Growing up in a family with a career Air Force Officer as your dad can be daunting. A lot of kids have to deal with moving from place to place, base housing and a hundred other things that will drive you crazy if you let them. I was fortunate in that I was born late in my parent’s life. By the time I came along my dad had a stable position and was nearing retirement. We lived on Long Island and I did not face many of the challenges that other “military brats” had to deal with. However, there was one elephant in the room that I could not ignore…
After my dad retired from the Air Force his get up and go personality immediately pushed him into another job. As vice president of a construction equipment company that sold and rented everything from fork lifts to huge tower cranes, he was busy because his company had contracts to supply the equipment needed to build the New York World’s Fair in the early 1960s and the World Trade Center buildings a little later. Because he had two important jobs in his life it wasn’t unusual to find my parents having dinner with the Kennedy brothers or the Rockefeller heirs at the New York Athletic Club. The downside was that Flying Saucers were all over the news in the 1950s and 1960s, so my dad was constantly faced with questions about them from sometimes high powered friends.
As a kid I was fascinated by Flying Saucers. Every time I asked my dad about them he would just say that the government has stated they are mostly misidentified aircraft and nothing to worry about. That was his standard answer for anyone who quizzed him on the subject. I would have been fine with that answer, but there was a problem with it. He was being honest when he stated the government position. That doesn’t mean he did not privately disagree with it. We had a steady flow of former and even still active Air Force Pilots coming over to the house for BBQs or just to hang out with my dad. They did not support the official government position on Unidentified Flying Objects (a term created by the U.S. Government).
As an only child I spent as much time with adults as I did with kids. I quickly learned to be quiet and listen. That paid off when pilots came over to our house and the subject of UFOs came up. Most every pilot had a UFO story. If they chose to share it, they were grilled by others present on the details. These were not casual conversations. Pilots get very technical when it comes to proving or disproving a controversial issue that occurs during flight. It was easy to see that the pilots I listened to were unconvinced by the government pundits that had an explanation for every sighting. They were also sure this wasn’t something that the Russians built and flew.
Chuck Yeager, the military pilot who first broke the sound barrier in 1947, typifies what I faced as a child from my dad and his pilot buddies. Yeager was asked if he ever saw a UFO on Twitter. He said, “No. I don’t drink before I fly.” I beg to differ and I think that statement was an unnecessary insult to credible pilots who have decided to go on record with their own sightings and encounters. The Twitter answer is obviously his public statement. However, I very clearly remember that he said something very different in the 1960s.
When I was a kid my dad was invited to a base BBQ at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. I went with him. The keynote speaker was Yeager. After a brief talk about some of his many adventures in the air, he told one more that instantly caught the attention of all present. Several pilots asked Chuck what he thought about Flying Saucers? He then gave the many pilots and Air Force personnel present a rare opportunity to hear a story he would never share with the general public…
Yeager said that during test flights of the Bell jet that he eventually used to break the sound barrier there was a procedure in place. An onboard camera filmed each flight. Afterward, he and a debriefing panel made up of Air Force officers, civilian engineers from General Electric that built the engines for the Bell and a medical doctor all watched the footage. Then, they would discuss the flight. On one occasion he said that a large, disc shaped object appeared on the starboard side of his jet. Then it almost instantly moved in front of his aircraft.
The Bell was like a flying bullet. It was not very maneuverable at those speeds. If this object slowed down or stopped Yeager knew he would end up like a bug on the windshield. While that thought was going through his head the object suddenly vanished. Later, when he went for the debriefing, things were much different than the norm. No projector, no screen, no Air Force officers, no civilian engineers and no doctor. It was just Yeager and some guy in a suit who tried to say the object was a new, secret aircraft being tested by the military.
Yeager knew all the other test pilots and was certain he would have heard about anything as advanced as the object he saw. Then, the man warned him not to talk about the encounter. I have a wonderful memory and recall him telling that story like it happened yesterday. And there’s the rub… Publically, the government pundits were calling these objects swamp gas, misidentified known aircraft and hallucinations. Publically, pilots and other members of the military agree with them or just made no statements on the subject. Privately, it was obviously another story.
My dad danced around this conflict of two truths until he finally told me that some things are classified for good reason. Adults, he explained, are sometimes forced to lie to keep people safe. “Safe?” I thought. From what? Anyway, he said that lying was a bad habit and suggested that I stay away from it. I followed his advice. My classmates were interested in Flying Saucers because of all the headlines about them in the 1960s. I decided to choose that subject for a report I had to do. We all took turns reading our reports to the class. I included Yeager’s story in mine. When I finished you could hear a pin drop in the room.
My teacher loved the report, but wondered if the Yeager story was true? She called my dad. By the end of the day he was at the school with two guys in suits. My report vanished, the teacher never asked me about it again and my classmates only talked to me about Flying Saucers at lunch or during recess. I told the truth, but it wasn’t a truth accepted by the government. The good news was that my none existent report still got me a 100% grade. I guess it really does pay to tell the truth.