In the annals of airborne UFO encounters there are some that go beyond merely pilots or passengers aboard airliners seeing something strange or spooky out in the sky. In some cases the object in question is actually engaged or seems to have some intense interaction with the aircraft, to the point that in a way it can be considered a dogfight of sorts. Here we have brave pilots chasing things they cannot explain and in at least one case dying for their efforts, and two of these UFO dogfights happened in the same year and share some remarkable similarities.
One of the most famous, well-publicized, and allegedly deadliest UFO dogfights supposedly happened in January of 1948. It revolves around Kentucky Air National Guard pilot Captain Thomas F. Mantell, who was an experienced WWII ace pilot and a war hero, being the recipient of awards such as the Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal for his brave actions and heroism during the war. In other words, he was no rookie and no nut job, and on January 7, 1948 Mantell was piloting a F-51D Mustang along with three other pilots from the 165th Fighter Squadron of the Kentucky Air National Guard, in the area of Godman Field, at Fort Knox, Kentucky on a training exercise, when a strange series of events began to unfold.
It started with a report to Godman field from a Kentucky highway patrolman warning that he had seen a large circular object about 300 feet in diameter in the sky near Maysville, Kentucky, after which several other reports came in of people seeing the same thing in the vicinity of Owensboro and Irvington. Shortly after this, at approximately 1:45 PM, a Sgt Quinton Blackwell at Fort Knox made visual contact with the object along with two other personnel in the tower, and it was described as being “very white” with a red border at the bottom. It was also seen at Clinton County Army Air Field in Ohio, with the witnesses saying it had “the appearance of a flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist,” and an observer at Lockbourne Army Air Field in Ohio reported that it had dipped all the way down to the ground, only to suddenly soar to an altitude of 10,000 feet and speed off.
Seeing the object as a potential threat to air traffic in the area and looking to find out exactly what it was, Mantell and the other pilots in the air in the area at the time were ordered to go investigate. One of them had to return to base after he ran low on fuel, but the other three dutifully approached the mystery object, and Mantell would make visual confirmation, reportedly telling air traffic control that it was “metallic and of tremendous size.” The other pilots would give a slightly different description, saying that they could not exactly make out what it was as it was too indistinct at the time. They advised Mantell to hold off on pursuing it until they could more concretely identify what it was, but the WWII fighter ace ignored this and tore off after it in hot pursuit.
The other two pilots followed him as he gained altitude, but were then forced to abort because one of the pilots had a low oxygen supply and the other had no oxygen mask at all, so they were unable to climb too high. They were forced to break off and head back as Mantell continued to chase the anomalous object, which seemed to be retreating upwards, passing an altitude of 22,500 feet. As he passed this threshold, it seems that Mantell must have blacked out from a lack of oxygen, as his plane was seen to stop its ascent and then begin a spiraling, circular fall towards the earth. The out of control descent ended with Mantell’s aircraft careening down to crash into a farm south of Franklin, Kentucky at 3:18 PM, and emergency crews were immediately sent out to the site. The UFO itself then vanished from view and was not seen again.
It wasn’t thought that Mantell could have possibly survived the horrific crash, and this was indeed correct. The pilot was found dead and burned in the wreckage, and there were some odd clues found in that the seatbelt had been shredded and his watch had stopped at exactly the time that the plane had come down. It is uncertain what else was found there, but considering that a UFO had been involved and the story began getting splashed all over the media, rumors would soon begin to fly. Various rumors said such myriad mysterious things as that Mantell’s body had been found unburned and fully intact, that it had been full of bullet holes or alternately tiny burned holes indicative of some unknown laser weapon, or that there had been no body at all, as well as that the entire plane had actually been disintegrated in mid-air, or that the wreckage had been magnetized or radioactive. There was absolutely no evidence for any of this, but the public ate it up and it created an added mystique to it all.
Theories ran amok that he had been shot down by a top secret air craft or even a UFO. As far as the military was concerned, it was a classified issue, but many Air Force officials said that they believed that Mantell had died after misidentifying the planet Venus for an unidentified object and then losing oxygen as he got too high. However, this hypothesis seems odd, as according to astronomers Venus at the time was not bright enough to be seen, at most as a vague pinpoint of light, let alone mistaken for an enormous metallic craft like that described. The official stance would change when it was found that the Navy had been carrying out a top secret program called Project Skyhook at the time, which entailed testing the use of special high-altitude meteorological balloons for the purpose of intelligence gathering. The idea was that the balloon could have been mistaken for a mysterious craft, and then foolishly pursued by Mantell. Of course, considering that the official stance is rarely completely trusted by the public, there is of course the idea that he really did chase an alien UFO.
