By most accounts, the modern UFO era began in the early summer of 1947, with the famous sighting of a group of unidentifiable aircraft over Mount Rainier, Washington, by pilot Kenneth Arnold. Within just weeks, news would arrive that a “flying saucer,” as the objects were dubbed following Arnold’s observation, had crashed and was subsequently captured by the US Air Force near Roswell, New Mexico.
There were, however, earlier incidents that involved strange flying objects observed by pilots and other individuals, and while the post-war incidents are by far the most famous, there were a handful that occurred during the Second World War that remain perplexing.
One of these incidents involved a so-called “cluster” of objects that a squadron of B-17s passed through on October 14, 1943, during a bombing mission over Schweinfurt, Germany. The date is of significance here, since this incident had comprised the infamous “Black Thursday” raid between the United States 8th Air Force and the German Luftwaffe fighter division; more than 300 U.S. aircraft were involved, with only 197 returning after the engagement. This incident did result in a number of procedural changes pertaining to similar future missions, the next of which would not be carried out until the Big Week missions that occurred in February of the following year.
Throughout the course of the raid, strange aerial phenomenon had been reported by a number of the B-17 crew involved. According to an official report based on those observations, a small cluster of “discs” had apparently been reported by several pilots, one of whom even described flying through them.
The following is an excerpt from the report, which gives details about the encounter as follows:
306 Group report a partially unexploded 20 mm shell embedded above the panel in the cockpit of A/C [Aircraft] number 412 bearing the following figures 19K43. The Group Ordinance Officer believes the steel composing the shell is of inferior grade. 348th group reports hey cluster of disks observed in the path of the formation near Schweinfurt, at the time there were no E/A [enemy aircraft] above. Discs were described as silver colored — 1 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. They were gliding slowly down and very uniform cluster. A/C 026 was unable to avoid them and his right wing went directly through a cluster with absolutely no effect on engines or plane surface. One of the disks was heard striking tail assembly but no explosion was observed. About 20 feet from these disks of mass of black debris of varying sizes and clusters of 3 by 4 feet. Also observed 2 other A/C flying through silver discs with no apparent damage. Observed disks and debris 2 other times but could not determine where it came from.
The report is indeed a strange one. Providing commentary in his book Illuminations: The UFO Experience as a Parapsychological Event (Anomalist Books, 2015), Eric Ouellet, Ph.D. makes the observation that these smallish “craft” seemed to behave inconsistently with what we might expect from physical objects:
What is fascinating about this early flying disc report is that it was not only observed by multiple aircraft from different angles, but it also came into physical contact with the aircraft without causing any damage, as if it was only partially physical. And even more important, this UFO incident happened just before terrible tragedy but fill these American airmen. Was this incident also sort of externalized premonition of what was coming, one that was not understood by anyone? UFO events seem to be more complicated than just “crafts” flying around.
There is some anecdotal data that also suggests that plasmas similar to ball lightning might take on a silvery appearance in daylight, as suggested by researcher Paul Devereaux, who has written that when observed in daylight, ball lightning may have a metallic silver appearance, “like a blob of mercury or air bubbles under water.”
If accurate, this may indeed account for some observations of spherical UFOs observed in the daytime. As far as their apparent quasi-physical nature, the plasma theory might also be a good fit, though it is noted that one of the objects did appear to strike the tail of one of the B-17 craft.
However, apart from the expected spherical shapes, would the plasma explanation apply as easily to objects like the small, disc shaped craft reported in 1943? Or, could these objects have been representative of some other kind of phenomenon, natural or otherwise, for which a general understanding has yet to be refined?