August 5, 1953
Location: Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, United States
after dark on the night of twelfth [sic], the Air Defense
Command radar station at Ellsworth AFB, just east of Rapid
City, had received a call from the local Ground Observer
Corps filter center. A lady spotter at Black Hawk, about
10 miles west of Ellsworth, had reported an extremely
bright light low on the horizon, off to the northeast.
Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, Former Director of Project
first heard about the sighting about two o'clock on the
morning of August 11, 1953, when Max Futch called me from
ATIC. A few minutes before, a wire had come in carrying
a priority just under that reserved for flashing the word
the U.S. has been attacked. Max had been called over to
ATIC by the OD to see the report, and he thought that
I should see it. I was a little hesitant to get dressed
and go out to the base, so I asked Max what he thought
about the report. His classic answer will go down in UFO
history: "Captain," Max said in his slow,
pure Louisiana drawl, "you know that for a year,
I've read every flying saucer report that's come in and
that I never really believed in the things."
Then he hesitated and added, so fast that I could hardly
understand him, "But you should read this wire."
The speed with which he uttered this last statement was
in itself enough to convince me. When Max talked fast,
something was important.
half hour later, I was at ATIC - just in time to get a
call from the Pentagon. Someone else had gotten out of
bed to read his copy of the wire.
used the emergency orders that I always kept in my desk
and caught the first airliner out of Dayton to Rapid City,
South Dakota. I didn't call the 4602nd because I wanted
to investigate this one personally. I talked to everyone
involved in the incident and pieced together an amazing
after dark on the night of twelfth, the Air Defense Command
radar station at Ellsworth AFB, just east of Rapid City,
had received a call from the local Ground Observer Corps
filter center. A lady spotter at Black Hawk, about 10
miles west of Ellsworth, had reported an extremely bright
light low on the horizon, off to the northeast. The radar
had been scanning an area to the west, working a jet fighter
in some practice patrols, but when they got the report,
they moved the sector scan to the northeast quadrant.
There was a target exactly where the lady reported the
light to be. The warrant officer, who was the duty controller
for the night, told me that he'd studied the target for
several minutes. He knew how weather could affect radar,
but this target was "well defined, solid, and
bright." It seemed to be moving, but very slowly.
He called for an altitude reading, and the man on the
height-finding radar checked his scope. He also had the
target - it was at 16.000 feet.
warrant officer picked up the phone and asked the filter
center to connect him with the spotter. They did, and
the two people compared notes on the UFO's position for
several minutes. But right in the middle of a sentence,
the lady suddenly stopped and excitedly said, "It's
starting to move - it's moving southwest toward Rapid."
controller looked down at his scope and the target was
begining to pick up speed and move southwest. He yelled
at two of his men to run outside and take a look. In a
second or two, one of them shouted back that they could
both see a large bluish-white light moving toward Rapid
City. The controller looked down at his scope, the target
was moving toward Rapid City. As all three parties watched
the light and kept up a steady cross conversation of the
description, the UFO swiftly made a wide sweep around
Rapid City and returned to its original position in the
master sergeant who had seen and heard the happenings
told me that in all his years of duty - combat radar operations
in both Europe and Korea - he'd never been so completely
awed by anything. When the warrant officer had yelled
down at him and asked him what he thought they should
do, he'd just stood there. "After all,"
he told me, "what in hell could we do - they're
bigger than all of us."
the warrant officer did do something. He called to the
F-84 pilot he had on combat air patrol west of the base
and told him to get ready for an intercept. He brought
the pilot around south of the base and gave him a course
correction that would take him right into the light, which
was still at 16.000 feet. By this time, the pilot had
it spotted. He made the turn, and when he closed to within
about 3 miles of the target, it began to move. The controller
saw it begin to move, the spotter saw it begin to move
and the pilot saw it begin to move - all at the same time.
There was now no doubt that all of them were watching
the same object.
it began to move, the UFO picked up speed fast and started
to climb, heading north, but the F-84 was right on its
tail. The pilot would notice that the light was getting
brighter, and he'd call the controller to tell him about
it. But the controller's answer would always be the same,
"Roger, we can see it on the scope."
was always a limit as to how near the jet could get, however.
The controller told me that it was just as if the UFO
had some kind of an automatic warning radar linked to
its power supply. When something got too close to it,
it would automatically pick up speed and pull away. The
separation distance always remained about 3 miles.
chase continued on north out of sight of the lights of
Rapid Cty and the base - into some very black night.
the UFO and the F-84 got about 120 miles to the north,
the pilot checked his fuel; he had to come back. And when
I talked to him, he said he was damn glad that he was
running out of fuel because being out over some mighty
desolate country alone with a UFO can cause some worry.
the UFO and the F-84 had gone off the scope, but in a
few minutes, the jet was back on, heading for home. Then
10 or 15 miles behind it was the UFO target also coming
the UFO and the F-84 were returning to the base - the
F-84 was planning to land - the controller received a
call from the jet interceptor squadron on the base. The
alert pilots at the squadron had heard the conversations
on their radio and didn't believe it. "Who's nuts
up there?" was the comment that passed over the
wire from the pilots to the radar people. There was an
F-84 on the line ready to scramble, the man on the phone
said, and one of the pilots, a World War II and Korean
veteran, wanted to go up and see a flying saucer. The
controller said, "OK, go."
a minute or two, the F-84 was airborne and the controller
was working him toward the light. The pilot saw it right
away and closed in. Again, the light began to climb out,
this time more toward the northeast. The pilot also began
to climb, and before long, the light - which at first
had been about 30 degrees above his horizontal line of
sight - was now below him. He nosed the '84 down to pick
up speed, but it was the same old story - as soon as he'd
get within 3 miles of the UFO, it would put on a burst
of speed and stay out ahead.
though the pilot could see the light and hear the ground
controller telling him that he was above it, and alternately
gaining on it or dropping back, he still couldn't believe
it - there must be a simple explanation. He turned off
all of his lights - it wasn't a reflection from any of
the airplane's lights because there it was. A reflection
from a ground light, maybe. He rolled the airplane - the
position of the light didn't change. A star - he picked
out three bright stars near the light and watched carefully.
The UFO moved in relation to the three stars. Well, he
thought to himself, if it's a real object out there, my
radar should pick it up too; so he flipped on his radar-ranging
gunsight. In a few seconds, the red light on his sight
blinked on - something real and solid was in front of
him. Then, he was scared. When I talked to him, he readily
admitted that he'd been scared. He'd met MD 109's, FW
190's and ME 262's over Germany and he'd met MIG-15's
over Korea but the large, bright, bluish-white light had
scared him. He asked the controller if he could break
off the intercept.
time, the light didn't corne back.
the UFO went off the scope, it was headed toward Fargo,
North Dakota, so the controller called the Fargo filter
center. "Had they had any reports of unidentified
lights?" he asked. They hadn't.
in a few minutes, a call came back. Spotter posts on a
southwest-northeast line a few miles west of Fargo had
reported a fast-moving, bright bluish-white light.
was an unknown - the best.
sighting was thorougly investigated, and I could devote
pages of detail on how we looked into every facet of the
incident; but it will suffice to say that in every facet
we looked into, we saw nothing. Nothing but a big question
mark asking what was it.
Edward J. Ruppelt
Former Director, Project Blue Book