Famous UFO Incidents: 1948-1954

A drawing made by pilots Chiles and Whitted after sighting their UFO. Most UFOs don’t have rocket exhaust coming out of them, and this looks suspiciously like a German V2 rocket or Buzz Bomb.

The UFO craze of 1947 wasn’t the last incident of URO sightings. It was just the beginning of what would be a long series of incidents through the 1950s and 1960s. The U.S. Air Force was concerned enough to begin an official investigation called Project Blue Book. Teams of investigators interviewed thousands of people who claimed to have seen UFOs or even to have made contact with aliens. Most of the sightings were easily explained away, but enough of them were credible enough that official reports were written and remain unexplained to this day. This post will explore several of the most famous and credible incidents of the late 1940s through middle 1950s.

The Chiles-Whitted Sighting

by Ali

You may have heard a lot about aliens, from movies to sightings, but are they real? One could argue both ways, however there are multiple sightings where it makes it almost impossible to not believe in aliens.

On July 24, 1948 around 2:45 am there was an incredible sighting while two different American commercial pilots were doing their normal flights over Southwest Alabama. Those commercial pilots nearly collided with a strange torpedo shaped flying object.

One of the pilots (Chiles) saw a flying object for 10 seconds before he lost sight in the clouds. He described what he saw in an official statement about a week later: “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 50 feet. There were two rows of windows, which indicated an upper and lower deck, [and] from inside these windows a very bright light was glowing. Underneath the ship there was a blue glow of light.” (Daugherty, 2018)

The other pilot (Whitted) offered a similar description “The object was cigar shaped and seemed to be about a hundred feet in length. The fuselage was 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 were white with light which was caused by some type of combustion…. I asked Capt. Chiles what we had just seen and he said that he didn’t know.” (Daugherty, 2018)

There were 20 different passengers aboard but only one of them was awake. He could not describe much other than the fact that there was an object that flew past his window fast.

The pilots drew sketches of what they saw, and they match the description quite well – a cigar-shaped vehicle with flame coming out the rear and two rows of shiny windows.

A captured German “Buzz Bomb” rocket used during World War II. The rocket was the large cylinder on the top. A more advanced version was the V2 rocket, which looked like a conventional rocket standing vertically with fins and a central rear nozzle.

At first The Pentagon had suggested that it was a weather balloon, however this was quickly disputed. The interpretation of what the three people saw was quickly discussed and dismissed as a crazy story. A common modern theory was it was a German “buzz bomb” or V2 rocket, where the windows were a reflection off of metallic patterns on the rocket. The Air Force had captured a number of these weapons at the end of World War II and brought them back to the United States for testing, along with a number of German rocket scientists such as Werner von Braun. The chief site for testing these rockets was to become Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. That the flight was over Alabama at the time of the sighting is rather telling, and the drawing of the pilots looks almost identical to a Buzz Bomb or V2 rocket, right down to the flames coming out of the rear. Of course the Air Force denied this – they wouldn’t want to admit that their test went off course and almost shot down a commercial airplane with 20 passengers on board.

Daugherty, Greg. “Two Pilots Saw a UFO. Why Did the Air Force Destroy the Report?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 16 Aug. 2018, https://www.history.com/news/ufo-chiles-whitted-soviet- spycraft-air-force-coverup.

The Haneda Air Force Base Incident

by Hannah

August 5th, 1952 Japanese USAF operators at the Haneda Air Force Base noticed something off in the sky. They saw a blueish- white light across the way from the control tower. Quickly the operators took action, they called the GCI radar unit. The GCI unit is a group of people who work with a ground-controlled interceptor. Initially formed to help train pilots, it uses a remote-controlled drone or a piloted aircraft that works to train officials to use a ground interceptor in a combat or high-risk situation. The GCI gives a 360-degree view around where it is stationed. It is a commonly used defense tactic. At Haneda airport the GCI team called in an F-94, an American made all weather jet interceptor that was used for air defense and carried no guns. The F-94 created a radar scrambler. Their radar then got returns from the area of the blueish light. The GCI then vectored, directed (an aircraft in flight) to a desired point, the F-94 towards the light. They then picked up an unknown orbiting target. Furthermore, the F-94 picked up an unknown radar. After 90 seconds there was an airborne pursuit where the target moved out of radar range and the pursuit was followed by another GCI radar. The unknown light/radar source then disappeared.

As UFO incidents go, this one is puzzling. Usually UFOs do not produce radar returns or are seen by such a high number of trained personnel, including the pilot of the F-94 interceptor. But to say it was aliens visiting Earth does not make must sense scientifically. Why would an alien species come to an airport on Earth to simply just look? They also did not stay for an extended period of time, why make a long trip to only stay a little over a minute. Also, assuming they were developed enough to make a craft that can travel to Earth, why would they have run away when the radar was scrambled. Assuming the level of development necessary and the fact that they supposedly had a radar system it is confusing as to why then they would turn and leave. Applying human logic to the situation this becomes confusing as to why something would travel so far, how advanced I’d have to be to do this, and why no contact would be made. The sighting took place at an airport. This means there is high air security. Meaning it is harder to just ‘see’ an aircraft with no evidence. There also is evidence of a radar system being detected. This is harder to fake than just a pure sighting. Furthermore, this sighting and action was taken place by USAF operators, as well as people working with the GCI and F-94’s. The more people involved the harder the sighting is to be dismissed. It is harder to convince 20 people to lie about a sighting than it is for one person to just make a claim. In my belief the sighting may have been real, an unidentified flying object was seen; this object may not have been aliens though. It seems highly unlikely all these people would lie about an object somewhere as secure as an airport, but it seems more unlikely that this object would be sent by another species. Therefore, it may have been sent by another human, perhaps as a prank or a mistake or even something more sinister. That we may not ever know.

