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 a certain 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; particularly since classification levels for defense radar systems, and all activities pertaining to the operational delivery of nuclear weapons, were 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.
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 through 1967. A surprisingly large number of cases were reported by scientists and technically trained observers, and prompted widespread press coverage and some of the first questioning — if not criticism of the Air Force UFO program. Public interest grew enormously, 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 caused 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,” whereby 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.
Investigation of UFO Events at Minot AFB
on 24 October 1968
Col. Werlich organized his comments and conclusions at the end of the Basic Reporting Data into six sections (pp. 5-8):
- The initial ground observations and subsequent activities (5).
- The B-52 activities, including radar and air-visual observations until landing (5-7).
- The Oscar-7 break-in and SAT investigation (7-8).
- The observation of two similar objects by the ground observers (8).
- Comments that the ground observations were probably of the B-52 (8).
- Four occurrences that cannot be explained:
- Cause of the radar echo;
- Cause of the loss of B-52 UHF radio transmission;
- Cause of B-52 air-visual observation and simultaneous ground observation in the same location;
- Cause of Oscar-7 break-in (8).
He avoided commenting on the cause or stimulus of the B-52 radar and air-visual encounters, and evidence of two similar UFOs. Instead, the primary focus of his analysis was an attempt to demonstrate that the majority of ground observations were actually misidentifications of the B-52.
Initial Ground Observations
Werlich’s first comment is a very brief summary of the initial ground observation and events up to the dispatching of the November-Security Alert Team to N-7.
(1) THE FIRST SIGHTING OF THE OBJECT (A BRIGHT LIGHT) WAS MADE BY AIRMAN O CONNOR AND ISLEY WHILE DRIVING TO NOVEMBER 7 MISSILE SITE. THEY REPORTED THIS SIGHTING TO THE WING SECURITY CONTROLLER OVER THE VEHICLE RADIO. WING SECURITY CONTROLLER THEN ALERTED ADJACENT FLIGHT SECURITY CONTROLLERS TO THE SIGHTING. WSC ALSO NOTIFIED THE 91ST MISSILE WING COMMAND POST AND THE BASE OPERATIONS DISPATCHER. THE BASE OPERATIONS DISPATCHER NOTIFIED THE TOWER OPERATOR AND RAPCON AND ARRANGED A PHONE PATCH TO THE VEHICLE. HE INSTRUCTED AIRMAN OCONNOR TO DESCRIBE WHAT WAS HAPPENING AND THEN PROCEEDED TO MAKE A LOG OF EVENTS CONTAINING TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES. SSGT BOND SENT A SECURITY ALERT TEAM, AIRMAN ADAMS AND JABLONSKI, FROM NOVEMBER 1 SITE TO ASSIST AT NOVEMBER 7.
In the data section, Werlich notes the time period of the observations as “24 OCT 68-0800Z (0300 CDT) UNTIL APPROXIMATELY 1015Z (0515 CDT),” and length of time as “[VISIBLE] 2 HOURS, 15 MINUTES.” Based on information in the AF-117’s, both the maintenance team of A1C O’Connor and A1C Isley, and Oscar-Flight Security Controller SSgt. Smith reported independently at 2:30 a.m., while the Camper Team (and Target Alignment Team) at Oscar-6 reported their observation to Smith at 2:15.
Werlich also has the reporting sequence somewhat misconstrued. At 2:30, O’Connor and Isley reported their initial observation while driving “5 MILES NORTH OF GRANO” to base Transportation Control (not the “WING SECURITY CONTROLLER”), who forwarded their call to the Base Operations Dispatcher. At the same time, Smith reported his observation to SSgt’s Neal and Underhill at the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, Security Control (WSC). The dispatcher notified RAPCON, established a phone patch to the maintenance team's vehicle radio, and proceeded to log the events beginning at 0800Z (3:00 a.m.). In addition, after arriving at N-7 and entering the Launch Support Building adjacent to the silo, O’Connor reported to November- Flight Security Controller SSgt. Bond, who reported the maintenance team’s observation at 3:08 to Technical Sergeant Bowles at WSC.
It appears as though Werlich is ignorant of the data and information contained in the AF-117s. As a result, he simply assumes that the maintenance team reported the first observation at 3:00, perhaps based on the first entry in the Base Operations dispatcher’s log at 0800Z. In addition, the length of time that a UFO was visible and reported is actually over 3 hours (2:15-5:18 [5:34]).
Werlich’s second comment is a summary of the events concerning the return of the B-52 also at 3:00 a.m. (CDT), i.e., “THE AIRCRAFT INITIALLY ARRIVED …. AT ALMOST THE SAME TIME AS THE FIRST GROUND SIGHTING.”
(2) 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 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 precise time the B-52 arrived back at Minot is never stated, nor the locations established before the beginning of the communications transcript at 3:34 [3:44], when the B-52 is on low approach over the runway. B-52 Navigator Capt. Patrick McCaslin recalls that they returned from Grand Forks AFB, ND, east of Minot AFB around 3:00. Upon returning, Co-pilot Capt. Bradford Runyon recalls practicing high-altitude maneuvers, most likely to the east of Minot over open country:
RUNYON: I think we did some high altitude work probably some vertical S’s, maybe some steep turns, some 60 degree bank turns.
INTERVIEWER: So, that’s 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: And that is what?
RUNYON: Just, you know, go up and down, certain air speeds, certain rates of descent . . .. Then do 60-degree banking turns, that’s high altitude …. We are probably at 40,000.
INTERVIEWER: So nobody could see you up there, and you don’t have your landing lights on?
RUNYON: No, no way, and we were probably not over our base anyway — were out to the middle of nowhere. So yeah, the higher the altitude the harder it is to hold the airplane up in a steep bank.
