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Two Pilots Saw a UFO. Why Did the Air Force Destroy the Report?

by Greg Daugherty                    August 10, 2018                          (history.com)

• On July 24, 1948, at 2:45 am, twenty passengers and two pilots were in an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 twin-engine propeller plane on route from Houston to Atlanta, flying at 5,000 feet on a clear and moonlit night. The plane was flown by former World War II Air Corps officers and veteran pilots, Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted.

• About 20 miles southwest of Montgomery, Alabama, the two pilots and one passenger, Clarence L. McKelvie, who was the only passenger awake, saw a 100-ft long cigar-shaped UFO with no wings, and having an upper and lower deck of windows. They could see bright light glowing through the craft’s windows. Underneath the craft was a glow of blue light. And it had a flame shooting out from the back of the craft.

• As the UFO seemed to be heading right for them, Chiles said, “We veered to the left and it veered to its left, and passed us about 700 feet to our right and about 700 feet above us. Then, as if the pilot had seen us and wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame out of its rear and zoomed up into the clouds.” All three witnesses watched the craft for ten seconds before it disappeared from view into the clouds.

• The pilots made drawings of the craft and made written statements. (Chiles’ statement; Whitted’s statement) They both provided further details in subsequent newspaper and radio interviews.

• An Air Force department known as the “Air Technical Intelligence Center” reported that in its estimation, the UFO craft was ‘interplanetary’. When this classified report reached Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, he outright dismissed any extraterrestrial connection. The Air Force was already convinced that these mysterious craft was Soviet spy technology, even though the Soviets wouldn’t even have the A-bomb until a year later. So the intelligence report was unceremoniously declassified and destroyed.

• The sighting was downplayed, alluding that the pilots merely saw a weather balloon or a mirage. The official Air Force determination was that the pilots saw a fireball or very bright meteor. Consultant to the Air Force’s ‘Project Blue Book’, J. Allen Hynek, claimed in his 1972 book, The UFO Experience that “the Pentagon had declared that the problem really didn’t exist.” Edward J. Ruppelt, the Air Force officer who initially headed Project Blue Book, said that “[T]he Air Force tried to throw up a screen of confusion. They couldn’t have done a better job.”

• But Chiles and Whitted always stuck to their story. In fact, Whitted later added a new twist to the story that he felt he needed to withhold at the time. Whitted said that the UFO didn’t just go into the clouds, but it actually vanished in front of their eyes.


Whatever occurred at 2:45 a.m. on the morning of July 24, 1948 in the skies over southwest Alabama not only shocked and stymied the witnesses. It jolted the U.S. government into a top-secret investigation—the results of which were ultimately destroyed.

The skies were mostly clear and the moon was bright in the pre-dawn hours as pilot Clarence S. Chiles and co-pilot John B. Whitted flew their Eastern Air Lines DC-3, a twin-engine propeller plane, at 5,000 feet, en route from Houston to Atlanta. The aircraft had 20 passengers on board, 19 of them asleep at that hour. It was a routine domestic flight, one of many in the skies that early morning.

                 Pilots Clarence S. Chiles
                    and John B. Whitted

Until suddenly, it wasn’t. What the two pilots and their wide-awake passenger saw in the skies about 20 miles southwest of Montgomery, Alabama, did more than startle them. It would reportedly become the catalyst for a highly classified Air Force document suggesting that some unidentified flying objects were spaceships from other worlds—a tipping point in UFO history.

Chiles described what he saw in an official statement about a week later: “It was clear there were no wings present, that it was powered by some jet or other type of power, shooting flame from the rear some 50 feet. There were two rows of windows, which indicated an upper and lower deck, [and] from inside these windows a very bright light was glowing. Underneath the ship there was a blue glow of light.” He estimated that he’d watched the ship for about 10 seconds before it disappeared into some light clouds and was lost from view.

Whitted offered a similar description in his official statement: “The object was cigar shaped and seemed to be about a hundred feet in length. The fuselage appeared to be about three times the circumference of a B-29 fuselage. It had two rows of windows, an upper and a lower. The windows were very large and seemed square. They were white with light which seemed to be caused by some type of combustion…. I asked Capt. Chiles what we had just seen and he said that he didn’t know.”

The passenger who was awake at the time, Clarence L. McKelvie of Columbus, Ohio, corroborated the pilots’ account that an unusually bright object had streaked past his window, but he wasn’t able to describe it beyond that.

Both pilots also made drawings of the craft they believed they had seen and provided further details in newspaper and radio interviews, some just hours after the sighting. The Atlanta Constitution headlined its July 25 account, “Atlanta Pilots Report Wingless Sky Monster.” In that article, Chiles described what sounded like an uncomfortably close encounter, as the object appeared to be coming at them. “We veered to the left and it veered to its left, and passed us about 700 feet to our right and about 700 feet above us. Then, as if the pilot had seen us and wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame out of its rear and zoomed up into the clouds.”

Chiles and Whitted weren’t the only ones baffled by what they’d seen.

Asked for comment, William M. Allen, the president of Boeing Aircraft told the United Press he was “pretty sure” it was “not one of our planes,” adding that he knew of nothing being built in the U.S. that matched the description. General George C. Kenney, the chief of the Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for most of America’s nuclear strike forces during the Cold War, told the Associated Press: “The Army hasn’t anything like that. I wish we did.”



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