The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects - 10
Project Blue Book and the Big Build-Up
Just twenty minutes after midnight on January 22, 1952, nineteen and a half hours after the Navy lieutenant commander had chased the UFO near Mitchel AFB, another incident involving an airplane and something unknown was developing in Alaska. In contrast with the unusually balmy weather in New York, the temperature in Alaska that night, according to the detailed account of the incident we received at ATIC, was a miserable 47 degrees below zero. The action was unfolding at one of our northernmost radar outposts in Alaska. This outpost was similar to those you may have seen in pictures, a collection of low, sprawling buildings grouped around the observatory—like domes that house the antennae of the most modern radar in the world. The entire collection of buildings and domes are one color, solid white, from the plastering of ice and snow. The picture that the outpost makes could be described as fascinating, something out of a Walt Disney fantasy—but talk to somebody who's been there—it's miserable.
At 0020, twenty minutes after midnight, an airman watching one of the outpost's radarscopes saw a target appear. It looked like an airplane because it showed up as a bright, distinct spot. But it was unusual because it was northeast of the radar site, and very few airplanes ever flew over
this area. Off to the northeast of the station there was nothing but ice, snow, and maybe a few Eskimos until you got to Russia. Occasionally a B-50 weather reconnaissance plane ventured into the area, but a quick check of the records showed that none was there on this night.
By the time the radar crew had gotten three good plots of the target, they all knew that it was something unusual—it was at 23,000 feet and traveling 1,500 miles an hour. The duty controller, an Air Force captain, was quickly called; he made a fast check of the targets that had now been put on the plotting board and called to a jet fighter-interceptor base for a scramble.
The fighter base, located about 100 miles south of the radar site, acknowledged the captain's call and in a matter of minutes an F-94 jet was climbing out toward the north.
While the F-94 was heading north, the radar crew at the outpost watched the unidentified target. The bright dots that marked its path had moved straight across the radarscope, passing within about 50 miles of the site. It was still traveling about 1,500 miles an hour. The radar had also picked up the F-94 and was directing it toward its target when suddenly the unidentified target slowed down, stopped, and reversed its course. Now it was heading directly toward the radar station. When it was within about 30 miles of the station, the radar operator switched his set to a shorter range and lost both the F-94 and the unidentified target.
While the radar operator was trying to pick up the target again, the F-94 arrived in the area. The ground controller told the pilot that they had lost the target and asked him to cruise around the area to see if he and his radar operator could pick up anything on the F-94's radar. The pilot said he would but that he was having a little difficulty, was low on fuel, and would have to get back to his base soon. The ground controller acknowledged the pilot's message, and called back to the air base telling them to scramble a second F-94.
The first F-94 continued to search the area while the ground radar tried to pick up the target but neither could find it.
About this time the second F-94 was coming in, so the ground radar switched back to long range. In a minute they had both of the F-94's and the unidentified target on their scope. The ground controller called the second F-94 and began to vector him into the target.
The first F-94 returned to its base.
As both the second F-94 and the target approached the radar site, the operator again switched to short range and again he lost the jet and the target. He switched back to long range, but by now they were too close to the radar site and he couldn't pick up either one.
The pilot continued on toward where the unidentified target should have been. Suddenly the F-94 radar operator reported a weak target off to the right at 28,000 feet. They climbed into it but it faded before they could make contact.
The pilot swung the F-94 around for another pass, and this time the radar operator reported a strong return. As they closed in, the F-94's radar showed that the target was now almost stationary, just barely moving. The F-94 continued on, but the target seemed to make a sudden dive and they lost it. The pilot of the jet interceptor continued to search the area but couldn't find anything. As the F-94 moved away from the radar station, it was again picked up on the ground radar, but the unidentified target was gone.
A third F-94 had been scrambled, and in the meantime its crew took over the search. They flew around for about ten minutes without detecting any targets on their radar. They were making one last pass almost directly over the radar station when the radar operator in the back seat of the F-94 yelled over the interphone that he had a target on his scope. The pilot called ground radar, but by this time both the F-94 and the unidentified target were again too close to the radar station and they couldn't be picked up. The F-94 closed in until it was within 200 yards of the target; then the pilot pulled up, afraid he might collide with whatever was out in the night sky ahead of him. He made another pass, and another, but each time the bright spot on the radar operator's scope just stayed in one spot as if something were defiantly sitting out in front of the F-94 daring the pilot to close in. The pilot didn't take the dare. On each pass he broke off at 200 yards.
