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Friday, July 9, 2021

"You're Just Like a Little Child Chasing a Balloon into the Sunset" - Guest Post by Steve Mills

The following is a guest post by my good friend Steve Mills, aka the Most Reverend StarDog. He has some thoughts and research to share regarding the infamous Mantell Incident. Please enjoy this guest appearance, and I hope to be writing more soon!

Steve can be found at @StarDoG23 on Twitter


    The above title is my all time favourite putdown from TV or film. It comes from the mouth and wandering psyche of the inimitable Vince Noir, one of the two main characters along with Howard Moon, from the UK comedy series "The Mighty Boosh". In this case it is perfectly apt for what I am about to reveal to many people.

    The story starts about a decade ago whilst I was watching one of the plethora of UFO documentaries on the various cable/satellite channels. Two ex RAF crew with thousands of hours flight experience are talking about their sighting from the early 1950s. During the interview one turns to the other and says something like "Well, it was known in the pilot's mess that, chasing these things (UFOs) could get you killed". That casual, almost throwaway comment, stuck with me. Two vastly experienced and typical, to point of almost an Ealing comedy or Pythonesque cliche, RAF crew openly admitted that, in the early 1950s, UFOs were a subject of conversation in the mess and that, they were talked about as "dangerous". In simple terms, I wanted to try and understand why?

    It has to be pointed out that many aircrew at that time were battle tested and hardened veterans of WW2 and they were often superstitious and then some. Consider a RAF bomber crew's odds of survival on any given mission over Germany was about 50-50 it's not hard to understand why any crumb of comfort was grasped and held onto for, literally at times, dear life. Be it a teddy bear or a garter from the dancer at that show, there wasn't much, in terms of personal ephemera, that didn't find its way over to Germany on some bombing mission. Given that, it's not hard to understand why stories of "Gremlins" and "UFOs" were taken, just maybe, a little more seriously by aircrew than by most folk. Maybe that explained the mess talk and that's all it was; just a way for people carrying out a pressurised role to just blow off steam?

    However, given many legends are based on some actual occurrence my mind then wandered to where these stories may have originated from. As such, there are really two cases in the public sphere that immediately spring to mind. The Kinross incident and the loss of Captain Mantell. I discounted the Kinross incident as it occurred in 1953 and the incident the two RAF aircrew were involved with a was 1952 so, that leaves Captain Mantell. I would guess that, were one to compile a list of "Top Ten UFO Cases", then the loss of Captain Mantell and his F-51 propeller-driven fighter on January 7th 1948 would figure in many people's lists. I knew the case pretty well from numerous books and online articles, truth is, as will become apparent, like 99% of people with an interest in the case I thought I knew it and the chief too-ing and fro-ing between the various camps seems to involve the "Skyhook balloon" explanation. As it turns out, the whole "Skyhook explanation" is what Stephen Fry would refer to as "Utter arsegravy" - again however, I am jumping ahead of myself.

    One thing I have learned over the decades is this. Both pro and against camps in the UFO field "make shit up" (See Note at the bottom of the article) and leave important details out that might not fit a person's particular agenda. That's human nature and confirmation bias is what drives many people on both sides of the argument. The Mantell case is a classic example of this and I eventually discovered that we are all wrong about what we think happened and way more crucially, about when it happened. 

    If there's one thing i try to do in any case it's return to the actual words of the witnesses and not rely on their words filtered by any particular agenda. In Mantell's case I thought I had found the definitive version of events, in of all places, a 1956 documentary made with the co-operation of the US military. (There's a link to said documentary at the foot of this article alongside the notes). From that documentary i collated the following timeline of the events that January day in 1948 and they are as follows.

......................January 7th 1948 14:00 approx Kentucky State police report to Fort Knox military that they have sighted an unusual aircraft or object, flying through the air, circular in appearance approximately 2-300 feet in diameter and moving Westward. Provo Marshall at Fort Knox called Godman Airbase.

13:50 object spotted south of the airfield from the Godman control tower some 35 minutes after the "object" was first reported.


A B29 and an A26 were both on photo missions in the area.

Object seen by the tower controller, Lieutenant Cowan and Operations Officer through binoculars. Operations Officer puts in second call to the commanding officer Colonel Hicks. Hicks arrives during the phone call at approximately 14:20.

