Friday, July 29, 2011
Case Closed! A Re-Evaluation of the Echo Flight Incident
First, let me start off by saying that the Malmstrom AFB Echo Flight case is a great UFO story. It's the perfect storm for UFO buffs in that there are reports, documents, and "witnesses." Its listed in the top ten of UFO cases. People have been interviewed to the extent that every surviving individuals cerebral memory capacity has been extracted, evaluated, discarded and re-extracted for what ever purpose in the attempt to prove or disprove individual pet theories. In short, it's a ufologists dream come true...or is it.
But for all it's bells and whistles, Echo Flight proves only to be an illusion...a distant mirage in Ufology's desolate desert. Researching this case is akin to walking into a thick and dense forest making it difficult to see ahead as you hack your way through it's thick foliage. It lures you into a trance as you bog down into it's minutia. Its loaded with perceived facts that take you down potentially promising paths only to wind up at a dead end. It's a siren song. It's proponents take the view, "If looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then..." Yet I find my self yelling at them, "Don't fall for it, open your eyes, it's a f****ing dog!"
As I had stated in my very first article, UFOs over Echo were never mentioned during my four years on station at Malmstrom nor while completing Initial Qualification Training at Vandenberg AFB, CA. We talked about the legend of A-05 being built over an old Native American burial site and it's apparitions that appeared to security camper teams, but nothing about UFOs, and this includes the 1978 UFO case around Kilo. The A-05 legend originated in the first part of the 1960s, some four to five years before Echo. Why is it that a ghost story about a haunted Launch Facility has longevity yet the UFO story concerning Echo has evaporated from the collective memory bank? This cognitive memory dispersal still fascinates me to this day.
Why do I state that the Echo case is closed? Well quite a few factors come into play. I based my main premise on my past knowledge of the Minuteman system and trust me, I had to remember things that were long forgotten vs. what I still knew before starting to research this case. As I discussed this case with others, I experienced memory triggers. But through out this process, I was able to come to a series of logical conclusions based upon the following main areas:
1. Walter Figel's interviews
2. Eric Carlson's interview
3. The 341st SMW Unit History
4. The Minuteman's system design of LF connectivity isolation in a given flight.
5. The Boeing ECP and subsequent corrective actions SAC-wide that resulted from the Echo case.
As you will soon see, no single or multiple UFOs could have been capable of causing ten of Echo Flight's ICBMs to drop off alert. A re-evaluation of the original documents and data provide for the plausibility of new conclusions that may well answer questions surrounding the lack of any direct eye witnesses concerning this case effectively refuting any notion of UFO sightings.
Walter Figel's Story
Walter Figel's accounting of events on 16 March 1967 remain the only seemingly solid foundation for the UFO story and has remained so up to this current time. But, is it a consistent story? Based on the two interviews, one given to Robert Salas in 1996 and the second given to Robert Hastings in 2008, there are numerous inconsistencies when the two interviews are compared for content.
In the Salas interview, Walter Figel tells Salas that there were maintenance teams on two of Echo's launch facilities. Figel was unsure as to what type of maintenance was being performed. When his ten ICBMs dropped off alert, Figel contacted the two launch facilities in an attempt to talk to the maintenance teams. While conversing with the security guard, the guard makes the UFO sighting and reports this to Figel. This particular launch facility is not identified by Figel. Figel sends out the SAT to investigate and they report seeing a UFO over one of the sites, again, this site is not identified. In the end, no other sighting is reported or talked about. Amazingly there is no indication that the maintenance teams, the site security guards and/or the SAT ever report the UFO leaving the vicinity. In short, every body seems to go about their assigned tasks without interruptions as if nothing ever happened.
In the Hastings interview, twelve years has elapsed since Salas' interview, Figel states that three to four of Echo's launch facilities had maintenance teams on site. When pressed by Hastings, Figel finally states that four launch facilities have teams on site, supposedly doing routine maintenance. In this version, after the ten ICBMs drop off alert with VRSA channel 9 No-Go, Figel calls one of the sites to talk to the maintenance teams. It is one of the unidentified maintenance team members that makes the UFO sighting and report. Figel then dispatches the SAT to investigate the flight area. As in the Salas interview, the identification of the launch facility remains a mystery and the UFO's departure is never mentioned by anyone.