“Saucers over Washington” (Comic) 09204_2004_001

Washington DC Mass Sightings

In 1952 there were also a number of sightings occurring over Washington DC. Multiple people reported seeing flying discs or flying saucers directly over the U.S. Capitol and White House, as shown in the illustration. The incidents became the basis of several popular movies, including Earth Versus the Flying Saucers. But other movies may have been the trigger for the sightings. For example, the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, where an alien spacecraft landed on the National Mall (“Klaatu, barada nikto!”) came out in 1951, so it may have been the inspiration for many of the sightings.

The Fiorentine Stadium Mass Sightings

by Lilly

On October 27, 1954, the Fiorentina club soccer team was playing against their rival Pistoiese. There were about 10,000 spectators sitting in the concrete bowl of The Stadio Artemio Franchi Stadium in Florence, Italy that fall day. In the second quarter, Fiorentina was in the lead at 6-2 when the game came to a pause because of a sudden shift in the crowd of spectators. Their normal competitive frenzy turned to something more like hysteria. Everyone in The Stadio Artemio Franchi turned their eyes to the sky. Adrico Magnini, a defender for Fiorentina, described the sight as he saw it: “I remember everything from A to Z,” he says. “It was something that looked like an egg that was moving slowly, slowly, slowly. Everyone was looking up and also there was some glitter coming down from the sky, silver glitter.” Every one of the ten thousand other viewers described similar events, details altering slightly from person to person. Many concluded that the only explanation for this event was that the objects in the sky were UFOs.  

This was not a case of mass delirium experienced in the stadium that day, there were many other sights of these strange egg-like, presumed spacecraft all over Tuscany, Italy. Another of the players, Romolo Tuci, years later when asked about the event stated, “In those years everybody was talking about aliens, everybody was talking UFOs and we had the experience, we saw them, we saw them directly, for real.” But what are the possibilities of that being truth? We know now that these UFOs were not Martians as many people at the time believed, but what if they truly were some types of extraterrestrial intelligence, something that cannot be explained by anything on Earth? One of the most mysterious parts of this sighting is the substance that fell from the flying objects, what Magnini described as glitter. This substance was hard to study because it seemed to disintegrate quickly after landing from the sky. Many recounted this material to look like cotton or spiderwebs. A journalist for the Fiorentino newspaper, Giorgio Batini, was able to collect the mystery glitter carefully with a matchstick and brought it to the Institute of Chemical Analysis at the University of Florence. Many types of analysis were performed on the substance and the only conclusion made was that it contained boron, silicon, calcium, and magnesium, and was not radioactive. This information did not tell us much about the possible origin of the material. James Mcgaha, former U.S. Airforce Pilot and now astronomer, came to his own conclusion that it was nothing but migrating spiders. This theory could also explain the cigar shaped flying objects. He claims that the UFOs were a mass of spiders, similar to a school of fish. This theory seems plausible because September and October are the months in which spiders in that area begin migration. These peculiar spider migrations still make headlines to this day.  The spiders create a super colony incased in spider web which then is blown into the air. Such spider groupings have been observed to reach 14,000 feet in altitude and migrate for miles.

A sketch of the UFOs over the stadium in Florence, with silvery dust coming out.

Still, people are not convinced. They are adamant about the idea that the Stadio Artemio Franchi was visited by alien life that afternoon in Tuscany, even with sufficient evidence against that claim. Seventy years since the event, it has become something of a legend for the stadium, and will no doubt be debated for decades longer.  


An artist’s fanciful drawing of UFOs over Florence, Italy in the mid-1950s.

About davidvblack

I teach courses in multimedia, 3D animation, Earth science, physics, biology, 8th grade science, chemistry, astronomy, engineering design, STEAM, and computer science in Utah. I've won numerous awards as an educator and am a frequent presenter at state and national educator conferences. I am part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program through the U.S. Department of State and traveled to Indonesia in the summer of 2017 as an education ambassador. I learned of the Indonesian education system and taught classes in astronomy and chemistry at a high school near Banjarmasin in southern Borneo. I am passionate about STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics); science history; photography; graphic design; 3D animation; and video production. This Spaced-Out Classroom blog is for sharing lessons and activities my students have done in astronomy. The Elements Unearthed project (http://elementsunearthed.com) will combine my interests to document the discovery, history, sources, uses, mining, refining, and hazards of the chemical elements.
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