Pilot chases UFO, 1956, (Pilot statement)

An Unusual Intercept?

There are many unexplained phenomena; it is not my purpose here
to explain what happened on the mission described below.
However, something unusual clearly happened during an
interception mission flown by two USAF aircraft, belonging to
406th Fighter Interceptor Wing (FIW). Aircraft involved were
North American F-86D Sabres. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to
get first-hand accounts from both pilots involved, first off,
Milton Torres;

"It was a typical English night in Kent. The 406th FIW had
committed to Met [Metropolitan] Sector (RAF) to have F-86Ds
stand alert as an operational requirement. The date was May 20,
1957, and our squadrons were considered combat qualified when
they committed us to the operational requirement. My
recollection seems to indicate that this function was rotated
about England between the various RAF and USAF units. This
particular night the 514th Fighter Interceptor Squadron [FIS}
had the alert duty. Two F-86Ds were on 5-minute alert at the end
of the runway at RAF Station Manston awaiting the signal to
scramble. The hour was late as memory serves me, and the weather
was IFR. Looking back at my log book, a total of 30 minutes of
night weather was logged on a 1-hour and 15 minute flight. The
details such as exactly what hour the scramble occurred or what
we were doing just prior to scramble totally escapes me,
however, the auxiliary power units (APU) were 'on', and the
power was transmitted to the aircraft. We were ready for an
immediate scramble and eager for flight time."

"I can remember the call to scramble quite clearly, however, I
cannot remember specifics such as the actual vector to turn
after take off. We were airborne well within the 5 minutes
allotted to us, and basically scrambled to about Flight Level
310. Our vector took us out over the North Sea just east of East
Anglia. Normally, Dave Roberson, the other member of the set of
two fighters would be lead ship. I can only suggest that I was
leading due to an in-place turn of some sort. I remember in
quite specific terms talking as lead to the GCI [Ground
Controlled Intercept] site. I was advised of the situation quite
clearly. The initial briefing indicated that the ground was
observing for a considerable time, a blip that was orbiting the
East Anglia area. There was very little movement and from my
conversation with the GCI all the normal procedures of checking
with all the controlling agencies revealed that this was an
unidentified flying object with very unusual flight patterns. In
the initial briefing, it was suggested to us that the 'bogey'
actually was motionless for long intervals."

"The instructions came to go 'gate' [select afterburner] to
expedite the intercept, and to proceed to an Initial Point at
about 32,000 feet. By this time, my radar was on, and I was
looking prematurely for the bogey. The instructions came to
report any visual observations, to which I replied "I'm in the
soup and it's impossible to see anything!" The weather was
probably high alto stratus, but between being over the North Sea
and in the weather, no frame of reference was available, i.e. no
stars, no lights, no silhouettes - in short nothing. GCI
continued the vectoring and the dialogue describing the strange
antics of the UFO."

"The exact turns and maneuvers they gave me were all predicated
to reach some theoretical point for a lead collision course type
rocket release. I can remember reaching the level-off and
requesting to come out of afterburner only to be told to stay in
afterburner. It wasn't very much later that I noticed my
indicated Mach number was about .92. This is about as fast as
the F-86D could go straight and level."

"Then the order came to fire a full salvo of rockets at the UFO.
I was only a Lieutenant and very much aware of the gravity of
the situation. To be quite candid, I almost shit my pants! AT
any rate, I had my hands full trying to fly, search for bogeys
and now selecting a hot load on the switches. I asked for
authentication of the order to fire, and I received it. This
further complicated my difficulty as the matrix of letters and
numbers to find the correct authentication was on a piece of
printed paper about 5 by 8 inches, with the print not much
bigger than normal type. It was totally black, and the lights
were down for night flying. I used my flashlight, still trying
to fly and watch my radar. To put it quite candidly I felt very
much like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest."

F-86D 52-10012 of 514th FIS, Manston. The smoke trails indicate
that this aircraft has just fired a salvo of Mighty Mouse
rockets, and is flying through their wake. Note that the rocket
tray is already closed. Visible below the right wing is one of
the scoring cine cameras. (Roberson))

"The authentication was valid, and I selected 24 rockets to
salvo. I wasn't paying too much attention to Dave, but I clearly
remember him giving a 'Roger' to all the transmissions. I can
only suppose he was as busy as I was. The final turn was given,
and the instructions were given to look 30 degrees to port for
my bogey. I did not have a hard time at all. There it was
exactly where I was told it would be, at 30 degrees and at 15
miles. The blip was burning a hole in the radar with its
incredible intensity. It was similar to a blip I had received
from B-52s, and seemed to be a magnet of light. 

These things I remember clearly. I ran the range gate marker over 
the blip, and the jizzle band faded as the marker superimposed over the blip.
I had a lock on that had the proportions of a flying aircraft
carrier. By that, I mean the return on the radar was so strong
that it could not be overlooked by the fire control system on
the F-86D. I use in comparison other fighters and airliners. The
airliner is easy to get a lock on while the fighter, not being a
good return, is very difficult, and, on that type of aircraft, a
lock-on was only possible under 10 miles. The larger the
airplane, the easier the lock on. This blip almost locked
itself. I cannot explain to the lay person exactly what I mean,
save to say that it was the best target I could ever remember
locking on to. I had locked on in just a few seconds, and I
locked on exactly 15 miles [range], which was the maximum for a
lock on. I called to the GCI. 'Judy', which signified that I
would take all further steering information from my radar
computer [rather than the GCI site]".

At this point, it is worth describing the operation of the
F-86D's complex firce control system (FCS). In the F-86D, the
pilot had to do the work of the radar operator, as well as the
flying. After the pilot, with the help of GCI, located the
target on his radar scope, he closed to within 15 miles, where
he could 'lock on' the target, that is, lock his radar on the
target for automatic tracking. He then received steering
information on his scope, and could concentrate on flying the
aircraft to follow the steering signals (represented as a dot on
the 8-inch screen). At 20 seconds to go, a circle began
shrinking on the screen, and the pilot had to increase his
precision to keep the dot centered in the circle, while keeping
the trigger depressed. 

With 4=BD seconds to go, 'Phase III' of the
fire control system operation came into effect, during which the
computer corrected for any movement of the aircraft about the
vertical axis; the pilot then just had to attend to the attitude
of the aircraft. If the pilot was still flying onto his target,
at 2=BD seconds to go, the circuits in the firing section of the
computer were readied for the 'target' to be shot down. Twenty
four 2.75-inch unguided Folding Fin Aircraft Rockets (FFAR) were
the sole armament of the F-86D. Dubbed 'Mighty Mouse', they
weighed 18 pounds each and could be fired in salvos of 6, 12 or
24. As the rockets left the aircraft, they fanned out, to give a
'shot-gun' effect, increasing chances of a kill - each rocket
had the explosive power of a 75mm artillery shell, and traveled
at a speed of 2,600 feet per second. Optimum range for the
Mighty Mouse was around 4,500 feet, with a theoretical maximum
effective range of 9,000 feet.

"Now, back to the intercept of the UFO. I had an overtake of 800
knots and my radar was rock stable. The dot was centered and
only the slightest corrections were necessary. This was a very
fast intercept, and the circle started to shrink. I called '20
seconds', and the GCI indicated he was standing by. The overtake
was still indicating in the 7 or 8 o'clock position. At about 10
seconds to go, I noticed that the overtake position was changing
its position. It moved rapidly to the 6 o'clock, then 3 o'clock,
then 12 o'clock and finally rested about the 11 o'clock

This indicated a negative overtake of 200 knots (the
maximum negative overtake displayed). There was no way of
knowing of what the actual speed of the UFO was, as he [could
have been] traveling at very high Mach numbers, and I would only
see the 200 knot negative overtake. The circle, which was down
to about an inch-and-a-half in diameter, started to open up
rapidly. Within seconds, it was back to 3 inches in diameter,
and the blip was visible in the blackened jizzle band moving up
the scope. This meant that it was going away from me. I reported
this to the GCI site, and they replied by asking, "Do you have a
Tally Ho?" I reported that I was still in the soup and could see
nothing. By this time the UFO had broke lock and I saw him
leaving my 30 mile range. Again, I reported that he was gone,
only to be told that he was now off their scope as well."

"With the loss of the blip off their scope, the mission was
over. We were vectored back to home plate (Manston) and secured
our switches. My last instructions were that they would contact
me on the ground by land line."

