TIME Magazine - Jan. 15, 1945


     If it was not a hoax or an optical illusion, it was certainly the most puzzling secret weapon that Allied fighters have yet encountered.  Last week U.S. night fighter pilots based in France told a strange story of balls of fire which for more than a month have been following their planes at night over Germany.[*]  No one seemed to know what, if anything, the fireballs were supposed to accomplish.  Pilots, guessing it was a new psychological weapon, named it the "foo-fighter."

     Their descriptions of the apparition varied, but they agree that the mysterious flares stuck close to their planes and appeared to follow them at high speed for miles. One pilot said that a foo-fighter, appearing as red balls off his wing tips, stuck with him until he dove at 360 miles an hour; then the balls zoomed up into the sky.

     Skeptical scientists, baffled by the whole affair, were inclined to dismiss the fireballs as an illusion, perhaps an afterimage of light which remained in the pilots's eyes after they had been dazzled by flak bursts. But front-line correspondents and armchair experts had a Buck Rogers field day.  They solemnly guessed: 1) that the balls of fire were radio-controlled (an obvious absurdity, since they could not be synchronized with a plane's movements by remote control); 2) that they were created by "electrical induction of some sort"; 3) that they were attracted to a plane by magnetism.

     The correspondents further guessed that foo-fighters were intended: 1) to dazzle pilots; 2) to serve as aiming points for antiaircraft gunners; 3) to interfere with a plane's radar; 4) to cut a plane's ignition, thus stop its engine in midair.

     Some scientists suggested another possibility: that the fireballs were nothing more than St. Elmo's Fire, a reddish brush-like discharge of atmospheric electricity which has often been seen near the tips of church steeples, ships' masts and yardarms.  It often appears at a plane's wing tips.

[*] Last month pilots reported that they had seen mysterious floating silvery balls, apparently another "secret weapon" in daylight flight over Germany.


NEWSWEEK - Jan. 15, 1945


     That was more than a month ago, one of the first times Allied fighters encountered what they now call "foo-fighters."[*] In addition to the wingtip balls, pilots have reported two other types.  One is a group of three smaller balls which fly in front of their planes, the other a group of about fifteen which appear some distance away and flicker on and off.  Apparently controlled by radio, the foo-fighters keep formation with the planes, even when they dive, climb, or take evasive action.  "But they don't explode of attack us," Meiers said last week. "They just seem to follow us like will-o'-the-wisps."

     Probably related to the silvery balls seen by daylight pilots (NEWSWEEK, Dec. 25, 1944), the foo-fighters so far apparently baffle intelligence officers.  Possibly they are the results of a new anti-radar device which the Germans have developed.   On the other hand, they may be the exhaust trails of a smaller model of the radio-controlled Messerschmitt-163, a rocket-propelled flying wing.

     Day bombers have met the Me163, which has an explosive charge in the nose and is apparently designed to crash into Allied planes.  When one pilot closely inspected foo-fighters tagging him, however, he detected nothing but the spheres.

     [*] The name comes from the "Smokey Stover" comic strip.



A letter from a former Army Air Force Staff Sargeant radar operator in the 96th Bomber Squadron (H), 11th Bomb Group, to the Air Force Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) dated 5 April 1952 related an interesting war time experience. (There are some parts of the microfilm which are blurred and difficult to read.)

"....Below is a report I made in diary form which I did not enter in [the] combat report when I made [sic]of the mission, in the extent that I make it here:

      "Feb. 22, 1945; B-24, #501, 98th Bomb group; Night mission with Lt Togner over CHICHI JIMA. Bomb Load 4x500 M29 Butterfly Bombs. Target: SUSAKI AIRFIELD. 35 bombs observed to hit target area. Radar Approach: 152 degrees form NISHI JIMA. 20 bursts of accurate flack. No Searchlights. A night fighter apparently on our tail. O'Hara saw 2 exhausts. Picked up an indication on our own radar, (SCR 717C). Landed at 0930: no damage to us. Mission at 9300'. Marines having hard time at IWO (JIMA),. We could see flashes coming back.'

     "That was my full report. The other reports of that mission you undoubtedly have access to for your own analysis. There are two things that I do not like about this report:

(1) The Iwo Airfields at the time were closed to all Jap flying, because the Marines were on hand.

(2) Susaki was not large enough to [?] anything more than pea-shooters.

(3) BETTY'S (A Japanese aircraft type) were the only enemy aircraft, to my knowledge, that were ever sighted in that area, that would fit the discription of our own sighting -- and these had not been sighted for a good month and a half before we made this contact. We did have 'pacers' in daytime over Iwo, but never at night, and they never followed us after a mission was over as this one was supposed to have done.

(4) I first saw this 'pip' just outside of our altitude circle, the direct radar return from the ground, after O'Hara spotted it. It never came inside this altitude circle, but followed us for maybe 20 miles after bombs away, then disappeared from the screen as suddenly as it had come. That is why I want to finish out the report that I....[illegible]"


This report is interesting for three reasons. First, it is an early radar-visual report although details are lacking. Second, it is a pre-1947 which was in the Air Force files with a reference that could be used to establish it occurred before 1947. Third, the term "foo-fighter" is not used.

