Multiple witness UFO sighting by Top Secret aircraft engineer in 1953

Clarence "Kelly" Johnson
Clarence “Kelly” Johnson

One of the UFO cases investigated by the U.S. Air Force was a sighting by famous aeronautical engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Johnson was the first team leader of Lockheed Skunk Works, the team responsible for developing super secret high tech airplanes, who eventually took up residence at Area 51. In fact, Johnson helped scout out the location and was responsible for the initial construction of Area 51. He was key to the development of many airplanes, including the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes. Both of which have been frequently mistaken for UFOs.

However, unlike others involved with Skunk Works who have credited their aircraft as the cause for the furor over UFOs, including the CIA, Johnson said he had seen UFOs on at least two occasions, and he believed the phenomenon to be real.

In his report to the U.S. Air Force, which can be found in the Project Blue Book files, he wrote:

I should state that for at least five 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.

Some of those converts were the crew of a Navy Super Constellation WV-2 who also witnessed the UFO seen by Johnson and his wife on December 16, 1953. Johnson’s report, along with several from the crew of the Constellation, are in the Blue Book report.

Johnson says the sighting took place at his ranch, which was three miles west of Agoura, California. He and his wife had just arrived at the ranch, and it was approximately 5 pm when he spotted something odd over a mountain to the west. He says at first he thought it was a black cloud, but then noticed it did not look the same as the other clouds, so he thought it might be an aircraft. Curious, he studied the object more closely.

He considered the possibility that it could be a lenticular cloud. This is a type of cloud formation that can develop over a mountain. They are disc-shaped and often mistaken for UFOs. However, Johnson says it did not move or disintegrate. He asked his wife to bring him his binoculars. He did not want to take his eyes off the object.

Stratocumulus lenticularis forming at the top of Mount Mikeno in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

He ran out to the balcony to train the binoculars on the object just as it began to move to the west. He said he could see the object was black and distinct as it moved off at a very high speed. He wrote, “In 90 seconds from the time it started to move, the object completely disappeared.”

He estimates that he and his wife watched the object hover stationary for 3 minutes before it began to move. Although he was reticent to guess the object’s dimensions due to having no reference to make an estimation, he says he believes it was very large.

Johnson had been out of the office for a few days, so the morning after the sighting he met with some of his engineers to be brought back up to speed. During the meeting, the Chief Flight Test Engineer Rudy Thoren mentioned he had seen a UFO the night prior. In his report Thoren wrote, “Upon completion of the technical discussion, I casually mentioned (for fear of being ridiculed) that I had been chasing a flying saucer last night.”

He then said Johnson interrupted him and described the sighting that Johnson and his wife had. Johnson felt it was important to interrupt to confirm whether or not Thoren had seen the same thing. Thoren was shocked at how similar Johnson’s description was to what he had seen.

Thoren’s sighting took place while he was piloting the Navy Super Constellation. He was the co-pilot. Onboard were Roy Wimmer, an engineering test pilot; Joe Ware, a flight test engineer; and P.A. Colman, the chief aerodynamics engineer. All of whom wrote reports on their versions of what happened.

An Atlantic barrier U.S. Navy Lockheed WV-2 Warning Star overflies USS Sellstrom off Newfoundland in 1957. (Credit: Mahlon K. Miller/U.S. Navy)

Their accounts are very similar. After completing their tests, the pilot, Wimmer, handed the controls over to Thoren. They leveled off at around 20,000 feet when Wimmer spotted something odd. He called out, “Hey, look at the flying saucer!”

Wimmer says he called out more for fun. Ware noted in his report that they all often made fun of Wimmer about UFOs. Wimmer had a UFO sighting with another colleague of theirs two years prior over Catalina.

At first they thought it was a cloud, but as they examined the object they became more convinced that it was actually a solid object. They said it was crescent shaped, or possibly a flying wing. Wimmer estimated the object was at least 50 or 60 miles away. He says after five minutes he noticed it was flying away from them to the west. A minute or two later it grew smaller then disappeared.

Wimmer  reported:

I might add that I have had considerable experience, while doing radar bombing on P27’s, of estimating distances where there is very little to judge by and I am convinced this was a large object some distance away.

Colman agreed it was odd and noted, “The difference in the positions, both horizontally and vertically between [the two groups of witnesses], indicate that the object had sufficient depth to eliminate the possibility that it was a cloud phenomenon.”

Excerpt from one of the Lockheed UFO reports. (Credit: U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book)

Although Ware says they made fun of Wimmer for his UFO sighting two years ago, in his report, he admitted he also had a UFO sighting a couple of years back. He wrote, “I’ve been interested in flying saucers ever since one evening during the 1951 Christmas holidays. I was putting up a TV antenna on my roof when I looked up towards the north over the hills behind our home and saw a large circular object, apparently stationary. The time of day was about 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.”

He continued, “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.”

Thoren ended his report adding that he has not been so interested in UFOs, but this sighting was not an “illusion.” He writes, “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 make 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.”

Map of the positions of the witnesses created by The UFO Partisan. (Credit: The UFO Partisan –

The Blue Book file includes a drawing from Johnson of the object he saw in December of 1953, and the object he saw in a prior sighting in November of 1951. His report also included some information about this first sighting. He says his wife also witnessed this object.

The first sighting was in Brents Junction, California. He says it was a dark night, but he could clearly see a “defined flame or emanation.” He said the object moved very quickly from the east to the west making no noise. Johnson says at first he thought it was the afterburner from a jet, “but the lack of noise and the pure spread of the flame eliminated that possibility completely.”

Johnson’s UFO drawings. The top image is a drawing of the sighting from December 1953, the bottom is his first sighting in November 1951. (Credit: U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book)
Image from the UFO Partisan website demonstrating the similarity to the UFOs Johnson saw and the stealth bomber. He wonders whether Skunk Works was influenced by the sightings. (Credit: The UFO Partisan –

The Blue Book files consists mostly of these reports by the witnesses. There is no indication an investigation took place. Even though all of the witnesses were pilots, and all had considered and ruled out a cloud as an explanation for what they saw, the cover letter for the file lists the conclusion as a lenticular cloud.

Cover page to the December 16, 1956 Agoura, CA Blue Book file. (Credit: U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book)

Despite the U.S. Air Force conclusion, due to the high credibility and expertise of the witnesses, many UFO researchers regard this as one of the best UFO sightings. It is also great for UFO researchers to list the man who scouted out the location for Area 51 and was the first team leader of the famous Skunk Works organization as someone who took UFO sightings serious.

It must have been comforting for Johnson to have shared this sighting with some of the very colleagues who probably made fun of him for his interest in UFOs. At least he would no longer have to suffer ridicule alone.

And although the U.S. Air Force didn’t seem impressed, a sighting report like this begs the question, who is the real authority here anyway? The Air Force investigators, or some of the top engineers and test pilots of the time who were working on the most advanced aerial vehicles known to man.

For more analysis of this sighting visit the UFO Partisan. The U.S Air Force files can be found at the Project Blue Book Archive and Fold3.

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