What about the contention that Hastings/Figel makes referencing the flight area as being treated as "crime scene" after all ten sorties had dropped No-Go? Just because a sortie or sorties had dropped LF No-Go, it was not considered a security situation. A No-Go indication was merely considered an electrical/mechanical indication in which the missile guidance system's on-board computer sensed an indication that would prohibit a successful launch, thus dropping the sortie into a No-Go condition, or possibly in a calibration mode. The only way that a security situation would have existed for any of Echo's sites would have been the unauthorized activation of either the Outer Zone and/or Inner Zone site security system. There is no indication either from Figel's interview or the Unit History that such a condition existed at the time of the shutdowns. Carlson/Figel would have, and probably did, called a low priority security situation involving the entire flight area, but not a higher security situation for each individual LF since the ICBMs and warheads were secured with no OZ/IZ indications.
We now have two different versions of the same event. Which one is correct? If you count the number of personnel that would have been involved in any potential UFO sighting or ear witness to any radio report, you come close to 20 personnel. Depending on whose interview is correct, you either had 4 people per sight for a total of eight per Salas, or you had 16 people covering the Hastings version for all of the 4 launch facilities. Of the 20 some odd people, the only people that can be verified by name is Eric Carlson and Walter Figel. The rest of the 18 individuals are never named. Amazingly, after 44 years, these individuals have never surfaced to be identified, to give interviews, or to prove/disprove the claims of UFO activity. For years, this case has been based on second/third party anecdotes...hearsay...rumors.
A while back I had attempted to reconstruct the alert. I had assumed that only two launch facilities were manned by teams. I inferred this from the 341st SMW's Unit History, where it stated that E-02 and E-08 were the only "unusual event."(pg. 33) Based on the faults listed for both sites, I naturally assumed that these sites were directly related to the UFO report in one fashion or another. I now believe my original assumptions to be wrong. The Unit History goes into detail discussing the missile launch crew. Per the Unit History, the crew was debriefed by the wing maintenance evaluation team, OOMA (Hill AFB), and Boeing.(pg. 34) What about the maintenance teams that were out at the launch facilities? They are never mentioned in the Unit History, neither are the security guards/SAT. One would think that the input from those individuals who were actually on the site would have had important observations to contribute towards the investigation...more so than the launch crew. Yet they are never mentioned and interestingly (to my chagrin) the Unit History never states that E-02 or E-08 had maintenance on site, or any other launch facility for that matter. I can only conclude that there were never any maintenance teams on any of Echo's launch facilities on the morning of 16 March 1967. Did Figel make everything up to both Hastings and Salas? It appears now a high probility, or due to the passages of time he assumed that maintenance teams were on his sites because he remembered that there were known fault indications, ie, sites on diesel back up generators (actually only one, E-08 with VRSA ch. 26). Regardless of the reasons, Figel's recollections are now highly suspect. If it is true that no maintenance teams were present, then all of the discussions surrounding the use of VHF radio or SIN for VRSA verifications and UFO sightings are irrelevant.
Hank Barlow's statements now need to be re-evaluated in lieu of the lack of no maintenance teams in the Echo flight area. By being at Mike-01, his team was only approximately an hour away from Echo and may indeed have been one of the first EMT teams to arrive in the flight area. Barlow's team could have easily left Mike around 0900 and arrived at the first Echo launch facility between 1000 and 1030. Carlson and Figel would have still been on duty. If Barlow's team was being processed onto one of Echo's launch facilities, then Eric Carlson would have been involved and heard the radio/SIN line conversations. This would explain why Carlson never heard of any UFO reports. Per Barlow, his team never saw anything unusual and went about their task unhindered though dead tired at the end of the day. In a strange twist of irony, Hastings may well be right (for the wrong reason) that Hank Barlow's team was the first to arrive in the Echo flight area. Barlow still remains one of many who heard of rumors of UFOs from a long forgotten source, yet he admitted that he saw nothing. During the 27 September 2010 press conference held in D.C., Barlow was absent and it now appears that he never signed an affidavit affirming his story. Was he asked by Robert Hastings? If so, did he refuse? It is highly possible that Barlow knew that his team was initially the only maintenance team on any of Echo's LFs which further calls into questions Figel's interview statements recalling maintenance teams on his sites prior to and during the shutdowns.
