Narrative of UFO Events at Minot AFB
on 24 October 1968
2. B-52 Air-radar UFO Observation (3:44-4:02)
In the midst of the events, a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress long-range bomber of the 23rd Bombardment Squadron, 5th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) at Minot AFB, returned from a 10-hour training mission. The precise time the B-52 returned, and particularly, its whereabouts for the first hour and a half of the UFO observations are not clearly established in the Project Blue Book documentation. Col. Werlich later commented in the Basic Reporting Data:
AT THE TIME OF THESE EVENTS, A B-52 WAS IN THE LOCAL AREA. THE AIRCRAFT INITIALLY ARRIVED IN THE AREA ON A 50 [NAUTICAL] MILE RADIUS CLEARANCE WITH A BLOCK ALTITUDE OF FL210 [Flight Level 21,000 feet] TO FL230 AND BEGAN VARIOUS INSTRUMENT PRACTICE MANEUVERS INCLUDING A VERTICAL “S” PATTERN. THIS TOOK PLACE AT ALMOST THE SAME TIME AS THE FIRST GROUND SIGHTING.
The B-52 Navigator, Captain Patrick McCaslin, recalls that they were returning about 3:00 in the morning, possibly from Grand Forks AFB, east of Minot:
McCASLIN: I want to say we’d been over to Grand Forks and shot some approaches there. I don’t think we had done a lot of navigation-type things like low-level routes, or high-level bombing, or any of that stuff. I think it was mostly a pilot’s-type mission. But at some point around—my memory is about 3:00 in the morning—we showed up at Minot, and the reason I think we were coming from Grand Forks, my memory is that we were coming from the east to the west and flew an approach of some kind into the runway, did a low approach as I remember it.
Upon entering the Minot area, defined by a 50-nautical mile circumference around Minot AFB under the control of Minot, Radar Approach Control (RAPCON), the B-52 pilots practiced routine high-altitude instrumented procedures. Because of their altitude, and with the landing lights turned off, it is doubtful that anyone on the ground could possibly have seen them, particularly with the extended overcast above 10,000 feet altitude.
The B-52 Co-pilot, Captain Bradford Runyon Jr., recalls during a February 2005 interview:
RUNYON: I think we did some high altitude work, probably some vertical S’s, maybe some steep turns you know, maybe some 60-degree bank turns.
INTERVIEWER: That is at 20,000?
RUNYON: Right, at higher altitude, like for the vertical S’s we might have gotten a block from 20 to 30; or 30 to 40,000 feet for that.
INTERVIEWER: That is what?
RUNYON: Just go up and down, certain air speeds, certain rates of descent and then do 60-degree banking turns—that is high altitude. We are probably at 40,000.
INTERVIEWER: So nobody could see you up there.
RUNYON: No, no way, and we were probably not over our base anyway—were out in the middle of nowhere. 
Following this, the B-52 departed FL200 and descended from the southeast for a low approach over the runway at Minot AFB. At 3:34 [3:44], co-pilot Capt. Runyon requested clearance to fly out to the Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) aid, referred to as the TACAN initial approach fix, or simply “WT fix,” located 35 nautical miles to the northwest near Bowbells, North Dakota. Werlich comments:
AFTER A VOR PENETRATION, LOW APPROACH AND MISSED APPROACH TO RUNWAY 29 AT MINOT AFB THE AIRCRAFT CLIMBED TO FL200 ON A HEADING OF 292 DEGREES
The Transcription of Recorded Conversations between Runyon and the RAPCON ground controller begins at 3:34 [3:44], and establishes a timeline and relative location of the B-52 over the next hour. However, the first statement at 3:30 [3:40] notes RAPCON controllers “received information on UFO 24 miles NW” of the base. The source of the information is unknown. The location is in Mike-Flight about 7 miles west-northwest of the observers at N-7, who were reporting another UFO in the southeast.
