My Encounter With the Flying Disks


by John H. Janssen

The following article appeared in the September, 1949 edition of FATE

Here is another of the historic stories that were suppressed during the “flying saucer scare” in 1947. FATE uncovered it and asked this Aviation Editor of the Morristown Daily Record to write it for us. Why was it kept secret till now?

My dear Mr. Webster:

Your letter of February 21 relative to the “Flying Saucers” that I observed and photographed near the Morristown airport July 10, 1947, has been referred to me by city editor William P. O’Neill.

This was done because all material-photographs, columns, features and articles that I do for The Morristown Daily Record are, by nature of agreement, my personal property. In no manner has The Morristown Daily Record any claim to the “Flying Saucer” photo and story other than that of being the first to publish it.

Enclosed are two newspaper excerpts and the original photograph of the phenomenon that I witnessed that mid-summer morning nearly two years ago. It is all that remains to remind me of an incident in my life that I sincerely wish had never happened, and gave me the reputation of possessing the “wildest imagination in the State of New Jersey.”

I say this not in jest but with chagrin and bitterness!

As you may readily deduce by the pen notation in my hand on the back of the “Disks” photo, I was, at the time, quite boastfully proud of its widespread publicity. Had I known the ridicule that was to be mine which began with fate’s propitious opportunity to photograph these modern aerial apparitions, I would gladly have turned my back and ignored them. But I did take this photograph. And now — I curse that day!

Although only part of the enclosed is submitted at your request, you have unintentionally and unwittingly opened the floodgates of a pent-up and suppressed emotion and smothered story by your interest in the phenomenon. Thus you give me hopeful cause once again to risk ridicule and re-tell the most bizarre and fantastic of encounters with these so-called “Flying Saucers.”

It is the sequel to the July 10 photo and my personal convictions as published in northern New Jersey newspapers. A story that editors and publishers have labeled as being “too utterly fantastic for publication — even if true!” A suppression by the press because it dared not risk the inevitable scathing causticity of contemporaries!

Later, almost two weeks to the day, it happened. It was bizarre. It was unbelievable, fantastic. In retrospect it now seems so remote, vague and unreal-as though memory had succored hallucinations that had invaded and influenced an impressionable mind.

But it did happen. I know it happened. An aerial encounter that would have rocked the pillars of modern aeronautical science had any publisher dared to print it!

Under date of July 23, 1947, is this word-for-word quotation from my diary:

“….Altimeter registering 6000 feet. Feels so good to be up in the cool, clean air. Far away from the reflected heat of an ascending, scorching mid-summer sun. Off on the horizon, to the east, through the early morning haze, New York’s skyscrapers are faintly discernible.

“The 65-hp. Continental in my little J-3 is purring as smoothly as a contented kitten after lapping up a dish of warm milk. Far beneath I watch the specks and dots that are the buildings and homes of staid, old Morristown.”

It felt so good just to be alive. So wonderfully good and exhilarating to be flying this beautiful morning.

Then, while my eyes played over the horizon, I became momentarily startled by a shaft of light that seemed much like that of a photographer’s flashbulb. It came on high. Very high. Above that position of the airplane’s nose flyers are wont to designate as 11 o’clock.

Merely the reflected sun, I thought, bouncing off the metal sides of an extremely high flying aircraft. I gave it no further thought.

Now the engine began to perform peculiarly. It coughed and sputtered spasmodically. I pulled on the carburetor heat and gave it full throttle to blast accumulated ice from the carburetor…”

The engine emitted one final wheezing cough and then quit. The nose of the ship, instead of dropping to a normal glide, remained steadfast and rigidly fixed on the horizon. In its normal, level-flight attitude!

Abruptly I became aware that the little craft was now motionless. Perfectly still. As though defying the basic laws of gravity!

I became frightened and close to panic at so weird a predicament. And then, wide-eyed with confoundment, I saw the air-speed indicator at zero!

There was an odd, electric-like pricking sensation coursing through my body. And I had that eerie, sixth-sense feeling that I was being watched and examined by an indescribably something that minutely studied my features, my clothing and the airplane with microscopic thoroughness and with tenacious determination.

I flecked a bead of cold perspiration from my eyes. Then — I saw it!

Above and slightly beyond my left wing-tip. A strange, wraith-like craft that I sensed as being one of the much-discussed flying disks. Its flanged, projecting rim was dotted on either side with steamer-like portholes. And it appeared to radiate in a dull metallic hue that conveyed an impression of structural strength and a super intelligence that was not of this world.

It too, appeared motionless. About a quarter of a mile away. Maybe more — I’m not quite sure. Distances in the air are very deceiving. But I knew that this disk-like craft was responsible for my strange predicament.

Beyond and slightly higher I could see another seemingly fixed and motionless in the sky. And I assumed that this second of the strange crafts was but waiting for the one nearest me to complete its observations.

Then I became possessed with the most unaccountable urge to reach up and snap on the magneto switch. (I had turned it off when the engine quit.) The compulsion was so powerful that my hand was forced to do its bidding.

I switched both the magnetos to ‘on’ position. Eerily, slowly and supernaturally the propeller began to turn. Faster. Then the engine burst into its steady, rhythmic drone. She nosed down into a stall, picked up air-speed, and steadied under control.

The peculiar bodily sensations had ceased. I scanned the skies but the disk-like craft had dissolved into the morning haze.

Upon landing at Morristown airport I was greeted with:

“Say, you look kinda peaked. Didn’t run into any of those flying saucers up there, did you?”

Mumbling something or other about indigestion I dashed to the office. I barged in on city editor O’Neill and babbled excitedly of my strange experience.

He leaned back in his chair and eyed me coolly.

“A good yarn. Yes a darn good yarn. But who’s gonna believe it?”

I remonstrated.

Then he first uttered the words I was to hear time and again in my futile efforts to get the Disk encounter published:

“It’s too utterly fantastic to print — even if true!”

After several rejections of my “capricious fantasy” (as it has also been labeled) I succumbed to blind, petulant rage and destroyed other photos and journals of aerial phenomena that I and others had experienced. But thanks to an understanding and flying-disk-interested wife, this original photo and scrapbook excerpts were hidden at the bottom of our attic trunk where it was spared destruction.

Why do I unleash so wild, so weird and so fantastic a tale when you simply request a photo and clippings? Well, when I received your letter, that tiny, infinitesimal spark that lay smoldering for so long, burst into a roaring blaze of hope. At long last — the fates have sent an editor who is interested in my phenomenon!

Read other classic FATE stories like this in the Winter 1949 edition of FATE! Now available as an e-issue in the FATE Store.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons