• Donkey Junk

Salt Lake City UFO Sighting: Private Pilot Waldo Harris Witnesses Flying Disc In 1961

In 1961 private pilot Waldo Harris witnessed a rapidly moving UFO in the skies above Salt Lake City, his sighting was backed up by several reliable witnesses on the ground.

Waldo Harris UFO Incident
The unsolved mystery surrounding the Salt Lake City UFO sighting of 1961

A classic sighting of a daylight disk took place on October 2, 1961, at Salt Lake City, Utah. The object was observed from both ground and air. Waldo J. Harris, a private pilot, and real-estate broker provided this account:

"About noon ... I was preparing to take off in a Mooney mark 20A from the North-South runway at Utah Central Airport when I noticed a bright spot in the sky over the Southern end of the Salt Lake Valley. I began my take-off run without paying much attention to the bright spot as I assumed that it was some aircraft reflecting the sun as it turned. After I was airborne and trimed for my climb-out I noticed that the bright spot was still about in the same position as before. I still thought it must be the sun reflecting from an airplane, so I made my turn onto my cross-wind leg of the traffic pattern and was about to turn downwind when I noticed that the spot was in the same spot still. I turned out of the pattern and proceeded toward the spot to get a better look.

As I drew nearer I could see that the object had no wings nor tail nor any other exterior control surfaces protruding from what appeared to be the fusilage. It seemed to be hovering with a little rocking motion. As it rocked up away from me I could see that it was a disc-shaped object. I would guess the diameter at about 50 to 55 feet, the thickness in the middle at about 8 to 10 feet. It had the appearance of sand-blasted aluminum. I could see no windows or doors or any other openings, nor could I see any landing gear doors, etc, protruding nor showing.

I believe at the closest point I was about 2 miles from the object at the same altitude or a little above the object. It rose abruptly about 1,000 ft above me as I closed in giving me an excellent view of the underneath side, which was exactly like the upper side as far as I could tell. Then it went off on a course of about 170 degrees for about 10 miles where it again hovered with that little rocking motion.

I again approached the object but not so closely this time when it departed on a course of about 245 degrees climbing at about 18 to 20 degrees above the horizon. It went completely out of sight in about 2 or 3 seconds. I can keep our fastest jets in sight for several minutes, so you can see that this object was moving rather rapidly.

All of this time I was observing the object, after getting visual confirmation from the ground, I was describing what I had seen on radio uni-com frequency. I was answering questions from the ground both from Utah Central, and Provo. The voice at Provo said that they could not see the object, but at least 8 to 10 people did see it from the ground at Utah Central airport.

I was returning to the field after it had departed when I was asked over the radio if I still could see the object, and I reported that I could not. They said they had it in sight again. I turned back and saw it at a much greater distance only for about a second or two when it completely vanished. The guys on the ground said it went straight up as it finally left, but I didn't see that departure."

Seven persons at the airport, including operator Jay Galbraith, also saw the object, in the southern sky, off in the direction of Provo, 23 miles away. Elsewhere in Salt Lake City, at least six other individuals observed the UFO, which one described as a "round, silvery object that flew from west to east, and was too high and too fast for a helicopter, and which had a red light that went off and on." One airport witness, Virgil S. Redmond, had just landed when the UFO showed up. He and the other witnesses passed around field glasses and watched the object for some 15 minutes. "Whatever it was seemed to be rocking while hovering almost stationary just south of the field," he said. "At times, as it turned, it looked like a zeppelin." An F-100 aircraft passing through the area was alerted to the sighting, but its crew saw nothing.

Minutes after the sighting, the Salt Lake City Utah National Guard Control Tower notified the Flight Operations Division of Hill Air Force Base. Representatives of the base's Security and Law Enforcement Division immediately went to the airport to interview the observers. Airport attendant Russel M. Woods told them that in his estimation the object had been at 2500 feet altitude. Clyde Card reported that it was oval-shaped when the sun was shining on it; when it turned and the light was no longer shining on it directly, it would be lost to view to those who were not watching it with optical assistance. At those moments those viewing through binoculars would see the object as dark and cigar-shaped. The sunlight reflected off what looked like aluminum, and the object's edges were clear. The other witnesses described essentially the same thing, though one thought it was at least 3000 to 5000 feet up.

Harris, who had the closest look, estimated its size at between 35 and 50 feet and about four feet thick, possibly a bit thicker in the center. (A few months later, in the account quoted earlier, he would expand his estimate of the object's dimensions.) It was traveling "in the thousands of miles per hour" when it disappeared.

A check with the U.S. Weather Bureau confirmed what all the witnesses had said about atmospheric conditions: there was no cloud cover. The ceiling was clear, and visibility extended to 40 miles. The hill report noted:

"Two balloon releases were reported from the Salt Lake Airport at 1700Z with the winds at 2 knots from the SE, and at 2300Z with 5-knot winds from NW. Prevailing winds at release time would not have carried the balloons into the area of the sighting. Salt Lake Air Traffic Control Center reported no air traffic in this area in a direction which would account for the sighting."


