24 Jul 1948 - Montgomery, Alabama, USA

24 July 1948 02:45
Montgomery, Alabama, USA

Chiles incident. Three Eastern Airlines flight crew and USAF ground crew in the eastern United States report a bright cigar-shaped object. Although considered one of the great unknown sightings, analysis shows it to have been an earth-grazing fireball.

What is referred to as the Chiles-Whitted UFO encounter involved a night sighting from a DC-3 of a cigar-shaped object in 1948. This case has been considered one of the 'classic unknowns' of UFO history. However a detailed analysis of this sighting, taken together with other sightings the same evening, clearly show it was an earth-grazing fireball. It was not a nearby object traveling at 700 mph half a mile away and 500 feet above the Chiles' aircraft, but a disintegrating meteor, passing 80 miles away at 90,000 feet at a speed of 18 miles/second. If we go back to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) original reports (available at the Project Blue Book Archive) and plot the bearings and altitudes of the objects sighted on that night, no other conclusion can be reached.

In 1948, earth-grazing fireballs were not recognized by science. The AFOSI investigators did not get the information in the terms later standard for scientific analysis. They asked the witnesses to estimate the distance, size, and speed of a luminous object sighted at night. This required the implicit assumption that it was the size of man-made objects and flying at speeds and altitudes contemporary aircraft might achieve. Later standard Blue Book forms would ask the observers to estimate the apparent size (compared to the moon), the elevation above the horizon, and the direction and duration of a sighting. This kind of information could then be analyzed to determine if it matched a small, slow, close object or a much faster, larger object farther away.

Based on the assumptions that the mundane speeds and distances reported were correct and the 'fact' repeated over and over that 'it couldn't be a meteor because meteors do not fly horizontally' AFOSI convinced themselves it was an extraterrestrial object.

The sightings of that evening were:

At the time of these two sightings, Feldvary was flying about 60 miles east of Mansfield. So clearly the object had to be a considerable distance west of both aircraft to be low on the western horizon for both of them. If we average the two bearings reported, the object would have a bearing of 220 degrees, which is consistent with a bearing west of Feldvary and east of Mansfield.

Putting together in terms of the positions and bearings of the aircraft and the objects sighted, and the locations of the observers, the following consistent result is obtained:

Chiles Map

Which is clearly the track of what science now knows as an Earth-grazing fireball. Such rare events were only accepted by science in 1972 when one was actually photographed and filmed as it flew over Utah.

AFOSI's assessment was that the first two sightings were of a different event - because the object was 'meteor-like', travelled at 'terrific speed', and flew 'parallel to the horizon', which was seen as different from the other two (which were reported as flying at 700 mph by 'trained observers'). They did not seem to notice that the bearing of the object sighted in the first two sightings was the same as that observed by Chiles and Massey, or that estimates of the size and distance of an object at night would be based on it being a conventional object, not something unknown to science or popular culture at the time.

The sighting was sensationalized by the press in books, including that ghost-written for one-time Project Blue Book commander Ruppelt. The sighting was later embellished, with the object coming 'within 700 feet', the aircraft being 'buffeted by turbulence', Chiles having to 'swerve to avoid collision'. None of which was in the original report…

In fact the original sighting report is rather mundane. The object was only in sight for perhaps only 5 seconds, was seen to be about seven times the size of a full moon (but only for a second at closest approach), appeared to be coming head on but then passed the aircraft to the right, at a closes approach estimated at half a mile, and caused no noise or turbulence. Based on this brief glimpse, Chiles and Whitted produced these sketches (considerably more informative than the later 'cleaned up' versions:

Whitted actual

Today, after many movies about asteroid impacts, and especially the very real Chelyabinsk event, no other conclusion would have been reached by the observers or investigators but that this was a meteor. The cigar-shaped (dark, unseen) form was defined by the brilliant 'windows' on the object, which were undoubtedly the object disintegrating into glowing fragments as it passed through the atmosphere.

Feldvary's account, letter to Captain J F Gill, Eastern Airlines, as requested in call by AFOSI to US airlines for any reports of unusual objects night of 24 July:?

