Follow the Bouncing Ball
by Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe
TRUE Magazine, 1967
Airborne photo over Richmond, Ind., was taken by
Flight 117 was ninety miles east of Chicago when Captain Robert F.
Manning saw the mysterious light.
military photographer Maj. Leo N. Brubaker on May 24, 1954.
Sent to Project Blue Book for evaluation,
gleaming light was said to be sun's reflection off ice crystals.
Project Blue Book - USAF photo
It was the night of April 27, 1950. The time was 8:25 p.m. Cruising at
2,000 feet, the Trans World Air Lines DC-3 droned westward over Goshen, Indiana.
In the left-hand seat, handling the controls, was Captain Robert Adickes,
stocky ex-Navy pilot with ten years' service in TWA. Manning, taller, blond,
quiet-voiced, was also a four-stripe captain, but on this particular flight
he was in the right-hand seat, serving as first officer, or copilot.
"We've sighted strange object off starboard wing."
Manning glanced out from the shadowy cockpit. Twenty-five miles ahead,
South Bend was a spreading glow in the darkness. Clouds massed at 4,000 feet
made a black sky overhead. He looked back to the right to where Elkhart lay
some six miles to the north.
Capt. Robert Adickes told Chicago over radio.
Disc appeared near South Bend, plane gave chase,
only to lose it minutes later.
Wide World Photo
It was a familiar routine, picking out Elkhart. He had once lived there
and the sight brought pleasant memories.
Suddenly a strange red light moving swiftly near the horizon caught Captain
Manning's eye. It was coming toward the air liner, climbing up on the right,
from a point some miles behind.
Puzzled, he watched it close in. This was no wingtip light - the strange
red light was too bright. With growing astonishment, he saw that the light
was increasing in size. Whatever it was, this was no conventional aircraft.
The DC-3 was cruising at 175 miles an hour, but the mysterious glowing
object was overtaking it rapidly. It was now an orange-red color, like a round
blob of hot metal sweeping through the night sky. Craning his neck, Manning
looked down on a spherical shape, glowing brightly on top, the lower part
For a second, he half doubted his senses. He had heard Flying Saucer reports
from other air-line pilots, but this was almost fantastic. He swung around
"Look over here. What do you make of that?"
Captain Adickes turned. Startled, he raised up and gazed through the starboard
window. The thing was still climbing, not quite at the air liner's level.
Over the top, he could see scattered ground lights, and below it, car lights
on a highway. He could only guess at its size, but it looked to be at least
twenty feet in diameter, probably closer to fifty.
The two pilots stared at each other, then Adickes reached for his mike
and called TWA at Chicago.
"We've sighted a strange object off the starboard wing," he swiftly told
the dispatcher. "Ask ATC if there's any traffic near us."
In a moment, the answer came back. Air Traffic Control had no record of
anything near their ship.
Adickes and Manning looked out again at the Saucer. It appeared to be half
a mile distant, now keeping pace with the plane. Adickes shook his head incredulously.
It looked exactly like a huge round wheel rolling down a road, but how could
a thing like that stay in the air?
"I'm going to try to sneak up on it," he told Manning. He banked the ship
gently, but the glowing disk at once slid away, keeping its distance. He tried
again, with the same result.
"Call the hostess," he said abruptly. "I want someone else to see this
Back in the cabin, hostess Gloria Hinshaw caught the hastily flashing signal.
She hurried up the aisle and entered the cockpit.
"Take a look out there," said Adickes. He pointed across the right wing.
The amazed hostess stared out at the glowing Saucer. It was once more flying
parallel with the plane.
"What on earth is it?" Gloria Hinshaw exclaimed.
"We don't know," said Manning.
"Go back and tell the passengers, Adickes said quickly. "Get them all to
look at it."
The hostess returned to the cabin. The first passenger, in a single seat
on the right, was sound asleep. She turned to the two across the aisle-Clifford
H. Jenkins and Dean C. Bourland, both Boeing Aircraft men.
"There's a Flying Saucer out there. Look out the starboard side."
