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[CNI News thanks Skye Turell for forwarding this story, which appeared in the Lancaster New Era newspaper in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on July 12, 1997.]
Lancaster, PA -- So, an Unidentified Flying Object crashed in Roswell, N.M., 50 years ago.
Not so fast, says Lancaster resident Thomas C. Smith, who offers a guess about the identity of the mysterious aircraft.
While working for a military-plane manufacturer the year before the famous Roswell incident, Smith says, he saw a flying saucer. Not a visitor from another planet, Smith's saucer was a human-engineered, experimental aircraft nestled in a Connecticut hangar.
"My God, what is that?" the 20-year-old Smith wondered. "It was standing there on these stilts."
It reminded Smith of something out of Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds," about a Martian invasion of Earth.
Armed with U.S. government security clearance, Smith watched, he says, as the 40-foot-wide elliptical craft hovered 10 feet off the ground and flew away, driven by twin propellers. A pilot lying in a cramped cockpit guided the craft.
Smith, now a retired 72-year-old executive, recalled the experience during the UFO frenzy created by the 50th anniversary of the Roswell episode this month.
Does he have proof that a craft like the one he saw crashed in Roswell during a test flight? No, but he says he believes that theory is more probable than visitors from outer space.
At the time, Smith was a mechanical-engineering graduate just out of Penn State University. He was working for Chance-Vought Aircraft in Stratford, Conn., which was building planes for the U.S. Navy. Smith was testing the high-altitude bonding of a composite material: wood sandwiched between two layers of metal.
He says he was curious about what would be built with the material, and since he had security clearance, a supervisor led him into a guarded hangar. He was shown a new jet the company was developing, but his attention was attracted to the other craft in the hangar, a flying saucer made of the material he had been testing.
"It was very streamlined," Smith recalls. The khaki-colored saucer was a few inches thick at the edges to about two feet thick at the pilot's cockpit, which had a bubble window allowing the pilot to look forward and down at the ground.
"I saw him get in, and he lay down flat," Smith says.
The craft had two propellers and rudders in the back. Smith went back at night to watch test flights. The saucer, he says, would float straight up, then fly off.
"They'd get it off the ground and it would disappear" into the darkness, he says. He says there were reports in the area of unidentified flying objects.
About the time he left Chance-Vought in 1947, it moved operations to Texas, where it would have better conditions for test flights, Smith says. Thus, Chance-Vought moved to a state next to New Mexico the year of the Roswell crash.
Since Chance-Vought built planes for the Navy, wreckage of one of its experimental units could look foreign to the Air Force, Smith says. That would explain the Air Force's initial confusion and contradictory statements after the 1947 incident, he says.
"I do believe in UFOs though," Smith says, although he's never seen one.
In Lancaster, Smith worked for Hamilton Watch Co. and Woodstream Corp., where he retired as vice president of marketing.