Monday, October 31, 2011

Two Former World War II Fighter Pilots Report UFO Experiences at the Hanford Plutonium Production Plant in 1945

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By Robert Hastings

     When World War II ended, in September 1945, Clarence R. “Bud” Clem was a Lieutenant Junior Grade (Lt. jg) in the U.S. Naval Reserves, serving as an F6F Hellcat fighter pilot assigned to Air Group 50 aboard the U.S.S. Cowpens CVL-25. In an email, Clem told me, “[After the Japanese surrendered,] the Cowpens was the first aircraft carrier to arrive in Tokyo Bay and I was with the first flight to land at Yokasuka Naval Air Station (NAS) that day.”

However, nearly a year earlier, the Hellcat squadron had been based at NAS Klamath Falls, Oregon. “[During that same period] our group was deployed to NAS Pasco, Washington for ground support training in March 1945.” Clem wrote, “The Hanford Ordnance Works was just across the Columbia River from Pasco and designated TOP SECRET. We experienced an unknown object over the Hanford site in March/April, 1945. I did not fly after the object, as two members of our squadron did, but I did assist in trying to determine what was going on. I am 84 [years-old] and I do not know if any other members of our squadron are still alive who could add more information. If you have any information about our experience, I would like to see what the official report stated.”

The plutonium produced by Hanford was used in the first atomic bomb test, conducted in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, as well as in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945.

I wrote to Clem, saying that I didn’t have any official reports relating to the incident. I then asked for more details. Clem responded:
One night, shortly after the evening meal, the officers were gathered at the Officers Club for relaxation when the duty officer at the tower called our commander with a request. Lt. Commander Richard Brown took the call, as the Captain was in conference. Ensign C.T. Neal and I were with Brown and he asked us if we would volunteer to go with him to the flight line for possible duty. We both agreed and a jeep was waiting at the door to take us to the flight line. We learned that an unknown ‘bogey’ was over the Hanford Ordnance Works, according to the radar operator located on an auxiliary field just across the Columbia River from Hanford reservation.

We had been instructed upon arrival that the Hanford Ordnance Works was Top Secret and NO flights over any part were permitted...We did not know about the radar, but the duty officer stated that something was in the sky over the area and wanted someone to investigate. A plane was [already] armed and warmed-up on the tarmac. Brown stated he would go and Neal was to stand-by in another plane, in case of trouble. I was to join the [controller] in the tower and communicate info from radar to the pilots.

Brown quickly found the object, a bright ball of fire, and took chase. But he could not close, even with water injection that gave a quick boost in speed. The object headed out NW towards Seattle and was quickly lost by radar. Brown returned to base and we three retired to the club, still shaking and wondering what we had encountered.

Memory does not recall details of two similar experiences—I think Neal was to take the next chase—but the object disappeared before he got airborne. I was assigned to fly the entire [Hanford] reservation at low altitude (200 feet or so) to give the radar operator the blind spots [caused by the terrain]…

The third, and last attempt on our part to ‘catch’ and identify the object came just shortly before we returned to Klamath Falls, and then on to California and Hawaii, before joining the 7th Fleet in combat. I do not know if any other incidents occurred after we left Washington. None of the above information was mentioned in the ‘history’ of our squadron but I wonder what is on record at NAS Pasco.1
I asked Clem, “During the first incident, how long did it take for the aircraft to get to Hanford?” He replied, “Not long. An aircraft was always ready to fly on short notice to intercept the Japanese incendiary balloons. If you’ve read the history of that project, and the concern the balloons caused, it would have been logical to intercept them before they could reach Hanford.”

I asked Clem if the pilot on the first night, Lt. Commander Brown, had described the object in detail, either over the radio or back at the Officers Club. Clem replied, “He just said it was so bright that you could hardly look directly at it. As he closed on it, it took off to the northwest at a high rate of speed. No maneuvers really, just a straight-line course.”

Other questions to Clem added few details. He later sent me his military records which revealed that the fighter squadron was actually at Pasco from January 9 to February 15, 1945, not during March and April, as he had first indicated.

But Bud Clem’s account is not unique. Another former World War II fighter pilot, Rolan D. Powell, states that he too was involved in a UFO intercept attempt at the Hanford plant, possibly in July 1945. That incident was first mentioned in a self-published book by Byron D. Varner, an aviation cadet during World War II whose naval career included a 13-year stint as a Navy Public Affairs Officer.

Upon learning of Powell’s report, Walt Andrus, former International Director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), located and interviewed him. According to a short article available at, Powell told Andrus that while he was unaware of the whereabouts of the other five aviators who had been involved in the action, and did not even remember their full names, they had nevertheless belonged to a squadron of 12 veteran fighter pilots who had survived combat in the Pacific as members of Air Group 3, while assigned to the U.S.S. Yorktown CV-10.

According to the article:
Powell estimated that the event took place six weeks before the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945, which puts the sighting in the middle of July 1945.
Powell told Andrus that six F6F [aircraft] made visual contact with the object, [which was] described as the size of three aircraft carriers side-by-side, oval shaped, very streamlined, like a stretched-out egg, and pinkish in color. Powell reported that some kind of vapor was being emitted around the outside edges from portholes or vents. He speculated that the vapor was being discharged to form a cloud for disguise. The object was observed at noon in a clear sky at an estimated altitude of 65,000 feet.

The F6Fs went up as high as 42,000 feet, well above their rated ceiling of 37,000 feet, but could not reach the large object, which hovered above the Hanford nuclear reactor for an additional 20 minutes, before going straight up as the six Hellcats gave up the intercept.2
A rather dramatic account, to say the least! Hopefully, at least some of the other members of Powell’s squadron who participated in this action can be located and interviewed. Efforts are currently underway to do just that.

In any case, given Bud Clem’s recent report to me, it now appears likely that UFO surveillance at America’s nuclear weapons sites began at least several months prior to the successful test of the first atomic bomb, in the New Mexico desert, on July 16, 1945. Moreover, if Rolan Powell’s estimate of the date of his encounter at Hanford is reasonably accurate, the event he describes would have occurred around the time of the test. (That said, Bud Clem’s initial estimate of his squadron’s presence at the Pasco NAS was off by some two months, perhaps not unreasonably, given that the reported incident occurred over 60 years ago. Similarly, Powell’s estimate of the time-frame for his own experience may be somewhat inaccurate as well.)

1. Bud Clem to Robert Hastings, personal communication, April 2, 2009


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