Great Falls Tribune
December 3, 1973
By M. Thomas Beam
Tribune Staff Writer
Phantom aircraft, with flight maneuvers similar to that of helicopters, were observed again Wednesday night north of Great Falls in the vicinity of several Minuteman missile sites.
Similar sightings also were reported in Chouteau and Teton counties but, as in the past, law enforcement authorities were unable to get close enough to the objects to determine what they were.
Malmstrom AFB officials stated publicly Thursday that because the flying objects took no overt or hostile actions at missile sites, military authorities were not considering taking action of their own. Base officials also stated that none of the objects appeared on the Air Force radar screens.
However, the Tribune has learned from sources within the military that on two occasions within the last two months Malmstrom has scrambled jet fighters in an unsuccessful attempt to identify the objects.
The theory that the objects might be private helicopters, possibly involved in cattle mutilations which have occurred in this area during the past year, has been advanced by officials but others have questioned whether helicopters could be flown in the windy conditions which have prevailed for the past several days.
Air Force helicopter pilots stationed at Malmstrom said Thursday that while it is possible to fly during high winds such as Wednesday night's, which were clocked at 45 miles per hour, it would be hazardous. Malmstrom officials said Thursday that Air Force regulations prohibit helicopter flights in winds exceeding 40 miles per hour for safety reasons.
Helicopter pilots in private industry also were questioned by the Tribune Thursday and they stated that as far as they knew, the 40-mile-per-hour wind limit also is observed by private pilots. "A pilot could fly a helicopter in winds like Wednesday night, such as in an emergency, but it certainly isn't advisable," one pilot said.
Wednesday night's first sighting was reported about 8 p.m. by Malmstrom missile crew at a missile site north of Great Falls near the Bootlegger Trail. The airmen reported that an object emitting a bright white light had hovered over the missile site before moving away.
Cascade County Sheriff deputies and a Tribune reporter spent four hours criss-crossing the area between Great Falls and Carter on county roads and reported sighting two objects flying in the area between 9 and 10 p.m. and two more objects on two different occasions between 10 and 11 p.m.
The sightings consisted of seeing a white flashing light, much like a strobe light, with a smaller red flashing light above it moving from east to west and occasionally hovering in one spot. The objects were seen at a distance of approximately seven to 10 miles at an altitude of about 1,000 feet.
Three of the objects slowly descended during their flight until they disappeared beneath the horizon about flying at a much higher altitude and was last seen heading northwest of the city.
During the night several commercial airliners and smaller fixed-wing aircraft approaching Great Falls International Airport for landing were sighted but the aircrafts' green and red wing lights were not similar in any respect to the unidentified objects.
Authorities requested Thursday that residents between Great Falls and Conrad report any strange objects sighted to the county sheriff's office. But they also asked that anyone reporting a sighting first try to determine if the object could be an airplane, the blinking lights on a television or radio station tower or yard lights in the distance which might occasionally be obscured by a tree limb making them appear to blink.