The Kelly Johnson Case
Date: Wednesday, December 16th, 1953
Location: Santa Barbara Channel ( Agoura ), CA
Kelly Johnson was known as one of the world's leading aircraft designers. He was in charge of designing the U-2 spy plane for the CIA. On December 16, 1953, a Lockhead WV2 aircraft was being flown by one of Johnson's test crews over Long Beach California, at the same time that Johnson & his wife were on the ground in Agoura, California.
Johnson, his wife, & the flight crew all spotted a UFO at almost the same time. Because the plane and Johnson's location were both known, the location of the unknown object could be triangulated exactly. The object spotted by the observers was a 200' long, black craft, similar to the "Flying Wing" of the United States Air Force. The UFO was seen for 6 to 7 minutes as it hovered over the Santa Barbara Channel.
The W-2B decided to get a closer look, and proceeded toward the UFO, which was about 15,000' altitude. All the while, Johnson was observing the UFO with his binoculars. He, along with the crew in flight, saw the UFO take off at a great speed. It headed out over the Pacific. It reached 90 miles altitude as it disappeared from view. Later, in Johnson's official report, he stated: "I am now more convinced than ever, that such devices exist, and I have some highly technical converts in this belief."
After looking over the case, the Air Force concluded that Johnson, his wife, and the airplane crew had seen a lenticular cloud.
Although the government thought that Johnson could not tell the difference between a cloud and a structured, flying object, they continued to employ him for many years to come, designing some of the most secretive, cutting-edge planes of his era.
The following is a facsimile of a letter he wrote to the U.S.A.F:
On Wednesday, December 16th, 1953, my wife and I went to our ranch, which is 3 miles west of Agoura, California, and 1 mile north of Ventura Blvd. We arrived there about sundown, which is close to 4:45 P.M. PST. We went immediately to our ranch house, which is located on a hill facing southwest.
At approximately 5:00 o’clock ( within two minutes of accuracy ), I was looking at the sunset through a large plate glass window, when I noticed above a mountain to the west what I first thought to be a black cloud. The sun had gone down and the whole western sky was gold and red, with several thin layers of clouds or haze at fairly high altitude. I wondered why this one object was so dark, considering that the sun was behind it. I immediately thought that some aircraft had made an intense smoke trail, so I studied the object closely. It was apparent, after my first few seconds of consideration, that the outline of the object did not change. Thinking it was a lenticular cloud, I continued to study it, but it did not move at all for three minutes. I do not know how long it was there before my attention was called to it.
When it did not move or disintegrate, I asked my wife to get me our 8x binoculars, so I would not have to take my eyes off the object, which by now I had recognized as a so-called “saucer”. As soon as I was given the glasses, I ran outside and started to focus the glasses on the object, which was now moving fast on a heading between 240° and 260°. When I got the glasses focused on the object, it was already moving behind the first layer of haze. I gathered its speed was very high, because of the rate of fore-shortening of its major axis. The object, even in the glasses, appeared black and distinct, but I could make out no detail, as I was looking toward the setting sun, which was, of course, below the horizon at the time.
In 90 seconds from the time it started to move, the object had completely disappeared, in a long shallow climb on the heading noted. The clouds were coming onshore, in a direction of travel opposite to that of the object. The time in which my wife and I studied this object was between 5:00 and 5:05. The object, which had hovered stationary for at least 3 minutes, appeared to be very large but, not knowing its distance from me, I could not estimate its dimensions. At all times the object appeared as an ellipse, with a finess ratio of the larger axis to the minor one of about 7 or 10 to 1. I estimated the position of the object to be roughly over Point Mugu, which lies on a bearing about 255° from my ranch.
On the morning of December 17th, I returned to work, having been absent for about a week and Mr. Wassell, Assistant Chief Engineer, and Mr. Carl Haddon, our Chief Project Engineer, came into my office with Mr. Rudy Thoren. Mr. Thoren stated that he had seen a flying saucer the day before. I immediately broke in, without letting him say what time and where he had seen the object, and described my experience of the night before. I wanted to do this so that I could get confirmation as to whether of not he saw the same thing I saw at the time stated. Mr. Thoren was dumbfounded, and described his experience, along with that of our engineering test pilot, Mr. Roy Wimmer, flight engineer Joe Ware, and our chief aerodynamicist, P.A. Colman, all of whom saw the object as described in Mr. Thoren’s memo.