This letter was contained in a Project Blue Book file entitled "Public Response to the April 1952 LIFE magazine article", a catchall file which contained letters received from the public from 1952 to '53. Generally no action was taken on these letters. Dr. Herbert Strentz received this file from ATIC when he was working on his PhD dissertation. Several of the letters report sightings before 1947; they stated that the sightings were also reported or recorded when they were made. The records like the diary cited above included a ship's log, newspapers, observatories, and guard records. Since these letters were not investigated or treated as official reports, Blue Book at the time (1952-3) did not indicate pre-1947 reports in any statistics.

The LIFE magazine file was apparently not made available to the scientists at Battelle Memorial Institute. The Institute's study report of UFOs from 1947 to 1952 in Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14 states the following on page 4:

Sightings alleged to have occurred prior to 1947 were not considered, since they were not reported to official sources until after public interest in 'flying saucers' had been stimulated by the popular press."

However, had the Battelle scientists had access to the letters in this file, the investigators would have recognized that these people were trying to "establish their priority" in the same way that scientists establish their priority when making a new discovery. Scientists often use notebooks, diaries, letters, and reports to other organizations to establish the time of a discovery.

This brings up another problem with previous scientific evaluations of the UFO problem. The Battelle study, the Robertson panel, and the Condon committee, all contractors of the Air Force, were presented data by the Air Force which the Air Force thought was significant. A study of UFOs requires access to all data not just material that some records custodian feels is relevant.

Finally, a number of researchers have written to archives in the United States, Canada, and Britain requesting information on "foo-fighters." The archives' answers almost always state that no information can be found under the foo-fighters heading. Researchers would get the same answer if they requested information on "Charlie" when referring to the Viet Cong. As Jeff Lindell, a long-time investigator of war time night lights found, some operations and intelligence reports might refer to foo-fighters, robombs (robot bombs), baka bombers and balls of light. Most reporters and higher headquarters believed the sightings were the result of enemy secret devices, jets, rockets, or flares. Reports of German or Japan secret weapons sightings are probably what should be investigated. - J.L.A.

An extract from the March 1945 INTELLIGENCE AND OPERATIONS section of the 549th Night Fighter Squadron Unit History:


Combat Air Patrols were flown on the 22nd, 24th, 26th, 28th and 30 March. On 26 March Lieutenant Calvin P. Lamb, Pilot, Lieutenant James G. Holmes, Radar Observer, and Sergeant John W. McIsaac, Gunner, saw what they described as lights on an airborne object. The lights followed them through a few turns but turned away as the crew orbited north of Iwo Jima. A chase was made, with slight radar contact on the airborne set, and then the object pulled out of sight. The similar lighted object was again seen the next night of patrol by Lieutenant William F. Sill, Pilot, Flight Officer George W. Hayden, Radar Observer, and Private First Class William Brasvell, Gunner.

NOTE:   There were many reports of Japanese planes which dropped aluminum "windows" (i.e. aluminum foil strips) at night when chased by U.S. aircraft. This foil confused radar signals. However, in some of the chases recounted in this unit history, this does not seem to have been the case. Also, the "bogies" seem to have been able to accelerate to much higher speeds to get away from the night fighters. Most Japanese night flight opeations around Iwo Jima seemed to be "lurking" intelligence gathering missions. US Pilots reported aircraft like the "Betty" (Mitsubishi G4M long-range medium bomber) escorting but not firing on bombers making their run on Iwo Jima and the surrounding Islands at night.-- J.L.A.



ATTN :  A-2


1. A. One (1) P-61-B
    B. Unknown

2. A. None
    B. None

3. Combat Sortie.

4. PILOT: Lt. F. L. Williams (Laughing Boy Blue 2)
    RADAR OBSERVER: Lt. J. H. Richardson
    GUNNER: Sgt. S. Forman

TAKE-OFF: 0022          LAND: 0415

      On routine patrol until 0300 and then on practice interception when GCI reported possible bogie between Blue 1 and Blue 2 but Blue could not make any contact.   A little later GCI gave another vector and possible bogie at Angel 2 and AI contact was made at 7 miles.  Bogie made normal target on screen and after chase of 5 minutes lost bogie off starboard side, then picked it up at about 4 miles on port side.   Held target at about that distance for a few minutes at speed of 200 mph while bogie took mild evasive action.  Finally closed to 2.500 feet when bogie faded to starboard and when it was again picked up it was to the port side at about 3 miles and gaining speed. Bogie increased distance and Blue 2 was forced to abandon chase by shortage of gasoline.

5. WEATHER: 6/10 coverage, tops 3,000, base 2,000 : visibility good.

    Communications: Good

6. None.

7. No ammo :  750 gallons of gasoline expended

8. At close range bogie appeared on scope as two (2) blips. Gunner saw reddish round light and correctly reported its movements to R/O who was following it on scope. GCI's report of "possible bogie" confusing as to whether he meant he was uncertain as to contact or as to indentity of contact.
Archie Beattle   
1Lt., Air Corps   
Asst. Intelligence Officer 



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