August 3, 1948 - Trip 573, Checked Blackstone, Va. at 0219, July 24, 1948. Estimated Raleigh-Durham, N.C, at 0259. Flight Plan VFR Washington-to-Raleigh-Durham direct. Weather at Blackstone &t 0230 0/ 70 0 4GF 112/73/72/ wsw5/987. Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham both had 0/ 15 plus. Shortly after checking Blackstone and as near as we can place the time, approximately 0230, we picked up a trail that appeared to be a jet or rocket trail traveling at a terrific speed. This object leaving the trail was traveling in a southwesterly direction, and as nearly as we can place the degree of travel, 230 deg. Our heading at the time was 215 deg. The trail at no time crossed our flight path. It was on the distant western horizon at approximately 20 deg above the horizon. The trail covered an 80 deg to 90 deg arc laterally. [?Feldvary]
Mansfield's account, letter to Captain J F Gill, Eastern Airlines, as requested in call by AFOSI to US airlines for any reports of unusual objects night of 24 July:?
August 5, 1948 - At about 0230 on July 24 1948, [C. Kingsley] and I [Capt Perry R. Mansfield], as pilot and captain on 571/23, saw what I believe was an unusual meteor. It was brighter than any I have seen before, and travelling in a horizontal direction, slightly above the horizon. I estimate that I saw it for about 3 seconds before it died out. At no time did it appear to travel in a downward direction. [Kingsley] and I talked about what we had seen and discussed the fact that a meteor, caused by gravity, could still appear to be travelling horizontally. At the time of this incident we vere travelling between Blackstone, Va., and Greensboro, N.C. The sky was clear and the visibility unlimited. We were on a magnetic heading of 240 degrees and I estimate that the object was on a bearing of about 210 degreas from as, that is, about 30 degrees to the left of our heading. It appeared to be travelling in a southerly direction, above but close to the horizon.
AFOSI Summary of Mansfield's account:
At about 0230 on July 24, 1948, C. Kingsley, pilot, and Capt Perry R. Mansfield, saw what they thought was an unusual meteor. It was brighter than any ever seen before and traveling in a horizontal direction, slightly above the horizon. It was observed for 3 seconds before it died out. At no time did it appear to travel in a downward direction. Kingsley & Mansfield discussed the matter that the meteor appeared to be traveling horizontally. At the time they were traveling between Blackstone, Va.and Greensboro, S. C, the sky was clear and the visibility unlimited. They were on a magnetic heading of 240 and estimated the object to be on a bearing of about 210 from them - that is - about 30 to the left of their heading. It appeared to be traveling in a southerly direction, above, but close to the horizon.
Massey's account, interrogation by Lt Colonel Cropper, Acting District Commander, 6th District Office of Special Investigations of Mr. Walter C. Massey, August 10, 1948:?
1. What is your full name, age, address, and employment? Walter C. Massey. I am 23, unmarried, and live at 141 High Street, Macon, Georgia. I an a member of the Transient Maintenance Alert Crew en the midnight shift - 2400 to 0600 hours.
2. Do you recall the date and time that you saw this object? It appeared on Friday night, the 23d of July 1948 between 014O and 0150 hours, Eastern Standard Time. I was standing fire guard on a C-47, directly across from Operations, and I had to take down the take-off time which was between 0140 and 0150.
3 What was the weather condition? Good visibility and no clouds.
4. Were there any lights around you? Outside lights or beacons? I'm not sure whether the flood lights on the hangar were on or off. I was facing the north looking away from any possible lights.
5. In what direction did you see this object? It was coming out of the north. I was facing the north and actually didn't see it until it got overhead, but it came out of the north and was in my view for about twenty seconds. The last I saw of it the object was taking a southwest course.
6. Describe in your own words what you actually saw from the time it appeared until it disappeared. The first thing I saw was a stream, of fire and I was undecided as to what it could be, but as it got overhead, it was a fairly clear outline and appeared to be a cylindrical shaped object with a long stream of fire coming out of the tall end. I am sure it would not be a jet since I have observed P-84s in flight at night on two occasions.
7. Approximately what was the height and altitude of this object? Three thousand feet - - it could be lower or higher, at night it is difficult to judge distance.
8. What was the size and shape in comparison to the trail of fire? The trail of fire was longer than the cylindrical shape of the object.
9. Was the entire object illuminated?. Describe its shape. I noticed a faint glow on the belly of the wingless object - - a phosphorescent glow.
10. Are you familiar with shooting stars? Yes Sir. I thought at first it was a shooting star or a meteor, but a shooting star falls perpendicular. This object was on a straight and level plane. When it disappeared it disappeared from sight due to distance rather than drop.
11. How did it differ from a shooting star or meteor in else and shape? I have only seen one or two meteors and they appear to be round or more or less ball-shaped and this object was long and cylindrical In shape.
12. What was the color of the light? It was a trailing faint blue flame.
13. Was there any moonlight at this tine? I didn't pay too much attention to the moonlight. I wouldn't say for sure whether there was a moon.
14. Where did the light that illuminated the shape of the object seem to come from? It looked like it was close to the bottom deck.
15. Did it give you the impression that there were windows or holes and did the decks appear to be divided into sections? I am not sure. It would be hard to tell if there were windows and a divided deck could not be recognized from the ground.
16. Did you read the newspaper account of the two civilian pilots who saw this strange object about the same time and did the paper's description seem to refer to the object you saw? I read the write up about the rate of speed. I don't see how they could tell if it had square or round windows but the description seemed to fit my impressions.
17. Was there anyone with you when you saw this object? No Sir. I was standing in front of No. 2 engine and I tried to call the co-pilot's attention to the object in the sky. He had already put his headgear an before I could get his attention and the object was gone.
18. With whom did you first discuss this matter? I called the tower and asked them if they saw it. They didn't.
19. What was their reaction regarding the object? They thought I was drunk or seeing things.
20. Were you unusually fatigued at this tine? No Sir, I had been merely reading Air Force magazines prior to this time.
21. Have you ever had occasion to read much or study Air Force magasines, experiments with guided missiles, objects or similar material? No Sir, only what I could get out of Air Force and Aviation magazines.
22. Were you in the Air Force during the war? Yes Sir, I was an Aircraft Engine Mechanic with a rating of Buck Sergeant in the Ninth Air Force.
23, Is there anyone else on the Base who saw this particular object that you know of? No, Sir.