There are a few problems with the balloon theory, such as why such an experienced pilot would not recognize it for what it was, and the fact that the object was also tracked by numerous other trained sources who also did not recognize it as a balloon, and the fact that no one seems to be able to tell if there was even one of those balloons in the area at the time. It also seems to have displayed very non-weather balloon-like behavior with the report of the object dipping down to ground level and shooting up to the sky, as well as displaying amazing acceleration. Whatever it was that Mantell chased or thought he was chasing, it has never really been satisfactorily explained, and nothing really matches all of the details, the experience of the pilot, and the preceding sightings by numerous other observers before the incident. It has gone on to have the distinction of being the first known death of a pilot directly as a result of a UFO, in this case not necessarily an alien craft, but an unidentified object. In the end, it is a weird tale with many questions, and has become perhaps the most well-known case of a pilot engaging an unidentified flying object.
The year 1948 seems to have been the year for this sort of thing, because another very similar case allegedly occurred in October of that year, this time in the skies over Fargo, North Dakota, in the United States. On October 1, 1948, a veteran fighter pilot of the Second World War by the name of George Gorman was on a cross country flight as a second lieutenant in the North Dakota Air National Guard. On this day he was travelling as a part of a squadron of P-51 Mustangs on a training flight, and they made their scheduled destination of Fargo at 8 PM that evening. While the other pilots landed, Gorman went off to do some night flight practice in the clear weather.
After 1 hour of this, at 9 PM Gorman would report that he had seen a bright blinking light that did not seem to have a fuselage or to be a normal airplane in any sense that he could tell. He radioed in the strange object to Fargo's Hector Airport, and it turned out that no other aircraft was in the area except him and a small Piper Cub that Gorman could see even as he witnessed the mysterious light. It soon became apparent that the Piper Club was also witnessing the anomalous object, and this was enough to make Gorman decide to approach it to see what it was, soon finding that it was moving very rapidly, and it seemed to be evading his attempts to close in on it even as it seemed to taunt him, at one point whizzing by a mere 500 feet away. However, because of this he was able to get a closer visual, and would explain that it was little more than an intensely bright light only perhaps around 8 inches in diameter, and that it got brighter whenever it slowed down.
Gorman would proceed to doggedly pursue the object, which climbed and dropped at a rapid pace, sometimes drawing the pilot to such an altitude that his plane stalled, moved with incredible dexterity, circled around him, and on several occasions buzzed by dangerously close. This “dogfight” brought them directly over the Fargo Airport, where it was also clearly witnessed by air traffic control and ground personnel, who also watched as Gorman’s plane chased it right past them to the southwest. Gorman would manage to get above the object and make a dive on it, after which he claims it made a sudden vertical maneuver to go shooting past and disappear up into higher altitudes. Unable to get another visual on the object, Gorman gave up and flew back to the airport to land, where he would go on to give a formal account of what happened, saying:
I am convinced that there was definite thought behind its maneuvers. I am further convinced that the object was governed by the laws of inertia because its acceleration was rapid but not immediate and although it was able to turn fairly tight at considerable speed, it still followed a natural curve. When I attempted to turn with the object I blacked out temporarily due to excessive speed. I am in fairly good physical condition and I do not believe that there are many if any pilots who could withstand the turn and speed effected by the object, and remain conscious. The object was not only able to out turn and out speed my aircraft ... but was able to attain a far steeper climb and was able to maintain a constant rate of climb far in excess of my aircraft.
Gorman, the pilot of the Piper Cub, and other witnesses to the incident would be intensively questioned by the Air Force and the aircraft involved extensively checked for radiation or magnetism, finding Gorman’s plane to be significantly more radioactive than it should have been. At first the Air Force were forced to concede that “something remarkable had occurred,” but perhaps not surprisingly to the conspiracy minded they soon changed their tune. Their new theory? It was a weather balloon. Not only that, but to make it more bizarre they claimed that not only had Gorman frantically chased this balloon, but that he had then mistaken the planet Venus for the object and chased that as well. Remember, this was a war hero ace pilot we are talking about, so does this really make sense? Whether it does or not, this would be the official explanation and still is. We are still left to ask, does a trained and experienced fighter pilot mistake a balloon and Venus for something zipping around doing circles around him and taunting him? It seems odd. Of course this has been picked apart within the UFO community, and probably will be a mystery for some time to come.
Here we have looked at two cases that are similar in a number of ways. Both occurred in the same year, and were experienced by seasoned World War II pilots flying with the National Guard in similar planes. Both had strange encounters with a maneuverable, inexplicable craft that they chased to no avail as the objects seemed to toy with them, and both stalled out in this pursuit, one fatally. In both of these strange cases the objects were seen by numerous other observers and noted by air traffic control, with no one able to explain what they were seeing, and both times the explanation from the government came down to weather balloons and Venus. While the cases may be totally unrelated, they are undeniably very similar, both harrowing, and show similar features that mark them as perhaps something beyond mere mundane explanations. What happened to these men and others like them, who have become engaged in a test of wits and skill with possible forces from beyond our understanding? Is there something to this all, or is it just misidentification and weather balloons? If these really were UFOs then what did they want and why were they toying with these pilots? Whatever the case may be, these are two of the most well-known cases of UFO dogfights that remain talked about to this day.