Transcript of tape for 24 Oct 68 from 0830 to 0915
[3:30 to 4:15 a.m. CDT]
ct = [radar approach] controller [MIB]
ac = [B-52] aircraft [JAG 31]
tw = [control] tower
03:30 Controllers received information on UFO 24 miles NW [3:40] 03:34 JAG 31 a B-52 on a TA calibration check to rw [runway] 11 requested clearance to WT at FL200 [3:44] 03:34 ac $MIB approach control does JAG 31 have clearance to WT fix at FL200? [3:44] ct JAG 31 roger climb out on a heading of 290 climb and maintain 5000. Standby for higher altitude. We’re trying to get it from center now. 03:35 ct JAG 31 climb and maintain FL200 [3:45] ac Roger 31 leaving 5000 for 200 ct 31 roger ct And JAG 31 on your way out to the WT fix request you look out toward your one o’clock position for the next 15 or 16 miles and see if you see any orange glows out there. ac Roger roger…glows 31 ct Somebody is seeing flying saucers again. ac Roger I see a …(garbled)
When it became apparent the pilots were being asked to search for a UFO, Aircraft Commander Capt. Don Cagle excused himself from the flight deck, and for the remainder of the flight isolated himself in the bunk area leaving Runyon and Major James Partin—a non-crew pilot being evaluated by Cagle during this mission—in charge. Cagle planned to be on a commercial flight to Atlanta later that morning for a job interview with Delta Airlines. He had missed a similar appointment one month earlier, due to an unannounced Operational Readiness Inspection on base. His concern was that any direct involvement would require him to be present at Minot and miss yet another opportunity for a new career.
After RAPCON’s request at 3:35 [3:45] for the pilots to look out in the direction of N-7 for “any orange glows out there,” and a final “(garbled)” response, there were no further communications with the B-52 for 7 minutes. Ascending to the flight level altitude at 20,000 feet, the pilots would have had limited ability to see anything as a result of the extended overcast and haze reported above 10,000 feet. When communications resumed at 3:52, the B-52 was about 34 nautical miles northwest of the base, and in the beginning stages of executing a standard 180-degree right turnaround back over the WT fix. On completion, the aircraft was aligned on a straight approach to the runway to begin its descent back to Minot AFB. Once again, RAPCON alerted the B-52 crew, “0352 [JAG]31 the UFO is being picked up by the weathers [sic] radar also, should be at your 1:00 [o’clock] position 3 miles now.” Runyon responded, “We have nothing on our airborne radar and I am in some pretty thick haze right now and unable to see out that way.”
McCaslin, downstairs in the belly of the B-52, aroused Radar Navigator Major Charles (Chuck) Richey, requesting that he switch the radar to a 360-degree surveillance mode designated “Station Keep.” In this mode, the coverage is elevated and concentrated close to the aircraft; used primarily for formation flying, and lining up behind the docking boom of a KC-135 air-refueling tanker. Following this, McCaslin noticed a bright echo appear on his radarscope in the same location indicated by the weather radar:
McCASLIN: We’re climbing out to do this approach, and we were asked to keep our eyes open for anything strange. No one had said anything like UFO or anything like that. It was just, “Keep your eyes open for anything.” Since I was flight-following the approach anyway, I asked Chuck to put it in Station Keep mode, because I figured if there is anything in the area my best chance to see it would be in Station Keep—more energy, closer. And he did that for me. As we climbed out, I monitored the direction we were heading, the altitude, and I watched the scope. At some point on the way out to the VOR, or to the Nav-aid, I saw a weak—off to our right, maybe 3 miles out—I saw a weak return, one scan. The next scan, there was a very strong return at that location about 3 miles off our right wing, which meant to me that something had either climbed into the radar energy, which was why it would be weak as it entered it, and then was about co-altitude in the next sweep, or it could’ve descended into it. Don’t know which. But it was clear that something was out there and it was large. It was as big or bigger than a KC-135. My impression was it was a larger return than the KC-135 gave me. So I called the pilots and said, “There’s traffic off our right wing at 3:00. Looks like co-altitude,” and nobody saw anything. So I kept watching this thing. The pilot’s basically said, “Keep us advised,” and I think I may have called them a time or two and said “It’s still out there.”
McCaslin also requested that Richey switch on the 35mm camera mounted over the top of the radarscope. The camera films the 10-inch radarscope, while superimposing the data plates via a separate optical path. It automatically exposes one frame during a three-second time exposure, which is equal to one complete rotation of the radar beam sweep.
Safely turning a B-52 around requires about a three-mile radius, and the presence a large, unknown aircraft at co-altitude inside the turn-radius presented a serious safety concern for the crew. Yet, as the B-52 banked around the wide turn, McCaslin watched the object on the radarscope moving out to the northeast, while maintaining the three-mile separation in relation to the turning aircraft. This allowed the B-52 to safely turn inside, and the object ultimately assumed a position 3 miles to the left of the B-52 at the completion of the turnaround:
McCASLIN: I advised the pilots that it was still out there, and as we approached the VOR [WT fix], my memory is that we were going to make a right turn into the VOR . . . and then start our descent over the VOR headed back toward the base. And that was of some concern to me because we were turning into this thing.
INTERVIEWER: It was off your right side?
