Military Wiki
Mantell UFO incident is located in Kentucky
Franklin, KY
Locations of Fort Knox and Franklin, Kentucky

The Mantell UFO incident was among the most publicized early UFO reports. The incident resulted in the crash and death of 25-year-old Kentucky Air National Guard pilot, Captain Thomas F. Mantell, on 7 January 1948, while in pursuit of a UFO.

Historian David Michael Jacobs argues the Mantell case marked a sharp shift in both public and governmental perceptions of UFOs. Previously, mass media often treated UFO reports with a whimsical or glib attitude reserved for silly season news. Following Mantell’s death, however, 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."[1]


Mantell was an experienced pilot; his flight history consisted of 2,167 hours in the air, and he had been honored for his part in the Battle of Normandy during World War II.[2]

On 7 January 1948, Godman Field at Fort Knox, Kentucky received a report from the Kentucky Highway Patrol of an unusual aerial object near Maysville, Kentucky. Reports of a westbound circular object, 250 feet (76 m) to 300 feet (91 m) in diameter, were received from Owensboro, Kentucky, and Irvington, Kentucky.

At about 1:45 p.m., Sgt 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.[3] Another observer at Lockbourne Army Air Field in Ohio noted, "Just before leaving it came to very near 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."[4]

Four P-51 Mustangs of C Flight, 165th Fighter Squadron Kentucky Air National Guard[5] already in the air—one piloted by Mantell—were told to approach the object. Blackwell was in radio communication with the pilots throughout the event.

One pilot's Mustang was low on fuel, and he quickly abandoned his efforts. Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt (the first head of Project Blue Book) notes that there was some disagreement amongst the air traffic controllers as to Mantell's words as he communicated with the tower: some sources[6] reported that Mantell had described an object "[which] looks metallic and of tremendous size," but, according to Ruppelt in The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, others disputed whether or not Mantell actually said this.

The other two pilots accompanied Mantell in steep pursuit of the object. They later reported they saw an object, but described it as so small and indistinct they could not identify it. Mantell ignored suggestions that the pilots should level their altitude and try to more clearly see the object.

Only one of Mantell's companions, Lt. Albert Clemmons, had an oxygen mask, and his oxygen was in low supply. Clemmons and a Lt. Hammond called off their pursuit at 22,500 feet (6,900 m). Mantell continued to climb, however. According to the Air Force, 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, Kentucky, on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.

Firemen later pulled Mantell's body from the Mustang's wreckage. His wristwatch had stopped at 3:18 p.m., the time of his crash. Meanwhile, by 3:50 p.m. the UFO was no longer visible to observers at Godman Field. The Mantell Incident was reported by newspapers around the nation, and received significant news media attention. A number of sensational rumors were also circulated about Mantell's crash. Among the rumors were claims that Mantell's fighter had been shot down by the UFO he was chasing, and that the Air Force covered up evidence proving this. Another rumor stated that Mantell's body was found riddled with strange holes. However, no evidence has ever surfaced to substantiate any of these claims. In 1956, Ruppelt wrote that the Mantell Crash was one of three "classic" UFO cases in 1948 that would help to define the UFO phenomenon in the public mind, and would help to convince Air Force intelligence specialists that UFOs were a "real", physical phenomenon (Ruppelt 30). The other two sightings were the Gorman Dogfight and the Chiles-Whitted UFO Encounter.

Venus explanation[]

The Mantell Crash was quickly investigated by Project Sign, the Air Force's new research group which had been created to study UFO incidents. Though Project Sign's staff never came to a conclusion, other Air Force investigators ruled that Mantell had misidentified the planet Venus, and, wrongly believing that he could close in to get a better look, had passed out from the lack of oxygen at high altitude.

However, this conclusion was later changed, because although Venus was roughly in the same position as the UFO, astronomers working for Project Sign ruled that Venus would have been nearly invisible to observers at that time of day. The cause of Mantell's crash remains officially listed as undetermined by the Air Force.

Skyhook balloon explanation[]

Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a professor of astronomy and a scientific consultant to Project Sign, suggested Mantell had misidentified a US Navy Skyhook[7] weather balloon. Others disputed this idea, noting that no particular Skyhook balloon could be conclusively identified as being in the area in question during Mantell's pursuit. Despite its shortcomings, others thought the Skyhook solution was plausible: the balloons were a secret Navy project at the time of Mantell's crash, were made of reflective aluminum, and were about 100 feet (30 m) in diameter, perhaps consistent with Mantell's description of a large metallic object, and may furthermore be consistent with the motions reported by the other UFO witnesses. Since the Skyhook balloons were secret at the time, neither Mantell nor the other observers in the air control tower would have been able to identify the UFO as a Skyhook. Furthermore, later research by Project Sign and UFO skeptics revealed that multiple Skyhook balloons had been launched on 7 January 1948 in Clinton County, Ohio, approximately 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Fort Knox.[citation needed] UFO skeptic Philip Klass argued that wind currents at that time would have blown the balloons close to the area of the Mantell Incident.

If a Skyhook balloon was involved in the crash of Mantell's aircraft, the Air Force would have been loath to admit[citation needed] the presence of the balloon for more than mere reasons of security since it would have also meant admitting that a Department of Defense program caused the dispatch of a Kentucky Air National Guard aircraft with fatal consequences for its pilot.

Project Skyhook was legally linked with General Mills, the cereal company, Jean Piccard, the French Balloonist, and Otto C. Winzen of Winzen Research. According to Global Security, General Mills had supplied the Skyhook balloons under Contract Nonr 675(00).[7]

Inexperience with the P-51[]

Researchers[8] have also noted that while Mantell was an experienced pilot, he was rather new to the P-51, and that this relative inexperience could have been a factor in the crash.

Thomas Mantell[]

Thomas Mantell
Born (1922-06-30)30 June 1922
Died 7 January 1948(1948-01-07) (aged 25)
Place of birth Franklin, Kentucky, U.S.
Place of death near Franklin, Kentucky, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America

United States Air Force

Years of service 1942 – 1948
Rank Captain
Unit 440th Troop Carrier Group
Battles/wars World War II (Operation Overlord)
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal

Captain Thomas Francis Mantell Jr. (30 June 1922 – 7 January 1948) was a United States Air Force serviceman and a World War II veteran. Mantell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for courageous action during the Normandy landings,[9] and an Air Medal with three Oak leaf clusters for heroism.[10][11]

In 1948 Mantell became involved in a UFO incident and died on the same day, when his aircraft ultimately crashed near Franklin, Kentucky. The incident was the subject of headlines across the country[10][11] and has been named for Mantell.

Mantell was the first member of the Kentucky Air National Guard to die in flight.[10] According to John Trowbridge, historian of the Kentucky National Guard, "There is a real X-Files twist to this, too. Mantell lived almost his entire life in Louisville. But he was born in a hospital in Franklin, only a few miles from where he was killed."[11]


Mantell graduated from Male High School in Louisville. On 16 June 1942, Mantell joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, finishing Flight School on 30 June 1943.[10] During World War II, he was assigned to the 440th Troop Carrier Group.[10] After the war, Mantell returned to Louisville, joining the newly formed Kentucky Air National Guard on 16 February 1947.

Mantell's remains were returned to Louisville for burial in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.[12]

On 29 September 2001, the Simpson County Historical Society unveiled a historical marker in honor of Thomas Mantell in his hometown of Franklin. The marker is located at the exit off Interstate 65.[10]

See also[]

  • List of UFO sightings
  • UFO


  1. Jacobs, p. 45
  2. Mantell Pt 3[dead link]
  3. News Release of Clinton County Army Air Field dated 8 January 1948.
  4. Report of Albert Pickering.
  5. Mantell memorial marker.
  6. quoted in Michael D. Swords' (2000) "Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation"
  7. 7.0 7.1 Global Security. "Project Skyhook". Intelligence. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  8. see Clark, 1998
  9. Kevin Randle. "An Analysis of the Thomas Mantell UFO Case". National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. Retrieved 2011-01-08. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 "Kentucky: National Guard History eMuseum. Captain Thomas Francis Mantell Jr.". Commonwealth of Kentucky. Retrieved 2011-06-03. "On Saturday, 29 September 2001, the Simpson County Historical Society unveiled a historical marker in honor of Thomas F. Mantell, Jr." 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Berry Craig (9 November 2011). Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The History Press. pp. 40–43. ISBN 978-1-60949-397-4. Retrieved 2012-06-03. "The blue and gold plaque stands outside the Simpson County tourist office." 
  12. Image of the historical marker, Franklin, KY

Additional references[]

External links[]

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