The F-94 crew made a fourth pass and got a weak return, but it was soon lost as the target seemed to speed away. Ground radar also got a brief return, but in a matter of seconds they too lost the target as it streaked out of range on a westerly heading.
As usual, the first thing I did when I read this report was to check the weather. But there was no weather report for this area that was detailed enough to tell whether a weather inversion could have caused the radar targets.
But I took the report over to Captain Roy James, anyway, in hopes that he might be able to find a clue that would identify the UFO.
Captain James was the chief of the radar section at ATIC. He and his people analyzed all our reports where radar picked up UFO's. Roy had been familiar with radar for many years, having set up one of the first stations in Florida during World War II, and later he took the first aircraft control and warning squadron to Saipan. Besides worrying about
keeping his radar operating, he had to worry about the Japs’ shooting holes in his antennae.
Captain James decided that this Alaskan sighting I'd just shown him was caused by some kind of freak weather. He based his analysis on the fact that the unknown target had disappeared each time the ground radar had been switched to short range. This, he pointed out, is an indication that the radar was picking up some kind of a target that was caused by weather. The same weather that caused the ground radar to act up must have caused false targets on the F-94's radar too, he continued. After all, they had closed to within 200 yards of what they were supposedly picking up; it was a clear moonlight night, yet the crews of the F-94's hadn't seen a thing.
Taking a clue from the law profession, he quoted a precedent. About a year before over Oak Ridge, Tennessee, an F-82 interceptor had nearly flown into the ground three times as the pilot attempted to follow a target that his radar operator was picking up. There was a strong inversion that night, and although the target appeared as if it were flying in the air, it was actually a ground target.
Since Captain James was the chief of the radar section and he had said "Weather," weather was the official conclusion on the report. But reports of UFO’s’ being picked up on radar are controversial, and some of the people didn't agree with James's conclusion.
A month or two after we'd received the report, I was out in Colorado Springs at Air Defense Command Headquarters. I was eating lunch in the officers' club when I saw an officer from the radar operations section at ADC. He asked me to stop by his office when I had a spare minute, and I said that I would. He said that it was important.
It was the middle of the afternoon before I saw him and found out what he wanted. He had been in Alaska on TDY when the UFO had been picked up at the outpost radar site. In fact, he had made a trip to both the radar site and the interceptor base just two days after the sighting, and he had talked about the sighting with the people who had seen the UFO on the radar. He wanted to know what we thought about it.
When I told him that the sighting had been written off as weather, I remember that he got a funny look on his face and said, "Weather! What are you guys trying to pull, anyway?"
It was obvious that he didn't agree with our conclusion. I was interested in learning what this man thought because I knew that he was one of ADC's ace radar trouble shooters and that he traveled all over the world, on loan from ADC, to work out problems with radars.
"From the description of what the targets looked like on the radarscopes,
good, strong, bright images, I can't believe that they were caused by weather," he told me.
Then he went on to back up his argument by pointing out that when the ground radar was switched to short range both the F-94 and the unknown target disappeared. If just the unknown target had disappeared, then it could have been weather. But since both disappeared, very probably the radar set wasn't working on short ranges for some reason. Next he pointed out that if there was a temperature inversion, which is highly unlikely in northern Alaska, the same inversion that would affect the ground radar wouldn't be present at 25,000 feet or above.
I told him about the report from Oak Ridge that Captain James had used as an example, but he didn't buy this comparison. At Oak Ridge, he pointed out, that F-82 was at only 4,000 feet. He didn't know how the F-94's could get to within 200 yards of an object without seeing it, unless the object was painted a dull black.
"No," he said, "I can't believe that those radar targets were caused by weather. I'd be much more inclined to believe that they were something real, something that we just don't know about."
