1948: Something strange is seen over Kentucky. Thomas Mantell, a 25 year old Kentucky Air National Guard pilot, was killed while trying to confirm the sighting. He was an experienced pilot and had been part of the Battle of Normandy during World War II. He had over 2,000 hours in the air, but was relatively inexperienced in flying a P-51, his aircraft on this day. Reports started coming in during the early afternoon. First, a Kentucky Highway Patrol report came in about some unusual entity in the sky near Maysville. The object was said to be about 250-300 feet in diameter. Other reports came in from Owensboro and Irvington. At 1.45 PM, Sergeant Quinton Blackwell, stationed in the control tower of Fort Knox, also reported on something up in the sky. Two more people in the tower corroborated his report of a bright white circular object with some red at the bottom, seen only while using binoculars.
Other observers at Clinton County Army Air Force Field in Ohio also saw something but described it differently. Something was also seen at Lockbourne Army Air Field. Luckily, there were already four P-51 Mustangs in the air from the 165th Fighter Squadron Kentucky Air National Guard. The four planes were instructed to take a closer look and find out what was in the Kentucky sky. They went in pursuit, but one of the planes was already quite low on fuel and soon broke off to return to base to refuel. The other three continued pursuit. There is discrepancy about what Pilot Mantell actually said while communicating with the tower.
Regardless of the words spoken, the three pilots took off in steep pursuit of the anomaly. The pilots were advised to level off and attempt to just get a better look at whatever was up there. Instead, he continued to pursue. Only one of the wingmen actually had an oxygen mask on board and his levels were quite low. The other two pilots abandoned the chase at 22,500 feet but Mantell continued upward. At the altitude of 25,000 feet, he passed out due to lack of oxygen and soon after, his plane began a circling descent and crashed on a farm south of Franklin, Kentucky. He was killed in the crash.
At the time, the Air Force said the pilots had been chasing Venus through the sky. But later study showed that even if Venus had been visible in the hazy daytime sky, it would not have appeared as large and bright as described. It would have been a pinprick. During this time, the US Navy was experimenting with secret weather balloons called Skyhook. On this date, records reveal that multiple Skyhook balloons were released from Clinton County, Ohio and air currents would have moved some into the Fort Knox area. But since they were top secret at the time, the military did not communicate with other branches and not with the towers or other observation stations. It is now believed that what Mantell was chasing was one of these balloon. Even at the time, two observers following the object with telescopes described what they saw as large balloons.
Very white and about one fourth the size of the full moon … Through binoculars it appeared to have a red border at the bottom … It remained stationary, seemingly, for one and a half hours. – report from Fort Knox
Just before leaving it came to very near the ground, staying down for about ten seconds, then climbed at a very fast rate back to its original altitude, 10,000 feet, leveling off and disappearing into the overcast heading 120 degrees. Its speed was greater than 500 mph (800 km/h) in level flight. – report from Lockbourne Army Air Field
Looks metallic and of tremendous size. – debated report from Thomas Mantell
I had always heard a lot of wild speculation about the condition of Mantell’s crashed F-51, so I wired for a copy of the accident report. [It] said that…Mantell’s body had not burned, not disintegrated, and was not full of holes; the wreck was not radioactive, nor was it magnetized. – Edward Ruppelt, head of Project Blue Book