Jenkins laughed, then he saw the look on her face. He jumped up and peered
out the opposite window, Bourland crouching beside him. From the lighted cabin,
the shape of the Saucer was less distinct. To Jenkins, it looked like a blur
of windows lit with a queer red light. It was unlike anything he'd ever seen-and
he knew every type of plane.
While Jenkins and Bourland were gazing at the Saucer, Captain Adickes came
hurrying out of the cockpit. The sleeping passenger woke up as Adickes leaned
down to look out through his window.
"What's the matter-what's going on?" he demanded.
"Look out there," said Adickes. "See that thing?" He turned to the two
"Did you see it? I want plenty of witnesses to this."
The starboard-side passengers were watching the Saucer, but on the port
side aft, the hostess was having trouble. Some of the passengers, including
one who had plainly had a drink or two before embarking, thought the whole
thing was a gag.
"Sure, let's all see the Flying Saucer," chortled the tipsy gentleman.
"Let's see the little men from Mars."
He stopped, his mouth hanging open, as he saw the strange red object glowing
beyond the wing. Pop-eyed, he sagged back in his seat.
When Adickes returned to the cockpit, Manning was putting down his mike.
"I called the South Bend radio range," said Manning. "I told them to go
out and see if they could spot the thing."
Adickes took the controls, made one more cautious attempt to sneak up on
the Saucer. When the thing again slid away, he swung around quickly, to give
Instantly, the glowing disk dived. In barely more than a second, it went
down to 1,500 feet, racing off to the north past South Bend. Its speed, Adickes
estimated, was close to 400 miles per hour. For a few minutes longer, the
weird light remained visible-a diminishing bright red spot against the ground.
Then it faded and disappeared.
Adickes' radio flash to Chicago had been picked up by newspapermen. Reporters
were waiting at the airport, and the story was soon on the wires. It drew
unusual attention. This was not just another Flying Saucer story, to be laughed
off. Besides the crew, there were passenger witnesses. Adickes, recalling
the ridicule other pilots had met, had carefully seen to that.
Because of the unusual nature of this air-line Saucer sighting, TRUE
asked me to carry out a full-scale investigation. Each of the three crew
members is interviewed. All but five of the sixteen passengers were located.
Detailed eyewitness accounts were obtained by long distance telephone calls
to Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Dayton and several other cities.
As we expected, there were some differences in witnesses' stories. All
these variations have been noted. The result is this report, which we believe
to be an accurate, impartial account of what actually happened on the night
of April 27.
Before meeting the two pilots of Flight 117, I talked with others in TWA
who knew them.
"Quiet . . . conservative . . . serious careful." These were some of the
terms that were applied to both men. Nobody in TWA questions that Adickes
and Manning saw just what they said.
Manning, who saw the Saucer first, has been an Air Force pilot. He has
flown six years with the air line; his flight experience totals about 6,000
By the time I met Manning, at Pittsburgh Airport, there had been several
published "explanations" of the South Bend Flying Saucer. One theory was the
red object was simply a reflection of blast furnaces against the clouds.
"Yes, I heard that," Captain Manning told me. "Also, someone said we'd
been looking at a burning barn. Even a first-trip passenger would hardly be
fooled that easily - certainly not a pilot with any experience. Adickes and
I have both seen ground fires and cloud reflections at night. There wasn't
any similarity. We were ninety miles from the furnaces at Gary, and no reflection
or burning barn could climb and maneuver like that"
"How large do you think it was?" I asked him.
"That's hard to say, because we could only guess at its distance," said
Manning. "But it had to be fairly large. When I first saw it, the thing was
near the horizon. So it had to be several miles away, perhaps ten or more.
Even then, it was big enough to stand out."
Manning quietly spiked the idea that the Saucer had been a jet plane's
I've seen jets at night. If you're directly behind one, you'll see a round
spot for a few moments. But this thing was huge in comparison. It didn't resemble
a jet in any way. Besides, I saw it coming up from behind us. A jet's exhaust
would be invisible from that angle. You wouldn't see much from the side either."
