Date: February 17 & 18, 1956
Location: Orly Airport - Paris, Île-de-France, France
An echo corresponding to an object of a size twice higher than that of the largest planes then in service appeared on the radar of the international civilian airport of Orly, close to Paris.
No plane was supposed to be there at this time. The radar technicians initially restricted themselves to following the manoeuvers of the object, manoeuvers which were completely different from all that they had been able to observe up to now.
Its speeds varied from total immobility to a speed of 1500 miles per hour. The weather was exceptionally cold during this February 1956, colder than ever since, and there was no storm. The sky was clear and with no clouds.
Thereafter, whereas the object was still followed on radar, a Douglas Dakota DC-3 of Air France carrying the passengers of a scheduled flight coming from London entered the field of the radar.
The unknown object, which at this time was stationary, was seen on the radar screen accelerating at a fantastic speed and going straight towards the DC-3.
The Orly tower then radioed the DC-3 to ask whether they could see anything. The DC-3 pilot answered that they see a twinkling red light moving towards their plane apparently at a very high speed. He indicated that the position of the light is at the vertical of Les Mureaux, which corresponded to the position of the object on the radar.
The DC-3 pilot had to change course to avoid a collision, which seemed imminent to him, then the object disappeared from his sight.
From the control tower, the object now seemed to be on the side of Le Bourget, and they informed the DC-3 pilot about that.
The copilot, when he turned over to this side, saw again not only the mysterious twinkling light, but also the object itself, enormous and black against the bottom of the sky. He and the captain watched the UFO for a full half minute before it disappeared.
In his report, the captain stated that the object they saw carried none of the required navigation lights.
Similar events continued three hours long. According to the statements of the Civilian Aviation investigators, the pilots of the several planes which landed or took off that night at Orly after having seen the twinkling light, and sometimes the object, which maneuvered around them at tremendous speeds, were terrified.
Aimé Michel, who gave very little details on the events themselves but studied this case with attention, gives additional information which he collected when interviewing involved personal:
On the night from the 17th to the 18th of February 1956 at 11:00 p.m., a spot corresponding to an object of a size twice higher than that of the largest apparatuses then in service appeared on the radar of Orly. No plane having been announced in that area, the technicians initially restricted themselves to follow the evolutions of the supposed object:
Fantastic evolutions, since speeds varied from the most rigorous absence of motion to speeds of 1550 m.p.h., let us note, by the way, that according to an American study that I will quote presently and who is reference, this speed alone excludes the hypothesis of a temperature inversion.
But here we have a DC-3 of the London line, which appears in the area of the apparatus. The unknown object, which at this time was stationary, is seen on the screen starting at a tremendous speed and diving towards the DC-3. The control tower of Orly then calls the airplane to ask whether they can see something.
The conversation between the control tower and the cockpit crew of the DC-3 was:
DC-3: I see a twinkling red light which moves towards me apparently at a very high speed.
Control Tower: Which position do you allot to this light?
DC-3: At the vertical of Les Mureaux.
This was the position located with the radar. The pilot of the DC-3 had to change its course to avoid a collision which seemed imminent to him, then the object disappeared from his sight.
DC-3: I do not see anything any more. Did you lose the target?
Control Tower: No, the object seems to be on the side of Le Bourget, the other airport for Paris.
Indeed, the pilot, while turning himself to this direction, saw again not only the mysterious twinkling light, but the object itself, enormous and black on the background of the sky.
This cat and mouse game lasted for three consecutive hours. With the statement of the investigators of civil aviation, the pilots of the various airplanes which landed that night in Orly after having seen the twinkling light, and sometimes the object, maneuvering around them at tremendous speeds, were pale with fear.
But this is not all:
Further Information: The object knew the existence and the position of the radio beacons. It frequently jumped from one to the other at speeds reaching 2,200 m.p.h.
Further Information: It knew the existence and the limits of the radar. When no plane was in sight, it came out of the field of the radar by going high up, and only returned only to rush towards approaching planes.
Further Information: And here is the most fantastic. At one time, to clearly check about it, the tower operators called the radar at Le Bourget:
Control Tower to Le Bourget: Do you have the same detection than us?
Further Information: At once, the Orly radar was jammed by a powerful interference. To escape the jamming, the Orly operators changed the radar frequency. There was no jamming during a few seconds, during which the object became again perfectly visible on the screen. After that, jamming began again on the new frequency: everything was like if the object, having intercepted and having understood the conversation between Orly and Le Bourget, had considered that the radar detection was a nuisance and had jammed it, and this, from frequency to frequency, because from that point radar frequency change and further jamming did not cease to go on. This interpretation, I must stress, I received it from the aeronautics technicians who investigated into the incident.
Further Information: Radar at Le Bourget, which was not functioning, has not been used that night.
Thus, in this particular case, the radar observation was doubled not only by visual observation, by the pilots who saw the object in flight, but also by a complete set of cat and mouse events irresistibly evoking an intelligent activity.
A few years later, in Paris, I had the visit of one of the most eminent members of the board of inquiry of the U.S.A.F. who came to consult my files and to exchange impressions with me. Questioned on what he thought of the Orly case, he emitted a disillusioned sigh:
U.S.A.F. investigator: Cases of that type, we get them every month in the United States.
Aimé Michel: And you explain them?
U.S.A.F. investigator: Explain them? How would we explain them? They are totally unexplainable.
Aimé Michel: But then, why on earth do you constantly publish official statements claiming that 99,5% of the cases which were subjected to you received a satisfactory explanation, and that the others have no importance?
U.S.A.F. investigator, Again a disillusioned sigh: Why? To get some peace. Do not forget that the American commission is a military commission.
Aimé Michel: Ah! If U.S.A.F. delegated this job to scientists...
U.S.A.F. investigator: Every month, said this honest man.
However, it would be false to believe that scientists could not have seized the occasion to confront themselves with this case. Indeed, it was widely publicized in the press, including in the United States, for example in the New York Times of February 20, 1956:
Air Mystery In Paris
Unidentified Object, on Radar
Flew at 1,500 m.p.h
Special to The New York Times
PARIS, Feb. 19 -- Aviation circles were speculating today on the identity of a strange object alternately hovering and flying at speeds in excess of 1,500 miles an hour, picked up Friday night by radar operators at Orly International Airport.
The object made a blip on the radar screen approximately twice as large as that of the average airliner, according to the technicians. It appeared to be at an altitude of 5,000 feet and was seen to follow aircraft taking off or coming in for a landing at Orly.
A radio beacon station southwest of Paris also reported the object but neither the radar at Le Bourget Airport nor the Paris Observatory reported contact. A spokesman at the observatory suggested that it might have been a United States weather balloon launched in Germany and blown west by the jet stream air current.
Or The Sunday Mirror, England, on March 11, 1956:
Paris Radar Tracks
PARIS, France (UP). -- An unidentified flying object, described as twice as large as a normal commercial airliner, has been tracked on radar screens here, Orly Airport officials reported recently.
Traveling at an estimated 1.500 miles an hour, the object appeared over the Paris region in the late evening, and seemed to hover a few moments before disappearing at high speed.
The object was also sighted by an Air France pilot flying to London who reported seeing an intermittent red flame in the sky above him.
Admittedly, scientists could have worked to find a possible explanation for this case, unfortunately, the only scientist who did, from the Observatory of Paris decided on this subject after some instant armchair research which was probably limited to the inattentive reading of the newspaper. He seemed to believe that balloons can fly at twice the speed of sound in the winds of high altitude, and that balloons can pace and circle several planes, planes which did not seem that much troubled by the alleged supersonic jet streams of low altitude. Definitely, someone at the Observatory of Paris at this time should have better restrain himself of intervening on the UFO question.
It is in particular in a German magazine that we can read an outline of the extent of the Orly events. Here the report of the Quick-Text magazine, of Munich, in its number 11 of March 1956:
Ghost ship above Paris
Original Article in German: Alarm in der Radarstation des Flugplatzes von Orly; Drei Stunden lang bedrohte ein geheimnisvoller Flugkörper startende und landende Verkehrsmaschinen.
English Translation: Alarm in the radar station of the Orly airfield; during three hours a mysterious flying object threatened starting and landing transport aircraft.