I should also state that about 2 years ago Mrs. Johnson and I saw an object which I believed at the time, and still do, to be a saucer, flying west of Brents Junction, California, on a very dark night. I did not see the object itself but saw a clearly defined flame or emanation, as shown on the attached sketch. This object was travelling from east to west at a very high speed and with no noise. The flame or emanation was a beautiful light blue, having extremely well defined edges. My first impression was that it was an afterburning airplane, but the lack of noise and the pure spread of the flame eliminated that possibility completely.
I should state that for at least 5 years I have definitely believed in the possibility that flying saucers exist - this in spite of a good deal of kidding from my technical associates. Having seen this particular object on December 16th, I am now more firmly convinced than ever that such devices exist, and I have some highly technical converts in this belief as of that date.
Clarence L. Johnson
Chief Engineer CLJ:vmp
The following is a facsimile of a letter Roy Wimmer ( Engineering Test Pilot ) wrote to collaborate Kelly Johnsons sighting:
January 12, 1953
On Wednesday, December 16th I made a test flight in Constellation 4301. The crew in the cockpit consisted of myself as pilot, R.L. Thoren as co-pilot, Charles Grugan, flight engineer, and J.F. Ware as flight test engineer.
I took off late in the afternoon and ran some tests during the climb to 5,000' and then made a level run for a few minutes.
I then started to climb to 20,000' and turned the controls over to Rudy Thoren. We continued our climb in a south-easterly direction and somewhere in the vicinity of Long Beach or Santa Ana between 16,000'and 20,000' we made a right turn onto a west heading. The sun had just set but the air was very clear and the light was real good toward the west. I noticed a cloud layer in the west starting somewhere east of Santa Cruz Island at about our altitude. Above this cloud layer, well out in the clear air, I saw what I thought was a small cloud. Just for the fun of it I said, “Boy, look at the flying saucer!”
After watching it for a few minutes we decided that it wasn’t a cloud but some kind of object. It had a definite shape which appeared to me like a crescent. Others on board described it as a huge flying wing. I could not detect any details other than the shape of it. I estimated the distance from us to be at least 50-60 miles and possibly much further. In the clear air like that it is very hard to judge distance.
We flew directly toward it for about 5 minutes and our relative position did not appear to change. I do not recall our exact speed, whether we were still climbing or whether we had leveled off during the time.
As Rudy was flying the airplane, I had nothing else to do but to watch the object. After about 5 minutes I suddenly realized it was moving away from us heading straight west. In the space of about one minute it grew smaller and disappeared. I was watching it all the time so I was able to see it for several seconds after the rest of the crew lost sight of it. Right up until the time it disappeared it maintained its sharp outline and definite shape so I know it was not a cloud that dissolved giving the appearance of moving away.
I might add that I have had considerable experience, while doing radar bombing on P2V’s, of estimating distance where there is very little to judge by and I am convinced this was a large object some distance away.
Engineering Test Pilot
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation
The following is a facsimile of a letter P.A. Colman ( Chief Aerodynamics Engineer ) wrote to collaborate Kelly Johnsons sighting:
To: Clarence L. Johnson Date January 11,1954
From: P.A. Colman Dept. 72-23 Plant A-1 Ext. 8-2189
Subject: FLYING SAUCERS
This is an account of my experience of witnessing the presence of an object in the sky. I was flying in the Lockheed WV-2 airplane with Mr. R.L. Thoren, Mr. Joseph Ware, Mr. Roy Wimmer plus other members of the Flight Test Group. The three individuals mentioned and I were in the pilot’s compartment of the airplane, at approximately 5:00 p.m. on the night of Wednesday, December 16, 1953.
