Retired U.S. Air Force ICBM Targeting Team Chief Says
The Big Sur Incident Was Not An Isolated Case
By Robert Hastings
Thousands of declassified U.S. government documents and hundreds of military veterans have confirmed the reality of ongoing UFO activity at American nuclear weapons sites. Seven of those veterans participated in my September 27, 2010 press conference in Washington D.C., which CNN streamed live:
I have investigated the UFO-Nukes Connection since 1973 and have interviewed nearly 130 former or retired U.S. military personnel about their experiences at ICBM launch facilities, weapons storage depots, nuclear bomb test sites, and missile test ranges. A summary of their dramatic testimony may be found in my book UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites, which is available only at my website: www.ufohastings.com.
One of the most dramatic cases, known as the Big Sur Incident, involved the inadvertent motion picture filming of a UFO that approached, circled, and—using four beams of light—shot down a dummy nuclear warhead in flight as it raced downrange over the Pacific Ocean to a designated splashdown site near Kwajalein Atoll. Although the exact date is uncertain at this point, because the documents are still classified, the available evidence suggests that this event occurred sometime in September 1964.
The former U.S. Air Force officer in charge of filming the interrupted test flight, former Lt. (now Dr.) Robert M. Jacobs, broke the amazing story in 1982 and has publicly discussed it countless times since then, most recently on the Larry King Live program in July 2008. A video of that interview segment, in which I participated, is seen below:
Jacobs’ account has been entirely corroborated by another officer, retired Major (later Dr.) Florenze J. Mansmann, who carefully studied the Top Secret film at Vandenberg AFB, California prior to its confiscation by CIA agents. Mansmann said that his frame-by-frame analysis of the footage, using a magnifier, revealed that the UFO—which appeared to the unaided eye as small, white dot—was actually a domed, disc-shaped craft that had pivoted on is vertical axis before emitting each beam of light.
Shortly after releasing the fourth bright burst, the UFO raced out of camera frame while the stricken warhead began to tumble, eventually falling into the ocean hundreds of miles short of its target. Private letters between Jacobs, Mansmann and two other individuals, in which the amazing event is discussed in detail, appear at the end of this article.
But the Big Sur Incident was not unique, according to another of my ex-U.S. Air Force sources, retired Technical Sergeant John W. Mills III, who was a Minuteman missile targeting team chief at Vandenberg from 1981 to 1985. Recently, Mills informed me that he had once been shown a highly-classified motion picture film of three Minuteman III dummy warheads—formally known as Multiple Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicles, or MIRVs—in flight during a test at Vandenberg in the mid-1980s. As he watched, a “small, white object” seemed to maneuver near the warheads. Inexplicably, only one of those MIRVs successfully splashed down at the target site; the other two simply “disappeared”.
Although Mills had briefly mentioned a “missing MIRV” incident at Vandenberg when he first contacted me in 2006, he didn’t provide any details. At the time, we were instead focused on discussing another remarkable event: Earlier in his Air Force career, Mills had been involved in a very close encounter with a UFO while working at an ICBM site outside of Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. That case is discussed in my book’s chapter “Like a Diamond in the Sky”.
However, a few days ago, I sent Mills an article about the disrupted test flight of a hypersonic aircraft, which had been mounted on a missile and launched from Vandenberg on August 11, 2011. The news report said that the test had failed due to an as yet unexplained “anomaly”. This term had been used by Mills and his co-workers at Ellsworth in the late 1970s as an unofficial codeword for “UFO”. Although the Air Force spokesman cited in the hypersonic aircraft article had undoubtedly used the same term to refer to some as-yet undetermined technical issue, not a UFO, I found the reference interesting and sent it to Mills, saying that I wondered if another type of anomaly had been involved in the disruption of the test.
In response, Mills emailed me and said, “After reading [a similar] article yesterday on the Drudge report, I thought the same thing. I remember back in the early ’80s, when I was stationed at Vandenberg, we had an incident where two MIRVs disappeared...All we know was three MIRVs went up, one came down. Two never arrived and something intercepted them...”
This apparently occurred during an Air Force “Glory Trip” exercise, part of the U.S. Air Force's Follow-on Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) program, where ICBMs are taken from their silos at various bases, shipped to Vandenberg, placed in a test silo, instrumented, outfitted with flight-termination system, and launched toward the lagoon at Kwajalein, to evaluate their specific performances and general reliability.
The incident in question was obviously the same one that Mills had briefly mentioned to me in 2006, before moving on to other topics. Now, when I asked for details, he responded, “A small white object was [recorded] as it maneuvered near the MIRVs. I saw the filmage, very classified, following the launch [when] contractors showed it to me.”
