It’s January 7, 1948, and four pilots from the Kentucky National Air Guard are on a routine mission, flying Mustang P-51 fighter planes. Then a message comes in from the control tower at Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox. It seems that a mysterious object has been spotted in the sky. Subsequently, three of the pilots go into a steep ascent to investigate.
Only three of the pilots chased after the unidentified object as the fourth, Lieutenant Robert Hendricks, had run low on fuel and headed back to base. Pulling their joysticks back to climb into the sky, Lieutenant A. W. Clements, Lieutenant B. A. Hammond and the flight leader, Captain Thomas Mantell, soared heavenwards.
Naturally enough, it was Mantell that led the rapid ascent. In fact, a Mustang P-51 can climb to an altitude of 42,500 feet. A pilot called Doug Matthews proved that in 1956 when he set the altitude record for this particular aircraft, flying in a plane called The Rebel. But that was hardly an everyday feat – Matthews had made elaborate preparations for his successful record attempt.