In early June 1952, Project Blue Book was operating according to the operational plan that had been set up in January 1952. It had taken six months to put the plan into effect, and to a person who has never been indoctrinated into the ways of the military, this may seem like a long time. But consult your nearest government worker and you’ll find that it was about par for the red tape course.
We had learned early in the project that about 60 per cent of the reported UFO’s were actually balloons, airplanes, or astronomical bodies viewed under unusual conditions, so our operational plan was set up to quickly weed out this type of report. This would give us more time to concentrate on the unknown cases.
To weed out reports in which balloons, airplanes, and astronomical bodies were reported as UFO’s, we utilized a flow of data that continually poured into Project Blue Book. We received position reports on all flights of the big skyhook balloons and, by merely picking up the telephone, we could get the details about the flight of any other research balloon or regularly scheduled weather balloon in the United States. The location of aircraft in an area where a UFO had been reported was usually checked by the intelligence officer who made the report, but we double checked his findings by requesting the location of flights from CAA and military air bases. Astronomical almanacs and journals, star charts, and data that we got from observatories furnished us with clues to UFO’s that might be astronomical bodies. All of our investigations in this category of report were double checked by Project Bear’s astronomer.
Then we had our newspaper clipping file, which gave us many clues. Hydrographic bulletins and Notams (notices to airmen), published by the government, sometimes gave us other clues. Every six hours we received a complete set of weather data. A dozen or more other sources of data that might shed some light on a reported UFO were continually being studied.
To get all this information on balloons, aircraft, astronomical bodies, and what have you, I had to co-ordinate Project Blue Book’s operational plan with the Air Force’s Air Weather Service, Flight Service, Research and Development Command, and Air Defense Command with the Navy’s Office of Naval Research, and the aerology branch of the Bureau of Aeronautics; and with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Bureau of Standards, several astronomical observatories, and our own Project Bear. Our entire operational plan was similar to a Model A Ford I had while I was in high school – just about the time you would get one part working, another part would break down.
When a report came through our screening process and still had the “Unknown” tag on it, it went to the MO file, where we checked its characteristics against other reports. For example, on May 25 we had a report from Randolph AFB, Texas. It went through the screening process and came out “Unknown”; it wasn’t a balloon, airplane, or astronomical body. So then it went to the MO file. It was a flock of ducks reflecting the city lights. We knew that the Texas UFO’s were ducks because our MO file showed that we had an identical report from Moorhead, Minnesota, and the UFO’s at Moorhead were ducks.
Radar reports that came into Blue Book went to the radar specialists of ATIC’s electronics branch.
Sifting through reams of data in search of the answers to the many reports that were pouring in each week required many hours of overtime work, but when a report came out with the final conclusion, “Unknown,” we were sure that it was unknown.
To operate Project Blue Book, I had four officers, two airmen, and two civilians on my permanent staff. In addition, there were three scientists employed full time on Project Bear, along with several others who worked part time. In the Pentagon, Major Fournet, who had taken on the Blue Book liaison job as an extra duty, was now spending full time on it. If you add to this the number of intelligence officers all over the world who were making preliminary investigations and interviewing UFO observers, Project Blue Book was a sizable effort.
Only the best reports we received could be personally investigated in the field by Project Blue Book personnel. The vast majority of the reports had to be evaluated on the basis of what the intelligence officer who had written the report had been able to uncover, or what data we could get by telephone or by mailing out a questionnaire. Our instructions for “what to do before the Blue Book man arrives,” which had been printed in many service publications, were beginning to pay off and the reports were continually getting more detailed.
The questionnaire we were using in June 1952 was the one that had recently been developed by Project Bear. Project Bear, along with psychologists from a midwestern university, had worked on it for five months. Many test models had been tried before it reached its final form – the standard questionnaire that Blue Book is using today.
It ran eight pages and had sixty eight questions which were booby- trapped in a couple of places to give us a cross check on the reliability of the reporter as an observer. We received quite a few questionnaires answered in such a way that it was obvious that the observer was drawing heavily on his imagination.
From this standard questionnaire the project worked up two more specialized types. One dealt with radar sightings of UFO’s, the other with sightings made from airplanes.
In Air Force terminology a “flap” is a condition, or situation, or state of being of a group of people characterized by an advanced degree of confusion that has not quite yet reached panic proportions. It can be brought on by any number of things, including the unexpected visit of an inspecting general, a major administrative reorganization, the arrival of a hot piece of intelligence information, or the dramatic entrance of a well stacked female into an officers’ club bar.