Clearly, the original sightings could not have been the B-52, particularly since they began 45 minutes before the B-52 returned to the Minot area. In addition, when the B-52 arrived under the control of RAPCON on a 50 nautical mile radius clearance, it remained at altitudes well above 20,000 feet practicing high-altitude maneuvers. The B-52’s landing lights would not be on; moreover, weather conditions specified a heavy haze and overcast from about 10,000 to 20,000 feet. It is most likely the B-52 remained east of Minot AFB until after 3:30, when it would be southeast on a heading of 290 degrees in preparation for the descent from FL200 [Flight Level 20,000 feet] and low approach over the runway at 3:44. Following this, the location of the B-52 is known until its terminal landing at 4:40. Nevertheless, Werlich informed Marano on Thursday:
The courses were quite varied over a couple hours and the aircraft took many courses. It will be interesting to crosscheck its path with RAPCON versus the ground observers. Most of the original sightings were of the aircraft.
Later in the conversation, apparently feeling a need to justify his position, Werlich told Marano that
he was trying to take a positive approach towards this investigation. Almost 80 per cent were looking at the B-52. If you take a look at an aircraft at 20,000 ft, then you wouldn’t see much but I’m to place logic in that it was there and what they saw was there. There is enough there that it is worth looking at. Nobody can definitely say that these people definitely saw the aircraft, but within reason they probably saw it.
In his fifth comment, written several days before his conversation with Marano, Werlich’s official record on the matter is much less ambiguous:
(5) IN COMPARING THE AIRCRAFT ACTIVITY AND TIMES CONTAINED ON THE RAPCON TAPE RECORDINGS WITH THE BASE OPERATIONS DISPATCHER’S LOG OF GROUND OBSERVATIONS, IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE AND HIGHLY PROBABLE THAT THE INITIAL SIGHTING AND SUBSEQUENT ACTIVITIES OF THE OBJECT WERE IN FACT THE B-52 ACCOMPLISHING UPPER AIRWORK.
The second part of the comment, when compared to the brief notations in the Base Operations Dispatcher’s log, offers some possibility that the observers were misidentifying the B-52. For example, Werlich noted:
 LATER SIGHTINGS OF BRIGHT LIGHTS AND FLASHING GREEN AND WHITE LIGHTS ACCOMPANIED BY A LOW JET ENGINE SOUND CORRELATES WITH THE B-52 MAKING A VOR PENETRATION, LOW APPROACH AND MISSED APPROACH. PORTIONS OF THE MANEUVER ARE ACCOMPLISHED WITH THE AIRCRAFT LANDING LIGHTS ON. THE HAZE AND LAYERED CLOUD CONDITIONS COULD HAVE DIFFUSED LIGHT SOURCES AND MADE IDENTIFICATION DIFFICULT.
Following are the pertinent notes in the dispatcher’s log for comparison. Bear in mind, after 3:30, the B-52 is high in the southeast on descent to the runway, and on low approach directly over the runway at 3:44. Moreover, overcast weather conditions were only from cloud tops at 24,700 down to 9,000 feet. Below the air was cool and clear with excellent visibility at 25 statute miles. For example,
3:30. Just are in sight now when it passed over site it looked like two high headlights. Moving real slow when oversight [sic] — could hear engines.
3:33 . Disappeared – moved S/E to far from eyesight.
3:36 . Disappeared for three minutes then reappeared. Same spot and moving back toward N-7.
3:38 . Coming out of S/E once more.
3:40 . Hovering 3 miles away 1 to 2000 feet very dim white light.
3:41 . Moving toward N-7 again, light getting brighter. Hovering.
3:42 . In one position.
3:44 . White lights went out, green light on and moving rapidly now. Green light gone out and white light coming back on.
Although the brief second-hand notations by the dispatcher are difficult to interpret, some of the descriptions present a possibility that the observers were reporting the B-52. On the other hand, these few minutes are the only time during the entire reporting period when a possible correlation exists. Moreover, what is particularly striking is the uniformity in the UFO descriptions from observers at diverse locations and perspectives, which do not suggest an aircraft. All of the reports describe a very large, self-luminous, round or oval-shaped object, which alternated colors from a very bright white to orangish-red to occasionally green, with an ability to hover, and change direction and speed abruptly.
A. DESCRIPTION OF THE OBJECTS. (1) SHAPE WAS DESCRIBED BY VISUAL SIGHTING AS “JUST ABOUT ROUND, A LITTLE OBLONG IF ANYTHING.” THE SHAPE ON AN AIRBORNE B-52 RADAR SCOPE WAS VERY SHARP AND IRREGULAR AND AT TIMES RECTANGULAR. (2) [Size compared to a known object]. VISUAL SIGHTING COMPARED OBJECT SIZE TO BE EQUAL TO THE SUN, VERY LARGE, TOO BIG FOR AN AIRCRAFT. RADAR SIGHTING DESCRIBES THE SIZE ON THE SCOPE TO BE LARGER THAN THAT OF A KC-135 DURING AERIAL REFUELING. (3) COLOR WAS A VERY BRIGHT RED ORANGE MOST OF THE TIME. (4) THE INITIAL SIGHTING WAS ONE OBJECT. THE ONE OBJECT WAS JOINED BY ONE OTHER LIKE OBJECT FOR A SHORT TIME. THE AIRBORNE RADAR SIGHTING WAS A SINGLE RETURN ON THE SCOPE. (5) THE TWO OBJECTS, WHEN TOGETHER DID NOT RESEMBLE A FORMATION AS SUCH. (6) [Any discernible features or details]. WHEN VIEWED FROM ABOVE BY A B-52 CREW, THE OBJECT [HAD A] FAINTLY WHITE OBLONG HALO ON ONE SIDE WITH AN ORANGE SPOT ON THE OTHER SIDE AND THE BODY APPEARED TO BE A BRIGHT WHITE LIGHT. ONE SOURCE DESCRIBED THE OBJECT, AS SEEN FROM THE GROUND ALMOST OVERHEAD, TO BE SIMILAR IN GENERAL OUTLINE TO A STING RAY FISH. (7) [Tail, trail or exhaust]. NOT OBSERVED. (8) [Sound]. WHEN ALMOST OVERHEAD, A LOW, MUFFLED JET ENGINE SOUND WAS HEARD. THIS OCCURRED TWICE DURING THE SIGHTINGS. (9) [Other pertinent or unusual features]. THE ABILITY TO HOVER AND TO CHANGE DIRECTION AND SPEED ABRUPTLY.