When he first saw the object, Manning said, it seemed a brighter color
than when it flew alongside. He would venture no opinion, however, when I
asked whether this could be interpreted as indicating that it was using less
power when it slowed to pace the air liner.
"I can't swear to its exact shape Manning told me. "As it came up from
below, it was just a bright red spot at first. Once, I had the feeling of
looking down on top of a sphere. But most of the time it was just a large
orange-red blob, like a mass of glowing hot metal out there in the sky."
Although Manning had not seen it as a disk rolling on edge, he admitted
that a spherical object could appear like a rolling wheel. He agreed with
Captain Adickes' opinion that the thing had evaded attempts to get closer
"Like flying in formation with another plane," was his description. "It
seem to slide away when we turned toward it."
Manning did not speculate as to what the object was, or how it was powered
"All I can say is that it definitely was there. Most of the people in the
plane saw it. And it was entirely different from any ordinary aircraft-uncanny
enough to startle anyone first seeing it."
Captain Adickes agreed on the bizarre' appearance of the thing. When I
saw him at Washington, he told me he previously had been only half convinced
by other pilots' reports of Flying Saucers. "But I know now they definitely
do exist. This was not an airplane and it wasn't imagination."
Adickes said he had seen jet planes at night. He fully confirmed Manning's
rebuttal of this explanation.
'"And it wasn't St. Elmo's fire or any reflection on clouds," he added.
"A lot of my seventy-eight hundred hours' flight time was put in on night
flying. I've seen just about everything you'd expect to encounter, but never
anything like that disk."
Captain Adickes said its proximity had no effect on radio reception. Nor
did he notice any deviation on his instruments. The object's color, he said,
was not a bright cherry-red, as some newspapers had stated. Instead, it was
about the dull-red color of hot metal.
"Manning and I could only estimate its size," he said. "It might have been
even larger than fifty feet in diameter, depending on its distance from us.
This will give you an idea. When I tried to cut in toward it, that last time,
it streaked down over South Bend at twice our speed - somewhere between three-fifty
and four hundred miles an hour. But even at that speed, it took several minutes
to fade out. So it had to be fairly big."
As it speeded up to escape, Adickes said, it turned so that he caught a
glimpse of the thing edge on. It seemed to be about 10 per cent as thick as
Other air-line pilots had told him of unsuccessful efforts to close in
on Flying Saucers, Captain Adickes told me.
"I thought maybe they imagined it, but now I know better. I tried to sneak
up on it, and also to get above it. Each time, it veered away. And when I
went after it, the thing was off in a flash."
From the darkened cockpit, hostess Gloria Hinshaw also saw the object veer
away. Back in the lighted cabin, she saw it again briefly as it speeded off
and dived over South Bend.
"How did it look to you?" I asked her.
"Like a big red wheel rolling along," she said. "I haven't any idea what
it was, but it was certainly a strange-looking thing. If I hadn't actually
seen it, I don't think I would believe it."
None of the passengers was alarmed by the Saucer, but Miss Hinshaw had
been worried for a moment when she made the first announcement.
"Some of them got excited," she said, "but no one seemed to be nervous.
And, course, some didn't even believe it - they were on the other side, farther
back. The rest of us took a lot of kidding from them before we landed. But
there's one thing sure-those who did see it won't laugh any more at Flying
Passenger Samuel N. Miller, manager of the Goodman Jewelry Company in St.
Paul, Minnesota, told me the same thing.
"I'd been laughing at the stories since 1947, but not any more. I saw the
Saucer, all right - even before the hostess told us."
Miller was on the left side, near the wing. Glancing up from a magazine,
he noticed an odd red glow out on the starboard side.
It was the color of a neon sign," he described it to me. "1 thought at
first it was an advertising blimp. Then it got closer and I saw it was disk-shaped.
It wasn't flashing, like a neon sign-it was solid color, just a big red disk."
