The 1959 Killian UFO Case

First Published: November 19, 2018 Last updated: March 19th, 2019 Written by: Marcus Lowth Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes Posted in: UFOs

We recently examined the circumstances and the potential fallout of the  UFO sightings over the southwest coast of Ireland in early-November 2018. The sightings involved several experienced airline pilots, all of whom very obviously witnessed the same object. An encounter almost sixty years earlier over the northeast of the United States was remarkably similar. The incident, in February 1959, was witnessed by an experienced airline pilot, corroborated by his own first officer, as well as the crews of two other planes, and is one that was subject to immediate investigation due to a report of the sightings reaching a local UFO investigator who, in turn, would speak directly with two of the pilots concerned. Furthermore, the main witness would speak eagerly to the press and UFO investigators about the incident.

Killian UFO Sighting

Peter Killian

That was until his employers would issue strict orders that he should cease to do so with immediate effect. And what’s more, the United States Air Force would not only dismiss the sighting with an explanation easily discredited by investigators but would seemingly offer a statement to back up their findings in the name of the main witness. This was, of course, something he could neither confirm or deny due to the sudden block on his speaking of the incident in public. To say that many people believed a cover-up was in motion would be an understatement. And what’s more, this cover-up, if indeed that does prove to be the case, still retains its hold today.

The military’s findings are still the “official” explanation. However, it is painfully apparent that this official explanation is not at all the truth of the matter, and is, at best, a way to make a thorny issue that the military and authorities alike, had no desire to publicly deal with, simply disappear.

“Three Bright Lights” Under The Belt Of Orion!

Just after 8:20 pm on 24th February 1959 over the skies near Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Captain Peter Killian, along with First Officer James Dee, were guiding their DC-6B American Airlines flight from Newark on their way to Detroit, Michigan. They were at an altitude of 8,500 feet. The night sky around them was clear, moonless, but with a healthy splash of sparkling stars.

As he looked out to his left, Captain Killian would suddenly notice “three bright lights” that stood out distinctly. He at first thought the lights were the famous stars of Orion’s Belt. Then, however, he saw the actual Orion constellation, slightly higher in the sky than the mystery anomalies. Dee had also noticed these strange lights and continued to watch them with Killian. When the lights changed their direction, Killian would contact two other American Airlines planes in the nearby vicinity. Both were flying over the state of Ohio. The first was over the waters of Lake Erie and would witness the lights heading “south over Cleveland”. The second, over Sandusky on their way to Pittsburgh, witnessed them heading southeast of their position.

Killian and Dee would continue to observe the lights for the next forty-five minutes before beginning their descent near Detroit. They would, on occasion, move their position temporarily, but would always return to their original location just under the belt of Orion. The brightness of the objects would also change constantly throughout the sighting, going from extremely bright to almost faded completely away. Furthermore, the colors of the objects would change in a smooth fluctuated way, from a brilliant blue-white light to a warmer orange-yellow glow. Killian would suggest the lights were individual of each other as at least one of them would occasionally move away from the others while they remained stationary.


Further Corroborating Sightings And Reports!

The plane would begin its descent towards Detroit at 9:15 pm, with the objects still visible. Killian would recall later that “It could not be any clearer than it was that night above 5,000 feet”. Shortly after beginning their descent, though, the objects were quickly out of sight.

Meanwhile, in Akron, Ohio, the pilots of the American Airlines plane who witnessed the objects over Lake Eire would report the sighting. A “contact” of the Akron branch of the UFO Research Committee at the airport would relay their report, by telephone, to George Popowitch. Popowitch, who had already received several reports from citizens of a “UFO” overheard would make discreet arrangements to interview the two pilots, Captain Yates and Engineer Baney. They would claim to have tracked the mysterious objects between 8:40 pm and 9:10 pm right the way from Lockhaven in Pennsylvania to Youngstown, Ohio. Yates also visibly saw the objects “pacing his plane” south of his position. They would eventually pass them and vanish into the northwest.

There were several investigations, both official military and aviation ones, as well as those by numerous UFO groups. The findings of Major General W.P. Fisher, the Air Force Director of Legislative Liaison would offer an explanation that was rejected by the pilots and the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.

A Refueling Operation? “That’s Not What I Saw!”

According to Fisher, the lights in the sky that Killian and the other pilots, not to mention the several residents on the ground in Akron, had witnessed were actually an “Air Force refueling mission involving a KC-97 and three B-47 aircraft”. This refueling mission had taken place over Bradford, Pennsylvania. And furthermore, was taking place at the time of Killian’s sighting. The refueling mission would take around an hour to complete, according to Fisher. And took place at 17,000 feet – almost 10,000 feet above Killian’s position.

NICAP would point out in response that the town of Bradford is to the north of the pilots’ flight path. The lights witnessed by Killian and the other pilots were distinctly to the south of them. Furthermore, each of the airline crews, as is standard procedure, would enquire as to whether there was any other traffic in the area once they had seen the strange lights. The Air Traffic Control response was that there was none. If a refueling mission was going ahead – which obviously wasn’t a secret as Fisher would mention it in his report – then this would have been relayed to the pilots. And lastly, if the refueling took place at 17,000 feet, this was much too high an altitude for the lights witnessed by the American Airlines pilots.

Killian himself would issue a response to Fisher’s findings. He would state simply that “if the Air Force wants to believe that, it can”. He would continue that he was more than aware what a B-47 aircraft looked and behaved like. Much like he was aware of the KC-97 air tanker and its respective appearance and behavior. The fact that the alleged refueling operation took place at night was irrelevant to Killian. He would state emphatically, “That’s not what I saw”.

Killian Map

An Obvious Cover-Up In Real Time!

Here, though, is where events would take a rather ominous turn.

The Air Force would shortly after issue a statement claiming to be from Captain Killian. In it, it would state his apparent beliefs that the “UFOs might have been a refueling station”. It would go on to state that he may have been confused as he was “not aware” of how a refueling operation may have looked during a night flight.

Needless to say, many were suspicious of the note. Not least because there was no signature on it. When the media would approach Killian for comment, it would come to light that his employers, American Airlines, had instructed him to issue no comment on the situation. Essentially to remain silent, and in effect, endorse the note presented in his name. In light of this, even though most who had an interest in the case was blatantly aware of the cover-up occurring right in front of them, in full view of anyone who cared to pay attention to it, the military would declare that the official explanation was that the “UFOs” were, in fact, merely normal military aircraft.

It would appear perfectly obvious that Killian wasn’t the writer of the note produced by the Air Force. And what’s more, after initially being extremely vocal regarding the sighting, it was equally obvious American Airlines didn’t wish to receive the attention that would come with such a claim. And quite possible that the orders they would give to Killian were a result of “pressure” placed on them. Very likely by one high-ranking military official or another.

Still Lessons To Be Learned From UFO Cases Of The Past!

Might the recent sights off the Irish coast suffer the same kind of “explanation”? And what about the equally similar sighting by two separate airline pilots over the skies of Arizona in March 2018? Is it possible that the pilots in those sightings will face restrictions on what they can speak about? As well as obviously flawed explanations as a result. We have already seen in the Irish coast case that “a meteorite” is the official explanation of the sightings. Despite the multiple testimonies from the witnesses. Not to mention footage captured by residents along the same route. And in the same time-window stating clearly otherwise.

There would also appear to be similarities to the Foo Fighter sightings of the Second World War. Descriptions of these would often mention balls or orbs of light. These would approach aircraft on both sides of the conflict. Most of these sightings were over the skies of war-torn Europe. There are, however, several such accounts over the skies of the United States during this time.

Perhaps this is another example of why examining these older, sometimes lesser-known cases is very much a task worth undertaking. The incident itself is not one full of drama. However, we have seen twice this year alone two similar sightings involving experienced airline pilots. Maybe it is up to the UFO community to collectively ensure that the historical perception of these sightings doesn’t automatically progress along the same lines as the Killian case.

Check out the video below. While they are all from the contemporary era, it looks at ten intriguing UFO sightings captured on film.


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.

By publishing these accounts, UFO Insight does not take responsibility for the integrity of them.  You should read this article with an open mind and come to a conclusion yourself.

Copyright & Republishing Policy

The entire article and the contents within are published by, wholly-owned and copyright of UFO Insight.  The author does not own the rights to this content. 

You may republish short quotes from this article with a reference back to the original UFO Insight article here as the "source".  You may not republish the article in its entirety.

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.

Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to our free newsletter and join our subscribers. Receive the latest articles directly in your inbox weekly.

If you don't like what you read, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *