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Sample chapter from "Dawn of the Flying Saucers"...

The following sample chapter comes from my forthcoming book "Dawn of the Flying Saucers", which deals with aerial UFO encounters between 1946 and 1949, with a foreword written by... well, you'll have to wait for that piece of information.

7th January 1948:

The Lockbourne Incident

The original control tower at Lockbourne Field, Ohio, which is now the modern-day Rickenbacker International Airport. The old tower was replaced by a new structure in 2016. Controllers and airmen stationed at the base were witnesses to a UFO incident on the evening of 7th January 1948, just a few hours after the Mantell case across in Kentucky. (USAF, public domain)

Thomas Mantell’s flight to disaster was not the only incident that occurred on 7th January 1948. Another major event, one which has been very rarely touched upon in UFO literature over the years, took place a few hours later over Lockbourne AFB, which was just south of Columbus, Ohio (and now known as Rickenbacker International Airport). However, the story began at Clinton County Air Field (now Wilmington Air Park), about 45 miles to the south-west. Starting at around 1920 hours that evening, two controllers at Clinton County, plus four members of the alert crew (fire response team) at the airfield, spotted something odd in the sky to the south-west. First to see it was Technical Sergeant LeRoy Ziegler, together with an operations clerk whose name is not known. They called the tower and informed them what was visible off to the south-west. Ziegler’s statement takes up the story:

“Object appeared to be moving up and own and from side to side. At one time the object was covered by a cloud but the light could be still seen thru the cloud. It was the same color as a star only very much brighter, sometimes changing to a more reddish hue then turning white or yellow. At first, it did not appear to be traveling at any speed. Then it seemed to go up and down and sometimes change off and go from side to side at what seemed to be a very great speed. It seemed pretty high in the air – too high to be any kind of light from the ground. There was no beam. No sound could be heard. A faint exhaust trail was discernible when it moved up or down or from side to side. Finally, it began to move away towards the SW at very great speed and disappeared over the horizon at about 2000.”[1]

Whilst it is true that Venus can sometimes change colour and move around very slightly when viewed due to various involuntary eye movements, the planet – which never looks like anything more than a bright star – does not move swiftly away at great speed. Other witnesses at Lockbourne tower stated the object looked like “a flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist”. Again, this does not appear to be a description of a star-like planet. It was also capable of being seen through cloud:

“The intense brightness of the phenomena pierced thru a heavy layer of clouds passing intermittently over the area and obscured other celestial phenomena.”[2]

Corporal James H. Hudson, one of the duty personnel at the tower, stated that when first observed, the object was white, then changed to red. It then took the form of an upside-down triangle. When it climbed, it had turned around so it was moving pointed end first. He also claimed the object had headed south-west at great speed before disappearing. It did so at around 1955 hours. Staff Sergeant John P. Haag, another staff member on duty at Lockbourne Field, was an amateur astronomer during his off-duty hours. Investigators made the following notes after interviewing him:

“Witness observed very bright light in the sky south-west of Clinton County AF Base which appeared to be the complete wing of an aircraft on fire. When viewed thru field glasses from the Control Tower the object would gain and lose altitude very rapidly with barely any discernible forward or backward motion. At times it changed colors (from red to green etc.). At one time it disappeared behind the overcast but its light penetrated thru the overcast. At approximately 1945 o’clock it began to move away from the field on a heading of 210° and disappeared over the horizon at approximately 1955.”

