The Flying Saucer Flap of January 1953
In his 1993 book Unnatural History: True Manitoba Mysteries, author Chris Rutkowski, a man generally considered to be one of Canada’s leading experts on the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects, wrote, “Ufologists recognize several periods of significant increases in the numbers of UFO reports. These are called ‘flap’ years: 1896-1897, 1947, 1952-1954, 1957, 1966-1967, and 1973-1975.” That this pattern applies to Canadian UFO sightings, as Rutkowski later points out in his book, is bolstered by a number of articles filed away in the archives of Rutkowski’s American counterpart, Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra, which describe a succession of UFO sightings in the early 1950s.
Mystery Spheres of North Bay, Ontario
One such article, entitled “Canada Hunts for Saucers,” written by John C. Ross (a.k.a. Curtis Fuller) for the May 1954 issue of the magazine Fate, details a number of alleged UFO sightings made during the early ‘50s flap. All of them took place in or near North Bay, Ontario, a city on the northeastern shores of Lake Nipissing just northwest of Algonquin Provincial Park. The sightings began in the fall of 1951, when three of the city’s residents, all of them standing on a different shore of Lake Nipissing, spotted a bright silver sphere making strange maneuvers over the lake in broad daylight. Over the next three years, sixteen people reported nighttime sightings of mysterious orange-coloured spheres in the North Bay area. One witness claimed that the sphere he saw “came out of the northeastern skies, wandered back and forth across the horizon, then vanished.”
In addition to cavorting over Lake Nipissing, strange orange-red discs appeared on several occasions over the newly-established Royal Canadian Air Force Base just north of the city- a CFB station founded in 1951, ironically for the purpose of aerial surveillance and defense. On January 1st, 1952, RCAF Warrant Officer W.J. Yeo watched the strange object circle, dive, and zig-zag over the base’s airstrip for eight minutes. Four months later, on April 12th, 1952, Warrant Officer E.H. Rossell and Flight Sergeant R. McRae saw an amber-colored aerial sphere approach from the southwest. The mysterious globe hovered over the airstrip for some time before returning along the route by which it had arrived, climbing into the sky at a thirty degree angle for two minutes before disappearing from view. Incidentally, at the height of the UFO flap of 1957, CFB North Bay was transformed into a major NORAD base, the North American Air Defense Command being a Cold War alliance between the U.S. and Canadian Air Forces formed for the purpose of protecting and surveying North American airspace. Today, an enormous Underground Complex designed to withstand a nuclear blast lies sixty stories beneath it.
Japanese UFOs of 1952 and 1953
Another article in Mr. Mangiacopra’s archive entitled “Special Saucer Report,” which appeared in the June 1953 issue of the magazine Fate, chronicles an unusual cluster of UFO sightings concentrated within a 10-day period in the latter part of January 1953, smack in the middle of the aforementioned flap. The first incident took place on January 21st, when two American fighter pilots made a routine flight over Japan. Not far from the Kuril Islands and the island of Sakhalin, which Japan had formally ceded to the Soviet Union just two years prior in the culmination of a contentious territorial dispute, the airmen spotted “rotating clusters of red, white and green lights” hovering in the sky. The things were simultaneously picked up on radar by a U.S. Air Force crew on the ground, apparently proving that they constituted one or more material objects. After hanging motionless in the air for some time, the lights zipped away with blinding speed.
This unnerving report prompted the U.S. Air Force to declassify two similar incidents that had taken place in Japan in the recent past. Back on March 29th, 1952, while conducting an aerial exercise near the city of Misawa, Lieutenant David C. Brigham saw a tiny shiny disc descend from above and interpose itself between his own aircraft and an adjacent F-84 Thunderjet. He described the mysterious object as being “about eight inches in diameter, very thin, round and as shiny as polished chromium. It had no projections and left no exhaust or vapor trails.” Although the object did not appear to have any markings, there was purportedly a “ripple in the metal skin.” To Brigham’s horror, the little disc darted directly towards the Thunderjet, stopped within 20 feet of the aircraft, and then flipped at a 90 degree angle. The strange object proceeded to flutter for approximately three seconds before maneuvering around the Thunderjet and then shooting up and out of sight.
