St. Louis, Missouri
UFOs in Flight Formation adapted from "UFOs Explained"
by Philip Klass


June 5, 1969

Late in the afternoon of June 5, 1969, American Airlines flight #112 was approaching St. Louis, en route to Washington, D.C. The jetliner had departed San Diego several hours earlier, and now was cruising at 39,000 feet. The weather was perfectly clear and more than two hours of daylight remained. The airliner's captain had gone back to the passenger cabin, and his seat was temporarily occupied by a senior air traffic controller who had boarded from the San Diego and was flying as an observer in the cockpit, a not unusual situation which enables FAA controllers to better understand flight-crew problems.

The co-pilot suddenly hollered: "Damn, look at this." The controller's own account says, there it was "a flight of four" whatever they were "flying in a square formation." There was one large UFO in the lead, followed by three smaller objects. The UFOs, coming from the east, seemed to be on a near- collision course toward the jetliner, according to the controller.

Each of the UFOs seemed to be shaped like a hydroplane, with the largest appearing to be about eighteen to twenty feet long and about seven to eight feet thick. They were the color of "burnished aluminum," the controller later recalled, and seemed to be propelled by some sort of rocket engines that emitted a long tail of blue-green flame. Fortunately, only moments before it seemed that the UFOs might collide with the jetliner, they appeared to take evasive action. Even so, the UFOs appeared to have come within three hundred feet of the airliner as they zoomed past, the controller said. The co-pilot called the nearby St. Louis airport tower on the radio to report the incident. Soon a controller in the St. Louis tower radioed back to report that there were unidentified targets on the radar. But the radar showed only two unidentified targets.

An eastbound United Air Lines jetliner was cruising at 37,000 feet approximately eight miles behind the American jetliner, and its crew had monitored the radio report to the St. Louis tower. Suddenly, one of the United crew members radioed down: "We see it too," according to the subsequent report by the traffic controller aboard the American flight. Behind the United flight was an Air National Guard jet fighter, cruising at 41,000 feet, also eastbound. He too had monitored the radio reports of the UFOs, and a few moments later he reported: "Damn, they almost got me." He went on to explain that the squadron of UFOs seemed to be headed directly for his aircraft until, at the last moment, the strange object abruptly changed course and climbed out of his path.

A major aircraft company, McDonnell Douglas, was located near the St. Louis airport, and analysts wondered if perhaps the UFOs were some new experimental rocket-propelled aircraft built there. However, the company had not developed any such new aircraft. Even if the company had, the novel vehicles would almost certainly be tested at remotely situated Air Force/Navy facilities and not in the vicinity of a populated area such as St. Louis.

Further investigation led experts to suspect that a meteor might have been responsible, in particular a giant meteor, or "fireball," that had been seen by numerous observers on the ground, ranging from Peoria, Illinois, to Glenwood in western Iowa. This fireball had even been photographed by an alert newspaper photographer, named Alan Harkrader, Jr., in Peoria.

However, there were two seemingly significant discrepancies between the Iowa Fireball and the St. Louis UFO report. According to the traffic controller aboard the American jetliner, the incident had occurred a few minutes before 4 p.m., whereas the numerous observers of the Iowa Fireball agreed that the meteor had flashed by, breaking up into flaming fragments which fell behind the meteor, just before 6 p.m. Central daylight time (CDT). Another seeming discrepancy was that while the traffic controller estimated that the squadron of UFOs had passed within three hundred feet of his aircraft, then flying near St. Lois, a careful analysis by the Smithsonian Institution based on many ground observer reports, indicated that the Iowa Fireball's flight path was at last 125 miles north of St. Louis. Could experienced flight crews, in broad daylight, make so gross an error in estimating distance?

With regard to the time discrepancy, the traffic controller had boarded American Airlines flight #122 in San Diego. If he had not yet set his watch ahead to the Central time zone, in which the aircraft was flying at the time, then the correct local time would have been a few minutes before 6 p.m., precisely the time of the Iowa Fireball.

American Airlines confirmed that flight #112 had been scheduled to depart San Diego at 12:15 p.m. Pacific daylight time (PDT), to land at Phoenix and then depart there at 1:40 p.m. Mountain daylight time (MDT). If the aircraft had been approximately on schedule on June 5, it should have been nearing St. Louis a few minutes before 6 p.m. CDT, not 4 p.m. as the controller had reported. The only possible way that the flight could have been nearing St. Louis at 4 p.m. is if it had departed both San Diego and Phoenix two hours ahead of scheduled, which is illegal and unprofitable, since there would be no passengers on board. Clearly the traffic controller had simply forgotten to set his watch ahead.

With regard to the distance estimates of the spacecraft's proximity to the airplane, Federal Aviation Administration experts produced evidence that even in broad daylight, an experienced pilot on the ground can misjudge the distance of an unfamiliar, fleeting object by more than one hundred miles.

But what of the two unidentified objects that had been spotted on the radarscope in the St. Louis tower following the American Airlines crew report of the visual sighting? Although meteors and their ionized traits can be detected on radar, the Iowa Fireball was beyond the range of the St. Louis radar. At the time of this incident, the type of radar display installed at St. Louis was not equipped to show the altitude or individual identity of each target automatically, a provision that has since been added. In good weather, such as that existing at the time of this incident, it was not necessary for overflying aircraft to identify themselves to the St. Louis tower unless they planned to land there, which none of the three aircraft involved in this incident expected to do. Thus, the two "unidentified targets" reported in the vicinity of the American Airlines flight may well have been the United Air Lines flight and the Air National Guard aircraft, or possibly other overflying airplane in the vicinity.

The extremely gross errors made by all of the pilots in this incident in estimating the distance to the "UFOs," as well as serious errors made in estimating the altitude of the objects by the Cedar Rapids pilot and some other ground observers, illustrate an important UFO logical principle:

No human observer, including experienced flight crews, can accurately estimate either the distance/altitude or the size of an unfamiliar object in the sky, unless it is in very close proximity to a familiar object whose size or altitude is known. Closed Minds."