U.S. Air Force Fighters Chased UFOs at Malmstrom AFB in the 1960s and '70s
March 19, 2011
My father, USAF Senior Master Sergeant Robert E. Hastings, was stationed at Malmstrom AFB, Montana in 1966–67 and worked in the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) building which housed the base's sophisticated, NORAD-integrated radar facility. As some former members of the 29th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (FIS) based at Malmstrom will recall, there were several scrambles during that era involving intercept attempts of "unknown targets" that were being tracked on radar as they maneuvered near and/or hovered above various Minuteman nuclear missile sites scattered across the surrounding countryside.
I possess a fake 29th FIS uniform patch, impishly created by a former squadron member, which features a strange-looking creature seated in the cockpit of a fighter and the caption "The Land of Make Believe"—both being references to the, uh, interesting missions that some squadron members participated in during those years.
In the course of my 38-year research project on the UFO-Nukes Connection, I have interviewed retired Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar operators who tracked UFOs at Malmstrom and other USAF bases. In the late 1960s, Grover Austad worked as an FAA controller at Malmstrom's SAGE building. In a telephone interview conducted in December 2003, he described one such incident:
One night this object came on the radar and it was moving at tremendous speed. We estimated that it was flying about 2,400 mph. Now, the controllers who worked at SAGE knew about the SR-71—even though it was still secret. But this thing, whatever it was, was even faster than that. [The SR-71 "Blackbird" still holds the official record as the world's fastest jet—at 2,193 mph—a speed achieved during a short-duration, straight-course flight on July 28, 1976.]
So I called ADC—that's Air Defense Command—to see if they had it too. The controller I talked to said, "Yeah, I see it, but UFOs don't exist, do they?" Then he laughed sarcastically. The object played around for a few minutes. It zigzagged back-and-forth, covering hundreds of miles. Then it disappeared off the scope.
Austad said that this tracking, and similar ones that he only heard about, involving other controllers at Malmstrom, were formally logged by the FAA controllers and then reported to the ADC radar unit at SAGE. "We always told them about what we saw [on radar], but they never gave us any feedback."
Describing a different incident, another retired FAA controller who worked at Malmstrom's Radar Approach and Control (RAPCON) center, Paul Selley, told me, "Yeah, I was on that night when we tracked the UFOs. There were five of them. We tracked them for a short time and then they just disappeared. They were moving really fast—they went across the screen in no time. At first, we thought it might have been some high-altitude aircraft that the Air Force was testing, but to have five targets on the screen at once, that explanation wasn't too realistic."
When I asked Selley to estimate how many times UFOs had been tracked at RAPCON during the period that he worked there, he immediately responded, "It wasn't just once. I was on several times when we picked them up. It was strictly at night, usually between 7 o'clock and 11 o'clock. Now, some of [the incidents] might have been during the midnight shift—I worked them all—but I don't recall any during that time, but there might have been some. I don't remember tracking them in the daytime."
When I asked Selley to describe exactly how the UFOs appeared on radar, he said, "All of a sudden, they would just pop-up out of nowhere and cross our screens in just a few seconds. They were so fast that you couldn't take your eye off them or they'd be gone. We'd call [the Air Force] to find out if they had [any of their own aircraft] up, but they never did."
Referring to the Air Defense Command radar operators working at Malmstrom's SAGE building, he added, "We heard rumors that they were tracking the objects too, but whenever we asked them about it, they would just clam-up and wouldn't verify it. Sometimes, they would claim that we were just tracking false targets, but they never would confirm that we were tracking UFOs."
Despite these denials, Selley said that he and the other controllers all held the same opinion about the nature of the unknown targets. "We thought that they were [bona fide] UFOs," he said, "We didn't have anything that could move across the screen as fast as they did. They were moving at thousands of miles per hour, faster than the SR-71."
Selley suggested that I call O.P. "Pote" Morrow, who worked as a supervisor at RAPCON from 1967 to 1980. Initially, Morrow said that he didn't remember any incidents when UFOs had been tracked on radar at Malmstrom. However, when I mentioned that I had worked as a teen-aged janitor at RAPCON in 1966–67 and had once been told by one of the controllers that Air Force jet interceptors had been scrambled to intercept five UFOs, he interrupted me and said, "You know, you've jogged my memory. Now that you've mentioned it, I do recall something about fighters being sent up one time to chase unknown targets. They went southwest, but when they got out there, they couldn't see anything. They were vectored right to the spot but nothing was there."
Whether Morrow or anyone else with the FAA knew it or not, Air Force radar controllers at Malmstrom later reported that the five unknowns—which were actually southeast, not southwest of the base—had ascended vertically at high velocity as the jets approached their position. This incident is described in greater detail in my book UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites, which is available at my website.
For whatever reason, unlike Austad and Selley, Morrow's demeanor was guarded and at times evasive. His claim that fighters had only been scrambled "one time" during the lengthy period of his employment at RAPCON is simply untrue, according to others in-the-know. For example, when I called another former FAA controller, "Bud" Kittleson, to ask about UFOs being tracked at RAPCON and SAGE, he said, "There were objects that were unknown that were tracked on radar out near Lewistown, and some closer to Great Falls. There were some occasions where [the Air Force] did scramble aircraft out of Great Falls. As far as I know, nothing was found."
