Go Back Report # 1647



   In his book Ruppelt reports an encounter which occurred over Cuba on September 24, 1952, as an example of the kind of error that Gorman made. An independent examination of the pilot's account―quoted below―does not compellingly lead to that conclusion, however. In his official report, Navy pilot William N. Straugh relates that at 7:25 P.M. he was flying near the base at Guantanamo Bay. As he was ascending to 4,000 feet, he noticed another object―an orange light approaching from the east. He knew there was another Navy jet in the area, but as the light effected a left turn, he realized that it was something else. Straugh attempted an intercept but managed to get no closer than 8 to 10 miles from it. According to his report:

It had a greenish tail that looked to be five to six times as long as the light's diameter. This tail was seen several times in the next 10 minutes in periods of five to 30 seconds each. As I reached 10,000’, it appeared to be at 15,000’ still in a port turn. It took approximately 40 degrees of bank to keep the nose of my relatively slow . . . plane on the light. At this time I estimated the light to be in a 10 to 15 degree orbit.   
   At 12,000 feet I stopped climbing, but the light was still climbing at a faster rate than I was. I then reversed my turn from port to starboard and the light appeared to reverse also. I was not gaining distance. . . . It appeared to be moving north over Guantanamo City. As I turned north, the light appeared to move west over Leeward[,] and then due south of the base. I tried the same thing to the east. As I turned back to intercept it, the light appeared to climb rapidly, at approximately a 60-degree angle from approximately 25,000’ to approximately 35,000’, and then start a rapid descent.           
The light was then at its greatest distance of about 20 miles away. . . .         
   While the light was still at approximately 1,500’, I deliberately placed it between the moon and myself three times to try [to] identify a solid body. [Two crew-members] were in the plane with me and observed all maneuvers of the light and had a good view of the light passing the
moon[;] however, neither of us saw a solid body. Considering the light was possibly from an aerologist's wind balloon, we did not see a shadow of the balloon against the moon.         
   During the descent, the light appeared to slow down at approximately 10,000’ at which time I made three runs on the light. Two of them were 90 degree collision course runs and this light appeared to travel at a tremendous speed across my bow, accelerating rapidly at the 2 o'clock position and slowing at the 9 o'clock position.         
   One run was so close that the light blanked out all view of the lights on McCalla Field. At this time the light started another rapid rate of descent and seemed to cross over Caimanes in a left turn and head straight toward the base, then turn left again and pass over the dredge located northeast of McCalla. It then leveled out over the mangroves, hovered over the water for approximately three seconds in a cove east of Hospital Cay, and then faded quickly out. In the last descent, I was in a dive and as the light faded out, I was at approximately 1,500’ and continued on down to 100’ orbiting over the spot where the light disappeared. No disturbances could be seen by [Straugh and the other two witnesses], with the moonlight on the water. The light disappeared at approximately 2010Q and a police boat was dispatched at 2015Q to search the area. In the meantime, a harbor patrol boat had gone through
the area being orbited by the plane and upon being questioned later, had seen nothing unusual. At 2115 the search was discontinued.

   Straugh was shaken. "Of these facts stated," he wrote, "some could possibly be explained as an optical illusion. Others seem too strange for an explanation." To his credit he did not let matters rest there. He sought to investigate his experience by trying to duplicate it with a light-bearing weather balloon which he arranged to have released the following evening. Without quoting the account, Ruppelt simply declares, "He duplicated his dogfight―illusions and all." Well, maybe. In a separate report of this second incident, Straugh wrote:

The balloon was released prior to my takeoff but I intercepted it at 2,000 and made various ... runs on it from all angles and at different speeds. Many of the illusions seen on the previous night could be duplicated by maneuvering the plane appropriately. I tracked the balloon through 12,000 and made my runs on it from as far away as 10 miles. I could always intercept and pass it at any predetermined position as against the fact that I could not get close to the other light, which at the time appeared to be moving away from me at each attempted approach.

Uneasily acknowledging that this last fact was hardly a replication of the previous night's experience, Straugh tried to rationalize the discordant detail by suggesting that maybe the light―or balloon, as he held it to be―was at an [sic – a]higher altitude than he thought it was and his rate of climb was insufficient to reach it. Still:

The rate of ascent of the light on the 24th was the most weird and also the hardest to explain. When the light of the 24th was at 25,000’, it was seen by two passengers and myself at the same instant to start a climb at an angle of approximately 60% and at a terrific rate of ascent. At this time the light which had been a large bright glow was now a very red point which could have blended with the stars, if it had not appeared to be moving.

   Straugh was reduced to iffy speculation about leaks in the presumed balloon (causing descent) and vertical air currents (ascent). The light's violent maneuvers were probably an illusion triggered by "tight turns at high speed with resultant vertigo to myself"―unmentioned in his first report. He attributed the light/balloon's "last fast descent" to the possibility that "I may have cut the balloon with my prop on the third run."

My last three-quarter turn was diving port in a position northeast of the light which could have produced the illusion of the light arcing over Caimanera and the bay, and setting [sic] in the water. The lights crossing from starboard to port could have been the result of my plane being in a vertical turn and the light descending straight down instead of going horizontally. At the time of intercept I thought my wings to be almost level and the light traveling in a flat circle, but due to the aforementioned vertigo, a pilot cannot rely on his sense to establish altitude.

This labored effort to dispose of an experience Straugh clearly found disturbing tells us, I suspect, that he very much did not want to be accused of seeing a UFO. The balloon explanation for the Gorman sighting is straightforward and convincing. Straugh's theory, on the other hand, seems almost like a parody of an explanation.      

Reference for the above text is: Book: Strange Skies by Jerome Clark, pp. 69-72, © 2003.

UFOCAT PRN – 53123          
UFOCAT URN – 018402
Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt, p. 065, © 1956 
UFOCAT URN – 018404 Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt, p. 066, © 1956 
UFOCAT URN – 018401 The World of Flying Saucers by Donald Menzel, p. 042, © 1963         
UFOCAT URN – 129091 UFOs: A History. 1952: September-October by Loren Gross, p. 052, © 1986
UFOCAT URN – 121691 Aircraft UFO Encounters by Dominique Weinstein, #019-06, © 1999
UFOCAT URN – NONE   Strange Skies by Jerome Clark, pp. 69-72, © 2003    
UFOCAT URN – 018400
Pablo Petrowitsch investigation files. No date of publication   
UFOCAT URN – 053123 (USAF) Blue Book files counted in official statistics     

Central America – Cuba, Guantánamo 
Guantanamo Bay  Latitude 20-00-12 N, Longitude 075-08-00 W (D-M-S) [bay]          
Guantanamo City  Latitude 20-08-40 N, Longitude 075-12-33 W [populated place]   
Caimanes             Latitude 20-01-10 N, Longitude 075-51-10 W [island]        
Hospital Cay         Latitude 19-56-46 N, Longitude 075-08-41 W [island]        
Caimanera           Latitude 19-59-22 N, Longitude 075-09-04 W [populated place]    
Reference: http://geonames.nga.mil/ggmaviewer/    

McCalla Field   Latitude 19-54-41 N, Longitude 075-09-48 W (D-M-S) 

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