I have just spent the afternoon frying my brain, trying to solve a 65 year-old UFO puzzler, and I can suddenly understand why it has remained a puzzler for 65 years…
One of the UFO sighting cases Dr. J. Allen Hynek evaluated for the Air Force’s Project Sign in 1948 involved a high-speed, mid-air fly-by between an Eastern Airlines DC-3 and a “double-decked, jet-propelled, wingless transport shooting a 40-foot flame out its back end.”
So amazing was the sight that newspaper headlines across America were describing it as a “Sky Devil-Ship,” a “Flame-Spitting Aerial Monster,” a “Mysterious Ball of Fire,” and, last but not least, a “Wingless Sky Monster.” I have already written a haunting account of this case, known to UFO buffs as the Chiles-Whitted Incident, so I won’t tell the whole story again.
I’ll just mention that when the pilot and co-pilot saw the Wingless Sky Monster, it was at about 2:45 am, in the skies near Montgomery, Alabama. Why is this important?
Because a ground crew grunt named Massey was on duty at an Air Force airfield in Macon, Georgia exactly one hour earlier, at 1:45 am, when he looked up and saw a freaking Wingless Sky Monster! streak across the sky and disappear to the southwest.
His description of the object matched that of the airline pilots to an astonishing degree, and it was clear that they had all seen the same Wingless Sky Monster! Or had they? See, when Dr. Hynek started looking at the case, something troubled him. He was new at the job and still trying mighty hard to make his employers at the Air Force happy by positively identifying the WSM! as an ordinary, everyday astronomical occurrence. Well, an ordinary, everynight astronomical occurrence.
And he tried hard, he really did. But something bugged him. The Air Force base where Massey saw the WSM! from the ground was in Georgia, which put him in the Eastern time zone.
Chiles and Whitted were flying past Montgomery, Alabama, which put them in the Central time zone. So, Hynek wondered, if Massey saw the WSM! at 1:45 EDT and Chiles and Whitted saw it at 2:45 CDT, did they really see it one hour apart? It gets even more problematic when you consider that the two locations are 200 miles apart and both Whitted and Massey estimated that the WSM! was going 700 mph.
Holy shit, what is going on here? Like I said, my brain is fried. I can’t figure it out. Did one object appear in two places an hour apart, or did two eerily similar objects appear at the same moment 200 miles apart? Or did a single object travel 200 miles in an instant? Did it ever exist at all? Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough, then Hynek tosses daylight freaking savings time into the mess! What if they really were an hour apart–or not–because of daylight savings time? And then, what if one of them crossed the International Date Line…?
In the end, Hynek made a bold judgement. “If those two sightings refer to the same object, there are two possible interpretations,” he wrote. “One is that the object was some sort of aircraft, regardless of its bizarre nature. The other possible explanation is that the object was a fireball.”
Furthermore, Hynek decided that if the reported times were accurate, the object was an airplane, but if the times were incorrect the object was a meteor.
So, despite the fact that he started out his report by claiming “There is no astronomical explanation, if we accept the report at face value,” he ended up deciding it was a meteor.
I still can’t figure it out… But then, neither could the Air Force. Months after Hynek declared that it was a meteor, the Air Force reclassified it as a “true Unknown.” Not a false Unknown, mind you, but a true Unknown. Then some time after that, they reclassified it as a meteor. I still prefer Wingless Sky Monster!