Aprrox, 14:30 A flight of four F51s arrives over the field.

Hicks orders the F51s to be contacted to ascertain who the leader of the flight was. Captain Mantell,

Mantell ordered to change course to 210 degrees and investigate the "unknown object".

Lieutenant Hendricks requests to land and refuel and take on oxygen, permission granted.

Both wingmen refueled and took off again this time carrying oxygen

14:45 Mantell calls the Tower "I see it, above and ahead of me, I'm still climbing"...

Moments later one of the wingmen calls in.. "What the hell are we looking for?"

Seconds later Mantell.."Mantell to tower, the object is directly ahead of me and above me, now moving at half my speed"

"Mantell to tower it appears to be a metallic object of tremendous size"

The object was also in view of all the tower personnel.

"Mantell to tower, I'm trying to close in for a better look, I'll go to 20,000 feet"

Shortly after Hammond, one of Mantell's wingmen calls Mantell "Level off captain, till I regain visual contact"

Mantell is silent, no reply

Moments later Hammond makes another transmission. Mantell seems to have disappeared and climbed beyond his wingman's view

15:25; the remaining wingman breaks off and returns to base

The object visible throughout the chase from the Tower, disappears from view at approximately 15:50. F51s first lost to view object disappears behind a cloud.

At 17:50 they are advised that Mantell had crashed 5 miles south west of Franklin, Kentucky. The crash had occurred at approximately 16:45; Mantell is killed in the crash.

Notes: Franklin is roughly 90 miles from Godman airbase. If Mantell vanished at approximately 15:20 and crashed at 16:45 then he was flying dangerously close to the stalling speed of a P51, (100MPH).  Where was he for that hour? It should have taken his plane no more than 20 minutes to fly from the area of the airbase and Franklin. 


Tower controller's statement: "It looked silver or metallic"

Intelligence officer's statement: "It appeared to be a bright silver object"

Executive Officer's statement: "It was circular in shape"

AACS statement: " A small white object in the sky"

Operation's Officer's statement: "It appeared round and white"

The Commanding Officer's statement: "It could be seen plainly with the naked eye"

Some present had no memory of Mantell informing the tower that he was "Moving in for a better look'...

    Strap in, because this it where is becomes "sciency". My interest in UFOs and my school years left me with a side interest in military aircraft. I'm no expert and certainly no "rivet counter" however, I do have a decent grounding in what an aircraft of a given type can and cannot do. If an aircraft is involved in a major incident I will  trundle along to the rivet counter websites and glean as much information about said plane in an effort to better understand what might have happened. It was this nerd like attention to detail that first led me to suspect something was drastically wrong with the accepted version, by all parties, of that day's events. According to the "officially accepted" explanation Captain Mantell "vanished" at some time between 14:45 and 14:50 hours that afternoon and crashed at 15:45 local time near Franklin, Kentucky. However, there's an immediate discrepancy here as by contrast, virtually all reports state that Captain Mantell's watch had stopped at 15:18 and that was the moment his plane hit the ground.

    However, this was not what concerned me. Even if he did crash at 15:18 then it still begged the question where Mantell's plane was for between 30 minutes and an hour after it's assumed he had passed out and lost consciousness from anoxia. Why, you might very well ask? The answer is a rather simple one and one I suspect most pilots of that era would have intrinsically understood. The F-51 is indeed rather easy to fly for an experienced prop pilot, being both light of touch on the controls and fairly stable even when you throw it through some aerobatic manouevers. However, there is a caveat- a rather large one at that- the moment you take your hands off the controls the Mustang behaves like the equine it's named after. Within 3-4 seconds the plane will  begin to drift in whatever direction the torque of the propeller is pulling it towards and in short, within 5 seconds, that F-51 becomes an 8000lbs+ anvil. That is, ten seconds after Mantell's hands left the controls, or lost the ability to guide those controls, it began to fall out of the sky. I did a rough calculation and erring on the conservative side and with two wings intact, a F-51 has a terminal velocity of about 1380 feet per second. In MPH that's 940 MPH and well past the speed of sound. This possibly explains the "explosion" that the witnesses on the ground saw as Mantell's plane descended in its crash dive. What probably happened is that, as the plane's velocity grew closer to the sound barrier it began to literally shake apart, you can look this effect up- it's well reported by pilots in dives during WW2- and indeed, it lost a wing and other parts of the airframe literally were shaken off. The "explosion" might have been the plane actually making it through the sound barrier and the wing being torn off. They key point to all this however is this, from the moment Mantell passed out to the moment his plane hit the ground was a couple of minutes. If he crashed at 15:18 then, according to the accepted timeline, he had been missing for nearly 25 minutes and that makes no sense. 