During the early spring of 1952 reports of radar sightings increased rapidly. Most of them came from the Air Defense Command, but a few came from other agencies. One day, soon after the Alaskan Incident, I got a telephone call from the chief of one of the sections of a civilian experimental radar laboratory in New York State. The people in this lab were working on the development of the latest types of radar. Several times recently, while testing radars, they had detected unidentified targets. To quote my caller, "Some damn odd things are happening that are beginning to worry me." He went on to tell how the people in his lab had checked their radars, the weather, and everything else they could think of, but they could find absolutely nothing to account for the targets; they could only conclude that they were real. I promised him that his information would get to the right people if he'd put it in a letter and send it to ATIC. In about a week the letter arrived—hand-carried by no less than a general. The general, who was from Headquarters, Air Matériel Command, had been in New York at the radar laboratory, and he had heard about the UFO reports. He had personally checked into them because he knew that the people at the lab were some of the sharpest radar engineers in the world. When he found out that these people had already contacted us and had prepared a report for us, he offered to hand-carry it to Wright-Patterson.
I can't divulge how high these targets were flying or how fast they were going because it would give an indication of the performance of
our latest radar, which is classified Secret. I can say, however, that they were flying mighty high and mighty fast.
I turned the letter over to ATIC's electronics branch, and they promised to take immediate action. They did, and really fouled it up. The person who received the report in the electronics branch was one of the old veterans of Projects Sign and Grudge. He knew all about UFO's. He got on the phone, called the radar lab, and told the chief (a man who possibly wrote all of the textbooks this person had used in college) all about how a weather inversion can cause false targets on weather. He was gracious enough to tell the chief of the radar lab to call if he had any more "trouble."
We never heard from them again. Maybe they found out what their targets were. Or maybe they joined ranks with the airline pilot who told me that if a flying saucer flew wing tip to wing tip formation with him, he'd never tell the Air Force.
In early February I made another trip to Air Defense Command Headquarters in Colorado Springs. This time it was to present a definite plan of how ADC could assist ATIC in getting better data on UFO's. I briefed General Benjamin W. Chidlaw, then the Commanding General of the Air Defense Command, and his staff, telling them about our plan. They agreed with it in principle and suggested that I work out the details with the Director of Intelligence for ADC, Brigadier General W. M. Burgess. General Burgess designated Major Verne Sadowski of his staff to be the ADC liaison officer with Project Grudge.
This briefing started a long period of close co-operation between Project Grudge and ADC, and it was a pleasure to work with these people. In all of my travels around the government, visiting and conferring with dozens of agencies, I never had the pleasure of working with or seeing a more smoothly operating and efficient organization than the Air Defense Command. General Chidlaw and General Burgess, along with the rest of the staff at ADC, were truly great officers. None of them were believers in flying saucers, but they recognized the fact that UFO reports were a problem that must be considered. With technological progress what it is today, you can't afford to have anything in the air that you can't identify, be it balloons, meteors, planets or flying saucers.
The plan that ADC agreed to was very simple. They agreed to issue a directive to all of their units explaining the UFO situation and telling specifically what to do in case one was detected. All radar units equipped with radarscope cameras would be required to take scope photos of targets that fell into the UFO category—targets that were not airplanes or known weather phenomena. These photos, along with a completed technical
questionnaire that would be made up at ATIC by Captain Roy James, would be forwarded to Project Grudge.
The Air Defense Command UFO directive would also clarify the scrambling of fighters to intercept a UFO. Since it is the policy of the Air Defense Command to establish the identity of any unidentified target, there were no special orders issued for scrambling fighters to try to identify reported UFO's. A UFO was something unknown and automatically called for a scramble. However, there had been some hesitancy on the part of controllers to send airplanes up whenever radar picked up a target that obviously was not an airplane. The directive merely pointed out to the controllers that it was within the scope of existing regulations to scramble on radar targets that were plotted as traveling too fast or too slow to be conventional airplanes. The decision to scramble fighters was still up to the individual controller, however, and scrambling on UFO's would be a second or third priority.
The Air Defense Command UFO directive did not mention shooting at a UFO. This question came up during our planning meeting at Colorado Springs, but, like the authority to scramble, the authority to shoot at anything in the air had been established long ago. Every ADC pilot knows the rules for engagement, the rules that tell him when he can shoot the loaded guns that he always carries. If anything in the air over the United States commits any act that is covered by the rules for engagement, the pilot has the authority to open fire.
The third thing that ADC would do would be to integrate the Ground Observer Corps into the UFO reporting net. As a second priority, the GOC would report UFO's—first priority would still be reporting aircraft.
Ever since the new Project Grudge had been organized, we hadn't had to deal with any large-scale publicity about UFO's. Occasionally someone would bring in a local item from some newspaper about a UFO sighting, but the sightings never rated more than an inch or two column space. But on February 19, 1952, the calm was broken by the story of how a huge ball of fire paced two B-29's in Korea. The story didn't start a rash of reports as the story of the first UFO sighting did in June 1947, but it was significant in that it started a slow build-up of publicity that was far to surpass anything in the past.
This Korean sighting also added to the growing official interest in Washington. Almost every day I was getting one or two telephone calls from some branch of the government, and I was going to Washington at least once every two weeks. I was beginning to spend as much time telling people what was going on as I was doing anything about it. The answer was to get somebody in the Directorate of Intelligence in the
[paragraph continues] Pentagon to act as a liaison officer. I could keep this person informed and he could handle the "branch office" in Washington. Colonel Dunn bought this idea, and Major Dewey J. Fournet got the additional duty of manager of the Pentagon branch. In the future all Pentagon inquiries went to Major Fournet, and if he couldn't answer them he would call me. The arrangement was excellent because Major Fournet took a very serious interest in UFO's and could always be counted on to do a good job.
Sometime in February 1952 I had a visit from two Royal Canadian Air Force officers. For some time, I learned, Canada had been getting her share of UFO reports. One of the latest ones, and the one that prompted the visit by the RCAF officers, occurred at North Bay, Ontario, about 250 miles north of Buffalo, New York. On two occasions an orange-red disk had been seen from a new jet fighter base in the area.
The Canadians wanted to know how we operated. I gave them the details of how we were currently operating and how we hoped to operate in the future, as soon as the procedures that were now in the planning stages could be put into operation. We agreed to try to set up channels so that we could exchange information and tie in the project they planned to establish with Project Grudge.
Our plans for continuing liaison didn't materialize, but through other RCAF intelligence officers I found out that their plans for an RCAF-sponsored project failed. A quasi-official UFO project was set up soon after this, however, and its objective was to use instruments to detect objects coming into the earth's atmosphere. In 1954 the project was closed down because during the two years of operation they hadn't officially detected any UFO's. My sources of information stressed the word "officially."
During the time that I was chief of the UFO project, the visitors who passed through my office closely resembled the international brigade. Most of the visits were unofficial in the sense that the officers came to ATIC on other business, but in many instances the other business was just an excuse to come out to Dayton to get filled in on the UFO story. Two RAF intelligence officers who were in the U.S. on a classified mission brought six single-spaced typed pages of questions they and their friends wanted answered. On many occasions Air Force intelligence officers who were stationed in England, France, and Germany, and who returned to the U.S. on business, took back stacks of unclassified flying saucer stories. One civilian intelligence agent who frequently traveled between the U.S. and Europe also acted as the unofficial courier for a German group—transporting hot newspaper and magazine articles about UFO's that I'd collected. In return I received the latest information on
[paragraph continues] European sightings—sightings that never were released and that we never received at ATIC through official channels.
Ever since the fateful day when Lieutenant Jerry Cummings dropped his horn-rimmed glasses down on his nose, tipped his head forward, peered at Major General Cabell over his glasses and, acting not at all like a first lieutenant, said that the UFO investigation was all fouled up, Project Grudge had been gaining prestige. Lieutenant Colonel Rosengarten's promise that I'd be on the project for only a few months went the way of all military promises. By March 1952, Project Grudge was no longer just a project within a group; we had become a separate organization, with the formal title of the Aerial Phenomena Group. Soon after this step-up in the chain of command the project code name was changed to Blue Book. The word "Grudge" was no longer applicable. For those people who like to try to read a hidden meaning into a name, I'll say that the code name Blue Book was derived from the title given to college tests. Both the tests and the project had an abundance of equally confusing questions.
Project Blue Book had been made a separate group because of the steadily increasing number of reports we were receiving. The average had jumped from about ten a month to twenty a month since December 1951. In March of 1952 the reports slacked off a little, but April was a big month. In April we received ninety-nine reports.
On April 1, Colonel S. H. Kirkland and I went to Los Angeles on business. Before we left ATIC we had made arrangements to attend a meeting of the Civilian Saucer Investigators, a now defunct organization that was very active in 1952.
They turned out to be a well-meaning but Don Quixote-type group of individuals. As soon as they outlined their plans for attempting to solve the UFO riddle, it was obvious that they would fail. Project Blue Book had the entire Air Force, money, and enthusiasm behind it and we weren't getting any answers yet. All this group had was the enthusiasm.
The highlight of the evening wasn't the Civilian Saucer Investigators, however; it was getting a chance to read Ginna's UFO article in an advance copy of Life magazine that the organization had obtained—the article written from the material Bob Ginna had been researching for over a year. Colonel Kirkwood took one long look at the article, sidled up to me, and said, "We'd better get back to Dayton quick; you're going to be busy." The next morning at dawn I was sound asleep on a United Airlines DC-6, Dayton-bound.
The Life article undoubtedly threw a harder punch at the American public than any other UFO article ever written. The title alone, "Have
[paragraph continues] We Visitors from Outer Space?" was enough. Other very reputable magazines, such as True, had said it before, but coming from Life, it was different. Life didn't say that the UFO's were from outer space; it just said maybe. But to back up this "maybe," it had quotes from some famous people. Dr. Walther Riedel, who played an important part in the development of the German V-2 missile and is presently the director of rocket engine research for North American Aviation Corporation, said he believed that the UFO's were from outer space. Dr. Maurice Biot, one of the world's leading aerodynamicists, backed him up.
But the most important thing about the Life article was the question in the minds of so many readers: "Why was it written?" Life doesn't go blasting off on flights of space fancy without a good reason. Some of the readers saw a clue in the author's comments that the hierarchy of the Air Force was now taking a serious look at UFO reports. "Did the Air Force prompt Life to write the article?" was the question that many people asked themselves.
When I arrived at Dayton, newspapermen were beating down the door. The official answer to the Life article was released through the Office of Public Information in the Pentagon: "The article is factual, but Life's conclusions are their own." In answer to any questions about the article's being Air Force-inspired, my weasel-worded answer was that we had furnished Life with some raw data on specific sightings.
My answer was purposely weasel-worded because I knew that the Air Force had unofficially inspired the Life article. The "maybe they're interplanetary" with the "maybe" bordering on "they are" was the personal opinion of several very high-ranking officers in the Pentagon—so high that their personal opinion was almost policy. I knew the men and I knew that one of them, a general, had passed his opinions on to Bob Ginna.
Oddly enough, the Life article did not cause a flood of reports. The day after the article appeared we got nine sightings, which was unusual, but the next day they dropped off again.
The number of reports did take a sharp rise a few days later, however. The cause was the distribution of an order that completed the transformation of the UFO from a bastard son to the family heir. The piece of paper that made Project Blue Book legitimate was Air Force Letter 200-5, Subject: Unidentified Flying Objects. The letter, which was duly signed and sealed by the Secretary of the Air Force, in essence stated that UFO's were not a joke, that the Air Force was making a serious study of the problem, and that Project Blue Book was responsible for the study. The letter stated that the commander of every Air Force
installation was responsible for forwarding all UFO reports to ATIC by wire, with a copy to the Pentagon. Then a more detailed report would be sent by airmail. Most important of all, it gave Project Blue Book the authority to directly contact any Air Force unit in the United States without going through any chain of command. This was almost unheard of in the Air Force and gave our project a lot of prestige.