Kittleson said he didn't remember an incident when five unknowns were simultaneously tracked. However, significantly, he did acknowledge that fighters had been launched from Malmstrom to intercept UFOs on more than one occasion. Also noteworthy is his reference to Lewistown, Montana, located not far south of Echo and Oscar Flights, where credible reports by former Minuteman missile launch officers say that UFOs were involved in missile shutdown incidents in March 1967. That said, there is currently no evidence available to link those cases with the trackings described by Kittleson.
Another retired controller, Joe Weinzetl, told me, "There were a couple of times when Jerry Webster and I tracked unknown objects moving at high speeds. I remember we estimated that one of them was traveling around 1,700 miles per hour. It was at high-altitude and only appeared on our screen for about 20 seconds. On another occasion, Paul [Selley] was there with me when we tracked one. Whenever something like that happened, we called the [FAA] In-Route Traffic Control Center and told them about it. But that's where we left it. We never heard anything back once we reported it."
Declassified U.S. government documents referring to these kinds of incidents are relatively rare. However, one Air Force letter released via the Freedom of Information Act—containing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) log entries describing UFO incursions at Malmstrom's missile sites in November 1975—refers to the radar tracking of the objects, which subsequently played cat-and-mouse with the F-106 jet fighters sent up to chase them. A few of the log entries follow here—some of them followed by my own comments in brackets:
24th NORAD Region Senior Director's Log (Malmstrom AFB, MT)
7 Nov 75 (1035Z) Received a call from the 341st Strategic Air Command Post (SAC CP), saying that the following missile locations reported seeing a large red to orange to yellow object: M-1, L-3, LIMA, and L-6 … Commander and Deputy for Operations (DO) informed.
7 Nov 75 (1203Z) SAC advised that the LCF at Harlowton, Montana, observed an object which emitted a light which illuminated the site driveway.
7 Nov 75 (1319Z) SAC advised K-1 says very bright object to their east is now southeast of them and they are looking at it with 10x50 binoculars. Object seems to have lights (several) on it, but no distinct pattern. The orange/gold object overhead also seems to have lights on it. SAC also advised female civilian reports having seen an object bearing south of her position six miles west of Lewistown. [RH: Note that all of these reports refer to the observation of aerial "objects." Apparently, the Security Alert Teams could not identify them as either military or civilian aircraft.]
7 Nov 75 (1327Z) L-1 reports that the object to their northeast seems to be issuing a black object from it, tubular in shape. In all this time, surveillance [radar] has not been able to detect any sort of track except for known traffic. [RH: In other words, when these sightings were first reported by SATs, radar personnel at Malmstrom AFB and Great Falls International Airport could not detect any unknown aerial objects near the missile sites. As we shall see, radar contact with the UFOs was finally established as the sightings continued to unfold.]
8 Nov 75 (0635Z) A security camper team at K-4 reported UFO with white lights, one red light 50 yards behind white light. Personnel at K-1 seeing same object.
8 Nov 75 (0645Z) Height personnel picked up objects 10–13,000 feet. Track J330, EKLB 0649, 18 knots, 9,500 feet. Objects as many as seven, as few as two A/C. [RH: Height-finding radar finally confirmed that UFOs were present, varying over time between two and seven in number.]
8 Nov 75 (0753Z) J330 unknown 0753. Stationary/seven knots/12,000 … two F-106 … NCOC notified. [RH: Radar confirmed that one UFO, at an altitude of 12,000 feet, had hovered—that is, was "stationary"—before resuming flight at a leisurely 7 knots, or 9 mph. Shortly thereafter, two F-106s were scrambled to intercept it.]
8 Nov 75 (0905Z) From SAC CP: L-sites had fighters and objects; fighters did not get down to objects.
8 Nov 75 (0915Z) From SAC CP: From four different points: Observed objects and fighters; when fighters arrived in the area, the lights went out; when fighters departed, the lights came back on; To NCOC. [RH: As SAT personnel at four different locations watched, the UFOs played cat-and-mouse with the F-106s, extinguishing their illumination as the jets approached their position and re-illuminating themselves after the fighters returned to base. The NORAD Combat Operations Center (NCOC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado was immediately informed of this incident.]
8 Nov 75 (1105Z) From SAC CP: L-5 reported object increased in speed—high velocity, raised in altitude and now cannot tell the object from stars. To NCOC.
9 Nov 75 (0305Z) SAC CP called and advised SAC crews at Sites L-1, L-6, and M-1 observing UFO. Object yellowish bright round light 20 miles north of Harlowton, 2 to 4,000 feet.
9 Nov 75 (0320Z) SAC CP reports UFO southeast of Lewistown, orange white disc object. 24th NORAD Region surveillance checking area. Surveillance unable to get height check. [RH: Note the reference to the UFO having a "disc" or saucer shape. Two more log entries from November 9th confirm that UFOs continued to be reported by SAT teams positioned near various missile launch facilities. Then the action moved from Malmstrom to Minot AFB, in North Dakota.]
10 Nov 75 (1125Z) UFO sighting reported by Minot Air Force Station, a bright star-like object in the west, moving east, about the size of a car … the object passed over the radar station, 1,000 to 2,000 feet high, no noise heard … NCOC notified.
In conclusion, UFOs were tracked by both USAF and FAA radar operators at Malmstrom AFB during the Cold War era. My "UFO-Nukes Connection" press conference in Washington D.C. last September included the participation of seven former or retired USAF personnel who described UFO activity at the ICBM sites outside of Malmstrom and other SAC bases in the '60s and '70s. CNN streamed the event live. The video of the press conference is here