The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects - 17
What Are UFO's?
While the scientists were in Washington, D.C., pondering over the UFO, the UFO's weren't just sitting idly by waiting to find out what they were—they were out doing a little "lobbying" for the cause—keeping the interest stirred up.
And they were doing a good job, too.
It was just a few minutes before midnight on January 28, 1953, when a message flashed into Wright-Patterson for Project Blue Book. It was sent "Operational Immediate," so it had priority handling; I was reading it by 12:30 A.M. A pilot had chased a UFO.
The report didn't have many details but it did sound good. It gave the pilot's name and said that he could be reached at Moody AFB. I put in a long-distance call, found the pilot, and flipped on my recorder so that I could get his story word for word.
He told me that he had been flying an F-86 on a "round-robin" navigation flight from Moody AFB to Lawson AFB to Robins AFB, then back to Moody—all in Georgia. At exactly nine thirty-five he was at 6,000 feet, heading toward Lawson AFB on the first leg of his flight. He remembered that he had just looked down and had seen the lights of Albany, Georgia; then he'd looked up again and seen this bright white light at "ten o'clock high." It was an unusually bright light, and he said that he thought this was why it was so noticeable among the stars. He flew on for a few minutes watching it as he passed over Albany. He decided that it must be an extremely bright star or another airplane—except it just didn't look right. It had too much of a definitely circular shape.
It was a nice night to fly and he had to get in so much time anyway, so he thought he'd try to get a little closer to it. If it was an airplane, chances were he could close in and if it was a star, he should be able to climb up to 30,000 feet and the light shouldn't change its relative position. He checked his oxygen supply, increased the r.p.m. of the engine, and started to climb. In three or four minutes it was obvious that he was getting above the light, and he watched it; it had moved in relation to the
stars. It must be an airplane then, he'd decided—an airplane so far away that he couldn't see its red and green wing tip lights.
Since he'd gone this far, he decided that he'd get closer and make sure it was an airplane; so he dropped the nose of the F-86 and started down. As the needle on the machmeter nudged the red line, he saw that he was getting closer because the light was getting bigger, but still he couldn't see any lights other than the one big white one. Then it wasn't white any longer; it was changing color. In about a two-second cycle it changed from white to red, then back to white again. It went through this cycle two or three times, and then before he could realize what was going on, he told me, the light changed in shape to a perfect triangle. Then it split into two triangles, one above the other. By this time he had leveled off and wasn't closing in any more. In a flash the whole thing was gone. He used the old standard description for a disappearing UFO: "It was just like someone turning off a light—it's there, then it's gone."
I asked him what he thought he'd seen. He'd thought about flying saucers, he said, but he "just couldn't swallow those stories." He thought he had a case of vertigo and the more he thought about it, the surer he was that this was the answer. He'd felt pretty foolish, he told me, and he was glad that he was alone.
Up ahead he saw the sprawling lights of Fort Benning and Lawson AFB, his turning point on the flight, and he'd started to turn but then he'd checked his fuel. The climb had used up quite a bit, so he changed his mind about going to Robins AFB and started straight back to Moody.
He called in to the ground station to change his flight plan, but before he could say anything the ground radio operator asked him if he'd seen a mysterious light.
Well—he'd seen a light.
Then the ground operator proceeded to tell him that the UFO chase had been watched on radar. First the radar had the UFO target on the scope, and it was a UFO because it was traveling much too slowly to be an airplane. Then the radar operators saw the F-86 approach, climb, and make a shallow dive toward the UFO. At first the F-86 had closed in on the UFO, but then the UFO had speeded up just enough to maintain a comfortable lead. This went on for two or three minutes; then it had moved off the scope at a terrific speed. The radar site had tried to call him, the ground station told the F-86 pilot, but they couldn't raise him so the message had to be relayed through the tower.
Rack up two more points for the UFO—another unknown and another confirmed believer.
Two or three weeks after the meeting of the panel of scientists in Washington I received word that Project Blue Book would follow the recommendations that the panel had made. I was to start implementing the plan right away. Our proposal for setting up instruments had gone to the Pentagon weeks before, so that was already taken care of. We needed more people, so I drew up a new organizational cable that called for more investigators and analysts and sent it through to ATIC's personnel section.
