Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Two Arizona UFOs and Lester Bannick

Lester J. Bannick is best remembered for his one-man autogyro, the “Model T of the Air,” but he also experimented with other forms of aircraft. Two models had circular aerodynamic shapes. In other words, he built flying saucers.

Herald and Review (Decatur, IL) Oct. 10, 2007

He built a 17-foot diameter flying saucer, then a much larger hot air balloon in the same shape. At least two UFO sightings were reported due to his inventions.

Arizona Republic Dec. 8, 1969

Great suffering saucers! (Republic Photos by Nvle Leaflham)

Seen against the background of the Superstition Mountains, the silver object at left bears enough resemblance to the classic flying saucer to start a brand new outer-space invasion scare.  

That was exactly the shape Lester Bannick, center, had in mind when he designed his 66-foot-diameter balloon of mylar, silver foil-covered and lifted by hot air generated by a butane torch. Bannick was a Phoenix resident, known for his "flying lawnchair" gyrocopter, but now lives in California.

He built the balloon at Newport Beach but returned here for test flights at an abandoned airfield 10 miles east of Mesa. Even in the desert, the sight attracted a small crowd, including the Republic photographer.

The Engine-Powered Flying Saucer

 Lester Bannick’s first saucer was powered by a "souped-up auto engine. It had flown imperfectly about 17 times up until 1972 when he retired it. 

New Times Weekly (Phoenix, AZ) circa 1980.

The story from the  Yuma Sun June 13, 1982:

The Arizona Republic, July 14, 1982, reported that Bannick’s low-flying saucer had ended up as part of a nightclub sign, but it was removed due to code violations. After that, Bannick gave it to David Farrington, president of the Scottsdale, Arizona chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Farrington kept the grounded saucer alongside his airplanes in his hangar at Falcon Field.


The Mesa UFO Sighting of 1972

Lee Bannick's silver hot air balloon seems to have caused some excitement in the early 1970s. The APRO Bulletin, July 1977 featured a picture of a UFO on its cover, a classic flying saucer. Ufologist Wendelle C. Stevens (promoter of the Billy Meier hoax, and later sentenced for child molestation) wrote a story about the UFO sighting of Lee Elders. “Four color photographs were taken of [a domed cone-shaped object] in the skies over Mesa, Arizona, …on 11 November 1972.”

"The object was originally noticed by two kids who alerted Elders, “He thought that the object was immobile, or at best moving very slowly. …The children continued watching it for another 30 to 40 minutes until it went out of sight. …Mr. Skip Bryant, Ms. Harriet Hineman and 3 other friends… at the Arizona State – Oklahoma State football game, watched a strange pear-shaped bright silver object in the sky to the southeast with binoculars. It appeared to be more of a flat finish… shaped like a fat ice-cream-cone with the large end up… moved very steadily, with no bobble or wobble, and they didn't notice any rotation."

APRO Bulletin & Elders’ color photo from Open Minds: 1972 Mesa UFO Sighting

Stevens wrote there had been “a hot air balloon contest held at Mesa on the two weekends preceding the date…but all of the balloons were gone a week before the day of the sighting and photographs.” One had been flown by a Mr. Marvin Cooley, a silver balloon built by Lester Bannick. Stevens insisted the object photographed could not possibly have been one made by Bannick. “Whether we have a case of UFO mimicry here is difficult to say…. The mystery remains unsolved.”


  1. So where can I get more pictures of his failed disk aircraft? I'd like to know how it was supposed to work. Frisbee principle isn't very descriptive.

    1. All the photos and detail we could find have been included in the article. If you turn up anything more, please let us know.


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