McCASLIN: Yeah, and I may have—I can’t believe that I would not have advised the pilots, “we’re going to be making a right turn in the direction of this thing,” and it was, “Keep us advised.” So they started their turn back to the VOR, and my clear memory is that as we turned back, this return moved out at the same rate we were turning in—it moved out to the northeast—and by the time we rolled back out headed southeast to start the approach it was 3 miles off our left wing, and I advised the pilots of that.
INTERVIEWER: So it moved relative to you? How many miles?
McCASLIN: I can’t remember the turn rates of a B-52 anymore—but relative to a track over the ground, it must’ve moved 6, 7, 8 miles to the northeast to accommodate the turn we made.
INTERVIEWER: You’re implying intelligence there, aren’t you?
McCASLIN: Yeah, I guess I am.
INTERVIEWER: What did you think at the time this thing was?
McCASLIN: I really didn’t—I don’t know that I thought it was anything. I mean my first concern was that it was an aircraft of some kind. I was worried about hitting an aircraft.
At 03:56, the B-52 requested routine approach procedures, acknowledging “wilco” to RAPCON’s request to “report leaving [FL]200 on this approach.” Shortly after, the aircraft would pass over the WT fix and depart FL200 to begin its penetration and descent back to Minot AFB. At this time, the object’s return on the radarscope remained as bright as it had been, indicating to McCaslin that the UFO was following at a distance of 3 miles, while also descending at the same rate as the B-52. It was now clear to the crew that a large unidentified object was keeping pace with them, though there was little they could do except keep a watchful eye on the situation.
McCASLIN: We’re now in the descent and this thing’s apparently descending with us. I advised the pilots of that. It seemed to me that the pilots were getting a lot more interested in it. There seemed to be a lot of talk on the intercom, ‘Do you see it? I still don’t see it,’ that kind of thing. It’s clear now that whatever this is [was] staying with us, and that’s cause for concern, since—I think there were calls to the tower, although I may not have heard those, I think there were calls about, “Do you have traffic?”—and no one was owning up to any traffic in the area. . . . As we descended on the approach, it stayed as bright as it had been, which for a navigator means, or a radar navigator, it is remaining co-altitude. In other words, it is descending at the same rate we are.
At 3:58, the B-52 abruptly lost two-way communications with RAPCON, at the same time that the UFO suddenly reduced its distance from three miles to one. The seemingly instantaneous change of position occurred in less than a three-second sweep of the radar antenna. Runyon recalls that the object’s movement occurred so unexpectedly that it startled Radar Navigator Ritchey, and by the shrill tone of his voice over the interphone, for a second, Runyon imagined that a collision was imminent. McCaslin recalls:
McCASLIN: So at some point in the descent, with this thing still shining out there, I saw it at 3 miles on the left, and then the next scan it was at one mile. I mean it was just—there was no sense of it closing. There was no time for that. It was at 3 miles at one point, and the next scan it was one mile off our left wing. I was on the intercom immediately and called the pilots and said, “Hey, this thing’s one mile off our left wing now,” and, well I knew whatever it was, in my own mind, at that point I knew there was something there that I’d never seen on radar. The ability to close 2 miles and stop instantaneously was—although I wasn’t a pilot yet, I went to pilot training 2 months after that and I did a lot of flying, and I don’t know of anything—been a lot of R&D since I got out—but certainly at that time, and during [my] career when I was flying as a pilot I didn’t know of anything that could go laterally in 3 seconds, 2 miles, and just stop.
INTERVIEWER: And maintain your airspeed.
McCASLIN: Right. It was maintaining our descent rate, and then just laterally into one mile—perfect formation. So the pilot’s were telling me they were looking. They still didn’t see anything. No one claimed to see anything at that point. And it was about that time that the tower, and I don’t remember exactly how the loss happened, but the tower either lost our transmission to them, or we lost contact with the tower, but we did not have two-way communications with the tower anymore.
INTERVIEWER: And at what point did you realize that was the case?
McCASLIN: That happened as soon as I called up—right about the time I called up and said, “This thing’s a mile off our left wing.”
INTERVIEWER: When you start to do your descent for approach, that’s when your radios go down?
McCASLIN: No. We started the descent; it stayed 3 miles off our left wing. At some point during the descent it moved in to a mile. And just from one scan to the next—at that point, we lost two-way communications with the tower.
Capt. Runyon, from his position on the flight-deck, recalls the abrupt change of position of the UFO and loss of radio transmission occurring at the WT fix, prior to the start of descent. Due to the sudden loss of radio transmission he was concerned about his inability to report leaving FL200.