Startled by this answer, and understanding its significance and relevance to the Big Sur case, I then asked Mills if I could call him and discuss the incident. Excerpts from our tape-recorded conversation follow here, which I’ve interspersed with comments from his emails on the topic, so as to create a more complete narrative:
I worked out of the 394th Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Test Maintenance Squadron at Vandenberg. I was assigned to the Combat Targeting Team subsection of the Electro-Mechanical Team group. I worked exclusively with the contractors, primarily Rockwell Autonetics Division, Space Data Corp, and occasionally with Lockheed, on special stuff that I can’t go into. I won’t say which contractor [showed me the film] because that would identify certain individuals. But we were all there, my team member and I, as usual.I asked Mills, “So, what kind of discussion was going on with the contractors when you saw all of this on the screen?” He replied, “They were just as puzzled as I was, you know, mouths agape, and going, ‘Well, that’s going to be hard to explain. We are in some deep doo-doo here!’ Every time there’s a malfunction, the targeters and contractors are blamed, regardless whether we had any hands-on or not. But we all thought it was pretty fascinating. Nobody—I swear, nobody—thought UFO. It never crossed our minds. Those guys were engineers, smart guys. We all thought, ‘That is the strangest launch I have ever seen.’ We had punched a lot of holes in the ocean but we had never seen anything like this.”
Every time there was a mishap with a Minuteman, whether it was Minuteman II or III, we were called in because we did the targeting on it. We did what was called HST—Heading Sensitivity Tests—which were verifications of the guidance system, the in-space movement of the guidance system, which monitored it along the flight path [to confirm that it was] where it was expected to be. We would measure its accuracy and would do the optics; the contractor would do the mathematics and compare that with what their classified listings. We would give them the heading by shooting the mirror on the guidance system, which plunges and reverses, every 15 minutes. At various points in its trajectory, it was supposed to be at a given spot.
We could tell right away after the third shot whether the RV would land where it was supposed to...Of course, with a Minuteman III, there were three RVs, actually MIRVs. And we would tell them where the first target would be, you know, Target 1 is going to be at such and such spot; Target 2 is going to be on; Target 3 is going to be off. If it was going to be dramatically off, they would hold the launch and re-calibrate the guidance set. So, if we had to, we would go out and do another HST. We would work exclusively with certain contractors. A lot of times, they would disagree with our assessments [based on their math] but we would have the last laugh.
But the RVs always hit the ocean! It’s gravity! I distinctly remember one launch—I think in 1984—my guess it was 101 GB out of [Launch Facility] 26. It was a Minuteman III. There were four or five launches that year of Minuteman III...It could have been 104 GB but I remember it was at LF 26. Anyway, we got called in by the contractor and asked why we hadn’t told them that the targeting was going to be way off. We said, ‘What are you talking about?! We gave you all of the data a month-and-a-half ago, in the early HST report and the other optics we did. Everything looked good.’
And they said, ‘Well, three targets went up, one came down’. About two days later, a contracting team contacted us and said, ‘You’ve got to see the footage [of the test].’ So we—my team partner and I—stopped over there and watched the launch on a TV screen. The segment we saw showed three MIRVs, in post-boost. And we watched this bright speck zipping around all three. Now, they were in this tight post-boost trajectory at that time; all three were on this platform. They hadn’t released yet. [They were] prior to reaching apogee, but the nosecone had already ejected.
[The MIRVs] were going from lower right to upper left on the screen and they were still attached to the RV platform. It looked like a single blob of light. It was [well] downrange and not like looking at a high-def image. It was like looking at a TV picture, and this was in the ’80s so the platform was even less [resolved]. But this thing—we thought it might be lint on the camera lens—was whipping around the RV platform; something moving around it.
Then a cloud [in the foreground, well below the altitude of the ascending RV platform, obscured it]. When it emerged from the cloud the engineers [watching the film with us] said only one RV remained on the platform. We watched the platform pass behind the cloud with this little white speck near it. Three RVs went behind the cloud but only one came out. That’s why the contractors were upset with us.
Later, post-apogee, when the platform released the RVs, only one shot off it. Later, when they checked the [recovered platform at Kwajalein] nothing was on it. If the other two hadn’t released for some reason, they should have been there, attached to it.