About this time in the history of the UFO the first of a series of snags came up. The scientists had strongly recommended that we hold nothing back—give the public everything. Accordingly, when the press got wind of the Tremonton Movie, which up until this time had been a closely guarded secret, I agreed to release it for the newsmen to see. I wrote a press release which was O.K.’d by General Garland, then the chief of ATIC, and sent it to the Pentagon. It told what the panel had said about the movies, "until proved otherwise there is no reason why the UFO's couldn't have been sea gulls." Then the release went on to say that we weren't sure exactly what the UFO's were, the sea gull theory was only an opinion. When the Pentagon got the draft of the release they screamed, "No!" No movie for the press and no press release. The sea gull theory was too weak, and we had a new publicity policy as of now—don't say anything.
This policy, incidentally, is still in effect. The January 7, 1955, issue of the Air Force Information Services Letter said, in essence, people in the Air Force are talking too much about UFO's—shut up. The old theory that if you ignore them they'll go away is again being followed.
Inside of a month the UFO project took a few more hard jolts. In December of 1952 I'd asked for a transfer. I'd agreed to stay on as chief of Blue Book until the end of February so that a replacement could be obtained and be broken in. But no replacement showed up. And none showed up when Lieutenant Rothstien's tour of active duty ended, when Lieutenant Andy Flues transferred to the Alaskan Air Command, or when others left. When I left the UFO project for a two-month tour of temporary duty in Denver, Lieutenant Bob Olsson took over as chief. His staff consisted of Airman First Class Max Futch. Both men were old veterans of the UFO campaign of ’52, but two people can do only so much.
When I came back to ATIC in July 1953 and took over another job, Lieutenant Olsson was just getting out of the Air Force and A1/c Futch was now it. He said that he felt like the President of Antarctica on a non-expedition year. In a few days I again had Project Blue Book, as an additional duty this time, and I had orders to "build it up."
While I had been gone, our instrumentation plan had been rejected. Higher headquarters had decided against establishing a net of manned tracking stations, astronomical cameras tied in with radars, and our other proposed instrumentation. General Garland had argued long and hard for the plan, but he'd lost. It was decided that the cameras with diffraction gratings over the lenses, the cameras that had been under development for a year, would suffice.
The camera program had started out as a top-priority project, but it had lost momentum fast when we'd tested these widely publicized instruments and found that they wouldn't satisfactorily photograph a million-candle power flare at 450 yards. The cameras themselves were all right, but in combination with the gratings, they were no good. However, Lieutenant Olsson had been told to send them out, so he sent them out.
The first thing that I did when I returned to Project Blue Book was to go over the reports that had come in while I was away. There were several good reports but only one that was exceptional. It had taken place at Luke AFB, Arizona, the Air Force's advanced fighter-bomber school that is named after the famous "balloon buster" of World War I, Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. It was a sighting that produced some very interesting photographs.
There were only a few high cirrus clouds in the sky late on the morning of March 3 when a pilot took off from Luke in an F-84 jet to log some time. He had been flying F-51's in Korea and had recently started to check out in the jets. He took off, cleared the traffic pattern, and started climbing toward Blythe Radio, about 130 miles west of Luke. He'd climbed for several minutes and had just picked up the coded letters BLH that identified Blythe Radio when he looked up through the corner glass in the front part of his canopy—high at about two o'clock he saw what he thought was an airplane angling across his course from left to right leaving a long, thin vapor trail. He glanced down at his altimeter and saw that he was at 23,000 feet. The object that was leaving the vapor trail must really be high, he remembered thinking, because he couldn't see any airplane at the head of it. He altered his course a few degrees to the right so that he could follow the trail and increased his rate of climb. Before long he could tell that he was gaining on the object, or whatever was leaving the vapor trail, because he was under the central part of it. But he still couldn't see any object. This was odd, he thought, because vapor trails don't just happen; something has to leave them. His altimeter had ticked off another 12,000 feet and he was now at 35,000. He kept on climbing, but soon the ’84 began to mush; it was as high as it would go. The pilot dropped down 1,000 feet and continued on—now he was below
the front of the trail, but still no airplane. This bothered him too. Nothing that we have flies over 55,000 feet except a few experimental airplanes like the D-558 or those of the "X" series, and they don't stray far from Edwards AFB in California. He couldn't be more than 15,000 feet from the front of the trail, and you can recognize any kind of an airplane 15,000 feet away in the clear air of the substratosphere. He looked and he looked and he looked. He rocked the F-84 back and forth thinking maybe he had a flaw in the plexiglass of the canopy that was blinking out the airplane, but still no airplane. Whatever it was, it was darn high or darn small. It was moving about 300 miles an hour because he had to pull off power and "S" to stay under it.
He was beginning to get low on fuel about this time so he hauled up the nose of the jet, took about 30 feet of gun camera film, and started down. When he landed and told his story, the film was quickly processed and rushed to the projection room. It showed a weird, thin, forked vapor trail—but no airplane.
Lieutenant Olsson and Airman Futch had worked this one over thoroughly. The photo lab confirmed that the trail was definitely a vapor trail, not a freak cloud formation. But Air Force Flight Service said, "No other airplanes in the area," and so did Air Defense Command, because minutes after the F-84 pilot broke off contact, the "object" had passed into an ADIZ—Air Defense Identification Zone—and radar had shown nothing.
There was one last possibility: Blue Book's astronomer said that the photos looked exactly like a meteor's smoke trail. But there was one hitch: the pilot was positive that the head of the vapor trail was moving at about 300 miles an hour. He didn't know exactly how much ground he'd covered, but when he first picked up Blythe Radio he was on Green 5 airway, about 30 miles west of his base, and when he'd given up the chase he'd gotten another radio bearing, and he was now almost up to Needles Radio, 70 miles north of Blythe. He could see a lake, Lake Mojave, in the distance.
Could a high-altitude jet-stream wind have been blowing the smoke cloud? Futch had checked this—no. The winds above 20,000 feet were the usual westerlies and the jet stream was far to the north.
Several months later I talked to a captain who had been at Luke when this sighting occurred. He knew the F-84 pilot and he'd heard him tell his story in great detail. I won't say that he was a confirmed believer, but he was interested. "I never thought much about these reports before," he said, "but I know this guy well. He's not nuts. What do you think he saw?"
I don't know what he saw. Maybe he didn't travel as far as he thought he did. If he didn't, then I'd guess that he saw a meteor's smoke trail. But if he did know that he'd covered some 80 miles during the chase, I'd say
that he saw a UFO—a real one. And I find it hard to believe that pilots don't know what they're doing.
During the summer of 1953, UFO reports dropped off considerably. During May, June, and July of 1952 we'd received 637 good reports. During the same months in 1953 we received only seventy-six. We had been waiting for the magic month of July to roll around again because every July there had been the sudden and unexplained peak in reporting; we wanted to know if it would happen again. It didn't—only twenty-one reports came in, to make July the lowest month of the year. But July did bring new developments.
Project Blue Book got a badly needed shot in the arm when an unpublicized but highly important change took place: another intelligence agency began to take over all field investigations.
Ever since I'd returned to the project, the orders had been to build it up—get more people—do what the panel recommended. But when I'd asked for more people, all I got was a polite "So sorry." So, I did the next best thing and tried to find some organization already in being which could and would help us. I happened to be expounding my troubles one day at Air Defense Command Headquarters while I was briefing General Burgess, ADC's Director of Intelligence, and he told me about his 4602nd Air Intelligence Squadron, a specialized intelligence unit that had recently become operational. Maybe it could help—he'd see what he could work out, he told me.
Now in the military all commitments to do something carry an almost standard time factor. "I'll expedite it," means nothing will happen for at least two weeks. "I'll do it right away," means from a month to six weeks. An answer like, "I'll see what I can work out," requires writing a memo that explains what the person was going to see if he could work out and sealing it in a time capsule for preservation so that when the answer finally does come through the future generation that receives it will know how it all started. But I underestimated the efficiency of the Air Defense Command. Inside of two weeks General Burgess had called General Garland, they'd discussed the problem, and I was back in Colorado Springs setting up a program with Colonel White's 4602nd.