B-52 Air Radar Encounter
At 3:34 [3:44], the Transcription of Recorded Conversations commences between the B-52 pilots and Minot AFB, Radar Approach Control (RAPCON); however, the first entry at 3:30 [3:40] is the curious statement “Controllers received information on UFO 24 miles NW.” This location is in Mike-Flight, about 7 miles west-northwest of N-7. At the time, the observers at N-7 were reporting a UFO in the southeast, while the B-52 was southeast of the base on approach to the runway. There are no other reports of a UFO in this location, and the source of the information is not identified.
Werlich continues in his comment section:
 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.
At 3:44, on low approach to the runway, the B-52 pilots request clearance to the TACAN initial approach fix, referred to as the “WT fix,” 35 nautical miles northwest of the base. RAPCON instructs them to climb on a heading of 290 degrees and maintain 5000 feet. At 3:45, they are provided clearance to FL200, then following:
And JAG 31 on your way out to the WT fix request you look out toward your 1:00 [o’clock] position for the next 15 or 16 miles [in the direction of N-7] and see if you see any orange glows out there… . Somebody is seeing flying saucers again.
As the B-52 climbed up into the overcast to 20,000 feet, for the next 7 minutes there are no communications with the controllers until 3:52, when RAPCON alerted the pilots that “the UFO is being picked up by the weathers [sic] radar also, should be your 1:00 [o’clock] position three miles.” Co-pilot Runyon responded, “We have nothing on our airborne radar and I’m in some pretty thick haze right now and unable to see out that way.”
At the time, the B-52 was still heading out to the northwest and in the early stages of completing a standard 180-degree right turnaround back over the WT fix. B-52 Navigator Capt. McCaslin asked Maj. Richey to switch to Station Keep mode, in which the radar coverage is elevated and concentrated close to the aircraft. Shortly after, he recalls:
McCASLIN: At some point on the way out to the nav aid [WT fix], I saw a weak — off to our right, maybe 3 miles out, I saw a weak return, one scan. The next scan was a very strong return 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. 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 said, ‘Keep us advised,’ and I may have called them a time or two and said, ‘It’s still out there.’ 
In the data section Werlich notes the
POSITION OF AIRCRAFT DURING AIR-ELECTRONIC OBSERVATION: INITIAL SIGHTING POSITION WAS 38 NAUTICAL MILES NW OF THE DEERING TACAN 300 DEGREES RADIAL, FL200.
As the B-52 banked around the wide turn, the UFO maintained its distance, traversing six miles to the northeast outside of the B-52 turn radius; or to a position three miles off the left wing after the B-52 completed the turnaround. McCaslin recalls:
McCASLIN: I can’t believe that I would not have advised the pilots, you know, ‘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 [WT fix]. My clear memory is 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.
Following the turnaround, the UFO began pacing the B-52 until the aircraft reached the WT fix to begin the descent back to the base. At this point, within a 3-second sweep of the radarscope, the UFO appeared to instantaneously close distance to one mile on the aircraft at what would be an extremely high-rate of speed, while altering course to match the heading, speed, and descent of the B-52.
Werlich’s original report to Blue Book included estimates of the closure speed, and acknowledges a right to left (of the aircraft) passage of the UFO, though the sequence is transposed:
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 52.
On the other hand, in the official report, he omits the UFO passing from right to left of the B-52, and simply notes after the turnaround, “A BRIGHT ECHO SUDDENLY APPEARED 3 MILES ABEAM AND TO THE LEFT OF THE AIRCRAFT.” Moreover, he does not provide specific data or estimates of the closure rate, other than stating, “THE ECHO RAPIDLY CLOSED ON THE AIRCRAFT.”
 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.
Although Werlich remains oblivious to the weather radar detection of the UFO, he nevertheless provides the exact location of the B-52 at the time of the initial air-radar observation at “38 NAUTICAL MILES NW 300 DEGREES RADIAL.” He indicates the same location on his Overlay Map, including the initial position of the UFO three miles to the right of the B-52, and the secondary position of the UFO six miles northeast of the original position (three miles to the left of the B-52 after the turnaround).
On Thursday, 31 October, in responding to Marano’s earlier request for information on other radar systems, Werlich insisted the only radar system that detected a UFO was onboard the B-52.
Anyway, I’m sending the RAPCON TAPES, PHOTOS, and an overlay showing a movement of the aircraft, description of the aircraft movement prior to VFR [Visual Flight Rules]. Aircraft was going through maneuvers and it would be almost impossible to track it perfectly cause he was doing steep turns, “S” turns, etc. Now time and duration of the sighting was in my message. Speed of the B-52 was in the TWX. I only stated one radar in the message because there was only one radar set. The [B-52’s] ECM [Electronic Counter Measures] equipment hadn’t been used. RAPCON was painting, IFF [Identification Friend or Foe] equipment was operating in the airplane. It’s a fairly good size blip. Every time it sweeps it shows the blip. The object would have been covered by the blip. There is a Sage site to the south [Minot AFS]. They do not remember having any unidentified paints. The only one I have is the one on the plane.
Even after Werlich sent Blue Book “the RAPCON TAPES” confirming the weather radar detection of a UFO correlated with the B-52, in the weeks following he did not respond to requests from Marano for additional information regarding the weather radar. Werlich also said he would send Blue Book an “overlay showing a movement of the aircraft.” Later in the conversation, he informed Marano that the overlay was based on a classified 200-series bomb-targeting map chart, and due to security restrictions he was sending an overlay to save time, while directing Blue Book to acquire the classified master chart at Wright-Patterson AFB. He then told Marano:
Gen Hollingsworth has been given all the information that Col Werlich obtained. Col Werlich said that Gen Hollingsworth was briefing Gen Compton and this briefing was probably going on at the time that Col Werlich was speaking with Lt Marano (time was approx 2 pm, EST, [Thursday] 31 Oct).
The impression is that Werlich prepared the original map at the behest of Hollingsworth for briefing SAC Commanders. Following receipt of the Basic Reporting Data, if Blue Book had not specifically requested the supplemental information it seems unlikely that Werlich would have forwarded any of the supporting documentation.
B-52 Loss of Radio Transmission
At 3:58, as the B-52 cleared the WT fix, within one sweep of the radarscope the UFO appeared to instantly close distance on the aircraft. At the same time, the B-52 radio transmitters failed. When the UFO departed and communications resumed after 4:02, RAPCON queried Capt. Runyon wondering “if that could have been your radio troubles,” to which he responded, “I don’t know, but that’s exactly when they started.”
According to Werlich, when the echo rapidly closed to one 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 UHF 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.
Werlich stated that “RAPCON REQUESTED THE AIRCRAFT CHANGE UHF FREQUENCIES TWICE BUT WAS UNABLE TO TRANSMIT ON EITHER FREQUENCY.” According to the communications transcript, at 4:00, RAPCON requested the B-52 “attempt contact on frequency 271.3” without response, until 4:02 — after the UFO had disappeared from the radarscope — when they were asked to change to 326.2 and heard loud and clear. On Thursday, referring to the fact that the B-52 had two separate UHF radios onboard; Werlich explained to Marano that the crew changed both radios with no difference in functioning, which discounts the possibility of equipment malfunction.
The unusual part is the B-52 was in the middle of a sentence and the voice just quit transmitting right in the middle of the word. Because we had an accident a couple of weeks ago we were quite interested. Ground control asked them if they had any trouble to give Mayday Squawk. The airplane changed both UHF and neither would transmit but they could receive, and each time to show that they could receive they hit the ident squawk which would last for thirty seconds each time. There was quite a bit of this. The navigator [saw] the paint disappear as fast as it appeared. My personal opinion is that it couldn’t be a malfunction because they transmitted before and afterwards. The aircraft was not checked out afterwards because the transmission was working. I didn’t know if the heavy haze would have been enough to blank out the transmission.
Later in his comment section, Werlich listed the radar echo and loss of transmission as two of the
(6) FOUR OCCURRENCES THAT CANNOT BE CORRELATED OR EXPLAINED AT THIS LEVEL ARE: (A) WHAT CAUSED THE AIRCRAFT RADAR ECHO. (B) AIRCRAFT LOSS OF UHF TRANSMISSION.
Certainly there is a correlation between the close approach of the UFO and the UHF transmission failure. Later, during the B-52’s overflight of the UFO on or near the ground, Runyon recalled that the radio transmitters failed again. In both instances, none of the B-52’s other electronic equipment was affected, nor the radio reception and ability of the SIF/IFF transponders to transmit.
The B-52 continued on its descent to Minot AFB. At 4:02, after the UFO had disappeared from the radarscope and radio communications fully resumed, the aircraft was about 19 nautical miles from the runway emerging below the overcast at 9,000 feet MSL. These estimates are based on our reconstruction of the B-52’s flight track, supported by Dr. Claude Poher’s photogrammetric study of terrain features evident in B-52 radarscope photograph #783, which reveal a section of Lake Darling on the periphery of the scope.
Werlich estimates the B-52 was closer to base at the time of the last radarscope photo:
RADAR ECHO ACCOMPANIED AIRCRAFT TO APPROXIMATELY 14 NAUTICAL MILES, 296 RADIAL, APPROXIMATELY 9,000 FEET MSL.
 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.
Again, Werlich ignores information in the AF-117s. In fact, the Base Operations dispatcher directed the ground observers at N-7 to the precise time and location of the incoming B-52 in the west. At 4:02, the UFO had disappeared from the radarscope as the B-52 emerged below the overcast at 9,000 feet. The ground observers were completely unaware of the B-52’s air-radar UFO encounter and loss of radio transmission, while under the impression that the aircraft had been diverted to check out their UFO observation in the southeast. For example, O’Connor noted, “a B-52 was sent to the area to check out the sighting and was seen west of the object at first.” Security Alert Team member A1C Jablonski compared the bright illumination of the UFO to the landing lights of the incoming B-52:
When the B-52 had flown in its search, it had been using its landing lights which were quite similar in nature. As to avoid confusion between the plane and the object, Base Ops had pointed out where and when we saw the B-52. Must add that the B-52’s engines could be easily heard, while the UFO made no sounds to be heard at about the same distance.
For over an hour, the observers at N-7 had been reporting a UFO in the southeast, but by the time the B-52 appeared high in the west, the UFO had gradually descended to the horizon and was no longer seen in the area.
After the B-52 passed by on its way to the base, the observers at N-7 returned to their respective duties. O’Connor and Isley eventually completed their maintenance work at N-7, secured the site and returned to base. Jablonski and Adams went on patrol, while remaining in radio contact with the Base Operations dispatcher. Along with SSgt. Bond, they continued reporting a UFO in the west until well after the B-52 terminally landed at 4:40. According to Jablonski:
Prior to our return to N-1 it caught our attention again, this time WSW in location. It had appeared as before starting bright orange-red, to white and finally green. The object was stationary at the time and appeared aprox. 1,000 FT above ground. The green light started to diminish slowly [until] no longer seen.
B-52 Air-visual Observation
The B-52 continued on descent to Minot AFB. According to the communications transcript, after 4:04, RAPCON cleared the B-52 for “low approach report missed approach” to the runway. Following this, procedures required RAPCON to direct the B-52 onto the radar traffic pattern, which would ultimately bring them back around to final approach. By 4:06, they had passed the runway and were turning left on the 335-degree crosswind leg of the traffic pattern, at a standard altitude of 3200 feet MSL (more or less 1,500 feet above the ground). After 4:09, RAPCON advised the pilots that if radio transmissions fail while in the traffic pattern they were cleared to take over visually; then vectored the B-52 to turn left to a heading of 290 degrees onto the downwind leg. After a few minutes, this would bring them out in the vicinity of N-7. At 4:13, RAPCON queried Runyon whether they were “observing any more UFOs,” to which he responded, “Negative on radar, we can’t see anything visually.” The controller affirmed, “The personnel from the missile site advise they don’t see anything anymore either.” RAPCON then provided the remaining vectors directing the B-52 to final approach at 4:17.
According to B-52 crewmembers, some time after radio communications resumed the pilots received an unexpected request from a General officer to continue back around the traffic pattern and overfly a UFO on or near the ground. Runyon reluctantly agreed, and rather than landing, at 4:21, requested another “vector around for an IFR, surveillance approach” with a terminal landing or “full stop” at 4:40. RAPCON confirmed, then directed the B-52 to once again “turn left heading 335 maintain 3200” onto the crosswind leg; reminding them that if the radios fail they are cleared to take over visually and land. After this, the remainder of the time code references, including RAPCON’s next vector for the 290-degree downwind leg (when the pilots observe the UFO ahead of the aircraft for several minutes before turning over it), are conspicuously absent from the communications transcript. At some point, RAPCON informed the pilots, “JAG 31 (garbled) requests that somebody from your aircraft stop in at baseops [Base Operations] after you land,” then provided the 200-degree vector to the base leg, 140-degree dogleg, and finally, a 115-degree vector to an “extended final” approach.
The communications transcript reads as if both circuits around the traffic pattern were merely routine and uneventful. In fact, during the second go-around, as the B-52 was turning onto the 290-degree downwind leg, pilot Major James Partin observed a
bright orange ball of light at my one o’clock position. It appeared to be about 15 miles away and either on the ground or just slightly above the ground. The light remained stationary as we flew toward it. I turned onto the base leg about one mile to the South of the light and was above it. The light did not move during this time.
He noted the location of the initial observation as 10 miles northeast of Minot AFB, and the time of the air-visual observation as 4:30-4:35.
According to co-pilot Capt. Bradford Runyon:
RUNYON: Just as soon as we rolled out at wings level [on the downwind leg] there was an orange glow sitting out there, almost off our nose about 11:30 position, a little bit to the left side of the airplane, so we were heading straight to it.
Runyon got busy completing the routine checklists in preparation for landing, but when he eventually looked up and out the pilot’s window they were flying alongside a very large UFO.
RUNYON: We are level and don’t bank until we get right to the end of it. Major Partin started his turn as we got abreast of the end and turned almost over the top of the thing. I am sure we were told to turn by the ground controllers so they knew exactly where we were in relation to it.
During the second go-around, Runyon recalls that RAPCON provided the vectors to fly directly to the location, and turn onto the base leg around and over the top of the UFO. On the other hand, Partin simply notes in his AF-117, “I turned onto the base leg about one mile to the South of the light and was above it.” Werlich locates the B-52 at the 200-degree turn onto the base leg of the traffic pattern for the first go-around: “POSITION OF AIRCRAFT DURING VISUAL SIGHTING: 14 NAUTICAL MILES 320 RADIAL OF THE DEERING TACAN AT 3200 FEET MSL.” He also indicates the location of the UFO within a rectangle representing the “probable area of aircrew ground sighting” two miles further out on his Overlay Map.
Werlich did not interview the B-52 crewmembers, and it seems he did not personally interview Partin before completing the Basic Reporting Data. His brief account is at variance with several details compared to Partin’s AF-117 questionnaire, which was completed two days after submitting the Basic Reporting Data. For example:
 REMAINING AT RADAR TRAFFIC PATTERN (3200 FEET MSL) THE AIRCRAFT COMPLETED ONE GCA [Ground Controlled Approach] AND MISSED APPROACH AND WAS ON A HEADING OF 335 DEGREES [“As I turned on to the (290-degree) downwind leg … I saw a bright orange ball of light.”] FOR A RADAR VECTOR TO THE GCA DOWNWIN[D] LEG WHEN THE INSTRUCTOR PILOT, SITTING IN THE RIGHT SEAT [Partin was piloting from the left seat] VISUALLY SIGHTED AN OBJECT AHEAD AND BELOW. AS THE AIRCRAFT APPROACHED TO WITHIN APPROXIMATELY 2 MILES [“I turned about one mile to the South of the light and was above it.”], THE OBJECT SEEMED TO REMAIN STATIONARY AND CLOSE TO THE GROUND. VISIBILITY WAS REPORTED AS 25 MILES AT THAT ALTITUDE. THE AIRCRAFT TURNED ONTO THE BASE LEG, LOST SIGHT OF THE OBJECT AND CONTINUED WITH A GCA AND TERMINAL LANDING.
Werlich’s description of the UFO also varies from Partin’s account:
WHEN VIEWED FROM ABOVE BY A B-52 CREW, THE OBJECT [HAD A] FAINTLY WHITE OBLONG HALO ON ONE SIDE WITH AN ORANGE SPOT ON THE OTHER SIDE AND THE BODY APPEARED TO BE A BRIGHT WHITE LIGHT.
Partin did not describe “AN ORANGE SPOT,” or the body appearing “TO BE A BRIGHT WHITE LIGHT” in his AF-117. Rather, he described it twice as a “bright orange ball of light,” which compared to a common object looked “like a miniature sun placed on the ground below the aircraft.” These differences suggest that Werlich received a second hand account of Partin’s observation, most likely from Base Commander Col. Kirchoff, subsequent to Partin’s debriefing in Base Operations after landing.
Our 2001 interview with Partin provided some additional details, including his recall of the air-radar encounter that was not mentioned in his AF-117.
PARTIN: I recall we were on a crew mission and we were back in the local area at Minot, and we were about ready to make our penetration and low approach, and I guess we were in the neighborhood of 20,000 feet probably. The radar called and said he had a return off the left wing and did I see anything? I looked up there and did not see anything. All of a sudden, he said “God Almighty!” and I said, “What’s wrong?” He was alarmed, you know, he said that whatever that was took off to our left at a tremendous rate of speed, he couldn’t even measure it.
INTERVIEWER: Is he seeing this on the radarscope?
PARTIN: Yeah, he watched it go. So we forgot it and went on down and were shooting low approaches in the traffic pattern. Somewhere in the process, I changed seats, got into the co-pilot’s seat. I don’t remember doing that — but I remember looking off to my right probably about the 2 o’clock position, as they used to say, and low and I saw a — it was sort of oblong, there were, looked like windows around it that were lit and it was just hovering there… . We must have been around 1500-1700 feet above the ground — you could see houses on the ground from that altitude, and they looked like, you know, the size of dice — a die.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe like a Monopoly house?
PARTIN: Yeah, right, and this was much larger than that… . 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]. 
While Partin’s preoccupation was piloting the B-52 at low altitude, Runyon would have been in a better situation to view the UFO. In a 2000 interview, you get the impression from Runyon’s descriptions that he is struggling to make sense of what he is seeing, over too brief a time.
RUNYON: We were vectored back around over the thing and on our downwind leg, or base leg, then perpendicular to the runway, we were just to the outside of it, so Major Partin could look right down into — over the object. I was in the right seat so I had to look sort of across the airplane. Well, anyway our radios went out again, of course every time the radios went out, you know, they thought we had a problem… . Anyway we’re looking and surrounded by the airplane too, close to the ground things go by real fast so I didn’t have a long time to look at the object, but I could see the part that was — everyone said it was glowing, but anyway, there was pretty much an egg-shaped object on the ground, okay? It was lined up with the runway, but the orange glowing part, which looked like either molten metal, or lava, something like that — it wasn’t shiny or glowing. I mean it was just, well, it was dull… . But the one part that sort of made me wonder whether the thing had turned around, or why it was pointed in the direction it was, then there was a shiny tubular section that came from the end, away from the runway, it was a smooth metallic-looking round tunnel. It attached to a sort of crescent moon-shaped object, which sort of wrapped around the one end of the larger mass, and it was smooth, shiny, metallic-looking, and —
INTERVIEWER: Like a bumper?
RUNYON: Yeah, only bigger, it was a pretty good size too.
INTERVIEWER: The bumper was separated from the object?
RUNYON: Yes, by this tunnel-like thing. But, where the object was curved on the back end — or the front end, whichever it was — the metallic part also had the same curvature, and it was the same width as the rest of it, but just wasn’t very long. I tried looking in there. I could see some lights, and it seems to me I can remember green and yellow. There were lights, and I thought I should be able to see objects in there. We went over real fast and I really couldn’t distinguish anything inside.
Based on discussions overheard from the flight deck, the impression of B-52 navigator Capt. Patrick McCaslin was that they flew directly over the UFO.
McCASLIN: The first time I was aware that the pilots saw anything was after that low approach, when we came back and were basically bombing the position, and when they — there was an expletive from the top, they started describing this thing and asking if I wanted to come up and see it. After the fact, when we were talking in the debriefing, and as we were taxiing in and all that, everybody agreed it was pretty spectacular.
INTERVIEWER: Did he describe it to you?
McCASLIN: I don't remember if it was Brad or one of the other pilots. The description to me was this: that it was an elliptical shape, kind of a cough drop-shaped thing, glowing orange with a boomerang exhaust, or boomerang-shaped exhaust, or whatever — a fluorescence off one end the same color. And that’s all I remember of the description.
Werlich listed the air-visual as the third of
(6) FOUR OCCURRENCES THAT CANNOT BE CORRELATED OR EXPLAINED AT THIS LEVEL ARE: … (C) THE CAUSE OR SOURCE OF VISUAL AIRCRAFT SIGHTING OF A BRIGHTLY LIGHTED OBJECT AS PREVIOUSLY DESCRIBED IN PARAGRAPH A(6) AND A SIMULTANEOUS GROUND SIGHTING IN APPROXIMATELY THE SAME LOCATION.
Werlich is under the impression that ground personnel observed the B-52 overflight of the UFO. In his original report to Blue Book on 24 October, he noted the location of the UFO “about 10 miles northwest of the base,” which is the location of the bright UFO “moving in a large circular area to the south” of N-7 reported by O’Connor and Isley at 3:00, until disappearing around 4:02. Werlich assumes the UFO observed by personnel at N-7 was the same UFO later observed during the air-visual observation and overflight by the B-52 pilots. For example,
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 miles 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.
Early on Monday, 28 October, O’Connor and Isley met with Werlich to complete the AF-117 questionnaires. At this time, Werlich queried the maintenance team whether they did in fact observe the B-52 in close proximity to the UFO on the ground. Later, during his conversation with Marano on Thursday, he explained,
I (Col W) asked if they saw the B-52 come towards the object. We know the B-52 got real close to it. Did they see the object on the ground? (Lt M asked). They were able to see a light source while the 52 got in real close then it disappeared.
It seems that Werlich continues to confuse two distinct incidents separated in time. In fact, the ground observers at N-7 were completely unaware of the B-52’s close overflight of the UFO on or near the ground, which occurred about 26 minutes after their final observation. Nobody reported a UFO in this location, and even the Base Operations Dispatcher was not privy to RAPCON communications during the second go-around, and unaware of the air-visual observation by the pilots.
Col Werlich said Lt Marano should get a section map of the area… . Look on map, half way down the runway, TACAN, 320 radius, 16 nautical miles. This is where aircraft saw the object. There’s farm fields there. There is nothing there that would produce this type of light. The same for O’Connor and [Isley] from November 7 which is near Grano. I have gone over that [area] with a chopper… . I (Col Werlich) think you will find that the most information comes from Airman O’Connor and Isley, and an aircraft instructor [Partin]. Much of their description and discussion incorporates the activity of the B-52. It was only at the end that I was unable [able?] to pin point the fact that they did observe a light source and the B-52. You can see the lights of the base for at least 50 miles away. I (Col W) asked if they saw the B-52 come towards the object. We know the 52 got real close to it. Did they see the object on the ground? (Lt M asked). They were able to see a light source while the 52 got in real close then it disappeared.
Werlich is referring to the B-52 pilot’s air-visual observation of the UFO (at about 4:28), whereas, during questioning O’Connor and Isley were undoubtedly referring to their final observation of the UFO (at about 4:02), when the B-52 first appeared high in the west. At the time, all of the observers at N-7 were under the impression that the B-52 had been diverted to the area to check out their UFO sighting. In either case, they would have seen the B-52 “come towards the object.” They did “see the object on the ground,” low on the horizon in the southeast when it disappeared, and “they were able to see a light source while the B-52 got in real close,” as the aircraft also disappeared low in the southeast on its way to base.
In any case, these discrepancies underscore the lack of resources available for Blue Book investigators to collect and collate all of the available data, and methodically evaluate the information.
Oscar-7 Break-in Investigation
Shortly after the B-52 landed, security alarms at the O-7 missile Launch Facility sounded in the Oscar-Launch Control Center. It was highly unusual for both the Inner-zone and Outer-zone alarms to activate simultaneously, and in this instance, Oscar-Flight Security Controller SSgt. William Smith personally accompanied his Security Alert Team of A1C Donald Bajgiar and A1C Vennedall to secure the site.
Col. Werlich’s third comment in the Basic Reporting Data pertains to the missile silo break-in.
(3) AT 0949 ZULU (0449CDT) OSCAR 7 SITE’S INNER AND OUTER ALARMS SOUNDED AT WING SECURITY CONTROL. OSCAR 7 IS 10 MILES NORTH AND ELEVEN AND ONE HALF MILES EAST OF NOVEMBER 7. A SECURITY ALERT TEAM WAS DISPATCHED AND FOUND THE PADLOCK TO THE CHAINLINK FENCE OPEN AND THE FENCE GATE STANDING OPEN. THIS SET OFF THE OUTER ALARM. INSIDE THE COMPLEX, A HORIZONTAL DOOR HAD BEEN UNSECURED AND LEFT OPEN AND THE COMBINATION LOCK DIAL HAD BEEN TURNED OFF ITS SETTING THUS TRIGGERING THE INNER ALARM. NO TRACKS, PRINTS, OR IMPRESSIONS WERE FOUND.
He listed this as the fourth of
(6) FOUR OCCURRENCES THAT CANNOT BE CORRELATED OR EXPLAINED AT THIS LEVEL ARE: … (D) THE OSCAR 7 ALARMS COULD BE ATTRIBUTED TO CIRCUMSTANTIAL EFFORT OF PRANKSTERS, HOWEVER NO EVIDENCE OF TRESPASSERS WAS FOUND.
An attempt to break into an ICBM missile silo is obviously a serious security concern, though to achieve this required passing through formidable barriers. The 150 Launch Facilities at Minot are dispersed over a wide area to limit an attack from destroying more than a handful. Each of the 15 Launch Control Centers are responsible for 10 Minuteman missiles, while aboveground Launch Control Facilities constantly monitor missile security status.
Surrounding each Launch Facility is a chain-link fence, with a chain and padlocked entry gate, and onsite motion detectors that trigger the outer-zone perimeter alarms. Additional systems prevent unauthorized access to the missile and nuclear warhead. The underground missile silos and support facilities are hardened in concrete and steel, while access is protected by inner-zone alarm systems linked to the respective Launch Control Center, while also networked to the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, Security Control, and SAC headquarters.
In order to access the missile silo and auxiliary equipment rooms required personnel to unsecure a weather cover (navy-style hatch) and enter a combination, which allows for the extraction of the vault door.
This provides the ability to retract the locking bolts, and operate the hydraulic controls that slowly raise the massive steel and concrete primary door (A-plug, or personnel access hatch), allowing access into the shaft. They would then descend a few feet down the shaft and enter another combination into the secondary door, or B-plug, allowing the retraction of several locking pins. The solid steel B-plug, weighing several tons, is suspended in the passageway on a large threaded rod from the lower level of the equipment room. Activating a switch, the plug requires at least 10 minutes to lower far enough for any human to enter the equipment rooms adjacent to the missile silo, while also allowing sufficient time for a Security Alert Team to arrive on site.
In the case of O-7, the gate had been unpadlocked and left standing open. Physical entry onto the site triggered the OZ alarm. In addition, the weather cover was unsecured and left propped open. Inside, someone had turned the combination dial on the vault door off of its setting, thus triggering the IZ alarm.
The unit history of the 91st Strategic Missile Wing for the fourth quarter of 1968 records security alarm violations for the 150 Launch Facilities at Minot AFB. For example, in October there were 17 IZ alarms and 387 OZ alarms. The OZ alarms decreased in October due to a decline in animal activity, but increased overall during the quarter due to accumulations of snow. The unit history also notes an ongoing problem with defective OZ transmitters, particularly their tungsten filaments, which frequently failed due to extreme weather conditions and age. There are no indications of any physical violations of the sites, or the 24 October O-7 break-in.
Though Werlich suggested that this might have been the result of “pranksters,” he seemed less convinced during his final conversation with Marano. The timing of the break-in is quite curious with everything else that was going on, and it is hard to imagine that this violation would not be considered a serious offense.
This is a sensitive subject. Anybody that could unlock the padlock wouldn’t be a prankster from the farm areas. There are keys for these padlocks and it’s hard to judge how many keys have been made. It looks like a navy hatch and underneath is the combination lock. Pranksters just couldn’t go and open it. The person, if it was a person, would have to know how to open it. We have had about three occurrences of this in the last two or three years doing this. All three of these cases were traced back to AP’s. Guys who had been in the service on these areas. It is not a serious offence. 99 chances out of 100, that if a person, a human being, accomplished this thing then it had to be somebody who had a key to the padlock. Lt Marano told Col Werlich that we have no evidence though that the UFO events did this. Col Werlich agreed but said that a Lieutenant examined the area the next day and could find no evidence of cars, tire tracks, footprints, etc. Col Werlich said he didn’t know if an examination [sic] investigation was going on or not but felt they probably were looking into it. Lt Marano asked him to get the results of their investigation.
No further information was provided to Blue Book investigators.
Reports of Two UFOs
Werlich’s fourth comment refers to two similar objects observed concurrently by at least 14 ground observers from various locations, including the security personnel at Mike Flight, Juliet Flight, and Oscar Flight. Werlich simply notes:
(4) AT ONE POINT DURING THE GROUND SIGHTINGS, THE FIRST OBJECT WAS OBSERVED JOINED FOR A SHORT TIME BY A SECOND LIKE OBJECT.
The Wing Security controller noted between 3:20 and 3:25 that
SSgt Smith at Oscar 1 saw the object separate in two parts and go in opposite directions and return and pass under each other. At this time Juliet Flt and Mike Flt Team observed the same things and described it the same way.
During the same period, O’Connor, Isley, Jablonski, Adams, and Bond also reported two similar or “exactly the same” objects moving toward each other and one object disappearing.
Jablonski recalls when they first started out heading east to Mohall, before turning south towards N-7, they observed smaller lights that appeared to be coming off the larger object in the south and streaking to the north before fading out.
JABLONSKI: Well (gestures upward — circles hand), bright lights. Now these lights that I saw coming off it while we were going down there were small you know, almost like shooting stars but they weren’t because they were actually maneuvering (gestures curving paths), and they were going towards the direction of Oscar Flight.
INTERVIEWER: So this object you were seeing in the southeast — and those objects would have been to the east of you going up north?
JABLONSKI: Yeah, and [Adams] saw them too, but he did not want to see them (laughs). I said, “Look at what’s going on!”
INTERVIEWER: Did they just disappear; or come back?
JABLONSKI: They faded out, but there were so many of them.
INTERVIEWER: How many — more than ten?
JABLONSKI: Oh yeah. This is when we first started out, Then we focused mainly on the site [N-7] because we were getting more in a straight line [heading south], and then we were not seeing them anymore.
Again, since Mike Flight extends to the west of N-7, Juliet to the south, and Oscar to the northeast, it is unfortunate that investigators did not acquire complete sighting data in order to triangulate the observer positions and establish the precise time and location of the UFOs.
Two UFOs were reported on at least three other occasions. For example, according to the communications transcript, at 3:30 [3:40] “Controllers received information on a UFO 24 miles NW” of the base (about 7 miles northwest of N-7), at the same time that observers at N-7 were reporting a UFO in the southeast at an estimated distance of 2-5 miles. In addition, during the time of the B-52 air-radar encounter with a UFO at altitude high in the northwest (3:52-4:02), the observers at N-7 continued reporting another UFO in the southeast. Furthermore, the dispatcher noted an observation ostensibly by Bond at 4:26: “Object direct SW of N-1 moving north then lights went out,” which is during the time of the B-52 air-visual observation of the stationary UFO on or near the ground (4:24-4:28).
The problem that Blue Book investigators faced was that ongoing observations occurred over a period of 3 hours, involving various, distinct groups of military witnesses. Quintanilla admitted as much when he informed Pullen, “This business of two hours is too long to make an accurate report.” Given the mandate to reduce unidentified reports to the minimum, and inability to conduct a full-scale investigation, the only possible solution was to broadly generalize a natural phenomenon or object as a cause or stimulus for the reports. Quintanilla explains that rather than investigating, their process was to identify certain characteristics in the sighting reports and simply categorize them. In this case, he ultimately identified the cause of the observations as being a natural phenomenon — of which little is known of its physical nature, and no accepted theory exists for its cause.