The 1956 Ryan-Neff UFO Sighting

First Published: July 12, 2019 Written by: Marcus Lowth Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes Posted in: UFOs

Unlike previous years of the 1950s, perhaps in particular 1952 and 1954 when UFO sightings around the world were in overdrive, the opening months of 1956 would see an apparent drop-off. Indeed, by this point in time “Flying Saucer Culture” was thriving around the world, specifically in the United States.

Despite this, and perhaps a notch in the credibility column of the authenticity of such sightings, rather than claims of strange objects from outer space continuing to rise, there was a temporary drop-off to them.

One of the first UFO sightings of 1956 to gain traction in the public arena again occurred between New York and Buffalo in April and featured two experienced airline pilots as the primary witnesses. What’s more, according to newspaper reports at the time, there was “evidence of a cover-up” concerning the sighting.

With the Ryan-Neff incident, then, it would appear further steps were taken down the road of conspiracy and UFO secrecy.  We will return to these claims shortly, as rather than cast the case in a doubtful light, they strangely offer credibility, not only to this case but several other similar incidents of the same era, and indeed many more over the decades right into our contemporary age.

A “Very Bright Light” With A “Tremendous Burst Of Speed!”

According to a story in the Buffalo Evening News on 10th April 1956, an incident involving an American Airlines plane two days previously on the 8th April featured an unknown object that “can only be called a flying saucer”.

According to the report, 43-year-old pilot, Captain Raymond Ryan and First Officer William Neff, were just over an hour into a routine flight from New York, on its way to Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and ultimately Buffalo. Following their stop at Albany at 10 pm, they were back in the skies by 10:15 pm heading towards Syracuse.

After turning the plane towards its next stop, Ryan witnessed a “bright light hovering” in the skies slightly ahead of their position. While Ryan remarked to Neff how bright the light was, one of the stewardesses, Phyllis Reynolds entered the cockpit for routine flight business. She also witnessed the brighter than usual light outside their plane.

As they were contemplating whether they should overtake this apparently other aerial vehicle, the light “put on a burst of tremendous speed” moving to the west as it did so. Ryan would estimate their plane was moving around 240 miles per hour at the time of the incident. However, the strange craft, he would guess, was moving somewhere in the region of 900 miles per hour.

As it moved, the light changed from “a very bright white to an orange color”. This, as we have examined before, comes up repeatedly in UFO cases. Some researchers suggest a connection between the movement and speed of some of these anomalous crafts and the color, including the brightness, on display. That very well may be true. Interestingly, in this case, Ryan would claim this color change occurred when the craft “passed over cities or towns”.

An Impromptu Pursuit To The Shores Of Lake Ontario

The light then slowed at an approximate distance of eight miles from the American Airlines plane. Ryan would report how it appeared the glowing object maintained this cushion from the airliner.

Ryan and Neff discussed their next course of action to this seemingly extraordinary encounter. They would contact Griffis Air Force Base and requested radar confirmation. The reply came that they were not operating radar, however, they would make attempts to “douse” all non-essential ground lights and attempt to confirm the anomaly visually.

Several moments later, an operator from the airbase came over the radio. They had visual confirmation of their plane, as well as “an orange object” in front of them. An immediate order went out to scramble two military jets to investigate and possibly intercept the object.

The airbase requested that Ryan continue to follow the object until the jets could arrive. Not only was the glowing orange craft just short of ten miles away, however, it was also 1,500 feet higher at an approximate altitude of 6,000 feet.

Regardless, Ryan deviated from the preplanned course and went to follow the object. He would report that the closest he would come to it was around three miles and that he would follow it to “the shoreline of Lake Ontario”.

From there, with the control tower in Syracuse also now confirming the mysterious object, Ryan would abandon the pursuit. The glowing craft continued towards Lake Ontario. This destination is, of course, of particular interest to UFO researchers as it has an absolute wealth of UFO sightings and encounters to boast of.

Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that this glowing craft should also be heading to these ancient and mysterious waters.

“This Is Real, Brother! This is Absolutely Real!”

The military jets would eventually arrive in the skies between Albany and Syracuse. They didn’t, however, at least according to the information provided to Ryan, intercept or witness the glowing craft that the two pilots and the stewardess had.

Speaking of his decision to end his pursuit Ryan would state:

The object was heading northwest over the lake toward Canada. I know I couldn’t catch it or keep up with it!

Further confirming Ryan and Neff’s sighting were the control towers in Watertown and Albany. Both of the pilots had experience, with Ryan having over 60 Atlantic crossings and with over 20 years served as a commercial pilot.

Ryan would go on to state that he had seen all kinds of strange, and natural phenomena during his time as a pilot. And the object he and Neff witnessed that evening was not any of these. Regarding their sighting specifically, he would offer, “This is real, brother. This is absolutely real!”

Strange, then, that just over eighteen months later, an official investigation would find otherwise, as well as evoking a completely different response from the experienced pilot.

Pressure To Participate In A “High-Level” Cover-Up?