In early June 1952 the Air Force was unknowingly in the initial stages of a flap – a flying saucer flap – the flying saucer flap of 1952. The situation had never been duplicated before, and it hasn’t been duplicated since. All records for the number of UFO reports were not just broken, they were disintegrated. In 1948, 167 UFO reports had come into ATIC; this was considered a big year. In June 1952 we received 149. During the four years the Air Force had been in the UFO business, 615 reports had been collected. During the “Big Flap” our incoming message log showed 717 reports.
To anyone who had anything to do with flying saucers, the summer of 1952 was just one big swirl of UFO reports, hurried trips, midnight telephone calls, reports to the Pentagon, press interviews, and very little sleep.
If you can pin down a date that the Big Flap started, it would probably be about June 1.
It was also on June 1 that we received a good report of a UFO that had been picked up on radar. June 1 was a Sunday, but I’d been at the office all day getting ready to go to Los Alamos the next day. About 5:00 P.M. the telephone rang and the operator told me that I had a long – distance call from California. My caller was the chief of a radar test section for Hughes Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, and he was very excited about a UFO he had to report.
That morning he and his test crew had been checking out a new late- model radar to get it ready for some tests they planned to run early Monday morning. To see if their set was functioning properly, they had been tracking jets in the Los Angeles area. About midmorning, the Hughes test engineer told me, the jet traffic had begun to drop off, and they were about ready to close down their operation when one of the crew picked up a slow moving target coming across the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. He tracked the target for a few minutes and, from the speed and altitude, decided that it was a DC-3. It was at 11,000 feet and traveling about 180 miles an hour toward Santa Monica. The operator was about ready to yell at the other crew members to shut off the set when he noticed something mighty odd – there was a big gap between the last and the rest of the regularly spaced bright spots on the radarscope. The man on the scope called the rest of the crew in because DC-3’s just don’t triple their speed. They watched the target as it made a turn and started to climb over Los Angeles. They plotted one, two, three, and then four points during the target’s climb; then one of the crew grabbed a slide rule. Whatever it was, it was climbing 35,000 feet per minute and traveling about 550 miles an hour in the process. Then as they watched the scope, the target leveled out for a few seconds, went into a high speed dive, and again leveled out at 55,000 feet. When they lost the target, it was heading southeast somewhere near Riverside, California.
During the sighting my caller told me that when the UFO was only about ten miles from the radar site two of the crew had gone outside but they couldn’t see anything. But, he explained, even the high flying jets that they had been tracking hadn’t been leaving vapor trails.
The first thing I asked when the Hughes test engineer finished his story was if the radar set had been working properly. He said that as soon as the UFO had left the scope they had run every possible check on the radar and it was O.K.
I was just about to ask my caller if the target might not have been some experimental airplane from Edwards AFB when he second guessed me. He said that after sitting around looking at each other for about a minute, someone suggested that they call Edwards. They did, and Edwards’ flight operations told them that they had nothing in the area.
I asked him about the weather. The target didn’t look like a weather target was the answer, but just to be sure, the test crew had checked. One of his men was an electronics/weather specialist whom he had hired because of his knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of radar under certain weather conditions. This man had looked into the weather angle. He had gotten the latest weather data and checked it, but there wasn’t the slightest indication of an inversion or any other weather that would cause a false target.
Just before I hung up I asked the man what he thought he and his crew had picked up, and once again I got the same old answer: “Yesterday at this time any of us would have argued for hours that flying saucers were a bunch of nonsense but now, regardless of what you’ll say about what we saw, it was something damned real.”
I thanked the man for calling and hung up. We couldn’t make any more of an analysis of this report than had already been made, it was another unknown.
I went over to the MO file and pulled out the stack of cards behind the tab “High Speed Climb.” There must have been at least a hundred cards, each one representing a UFO report in which the reported object made a high speed climb. But this was the first time radar had tracked a UFO during a climb.
During the early part of June, Project Blue Book took another jump up on the organizational chart. A year before the UFO project had consisted of one officer. It had risen from the one man operation to a project within a group, then to a group, and now it was a section. Neither Project Sign nor the old Project Grudge had been higher than the project-within-a-group level. The chief of a group normally calls for a lieutenant colonel, and since I was just a captain this caused some consternation in the ranks. There was some talk about putting Lieutenant Colonel Ray Taylor of Colonel Dunn’s staff in charge. Colonel Taylor was very much interested in UFO’s; he had handled some of the press contacts prior to turning this function over to the Pentagon and had gone along with me on briefings, so he knew something about the project. But in the end Colonel Donald Bower, who was my division chief. decided rank be damned, and I stayed on as chief of Project Blue Book.
