by Robert Hastings
The Hanford Engineer Works, near Richland, Washington, was America’s first full-scale plutonium production plant. During World War II, its reactors provided the fissile material used in the test of the world’s first atomic device, code-named “Trinity,” near Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, and in the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9th. (Hiroshima was wiped out by a uranium-based bomb on August 6th.)
That same year, Clarence R. “Bud” Clem was a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the U.S. Naval Reserves, serving as an F6F Hellcat fighter pilot assigned to Air Group 50 aboard the U.S.S. Cowpens CVL-25. In an April 2, 2009, email, Clem told me,
“Our group was deployed to [Naval Air Station] Pasco, Washington, for ground support training in March 1945. The Hanford Ordnance Works was just across the Columbia River from Pasco and designated Top Secret. We experienced an unknown object over the Hanford site in March/April, 1945. I did not fly after the object, as two members of our squadron did, but I did assist in trying to determine what was going on. I am 84 and I do not know if any other members of our squadron are still alive [who] could add more information. If you have any information about our experience, I would like to see what the official report stated.”
“We had been instructed upon arrival that the Hanford Ordnance Works was Top Secret and no flights over any part were permitted...We did not know about the radar, but the duty officer stated that something was in the sky over the area and wanted someone to investigate. A plane was [already] armed and warmed-up on the tarmac. Brown stated he would go and Neal was to stand-by in another plane, in case of trouble. I was to join the [controller] in the tower and communicate info from radar to the pilots.
“Brown quickly found the object, a bright ball of fire, and took chase. But he could not close, even with water injection that gave a quick boost in speed. The object headed out NW towards Seattle and was quickly lost by radar. Brown returned to base and we three retired to the club, still shaking and wondering what we had encountered. Memory does not recall details of two similar experiences—I think Neal was to take the next chase—but the object disappeared before he got airborne. I was assigned to fly the entire [Hanford] reservation at low altitude (200 feet or so) to give the radar operator the blind spots [caused by the terrain]…
“I do not know if any other incidents occurred after we left Washington. None of the above information was mentioned in the ‘history’ of our squadron but I wonder what is on record at NAS Pasco.”
I asked Clem, “During the first incident, how long did it take for the aircraft to get to Hanford?” He replied, “Not long. An aircraft was always ready to fly on short notice to intercept the Japanese incendiary balloons. If you’ve read the history of that project, and the concern the balloons caused, it would have been logical to intercept them before they could reach Hanford.”
I asked Clem if the pilot on the first night, Lt. Commander Brown, had described the object in detail, either over the radio or back at the Officers Club. Clem replied, “He just said it was so bright that you could hardly look directly at it. As he closed on it, it took off to the northwest at a high rate of speed. No maneuvers really, just a straight-line course.”
Other questions to Clem added few details. He later sent me his military records which revealed that the fighter squadron was actually at Pasco from January 9 to February 15, 1945, not during March and April, as he had first indicated.
In any case, intermittent UFO activity at Hanford continued after the war. A now-declassified Air Force intelligence report confirms that on May 21, 1949, a “silvery, disc-shaped” object had been sighted hovering directly over the plant by Hanford personnel. Simultaneously, the UFO was being tracked on radar at nearby Moses Lake AFB, where an F-82 fighter had been scrambled to intercept it.
However, before the aircraft could get close enough, the UFO left the vicinity at a high rate of speed—faster than any aircraft—according to the report. Although this incident was publicly dismissed by the Air Force as the sighting of a conventional aircraft, the classified report on the case contained the investigating officer’s written remark that the sighting involved “flying saucers.” [sic]
Another documented UFO incursion at the Hanford plant occurred fourteen months later. A declassified but oddly-undated U.S. Army Memorandum For Record, whose subject was “Flying Discs,” states, “The following information was furnished Major Carlen by Lt. Colonel Mildren on 4 August 1950: Since 30 July 1950 objects, round in form, have been sighted over the Hanford [Atomic Energy Commission] plant. These objects reportedly were above 15,000 feet in altitude. Air Force jets attempted interception with negative results. All units including the anti-aircraft battalion, radar units, Air Force fighter squadrons, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been alerted for further observation. The Atomic Energy Commission states that the investigation is continuing and complete details will be forwarded later.” The memo was signed by Major U.G. Carlan, General Support Center, Survey Section.
Yet another UFO sighting at Hanford was reported by The Miami Herald: “On July 6, 1952, four non-scheduled airline pilots reported they saw a saucer hovering near the atomic energy plant at Richland, Washington. The four were Captain John Baldwin of Coral Gables, Captains George Robertson and D. D. Shenkel of Miami and Steven Summers of Hialeah—all of them veteran airmen.”
In his 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, former USAF Project Blue Book Chief Captain Edward Ruppelt wrote, “On the night of December 10, 1952, near another atomic installation, the Hanford plant in Washington, the pilot and radar observer of a patrolling F-94 spotted a light while flying at 26,000 feet. The crew called their ground control station and were told that no planes were known to be in the area. They closed on the object and saw a large, round, white ‘thing’ with a dim reddish light coming from two ‘windows.’ They lost visual contact but got a radar lock-on. They reported that when they attempted to close on it again it would reverse direction and dive away. Several times the plane altered course itself because collision seemed imminent.”
Hanford’s plutonium production reactors were gradually decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, however, according to Wikipedia, “the decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million U.S. gallons (200,000 m3) of high-level radioactive waste, an additional 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste, [and] 200 square miles (520 km2) of contaminated groundwater beneath the site. The Hanford site represents two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, UFO sightings relatively near the site continue to occur, reported by persons living in the Tri-Cities area (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco) located just southeast of the Hanford complex.
A review of the National UFO Reporting Center’s database for Washington State
(http://www.nuforc.org/webreports/ndxlWA.html) yields eight separate reports between February 20 and August 21, 2012, and many other sightings in the area over the years.