Soon after this, the air liner swerved as Captain Adickes made the first
attempt to close in.
"It wasn't abrupt-just an easy turn," said Miller. "Right after that, the
hostess's signal began to flash, and she ran up the aisle."
The rest of his story tallied with the crew's, except for the time estimate.
He thought he had watched the Saucer almost fifteen minutes; the pilots' figure
was eight minutes. When I asked him what he thought it was, he admitted he
had no answer.
"I can't believe it's a secret device of ours," he said. "They'd be pretty
stupid to fly it near air liners, where everybody could see it and talk about
The description given by Clifford H. Jenkins, an engineering supervisor
at the Seattle plant of the Boeing Airplane Company, varied considerably from
the others. Mr. Jenkins saw the object just over the leading edge of the right
"I've never seen anything like it before," he told me with emphasis. "It
was like a row of windows glowing deep red. It had no blinker or clearance
lights like a conventional plane."
"Could you distinguish separate windows?" I asked him.
"No, it looked like windows blended by distance into a solid red band.
The thing was perfectly steady, with no oscillation that I could see."
Just before Captain Adickes came back, Mr. Jenkins said, the plane veered
rather sharply to the right, but the angle of the Saucer in relation to the
DC-3 did not appear to change. (In effect, this substantiates the pilots'
statements that the object moved simultaneously with the air liner.)
"I had the thing in view three to four minutes," said Jenkins. "Its top
speed was obviously much higher than ours, for it left us behind in a hurry."
According to Jenkins, the Saucer disappeared on a parallel course.
"The aspect never changed-neither did the angle. The thing just faded in
size until it was out of sight in the darkness.
(Captain Adickes later pointed out that Manning and he had the Saucer in
view from the nose of the plane, where it would be visible longer. This might
explain Jenkins' failure to see the object's change in altitude.)
Since most of the witnesses agreed that the Saucer was round, I asked Jenkins
again about its shape.
"It was like a red-hot bar, moving horizontally," he answered. "If it was
a row of windows, then the thing must have been at some distance to blend
them together like that."
(Captain Adickes has suggested that the air liner's lighted cabin made
it difficult to get a clear view, unless the passenger was close to a starboard
window. Jenkins and his seatmate, Bourland, were in the aisle, two feet or
more from the window. It is possible that this could account for the difference
in descriptions; Jenkins might have attempted subconsciously to fit a blurred
reddish mass into the conventional pattern of airplane windows. Otherwise,
it seems to be one of those puzzling discrepancies often found in group reports
of accidents and other exciting incidents. Miller, for instance, was no closer
than Jenkins, yet he saw the object clearly as a disk.)
"It definitely wasn't a hallucination," Jenkins summed up his opinion,
"for at least a dozen people saw it. It wasn't any known type of aircraft.
It couldn't have been a meteor-it was too slow; besides, it was flying along
"It may have been something the United States has developed which it doesn't
choose to announce. Or it may be, as some people believe, that such things
come from another planet."
Jenkins told me that Dean C. Bourland, from Boeing's Wichita plant. also
had seen the mysterious object, but he was not sure whether Bourland's description
agreed with his. I tried to reach Bourland at Wichita, but he was on vacation.
After a little difficulty, I located the passenger who had been asleep
in the right front seat. He proved to be Edward J. Fitzgerald, vice-president
and sales manager of Metal Parts & Equipment Company, Chicago.
"I missed part of the excitement," said Mr. Fitzgerald. I was sound asleep
until the pilot woke me up. He was leaning over me, and two men were kneeling
in the aisle, staring out the window. The pilot asked me to look out at the
Saucer - he said he wanted plenty of witnesses so people wouldn't think he
"When I turned around, I saw this strange red glow on a level with the
wing. tip. The effect, after being waked up so suddenly, was naturally startling.
The thing looked round, though perhaps not a perfect circle. I estimated it
to be about two hundred yards away, but that's only a guess.