The 4602nd’s primary function is to interrogate captured enemy airmen during wartime; in peacetime all that they can do is participate in simulated problems. Investigating UFO reports would supplement these problems and add a factor of realism that would be invaluable in their training. The 4602nd had field teams spread out all over the United States, and these teams could travel anywhere by airplane, helicopter, canoe, jeep, or skis on a minute's notice. The field teams had already established a
working contact with the highway patrols, sheriffs' offices, police, and the other military in their respective areas, so they were in an excellent position to collect facts about a UFO report. Each member of the field teams had been especially chosen and trained in the art of interrogation, and each team had a technical specialist. We couldn't have asked for a better ally.
Project Blue Book was once more back in business. Until the formal paper work went through, our plan was that whenever a UFO report worth investigating came in we would call the 4602nd and they would get a team out right away. The team would make a thorough investigation and wire us their report. If the answer came back "Unknown," we would study the details of the sighting and, with the help of Project Bear, try to find the answer.
A few weeks after the final plans had been made with the 4602nd, I again bade farewell to Project Blue Book. In a simple ceremony on the poop deck of one of the flying saucers that I frequently have been accused of capturing, before a formation of the three-foot-tall green men that I have equally as frequently been accused of keeping prisoner, I turned my command over to A1/c Max Futch and walked out the door into civilian life with separation orders in hand.
The UFO's must have known that I was leaving because the day I found out that officers with my specialty, technical intelligence, were no longer on the critical list and that I could soon get out of the service, they really put on a show. The show they put on is still the best UFO report in the Air Force files.
I first heard about the sighting about two o'clock on the morning of August 13, 1953, when Max Futch called me from ATIC. A few minutes before a wire had come in carrying a priority just under that reserved for flashing the word the U.S. has been attacked. Max had been called over to ATIC by the OD to see the report, and he thought that I should see it. I was a little hesitant to get dressed and go out to the base, so I asked Max what he thought about the report. His classic answer will go down in UFO history, "Captain," Max said in his slow, pure Louisiana drawl, "you know that for a year I've read every flying saucer report that's come in and that I never really believed in the things." Then he hesitated and added, so fast that I could hardly understand him, "But you should read this wire." The speed with which he uttered this last statement was in itself enough to convince me. When Max talked fast, something was important.
A half hour later I was at ATIC—just in time to get a call from the Pentagon. Someone else had gotten out of bed to read his copy of the wire.
I used the emergency orders that I always kept in my desk and caught the first airliner out of Dayton to Rapid City, South Dakota. I didn't call the 4602nd because I wanted to investigate this one personally. I talked to everyone involved in the incident and pieced together an amazing story.
Shortly after dark on the night of the twelfth, the Air Defense Command radar station at Ellsworth AFB, just east of Rapid City, had received a call from the local Ground Observer Corps filter center. A lady spotter at Black Hawk, about 10 miles west of Ellsworth, had reported an extremely bright light low on the horizon, off to the northeast. The radar had been scanning an area to the west, working a jet fighter in some practice patrols, but when they got the report they moved the sector scan to the northeast quadrant. There was a target exactly where the lady reported the light to be. The warrant officer, who was the duty controller for the night, told me that he'd studied the target for several minutes. He knew how weather could affect radar but this target was "well defined, solid, and bright." It seemed to be moving, but very slowly. He called for an altitude reading, and the man on the height-finding radar checked his scope. He also had the target—it was at 16,000 feet.
The warrant officer picked up the phone and asked the filter center to connect him with the spotter. They did, and the two people compared notes on the UFO's position for several minutes. But right in the middle of a sentence the lady suddenly stopped and excitedly said, "It's starting to move—it's moving southwest toward Rapid."
The controller looked down at his scope and the target was beginning to pick up speed and move southwest. He yelled at two of his men to run outside and take a look. In a second or two one of them shouted back that they could both see a large bluish-white light moving toward Rapid City. The controller looked down at his scope—the target was moving toward Rapid City. As all three parties watched the light and kept up a steady cross conversation of the description, the UFO swiftly made a wide sweep around Rapid City and returned to its original position in the sky.
