USAF F-86D from Manston ordered to fire on UFO – May 20th 1957

Pair of USAF F-86D Sabres from 514th Fighter Interceptor Wing. Photo courtesy of Duncan Curtis.

Secret files are released

In October 2008, a number of previously secret UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) files concerning UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) were released to the public. They had started to be released in 2008 and the latest released in June 2013.

It must be made clear that a UFO doesn’t necessarily mean an alien spacecraft, but simply as it states, that the object or phenomena concerned could not be explained.

One such incident involves Manston in 1957 involving USAF F-86D Sabre jets over East Anglia. The accounts of the incident were made public concerning the recollections of two retired pilots from the USAF 406th Fighter Interceptor Wing, which came to light when they met at a reunion at RAF Manston in 1988.

We can’t vouch for the authenticity of the recollections, nor explain the difference in the two pilots stories. Likewise the incident remains unexplained to this day. Could it have been a true visitor from outer space; a secret aircraft of some type; a freak weather condition; or as is also considered, an advanced electronic warfare system that created a fake radar trace; was it simply that the pilots recalled the incident incorrectly, or something else?

We won’t be judging or commenting on any of these theories, but will simply put the evidence and reports that have come to light.

Summary of the pilots recollections

The two retired pilots recalled having taken part in an unusual ‘scramble’ one night in 1956-57 to intercept a UFO detected above East Anglia by an RAF air defence radar. The pilot obtained a radar ‘lock-on’ to the UFO target that was visible simultaneously both on ground and airborne radar. He said the radar blip appeared on his aircraft’s radar system as similar in size to a B-52 bomber and had ‘the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier’, but he saw nothing visually.

The RAF fighter controller then ordered him to open fire on the target with his full salvo of 24 deadly rockets. Alarmed by this highly unusual command he queried the order – which was confirmed – but before he could take action the UFO broke radar lock and disappeared. On landing at Manston he claims he was debriefed by an agent from the US National Security Agency (NSA) who ‘threatened me with a national security breach if I breathed a word about it to anyone’.

In 1988, a UFOlogist obtained the pilots statements and wrote to the MoD asking if they could confirm if the incident was ‘an experiment in electronic warfare’ or if the pilots were guinea pigs in a secret military exercise to create phantom ‘blips’ on radar.

The MoD were unable to provide answers to the inquiries as they failed to find any reference to the incident in official records. They referred the questioner to the USAF who controlled operations at RAF Manston in 1956-58. In due course inquiries with the USAF resulted in a similar response: ‘no records found.’ The incident remains a mystery to this day.

Armament of the F86-D Sabre

North American F-86D Dog Sabre showing the Mighty Mouse rocket tray underneath. Exhibit at the Hellenic Air Force Museum at Dekelia (Tatoi), Athens, Greece. Photo by Konstantinos Stampoulis (el:User:Geraki) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 gr or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

The USAF F86-D Sabre was armed with only Twenty four 2.75-inch (69.85 mm) unguided Folding Fin Aircraft Rockets. These were known as “Mighty Mouse and could be fired in salvos of 6, 12 or 24.

As the rockets left the aircraft, they fanned out to give a shotgun type effect, increasing the changes of a hit on the target. Each had the explosive power of a 75mm artillery shell and travelled at 2,600 feet per second (over 1, 772 miles an hour). Optimum range was around 4,500 feet (around 1,371 metres) and a theoretical maximum effective range of 9,000 feet (around 2,743 metres).

Testimony from Milton Torres

Please note that there is some strong language at one point in this evidence, which may be unsuitable for young children.

“It was a typical English night in Kent. The 406th FIW had committed to Met1 Sector (RAF) to have F-86Ds stand alert as an operational requirement. The date was May 20, 1957, and our squadrons were considered combat qualified when they committed us to the operational requirement. My recollection seems to indicate that this function was rotated about England between the various RAF and USAF units. This particular night the 514th Fighter Interceptor Squadron had the alert duty. Two F-86Ds were on 5-minute alert at the end of the runway at RAF Station Manston awaiting the signal to scramble. The hour was late as memory serves me, and the weather was IFR2. Looking back at my log book, a total of 30 minutes of night weather was logged on a 1-hour and 15 minute flight. The details such as exactly what hour the scramble occurred or what we were doing just prior to scramble totally escapes me, however, the auxiliary power units (APU) were on, and the power was transmitted to the aircraft. We were ready for an immediate scramble and eager for the flight time.”