On October 9, Douglas M. Crouch of Hill's Security and Law Enforcement Division forwarded the official report, including transcripts of the interviews with the witnesses, to Project Blue Book at Wright-Patterson AFB's Foreign Technology Division. In his summary of the investigation, Crouch wrote, "No unusual meteorological or astronomical conditions were present which might account for the sighting. As of the date of report it is believed that all logical leads have been exhausted in an effort to identify the object."

Even so, two days later unnamed "Air Force Officers in the Pentagon" were telling reporters that Harris and the other named witnesses had seen either the planet Venus or a research balloon. When informed of the Air Force claim, Harris responded with incredulity: "If the Pentagon thinks I have eyes good enough to see Venus at high noon, they are really off beam. The object I saw was saucer-shaped, had a grey color, and moved under intelligent control. I got within three miles of it, and that is a lot closer than Venus is. I have seen a lot of balloons too, and this was no balloon. Balloons move with the winds and air currents. This thing flew directly against a 10 mile per hour wind and at terrific speed."

Aside from its surface implausibility, the Venus explanation was physically impossible. At one point Harris had the object in a sight line in front of distant mountains. That alone would have eliminated Venus. Moreover, the mountains were off to the south-southeast; Venus was in the southwest and would have been visible only to someone making a diligent search of the proper area of the sky.

In any event, the Venus identification was quickly dropped. On November 9, Major William T. Coleman, Jr., head of Blue Book, informed an inquirer, "The Air Force has not reached a conclusion on this case pending receipt of information from several firms carrying on upper air research in that area of the United States. When this information is received we will then attempt an evaluation of the sighting."

Apparently, nothing came of this effort to link the sighting to the high-altitude weather balloons. Soon Blue Book settled on its official explanation. In the words of its final summary of the case:

"Sun at time and date of this sighting was in a direction coincident with that reported for UFO. UFO was reported to be at an elevation of approx 22 degrees above horizon while the absolute elevation of sun from the Salt Lake area was 46 degrees 59' 42" at time of the sighting. This would put the object at approx 24 degrees below sun. It is noted that weather conditions at time of sighting indicate high cirrus clouds. Cirrus clouds are associated with ice crystals. Sun dogs, which are associated with ice crystals form at 22 1/2 degrees and sometimes 45 degrees from sun. All indications in this case are directed toward object being a sun dog. It is significant that witnesses on ground observed the object to be stationary while airborne witnesses indicate motion - probably his own. There is no available evidence which would indicate the object of the sighting was not a sun dog."

In fact, some ground witnesses - apparently those who had the object (only intermittently visible to those without binoculars) in more or less continuous view - explicitly reported movement. Jay Galbraith, who watched it uninterrupted for some 15 minutes, saw it ascend some 5000 feet. The Hill AFB report paraphrases his testimony on this point:

"The object was climbing altitude. It seemed to go to the east for some time and hover in one position, then the last he remembered it going west, climbing. Some of the maneuvers were at rapid speed, and some were slow. At one time it climbed quite fast, with abrupt changes of direction."

In the course of his five-minute observation, witness Robert Butler, according to the Hill report, observed a "flight path of straight up and also to the west. Flight upward was at a rapid speed, the flight to the west fairly slow."

Duane Sinclair recalled:

"I saw it in one position low on the horizon, and the second time it was to the right and higher, maybe 8 to 10 thousand feet variation. It was approximately five minutes between the two sightings."

Furthermore, as already noted, weather records indicate no cloud cover. Aside from the consideration that the reported object bore no resemblance to the sun dogs (also known as mock suns and parhelia), the "high cirrus clouds" in the Blue Book summary appear to be an Air Force invention.

A subsequent book by two UFO debunkers, Donald H. Menzel and Lyle G. Boyd, who endorsed the sun-dog theory as the conclusive solution to the sighting, reiterates Blue Book's false claim that no one besides Harris saw the object move.

The Air Force never informed Harris that it had "identified" the UFO as a sun dog. Harris learned of it in October 1966 after James E. McDonald, a University of Arizona atmospheric physicist, asked him if he knew what a sun dog is. Harris said he did, adding (correctly) that sun dogs are fairly good-sized, whereas the object he and others had seen was small. McDonald noted as well that no sun dog could have been projected against the distant mountains, as Harris reported the UFO had been.

McDonald further observed, "The altitude of the noon sun at Salt Lake City that day was about 40 degrees, and sun dogs, if there had been any, would have occurred to the right and left at essentially the same angular altitude, far above the position in the sky where Harris and others saw the object hovering."

The Salt Lake City sighting remains a puzzle. Lonnie Zamora UFO Incident: A Reliable Police Officer, Blue Flames, A Landed Craft & Small Beings