Sadly, the death of Captain Thomas F. Mantell Jr. has become the subject of a narrative rather than the product of investigation. The original “Project Saucer” team did a good job of investigating, and then J. Allen Hynek tried to make heads or tails out of the witness reports to correlate them with Venus. The synthesis of the investigation, however, was right: there had to be more than one object responsible.
The discourse today is for one side to insist that Mantell went to his death chasing a flying saucer. The other side responds and says it was probably a skyhook balloon. In truth, both are very, very wrong.
The tower staff at Godman Field made several mistakes in their depositions. Two of them– Blackwell and Oliver– called the town of Madisonville “Mansville.” Colonel Hix, I believe, called it Maysville. There is really a Maysville, Kentucky, but it had nothing to do with the incident. This confuses people to this day. Wikipedia, that distiller of false facts, will even open up the incident with this claim. In fact, the object was first sighted over Madisonville to the south of Godman Field. Quentin Blackwell, the tower operator, then said that the State Police called in from “E” Town. This is Elizabethtown, which is to the East of Madisonville. They said it was over “Mansville.” Owensboro and then Irvington reported the object. All said and done it is very possible to calibrate where this “huge 250 foot” object was– over Madisonville. Kentucky, to the South of Fort Knox and Godman Field.
When those in the tower at Godman got enough calls they got their binocs and looked out. Sure enough to the south of Godman there was a bright object “hanging high in the sky.” Colonel Hix said it looked like a parachute, white with the sun sparking off the top and a red border on the bottom. Another officer said it looked round with a red top. One said it looked like an ice cream cone, which sounds like a balloon.
Mantell and his squadron were passing over the field and Godman contacted them and ask them to check into it. Mantell ripped round with 2 wingman and headed about 220 degrees, zipping Southwest at about 360 mph. He continued to ascend. The chase is generally well known. At one point he told Godman tower that the object was “tremendous in size” and metallic. Finally, toward the end his wingman Al Clements saw it. He described it as lower than the sun and to the left. It was a bright spot, too distant to tell size or shape. It was like the reflection of the sun off a canopy.
This sounds like Venus.
The last Clements saw of Mantell he was still climbing almost straight into the sun heading up to 25,000 feet.
Putting it all together, they all could not have been looking at the same thing. Clements does sound like he was describing Venus. But Clements is also the pilot that went back up about 45 minutes later, now fully loaded with oxygen. He zoomed back 100 miles south of Godman to the Tennessee border. He didn’t see anything. And he was looking for it this time. If it had been Venus, it still would have been there.
Correlating all the data, the balloon answer doesn’t fit. First, there is a benefit in having the accident report. The weather is contained therein. The winds were from the South/southwest at Bowling Green and Nashville at this time. The object was obviously heading south/southwest. A balloon could not have drifted against the wind unless it was so high the wind estimates didn’t apply.
The object first appeared over the Madisonville area. It wasn’t a balloon that drifted from Ohio. Maysville on the border of Kentucky and Ohio was not involved in the sightings. “Mansville” in the documentation meant Madisonville. Had the object drifted west of Maysville, it would have passed over Standiford AFB and even Frankfurt, the capital. No one reported it there. No, it appears South of Godman and there it remained for about an hour, long enough for the surrounding towns to report it and describe it as 250 to 300 feet.
It clearly didn’t remain long after Mantell hot footed it South. He covered the entire height of Kentucky in 20 minutes, never gaining on it even at the end when he died over Franklin on the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. It was near Bowling Green, near thereby to Franklin, that Al Clements saw the object (apparently) and thought it too far distant to tell what it was. A balloon can’t move that quickly.
So was everybody seeing the same thing?
Evening reports, even from Godman tower, describe the bright light in the general vicinity where the object had been seen in the afternoon. It is obvious they are clearly describing Venus. All the bases reporting this bright light give a time when it disappeared over the horizon and this time corresponded with the setting of Venus. Another object was seen by Lockbourne AFB in Ohio later in the evening, but it was clearly not a part of the afternoon’s events.
Thus in the end Project “Saucer” (Sign) couldn’t figure the case. Their joint conclusion was more than one object and Venus must have been responsible for the multiple sightings. Logically, they opted to believe that Godman and the surrounding towns saw a real object, but when Mantell ripped around and went up high he may not have seen it but rather saw Venus.
But where did the object come from and where did it go? The excuse it was a skyhook from Clinton County AFB in Ohio has no support, and the winds were contrary that day. Moreover, it would have been reported by Frankfort and Standiford first, before it drifted southwest against the wind, passed Godman without them seeing it before it appeared South of there over Madisonville. Since Elizabethtown is to the East of Madisonville, and we know the State police there reported it, this could not have been Venus. “E” Town people would have been looking West, and Venus was to the South. No known balloon launch could have accounted for the position of the balloon and then its quick ascent.
In essence, the Mantell “UFO” was never explained. Balloons can’t account for it. Nor can Venus.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.