The second previous incident had taken place on December 29th, 1952, when Colonel Donald J.M. Blakeslee, a decorated WWII flying ace, spotted a cluster of strange lights while flying near the same spot at which the January 21st sightings took place. Like his anonymous successors, Blakeslee described seeing a rotating cluster of red, green, and white lights hovering in the air. The veteran pilot extinguished all of the lights in his cockpit in order to determine whether the strange aerial phenomenon was simply a reflection on the glass. When the rotating lights did not dissipate, Blakeslee turned his lights back on and converged on the floating cluster, prompting it to fly away at mind bending velocity.
The Flap of January 1953
“While discs were appearing in Japan,” the article continues, “they also were appearing in the United States.” Four days after the January 21st, 1953 report, a mysterious cigar-shaped object was spotted in the sky near Fort Worth, Texas. It changed colour several times before flying away with terrific speed. According to an article in the April 1953 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a 4-month-old Hereford calf was seen observing this UFO intently, and inclined her head in order to get a better view of the spectacle. After the strange visitor departed, the calf was unable to return her head to its normal position. In the days following the incident, the Hereford continued to stare vacantly at the sky without displaying the slightest appetite, her eyes rhythmically moving back and forth. Unable to treat her mysterious condition, the owner had the calf euthanized. A subsequent autopsy revealed an abscess in the animal’s brain.
Three days after the sighting at Fort Worth, on January 28th, U.S. servicemen stationed in a control tower at the Marine Air Base in El Toro, California, witnessed the appearance of a large, fiery, aerial disc. When approached by a fighter jet, the object made a speedy escape. That same day, Navy air instructors Lieutenant Commander Naureckas and Captain E.H. Haines spotted a blinding white light while flying 8,000 feet over the Naval Outlying Land Field Barin in Foley, Alabama. The strange luminescence was simultaneously spotted by chief air controllers E.F. Hudson and Wave Muriel Titus on the ground below. After hovering in the air for about 45 seconds, the light changed colour and took off northwest towards the city of Mobile. “I watched it for about 45 minutes,” Wave was quoted as having said. “At first I thought it was a bright star, but then it started to pulsate and change colors. First it was a brilliant white. Then it would change to red and then to green.”
The day after the El Toro and Foley sightings, a Northrop Aircraft test pilot named Rexy Hardy, who had formerly served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy Air Service, noticed four strange objects gliding through the air in tandem while flying his own plane over Malibu, California. “They were about the size of a B-36,” he told a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, “but circular in shape. They were clearly defined. They were of aluminum color and in a definite flight pattern. Their speed was around 1200 m.p.h. They were definitely not balloons nor any type of aircraft I have ever seen.”
Around that same time, other strange lights were seen over Petoskey, Grand Rapids, and Sandusky, Michigan. Some witnesses, including farmers Ervin Geeck, Michael Lawler, Carl Kohler, and Cevil Hamilt, described seeing a light which seemed to revolve counterclockwise, which hovered in the sky for some time, descended slowly, then disappeared.
American servicemen were not the only witnesses to report mysterious flying objects in late January, 1953. Across Lake Huron from the Michigan sightings, about an hour and a half’s drive west of North Bay, in the city of Sudbury, Ontario, Mr. and Mrs. Russel Howard and two of their neighbours claimed to have watched two silvery torpedo-shaped objects move slowly across the sky, passing directly over a mining district called Copper Cliff as it made its way toward the Great Lake. The witnesses watched the object for half an hour before it disappeared from view.
“And so,” the article concludes, “ends another in the endless series of strange and unidentified – unknown but unknowable?- aerial phenomena.”
- “Canada Hunts for Saucers,” by John C. Ross (a.k.a. Curtis Fuller) in the May 1954 issue of Fate
- Unnatural History: True Manitoba Mysteries (1993), by Chris Rutkowski
- UFOs Over Canada (1991), by John Robert Colombo
- The Canadian UFO Report: The Best Cases Revealed (2006), by Chris Rutkowski and Geoff Dittman
- “Special Saucer Report!” by Curtis Fuller in the June 1953 issue of Fate
- “‘Flying Saucerosis’ in a Calf,” by Hilton A. Smith, D.V.M., PhD., professor of veterinary pathology, A.&M. College of Texas, College Station, in the April 1953 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association