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 Case #10

Billings, Montana, USA - August 31, 1956

The tenth report in this catalogue comes from issue #6 (December 15, 1956) of the CSI-NY newsletter (CSI stands for Civilian Saucer Investigation, a major US UFO group of the fifties). The original source for the report given here is the Minneapolis Star of October 29, 1956.

August 31, 1956. J. Gordon Campbell, president of a machine-tool company of Edina, Minnesota, was flying with his family in their private plane near Billings, Montana, at about 8 p.m., on their way to Lewiston, Montana, for the weekend. They were flying northwest at a ground altitude of 4000 feet (8000 feet above sea level) when they noticed what they thought at first was another plane. Actually, the object, which was coming toward them at a terrific speed, turned out to be a huge "dog-boned shaped" UFO. All black in color, it had knobs on either end "just like a cartoonist's version of a dog-bone" (see illustration, from a cut-out model made by Campbell). "It was awfully hard to tell how close we were. It seemed to be a quarter-mile away and about 150 feet long" (if his estimate is accurate, the object was 13 times the apparent size of the full moon - Eds). "During the time it seemed to hover close to us, we had a true air speed of close to 180 miles an hour, and it was right with us - between us and where the sun had gone down".

As soon as the Campbells were certain that the object was not a plane, they called the Billings control tower and asked if there was any trace of the object on their radar. There wasn't. Immediately after this the object disappeared to the northwest - in a matter of three seconds it was out of view. Almost immediately four more objects came into view, hovered, and then sped away after the Billings radar operators had reported inability to "get" them.

As soon as the Campbells landed at Billings, they reported their observations. "Another one came over while we were on the ground. There were two or three who saw it, besides us". Later, they discovered from clippings that a number of other people had reported seeing "things following much the same description" at the same time.

Comment - We have some reservations regarding this report as it is not entirely clear whether the objects observed here were actually "coming toward" the plane and finally "sped away" or if these movements can be attributed to mere changes in the size of the objects. Anyway, there are many similarities with the 1954 Labrador report, notably the comparison of the larger object to a "dog-bone", which is a pretty close match to Capt. HOWARD’s statement that the bigger object resembled "an inverted telephone receiver". Such interconnected images are indeed quite typical of mirages.

As for a possible target object for a mirage, we note that the aircraft was heading "northwest" at 8000ft ASL near Billings en route for Lewiston and that, according to CAMPBELL, the blobs were "between us and where the sun had gone down". The sun had just set at 285°, 30° to the left of a NW heading, but we suspect neither "northwest" nor "where the sun had gone down" need to be interpreted with precision. Generally speaking the blobs were against the bright post-sunset sky roughly ahead of the plane somewhere in the NW. We further notice that at about 325-330° (10-15° off the nose if the plane was heading exactly NW) and at a distance of about 70 miles, there is an isolated massif of mountains with Old Baldy prominent at 2561m (8700ft). From 8000ft near Billings this massif would have appeared on the horizon silhouetted against the sunset, the tops rising close to the observers' astronomical horizon and in a good situation for a mirage. The observers' subjective impression of size and distance (150 ft @ 1/4 mile) corresponds to an angular width of 6 or 7°, equivalent to a true width of about 8 miles at 70 miles, which is the right order of size to fit the Old Baldy massif.

Map of the sighting location

Map of the sighting location with red arrow marking the line of sight

View over Billings

View towards NW from 8000ft ASL over Billings

The authors look forward to receiving additional reports and/or comments which may help assess the soundness of the mirage theory for this particular type of UAP sightings (to contact us, see our e-mail address on the contact page).