"The pilot started to explain how they'd sighted the thing, then he saw
it was pulling ahead. He went back to the cockpit and a second later the plane
banked to the right. The 'saucer,' or whatever it was, speeded up and then
dipped a little. Altogether, I saw it about thirty seconds before it disappeared."
"Did you see any windows, or any resemblance to a plane?" I asked him.
"No, it wasn't anything like a plane," Fitzgerald said positively. "It
was a very strange object-almost weird."
Five officials of the International Harvester Company who were passengers
or Flight 117 refused to be interviewed; whether this was to uphold company
dignity or through personal preference was not stated. Two of these officials
were in the Chicago office-a Mr. Gelzer and a Mr. Irwin. The others were located
at the Springfield, Ohio, plant-Mr. Drum, the works manager, Mr. Anderson,
the superintendent, and a Mr. Smith, initials unknown.
In spite of their collective refusal. I learned that two or more of this
group did see the Flying Saucer. Other witnesses told me of the Harvester
men's comments. One man thought it was round, another oval. Both agreed on
its mysterious appearance, its bright-red glow, and its speed.
Another Chicago passenger, Harold C. Weimer, of 5028 Windsor Avenue, reported
he did not see the Saucer. He was sitting on the left side, in the rear; by
the time he looked out. the object had disappeared. (It was Weimer who suggested
the blast-furnace explanation.)
The Saucer was also seen by Martin Nerat, an employee of the Schwernan
Trucking Company of Milwaukee. When the hostess made her announcement, Nerat
stepped across the aisle and gazed out a starboard window. Like the other
witnesses, he was startled by the mysterious object.
When I talked with him, Nerat said the bright-red glow had prevented him
from seeing any distinct shape. He agreed with the pilots on the Saucer's
"Every time the plane turned toward it, the thing pulled away. At the last,
it was going a lot faster than we were. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't
There were five more passengers aboard Flight 117, but their addresses are
unknown. The names are: Berder, Guttfred, Kehma, Moran, and Moseley.
The Flight 117 incident has had an importaist effect. This carefully noted
sighting by TWA pilots and passengers impressed many Americans. Among those
who made public statements after the incident was Captain Eddie Rickenbacker,
then president of Eastern Air Lines. In a United Press story from Savannah,
Georgia, Captain Rickenbacker said, commenting on the Saucers:
"There must be something to them, for too many reliable persons have made
reports on them."
The unknown "thing" to the left of a C-119 wing
was photographed in the air on Aug. 27, 1964
by the military near Hondo AFB, Texas.
- Project Blue Book - USAF photo
However, Captain Rickenbacker apparently suspected that the Saucers might
be American guided missiles. When I interviewed Captain Adickes, I mentioned
Rickenbacker's comment, and I found that he had the same theory.
"I think that the thing was equipped with some sort of repulse radar,"
said Adickes, "so it would keep at a certain distance from air liners and
The guided-missile explanation is not new, of course. The armed services
and the White House have emphatically denied that the Saucers are an American
development, but some Americans discount this as a smoke screen to hide a
To recheck, I went to the foremost guided-missile authority in the United
States, Captain Delmer S. Fahrney, U.S.N. Captain Fahrney began guided-missile
experiments for the Navy in 1936. The television-eye missile was designed
and perfected by Fabmey and his engineers. All of the later Army and Air Force
developments stem from Captain Fabmey's early work.
As commanding officer of the Naval Air Guided Missile Test Station at Point
Mugu, California, Captain Fahrney exchanges top-secret information with both
the other services.
"I can tell you flatly that the Flying Saucers are not guided missiles
of the Navy, Army or Air Force," he said when I interviewed him in Washington.
'No guided-missile officer would be stupid enough to test any such device
along airways or over cities. It would be criminal negligence-a mechanical
failure could endanger lives. Even when launching a missile over the ocean,
we clear the test range and keep it patrolled during operations."
Admiral Calvin Bolster, of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, gave me the
same personal assurance in regard to U.S. piloted aircraft of advanced design.
"If the Flying Saucers exist," he said, "they're not anything we're producing."
Other high defense officials have pointed out that such top-secret devices,
even if piloted, would hardly he tested at random all over the United States,
Canada, Mexico and other countries where Saucers frequently have been seen.
UFO spotted over home in Levittown, N.Y., on Dec. 14,
The case of Flight 117 is, in chronological order, the ninth air-line
Saucer sighting of which TRUE has specific record; a tenth occurred
one month later; there have also been, at various times, a number of
other cases incompletely documented.
Photo was taken by James V.
The verdict came back: lens reflection.
- Project Blue Book - USAF photo
Sightings by experienced transport airmen are impressive testimony to the
reality of Flying Saucers.
The Air Force, which undertook the investigation of Saucers, has nevertheless
professed to deny their existence from the first reported incident.
On July 4,1947, shortly after the start of the "Saucer scare," Captain
Emil J. Smith of United Air Lines was still one of the skeptics. But that
evening, over Emmett, Idaho, Captain Smith and his copilot, Ralph Stevens,
saw nine fast-flying disks above their DC-3. The Air Force's Project Saucer
brushed off the sighting as an illusion.
Airline pilot E. J. Smith holds dinner plate upside down
Some time after this, the crew of a Pan American Airways plane sighted
a strange aerial object between Everett and Bedford, Massachusetts. The pilot
and navigator described it as cylindrical in shape, about the length of a
P-40 fuselage, and blunt at both ends.
as he explains to stewardess the oddly shaped disc
he saw while on routine flight. - UPI Photo
"Weather balloons," said the Air Force.
Near the end of 1949, a Golden North air freighter was paced between Seattle
and Anchorage, Alaska, by a night-flying Saucer. When the pilots tried to
close in, the strange craft zoomed at terrific speed. Later, the air-line
head reported that Intelligence officers had quizzed the pilots for hours.
"From their questions," he said, "I could tell they had a good idea of
what the Saucers are. One officer admitted they did, but he wouldn't say any
On April 18, Captain Carl Gray was piloting a Braniff air liner when a
C.A.A. tower operator at Childress, Texas, radioed an urgent message. A mysterious,
silvery-white object had been sighted from the tower; the operator asked Gray
to be on the lookout for it.
Captain Gray and his crew spotted the thing a few minutes later-a large,
round, shining object oscillating at a high altitude. His first thought, that
it might be a balloon, quickly gave way to puzzled astonishment.
"I've never seen anything like it," he radioed the tower. Later, two Air
Guard fighter pilots were guided up toward the Saucer by the C.A.A. tower
man, who was watching it through binoculars. But the planes failed to reach
the object. Its height was later estimated at fifteen miles above the earth.
My request for the final C.A.A. report on this sighting was refused, as in
the case of the Vandalia affair and, later, Flight 117.
On the night of May 29, 1950, the pilot, first officer, and flight
engineer of an American Air Lines DC-6 that had left Washington watched an
intensely glowing something approach their plane head on while they climbed
southwest-ward a few miles beyond Mount Vernon. Captain Willis Sperry edged
right to avoid it, whereupon it swerved left and stopped. When they swung
back toward it, the thing resumed motion. As it swiftly circled behind the
plane, it passed before the rising full moon in silhouette, and Captain Sperry
observed that it was much elongated-"torpedo-shaped," he called it-and wingless.
The lighted portion was at its forward end, and the slim body suggested dark
metal. Then it darted out of sight to the east with great speed.
Besides the air-line sightings described above, there are incomplete reports
of others-a sighting by a Capital Air Lines pilot near Buffalo, New York;
a strange encounter on the airway between Alaska and Japan; Flying Saucers
reported by air-line pilots flying from Hawaii to the mainland, and other
sightings on American domestic lines.
The Air Force either denies knowledge of C.A.A. reports or refuses permission
to see them. Concerning its own data, it announces: "There is no investigation
going on. Flying Saucers simply don't exist."
Any thinking person who examines the mass of evidence can reach but one
conclusion: the Saucers are real.
-Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe