Deke Slayton was one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts. He served as NASA's Director of Flight Crew Operations for nine years and as the docking module pilot of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, which was also the last flight of an Apollo spacecraft.
On December 12, 1951, Slayton had an extraordinary aerial experience while testing out a P-51 Mustang in the skies over Minnesota. He described it in his 1995 autobiography, Deke!:
"I realized I wasn't closing on that son of a bitch. A P-51 at that time would cruise at 280 miles an hour. But this thing just kept going and climbing at the same time at about a forty-five-degree climb. I kept trying to follow it, but he just left me behind and flat disappeared. The guys on the ground tracked it with a theodolite, and they'd computed the speed at four thousand miles an hour."
You can read Slayton's full account, which begins at the bottom of page 49 here.
This is a simply amazing UFO incident considering both Slayton's resume and the speed of the UFO. To put it in context, the SR-71 Blackbird, which wasn't introduced until more than a decade later and was the fastest plane in the world in its' day and long after, topped out at around 2200 MPH. The hovering and then hitting that speed in apparently very short order is really astonishing. The forty-five degree climb Slayton describes is a clear signature of a high performance aircraft.
I had known that Slayton had a sighting, but never delved into the details and they are well worth taking a closer look at. It's truly one of the great UFO incidents that has somehow been overlooked over the years.
Slayton goes on to mention in his account that he often wondered if his report made it into Project Blue Book. Well it did! And that makes this case doubly compelling.
The report, since declassified, is available here and covers six pages starting with this link.
I think it's important to consider that when you're recounting an event, who the audience is matters. If it's a casual conversation, the story might go one way, if it's for a formal report or part of a book or article or a media interview, it could go quite differently.
On page 663 of the Blue Book archive, investigator Major Gerhard Kaske wrote, "The pilot assumes the speed of the object at this point was about 380 to 400 mph."
Discrepancies don't necessarily equal dishonesty but the difference between 400 MPH and 4000 MPH is not within any reasonable margin for error.
If Slayton assumed much higher then he would have been making a pretty bold statement considering the speed of planes in those days. Slayton was already a very experienced pilot at that point, having flown 56 combat missions during World War II, had a degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Minnesota and was well on his way to testing supersonic aircraft at Edwards Air Force base before ultimately joining NASA. He was well aware of what contemporary aircraft were capable of.
The math doesn't check out for the object to flat out disappear in the three to four minutes Slayton said the incident took place in at 380 to 400 MPH, not with excellent visibility that day. The Blue Book investigators determined Slayton had seen a balloon, but winds in the upper atmosphere top out at about 250 MPH, so even with a conservative speed estimate of around 400 MPH along with the change in speed Slayton describes in both his bio and official account, that explanation just doesn't hold up. This video of Slayton discussing the incident recently turned up on youtube thanks to the work of eeasynow! Thanks!
My guess: he deliberately low balled the speed in the report. Slayton himself said he had to be talked into making a report. He made the report a week after the incident. Of course a stone cold debunker might say he exaggerated his account in the book to make for a better read but considering the totality of his lifetime of accomplishments and the small portion his UFO sighting takes up in his bio, that's highly unlikely.
Slayton also mentions in his bio that the UFO crowd had latched onto a couple innocuous events during space flights, but there was really nothing there. I'm not sure which ones he's talking about specifically. I did see an interview with Martyn Stubbs where he actually talks about the John Glenn "fireflies" incident as if that was still a UFO, although it technically was until Scott Carpenter figured out it was only frost flaking from the capsule on the next flight.
The Glenn incident is covered in some detail in the Academy Award winning 1983 film The Right Stuff, which features Slayton prominently as well.
When it comes to astronauts and UFOs, it's the usual mixed bag you get with the UFO phenomenon, isn't it? A little bit of everything that only intensifies the mystery.
You've got Edgar Mitchell, who makes no claim of a direct UFO encounter but is adamant about alien visitation.
You've got Gordon Cooper who was adamant about his own encounters in particular and alien visitation in general.
And you've got Deke Slayton who reported initially and wrote about a UFO encounter but declined to attempt to explain it himself. "I don't know what it was," he wrote in his bio. "It was unidentified."
The Deke Slayton case is one of the most underrated of all UFO cases. The witness had impeccable credentials as an aviator and continued on to a distinguished career as a space pioneer, a true American hero. His autobiographical account is consistent with his initial report in its' essential elements and where it strays is both explainable and understandable.
In the 44 years between the incident and the book, no information came to Slayton, despite the high ranking positions he held at NASA, "Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon because I selected him," he wrote, that would move the incident from unknown to explained in his mind. How it has slipped through the cracks all these years is beyond me, but I'm glad I took a look at it in detail and am pleased to be able to share the two documented accounts of it with you all.