It’s January 7, 1948, and four members of the Kentucky National Air Guard are flying Mustang P-51 fighter planes on a routine mission – but what is about to happen is anything but routine. First, 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. So, three of the pilots subsequently spin into a steep ascent in order to investigate – and the incident that follows will prove fatal.
Pulling their joysticks back to climb into the sky, Lieutenant A. W. Clements, Lieutenant B. A. Hammond and the flight leader, Captain Thomas Mantell, soar heavenwards. The fourth member of the group, Lieutenant Robert Hendricks, is running low on fuel, however, and so he heads back to base.
And, naturally enough, it’s Mantell that leads the rapid ascent. The Mustang P-51 can climb to dizzying heights, too: as far as 42,500 feet above ground. A pilot called Doug Matthews proved that in 1956 when he set the altitude record for this particular model in a plane called The Rebel. But that was hardly an everyday feat, as Matthews had made elaborate preparations for his successful record attempt.