RUNYON: The Navigator told me that we had something off our right wing at 3 o’clock and of course I am looking there too, and I really can’t see it.
INTERVIEWER: At that point you are in what direction in relation to the base?
RUNYON: We’re still flying away from the base and we still haven’t reached our TACAN penetration point. So we’re flying out through there with the object showing on radar, and I don’t know whether it blended in with the night and the clouds, haze, or whatever we had. I don’t know why I couldn’t see it…. And so we reached our penetration point and our radios had quit working when the object got in close to us. I’m not sure just at what point I realized that we couldn’t talk to the ground, but we made our turn and penetration back towards the base and departed our altitude without receiving permission, which bothered me at the time because it was basically illegal to change your altitude without approval beforehand. 
Runyon’s recall is consistent with his later communications in the transcription at 4:04, when the controller asked, “I was wondering how far out did you see that UFO?” “At 35 miles when we started in,” Runyon replied.“I wonder if that could have been your radio troubles,” queried the controller. “I don’t know,” Runyon said, “but that’s exactly when they started.”
After the B-52’s radio transmission abruptly broke off in mid-sentence, the B-52 could still hear the controller, but RAPCON could not hear the B-52, and were apparently unaware of the UFO pacing the aircraft. The controller requested them to “squawk ident,” which meant to use the aircraft’s SIF/IFF transponder to paint a bright blip on RAPCON’s radarscope, signaling that the pilots could hear the controller’s transmission. Satisfied that the B-52 could hear them, the controller then contacted the Minot AFB Control Tower to clear the runway for the approaching B-52:
03:58 ac Approach control 31 ct 31 go ahead… 31 go… JAG 31 Minot go ahead… 03:59 ct JAG 31 Minot approach go ahead… JAG 31 if you hear me squawk ident… 31 Minot 04:00 ct JAG 31 if you hear me squawk indent…. JAG 31 ident observed cleared for the approach attempt contact on frequency 271.3 and you’re cleared for the low approach ct to tw Tower this is on JAG 31, disregard, he’s about 24 miles out but can I have clearance on him now for a low approach, he might be having radio problems tw Cleared for low approach wind 15002 ct JAG 31 you’re cleared for low approach wind 15002, if you hear me squawk ident ct JAG 31 if you’re having any other difficulties besides radio transmitter squawk mayday…. (no mayday squawk was received)
The B-52 attempted to communicate with RAPCON on two different UHF radios but neither would transmit during this time. However, they were able to signal RAPCON they were in no immediate danger, which was a grave concern, since three weeks earlier a B-52 experiencing technical problems on approach had crashed, killing four crewmembers.
The B-52 continued its descent, still unable to visually observe the pacing UFO through the haze. According to Werlich, the “RADAR ECHO ACCOMPANIED AIRCRAFT TO APPROXIMATELY 14 NAUTICAL MILES, 296 RADIAL, APPROXIMATELY 9,000 FEET MSL,” at which point it departed. As the object left his radarscope, McCaslin’s impression was it descended, dropping out of the radar energy, so he noted the precise ground coordinates in the bomb navigation system. At the same time, the B-52’s radio transmission with RAPCON was suddenly restored.
04:02 ac Minot approach control JAG 31 how do you hear ct You’re loud and clear how me ac Roger you’re loud and clear ct Remain this frequency ac Our UFO was off to our left there when we started penetration ct Roger understand you did see something on your left side ac We had a radar return at about a mile and a quarter nine o’clock position for about the time we left 200 to about 14 04:03 ct JAG 31 how do you hear this transmitter? ac You’re loud and clear how me ct You’re loud and clear also ac OK. I’ll stay on this frequency? ct Affirmative I was wondering how far out did you see that UFO? ac He was about 1½ miles off our left wing at 35 miles when we started in and he stayed with us ‘til about 10 ct I wonder if that could have been your radio troubles ac I don’t know.… but that’s exactly when they started.