24 What type of construction, color, size, and material did this object appear to resemble? I would say that it looked like it was about the size of a B-29. It might have been a little larger, In circumference. It was too large for a jet. It seemed to be a dark color and constructed of an unknown metallic type material.
25. What would you say its speed was in comparison with other type aircraft? About seven hundred miles per hour.
26. How did you arrive at that estimate? I have seen P-80 and P-84 type aircraft flying but this was one of the fastest objects I have ever seen. I saw German V-1's in the autumn of 1944 and they were fast, but this one was even faster. This object was much larger, a V-1 is very small and only travel about three hundred miles per hour speed.
27. How did it disappear? Just like an airplane in normal flight fading away from normal vision.
38. Was there any sound or odors that you heard? I heard no sound and everything was quiet. No engines were warming up at that time.
29. How about the maneuverability and exhaust trail of this object? It was flying straight and level, and took a changing southwest course while in sight. The flame seemed to be longer, maybe due to the object soaring through the air.
30. Had you consumed any alcohol In the preceding four or five hours? No Sir, I do not drink.
31. Did you ever see any planes in "Buck Rogers" comics that resembled this object? Maybe the length and roundness resembled but as far as the wings, I couldn't tell if this object had any.
32. What did you say your educational background and Air Force experience? I am a high school graduate and I was in the Air Force for four years.
33. How long have you worked here? Since September 1947.
34. When did you get out of the Air Force? I was discharged in March 1947 as an enlisted reserve Buck sergeant engineer.
35. Is there anything further you would like to add to aid in this evaluation? Yes Sir. During the Battle of the Bulge, a Sergeant and myself were on guard duty and saw something that resembled this object in question. He later found that we had witnessed the launching of a German V-2 rocket. It carried a stream of fire that more or less resembled this object. This object looked like rocket propulsion rather than jet propulsion, but the speed and size was much creator.
36. Did the altitude, speed, and size of this object have any similarity to a meteor or shooting star? No, Sir.
37. What else did you associate your thought with when you first saw this object? It looked like a rocket and was the shape of an XS-1. It was too large for an XS-1. My final conclusion was that it was energised by rocket propulsion.
38, Were you excited when you told the other people about this object? No Sir. They more or less kidded me about it and was informed that Flight Service wanted to see me.
39. Who did you talk to in Flight Service?. I talked to a man over the interphone system but did not know his name. He wanted to know whether I was a civilian or and asked me a few questions, I think Flight Service turned it over to Air Defense Command the next morning.
Statement of Captain Clarence S Chiles
Atlanta, Ga - Aug 3, 1945 - To: Mr. S. L. Shannon, Eastern Air Lines, Miami, Fla. - The following is a report of an unidentified aircraft whioh was sighted by John Whitted and me, as we were twenty miles southwest of Montgomery, Ala. July 24, 1948, as we I were on Eastern's trip 576. At 2:45 A.M. we were cruising at 5,000 feet when there came, what looked like a jet type of aircraft to our right and slightly above meeting us. It was a clear moonlight night with the visibility excellent; therefore we were able to view the ship as it passed for period of around ten seconds. 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 fifty feet. There were two rows of windows, whioh indicated an upper and lower deck, from inside these windows a very bright light was glowing. Underneath the ship there was a blue glow of light. After it passed it pulled up into some light broken clouds and was lost from view. There was no prop wash or rough air felt as it passed. After talking to the only passenger awake at the time, he saw only the trail of fire as it passed and pulled into the clouds, I called the company at Columbus and asked if there was any reported jet army craft and requested if the ATC had any aircraft under control. I was told that no such craft was reported by either source. /s/ C. S. Chiles, C. S. Chiles, E. A. L.
Statement of John B. Whitted
I was flying co-pilot for Capt. C. S. Chiles on Trip 576 which left Houston, Texas at 8:40 PM Eastern Standard Time, Friday night, July 22, 1948. At 0245 EST, we sighted a strange object coming toward us at a high rate of speed. We were at 5000 feet and our position was 25 miles southwest of Montgomery, Ala. The strange object had a stream of red fire coming from its tail. I assumed that it was a jet type airplane of the Army or Navy but as it came nearer I could see that it was much larger than any Army or Navy jet that I have ever seen or read about. It passed us on the right side of our DC-3. I estimate its speed in ithe neighborhood of 700 MPH but this is purely a rough estimate. We, were holding a compass heading of 50 degrees and the object passed us going in the opposite direction. To me, the object seemed about a half-mile from us, flying straight and level. I could see no wings supporting the object. 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 werei white with light which seemed to be caused by some type of combustion. I estimate that we watched the object at least 5 seconds and not more than 10 seconds. We heard no noise nor did we feel any turbulence from the object. It seemed to be at about 5500 feet. I asked Capt. Chiles what we had just seen and he said that he didn't know. Capt Chiles then contacted the company radio operator at Columbus, Ga., and asked him to contact Lawson Fld at Ft Benning, Ga., and find out if the Army had any jet or experimental planes in the vicinity. The company operator called us a few minutes later and stated that Lawson Field reported that they had no planes flying in our area. Capt Chiles then reported back to the company radio operator saying that a strange aircraft just passed us and it looked lie some type of rocket ship. We passed up Columbus because of ground fog and continued on to Atlanta.
Ruppelt's account from The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects:
On the evening of July 24, 1948, an Eastern Airlines DC-3 took off from Houston, Texas. It was on a scheduled trip to Atlanta, with intermediate stops in between. The pilots were Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted. At about 2:45 A.M., when the flight was 20 miles southwest of Montgomery, the captain, Chiles, saw a light dead ahead and closing fast. His first reaction, he later reported to an ATIC investigation team, was that it was a jet, but in an instant he realized that even a jet couldn't close as fast as this light was closing. Chiles said he reached over, gave Whitted, the other pilot, a quick tap on the arm, and pointed. The UFO was now almost on top of them. Chiles racked the DC-3 into a tight left turn. Just as the UFO flashed by about 700 feet to the right, the DC-3 hit turbulent air. Whitted looked back just as the UFO pulled up in a steep climb.

