Mysterious sky battle in the sky of Russia in 1948 with UFOs: Episode 3

According to Ruppelt, the report traveled up the Air Force chain of command all the way to General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the chief of staff. “The general wouldn’t buy interplanetary vehicles,” Ruppelt wrote. “A group from ATIC went to the Pentagon to bolster their position but had no luck, the Chief of Staff couldn’t be convinced.”

Ruppelt continued, “The estimate died a quick death. Some months later it was completely declassified and relegated to the incinerator.”

One reason for Vandenberg’s skepticism was that another faction within the Air Force had a competing theory: UFOs weren’t interplanetary at all, but the handiwork of America’s Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. In another top-secret report dated December 1948, the Air Force suggested a variety of reasons the Soviets might be behind such a scheme, including photographic reconnaissance, testing U.S. air defenses, and undermining the U.S. and European ally confidence in the atom bomb as the ultimate weapon. The Soviets wouldn’t have their own atom bomb until late August 1949.

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Adding to the mystery: The sighting occurred outside Montgomery, downstate from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville where a collection of rocket scientists—many former Nazis quietly spirited to the U.S. to help win the Cold War space race—were working on top-secret rocketry experiments under the guidance of brilliant and visionary rocket designer Wernher von Braun. Could the sighting have somehow been related to their experiments?

The suppression of the “Estimate of the Situation” and the rejection of any extraterrestrial explanation was the start of “a long period of unfortunate, amateurish public relations” on the part of the Air Force, astronomer J. Allen Hynek claimed in his 1972 book, The UFO Experience. Hynek, who had worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory tracking space satellites and later became a professor at Northwestern University, was the official astronomical consultant to Project Blue Book and the man who developed the UFO-sighting classification system that originated the phrase “Close Encounters of Third Kind.”



“The insistence on official secrecy and frequent ‘classification’ of documents was hardly needed since the Pentagon had declared that the problem really didn’t exist,” Hynek wrote.

Ruppelt maintained that bureaucratic bungling rather than deliberate deception was the Air Force’s main problem. “But had the Air Force tried to throw up a screen of confusion, they couldn’t have done a better job,” he added.

Because of this lack of transparency, the Chiles-Whitted incident remains one of the most controversial UFO sightings—and a favorite of conspiracy theorists even now.

So, what did Chiles and Whitted actually see? Some suggested a weather balloon, others a mirage. Hynek believed it was a fireball, or very bright meteor, an opinion that eventually became the official Air Force verdict. As to the lighted windows both pilots claim to have seen, some experts suggest that might have been a phenomenon called the “airship effect,” where observers who see a group of unrelated lights in the sky are fooled into thinking they’re part of the same object.


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But Chiles and Whitted stuck to their story. James E. McDonald, a University of Arizona physicist and UFO expert, said he interviewed them in 1968, some 20 years after the event. The two were now jet pilots for Eastern Air Lines, and they continued to believe that what they had seen was some sort of airborne vehicle, McDonald reported.

What’s more, Whitted added a new and puzzling detail to the story. Although reports at the time said the object had disappeared into the clouds or simply out of their view, he supposedly told McDonald that wasn’t what really happened. Instead, the object had vanished instantaneously, right before their eyes.

No wonder the Chiles-Whitted case continues to baffle and intrigue, even 70 years later.


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