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The Surreal UFO Sighting on Radar in the Panama Canal in 1958

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The Surreal UFO Sighting on Radar in the Panama Canal in 1958
The March 9-10, 1958 UFO sighting(1) that took place over the Panama Canal Zone(2), then a United States territory, started with a radar sighting of two tracks.

At one point the radar lock was broken but then almost immediately resumed its lock. Aircraft were vectored to the objects by the radar operators but were not able to make visual contact. A civilian aircraft in the vicinity also reported no visual contact.

Personnel on the ground reported seeing green and red lights in the sky but no sound. The radar maintenance personnel check their equipment thoroughly. The final report noted that the two objects were flying in a circular path at an average of seven thousand feet in the vicinity of Fort Kobe in the Canal Zone.

A Third UFO

A third object was later spotted over the Canal Zone flying in an erratic to triangular pattern. The altitude of the object was uncertain, and its speed varied from hovering to 1,000 miles an hour as United States Air Force jets approached. A PanAm Airline pilot reported seeing a large object in the vicinity of Panama a few hours later, moving in an easterly direction.

Nearly 60 years later, the 1958 UFO sightings remain unexplained. The objects are thought to have been solid rather than meteorological phenomena, as radar would not lock on anything that was not solid.

If the UFOs spotted over the Panama Canal Zone were some kind of aircraft or even alien spacecraft, their presence in that part of the world would certainly be explainable.

The Panama Canal has been a strategic area ever since it was dug in the early 20th century and opened in 1914. It provides a pathway for all but the largest ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Canal is a prime target for any enemy wanting to disrupt maritime transportation in time of war.

During World War II, the Panama Canal was one of the most heavily defended pieces of infrastructure (3) on the planet. Currently, the management of the Canal and its defense have been transferred to the Republic of Panama.

Could It Have Been Aircraft?

Why would some entity, whether it was terrestrial or alien, encroach on the airspace of the Panama Canal Zone?

The obvious answer would be to test the area’s air defenses. Whoever was flying the objects would have noted that the American military radar locked on to the unidentified objects in short order. Aircraft followed, vectoring in to attempt to establish visual contact.

Satisfied, whomever was conducting the overflights, flew away, one object clocked at a, for then, incredible 1,000 miles an hour for a reconnaissance aircraft.

The closest aircraft in the Soviet arsenal that the objects could have been was the TU-16(4) “Badger,” which flew in the 1950s and 1960s as a manned nuclear bomber. The aircraft size would be about right from what was described by the PanAm pilot.

However the range and the speed of the aircraft do not suggest that it was Soviet in origin. The Soviets did not yet have access to bases in Cuba. The Red Air Force did experiment with a strange wingtip to wingtip refueling technique (5) in the mid-1950s, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that the UFOs were Soviet in origin, doing a test for a surprise attack on the Panama Canal.

More Questions Than Answers

When thinking about the other alternative, aliens, one has to hesitate.

Would a reconnaissance mission by an advanced civilization even be detectable by Earth radar? Would aliens even use aircraft of the size reported rather than something so miniature as to be undetectable by any method possessed by Earth’s military, in 1958 or 2017?

These questions have no answers at the current time.

References & Image Credits:

(1) Panama Canal Zone Radar Sighting
(3) Panama Canal Defense
(4) The Tupolev Tu-16
(5) Russian Aircraft Tanker

Originally published on

  • This story, while interesting, is sadly lacking in documentation as to where it came from. While I don’t deny that UFO’s have been tracked on radar on many occasions, not sourcing the story leaves it open to criticism.

  • mlmontagne

    the things were tracked on radar for six hours but could not be seen visibly in all that time?There was nothing there, whether the radar were malfunctioning, or getting false signals off a temperature inversion or other phenomenon, no solid object was present.


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