Further Information: At this place in the article, there is a photograph of three radar operators implied in this incident, and two night photographs of the object, followed by this legend:
Original Article in German: Einer der zehn Radartechniker des Flugplatzes Orly. Alle sahen auf ihren Radarschirmen eine Erscheinung wie diese (rechts) und alarmierten sofort französische Jagdflugzeuge.)
English Translation: One of the ten radar technicians of the Orly airfield. All saw a feature as this one (right) on their radar monitors and immediately alerted the French fighter planes.
Original Article in German: ("Es war unheimlich!" bestätigte Radar-Techniker Baruc. Drei Stunden lang sah er, wie 'das unheimliche Ding' andere Flugzeuge jagte.)
English Translation: "It was uncanny!" confirmed radar technician Baruc. Three hours long, he saw how the "uncanny thing" chased other airplanes.
Original Article in German: (Die Zeugen: Radar-Chef Deveaux wurde mit seinen zehn Mitarbeitern vom französischen Generalstab über das Geisterschiff verhört. Er gab zu Protokoll, daß sich der 'Flugkörper' drei Stunden lang über Paris befunden habe. Er war zweimal größer als das größte Flugzeug, blieb manchmal in der Luft stehen, um dann wieder mit einer Geschwindigkeit von 2400 Stundenkilometern weiterzurasen.)
English Translation: The witnesses: Radar Boss Deveaux was cross-examined with his ten co-workers by the French general staff about the ghost ship. He wrote in his report that the "flying object" had been three hours long over Paris. It was twice larger than the largest airplane, stopped sometimes in the air, to then race further again with a speed of 2400 kilometers per hour.
Original Article in German: Der Beweis: Plötzlich bildete sich auf dem Radarschirm ein bananenförmiger Nebel um einen geheimnisvollen Riesenkörper. "Er blieb unbeweglich, und wir konnten genau sehen, wie eine startende 'DC 3' und eine landende 'Constellation' unter dem Riesenkörper hinwegtauchten. Es kam mir so vor, als ob das Geisterschiff den Pariser Flugverkehr beobachten wollte", erzählte einer der Radar-Leute. Aber das Geisterschiff raste in nordöstlicher Richtung davon, blieb dort stehen und sprang schließlich einem Postflugzeug entgegen. "Wir befürchteten schon einen Zusammenstoß, da kurvte das unheimliche Ding: es hatte eine neue Beute entdeckt und schoß auf die von London kommende Swissair 103 zu. Dabei kreuzte es die Bahn der soeben gestarteten DC3-FBAXI. Deren Pilot erzählte uns von einem rötlich zuckenden Feuerball."
English Translation: The proof: Suddenly a banana-shaped fog formed around a mysterious giant body on the radar display screen. "It remained immovable, and we could exactly see how a starting DC-3 and a landing Constellation dipped under the giant body. It seemed to me as if the ghost ship wanted to observe the Paris air traffic," told one of the radar people. But the ghost ship rested in the northeast direction of it, stopped there and finally jumped towards a mail aircraft. "We already feared a collision, when the uncanny object circles: it had discovered a new target in Swissair flight 103 coming from London. It crossed the course of the FBAXI DC-3 that just took off. Their pilot told us of a reddish twitching fire ball."
Original Article in German: (40 Sekunden lang folgte das Geisterschiff der Swissair 103. Dann verschwand es gerade in dem Augenblick über Orly, als die von den Radar-Technikern drei Stunden vorher alarmierten Jagdflieger zur Verfolgung hätten starten können. Der französische Generalstab untersucht jetzt, warum sich der Start der Jagdflugzeuge auf dem 200 Kilometer entfernten Militärflugplatz Tours verzögert hat. "Unergründliche Ursachen" sollen schuld sein...)
English Translation: The ghost ship followed Swissair flight 103 for 40 seconds. Then it disappeared in the blink of an eye over Orly, as the fighter planes that the radar technician alerted three hours ago for interception scrambled. The French General Staff is now examining why the scramble of the fighter planes from the airfield of Tours at 200 kilometers was so long. The proposed explanation is "unfathomable causes"...
Further Information: [The article ends with three flight path sketches.]