While flying off the coast in the vicinity of Santa Monica, I saw an object apparently standing still in the air off the coast, in the vicinity of Point Mugu. We were flying at 16,000' and to the best of my judgment the object was at the same altitude. The object appeared as a thin black line, giving a first reaction of a B-36 type airplane, heading straight toward us and silhouetted against a bright background. The background was bright due to the fact that the sun was just setting. The object appeared not to move while we progressed with our tests. For a few moments we turned the airplane toward the object but did not apparently change our distance sufficiently to get any change of impression. I estimate that the object was hovering in out sight for about 10 minutes. Thereafter, it suddenly accelerated due west and in a time, in the order of 10 seconds, disappeared from view.
The following day it was revealed that Mr. Clarence L. Johnson had seen the identical object while standing on the ground at his ranch. This coincidence is interesting. The difference in the positions, both horizontally and vertically between us indicate that the object had sufficient depth to eliminate the possibility that it was a cloud phenomena. The similarity of the explanations of the shape and actions of the object is remarkable. However, the blackness made it impossible to discern anything but the basic outline.
Chief Aerodynamics Engineer
The following is a facsimile of a letter R.L. Thoren ( Chief Flight Test Engineer ) wrote to collaborate Kelly Johnsons sighting:
On Wednesday, December 16, 1953, I participated in a test flight of a Navy Super Constellation WV-2, taking off at 4:29 p.m.. The flight consisted of: Roy Wimmer, pilot; myself, co-pilot; Charlie Grugan, flight engineer; & Joe Ware, flight test engineer.
We climbed out towards the ocean and leveled off at 10,000 feet for a short test. After completing this test, Wimmer turned the controls over to me and I started climbing to our next test altitude of 20,000'. I climbed through a very thin, scattered overcast, somewhere around 14,000 feet, avoided a couple of small clouds, and continued to climb towards 20,000'.
Somewhere between 15,000' and 20,000', Roy Wimmer said to me, “Look out, there’s a flying saucer.” I looked out the windshield towards where Roy was pointing and saw some sort of an object at approximately the altitude that we were flying. I made a slight turn heading right towards the object, expecting to overtake it so that we could look at it more closely. I maintained this heading for roughly five minutes, looking at the object all the time.
Wimmer, Ware & myself viewed this thing for at least 5 minutes, discussing what we thought it might be. Wimmer’s first impression was that it was a small cloud. After studying for several minutes, though, I deduced that it was not a cloud because it had too definite sharp edges and its appearance stayed constant. It looked to me like I was flying right directly towards it, and at about the same elevation as, a very large flying wing airplane. I would estimate at this time that I was somewhere between 17,000' and 18,000'.
Although the object appeared to be absolutely stationary, we did not seem to be closing the gap between us and this object. even though we were flying at some 225 miles per hour. The object then seemed to be getting smaller, and myattention was diverted from it for a minute or so, but Wimmer mentioned that the object was disappearing. In probably an elapsed time of somewhere around a minute, the object had reduced in size to a mere speck, and then disappeared. It’s direction was almost due west. At the same time, the sun had gone down below the horizon but the sky was red, and this object silhouetted perfectly against this red background. The atmosphere was extremely clear. When I first sighted the object, I guessed that it was probably seven miles away. However, looking at it in retrospect, to object must have been considerably larger than I had estimated and, hence, the distance was probably much greater than I had also estimated.
Looking back at the flight record taken on this flight, it was recorded that we leveled off at 20,000' at 5:10 p.m. Inasmuch as we had sighted this object when we were somewhere between 16,000' and 18,000', our view of the object started at roughly 5 o’clock, or just a little before that. We continued without test flight, thinking no more of this observation, and landed after 6:00 o’clock. We discussed other details of the flight and then went home. When I got home, I described the so-called flying saucer to my family and made a little sketch of what it looked like to me.
This morning, I reported to work and went directly to see Mr. C.L. Johnson, Chief Engineer, to give him a report on activities occurring in the last few days, inasmuch as he had just returned from a trip. In attendance at this meeting were also Mr. Jack Wassall and Mr. Carl Haddon We discussed a number of things and, in the course of the conversation, I discussed the flight made yesterday on this WV-2. Upon completion of the technical discussion, I casually mentioned (for fear of being ridiculed) that I had been chasing a flying saucer last night. Kelly snapped this up immediately, and said he knew exactly where it was and when; and, with no further adieu he sad it was at 5:05 p.m. and the object was sighted off of Point Mugu. This literally bowled me over, because the location of the object that I sighted was off of Point Mugu. I had estimated that it was somewhere between Point Mugu and the Santa Barbara Islands. Incidentally, at the time I had sighted it, we were flying over the ocean just off of Long Beach.