In the January 1958 edition of the NICAP UFO Investigator allegations of a cover-up were put into print and consequently, into the public arena regarding the apparent investigation into the Ryan-Neff incident of April 1956. The opening lines of the article read:

After a 7-month probe of a UFO encounter by an American Airlines plane, NICAP has evidence indicating the important facts have been officially withheld!

Furthermore, they would continue, one of the pilots, Ryan, was “pressured into changing his original report”. The article would continue that requests for information concerning the incident were “repeatedly refused by the (US) Air Force, American Airlines, and Captain Ryan himself”.

While most might have expected the refusal to engage from American Airlines and the military, the fact that Ryan suddenly changed his story was a huge blow. In August 1957, in a letter apparently written and signed by Ryan, to NICAP them by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) he would state that he “did not deviate from course at any time”.

In their article, NICAP would suggest there were three possibilities. Firstly, American Airlines had “silenced” Captain Ryan. We should remember they were his employers. And by and large commercial airline companies, in general, do not like any adverse publicity. And they would most certainly consider a UFO sighting to be very much such publicity. Especially, in this instance, the issue of passenger safety and risks of a collision or a crash.

Furthermore, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that the Air Force might make such a request through the company. This, then, is very likely.

Second, the Buffalo Evening News made the story up, or third, Captain Ryan (along with Neff and Reynolds, the stewardess) made the story up. Both of which are very unlikely.

The Important, And Consistent Stance Of The Buffalo Evening News!

The article would further note that the Buffalo Evening News received no demands to change the story. Given that Ryan was a resident of Buffalo – hence the initial interest in his story – if he took exception to his name being used incorrectly with the sighting, he made no attempts to request a retraction. Or take legal action against the newspaper, which he surely would have done. As NICAP would state in their report:

Though not proof, it is strongly suggested of a high-level cover-up!

While the notion that American Airlines may be concerned with their image in connection to passenger safety is understandable and a genuine concern, it is this that can also be used by such powers as the Air Force to install their cover-up and even elicit a retraction.

After all, at least according to Ryan’s initial statement, the Air Force would request he go after the UFO. Not only would this put this section of the military in an extremely bad light, it would force them to admit their knowledge and recognition of “UFOs”.

All the way through the back-and-forth and changing stories, the Buffalo Evening News would stand by their version of events. In fact, they twice put their stance into writing. Incidentally, this remains the stance, to our best knowledge, of the newspaper today.

Altering And Concealing Of Facts?

There were several more developments in the remaining months of 1957 which of equal intrigue and suspicion. For example, upon the completion of the CAA’s investigation into the incident, Prebel Staver, would go on record stating that “there was no deviation by Ryan”. And furthermore, the plane’s flight log reflected this. Essentially, there was an ordinary flight plan which the pilots followed just as they should have.

The CAA, however, would refuse NICAP’s request to see the notes and write-up of the report. This is not proof of a cover-up by any means. However, it certainly doesn’t shine a great light on the CAA’s conduct at the time. Or over the incident in question.

Might that report indeed show a deviation from the planned route? Or might, as the NICAP investigator suggested, as mere speculation we should note, that the log was “altered to conceal the facts”.

This would appear to be the case even more when a Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) “informant” would offer information to NICAP. According to them, Ryan was in radio contact with Griffis Air Force Base. He did, however, state that Ryan, even in light of his initial statements to the contrary, denied pursuing the object. Either of his own accord or upon the request of the Air Force.

Lost In The Conspiracy – What Was The Glowing Object?

It probably isn’t, then, much of a leap at all to think there is a good possibility of a cover-up of the UFO sighting by pilots, Ryan and Neff, on the 8th April 1956. A cover-up that has successfully, at least officially, stood for over 60 years.

Had Ryan changed his story at the insistence of the Air Force, through his employers? Or was the request that of the airline alone? Understandably concerned with their public image? And the safety of their passengers following the claim one of their pilots “chased” a UFO?

Let’s say he had, in fact, simply made up the whole account to the newspaper. What would he have to gain from doing so? Especially as such a declaration would put his job at risk. We should note that at no point, even in the second report does Ryan deny seeing something unusual. Just that he gave chase to it.

And what of First Officer Neff, and the stewardess? Might they have close relatives who could (now) vouch for that their respective relatives did indeed witness the UFO? Ryan certainly has taken much of the publicity, perhaps as he was the main pilot. In a television broadcast, however, only eight days later on 16th April 1956 (Meet The Millers on WBEN TV), Neff, along with Ryan, spoke at length of the incident. His version of events matched Ryan’s initial statements in their entirety.

We know, then, that Ryan and Neff saw “something”. What that “something” might have been remains unknown. As does why Ryan changed his story, and if he did so as a result of “pressure” from elsewhere.

Check out the video below. It looks at the UFO cover-up in general in a little more detail.


The stories, accounts, and discussion in this article are not always based on proven facts and may go against currently accepted science and common beliefs. The details included in the article are based on the reports and accounts available to us as provided by witnesses and documentation.

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About Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years experience. Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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