The new reporting procedures established by the Air Force letter greatly aided our investigation because it allowed us to start investigating the better reports before they cooled off. But it also had its disadvantages. It authorized the sender to use whatever priority he thought the message warranted. Some things are slow in the military, but a priority message is not one of them. When it comes into the message center, it is delivered to the addressee immediately, and for some reason, all messages reporting UFO's seemed to arrive between midnight and 4:00 A.M. I was considered the addressee on all UFO reports. To complicate matters, the messages were usually classified and I would have to go out to the air base and personally sign for them.
One such message came in about 4:30 A.M. on May 8, 1952. It was from a CAA radio station in Jacksonville, Florida, and had been forwarded over the Flight Service teletype net. I received the usual telephone call from the teletype room at Wright-Patterson, I think I got dressed, and I went out and picked up the message. As I signed for it I remember the night man in the teletype room said, "This is a lulu, Captain."
It was a lulu. About one o'clock that morning a Pan-American airlines DC-4 was flying south toward Puerto Rico. A few hours after it had left New York City it was out over the Atlantic Ocean, about 600 miles off Jacksonville, Florida, flying at 8,000 feet. It was a pitch-black night; a high overcast even cut out the glow from the stars. The pilot and copilot were awake but really weren't concentrating on looking for other aircraft because they had just passed into the San Juan Oceanic Control Area and they had been advised by radio that there were no other airplanes in the area. The copilot was turning around to look at number four engine when he noticed a light up ahead. It looked like the taillight of another airplane. He watched it closely for a few seconds since no other airplanes were supposed to be in the area. He glanced out at number four engine for a few seconds, looked back, and he saw that the light was in about the same position as when he'd first seen it. Then he looked down at the prop controls, synchronized the engines, and looked up again. In the few seconds that he had glanced away from the light, it had moved to the right so that it was now directly ahead of the DC-4, and it had increased in size. The copilot reached over and slapped the pilot
on the shoulder and pointed. Just at that instant the light began to get bigger and bigger until it was "ten times the size of a landing light of an airplane." It continued to close in and with a flash it streaked by the DC-4's left wing. Before the crew could react and say anything, two more smaller balls of fire flashed by. Both pilots later said that they sat in their seats for several seconds with sweat trickling down their backs.
It was one of these two pilots who later said, "Were you ever traveling along the highway about 70 miles an hour at night, have the car that you were meeting suddenly swerve over into your lane and then cut back so that you just miss it by inches? You know the sort of sick, empty feeling you get when it's all over? That's just the way we felt."
As soon as the crew recovered from the shock, the pilot picked up his mike, called Jacksonville Radio, and told them about the incident. Minutes later we had the report. The next afternoon Lieutenant Kerry Rothstien, who had replaced Lieutenant Metscher on the project, was on his way to New York to meet the pilots when they returned from Puerto Rico.
When Kerry talked to the two pilots, they couldn't add a great deal to their original story. Their final comment was the one we all had heard so many times, "I always thought these people who reported flying saucers were crazy, but now I don't know."
When Lieutenant Rothstien returned to Dayton he triple-checked with the CAA for aircraft in the area—but there were none. Could there have been airplanes in the area that CAA didn't know about? The answer was almost a flat "No." No one would fly 600 miles off the coast without filing a flight plan; if he got into trouble or went down, the Coast Guard or Air Rescue Service would have no idea where to look.
Kerry was given the same negative answer when he checked on surface shipping.
The last possibility was that the UFO's were meteors, but several points in the pilots' story ruled these out. First, there was a solid overcast at about 18,000 feet. No meteor cruises along straight and level below 18,000 feet. Second, on only rare occasions have meteors been seen traveling three in trail. The chances of seeing such a phenomenon are well over one in a billion.
Some people have guessed that some kind of an atmospheric phenomenon can form a "wall of air" ahead of an airplane that will act as a mirror and that lights seen at night by pilots are nothing more than the reflection of the airplane's own lights. This could be true in some cases, but to have a reflection you must have a light to reflect. There
are no lights on an airplane that even approach being "ten times the size of a landing light."
What was it? I know a colonel who says it was the same thing that the two Eastern Airlines’ pilots, Clarence Chiles and John Whitted, saw near Montgomery, Alabama, on July 24, 1948, and he thinks that Chiles and Whitted saw a spaceship.
Reports for the month of April set an all-time high. These were all reports that came from military installations. In addition, we received possibly two hundred letters reporting UFO's, but we were so busy all we could do was file them for future reference.
In May 1952 I'd been out to George AFB in California investigating a series of sightings and was on my way home. I remember the flight to Dayton because the weather was bad all the way. I didn't want to miss my connecting flight in Chicago, or get grounded, because I had faithfully promised my wife that we would go out to dinner the night that I returned to Dayton. I'd called her from Los Angeles to tell her that I was coming in, and she had found a baby sitter and had dinner reservations. I hadn't been home more than about two days a week for the past three months, and she was looking forward to going out for the evening.
I reached Dayton about midmorning and went right out to the base. When I arrived at the office, my secretary was gone but there was a big note on my desk: "Call Colonel Dunn as soon as you get in."
I called Colonel Dunn; then I called my wife and told her to cancel the baby sitter, cancel the dinner reservations, and pack my other bag. I had to go to Washington.
While I'd been in California, Colonel Dunn had received a call from General Samford's office. It seems that a few nights before, one of the top people in the Central Intelligence Agency was having a lawn party at his home just outside Alexandria, Virginia. A number of notable personages were in attendance and they had seen a flying saucer. The report had been passed down to Air Force intelligence, and due to the quality of the brass involved, it was "suggested" that I get to Washington on the double and talk to the host of the party. I was at his office before 5:00 P.M. and got his report.
About ten o'clock in the evening he and two other people were standing near the edge of his yard talking; he happened to be facing south, looking off across the countryside. He digressed a bit from his story to explain that his home is on a hilltop in the country, and when looking south, he had a view of the entire countryside. While he was talking to the two other people he noticed a light approaching from the west. He had assumed it was an airplane and had casually watched it, but
when the light got fairly close, the CIA man said that he suddenly realized there wasn't any sound associated with it. If it were an airplane it would have been close enough for him to hear even above the hum of the guests’ conversations. He had actually quit talking and was looking at the light when it stopped for an instant and began to climb almost vertically. He said something to the other guests, and they looked up just in time to see the light finish its climb, stop, and level out. They all watched it travel level for a few seconds, then go into a nearly vertical dive, level out, and streak off to the east.
Most everyone at the party had seen the light before it disappeared, and within minutes several friendly arguments as to what it was had developed, I was told. One person thought it was a lighted balloon, and a retired general thought it was an airplane. To settle the arguments, they had made a few telephone calls. I might add that these people were such that the mention of their names on a telephone got quick results. Radar in the Washington area said that there had been no airplanes flying west to east south of Alexandria in the past hour. The weather station at Bolling AFB said that there were no balloons in the area, but as a double check the weather people looked at their records of high-altitude winds. It couldn't have been a balloon because none of the winds up to 65,000 feet were blowing from west to east—and to be able to see a light on a balloon, it has to be well below 65,000 feet; the man from CIA told me that they had even considered the possibility that the UFO was a meteor and that the "jump" had been due to some kind of an atmospheric distortion. But the light had been in sight too long to be a meteor. He added that an army chaplain and two teetotaler guests had also seen the light jump.
There wasn't much left for me to do when I finished talking to the man. He and his guests had already made all of the checks that I'd have made. All I could do was go back to Dayton, write up his report, and stamp it "Unknown."
Back in March, when it had become apparent that the press was reviving its interest in UFO's, I had suggested that Project Blue Book subscribe to a newspaper clipping service. Such a service could provide several things. First, it would show us exactly how much publicity the UFO's were getting and what was being said, and it would give us the feel of the situation. Then it would also provide a lot of data for our files. In many cases the newspapers got reports that didn't go to the Air Force. Newspaper reporters rival any intelligence officer when it comes to digging up facts, and there was always the possibility that they would uncover and print something we'd missed. This was especially true in the few
cases of hoaxes that always accompany UFO publicity. Last, it would provide us with material on which to base a study of the effect of newspaper publicity upon the number and type of UFO reports.