Haag decided it was not a comet or a meteor due to his knowledge of astronomy. The witness had watched the object for around 25 minutes.[3]

One of the Tuskegee Airmen, black pilots who had learned to fly during World War Two and who were formed into a segregated unit known as the 332nd Fighter Group, was serving as Assistant Base Operations Officer at Lockbourne Field in January 1948. Captain Charles E. McGee had been flying on the evening of 7th January and was overhead the approach for Runway 23 when he spotted the object. The pilot provided a statement explaining what he had seen, both whilst airborne and after landing:

“1. At approximately 1925 EST on the 7 January 1948 I turned to Runway 23 for an overhead approach at traffic altitude (1,800 feet). Just prior to break-away I saw a very bright white light south-west of the field. I began my 360° approach. It struck me that the light was very unusual and it was not on the ground so I looked in its direction again from my base leg position. It appeared the same and as though it were about 3,000 feet in the air. While on my base leg the light suddenly disappeared. The light did not cast a beam and seemed the size of a flood light. While on my approach it flashed on and off again immediately. I landed and taxied to the ramp thinking it may have been a reflection from the ground or the like.

2. Before flying I had heard part of an interphone conversation from Patterson Center [Wright-Patterson] to Olmsted Center relative to a circular object seen over Tennessee. I returned to the Operations building. While there, the airways operator, Mr. Kisele, said the tower operator, Mr. Boudreaux, reported seeing something unusual south-west of the field. I stated that I had seen an unusual light and suggested calling him to check. We called the tower on the ‘squawk box’, and Mr. Boudreaux said the light was what he had been watching about 13 minutes or so and that through the field glasses it appeared to have bluish streaks like a jet effect out from the right. He stated that it went out while I was in the pattern. During the conversation he said it could be seen again (1935-1940). We went to the tower to observe.

3. From the ground the light appeared to move westward. It was further west and lower than I saw it in the air, also the light was similar to that of a lantern in that it was glimmering. The light varied yellowish to orange and appeared to be descending and burning out. It moved very slowly and finally disappeared. The latter observed may be that in its westward movement it appeared to be fading out and descending, however the light was not nearly as bright on the second appearance. At first it was very white and did not appear to be moving though when it flashed on and off it appeared as in a fast descent. With the naked eye I could at no time make out any shape other than the light being oval shaped as though looking directly at a large spot light.

4. This object was too large and too sharp a light to be a reflection from the ground. It was not a heavenly body of any type in that the sky was solid overcast in the Lockbourne area and the object’s movement outweighs such a thought. I heard no noise in connection with the object. I estimate at the first observation that it was 4-5 miles South-west of the Base. At the second appearance it was 6-7 miles West and moved Westerly in a hovering manner but moving away. The winds at this time were West-South-west averaging 6 miles per hour.”[4]

Capt. Charles E. McGee, Assistant Operations Officer at Lockbourne Field in 1948. He served with the 332nd Fighter Group during World War Two, having been one of the Tuskegee Airmen. After flying 137 combat missions in Europe, he returned to the States to become an instructor on B-25s at Tuskegee before being posted to Lockbourne in 1946. McGee was flying on the evening when the UFO was spotted by tower personnel..

Although the object appeared to be around five miles from Lockbourne, messages received from Godman Field and Clinton County Tower, plus a relayed report from a pilot over Columbus all indicated that a similar phenomenon was observed in the same general direction and position at the same time.[5] The pilot was Lieutenant C. W. Thomas, who was flying Beech C-45 Expeditor #9944 from Dayton, Ohio, to Washington along with his co-pilot, Lieutenant Sims. At around 1953 hours, they made a routine position report by radio to Columbus Airways (an en route flight control service) and were asked in return if they could see any unusual objects in the sky. Thomas soon spotted a large, bright light off to the west. The crew estimated that it was below them, possibly at around 3,000 feet. It appeared stationery and was amber in color.[6]

Republic F-47N Thunderbolt 44-89140 belonged to the 332nd Fighter Wing at Lockbourne Field and is pictured here sometime during 1948. Captain McGee was flying one of these aircraft on the evening in January 1948 that he spotted a UFO. (USAF, public domain)

Arguably the most interesting information was supplied by Albert R. Pickering, a VHF/Direction Finding Operator serving with the 332nd Fighter Wing at Lockbourne. This witness had observed the object moving quickly towards the ground before eventually climbing once again:

“When first sighted around 1925 Eastern Standard Time, the object appeared to hover in one position for quite some time, moving very little. It disappeared once for about a minute (presumably entering overcast). After emerging below the overcast it circled one place for the duration of three 360° turns, then moved to another position and circled some more. Turns required approximately 30 to 40 seconds each – diameter estimated about 2 miles.