Kelly then related that last night at about 5:05 p.m. he had seen an object in the western sky and had gotten binoculars and looked at it in detail. He described it at a wing with an aspect ratio of approximately seven. He said that it appeared stationary for several minutes, and then heading directly west it disappeared in one to two minutes, as I recollect his conversation. This story jibes exactly with what we saw in flight at the same time.
I might mention that I have been very skeptical of flying saucer stories, and have never even imagined seeing an object in the sky that I was not able to identify. The three of us who watched it from the airplane are all pilots who have been flying for many years on experimental test work, and are trained to have accurate observations. Kelly also has had a lot of experience in flight test work and has been flying for many years and is also a very trained observer. The fact that what he saw and what we saw appears to be identical, and the time and place identical, leads me to believe that it was not exactly an illusion that I observed.
Chief Flight Test Engineer
The following is a facsimile of a letter J.F. Ware, Jr. ( flight test engineer ) wrote to collaborate Kelly Johnsons sighting:
L O C K H E E D A I R C R A F T C O R P O R A T I O N
To: C.L. Johnson January 11, 1954
cc: Intra-Flight Test Files
From: J.F. Ware, Jr. 72-28 5-6 8-2950
Subj: FLYING SAUCERS
On December 16, 1953, I was aboard a WV-2 airplane, LAC 4301, with Roy Wimmer as pilot, Rudy Thoren as Co-Pilot, Charlie Grugan as Flight Engineer. Phil Colman was also in the cockpit.
At about 5:00 PM we were over the Catalina channel area (between Avalon and Palos Verdes hills) at 15000' - 16000', on top of a scattered to broken overcast. The horizon was well defined by the rays of the setting sun and the sky above the overcast was clear.
Our attention was drawn to what looked like a large airplane off to the right. We were roughly paralleling the coast at the time and Roy, I think mentioned, “There’s a flying saucer”. We have kidded Roy a good deal about flying saucers since the night about two years ago when he and Bob Laird were in 1951S and sighted some lights over Catalina. These lights reportedly stood still for a while and moved around over the island and finally disappeared.
I was standing between the pilots and observed the object out of the co-pilots window in the 4301. Phil Colman’s attention was also drawn to the object. Rudy, who was flying at the time, turned around and headed toward the object. During this time, it seemed to be stationary, although we did not appear to overtake it at all. My first thought was that it was a large airplane, possibly a C-124, but after looking more closely, it seemed to look more like a large object without wings with a maximum thickness in the middle tapering toward either side, I could not distinguish front or rear on the object. It seemed to be somewhat above us and to the West, over the water, possibly in the vicinity of Santa Barbara Islands.
After looking at the object off and on for about five minutes, it became apparent that it was moving away from us and in just a minute or two it completely disappeared. As it was disappearing, I looked at it off and on and gradually I could not see it at all. Roy watched it continuously and could see it after I had lost sight of it--he actually observed it continuously I believe. It disappeared in a generally westward direction ( toward the setting sun ).
I’ve been interested in flying saucers, particularly ever since one evening during the 1951 Christmas Holidays. I was putting up a TV antenna on my roof when I looked up toward the north over the hills behind our home and saw a large circular object, apparently stationary. The time of day was abut dusk and I watched the object for several minutes and called Leslie and a neighbor, Mr. Murphy, who also looked at it. I continued working on my TV antenna, glancing at the object now and then, with more and more time between glances, and finally the object was gone.
There is a small airstrip at Giant Rock, and I have visited the group of people there who have devoted their life to flying saucers. They have many photographs and books on the subject, and figuratively eat and sleep saucers.
J.F. Ware, Jr.
Section Supervisor - Flight Test
I have marked on attached map my estimate of our position when we saw the “saucer” and my estimate of the position of the saucer