Figel's Email to James Carlson
A lot has been said about Walter Figel's email to James Carlson. James posted a copy of the email which was dated 11 March 2010. Some have accused James Carlson of fabricating the email for his own gain in support of his on-going dispute with Robert Hastings. Others have remained rather silent on the issue. As of now, I don't know Hastings' opinion of it's content even thought he received a copy from Figel. I recently went to a reliable source other than James Carlson to establish its authenticity. I have been told that the email is legitimate, and based on the IP address there is no doubt that it came from Walter Figel.
Figel's email specifically states that he himself saw no UFO. He tells James Carlson that he took the report as a joke. Nowhere in the email does he state by who or where the report came from, nor does he states one way or the other that Eric Carlson was aware of the report. Could Figel himself have innocently interjected the UFO theme as he would have been processing Barlow's team and eventually, until crew changeover, others that would have responded to the situation? He makes a vague reference to the lack of VRSA ch. 9s out at some of the LFs (Barlow's assertion), but has no opinion due to his lack of knowledge of the equipment operations directly at the LF itself.
Towards the latter part of the email, Figel tells James Carlson that at no time was he and Eric Carlson debriefed about UFO involvement, nor did he ever write and submit a report concerning UFOs concerning the incident. Contrast this admission with that of Hastings' 2008 interview which he tells Hastings that he was debriefed by wing/squadron personnel about UFO activity. Obviously, there is a disconnect concerning the email and the interview. It is possible that Figel could have fabricated some, if not all, of the information provided to Hastings, and as stated in the email, believed that both versions would have been acceptable to both James Carlson and Robert Hastings? The email clearly demonstrates Figel's weakening support for Hastings point of view, which may have contributed to Hastings' public chastising of Figel and vague threats of legal action.
Walter Figel's Absence from the D.C. Press Conference
On 27 September 2010, Hastings and Salas gave a press conference in Washington D.C. (National Press Club). Up to seven former Air Force members provided affidavits affirming UFO activity over either Echo or Oscar flight. Notably missing from this group was Walter Figel. A check on Salas' Web page listed all of the signed affidavits and contents. No where was there listed a signed affidavit from Walter Figel affirming his story. In the past, I thought this to be a mystery, but in light of my new conclusion, it may fit perfectly well. If the UFO story had no truth to it, and Figel was aware of the story's exaggerations, it would be reasonable to assume that he would not have been willing to produce an affidavit affirming it, nor would he be willing to advance the exaggerations before a national audience by his presence.
This could further explain Hastings' public frustrations concerning Figel's lack of group conformity. In recent on-line postings, Hastings had chastised Figel's "back tracking" as timid and waffling since Figel's story was the corner stone to Hastings' UFO theory. In some of Hastings' posting, he had issued veiled threats of legal action against Figel. Why threats of legal action? Figel never signed an affidavit so he is not legally bound to Hastings in that regard. The only other way that Hastings could have a legal argument is if he had a personal contractual agreement with Figel. Did Robert Hastings pay for Figel's interview back in 2008? This would explain Hastings angst and legal threats if he indeed had such a contract with Figel.
Hebert's Email to Walter Figel
In an attempt to see if Figel would be willing to clarify my questions and assumptions, I personally sent the following email:
Col. Figel, my name is Tim Hebert. I, like you, am a former Minuteman crew member. I was assigned to Malmstrom AFB, 490th SMS, from 1981-1985, with a follow-on assignment to Grand Forks AFB, Wing Codes Division, from 1985 to 1988. I'm writing you in regards to the Echo Flight case which occurred back in 1967, as I have been following the history of the case and on-going points of contention between Robert Hastings and James Carlson. I was wondering if you would indulge a fellow Minuteman crew dog by my asking your opinion of the case. I am aware that the Echo Flight incident occurred some 40 years ago and that you have been asked numerous times for your recollections of that event, yet will spare me some of your time.
I have read extensively both of your interviews given to Robert Salas in 1996 and Robert Hastings in 2008. In both of the interviews you mention the actions of maintenance and security teams in the Echo flight area on 16 March 1967. Both interviews are somewhat remarkably different as to who initially reported to you the sighting of the UFO over one of Echo's LFs. After reviewing the contents of the declassified 341st SMW Unit History, I was struck by the total lack of any mentioning of any wing agency debriefing either a maintenance team or security response team. Yet, the Unit History goes into detail mentioning you and Eric Carlson as being debriefed by a wing maintenance evaluation team, OOMA, and Boeing. This would lead me to conclude that there is a high probability that no maintenance teams were located on any of Echo's LFs on 16 Mar 1967. This would also explain why no names have ever surfaced as eye witnesses to any actual UFO sighting. Knowing that this incident occurred some 40 years ago, is it possible that there were no maintenance activity on any of your LFs?
When Hastings and Salas gave their press conference in Washington D.C. back on 27 Sept. 2010, I noticed that you were not in attendance. This struck me as odd as for the past few years Mr. Hastings has used your interviews as the foundation to proffer his UFO theory. Did Mr. Hastings ever ask you to sign an affidavit similar to the other participants of that conference? If Hastings did ask and you declined, why so?
And lastly, did Mr. Hastings offer to pay you for your interview? Please forgive my directness, but if this was so, then this would explain Mr. Hastings on and off attitude towards you as he has recently stated in numerous articles that you were "timid" and "waffling" as far as his (Hastings) perceived weakening support for his UFO theory.
Your thoughts in these matters would be greatly appreciated. Quite honestly this would go along way towards the clearing up of a lot of confusion concerning this case. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Robert Hastings (he is not a fan of mine) as he tends to paint those of us that served honorably in SAC and on the crew force as pawns or dupes of the government. It appears that he may attempt to do the same regarding the recent events at FE Warren. Our command and government were not perfect by any means, but we all, including our leadership, attempted to do the best that was possible in the defense of the country.
As of this time, Walter Figel has not emailed back a response. Should he provide a response in the future, I'll provide it in either an addendum or separate post.
For years Eric Carlson has been silent on the issue of UFO activity. He has consistently denied any UFO reports or involvement in the shut down of the ten ICBMs. In the 2008 Hastings interview, Figel is notably interested in the contents of a phone conversation which Hastings had with Carlson. Per Hastings, Carlson said little other than to state that UFOs were not the cause of the shutdowns, but Figel's noticeably interest in the phone conversation as to what Eric Carlson specifically said is interesting. The response from Figel gives the appearance that he was uncomfortable about Eric Carlson's reaction. Was Figel concerned that Carlson would contradict his version of events? It would appear so.
Carlson did provide an interview with Ryan Dube of Realityuncovered. Carlson stated that no reports were called in. He did not receive any calls radio/SIN related to the sighting of a UFO over any of his launch facilities, this also includes any conversations with security personnel. For all of the focus on Figel's activities on 16 March 1967, per the Unit History (pg. 36) Carlson was the first to see the faults and subsequent No-Go indications. He told Dube that he was actively running his checklist and making the applicable reports. One interesting bit of information is Carlson's relating to a call from SAC HQ querying the launch status of the ten ICBMs. Contrast this to Figel's interview with Salas where he states that he (Figel) was sent to Offutt AFB to brief SAC officials on the shutdowns. Carlson never makes that claim. Carlson goes on to state that by the end of the day everyone (Malmstrom and Great Falls) was aware of the shutdowns, "talk of the town" and he was playfully subjected to innocent teasing from his peers. Could this squadron camaraderie have been the initial source of playful UFO "rumors" that eventually filtrated back to maintenance teams, contractors and security personnel out in the field, or those soon to have dispatch to the flight area?
Per the Unit History, NORAD's 801st Radar Squadron showed no radar contacts on 16 March 1967. Some have speculated that there were contacts that have been officially covered up, yet the fact that the Montana Air National Guard's 186 Fighter Interceptor Squadron flew no intercept missions due to Echo's incident well refutes that notion. If there had been a positive radar contact, there would have been records supporting that type of intercept mission being flown against unknown targets 120 miles away in the Echo sector. Let me be clear: No ADC intercept mission was flown over eastern Montana on the morning of 16 March 1967.
Proponents of the UFO theory consistently harp on the aspects of an Air Force cover-up. Though this case has plenty of documentation via past FOIA request, the thought is that there is always something missing that will some how break the case open, at least, that appears to be the prevailing collective opinion. True, up to now, the missing engineering reports from the initial investigation would go along way towards answering some of the questions, yet enough documentation exist where logical conclusions can be drawn. The most cited document is the 341st SMW's Unit History, now declassified, that gives insight into the Echo case. Though not a perfect document, as there are minor errors and typos, it does open a 44 year old window which we can peer through. The trick is to understand what it is saying. It's a secondary source that is quoting and/or summarizing a primary source. It's the only way that we can currently gaze into the engineering analysis that was conducted in response to Echo.
Did the Air Force attempt a cover-up of the cause for Echo's shut downs? Based on a Cold War climate and sense of paranoia concerning National Security, I'm inclined to agree that there was a cover-up of sorts, but a cover-up of what? The fact that ten missiles in a flight had abruptly dropped off alert could not have been kept a secret, as Eric Carlson elaborated on. The shut downs were known through out the operations, maintenance, and security squadrons. The so called cover-up would have centered around the investigation aspect of the case. Any revelation of a system defect would have been classified in an attempt to keep this information from the Soviets. This happens quite often, even today, when keeping sensitive information from leaking out is considered to be in the best interest of the nation. That's all well and good, but did the Air Force, SAC and DoD cover-up facts that a UFO had been involved with the shutting down of a full flight of ICBMs?
During early June, 1968, there were reports of UFO activity affecting Minuteman sites at Minot AFB. This case was thoroughly investigated by members of Project Blue Book. Blue Book did not investigate Malmstrom's Echo incident, even though there was a UFO officer, LtCol. Lewis Chase, assigned to Malmstrom. So the Air Force spent considerable man hours investigating Minot's UFO reports, yet did nothing to investigate Echo's rumors of UFOs. This could only have not occurred if there were no valid facts to support such assertions pertaining to Malmstrom/Echo. Keep in mind, Minot had individuals that actually made written reports that they had saw something, where in Echo's case, no one ever made such a report. Why cover-up Malmstom, but go all out investigating Minot? This could only be if no evidence of UFO activity was associated with the Echo incident and a reasonable theory of causation was being pursued by Boeing and OOMA.
Minuteman Launch Facility Connectivity Isolation
Could a UFO theoretically cause the shut down of all ten of Echo's ICBMs? I've recently provided different UFO scenarios concerning this issue. Since the Minuteman ICBMs were remotely controlled by the LCC and the individual launch facilities had distance (miles) between them, a system was in place to guard against a nuclear strike/sabotage directed towards one or two launch facilities and disrupting command and control to the surviving launch facilities. Each individual ICBM had Hardened Inter-site Cables (HICs) running only to the Launch Control Center. There were no HICs cables running from one launch facility to another. The sites were intentionally isolated from one another. This design would rule out any possibility of an "event" at one launch facility affect the remaining sites. Or, if two or three sites had experienced an event simultaneously, the remaining sites would be unaffected. The only way that all ten ICBMs could have been affected was an event generated from the Launch Control Center.
Per the Unit History, the engineering investigations conducted by Boeing, Autonetics, and OOMA centered around the possibility that the EMP-like noise pulse was generated from the LCF/LCC. What is of interest is that these concerns were raised by other missile wings within SAC, in other words, Echo's issues did not exist in a vacuum. OOMA had discovered that noise pulses sent through the SIN lines caused virtually identical LF No-Go, VRSA ch.12s affecting the Logic Coupler drawers at Wing IV (Whiteman AFB). Though this was ruled out in Echo's case, this did under score that events generating from the Launch Center could, in some way, cause noise-like pulses being sent out to one or all of a flights ICBMs.
Echo's incident was strictly a flight specific event. Any major external EMP event would have affected some of the sorties in the adjoining flights, such as, Delta, Mike, Oscar and November. Yet this never occurred as no mentioning of extracting data from any of the adjoining flights is alluded to in the Unit History. This further cements the claim that the source of the noise pulse was, and could only have been, from Echo's LCF/LCC itself.