The location within the organizational chart is always indicative of the importance placed on a project. In June 1952 the Air Force was taking the UFO problem seriously. One of the reasons was that there were a lot of good UFO reports coming in from Korea. Fighter pilots reported seeing silver colored spheres or disks on several occasions, and radar in Japan, Okinawa, and in Korea had tracked unidentified targets.
In June our situation map, on which we kept a plot of all of our sightings, began to show an ever so slight trend toward reports beginning to bunch up on the east coast. We discussed this build-up, but we couldn’t seem to find any explainable reason for it so we decided that we’d better pay special attention to reports coming from the eastern states.
I had this build-up of reports in mind one Sunday night, June 15 to be exact, when the OD at ATIC called me at home and said that we were getting a lot of reports from Virginia. Each report by itself wasn’t too good, the OD told me, but together they seemed to mean something. He suggested that I come out and take a look at them – so I did.
Individually they weren’t too good, but when I lined them up chronologically and plotted them on a map they took the form of a hot report.
At 3:40 P.M. a woman at Unionville, Virginia, had reported a “very shiny object” at high altitude.
At 4:20 P.M. the operators of the CAA radio facility at Gordonsville, Virginia, had reported that they saw a “round, shiny object.” It was southeast of their station, or directly south of Unionville.
At 4:25 P.M. the crew of an airliner northwest of Richmond, Virginia, reported a “silver sphere at eleven o’clock high.”
At 4:43 P.M. a Marine pilot in a jet tried to intercept a “round shiny sphere” south of Gordonsville.
At 5:43 P.M. an Air Force T-33 jet tried to intercept a “shiny sphere” south of Gordonsvllle. He got above 35,000 feet and the UFO was still far above him.
At 7:35 P.M. many people in Blackstone, Virginia, about 80 miles south of Gordonsville, reported it. It was a “round, shiny object with a golden glow” moving from north to south. By this time radio commentators in central Virginia were giving a running account of the UFO’s progress.
At 7:59 P.M. the people in the CAA radio facility at Blackstone saw it.
At 8:00 P.M. jets arrived from Langley AFB to attempt to intercept it, but at 8:05 P.M. it disappeared.
This was a good report because it was the first time we ever received a series of reports on the same object, and there was no doubt that all these people had reported the same object. Whatever it was, it wasn’t moving too fast, because it had travelled only about 90 miles in four hours and twenty five minutes. I was about ready to give up until morning and go home when my wife called. The local Associated Press man had called our home and she assumed that it was about this sighting. She had just said that I was out so he might not call the base. I decided that I’d better keep working so I’d have the answer in time to keep the story out of the papers. A report like this could cause some excitement. The UFO obviously wasn’t a planet because it was moving from north to south, and it was too slow to be an airplane. I called the balloon- plotting center at Lowry AFB, where the tracks of the big skyhook balloons are plotted, but the only big balloons in the air were in the western United States, and they were all accounted for.
It might have been a weather balloon. The wind charts showed that the high altitude winds were blowing in different directions at different altitudes above 35,000 feet, so there was no one flow of air that could have brought a balloon in from a certain area, and I knew that the UFO had to be higher than 35,000 feet because the T-33 jet had been this high and the UFO was still above it. The only thing to do was to check with all of the weather stations in the area. I called Richmond, Roanoke, several places in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., and four or five other weather stations, but all of their balloons were accounted for and none had been anywhere close to the central part of Virginia.
A balloon can travel only so far, so there was no sense in checking stations too far away from where the people had seen the UFO, but I took a chance and called Norfolk; Charleston, West Virginia; Altoona, Pennsylvania; and other stations within a 150 mile radius of Gordonsville and Blackstone. Nothing.
I still thought it might be a balloon, so I started to call more stations. At Pittsburgh I hit a lead. Their radiosonde balloon had gone up to about 60,000 feet and evidently had sprung a slow leak because it had leveled off at that altitude. Normally balloons go up till they burst at 80,000 or 90,000 feet. The weather forecaster at Pittsburgh said that their records showed they had lost contact with the balloon when it was about 60 miles southeast of their station. He said that the winds at 60,000 feet were constant, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out where the balloon went after they had lost it. Things must be dull in Pittsburgh at 2:00 A.M. on Monday mornings, because he offered to plot the course that the balloon probably took and call me back.
