Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#89 The Marianna UFO of 1955 (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)


Graham Air Base operations building and control tower
Now the Marianna Municpal Airport
The UFO that streaked over the county in 1955 is #89 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida!  Please click here to see other items on the list as they are released.

UFO (unidentified flying object) stories are now part of American culture, albeit a hotly debated part. In 1955, however, they were breaking news and the military often kept them top secret. Such was the case with an incident that year in the skies over Jackson County that ranks as one of the nation's first government-verified UFO sightings.

Today's Marianna Municipal Airport was the home of Graham Air Base in 1955. Opened in 1953, Graham Air Base was a U.S. Air Force Contract Primary Flying Training Base where many of America's top Cold War and Vietnam era pilots were trained. Home to the 3300th Pilot Training Group, it provided pilot training on AT-6, PA-18, T-28 and T-34 propeller aircraft until 1957 when T-37 jet trainers were added to compliment.

Operations building and control tower in 1955
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
On December 6, 1955, a civilian radar operator was working his normal shift at Graham Air Base when he detected something unusual on his scope. An unidentified object suddenly streaked into radar range, entering Jackson County from the south at a high rate of speed.

As the operator watched by radar, the UFO flew over Jackson County at a speed faster than any known U.S. Air Force plane. It first appeared to be following the Apalachicola River but angled to the northwest as it passed over Jackson County, a route that carried it close to both Marianna and the air base.

USAF Record Card of Marianna UFO
When first observed, the object was flying at an altitude of about 15,000 feet, but as it streaked north over Alabama it climbed to an altitude of 30,000 feet.  It was lost from radar as it passed over Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Alarmed by the approach of the object, the Flight Service Center commander at Maxwell notified the Air Defense Command at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the Air Force Chief of Staff in Washington, DC:

...One unidentified flying object sighted over Marianna FLA at 0100E Aircraft radar. Object at 15000 feet over Marianna FLA. Object proceeded to Montgomery ALA climbing to 30,000 FT elapsed time of object from Marianna FLA to Montgomery ALA five minutes. Object presently over Maxwell AFB. - Project Blue Book Record, U.S. Air Force, December 6, 1955.

Graham Air Base Historical Marker
Whatever it was, the UFO traveled the distance from Marianna to Montgomery (around 140 miles) in just five minutes. That equals around 28 miles per minute or 1,680 miles per hour.

Kept top secret at the time, the sighting was investigated by the U.S. Air Force as part of its "Project Blue Book." Between 1952 and 1970, Air Force investigators examined 12,618 alleged UFO incidents. Of that number, only 701 remain listed as "unidentified." The 1955 Marianna incident is one of those 701 cases.

Graham Air Base from the air in the 1950s.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
According to the Project Blue Book record card for the incident, investigators were unable classify the UFO sighting due to "insufficient data for evaluation."

At least one person reported seeing an object in the sky over northern Jackson County at about the time of the incident. The eyewitness later recalled that he was on a trip from Alabama to Florida with his parents along US 231 when they suddenly saw an unidentified object fly over the highway near the Florida-Alabama line. He described it as a saucer shaped object with red lights around its bottom. It made no sound. Whether it was the UFO picked up by radar operators is not known.

To this day, the Marianna UFO of 1955 has never been explained. It is #89 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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