Thomas Mantell and the Kentucky UFO…

Captain Thomas F. Mantell was an Air National Guard pilot in World War II. He had had logged over 2,167 miles of flight time and was honored for his participation in the Battle of Normandy. In 1948 he was flying out of Godman Field at Fort Knox in Kentucky.  He was 25 on January 7, 1948 when his encounter with a UFO dramatically changed the course of his life.

In the early afternoon, a Sergeant Quinton Blackwell reported seeing an object from his position in the control tower at Fort Knox. There were two other witnesses in the tower who reported a white object in the distance. Colonel Guy Hix, who was the base commander, stated the object “very white,” and “about one fourth the size of the full moon … Through binoculars it appeared to have a red border at the bottom … It remained stationary, seemingly, for one and a half hours.” Observers at the Clinton County Army Air Field in Ohio reported the object “as having the appearance of a flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist” and observed the object for around 35 minutes. (1)

There were four planes in the air (P-51 Mustangs-165th Fighter Squadron Kentucky, Air National Guard).  One of the planes was flown by Capt. Thomas F. Mantell.  They were ordered to approach the white object. Sergeant Blackwell was communicating with the planes throughout the incident…. One pilot was low on fuel and abandoned the effort.  Capt. Mantell was said to have communicated it was large and metallic appearing, though there are disputes that was ever said. The other two pilots were low on oxygen, and as the planes went to 22,500 feet they abandoned the effort also…. Mantell kept climbing in altitude, but when he reached 25,000 feet he too was lacking oxygen, and passed out. The plane went in circles as it plummeted to the ground. It landed on the Tennessee, Kentucky state lines.

Mantell did not survive the crash. “Firemen later pulled Mantell’s body from the Mustang’s wreckage. His seat belt was shredded, and his wristwatch had stopped at 3:18 p.m., the time of his crash. Meanwhile, by 3:50 p.m. the UFO was no longer visible to observers at Godman Field.”  (2)

The officials theorized that what the pilots could have seen was the planet Venus, given the direction and time of day. The Air National guard investigators jumped to this to explain the phenomenon.  Using astronomical charts available at the time, Venus could have been seen in the daylight sky. Later astronomers that were sought out acknowledged the planet was visible but doubted a random search in the sky could have found it. The further stated it would have blended easily into the surrounding sky. Any haze and those on the ground would not have seen it, so the cause of the sighting was not because of Venus and would have to be found elsewhere.

The testimony of several of the witness came down to a few points:

Col Hix’s account. NG 869: “Object traveling at 180 MPH – half my speed.

Lt Orner’s account.NG 869: “high and traveling about ½ my speed at 12 o’clock position.”

Later: “Closing in to take a good look”

No further word heard by Orner.

T/Sgt Quinton A. Blackwell: NG 869: At 1445. “Object traveling at 180 MPH Directly ahead & above me now and moving at about ½ my speed.”

Later: “I’m trying to close in for a better look”

At 15,000 ft.: “Object directly ahead of and above me now and moving about ½ my speed. It appears to metallic of tremendous size. I’m trying to close in for better look”

No other word heard by Blackwell from NG 869.

Capt. Gary W. Carter: NG 869 “Object going up and forward as fast as he was” – approx. 360 MPH

“Going to 20,000 feet and if no closer will abandon chase.”

No further contact heard by Capt. Carter – Apparently last word ever received from NG 869.

These same witnesses, who watched the object for more than an hour, sometimes through binoculars, offered a range of descriptions that, in the end, matched more or less. Their words might have been different, and they searched for their own comparisons, but they all described the same basic object. They reported:

Col Guy F. Hix: “It was very white and looked like an umbrella.”

“I thought it was a celestial body but I can’t account for the fact it didn’t move.”

“I just don’t know what it was.”

He said it was about 1/4 size of the full moon and white in color. Through the binoculars it appeared to have a red border at the bottom at times and a red border at the top at times. It remained stationary (seemingly) for 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Capt. Carter: “Object appeared round and white (whiter than the clouds that passed in front of it) and cold be seen through cirrus (sic) clouds.”

From interview with Duesler (accompanied by LTC E. G. Wood):

Wood said that the object appeared about 1/10 the size of a full moon, if the thing were a great distance away, as compared to the diminishing size of the P-51’s flying toward it, it would seem that it was at least several hundred feet in diameter.

After dark, another or the same object appeared in approx. 234 [degrees] from Godman at 6 [degrees] elevation. This body moved to the west (259 [degrees]) and then down. The shape was fluid but generally round with no tail, the color changing from white, to blue, to red to yellow and had a black spot in the center at all times.

PFC Stanley Oliver: “resembled an ice cream cone topped with red.”

Lt. Orner: (Through binoculars) “Could not determine of (sic) object radiated or reflected light. Thru binocs (sic) it appeared partially as parachute with bright sun reflecting from top of the silk, however, there seemed to be some red light around the lower part of it.

One Richard T. Miller, who was in the Operations Room at Scott Air Force Base, near Belleville, Il. He recalled at 3:15 pm Mantell said, “My God, I see people in this thing!” Miller stated what he heard was clear, and that on the morning after the crash, he said, “Mantell died pursuing an intelligently controlled unidentified flying object.” He went on to say though he had been skeptical before he was no longer, and wondered why the government had kept it from the public. (4)



  1. News Release, Clinton Army Air Field,, January 8, 1948
  2. Analysis of the Thomas Mantell UFO case,
  3. Ibid
  4. 1948, The Death of Thomas Mantell,

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