Jack Dean Pickett was born in Casper, Wyoming in 1926. As a young man, he worked for the Burlington Railroad Roundhouse, where on June 6, 1944, he was responsible for blowing the steam whistles announcing D-Day. He joined the Navy and spent World War II battling the Japanese as a gunner’s mate on destroyers stationed in the South Pacific. Following the war, he owned an advertising and publishing company. It was as the publisher of the MacDill Air Force Base’s noncommissioned officer (NCO) newsletter that he began researching what would become a lifelong passion – disc shaped experimental aircraft.
In 1967, as part of his duties as publisher of Air Force publications, Pickett explained that he was asked to create an issue of the “NCO Club News” that included a feature on experimental aircraft. While on the outskirts of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, he had seen an amazing sight. There, he professed, were four disc-shaped aircraft resembling flying saucers in the base’s salvage yard. They ranged in size from twenty feet across to more than one hundred feet.
Pickett had questions. In the Adjutant General’s Office at MacDill Air Force Base, Pickett recalled “An amiable colonel went over to a file cabinet and got out a whole bunch of photographs…I began to see literally hundreds of photographs of all types of flying saucers. I pointedly asked him ‘Are these where the flying saucer stories came from? Is this what they were?’ And he said ‘Yes’.” Pickett continued “The photographs were easily identifiable as Air Force photographs. I was told that these particular aircraft could go fast enough and high enough to actually achieve spaceflight.” When he inquired as to why they had been discontinued, Pickett claimed that he was told the aircraft had maneuverability problems.
Viewing these aircraft and photographs left Pickett convinced that sightings of flying saucers were that of experimental military aircraft. So sure was he that he wrote an article about it, “Flying Saucers – For Real” published in Search Magazine in 1982. Frustrated that the Air Force would not declassify and release photographs and specifications for the aircraft, Pickett launched a nearly two-decade long letter writing campaign to Air Force personnel and government officials.
Pickett’s interest in experimental aircraft extended beyond the boundaries of the United States. He studied the history of Germany’s investment in saucer shaped aircraft research during World War II. The Germans were specifically interested in vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL). German runways had been reduced to rubble by Allied bombing campaigns. They needed planes that could take off without runways.
Pickett also collected articles that explained UFO phenomena in the Soviet Union. In 1967 there were a series of Soviet sightings, all of which coincided with tests of a secret Soviet military vehicle, known as the Fractional Orbit Bombardment System (FOBS). FOBS was designed to be an orbital hydrogen bomb carrier – a type of Soviet weaponry now banned by international treaty.
Although Pickett’s accounts of American disc shaped “experimental aircraft” remained unproven, the U.S. military did indeed contract to have a saucer-shaped aircraft created. At the beginning of the Cold War in 1947, Avro Canada came up with an idea of high-altitude, disc-shaped aircraft that could purportedly dash off at 1,500 mph to bring down a Soviet bomber and return to a vertical landing without the need for a large landing field. The U.S. Air Force was sold on the idea and bankrolled development. They called it “Project Silverbug”.
The resulting “Avrocar” was tested between 1959 and 1961 but proved to be tremendously expensive to build and never able to lift itself more than a few feet off the ground. Pickett was well aware of the “Avrocar” and was sure that the experimental aircraft he believed he had seen were not part of Avro Canada’s program.
Still, when “Project Silverbug” materials were finally declassified in 1997, Pickett wrote letters to the Air Force Magazine hoping to gain the magazine’s assistance in identifying any former pilots or air and ground crew that might have interacted with saucer shaped aircraft from 1945 to 1967. His request yielded little information. By 2003, Pickett, now even more frustrated, teamed up with an illustrator, Michael H. Schratt. Schratt created remarkably lifelike illustrations based on Pickett’s sketches and remembrances.
Schratt and Pickett published an updated version of “Flying Saucers – For Real” on the UFO Wisconsin website concluding, “The time has come for the U.S.A.F. to fully declassify and release into public domain, the technical details, photos and motion picture/newsreel footage pertaining to these specific aircraft.” Pickett also appeared on a History Channel television special titled “Real UFOs”.
Sadly, Pickett passed away in 2008. His quest to collect military proof of what he had seen at MacDill Air Force Base in 1967 went unfulfilled.
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.