But when they went and got the platform, nothing was there, so they didn’t misfire. They never did find them. Even if they had come off in mid-trajectory, they should have been within a certain grid, but the P-3 Orion [aircraft near the splashdown site] never saw the other two come down. They have high-speed cameras on them and fly around 45,000 feet [altitude] so they have a great view and can see them. The Minuteman III RVs come in supersonic; they look like a tracer bullet. If you listen to the audio from the Orion, you hear, ‘Here comes Target 1, entering the zone. Here comes Target 2. Here comes Target 3,’ or whatever. But they count them.
Three cameras were involved [in these tests], one at Vandenberg, one up the coast at Big Sur and then the one aboard the Orion. But the Orion film takes days to arrive and the Big Sur film takes awhile too. What I saw was a 30 to 40-second segment, taken from the camera at Vandenberg.
He continued, “[Regarding] that speck, we went, ‘Now what could that have been?’ Was it leaking nitrogen tetroxide? Or was it monomethylhydrazine? Had it ignited? We looked at the obvious [explanations for what we were seeing on the film]. But why was it moving around? Someone suggested lint on the camera lens. Years later, when I heard about the Big Sur incident, I said to myself, ‘Oh, there you go! That’s another option for what we saw.’”
I asked Mills to describe the size of the objects on the TV screen. He replied, “The screen was probably, uh, 24-inch; the image was black and white. The platform looked about the size of a quarter or a little bit smaller. The little dot looked, um, like a millimeter in size; not a pinhead but very small. It easily looked like dust. But it was whipping around the RV platform. It seemed to buzz around it.”
Mills reiterated, “The platform went behind the cloud...Even though it looks like a blob at that distance, in this case, [when it emerged] it looked abnormal. It just didn’t look right. Anyway, when the RVs launch from the platform you see the bursts of the retro-firing—the little rocket packs, or whatever—but [the engineers said they] only saw one. I said, ‘Well, someone’s going to get into trouble on the RV-firing, because two of them didn’t launch.’ But, later on, when they didn’t find them on the platform in the lagoon, we were hypothesizing about what happened to them. But no one thought of UFOs.”
(RH: The platform is approximately 4-feet in diameter. If the speck was indeed an aircraft-sized UFO, it had to be much further away from the camera and not literally circling the platform at that point. On the other hand, it may have been a much smaller sphere, perhaps the size of a basketball. Such objects have been observed worldwide, as they are released by larger disc-shaped craft. This is all speculation on my part, of course.)
“Then, months later,” Mills said, “I heard the same thing happened with a Peacekeeper [MX missile] launch. I did not work Peacekeeper, except for some preliminary work involving guidance sets. The Peacekeeper was incredibly accurate in tests. Anyway, in that case, they shot five RVs—it could hold 10—but only two came down. Something had—the contractors said it looked like a light beam—but they couldn’t see what the light beam was attached to, but it was coming from space, so everyone assumed the Russians had hit [the platform] with a particle beam weapon. There was conjecture all up and down the line; nobody knew what could have possibly destroyed three RVs. But when they back-tracked to see if there was any [Soviet] satellite on that trajectory, there was nothing up there.”
I asked Mills, “What year would that have been?” He responded, “I was out of Targeting by then so it had to be late ’84 or early ’85. I had transitioned back into EMT because I knew I was going [to be transferred] to another base.” I asked, “Without naming names, which contractor provided the information about that to you?” Mills said, “Um, two contractor friends of mine—we had gone out to lunch—and they told me that they had gotten some interesting information but they couldn’t let me see the film because my security clearance had been dropped, because I was moving back into EMT and moving on. One of them was among the first group that had showed me the film of the Minuteman launch. They said, ‘It’s too bad that you aren’t in targeting any longer or we would take you over for a look at the launch [film].’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me that another one of these [anomalies] happened!’ They said, ‘Yeah, this one’s even better because you can see it.’ I said, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to know!’”
Here Mills laughed. As mentioned earlier, in 2006 he had told me about witnessing a UFO hovering low over a launch facility at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota in 1978, while he was performing an alignment procedure on the missile. A terrified guard accompanying him had called down to Mills and his targeting team commander in the underground silo to come up and see the rhombus-shaped object. That incident had occurred some six years before the anomalous Minuteman III launch at Vandenberg and I asked Mills if the bizarre experience had flickered though his thoughts as he watched the film.
He responded, “No, it never entered my mind. I was just listening to the engineers trying to figure out what had happened. They thought lint on the lens would explain the white dot. No one thought UFOs were responsible for the missing RVs. At the time, I had not heard about the Big Sur case so, you know, we were all just trying to come up with [technical reasons] to explain the missing RVs. Not until I learned about Big Sur years later did I reevaluate what I had seen.”