If the UFO theory is to be considered valid, then the only way that it could have affected all ten of Echo's ICBMs was to be hovering over or near Echo's LCF/LCC. Since no one ever reported this type of event (FSC and others on the LCF), this type of UFO event can be easily ruled out effectively ruling out any UFO involvement in Echo's shutdowns. Recently when I was developing this theory, it was downplayed by some because of the "unknown nature of how a UFOs could effect the ICBMs", in other words, UFO technology is so advanced that it is beyond our comprehension to adequately describe their capabilities and limitations. I found this argument to be seriously flawed. Since we don't know the extent of the "technology", one way or the other, then my premise is equally sound and based on know facts concerning the LF isolation design. This brings up the issue of Boeing's Engineering Change Proposal (ECP). The direct results that came from the Echo investigation and other SAC Minuteman wing issues was the implementation and installation of EMP suppression fixes. This fix was installed at all Minuteman wings and possibly accelerated Project Loggy Ebb that did the same at the Titan II wings. Since the time of the implementation of the EMP suppression fix, no wing in SAC, Minuteman or Titan, suffered a total flight, squadron or wing-wide shut down based on EMPs or noise pulse issues. That data refutes the issue of the "unknown UFO advance technology effect" argument that others have casually proffered.
I believe that I have shown that there is now enough evidence to strongly support that UFO/s could not have caused Echo's ICBMs to shut down. The following strongly supports my conclusion:
1. High probability that no maintenance teams were out on any of Echo's sites during shutdowns.
2. No maintenance or security teams mentioned in the Unit History.
3. After 44 years, none of the supposed eye witnesses have ever been identified, nor have these people ever came forward, concluding that they may never have existed in the first place.
4. Walter Figel's inconsistency from both Hastings and Salas' interviews.
5. Walter Figel's perceived reluctance to publicly support Hastings' UFO theory, as evidence by, his absence from the D.C press conference, lack of an affidavit affirming his statements.
6. Eric Carlson's strong denial of receiving any UFO reports from security personnel.
7. No intercept missions flown by the Montana National Guard against any unknown radar contacts.
8. Minuteman LF design of connectivity isolation precludes any one event (UFO included) from affecting the remaining ICBMs in a given flight.
9. Echo was a flight specific event with no other adjoining flight effected
10. The only plausible UFO scenario would have been a UFO over/near Echo's LCF/LCC. This never occurred and no reports or rumors ever comes close to supporting this scenario.
11. The Boeing ECP and final installation of EMP suppression fixes resulting in no Echo-like situation from ever happening again for all SAC missile wings (Minuteman and Titan).
When taking into account the above 11 assertions, Echo merely becomes a great UFO story. But that is all ...a story, nothing more and nothing less. All of the verifiable facts support a weapon system anomaly that was only magnified due to the number of sorties that had dropped off alert, thus the UFO theory is indefensible and becomes only what it's proponents wish it to be. The only support for UFO involvement is the rumors and these rumors could have came from many different sources for various agendas or purposes. Numerous people heard something, yet they themselves saw nothing. The actual eye witnesses may never have existed in the first place, yet they become embedded in the collective imagination. Thus the story morphs over time. Echo Flight has truly become one of the great UFO myths. Top ten best case? Unfortunately no...only a grand illusion for all to experience, and with that said...Case Closed!!
On August 7, 20011, Robert Hastings was a guest on The Paracast radio program. Drew Hempel put some of my questions to Hastings and below is his response:
"As for Tim Hebert's comments, no, Figel was not paid for his interviews with me, nor was Meiwald. Neither want to get further involved in the controversy and certainly will not provide affidavits. Are you saying that Cols. Figel and Meiwald are lying, Tim? I'm sure that both men would like to know."
Hastings states that he did not pay for Figel's interview. As far as the questions concerning the issue of the lack of an affidavit for Walter Figel, Robert Hastings had either been mistaken thinking that I had demanded that Figel sign an affidavit or he simply is implying that Figel never signed an affidavit. Either way, it is somewhat clearer that Figel never signed an affidavit, but the question of why still lingers. Judging from Hastings response, he appears defensive towards the subject. (8/8/11)