Gorman Dogfight

October 1948
4-minute listen
Los Angeles Times article describing Lt. Gorman's 30 minute encounter with a flying object.
Los Angeles Times article describing Lt. Gorman's 30 minute encounter with a flying object.

This notorious UFO incident occurred over Fargo, North Dakota, involved a pilot chasing a UFO, and is reportedly one of three episodes that convinced the U.S. Air Force to study UFOs more seriously.

On October 1, 1948, George F. Gorman , second lieutenant in the North Dakota National Guard, was flying a P-51 Mustang cross-country with a group of other National Guard pilots, due to land at Hector Airport in Fargo at about 8:30pm. Gorman deferred landing and flew over Fargo. Shortly after 9pm, he spotted a bright object, with no discernible wing or shapes that would suggest a plane. He called the air traffic control tower and asked if other planes were in the vicinity, besides himself and a Piper J-3 Cub aircraft. The tower responded in the negative.

Gorman then executed a series of maneuvers in pursuit of the object, at times pushing his Mustang to full power. He soon found himself on a head-on path towards the object, and it passed over his plane about 500 feet overhead.

The object flew out of sight, and then suddenly appeared again, flying towards Gorman. It then made a rapid ascent, and Gorman pursued it until his P-41 stalled in a vertical climb. The object made another head-on approach, and then veered away, eventually in visual range of the air traffic control tower.

Gorman continued following the object until he was well south of Fargo, at one point diving towards it. It made another vertical climb and flew off. Gorman returned to Hector Airport.

Later that day, the U.S. Air Force dispatched investigators from Project Sign to interview Gorman, Dr. A.D. Cannon (the Piper Cub pilot), his passenger, and the crew working at the control tower. They also measured Gorman's P-51 with a Geiger counter and noted that it was emitting more radioactivity than planes that had not been flown for a number of days.

Project Sign's initial assessment was that this was an unexplained phenomenon. However, they eventually concluded that the radiation levels were not unusual due to the plane's altitude and that the object was probably a skyhook weather balloon. The evidence they offered was that a lighted weather balloon had been released locally at 8:50pm, and that the rapid accelerations and climbs of the object were illusions. They claimed Gorman's turns and climbs created a sense of disorientation that resulted in him perceiving that the object was moving. They also claimed that Gorman later became fixated on the planet Jupiter, and he mistook it for the same object when he few south of Fargo. Noted skeptic Donald Menzel disagreed with the original U.S. Air Force explanation of a weather balloon, as at least two air traffic controllers witnessed the object from the ground and the object as moving very fast. Menzel instead claimed Gorman was chasing a "mirage" of planet Jupiter.

Interviewed by the U.S. Air Force's Project Sign, Gorman gave this sworn statement: "I am convinced that there was definite thought behind its maneuvers. I am further convinced that the object was governed by the laws of inertia because its acceleration was rapid but not immediate and although it was able to turn fairly tight at considerable speed, it still followed a natural curve. When I attempted to turn with the object I blacked out temporarily due to excessive speed. I am in fairly good physical condition and I do not believe that there are many if any pilots who could withstand the turn and speed affected by the object, and remain conscious. The object was not only able to out turn and out speed my aircraft ... but was able to attain a far steeper climb and was able to maintain a constant rate of climb far in excess of my aircraft."


Ruppelt, Edward J. The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1956, First Edition; London: Victor Gollancz, 1956. 2nd, expanded edition New York: Ballantine, 1960.
Williston Herald: "Gorman Dogfight"

Official Explanation

Lighted skyhook weather balloon; the planet Jupiter; pilot disorientation.

Counter Argument

Possible UFO; official explanation doesn't account for rapid movements, sudden ascent, and high reported speed of the object.


Visual eyewitnesses from air and in the air traffic control tower.

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