When I posted a story about a 1966 UFO sighting in Donnybrook, North Dakota, I was inundated with messages from people who said there was a whole other series of things happening that year. This is that story.
In the fall of 1966, people in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the bordering Canadian provinces began reporting objects in the night sky. The sightings are chronicled in a whole series of Project Blue Book reports from August to October of 1966. One of the earliest occurred at 4 AM on the morning of August 9th, 1966, detailed in Project Blue Book file #8728587.
Mr. [name redacted] said that about o4ooz (400 zulu, or 4 am), 9 Aug 66, he and 16 other people, including two Minnesota highway patrolmen, saw a high, round, luminous , white object move rapidly across the sky going northeast, executing several abrupt right angle turns as it did so. This was observed from in front of his next door neighbor’s home. The next evening, between 0315Z and 330z, he and his next door neighbor, who he said was the “county commissioner,” observed an identical object on an identical course. Mr. [name redacted] said both evenings were clear and still, which raises the possibility of inversions, on which this office has no data. Mr. [name redacted] said a surveyor who was present on 9 Aug made an admittedly very rough estimate of the object’s velocity at 3500 miles per hour. However, the object was large enough or low enough to have a round shape, and no sonic boom was heard. The object’s size was a bout one-third that of a high full moon.
In Walker, Minnesota, August 16th, reported on August 17th, 1966
Mr. [name redacted] said his mother, Mrs [name redacted] and two companions, Mrs [name redacted], and [name redacted] saw an identical object that same evening between 0430Z and 0530Z. They were entering their home in Walker after a party, but described the women as “conservative” and said “None of them drink.” They described the object as soundless and said it proceeded northeast for two or three minutes before they lost sight of it.
Twin Pines Resort, Minnesota, August 16th, 1966
The object paralleled their course west on highway 34. They turned north to get away, went into the Twin Pines Resort, and came out again with [names redacted]. All three then watched the object until about 0440z when it went behind the trees. Their car windows were down, and no sound was heard. They also thought the object expanded vertically, “like a balloon being inflated.”
The same night, a witness in Milwaukee, Wisconsin reported an object brighter than the brightest stars, like a fluorescent light or neon light, and said the edges of the object were sharp at first contact then blurred or fuzzy at the end of sighting.
The next night, August 17th, 1966 in Roosevelt, Minnesota.
SSgt James Vetter of the 692nd Radar Squadron took a UFO report from Steve Arnsen, the owner of Rocky Point Resort in Roosevelt, Minnesota. According to Project Blue Book file #8728587, five others, Jack Arnsen, Pat Andersen, David Andersen, Warren Wenner, and Leon Grove, were also present. The object was described as spherical, green, motionless and luminous. It was silent, even as it appeared to explode, leaving a haze behind. The duration of the sighting was 40 minutes.
Later that fall, September 13th, 1966, Hibbing Minnesota.
Observers watched a pale red cloud type object, almost to the point of appearing as a vapor or being transparent, which appeared in the northern sky. The object was stationary except it was getting larger. Object was compared to a red translucent cloud with no apparent motion. Object was witnessed by the observer at the International Falls Weather Bureau.
Sightings like these were reported all across the north-central US and Canada in 1966, and when described in writing, most had very similar descriptions of translucent or transparent clouds of red and green. When visualized in sketches by witnesses however, they drew something else… spirals.
Some witnesses reported sightings of spirals like these and contrails from vehicles that made right angle turns. One twenty-year-old female reported the object appeared to explode and then began “whirling” in a cloud.
As these sightings continued in the fall of 1966, there was plenty of speculation. There are references throughout the Blue Book reports to satellites and weather phenomena as potential explanations. One woman said she thought she was going to see the “second coming of Christ!” and the exclamation point is hers.
Eventually, photos began to appear.
The above photo of one of the unidentified objects was captured in Minneapolis, photographer unknown.
In October, the news began to get out. Witnesses began receiving letters signed by Project Blue Book’s Hector Quintanilla, Jr., with the official explanation:
“On (insert date) there was a Nike-Apache rocket launched from Fort Churchill. The rocket reached an altitude of approximately 102 statute miles before releasing a cloud that would have been visible for up to 900 miles from the Fort Churchill area. The objectives of these cloud releases is to obtain measurements of electric fields and wind motion in the upper atmosphere by photographing and tracking the movement of the ion1zed clouds.”
Fort Churchill, a cold, remote facility that was used by both Canada and the United States over the decades, is a former science and military outpost on Hudson Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, a community best known as home to the historic Prince of Wales Fort (shown).
Now vacant, Ft. Churchill hosted over a dozen tests like this in the fall 1966, and over 3,500 suborbital launches in its operational life. Some reached higher altitudes than others, and the clouds released were sometimes described as “barium clouds.” A note in Project Blue Book file #8293408 lists four launches over just three days in September:
14 Sept. 0400z — 100 miles altitude
16 Sept. 0122z — 100 miles altitude
16 Sept. 0300z — 120 miles altitude
16 Sept. 0417z — 120 miles altitude
Above, a series of four photographs captured from an unknown aircraft on August 16th, 1966, which I combined into an animation. This animation shows the best view I’ve seen, with four exposures, three showing the rocket exhaust and an expanding cloud of gas, then one exposure showing the shrinking cloud at the end.
As I understand it, the rockets were launched over Hudson Bay, there was an explosive deployment of gas to create a cloud, and the rockets frequently tumbled afterward, which accounts for the “whirling” motion or “right-angle” turns reported by witnesses, and the spirals drawn in their reports.
The launches stretched from August through early October and when revealed, satisfied the curiosity of many of the witnesses. One witness noted in his report that his sighting had already been explained as a rocket on the local news by the time he had sent his response questionaire to Project Blue Book.
Do you remember the 1966 UFO Outbreak? Or maybe you don’t believe the official Ft. Churchill rocket launch explanation? Leave a comment below.
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Read a lot more about the Northern UFO outbreak of ’66 at The Black Vault.
Troy Larson is a father, author, and photographer originally from Minot, North Dakota, now residing in Fargo.