The Mantell UFO Incident; Chasing Venus Or an Alien Spacecraft?
Just six months after the famous Roswell UFO incident, a lesser-publicized, but equally significant event occurred over the skies of Kentucky. Captain Thomas Mantell, a skilled pilot recognized for his outstanding combat record over Nazi-occupied Europe in World War II, crashed his P-51 Mustang in pursuit of an unidentified aircraft on January 7, 1948. It came to be known as the Mantell UFO Incident of 1948.
The 25-year-old pilot was responding to a report initially sent from the Kentucky State Police, which in turn alerted Godman Army Airfield in Fort Knox, Kentucky. Godman Airfield’s commanding officer contacted Captain Mantell and requested he investigate the object overhead. The UFO was described as a white, circular object, about a football field in diameter, traveling westbound — before he met his demise, Mantell was tasked with trying to find out exactly what it was.
Mantell was a brave and accomplished pilot, having received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his heroism in the Second World War. In February 1947, when he returned to Louisville, he joined the new Kentucky Air National Guard as a flight leader. But, it was less than a year later that the captain’s promising career ended in tragedy. Though the account, like most other high-profile UFO encounters, has become shrouded in mystery and secrecy, several details have survived over the decades.
Captain Mantell’s plane, made to withstand the rigors of aerial warfare in the most intense battles of WWII and then in the Korean war, was still no match for a UFO chase.
What happened exactly to Captain Mantell?
The UFO involved in the Mantell incident was spotted by several airfield personnel. MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) researchers wrote that Sergeant Quinton Blackwell saw an object from his position in the control tower at Fort Knox. Two other witnesses in the tower also reported a white object in the distance. Base commander Colonel Guy Hix reported an object he described as “very white,” and “about one fourth the size of the full moon… Through binoculars it appeared to have a red border at the bottom… It remained stationary, seemingly, for one and a half hours.”
Observers at Clinton County Army Air Field in Ohio described the object as “having the appearance of a flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist” and observed the object for around 35 minutes. Another observer at Lockbourne Army Air Field in Ohio noted, “Just before leaving, it came very near to the ground, staying down for about ten seconds, then climbed at a very fast rate back to its original altitude, 10,000 feet, leveling off and disappearing into the overcast heading 120 degrees. Its speed was greater than 500 mph in level flight.”
Several pilots were in pursuit of the UFO, including Mantell’s wingmen, but one by one abandoned the chase. One ran low on fuel and two others, concerned about low oxygen supplies, leveled off while Mantell continued to climb in altitude.
According to the MUFON report, “…once Mantell passed 25,000 feet (7,600 m) he supposedly blacked out from the lack of oxygen (hypoxia), and his plane began spiraling back towards the ground.
A witness later reported Mantell’s Mustang in a circling descent. His plane crashed at a farm south of Franklin on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. His death was determined to have occurred at 3:18 p.m., the time his wristwatch had stopped. By 3:50 p.m., the UFO was no longer seen by observers at Godman Field.
UFO Sighting in KY: Guesses and Theories
As with the Roswell affair, air force officials involved in the Mantell UFO Incident eventually concluded that the UFO was actually a (Skyhook) weather balloon, used by the Navy for high-altitude research. But, according to Charles B. Moore, involved in conducting balloon experiments for the United States government in the late 1940s, there was no Skyhook in the area before July 9, 1951.
While many reports claim Mantell was an ace fighter pilot, others say it could be a bit of an exaggeration. His courage, on the other hand, remains certain. Mantell’s sister, Bettye Mantell Risley, wrote that her brother ferried a glider plane on D-Day to a designated point behind German lines. “His instructions were to cut the glider loose and return to base if attacked. Tommy was attacked but proceeded to [his] destination where men in the glider would be with others for mutual safety. He was then able to get his badly damaged plane back to his base in England.
Some say this could mean Mantell was not as experienced in flying the powerful P-51 plane and may have been out of his league by refusing to give up the chase.
High-altitude flying requires oxygen and experience, and Mantell, who was only used to flying at 10,000 feet, apparently blacked out when his plane soared beyond 25,000 feet.
The Mantell Incident Gave UFO Reports Credibility
The involvement of a decorated WWII pilot apparently made quite the impact on the public, in regards to UFO sightings and the credibility of claims. MUFON researchers said that up until Mantell’s death, “mass media often treated UFO reports with a whimsical or glib attitude reserved for silly season news. Following Mantell’s death, however, [Historian David Michael] Jacobs notes ‘the fact that a person had died in an encounter with an alleged flying saucer dramatically increased public concern about the phenomenon. Now a dramatic new prospect entered thought about UFOs: they might be not only extraterrestrial but potentially hostile as well.’”
Regardless of Captain Mantell’s lack of experience with the P-51 Mustang, the mystery of exactly what occurred on that winter day in 1947 remains unsolved.
As in so many UFO cases, the official government response did not hold water in the long run. UFO Casebook researchers reported, “Common speculation that Mantell was chasing a UFO was countered by the Air Force, which initially concluded he and his cohorts were chasing the planet Venus. The reports of the incident spread like wildfire. Theory and speculation reached radio shows, television, and newspapers. The New York Times‘ story began with the headline, ‘Flier Dies Chasing A Flying Saucer.’”
Among the millions who have seen UFOs, there is still a pervasive amount of skepticism despite growing evidence from official reports and multi-million dollar government studies. The Thomas Mantell UFO Incident could be considered one of the original events in a long list of government cover-ups, attempting to suppress the truth.
But following these early days of sightings and chases, the public is left with little to go on from insufficient information and reticent officials. Given the fact that modern-day pilots, including fighter jet commanders, have witnessed or pursued UFOs, the Mantell Incident could very well have been linked to one of today’s same fast-moving Tic-tac-shaped spacecraft, that early aviation technology had no way of recording or measuring.