"Back in the alert tent, I talked to Met Sector. They advised me
that the blip had gone off the scope in two sweeps at the GCI
site, and that they had instructions to tell me that the mission
was considered classified. They also advised me that I would be
contacted by some investigator. It was the next day before
anyone showed up."

"I had not the foggiest idea what had actually occurred, nor
would anyone explain anything to me. In the squadron operations
area, one of the sergeants came to me and brought me into the
hallway around the side of the pilot's briefing room. He
approached a civilian, [who] looked like an IBM salesman, with a
dark blue trench coat. He immediately jumped into asking
questions about the previous day's mission. I got the impression
that he operated out of the 'States, but I don't know for sure.
After my debriefing of the events, he advised me that this would
be considered highly classified and that I should not discuss it
with anybody, not even my commander. 

He threatened me with a national security breach if I breathed a word about it to
anyone. He disappeared without so much as a good-bye, and that
was that, as far as I was concerned. I was significantly
impressed by the action and I have not spoken of this to anyone
until recent years."

F-86D section view. The radar and fire control system occupies
the area forward of the cockpit. The Might Mouse rockets were
housed in a tray on the fuselage bottom, just forward of the
wing (seen here extended in dotted lines).)

And that would indeed be that, were it not for the back-up of
Milt Torres's element partner on that night, Dave Roberson.
Though Dave sees some details differently, it is clear that
something unusual did occur:

"As I recall, I was the flight leader, and we were on a training
mission making simulated attacks on each other. While on this
flight, we were contacted by someone (probably Manston), and
told to contact a GCI site. I believe it was the site in East
Anglia just north of the Thames (Bawdsey?). They queried me
about the weapons status of our aircraft. We were unarmed, as
was the usual status on training flights, and I so advised. We
were directed to land at RAF Bentwaters where our aircraft were
armed with live rockets."

"We received a briefing of some sort on the ground. I don't
recall by whom, but I believe it was by land line. I
specifically recall being advised that more than one GCI site
and multiple 'unknowns' were involved and that the area extended
into Scotland. I don't recall being advised of other RAF or USAF
aircraft being involved, but would seem probable that they

"After launch, we were vectored independently. Normal procedure
would have been to receive an initial heading and altitude along
with a call-sign and frequency of the GCI site to contact. I
don't recall ever going above 10,000 feet, but Milton [Torres]
was sent to higher altitudes. I was vectored on several of the
unknowns and in spite of the ground clutter, I did get several
pretty good returns, but was unable to maintain radar contact
long enough to get a lock on. Information from the controller
indicated the unknowns were changing speed and altitude quite
frequently. Some of my runs were in the cloud and others were in
the clear. I don't recall how many attempts at radar and/or
visual contact I made, but it was several."

"One [run] I remember quite well was at 3,000 feet. I was told
that the 'bogey' was at angels 3 and at very slow speed. I
recall being told that the unknown was at 12 o'clock and I was
closing. Perhaps because of the ground clutter I never got a
positive radar contact of the unknown. At this point, I believe
I was in in the vicinity of Norwich. As directed, I attempted to
get a visual contact when I closed to less than 2 miles, but was
unable. If the unknown was lighted, he must have blended with
the ground lights. The bogey then either accelerated or
descended and the controller lost him."

"I don't recall whether we became low on fuel or the unknowns
left the area; but at some point the controller rejoined us and
we recovered to Manston. I do not recall being contacted
one-on-one by anyone about keeping the details quiet. However,
due to some of my later activities in the Air Force involving
close-kept operations, where I learned to blank out details in
my mind, this lack of recall does not surprise me. I do recall
Milton was rather excited and talked about getting a lock on one
of the unknowns, but I don't remember the details."

"I might add that during this time frame (spring of 1957), while
either standing cockpit alert or acting as runway control
officer, on two occasions I saw some activity to the south of
Manston [English Channel/North Sea area], which involved several
lighted objects moving in strange ways. They were sometimes
motionless and sometimes accelerating in various directions
which did not appear to be consistent with either fixed wing
aircraft or helicopters known to me at that time. I reported
these to control tower and/or Met Sector, but never requested or
received any explanation of what they were."

Any further comments on this episode would be most welcome. I am
currently working on completing a book solely concerned with the
USAF at Manston. If you can help in either direction, please
drop me a line at the address on my home page.


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