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I was stuck. Either Mantell was flying that plane under the effects of anoxia for between 20 minutes to an hour (Remember the "official record" cough cough, supposedly claimed he crashed at 15:45 local time) or, the plane was flying itself. In the final analysis, neither of these options makes any sense and looking for a rational explanation I expanded my search. I looked for what was "missing" from the evidence and the fact that, I could find no record of his 2 fellow pilots version of the events; as the only people who were with him that fateful day this struck me as strange. This is one of the most famous UFO incidents and yet, seemingly, not a word from the key witnesses. It was becoming somewhat frustrating and then, through a piece of lateral thinking I found this obscure and seemingly forgotten blog piece on the incident. 

    If we accept the facts espoused in the piece and that the author was writing with honest intent then finally we have the true story of Captain Mantell and the proper timeline. It does of course beg the question as to quite why the military have obfuscated for decades about the incident and I suspect that comes down to a simple fact- That being, if you write an article "Pilot dies whilst chasing a UFO" you are 100% correct and the military simply had no desire to deal with the questions that come with that sensational headline. It also shows that "The Skyhook believers" are really no different to the most out there "UFO believers" and that, their intransigence is every bit as unscientific and irrational as that they claim to rail against. As the blogger so rightly points out, the reality is, as a UFO incident, it's really not that fascinating and it was the crash that gave it its probably undeserved extra kudos. In conclusion then, I admit to a certain smugness that my hunch about the actual mechanics of the crash must have followed the path I thought they would  because I'm human, it is what humans do. As an Erisian my heart sings because I was able to use my favourite put down as a headline and the reality is, we were all chasing the balloon into the sunset and Mantell, ironically, was actually chasing a genuine, still as-yet-unidentified flying object. 

To conclude then, always return and start from the original witnesses's words on any given incident. We all filter what we hear through our own prejudices no matter how even-handed we think we are being. By the time an incident reaches its final form in print, as a TV documentary or as a podcast, it's probably taken on a slant that never existed in the original no matter how subtle and unintended that slant might be. 

Keep your eyes on the sky, your feet on the floor, and remember: just cos you're not paranoid doesn't mean Gef the Indian Marsh Moogoose isn't spreading tittle tattle about you.

Peace.. The Most Reverend StarDoG.....


1: In a rather expensive documentary about the seminal Kenneth Arnold sighting from 1947 the conclusion was that "Arnold probably saw reflections in his canopy screen". The truth? In Arnold's own words, he leaned out of his cockpit to make sure he wasn't simply seeing reflections on his windscreen surface. Phillip Klass paid someone $5000 to lie about being a relative of Travis Walton. There's an extremely long and incredibly detailed blog piece about the B-47 incident of July 17, 1957, from the USA and the author obviously knows their radar backwards. Their conclusion that the UFO sighted by the B-47 was a "Radar Ghost" has one problem. After you've spent 30 minutes reading the article, you then realise: They had somehow forgotten to mention that three of the crew actually saw  the object, and it was bright green. On the other side of the coin, you have the likes of Stephen "Shall I take my shirt off now?" Greer and the "Cross my palm with silver, purchase my book and the great mystery shall be revealed" crowd. My experience tells me that, two people standing side by side can have totally different experiences of the same UFO incident and yet, both of them will insist their own experience was "true"... and you know what? They are, on an individual level, both probably right and that is the true mystery we are researching here.

UFO Documentary... If you're fan of the recent TV series "Project Bluebook" this is well worth a watch.

P-51 Performance... (It was renamed the F for Fighter 51 post WW2, the P stood for Pursuit) 

Flying a P-51   

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