Both the pilots had gotten a good look at the UFO and were able to give a good description to the Air Force intelligence people. It was a B-29 fuselage. The underside had a "deep blue glow." There were "two rows of windows from which bright lights glowed," and a "50-foot trail of orange-red flame" shot out the back.

Only one passenger was looking out of the window at the time. The ATIC investigators talked to him. He said he saw a "strange, eerie streak of light, very intense," but that was all, no details. He said that it all happened before he could adjust his eyes to the darkness.

Minutes later a crew chief at Robins Air Force Base in Macon, Georgia, reported seeing an extremely bright light pass overhead, traveling at a high speed. A few days later another report from the night of July 24 came in. A pilot, flying near the Virginia-North Carolina state line, reported that he had seen a "bright shooting star" in the direction of Montgomery, Alabama, at about the exact time the Eastern Airlines DC-3 was "buzzed."

According to the old timers at ATIC, this report shook them worse than the Mantell Incident. This was the first time two reliable sources had been really close enough to anything resembling a UFO to get a good look and live to tell about it. A quick check on a map showed that the UFO that nearly collided with the airliner would have passed almost over Macon, Georgia, after passing the DC-3. It had been turning toward Macon when last seen. The story of the crew chief at Robins AFB, 200 miles away, seemed to confirm the sighting, not to mention the report from near the Virginia-North Carolina state line.

In intelligence, if you have something to say about some vital problem you write a report that is known as an "Estimate of the Situation." A few days after the DC-3 was buzzed, the people at ATIC decided that the time had arrived to make an Estimate of the Situation. The situation was the UFO's; the estimate was that they were interplanetary!

Study No. 1O2-EL-55/2-79, "ANALYSIS OF REPORTS OF UNIDENTIFIED AERIAL OBJECTS", Project No. 10073, dated 5 May 1955 has a fundamentally different description:
A pilot and copilot were flying a DC-3 at 0340 hours on July 24, 1948, when they saw an object coming toward them. It passed to the right and slightly above them, at which time it went into a steep climb and was lost from sight in some clouds. Duration of the observation was about 10 seconds. One passenger was able to catch a flash of light as the object passed. The object seemed powered by rocket or jet motors shooting a trail of fire some 50 feet to the rear of the object. The object had no wings or other protrusion and had two rows of lighted windows.

Hynek rating: CE1
Vallee rating: MA2
Click for map of area.
Sources: 49; 69; 71; 81; 87; 88; 90; 92; 93; 100; 122; 131; 156; 166; 167; 168; 184; 213; 220; 239; 242; 305; 506; 515; 563; 676; 809