Data. At the very end of the conversation, he says that this would be his last communication.
Col Werlich said he would be flying tomorrow and Monday. Col Werlich said he had done the initial investigation in accordance with the regulation and I’m at the limits of my capabilities. Col Werlich I can send supplemental data and will if we make our desires known and inform what specific information we need. Col Werlich said we were hoping for technical assistance and we didn’t get it. Lt Marano told Col Werlich we felt that he was doing an adequate job as far as technical data. Col Werlich said this was his first report and didn’t know how to ask questions or anything and he had spent too much time on it already.
With the end of Werlich’s involvement came the end of the evidence available to Quintanilla as he formulated his final case report. At this point, we will review Werlich’s data and conclusions in the Basic Reporting Data, along with his qualifying statements in response to Blue Book’s request for supplemental information.