In about twenty minutes I got my call. It probably was their balloon, the forecaster said. Above 50,000 feet there was a strong flow of air southeast from Pittsburgh, and this fed into a stronger southerly flow that was paralleling the Atlantic coast just east of the Appalachian Mountains. The balloon would have floated along in this flow of air like a log floating down a river. As close as he could estimate, he said, the balloon would arrive in the Gordonsville-Blackstone area in the late afternoon or early evening. This was just about the time the UFO had arrived.
“Probably a balloon” was a good enough answer for me.
The next morning at 8:00 A.M., Al Chop called from the Pentagon to tell me that people were crawling all over his desk wanting to know about a sighting in Virginia.
The reports continued to come in. At Walnut Lake, Michigan, a group of people with binoculars watched a “soft white light” go back and forth across the western sky for nearly an hour. A UFO “paced” an Air Force B-25 for thirty minutes in California. Both of these happened on June 18, and although we checked and rechecked them, they came out as unknowns.
On June 19 radar at Goose AFB in Newfoundland picked up some odd targets. The targets came across the scope, suddenly enlarged, and then became smaller again. One unofficial comment was that the object was flat or disk shaped, and that the radar target had gotten bigger because the disk had banked in flight to present a greater reflecting surface. ATIC’s official comment was weather.
Goose AFB was famous for unusual reports. In early UFO history someone had taken a very unusual colored photo of a “split cloud.” The photographer had seen a huge ball of fire streak down through the sky and pass through a high layer of stratus clouds. As the fireball passed through the cloud it cut out a perfect swath. The conclusion was that the fireball was a meteor, but the case is still one of the most interesting in the file because of the photograph.
Then in early 1952 there was another good report from this area. It was an unknown.
The incident started when the pilot of an Air Force C-54 transport radioed Goose AFB and said that at 10:42 P.M. a large fireball had buzzed his airplane. It had come in from behind the C-54, and nobody had seen it until it was just off the left wing. The fireball was so big that the pilot said it looked as if it was only a few hundred feet away. The C-54 was 200 miles southwest, coming into Goose AFB from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, when the incident occurred. The base officer-of-the-day, who was also a pilot, happened to be in the flight operations office at Goose when the message came in and he overheard the report. He stepped outside, walked over to his command car, and told his driver about the radio message, so the driver got out and both of them looked toward the south. They searched the horizon for a few seconds; then suddenly they saw a light closing in from the southwest. Within a second, it was near the airfield. It had increased in size till it was as big as a “golf ball at arm’s length,” and it looked like a big ball of fire. It was so low that both the OD and his driver dove under the command car because they were sure it was going to hit the airfield. When they turned and looked up they saw the fireball make a 90 degree turn over the airfield and disappear into the northwest. The time was 10:47 P.M.
The control tower operators saw the fireball too, but didn’t agree with the OD and his driver on how low it was. They did think that it had made a 90 degree turn and they didn’t think that it was a meteor. In the years they’d been in towers they’d seen hundreds of meteors, but they’d never seen anything like this, they reported.
And reports continued to pour into Project Blue Book. It was now not uncommon to get ten or eleven wires in one day. If the letters reporting UFO sightings were counted, the total would rise to twenty or thirty a day. The majority of the reports that came in by wire could be classified as being good. They were reports made by reliable people and they were full of details. Some were reports of balloons, airplanes, etc., but the percentage of unknowns hovered right around 22 per cent.
To describe and analyze each report, or even the unknowns, would require a book the size of an unabridged dictionary, so I am covering only the best and most representative cases.
One day in mid June, Colonel Dunn called me. He was leaving for Washington and he wanted me to come in the next day to give a briefing at a meeting. By this time I was taking these briefings as a matter of course. We usually gave the briefings to General Garland and a general from the Research and Development Board, who passed the information on to General Samford, the Director of Intelligence. But this time General Samford, some of the members of his staff, two Navy captains from the Office of Naval Intelligence, and some people I can’t name were at the briefing.
When I arrived in Washington, Major Fournet told me that the purpose of the meetings, and my briefing, was to try to find out if there was any significance to the almost alarming increase in UFO reports over the past few weeks.
By the time that everyone had finished signing into the briefing room in the restricted area of the fourth floor “B” ring of the Pentagon, it was about 9:15 A.M. I started my briefing as soon as everyone was seated.
I reviewed the last month’s UFO activities; then I briefly went over the more outstanding “Unknown” UFO reports and pointed out how they were increasing in number – breaking all previous records. I also pointed out that even though the UFO subject was getting a lot of publicity, it wasn’t the scare type publicity that had accompanied the earlier flaps – in fact, much of the present publicity was anti saucer.
Then I went on to say that even though the reports we were getting were detailed and contained a great deal of good data, we still had no proof the UFO’s were anything real. We could, I said, prove that all UFO reports were merely the misinterpretation of known objects if we made a few assumptions.
At this point one of the colonels on General Samford’s staff stopped me. “Isn’t it true,” he asked, “that if you make a few positive assumptions instead of negative assumptions you can just as easily prove that the UFO’s are interplanetary spaceships? Why, when you have to make an assumption to get an answer to a report, do you always pick the assumption that proves the UFO’s don’t exist?”
You could almost hear the colonel add, “O.K., so now I’ve said it.”
For several months the belief that Project Blue Book was taking a negative attitude and the fact that the UFO’s could be interplanetary spaceships had been growing in the Pentagon, but these ideas were usually discussed only in the privacy of offices with doors that would close tight.
No one said anything, so the colonel who had broken the ice plunged in. He used the sighting from Goose AFB, where the fireball had buzzed the C-54 and sent the OD and his driver belly whopping under the command car as an example. The colonel pointed out that even though we had labeled the report “Unknown” it wasn’t accepted as proof. He wanted to know why.
I said that our philosophy was that the fireball could have been two meteors: one that buzzed the C-54 and another that streaked across the airfield at Goose AFB. Granted a meteor doesn’t come within feet of an airplane or make a 90 degree turn, but these could have been optical illusions of some kind. The crew of the C-54, the OD, his driver, and the tower operators didn’t recognize the UFO’s as meteors because they were used to seeing the normal “shooting stars” that are most commonly seen.
But the colonel had some more questions. “What are the chances of having two extremely spectacular meteors in the same area, traveling the same direction, only five minutes apart?”
I didn’t know the exact mathematical probability, but it was rather small, I had to admit.
Then he asked, “What kind of an optical illusion would cause a meteor to appear to make a 90 degree turn?”
I had asked our Project Bear astronomer this same question, and he couldn’t answer it either. So the only answer I could give the colonel was, “I don’t know.”
I felt as if I were on a witness stand being cross-examined, and that is exactly where I was, because the colonel cut loose.
“Why not assume a point that is more easily proved?” he asked. “Why not assume that the C-54 crew, the OD, his driver, and the tower operators did know what they were talking about? Maybe they had seen spectacular meteors during the hundreds of hours that they had flown at night and the many nights that they had been on duty in the tower. Maybe the ball of fire had made a 90 degree turn. Maybe it was some kind of an intelligently controlled craft that had streaked northeast across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Quebec Province at 2,400 miles an hour.
“Why not just simply believe that most people know what they saw?” the colonel said with no small amount of sarcasm in his voice.
This last comment started a lively discussion, and I was able to retreat. The colonel had been right in a sense – we were being conservative, but maybe this was the right way to be. In any scientific investigation you always assume that you don’t have enough proof until you get a positive answer. I don’t think that we had a positive answer – yet.
The colonel’s comments split the group, and a hot exchange of ideas, pros and cons, and insinuations that some people were imitating ostriches to keep from facing the truth followed.
The outcome of the meeting was a directive to take further steps to obtain positive identification of the UFO’s. Our original idea of attempting to get several separate reports from one sighting so we could use triangulation to measure speed, altitude, and size wasn’t working out. We had given the idea enough publicity, but reports where triangulation could be used were few and far between. Mr. or Mrs. Average Citizen just doesn’t look up at the sky unless he or she sees a flash of light or hears a sound. Then even if he or she does look up and sees a UFO, it is very seldom that the report ever gets to Project Blue Book. I think that it would be safe to say that Blue Book only heard about 10 per cent of the UFO’s that were seen in the United States.
After the meeting I went back to ATIC, and the next day Colonel Don Bower and I left for the west coast to talk to some people about how to get better UFO data. We brought back the idea of using an extremely long focal length camera equipped with a diffraction grating.
The cameras would be placed at various locations throughout the United States where UFO’s were most frequently seen. We hoped that photos of the UFO’s taken through the diffraction gratings would give us some proof one way or the other.