The story by pilot Michel Desavoye:
Further Information: The article underneath was published in the newspaper Le Méridional, France, page 6, on February 21, 1956.
THE "APPARATUS" AT ORLY:
"It was not a weather balloon" declares the pilot that approaches it.
PARIS. -- "It was certainly not a weather balloon", declared to the press Mr. Michel Desavoye, the Air France pilot who, alerted by the control tower of Orly, last Saturday, saw in the Parisian sky a red twinkling light whose origin remains mysterious.
36 years old, Mr. Desavoye has navigated on all the air lines of the world for five years as pilot of Air France.
Here his account:
I had taken off from Orly at 11:55 p.m. on board a DC-3 freight transport bound for London. I have been in charge of this daily service, outward and return, for one month. A few minutes after takeoff, the control tower of Orly reported to me an unidentified apparatus detected by radar moving towards Le Bourget, and who was to be on my flightpath. Mr. Baupetuy, my radio operator, and myself, then saw a little on our right and appreciably at the same height than us a red flashing light. We were at approximately 1.500 meters at the height of Orgival. Wanting to avoid the obstacle, I changed course.
There, the light then disappeared suddenly. I resumed my flightpath. The radar reported to me that the 'apparatus' was now above me. But this time I did not see anything.
I am unable to give you an explanation of this phenomenon, adds Mr. Desavoye, but I never saw anything similar. All that I can affirm to you, is that it was in no case a plane, for we would have seen its position lights. The night was very black and I could not see from where this light came, which appeared in any event twice larger than position lights normally are.
Returned in Paris at 5 o'clock in the morning, Mr. Desavoye was questioned by the radar technicians of Orly and a colonel of the Air Force and he confirmed his statements in a written report.
The Orly affair, by Charles M.:
At the period when this observation took place, Charles M., of Toussus-le-Noble, was an amateur pilot of private planes. He was the organizer of the Air Club of Paris. 17 years later, he still remembered the fussed which started because there was a large number of visual witnesses.
Charles M. writes that the observation caused a considerable media uproar in the Parisian Press and on the radio stations. The Orly UFO was indeed seen by thousands of people in Orly, in Le Bourget, and in Vesinet, and the total duration for the event was four hours. During these four hours of presence in the Paris area, the UFO was seen, among others, by the almost entire nightshift ground personal in Orly.
Charles M. explains that the UFO was detected as soon as it arrived by the radar operator at Orly airport. The behavior of the echo which he detected was so different from that of planes that he initially thought of a breakdown of his radar. He then compared the echo on his PPI with what another nearby PPI showed and so he discovered that the two PPIs showed exactly the same echo.
Charles M. specifies that the size of the UFO was twice that of the airliners of that time, DC-4s and Lockheed Constellations.
The UFO moved towards the Dakota DC-4 [DC-3], which had just taken off of Orly bound for London. The name of the pilot was Désavoi [Michel Desavoye]. All the aircrew visually observed the UFO: Désavoi, the radio operator, the mechanic. The UFO paced their DC-4 during a time, then it set out again towards Orly where it stared to pace another plane which landed in Le Bourget. Then, the UFO started a 'hell of an aerial ballet' and returned finally at the vertical of Orly, where it then spun right to the vertical and at a 'fantastic speed' towards the sky.
Charles M. remembers that the following day, Désavoi was convened in Orly, where a commander asked him to contradict the facts in order to quiet down the Press and the radio. Désavoi refused and maintained his statements, repeating strictly what he had seen, and recalling that his radio operator and his mechanic had seen what he saw too.
The case then fell into oblivion, nobody having a decent commonplace explanation at the time. But a long time after, an article of a newspaper briefly mentioned the following pseudo-explanation:
We have finally the explanation of the phenomenon of Orly: it was simply a radar in the river Seine.
The skeptics opinion in this case:
Except the pathetic theory of the balloon by a member of the Observatory of Paris, as discussed above, and the blip in the river Seine, there is none to my knowledge.
One French hardcore skeptic, 'zetetician' as they call themselves, probably having read my above comment on the lack of any sensible commonplace explanation, asked me for some data on the case, which I gave him, and claimed that he will come up with such a commonplace explanation. However, we are now two years later, now over 60 years later, and I heard nothing more.