“I can remember the call to scramble quite clearly, however, I cannot remember specifics such as the actual vector to turn after take off. We were airborne well within the 5 minutes allotted to us, and basically scrambled to about Flight Level 310. Our vector took us out over the North Sea just east of East Anglia. Normally, Dave Roberson, the other member of the set of two fighters would be lead ship. I can only suggest that I was leading due to an in-place turn of some sort. I remember in
quite specific terms talking as lead to the GCI3 site (who’s call sign I cannot recall). I was advised of the situation quite clearly. The initial briefing indicated that the ground was observing for a considerable time a blip that was orbiting the East Anglia area. There was very little movement and from my conversation with the GCI all the normal procedures of checking with all the controlling agencies revealed that this was an unidentified flying object with very unusual flight patterns. In the initial briefing it was suggested to us that the bogey actually was motionless for long intervals.”

“The instructions came to go ‘gate’ to expedite the intercept. Gate was the term used to use maximum power (in the case of the F86-D that meant full afterburner) and to proceed to an Initial Point at about 32,000 feet. By this time, my radar was on, and I was looking prematurely for the bogey. The instructions came to report any visual observations, to which I replied “I’m in the
soup and it’s impossible to see anything!” The weather was probably high alto stratus, but between being over the North Sea and in the weather, no frame of reference was available, i.e. no
stars, no lights, no silhouettes – in short nothing. GCI continued the vectoring and the dialogue describing the strange antics of the UFO.”

“The exact turns and maneuvers they gave me were all predicated to reach some theoretical point for a lead collision course type rocket release. I can remember reaching the level off and requesting to come out of afterburner only to be told to stay in afterburner. It wasn’t very much later that I noticed my indicated Mach number was about .92. This is about as fast as the F-86D could go straight and level.”

“Then the order came to fire a full salvo of rockets at the UFO. I was only a Lieutenant and very much aware of the gravity of the situation. To be quite candid, I almost shit my pants! At any rate, I had my hands full trying to fly, search for bogeys and now selecting a hot load on the switches. I asked for authentication of the order to fire, and I received it. This further complicated my difficulty as the matrix of letters and numbers to find the correct authentication was on a piece of printed paper about 5 by 8 inches, with the print not much bigger than normal type. It was totally black, and the lights were down for night flying. I used my flashlight, still trying to fly and watch my radar. To put it quite candidly I felt very much like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.”

“The authentication was valid, and I selected 24 rockets to salvo. I wasn’t paying too much attention to Dave, but I clearly remember him giving a ‘Roger’ to all the transmissions. I can only suppose he was as busy as I was.”

“The final turn was given, and the instructions were given to look 30 degrees to the Port for my bogey. I did not have a hard time at all. There it was exactly where I was told it would be at 30 degrees and at 15 miles. The blip was burning a hole in the radar with its incredible intensity. It was similar to a blip I had received from B-52s, and seemed to be a magnet of light. These things I remember very clearly. I ran the range gate marker over the blip, and the jizzle band faded as the marker super imposed over the blip. I had a lock on that had the proportions of a flying aircraft carrier. By that I mean the return on the radar was so strong that it could not be overlooked by the fire control system on the F-86D. I use in comparison other fighters and airliners. The airliner is easy to get a lock on while the fighter not being a good return, is very difficult and, on that type aircraft, a lock on was only possible under 10 miles. The larger the airplane the easier the lock on. This blip almost locked itself. I cannot explain to the lay person exactly what I mean, save to say that it was the best target I could ever remember locking on to. I had locked on in just a few seconds, and I locked on exactly 15 miles which was the maximum for a lock on. I called to the GCI ‘Judy’, which signified that I would take all further steering information from my radar computer”.

“Let me explain visually what I saw on my radar screen. Once lock on is accomplished, two circles of light appear on the screen. One was a complete circle in the centre of the radar screen about an inch in diameter, the other about 3 inches in diameter with a half inch segment darkened to indicate the overtake speed. If the dark segment was at 12 o’clock it meant 0 overtake. If the segment was at 6 o’clock, then we had about 600 knots of overtake. The maximum overtake was in the 9 o’clock position. The overtake I had on this particular intercept was in the 7 or 8 o’clock position which indicate close to 800 knot overtake. I was really hauling coals. To complete the description of the radar scope there were two other significant pieces of data displayed. One is the horizontal indicator which gave a gyro stalibilized reference to the horizon enabling the pilot to not have to refer to his flight instruments. The second is a steering dot, which was nothing more than computer data indicating which way the aircraft should fly to accomplish the intercept. i.e. if the dot was above center, the stick should be pulled back to climb, it it was to the right then turn to the right to center the dot. The idea was to have the dot centered in the smaller circle.”

“A normal intercept proceeds from the lock on phase with the constant maneuvering to center the dot. When the aircraft is in a position to accomplish its intercept, the dot would be centered. The outer circle will start to shrink at 20 seconds from rocket release. The circle in the center shrinks to about a quarter inch, and keeping the dot centered requires small rapid maneuvers. At about the time the outer circle reaches three quarters of an inch in diameter a small quarter inch line appears in lieu of the inner circle. This is the signal to pull the trigger for rocket release, and to make only up and down corrections as the computer calculates the point of rocket release for the azimuth. With the trigger pulled and the switches set, the rockets are released by the computer.”

North American F-86D-15 (S/N 50-574) in flight firing “Mighty Mouse” rockets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“Now, back to the intercept of the UFO. As I said I had an overtake of 800 knots and my radar was rock stable. The dot was centered and only the slightest corrections were necessary. This was a very fast intercept and the circle started to shrink. I called ’20 seconds’, and the GCI indicated he was standing by. The overtake was still indicating in the 7 or 8 o’clock position. At about 10 seconds to go, I noticed that the overtake position was changing its position. It moved rapidly to the 6 o’clock, then 3 o’clock, then 12 o’clock and finally rested about the 11 o’clock position. This indicated a negative overtake of 200 knots (the maximum negative overtake displayed). There was no way of knowing of what the actual speed of the UFO was as he could be traveling at very high mach numbers, and I would only see the 200 knot negative overtake. The circle, which was down to about an inch and a half in diameter, started to open up rapidly. Within seconds, it was back to 3 inches in diameter, and the blip was visible in the blackened jizzle band moving up the scope. This meant that it was going away from me. I reported this to the GCI site, and they replied by asking, “Do you have a Tally Ho?” I reported that I was still in the soup and could see nothing. By this time the UFO had broke lock and I saw him leaving my 30 mile range. Again, I reported that he was gone, only to be told that he was now off their scope as well.”

“With the loss of the blip off their scope, the mission was over. We were vectored back to home plate (Manston) and secured our switches. My last instructions were that they would contact me on the ground by land line.”

“Back in the alert tent, I talked to Met Sector. They advised me that the blip had gone off the scope in two sweeps at the GCI site and that they had instructions to tell me that the mission was considered classified. They also advised me that I would be contacted by some investigator. It was the next day before anyone showed up.”

“I had not the foggiest idea what had actually occurred, nor would anyone explain anything to me. In the squadron operations area, one of the sergeants came to me and brought me in to the hall way around the side of the pilots briefing room. He approached a civilian, who appeared from nowhere. The civilian looked like a well dressed IBM salesman, with a dark blue trench coat. (I can not remember his facial features, only to say he was in his 30’s or early forties). He immediately jumped into asking questions about the previous day’s mission. I got the impression that he operated out of the states, but I don’t know for sure. After my debriefing of the events he advised me that this would be considered highly classified and that I should not discuss it with anybody not even my commander. He threatened me with a national security breach if I breathed a word about it to anyone. He disappeared without so much as a good bye,and that was that, as far as I was concerned. I was significantly impressed by the action of the cloak and dagger people and I have not spoken of this to anyone until the recent years.”

“My impression was that whatever the aircraft (or spacecraft) was it must have been traveling in 2 digit mach numbers to have done what I had witnessed. Perhaps the cloak of secrecy can be lifted in this day of enlightenment and all of us can have all the facts. This is my account to the best of my memory.”

1 Met: Metropolitan
2 Instrument Fight Rules (IFR): Ceilings 500 to less than 1,000 feet and/or visibility 1 to less than 3 miles.
3 GCI: Ground Controlled Intercept

Dave Roberson’s Testimony

As referred to above, this is the testimony of Dave Roberson, Milton Torres’ partner that night. He recalls some details differently, but it is clear that something unusual did occur. Some items are removed here as in the official records.

“I received a copy of the narrative, regarding the UFO incident, sent to you by xxx. As xxx said in his letter, thirty years tends to obscure the details of events. I had not discussed the event with anyone nor had any contact with since leaving Manston and for all practical purposes had forgotten it until our reunion in May. I recalled the event but, due to the other activities, we didn’t have an opportunity to rehash the details.”

“My recollection of the night’s events, except for the fact that we did chase UFO’s that evening, varies somewhat from those in Milton’s narrative.”

“My recollection of the events of 20 May 1957 are briefly as follows:”

“I do not believe Milton and I launched from an alert status. Normally the F-86D was scrambled as a single ship. More than one might be scrambled but not as a team.”

“As I recall, I was the flight leader, and we were on a training flight making simulated attack runs on each other. While on this flight, we were contacted by someone (probably Manston), and told to contact a GCI site. I believe it was the site in East Anglia just north of the Thames. Bawdsey?. They queried me about the weapons status of our aircraft. We were unarmed, as was the usual status on training flights, and I so advised. We were directed to land at RAF Bentwaters (the 512 Squadron, one of our 86 units was stationed there) where our aircraft were armed with live rockets.”

“We received a briefing of some sort while on the ground. I don’t recall by whom but I believe it was by land line. I specifically recall being advised that more than one GCI site and multiple ‘unknowns’ were involved and that the area extended into Scotland. I don’t recall being advised of other RAF or USAF aircraft being involved, but would seem probable that they were.”

“We then relaunched and contacted the designated CGI site. We must have stayed under one of the MET sector CGI sites as the 86D had a different attack profile (lead collision) than the curve of pursuit used by the RAF and required different skills of the controller.”

“After launch, we were vectored independently. Normal procedure would have been to receive an initial heading and altitude along with the call sign and frequency of the GCI site to contact. I don’t recall ever going above 10,000 [feet], but Milton [Torres] was sent to higher altitudes (this is probably where he remembers being in the lead). I was vectored on several of the unknowns and in spite of the ground clutter (the 86 radar wasn’t very good at lower altitudes), I did get several pretty good returns, but was unable to maintain radar contact long enough to get a ‘lock on’. Information from the controller indicated the unknowns were changing speed and altitude quite frequently. Some of my runs were in the cloud and others in the clear. I don’t recall how many attempts at radar and/or visual contact I made, but it was several.”

“One I remember quite well was at 3000 feet. I was told that the ‘bogey’ was at angels 3 and at very slow speed. I recall being told that the unknown was at 12 O’clock and I was closing. Perhaps because of the ground clutter I never got a positive radar contact on the unknown. At this point I believe I was in in the vicinity of Norwich (or some other good sized town in East Anglia). As directed, I attempted to get a visual contact when I closed to less than 2 miles but was unable. If the unknown was lighted he must have blended with the ground lights. The bogey then either accelerated or descended and the controller lost him.”

“I don’t recall whether we became low on fuel or the unknowns left the area; but at some point the controller rejoined us and we recovered at RAF Manston.”

“There was some debriefing, of which the the details escape me. I do not recall being contacted one on one by anyone about keeping the details quiet. However, due to some of my later activities in the Air Force involving close kept operations, where I learned to blank out details in my mind, this lack of recall does not surprise me. I do recall Milton was rather excited and talked about getting a lock on one of the unknowns, but I don’t remember the details. I have no reason to believe it was not as recounted in his narrative.”

“I might add that during this time frame (spring of 1957), while either standing cockpit alert or acting as runway control officer, on two occasions I saw some activity to the south of Manston, which involved several lighted objects moving in strange ways. They were sometimes motionless and sometimes accelerating in various directions which did not appear to be consistent with either fixed wing aircraft or helicopters known to me at that time. I reported these to control tower and/or Met Sector, but never requested or received any explanation of what they were.”

“I know this is not a very exciting narrative but it is all I can recall.”

“There was an RAF controller named xxx (sp?) who controlled 86’s out of Bawdsy(?) during this time frame but I have no idea if he was on duty that particular night.”

So what really happened?

So, those are the testimonies from the two pilots. As detailed above, the case still isn’t solved, so what do you think happened? If you have a theory, or more information, leave us a comment on this thread.

If more information comes to light, we will update this post, or post a follow up.

There are more details and theories in some of the links down below.

David Clarke, a UFO expert who worked with the National Archives on the document release, said it was one of the most intriguing stories he had culled from the batch of files released.

He said that the CIA once had a program intended to create phantom signals on radar — and that this may have been an exercise in electronic warfare. Whatever the case, Clarke argued that “there’s no doubt something very unusual happened.”

References and more Information

Official MoD papers released on the incident are DEFE 24/1931/1 and DEFE 24/1942/1. The official notes refer to several pages but only those in bold appear to be connected at the moment: pages 57, 65-68, 76-77, 119, 239, 259-262. In DEFE 24/1942/1, it refers to pages 206 and 261, but neither currently appear to be linked. You can download both files and others from here (as at 11th May 2017): http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20080910231102/ufos.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ 

UFO Updates (http://ufoupdateslist.com/) – search for Milton Torres.

http://lurch2.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/milton-torres-1957-ufo-encounter.html

http://www.pprune.org/military-aviation/347831-us-airman-milton-torres-told-shoot-down-ufo-when-based-raf-manston.html

New Scientist (20th October 2008) https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14991-newly-released-files-contain-ufo-mysteries/

Daily Mail (25th October 2008) “U.S. fighter pilot: ‘I was ordered to fire 24 rockets at UFO over East Anglia'” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1078970/U-S-fighter-pilot-I-ordered-24-rockets-UFO-flying-East-Anglia.html

Colin Andrews Research: http://www.colinandrews.net/UFO-MiltonTorres.html

The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real-life Sightings by David Clarke, from page 69. Also available online here.

NBC News (20th October 2008): “U.S. pilot was ordered to shoot down UFO”. Details here

The British Military on UFOs – Nick Pope with Major Milton Torres

Other references

http://www.nicap.org/reports/570520eastanglia_ufo_updates.htm – Duncan Curtis

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