The diffraction gratings we planned to use over the lenses of the cameras were the same thing as prisms; they would split up the light from the UFO into its component parts so that we could study it and determine whether it was a meteor, an airplane, or balloon reflecting sunlight, etc. Or we might be able to prove that the photographed UFO was a craft completely foreign to our knowledge.
A red-hot, A-1 priority was placed on the camera project, and a section at ATIC that developed special equipment took over the job of obtaining the cameras, or, if necessary, having them designed and built.
But the UFO’s weren’t waiting around till they could be photographed. Every day the tempo and confusion were increasing a little more.
By the end of June it was very noticeable that most of the better reports were coming from the eastern United States. In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland jet fighters had been scrambled almost nightly for a week. On three occasions radar equipped F-94’s had locked on aerial targets only to have the lockon broken by the apparent violent maneuvers of the target.
By the end of June there was also a lull in the newspaper publicity about the UFO’s. The forthcoming political conventions had wiped out any mention of flying saucers. But on July 1 there was a sudden outbreak of good reports. The first one came from Boston; then they worked down the coast.
About seven twenty five on the morning of July 1 two F-94’s were scrambled to intercept a UFO that a Ground Observer Corps spotter reported was traveling southwest across Boston. Radar couldn’t pick it up so the two airplanes were just vectored into the general area. The F-94’s searched the area but couldn’t see anything. We got the report at ATIC and would have tossed it out if it hadn’t been for other reports from the Boston area at that same time.
One of these reports came from a man and his wife at Lynn, Massachusetts, nine miles northeast of Boston. At seven thirty they had noticed the two vapor trails from the climbing jet interceptors. They looked around the sky to find out if they could see what the jets were after and off to the west they saw a bright silver “cigar shaped object about six times as long as it was wide” traveling southwest across Boston. It appeared to be traveling just a little faster than the two jets. As they watched they saw that an identical UFO was following the first one some distance back. The UFO’s weren’t leaving vapor trails but, as the man mentioned in his report, this didn’t mean anything because you can get above the vapor trail level. And the two UFO’s appeared to be at a very high altitude. The two observers watched as the two F-94’s searched back and forth far below the UFO’s.
Then there was another report, also made at seven thirty. An Air Force captain was just leaving his home in Bedford, about 15 miles northwest of Boston and straight west of Lynn, when he saw the two jets. In his report he said that he, too, had looked around the sky to see if he could see what they were trying to intercept when off to the east he saw a “silvery cigar shaped object” traveling south. His description of what he observed was almost identical to what the couple in Lynn reported except that he saw only one UFO.
When we received the report, I wanted to send someone up to Boston immediately in the hope of getting more data from the civilian couple and the Air Force captain; this seemed to be a tailor-made case for triangulation. But by July 1 we were completely snowed under with reports, and there just wasn’t anybody to send. Then, to complicate matters, other reports came in later in the day.
Just two hours after the sighting in the Boston area Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, popped back into UFO history. At nine thirty in the morning twelve student radar operators and three instructors were tracking nine jets on an SCR 584 radar set when two UFO targets appeared on the scope. The two targets came in from the northeast at a slow speed, much slower than the jets that were being tracked, hovered near Fort Monmouth at 50,000 feet for about five minutes, and then took off in a “terrific burst of speed” to the southwest.
When the targets first appeared, some of the class went outside with an instructor, and after searching the sky for about a minute, they saw two shiny objects in the same location as the radar showed the two unidentified targets to be. They watched the two UFO’s for several minutes and saw them go zipping off to the southwest at exactly the same time that the two radar targets moved off the scope in that direction.
We had plotted these reports, the ones from Boston and the one from Fort Monmouth, on a map, and without injecting any imagination or wild assumptions, it looked as if two “somethings” had come down across Boston on a southwesterly heading, crossed Long Island, hovered for a few minutes over the Army’s secret laboratories at Fort Monmouth, then proceeded toward Washington. In a way we half expected to get a report from Washington. Our expectations were rewarded because in a few hours a report arrived from that city.
A physics professor at George Washington University reported a “dull, gray, smoky colored” object which hovered north northwest of Washington for about eight minutes. Every once in a while, the professor reported, it would move through an arc of about 15 degrees to the right or left, but it always returned to its original position. While he was watching the UFO he took a 25 cent piece out of his pocket and held it at arm’s length so that he could compare its size to that of the UFO. The UFO was about half the diameter of the quarter. When he first saw the UFO, it was about 30 to 40 degrees above the horizon, but during the eight minutes it was in sight it steadily dropped lower and lower until buildings in downtown Washington blocked off the view.
