1952 military engagement with UFOs myth or mystery?
Port Orange man details the day in 1952 when Air Force took on UFOs
BY BILLY COX
In an account of a military engagement sure to leave critics scoffing, a UFO investigator claims more than a dozen U.S. Air Force jet fighters were destroyed by flying saucers on a single day in 1952. But not before their guns and rockets crippled several UFOs that wound up making emergency landings in rural West Virginia.
In his book, Frank Feschino writes about how one of the UFOs barely missed a passenger plane above Wheeling, West Virginia. Illustration by Fran Feschino
“I know how it sounds,” says Frank Feschino, the Port Orange artist whose new book attempts to reconstruct what would be the biggest dogfight since the Marianas Turkey Shoot in 1944. “But I think it’s going to come out real soon. There’s a lot of guys out there who know what happened but are too scared to talk.”
Feschino’s book — “The Braxton County Monster: The Cover-Up of the Flatwoods Monster Revealed” (Quarrier Press, $29.95) — revisits a mystery that has been a part of West Virginia lore for more than half a century.
At its core are a dozen eyewitnesses to a strange, robotic creature that appeared on a hilltop following the crash of an alleged meteor on the evening of Sept. 12, 1952. But following an investigation that took 14 years to research and write, Feschino claims the beginning of the incident involved a UFO air battle that began in Florida, shifted to the Eastern seaboard and ended in an Air Force whitewash.
Thirty five years ago this month, the USAF officially terminated its UFO study, called Project Blue Book, by concluding there were no national security aspects to the phenomenon. Arguably the most hectic phase of Blue Book’s 22-year existence was 1952, when a record 1,501 reports were logged. July was the busiest month. Warplanes were scrambled to chase nocturnal UFOs that buzzed Washington, D.C., on consecutive weekends.
Even Patrick Air Force Base got splashed by the wave on July 18 of that year, when seven on-base airmen observed a series of silent amber-red objects approaching restricted air space late one evening. One UFO passed directly overhead before pulling a 180-degree U-turn and disappearing to the west. According to the Blue Book reports, none of the objects were spotted on radar and no planes were dispatched to confront them.
Blue Book ruled the avalanche of UFO sightings across the southeast on Sept. 12, 1952, could be attributed to a meteor.
But no meteor showers were scheduled for that night, and the Harvard Meteor Project, which tracked 2,500 cosmic fireballs from 1952 to ’54, recorded no activity on that date.
Feschino also quotes Indian Harbour Beach astronomer Hal Povenmire, author of “Fireballs, Meteors and Meteorites,” as dismissing the meteor explanation. Povenmire declined to comment on Feschino’s book, but he reiterated his stance for FLORIDA TODAY: “It definitely wasn’t a meteor.”
Retired Air Force Col. William Coleman, chief spokesman for Blue Book in the 1960s and head of the USAF’s Public Information Office from 1969 to ’74, wasn’t around for the 1952 investigation, and could only speculate on the meteor theory. “Occasionally, you’ll get a loner when you’re not passing through a belt,” he says from his home in Indian Harbour Beach. “It’ll come in on a flat trajectory, which means it’ll be exposed to a longer burn in the atmosphere and leave a longer trail.”
But Coleman is emphatic about one thing: No military aircraft were ever destroyed during UFO encounters.
“Of all the (12,618) reports we collected, only 105 cases were what we’d call ‘worrisome,’ from a military point of view,” says Coleman, who chased a UFO in a bomber in 1955. “These might involve pilots seeing things in the air that also showed up as solid objects on radar. Sometimes they’d pace our planes, sometimes they’d depart abruptly. But we never lost anything to hostile activity.”
Speaking during a book-signing tour in Charleston, W.Va., where sales are brisk, Feschino says he began looking into the Flatwoods Monster case in 1990. Ten local kids and an adult, Kathleen May, were alerted when a flaming, low-flying object apparently went down early one Friday evening on a hilltop outside rural Flatwoods. After hiking to investigate, they stumbled upon a “monster,” reported to be 12 feet tall, lurking in a tree. It glided away upon an apron of flames, but not before dribbling what appeared to be an oily fluid onto the ground and their clothing.
Feschino says he grew more intrigued when he read scores of old newspaper clippings about other UFO activity that night, from Pennsylvania to Florida. Many reported objects trailing tails of fire, following three separate westward trajectories from the Atlantic Ocean. Especially compelling were newspaper reports concerning the loss of an F-94 Sabrejet fighter over the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the day.
Flying out of Tyndall AFB near Panama City with three other jets, Lt. John Jones, the pilot, and radar operator Lt. John DelCurto apparently got separated during bad weather, were ordered to land at Moody AFB in Georgia before losing radio contact, and presumably crashed after running out of fuel. Their bodies were never recovered. Feschino doesn’t buy that story.
When he attempted to locate official records of the incident through military archives, Feschino says he got a bureaucratic runaround and was informed paperwork on those pilots doesn’t exist. (Feschino interviewed DelCurto’s brother in Oregon, and took a photo of Jones’ memorial marker in Ocala.) Upon matching additional air defense activity that day with the numerous UFO reports, Feschino began assembling time lines, integrating them into maps, and produced a unified field theory that “as many as 20” American planes attacked, and were shot down by, UFOs.
“The Braxton County Monster” goes into exhaustive — not to mention inferential, unsourced and highly speculative — detail to support Feschino’s other premise, that multiple sightings over the Flatwoods area on Sept. 12 was a “rescue mission” to salvage a damaged spacecraft.
“Of course you could cover this up,” insists the Connecticut native. “They do it all the time. Look at all the planes that got shot down during the Cold War on missions that didn’t supposedly exist. They made up cover stories and told the families back home all sorts of lies.”
That’s true, says historian William E. Burrows. But the author of “By Any Means Necessary: America’s Secret Air War” doubts UFOs were in the mix.
The director of New York University’s graduate program for science and environmental reporting says up to 166 U.S. servicemen were shot down over Russia, China and North Korea in 16 attacks between 1950 and 1969.
“They would always attribute it to navigational errors or typhoons, because they had to say something to the wives and kids,” Burrows says. “It always bothered me, because these guys were brave men who were made to look like nitwits. But I don’t believe in UFOs. And as soon as the Cold War ended, the UFO sightings ended.”
Feschino says Flatwoods had nothing to do with the Cold War. He interviewed retired Army colonel Dale Leavitt who, on Sept. 12, 1952, said he got an order from the Air Force to investigate the West Virginia crash site. Then with the National Guard, Leavitt said he led a 30-man detachment to the area, where they found minor debris and burned vegetation, which they forwarded to the USAF. Before his death, Leavitt told Feschino he never learned the results.
“I find it very strange that the military would send troops out to investigate a meteor,” Feschino says. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Feschino’s efforts notwithstanding, the Flatwoods case will likely remain the stuff of legend, pending military eyewitness testimony. But that may not happen soon. Despite Blue Book’s assertion that the military is no longer interested in the phenomenon, UFOs continue to fall under the cloak of national security, according to John Greenewald.
“They’re hard to get,” says Greenewald, “because NORAD says they’re exempt from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.” 2004, Billy Cox