Mills continued, “The same goes with the Peacekeeper incident. I did not see the filmage but I knew that the RVs were missing. Two very surprised contractors said that a beam of light had come onto the screen and then disappeared. But they just thought, ‘Okay, the Russians developed a particle beam weapon and had somehow destroyed the RVs.’ That was the assumption for about a year until [NORAD] said that there was nothing up there that could have created the light beam. No Soviet satellite was in the vicinity of the test.”
He added, “So, then they were back to Square One: What in the world could have created the light beam? And there was no understanding of that. But I was already at Grand Forks when I heard that part of the story. I [subsequently] heard rumors that ‘they’ thought it was a UFO, but those were just rumors. I asked the guy who told me that, ‘Well, who are they and who did you hear that from?’ I didn’t really get an answer. The last I heard, nobody had an explanation for [the beam or the disappearance of the RVs]. So, it was a mystery, just like the Minuteman launch.”
Mills then reiterated that only when he later learned of the Big Sur UFO Incident did he begin to consider the possibility of a UFO-involvement in both of the incidents. He considers that a possibility, but has no real idea what happened.
(It should be noted that although the U.S.S.R. had rudimentary particle beam weapons at the time of the Peacekeeper incident, analysts believe their inaccuracy would have rendered them incapable of knocking nuclear warheads out of their programmed trajectories. Moreover, no such weaponry existed in 1964, when the Big Sur incident occurred.)
In the course of discussing all of this with John Mills, I contacted retired USAF Lt.Col. Philip E. Moore, who had earlier told me that he knew of another unexplained missing-RV incident. In the late 1970s, Moore had been the Commander of the 321st Strategic Missile Squadron at F.E. Warren AFB, in Wyoming. In that capacity, he had taken part in a Glory Trip exercise at Vandenberg in 1979. I asked Moore to elaborate on the event. In three emails, integrated here, he wrote:
I assume you're referring to Glory Trip 39GM, when I was Task Force Commander. Our launch was 28 March 79. One of our three RVs did not impact the target area. If I remember correctly, they called it ‘lost’. The mission debrief was too short and concise, in my opinion, and when I asked what happened, I got a ‘we don't know’ kind of answer. I believe they also said they were investigating it. I never heard anything else about the missing RV. I expected some kind of explanation/information about exactly when in the flight they lost contact, what did they speculate happened, did it fall outside the target area, etc., etc. They only said that in spite of the missing RV, the mission was considered a success. I didn't (and don't) consider 66% success as a mission success.While Lt.Col. Moore admits that he has no evidence of a UFO-involvement in this 1979 incident, he was already aware of UFO activity at nuclear missile sites by the time it occurred. In the fall of 1964, while on duty as an Atlas ICBM launch officer with the 579th Strategic Missile Squadron at Walker AFB, New Mexico, Moore took a telephone call from another officer on duty in a nearby launch capsule who reported that a UFO was hovering over his location. Moore sent two of his own technicians outside to look in that direction. They reported seeing a bright light that was indeed hovering over the other missile site. Suddenly, it raced to yet another launch control facility and hovered over that one for a few seconds, before racing back to the first capsule and again hovering over it. The technicians told Moore that the object’s movement was instant-start, instant-stop, with a high-velocity, straight-line trajectory in between. That incident is covered at length in my book UFOs and Nukes.
Maybe I think too much, but I'm thinking 39GM’s RV could have been captured or maybe knocked off-course. ‘Knocked off-course’ to my limited expertise means it can still be tracked for awhile after it starts going astray—and its parting from its scheduled reentry path would have shown up the instant it started to happen. I'm familiar with the launch tracking systems at Cape Canaveral and they can't be much, if any, different than Vandenberg’s and any deviation from a scheduled path shows up immediately. With 39GM, there wasn't enough information provided to me at the debrief to make a captured or knocked-off course [assessment].
I knew about the Big Sur event years later after you sent me your article [in 2006]. Add the MX and Minuteman III events mentioned by Mills and [the likelihood of a] coincidence rapidly begins to disappear.
As I said yesterday, the 39GM loss brought unanswered questions at the time of its mission debrief. Later, your article stirred those questions back up. Now these other two, with their added information (a white object and a light beam), make me wonder if 39GM had an object/beam involved. Obviously, I'll never know.
But the 39GM RV disappearance didn't involve [the RV] not being found at its splashdown site. It was lost well before impact—it just disappeared. It never impacted. They didn't say [exactly] when along the reentry path contact was lost, although I asked.
