Chiles - Whitted Encounter

Date: July 24, 1948
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
Appearance: Cylinder with "windows", 100 feet
Classification: CE 1
Sources: Official statements of Chiles and Whitted; Project Sign; Project 1947
Summary: Airliner had near miss with cylindrical UFO

The skies were mostly clear and the moon was bright as pilot Clarence Chiles and co-pilot John Whitted flew their Eastern Air Lines DC-3 at 5000 feet, en route from Houston to Atlanta. At about 2:45 AM, twenty miles southwest of Montgomery, Alabama, Chiles saw a dull red glow above and ahead of the aircraft. The object closed on their DC-3 in a matter of seconds.

According to Project SIGN's case file, already at 2:30 AM, the crew of Eastern Airlines flight 571/23 noticed a brilliant, slow meteor-like light traveling on a horizontal path near Blackstone, Virginia. Eastern Flight 573, not far away, noticed it too. And an Air Force crew chief at the nearby Robins Air Force Base reported seeing an extremely bright light pass overhead at high speed on the same night, that seemed to confirm the Chiles-Whitted sighting.

Chiles described what he saw in an official statement: "It was clear there were no wings present, that it was powered by some jet or other type of power, shooting flame from the rear some 50 feet. There were two rows of windows, which indicated an upper and lower deck, from inside these windows a very bright light was glowing. Underneath the ship there was a blue glow of light."

Whitted offered a similar description in his official statement: "The object was cigar shaped and seemed to be about a hundred feet in length. The fuselage appeared to be about three times the circumference of a B-29 fuselage. It had two rows of windows, an upper and a lower. The windows were very large and seemed square. They were white with light which seemed to be caused by some type of combustion".

Only one of the plane's passengers, C.L. McKelvie, saw anything unusual. He reported seeing a "bright streak of light" that flashed by his window.

sketch by Whitted

The pilots made drawings of the craft they had seen and provided details in newspaper and radio interviews. The Atlanta Constitution headlined its July 25 account, "Atlanta Pilots Report Wingless Sky Monster", with Chiles describing the UFO coming at them:

"We veered to the left and it veered to its left, and passed us about 700 feet to our right and about 700 feet above us. Then, as if the pilot had seen us and wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame out of its rear and zoomed up into the clouds."

The USAF's Project Sign (project for the study of UFOs) investigated the Chiles-Whitted sighting for several months. According to supervisor Edward Ruppelt, the sighting was one of three "classic" UFO incidents in 1948 that convinced them "that UFOs were real". The Air Force took this incident seriously, because both men were highly regarded pilots who had served as Air Force officers during World War II and because the pilots had gotten an unusually close look at the UFO.

Project Sign prepared a top secret "Estimate of the Situation" document, that argued that this and other reliably observed UFOs could only be extraterrestrial vehicles. But when the estimate landed on the desk of Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, he rejected it on the grounds that the report lacked proof.