By Doug Moe
GOOD STUDENTS of Madison history will know that on Nov. 23, 1953, an F-89 Scorpion jet airplane took off from Truax Air Force Base on a test flight of newly installed engines. Less than a half-hour later, the jet crashed into a marsh in the Arboretum, killing both Air Force pilots aboard.
What many may not know - I didn't, until reading an extraordinary story Wednesday in a Canadian newspaper - is that on that same date, Nov. 23, 1953, a second Truax Scorpion jet, also carrying two pilots, disappeared under mysterious circumstances while airborne on assignment. This second aircraft has never been found. The mystery has endured for more than half a century, and according to the story this week in the Ontario newspaper, it "is considered a classic UFO case."
One reason the disappearance of the second jet may have faded from Madison lore is that in November 1953, it was temporarily based at the Kinross Air Force Base in Michigan. But the crew - pilot Felix Moncla and radar observer Robert Wilson - lived in Madison and the stunning top-line Capital Times headline the next day, Nov. 24, 1953, read: "Second Truax jet, 2 fliers missing."
Nearly 53 years later, they're still missing.
It all started about 12:30 that Monday afternoon, Nov. 23, 1953. The F-89 with Lt. John Schmidt and Capt. Glenn Collins took off for a short flight to test the afterburners of newly installed engines. The test went fine and the pilots provided instrument readings to the tower and headed back to base. Witnesses said the jet was flying low when there was an explosion on board.
The Capital Times reported: "The explosion hurled mud and plane parts over trees, broke upper limbs on some trees, shook buildings in the area, and cracked a storm window in one home in the vicinity." Both pilots died.
Less than six hours later, another F-89 was in the air over northern Michigan, with pilot Moncla and radar observer Wilson on board. The Capital Times reported that the plane and pilots "were part of a Truax Field contingent stationed temporarily at Kinross Air Base to substitute for Kinross personnel engaged in gunnery maneuvers at Yuma, Ariz."
The Kinross base was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A little after 6 p.m., radar at Kinross spotted a large unidentified object in restricted air space over the Soo Locks near the U.S.-Canadian border.
Moncla and Wilson were sent to track the unidentified craft. The facts of what happened next are in some dispute, but most seem to agree that radar tracking the F-89 showed it closing in on the unidentified craft over Lake Superior. Then, inexplicably, the two radar blips - the F-89 and the unidentified craft - merged on the radar screen.
Donald Keyhoe, a UFO researcher, ex-Marine and director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, studied the incident and wrote the following about pilot Felix Moncla and his jet: "Guided by an Air Force Ground Control Intercept radar station, Moncla followed the unknown machine out over Lake Superior, flying at 500 miles an hour. Minutes later, a GCI controller was startled to see the blips of the jet and the UFO suddenly merge on the radar-scope. Whatever had happened, one thing was certain: The F-89 and the UFO were locked together."
That concurs with an early (Nov. 25) Capital Times report: "The Truax jet was followed on the radar screen at Kinross until its image merged with that of the plane it was checking - then it was lost."
According to the Canadian newspaper this week, Moncla's last words from the cockpit were, "I'm going in for a closer look."
According to Keyhoe, the Air Force quickly retracted the part of the story about the blips "merging," claiming the radar had been read incorrectly. And U.S. officials said the unidentified craft was an off-course Canadian airliner.
From the outset, Canadian air officials denied that any Canadian aircraft was in the area at that time.
If not, what was the blip and what happened to the Truax F-89? Keyhoe says the Air Force gave Moncla's widow two versions of what they believed happened. She was first told he was likely flying too low and crashed into the lake; later another officer told her the jet had exploded at high altitude.
The UFO angle has proved irresistible to those inclined to believe in extraterrestrial visits. A Canadian UFO investigator, Gordon Heath, was quoted extensively in a story out of Alexandria, La., on the 50th anniversary of the disappearance in July 2003. Moncla was a native of Louisiana.
Heath said he's convinced that the U.S. government has covered up what really happened to that Truax jet. He said radar experts have told him the likelihood is that the plane was "swallowed up by the UFO."
Heath continued, "I have a strong inclination where all this is going. That Moncla and Wilson were captured by a UFO."
That was three years ago, and any definitive explanation of what happened to the second doomed Truax jet has not surfaced from wherever the truth may reside - the bottom of Lake Superior, perhaps, or somewhere beyond the stars.
Also see; What Happened to Felix Moncla?
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