Thomas F. Mantell was a Captain in the Kentucky Air National Guard, who was asked to investigate a UFO on January 7, 1948. Mantell’s flight investigation of the UFO led to the fatal crashing of his P-51. The Mantell UFO incident exhibited some of the first evidence of a public concern that the US government was covering up facts about flying saucer reports.
On December 30, 1947, the Army Air Force established Project Sign at Wright Field, Ohio in an effort to determine if the flying disc phenomenon of 1947 constituted a threat to the national security of the United States.
The staff of Project Sign was philosophically divided into two factions. One side took seriously the possibility that the saucers could be extraterrestrial vehicles, while the other saw nothing extraordinary and felt that all sightings could be explainable.
The pro-extraterrestrial side of Sign dug into their position based on several UFO incidents of 1948, one being the Mantell encounter of a flying object near Louisville, Kentucky on January 7, 1948.
Many witnesses reported their observations to police of a large, bright object in the sky. The police called officials at Godman Air Field for confirmation. A flight of F-51 Air National Guard planes were in the area and were asked by Godman to investigate the sighting. Led by Captain Thomas Mantell, three of the aircraft climbed to give pursuit. After running low on fuel, two of the planes ceased pursuit. Mantell continued the chase and as he attempted to climb to 20,000 feet, he reported seeing the object, describing it as "metallic" and of tremendous size. A short time after this Mantell's plane crashed, killing him. The official explanation for the crash was that Mantell had mistaken a balloon for a strange vehicle and in the heat of pursuit ignored the fact that without a plane equipped with oxygen he was flying too high. Mantell subsequently blacked out and died in the crash.
Press speculations fuelled the notion that Mantell was killed by a "flying saucer". The Mantell incident exhibited some of the first evidence of a public concern that the government was covering up facts about flying saucer reports. Years later it was determined that a secret balloon experiment was in the area, having been launched from Minnesota the day before, and was claimed to be responsible for the sightings over Kentucky on January 7th, the day of Mantell’s death. However, in a sworn statement by James H. Hudson, he gives the following observation, “The object is not a comet or star, but was man made. It was not a baloon, comet, star, aircraft of known type.”
A partial transcript reads:
"Godman Tower Calling the flight of 4 ships northbound over Godman Field. Do you read? Over.
[Pause] Godman Tower Calling the flight of 4 ships northbound over Godman Field. Do you read? Over."
"Roger, Godman Tower. This is National Guard 869, Flight Leader of the formation. Over."
"National Guard 869 from Godman Tower. We have an object out south of Godman here that we are unable to identify, and we would like to know if you have gas enough; and if so could you take a look for us if you will."
"Roger, I have the gas and I will take a look for you if you give me the correct heading.
"The object is directly ahead of and above me now, moving at about half my speed... It appears to be a metallic object or possibly reflection of Sun from a metallic object, and it is of tremendous size... I'm still climbing... I'm trying to close in for a better look."
Of Mantell’s last words: “it is of tremendous size”, the Haag statement, and the Hudson observation, one must consider if the unidentifiable object can seriously be taken as another “experimental weather balloon”, as was justified by US officials years later.
- ↑ Project 1947, UFOs: GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT, SECRECY, AND DOCUMENTS, by Barry Greenwood
- UFO Casebook, 1948, The Death of Thomas Mantell