Besides being an “Unknown,” this report was exceptionally interesting to us because the sighting was made from the center of downtown Washington, D.C. The professor reported that he had noticed the UFO when he saw people all along the street looking up in the air and pointing. He estimated that at least 500 people were looking at it, yet his was the only report we received. This seemed to substantiate our theory that people are very hesitant to report UFO’s to the Air Force. But they evidently do tell the newspapers because later on we picked up a short account of the sighting in the Washington papers. It merely said that hundreds of calls had been received from people reporting a UFO.
When reports were pouring in at the rate of twenty or thirty a day, we were glad that people were hesitant to report UFO’s, but when we were trying to find the answer to a really knotty sighting we always wished that more people had reported it. The old adage of having your cake and eating it, too, held even for the UFO.
Technically no one in Washington, besides, of course, Major General Samford and his superiors, had anything to do with making policy decisions about the operation of Project Blue Book or the handling of the UFO situation in general. Nevertheless, everyone was trying to get into the act. The split in opinions on what to do about the rising tide of UFO reports, the split that first came out in the open at General Samford’s briefing, was widening every day. One group was getting dead serious about the situation. They thought we now had plenty of evidence to back up an official statement that the UFO’s were something real and, to be specific, not something from this earth. This group wanted Project Blue Book to quit spending time investigating reports from the standpoint of trying to determine if the observer of a UFO had actually seen something foreign to our knowledge and start assuming that he or she had. They wanted me to aim my investigation at trying to find out more about the UFO. Along with this switch in operating policy, they wanted to clamp down on the release of information. They thought that the security classification of the project should go up to Top Secret until we had all of the answers, then the information should be released to the public. The investigation of UFO’s along these lines should be a maximum effort, they thought, and their plans called for lining up many top scientists to devote their full time to the project. Someone once said that enthusiasm is infectious, and he was right. The enthusiasm of this group took a firm hold in the Pentagon, at Air Defense Command Headquarters, on the Research and Development Board, and many other agencies throughout the government. But General Samford was still giving the orders, and he said to continue to operate just as we had – keeping an open mind to any ideas.
After the minor flurry of reports on July 1 we had a short breathing spell and found time to clean up a sizable backlog of reports. People were still seeing UFO’s but the frequency of the sighting curve was dropping steadily. During the first few days of July we were getting only two or three good reports a day.
On July 5 the crew of a non-scheduled airliner made page two of many newspapers by reporting a UFO over the AEC’s super secret Hanford, Washington, installation. It was a skyhook balloon. On the twelfth a huge meteor sliced across Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri that netted us twenty or thirty reports. Even before they had stopped coming in, we had confirmation from our astronomer that the UFO was a meteor.
But forty two minutes later there was a sighting in Chicago that wasn’t so easily explained.
According to our weather records, on the night of July 12 it was hot in Chicago. At nine forty two there were at least 400 people at Montrose Beach trying to beat the heat. Many of them were lying down looking at the stars, so that they saw the UFO as it came in from the west north west, made a 180 degree turn directly over their heads, and disappeared over the horizon. It was a “large red light with small white lights on the side,” most of the people reported. Some of them said that it changed to a single yellow light as it made its turn. It was in sight about five minutes, and during this time no one reported hearing any sound.
One of the people at the beach was the weather officer from O’Hare International Airport, an Air Force captain. He immediately called O’Hare. They checked on balloon flights and with radar, but both were negative; radar said that there had been no aircraft in the area of Montrose Beach for several hours.
I sent an investigator to Chicago, and although he came back with a lot of data on the sighting, it didn’t add up to be anything known.
The next day Dayton had its first UFO sighting in a long time when a Mr. Roy T. Ellis, president of the Rubber Seal Products Company, and many other people, reported a teardrop shaped object that hovered over Dayton for several minutes about midnight. This sighting had an interesting twist because two years later I was in Dayton and stopped in at ATIC to see a friend who is one of the technical advisers at the center.
Naturally – the conversation got around to the subject of UFO’s, and he asked me if I remembered this specific sighting. I did, so he went on to say that he and his wife had seen this UFO that night but they had never told anybody. He was very serious when he admitted that he had no idea what it could have been. Now I’d heard this statement a thousand times before from other people, but coming from this person, it was really something because he was as anti saucer as anyone I knew. Then he added, “From that time on I didn’t think your saucer reporters were as crazy as I used to think they were.”