When I asked Moore whether I might include his emails about the missing RV in this article—and warned him that some readers might question his judgment, if he gave me permission to do so—he responded, “I'm not particularly concerned about opinions. I wore blue half of my life so that free Americans could freely share them. I don't know what happened to my lost RV—I only know that I was excluded from any information or speculation about it. Maybe nobody actually knows, thus ‘exclusion’ isn't the right conclusion. However, although I held the very highest security clearances and, as Task Force Commander, I was responsible for my mission, maybe someone decided I didn't have a need-to-know what happened to my RV, thus what happened to my mission. The latter seems to be more likely to me.”
Whether a UFO had been involved in this case remains uncertain. However, significantly, independent confirmation of UFO activity during missile launches at Vandenberg has appeared in, of all places, The New York Times. On June 17, 1974, the prestigious newspaper carried this story:
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Experts at an Army missile base say they are puzzled about strange ‘ghost ships’ picked up by powerful radar scanner in the Pacific during a tracking exercise last summer.So, apparently, the UFO-related incident described by Drs. Robert Jacobs and Florenze Mansmann, now known at The Big Sur UFO Case, was not unique. Regarding the ballistic missile expert’s statement above, about never having seen “anything precisely like this before”, given that the 1964 Big Sur incident was immediately classified Top Secret—with only a handful of individuals knowing the facts—it would have been unknown to other military and civilian personnel conducting missile tests a decade later. As for the UFO’s apparent shape, I’m unclear as to how radar could have determined it was an “inverted saucer”. This statement seems to be a garbled journalistic description, which inadvertently combined both radar and photographic data, as described by the sources quoted in the story.
There has been little official comment on what the scientists found during the exercise, but Major Dallas Van Hoose, an Army spokesman, confirmed recently that ‘some unexplained aerial phenomena’ were observed during the exercise last August . Scientists, many of whom are reluctant to be named in interviews because of general public skepticism over unidentified flying objects, say privately they have been unable to find any explanation for the ‘ghost ships.’
‘We have never seen anything precisely like this before,’ said one ballistic missile defense expert who works for an Army agency here and who is familiar with the advanced radar used to test missiles and warheads. Huntsville houses the Army’s ballistic missile defense systems command which tests in the Kwajelein Atoll region of the Marshall Island Trust Territory held by the U.S.
Last August the Air Force launched a Minuteman ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force base aimed for the Kwajelein missile range which is used by the Army, Air Force, and Navy. The radar experts in the Pacific found they were also tracking an unidentified flying object next to the ICBM’s nose cone. Radar picked up an inverted saucer-shape object to the right and above the descending nose cone and watched it cross the warhead’s trajectory to a point which was below and to-the-left of it before the phantom ship disappeared. The ghost ship was described as being 10-feet high and 40-feet long. Two separate radar systems saw it at the same time which may eliminate the probability that there was a malfunction in one of the radar systems. It was also reported that 3 other identical objects were seen in the vicinity – the same size, shape, and dimensions. One scientist said the data indicated that the phantom ship ‘flew under its own power’ but could not explain what sort of ‘power’ was involved.
So far none of the experts here believe the ghost ship was a natural phenomenon caused by freak weather conditions or echoes commonly seen on radar screens.1
Researcher Barry Greenwood later reprinted this newspaper story in his co-authored book, Clear Intent (later republished as The UFO Cover-Up). He wrote, “When FOIA inquiries were filed with the Army, they denied having any records concerning the sighting. We were referred to Vandenberg AFB, California. Vandenberg responded that ‘in accordance with Air Force manual 12-50 which implements the Federal Records Act, the launch operations records for August 1973 have been destroyed.’ Note that it is not stated that the UFO tracking report was destroyed, only a very general statement is given that ‘launch operations records’ were destroyed. That [records of] such a mysterious event as this would not be kept somewhere for possible future use is incomprehensible. Yet this excuse is offered time and time again to deny access to records…”2
Nevertheless, credible persons—former military personnel and scientists involved with nuclear missile tests—have gone on-the-record regarding incidents involving dummy nuclear warheads mysteriously disappearing in flight. In some of those cases, UFO activity—either definitive or probable—was apparently captured on film, thereby revealing the bizarre, nearly unbelievable reason for those disappearances.
1. June 17, 1974, the Hobart Mercury (Reprinted from The New York Times)
2. Greenwood, Barry and Fawcett, Lawrence. Clear Intent: The Government Cover-up of the UFO Experience, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1984, pp. 69-70
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