In moving from one place to another a tail (approximately the same color – amber – as the object) appeared which seemed to be about 5 times the length of the object. The shape of the object was either round or oval and appeared about the size of a C-47 plane. Just before disappearing it came very near the ground, stayed about 10 minutes, then climbed back to its original position at a very fast rate of speed, leveled off and disappeared into the overcast (10,000 ft) heading 120°. Its speed was greater than 500 mph in level flight. Visible for some 20 minutes. No noise or sound could be heard. The color of the object itself was an amber light but the intensity was not sufficient to obscure the outline of the configuration which was approximately round. During the up and down movement no maneuvering took place. Motions like that of an elevator – climbing and descending vertically. The exhaust trail was noticeable only during forward speed. At one time the object appeared to touch the ground.”[7]

Despite the testimony offered, Project Sign declared that in all likelihood, the sighting was of Venus. It is easy to see why this was proposed, but this answer seems at odds with the information that was provided by multiple witnesses, at least one of which was an amateur astronomer. Clearly some of the testimony provided had been ignored or dismissed as unlikely or not in keeping with the planet being put forward as an explanation. However, as we will now see, the waters would be muddied still further.

The Wilmington New-Journal of 8th January 1948 carried this story regarding the “ball of red fire” that had been spotted by witnesses at Lockbourne Field the night before. Mention is also made of Capt. Thomas Mantell’s death the previous day.

There are some extra elements to this story that need airing but should be taken with a pinch of salt. Certain researchers have claimed that the object made a high-speed, six mile circle of the airbase before returning to its original position “over the runway” where it supposedly drifted around for a while before touching down on a grass airstrip (an extension of the airfield). At one point, the object was allegedly hovering directly over Commercial Point, some four or five miles west-south-west of Lockbourne Field. The object then made three 360° circles (as confirmed by Albert Pickering in his testimony above) before seemingly touching down on the grass extension strip.[8] This information is not included in the documents that are publicly available. None of the witnesses mention the Lockbourne grass airstrip in their statements that can be found in the Project Sign documents, so it is unclear where this information comes from. Looking at the details that have been recorded, did the object appear to come down in the same direction that the grass strip lay in from the observer? This would suggest that it may have landed or came close to the ground, but much further away, in the order of the three to seven miles as per the witness statement estimates.

I have separated this incident from the description of the Mantell case and those from the first half of 1948 for reasons of clarity – and because it appears to have serious issues attached to it. However, it also seems that there was a lot of activity over the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio/Tennessee area on 7th January 1948, and whether or not the Mantell and Lockbourne objects were one and the same is unclear. Still, these were still early days in the story of the UFO phenomenon. There were many more interesting cases yet to come.

[1] Check-List – Unidentified Flying Objects, Incident 48a, Project Sign files. [2] Check-List – Unidentified Flying Objects, Incident 48, Project Sign files. [3] Check-List – Unidentified Flying Objects, Incident 48c, Project Sign files. [4] Report of Unusual Circumstances, report by Capt. C. E. McGee to CO, 332nd Fighter Wing, Lockbourne Army Air Base, 14th January 1948. [5] Check-List – Unidentified Flying Objects, Incident 30c, Project Sign files. [6] Check-List – Unidentified Flying Objects, Incident 32, Project Sign files. [7] Check-List – Unidentified Flying Objects, Incident 30a, Project Sign files. [8]

"Dawn of the Flying Saucers" should be available towards the end of June 2022. In the meantime, if you haven't purchased a copy of "Flying Saucer Fever", my rundown of aerial UFO encounters between 1950 and 1952 (with a foreword by none other than Lue Elizondo, former head of AATIP), then click on this link for details.

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