The Dayton sighting also created quite a stir in the press. In conjunction with the sighting, the Dayton Daily Journal had interviewed Colonel Richard H. Magee, the Dayton-Oakwood civil defense director; they wanted to know what he thought about the UFO’s. The colonel’s answer made news: “There’s something flying around in our skies and we wish we knew what it was.”
When the story broke in other papers, the colonel’s affiliation with civil defense wasn’t mentioned, and he became merely “a colonel from Dayton.” Dayton was quickly construed by the public to mean Wright- Patterson AFB and specifically ATIC. Some people in the Pentagon screamed while others gleefully clapped their hands. The gleeful handclaps were from those people who wanted the UFO’s to be socially recognized, and they believed that if they couldn’t talk their ideas into being they might be able to force them in with the help of this type of publicity.
The temporary lull in reporting that Project Blue Book had experienced in early July proved to be only the calm before the storm. By mid July we were getting about twenty reports a day plus frantic calls from intelligence officers all over the United States as every Air Force installation in the U.S. was being swamped with reports. We told the intelligence officers to send in the ones that sounded the best.
The build-up in UFO reports wasn’t limited to the United States- every day we would receive reports from our air attaché in other countries. England and France led the field, with the South American countries running a close third. Needless to say, we didn’t investigate or evaluate foreign reports because we had our hands full right at home.
Most of us were putting in fourteen hours a day, six days a week. It wasn’t at all uncommon for Lieutenant Andy Flues, Bob Olsson, or Kerry Rothstien, my investigators, to get their sleep on an airliner going out or coming back from an investigation. TWA airliners out of Dayton were more like home than home. But we hadn’t seen anything yet.
All the reports that were coming in were good ones, ones with no answers. Unknowns were running about 40 per cent. Rumors persist that in mid July 1952 the Air Force was braced for an expected invasion by flying saucers. Had these rumormongers been at ATIC in mid July they would have thought that the invasion was already in full swing. And they would have thought that one of the beachheads for the invasion was Patrick AFB, the Air Force’s Guided Missile Long Range Proving Ground on the east coast of Florida.
On the night of July 18, at ten forty five, two officers were standing in front of base operations at Patrick when they noticed a light at about a 45 degree angle from the horizon and off to the west. It was an amber color and “quite a bit brighter than a star.” Both officers had heard flying saucer stories, and both thought the light was a balloon. But, to be comedians, they called to several more officers and airmen inside the operations office and told them to come out and “see the flying saucer.” The people came out and looked. A few were surprised and took the mysterious light seriously, at the expense of considerable laughter from the rest of the group. The discussion about the light grew livelier and bets that it was a balloon were placed. In the meantime the light had drifted over the base, had stopped for about a minute, turned, and was now heading north. To settle the bet, one of the officers stepped into the base weather office to find out about the balloon. Yes, one was in the air and being tracked by radar, he was told. The weather officer said that he would call to find out exactly where it was. He called and found out that the weather balloon was being tracked due west of the base and that the light had gone out about ten minutes before. The officer went back outside to find that what was first thought to be a balloon was now straight north of the field and still lighted. To add to the confusion, a second amber light had appeared in the west about 20 degrees lower than where the first one was initially seen, and it was also heading north but at a much greater speed. In a few seconds the first light stopped and started moving back south over the base.
While the group of officers and airmen were watching the two lights, the people from the weather office came out to tell the UFO observers that the balloon was still traveling straight west. They were just in time to see a third light come tearing across the sky, directly overhead, from west to east. A weatherman went inside and called the balloon tracking crew again – their balloon was still far to the west of the base.
Inside of fifteen minutes two more amber lights came in from the west, crossed the base, made a 180 degree turn over the ocean, and came back over the observers.
In the midst of the melee a radar set had been turned on but it couldn’t pick up any targets. This did, however, eliminate the possibility of the lights’ being aircraft. They weren’t stray balloons either, because the winds at all altitudes were blowing in a westerly direction. They obviously weren’t meteors. They weren’t searchlights on a haze layer because there was no weather conducive to forming a haze layer and there were no searchlights. They could have been some type of natural phenomenon, if one desires to take the negative approach. Or, if you take the positive approach, they could have been spaceships.
The next night radar at Washington National Airport picked up UFO’s and one of the most highly publicized sightings of UFO history was in the making. It marked the beginning of the end of the Big Flap.