Col. Werlich provides two separate accounts of the B-52 radar encounter in the documentation. The first is a 24 October, Memo for the Record of his telephone conversation reporting the incident at 4:30 p.m. (CDT) to Project Blue Book chief Lt. Colonel Hector Quintanilla, Jr., and his assistant 2nd Lieutenant Carmon Marano, in the Aerial Phenomenon Branch at the Foreign Technology Division (FTD), Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Evidently, Werlich had spent most of the day trying to reconstruct the events. This Memo for the Record provides a calculated speed of the UFO and its initial position to the right of the B-52, though the right-to-left (of the B-52) movement appears out of sequence. He initially informed Blue Book duty officer Sgt. Harold Jones “that the crew of a B-52 had sighted and photographed an [sic] UFO and that the Base Commander and Major General Nichols of the 15th Air Force were both interested.” Jones contacted Marano, who returned to the office and informed Quintanilla, before phoning Werlich back. Marano asked whether he required an immediate reaction, to which Werlich responded “No,” however, “since it was such an unusual sighting he [Werlich] wanted to know if we could help him in any way.” Marano asked for the details:
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 2½ mile in 3 sec or at about 3,000 mi/hr. After passing from the right to the left of the plane it assumed a position off the left wing of the B-52. The blip stayed off the left wing for approximately 20 miles at which point it broke off. Scope photos were taken. When the target was close to the B-52 neither of the two transmitters in the B-52 would operate properly and when it broke off both returned to normal function.
Col. Werlich’s second account, written four days later in his comment section of the Basic Reporting Data, provided some corrections to the original report, and more details, while omitting the weather radar detection; initial B-52 radar detection to the right-side of the aircraft; the right-to-left (of the B-52) movement of the UFO; and the speed calculation.
AFTER ROLLING OUT OF A RIGHT TURNAROUND TO THE TACAN INITIAL APPROACH FIX, A BRIGHT ECHO SUDDENLY APPEARED 3 MILES ABEAM AND TO THE LEFT OF THE AIRCRAFT. THE ECHO RAPIDLY CLOSED ON THE AIRCRAFT AND REMAINED AT ABOUT 1 MILE. AT THIS MOMENT THE UHF TRANSMISSION FROM THE B-52 TO RAPCON WAS INTERRUPTED IN MID-SENTENCE. THE RADAR ECHO CONTINUED WITH THE AIRCRAFT DURING ITS TACAN PENETRATION FOR ABOUT 20 MILES. RAPCON HAD REQUESTED THE AIRCRAFT TO CHANGE UFH FREQUENCIES TWICE BUT THE AIRCRAFT WAS UNABLE TO TRANSMIT ON EITHER FREQUENCY. THE B-52 UHF RECEIVER WAS NOT AFFECTED NOR WAS THE IFF/SIF IDENTIFICATION FEATURE AFFECTED. DURING THIS TIME, RADAR SCOPE PHOTOS WERE OBTAINED AND CLEARLY SHOW THE RADAR ECHO. AS SOON AS THE ECHO DISAPPEARED THE B-52 UHF TRANSMITTER BECAME OPERATIONAL. WHATEVER CAUSED THE ECHO WAS NOT VISUALLY SIGHTED BY THE AIRCRAFT CREW MEMBERS NOR WAS IT SEEN BY THE TOWER OPERATOR WHO WAS FOLLOWING THE AIRCRAFT PROGRESS THROUGH BINOCULARS. DUE TO HEAVY HAZE AND SEVERAL CLOUD LAYERS, THE AIRCRAFT WAS NOT VISIBLE THROUGHOUT THE APPROACH. 
During the B-52 radar encounter, the missile Wing Security Control communication network was patched-in to RAPCON, and the underground capsule crews were closely following the progress of the B-52. The Oscar-capsule crew allowed Flight Security Controller SSgt. Smith to listen-in to the comunications between the B-52 and RAPCON, though the radio transmission was patchy and difficult to hear:
SMITH: Matter of fact, we had an officer I think on the phone with the capsule crew, and of course I was patched in, they were asking me questions, and they said, “Well OK, we’ll have a diversion of this B-52 crew coming in,” and they gave a time when it would be coming. . . . They described it, said, “We’re breaking off” and then it followed them back for a certain time, and my understanding was that they lost them on radar, and we were able to hear that, they said, “We don’t have them on radar right now.” And so the conversation was, “My gosh what may have happened?” Then when it got within so many miles of the base they were able to pick them up on radar again, and the traffic came. Matter of fact, I remember they kept calling them trying to get them on radio and there was no radio transmission either and everybody was concerned at that time because they hoped they didn’t crash.
FSC SSgt. Bond recalls the November-capsule crew informing him of the B-52 encounter:
BOND: The combat crew did tell me that there was a B-52 being rerouted to the area and they were going to check on it. They also told me that they had been talking to the B-52 crew by radio from the capsule and about seeing the thing, it following them, also about losing all communications in their airplane when it got close to them, and for how many minutes they had no contact with the support base or anything else. Yeah, that was real strange. . . . Not much more than that they were pretty tight lipped about it. They wanted to know what I was seeing.