Colonel Dunn liked the idea of the clipping service, and it went into effect soon after the first publicity had appeared. Every three or four days we would get an envelope full of clippings. In March the clipping service was sending the clippings to us in letter-sized envelopes. The envelopes were thin—maybe there would be a dozen or so clippings in each one. Then they began to get thicker and thicker, until the people who were doing the clipping switched to using manila envelopes. Then the manila envelopes began to get thicker and thicker. By May we were up to old shoe boxes. The majority of the newspaper stories in the shoe boxes were based on material that had come from ATIC.
All of these inquiries from the press were adding to Blue Book's work load and to my problems. Normally a military unit such as ATIC has its own public information officer, but we had none so I was it. I was being quoted quite freely in the press and was repeatedly being snarled at by someone in the Pentagon. It was almost a daily occurrence to have people from the "puzzle palace" call and indignantly ask, "Why did you tell them that?" They usually referred to some bit of information that somebody didn't think should have been released. I finally gave up and complained to Colonel Dunn. I suggested that any contacts with the press be made through the Office of Public Information in the Pentagon. These people were trained and paid to do this job; I wasn't. Colonel Dunn heartily agreed because every time I got chewed out he at least got a dirty look.
Colonel Dunn called General Samford's office and they brought in General Sory Smith of the Department of Defense, Office of Public Information. General Smith appointed a civilian on the Air Force Press Desk, Al Chop, to handle all inquiries from the press. The plan was that Al would try to get his answers from Major Dewey Fournet, Blue Book's liaison officer in the Pentagon, and if Dewey didn't have the answer, Al had permission to call me.
This arrangement worked out fine because Al Chop had been through previous UFO publicity battles when he was in the Office of Public Information at Wright Field.
The interest in the UFO's that was shown by the press in May was surpassed only by the interest of the Pentagon. Starting in May, I gave on the average of one briefing in Washington every two weeks, and there was always a full house. From the tone of the official comments to the public about UFO's, it would indicate that there wasn't a great deal of
interest, but nothing could be further from the truth. People say a lot of things behind a door bearing a sign that reads "Secret Briefing in Progress."
After one of the briefings a colonel (who is now a brigadier general) presented a plan that called for using several flights of F-94C jet interceptors for the specific purpose of trying to get some good photographs of UFO's. The flight that he proposed would be an operational unit with six aircraft—two would be on constant alert. The F-94C's, then the hottest operational jet we had, would be stripped of all combat gear to give them peak performance, and they would carry a special camera in the nose. The squadrons would be located at places in the United States where UFO's were most frequently seen.
The plan progressed to the point of estimating how soon enough airplanes for two flights could be stripped, how soon special cameras could be built, and whether or not two specific Air Force bases in the U.S. could support the units.
Finally the colonel's plan was shelved, but not because he was considered to be crazy. After considerable study and debate at high command level, it was decided that twelve F-94C's couldn't be spared for the job and it would have been ineffective to use fewer airplanes.
The consideration that the colonel's plan received was an indication of how some of the military people felt about the importance of finding out exactly what the UFO's really were. And in the discussions the words "interplanetary craft" came up more than once.
Requests for briefings came even from the highest figure in the Air Force, Thomas K. Finletter, then the Secretary for Air. On May 8, 1952, Lieutenant Colonel R. J. Taylor of Colonel Dunn's staff and I presented an hour-long briefing to Secretary Finletter and his staff. He listened intently and asked several questions about specific sightings when the briefing was finished. If he was at all worried about the UFO's he certainly didn't show it. His only comment was, "You're doing a fine job, Captain. It must be interesting. Thank you."
Then he made the following statement for the press:
"No concrete evidence has yet reached us either to prove or disprove the existence of the so-called flying saucers. There remain, however, a number of sightings that the Air Force investigators have been unable to explain. As long as this is true, the Air Force will continue to study flying saucer reports."
In May 1952, Project Blue Book received seventy-nine UFO reports compared to ninety-nine in April. It looked as if we'd passed the peak and were now on the downhill side. The 178 reports of the past two
months, not counting the thousand or so letters that we'd received directly from the public, had piled up a sizable backlog since we'd had time to investigate and analyze only the better reports. During June we planned to clear out the backlog, and then we could relax.
But never underestimate the power of a UFO. In June the big flap hit—they began to deliver clippings in big cardboard cartons.