A master sergeant who had seen and heard the happenings told me that in all his years of duty—combat radar operations in both Europe and Korea—he'd never been so completely awed by anything. When the warrant officer had yelled down at him and asked him what he thought they should do, he'd just stood there. "After all," he told me, "what in hell could we do—they're bigger than all of us."
But the warrant officer did do something. He called to the F-84 pilot he had on combat air patrol west of the base and told him to get ready for an intercept. He brought the pilot around south of the base and gave him a course correction that would take him right into the light, which
was still at 16,000 feet. By this time the pilot had it spotted. He made the turn, and when he closed to within about 3 miles of the target, it began to move. The controller saw it begin to move, the spotter saw it begin to move and the pilot saw it begin to move—all at the same time. There was now no doubt that all of them were watching the same object.
Once it began to move, the UFO picked up speed fast and started to climb, heading north, but the F-84 was right on its tail. The pilot would notice that the light was getting brighter, and he'd call the controller to tell him about it. But the controller's answer would always be the same, "Roger, we can see it on the scope."
There was always a limit as to how near the jet could get, however. The controller told me that it was just as if the UFO had some kind of an automatic warning radar linked to its power supply. When something got too close to it, it would automatically pick up speed and pull away. The separation distance always remained about 3 miles.
The chase continued on north—out of sight of the lights of Rapid City and the base—into some very black night.
When the UFO and the F-84 got about 120 miles to the north, the pilot checked his fuel; he had to come back. And when I talked to him, he said he was damn glad that he was running out of fuel because being out over some mighty desolate country alone with a UFO can cause some worry.
Both the UFO and the F-84 had gone off the scope, but in a few minutes the jet was back on, heading for home. Then 10 or 15 miles behind it was the UFO target also coming back.
While the UFO and the F-84 were returning to the base—the F-84 was planning to land—the controller received a call from the jet interceptor squadron on the base. The alert pilots at the squadron had heard the conversations on their radio and didn't believe it. "Who's nuts up there?" was the comment that passed over the wire from the pilots to the radar people. There was an F-84 on the line ready to scramble, the man on the phone said, and one of the pilots, a World War II and Korean veteran, wanted to go up and see a flying saucer. The controller said, "O.K., go."
In a minute or two the F-84 was airborne and the controller was working him toward the light. The pilot saw it right away and closed in. Again the light began to climb out, this time more toward the northeast. The pilot also began to climb, and before long the light, which at first had been about 30 degrees above his horizontal line of sight, was now below him. He nosed the '84 down to pick up speed, but it was the same old story—as soon as he'd get within 3 miles of the UFO, it would put on a burst of speed and stay out ahead.
Even though the pilot could see the light and hear the ground controller
telling him that he was above it, and alternately gaining on it or dropping back, he still couldn't believe it—there must be a simple explanation. He turned off all of his lights—it wasn't a reflection from any of the airplane's lights because there it was. A reflection from a ground light, maybe. He rolled the airplane—the position of the light didn't change. A star—he picked out three bright stars near the light and watched carefully. The UFO moved in relation to the three stars. Well, he thought to himself, if it's a real object out there, my radar should pick it up too; so he flipped on his radar-ranging gunsight. In a few seconds the red light on his sight blinked on—something real and solid was in front of him. Then he was scared. When I talked to him, he readily admitted that he'd been scared. He'd met MD 109's, FW 190's and ME 262's over Germany and he'd met MIG-15's over Korea but the large, bright, bluish-white light had scared him—he asked the controller if he could break off the intercept.
This time the light didn't come back.
When the UFO went off the scope it was headed toward Fargo, North Dakota, so the controller called the Fargo filter center. "Had they had any reports of unidentified lights?" he asked. They hadn't.
But in a few minutes a call came back. Spotter posts on a southwest-northeast line a few miles west of Fargo had reported a fast-moving, bright bluish-white light.
This was an unknown—the best.
The sighting was thoroughly investigated, and I could devote pages of detail on how we looked into every facet of the incident; but it will suffice to say that in every facet we looked into we saw nothing. Nothing but a big question mark asking what was it.
When I left Project Blue Book and the Air Force I severed all official associations with the UFO. But the UFO is like hard drink; you always seem to drift back to it. People I've met, people at work, and friends of friends are continually asking about the subject. In the past few months the circulation manager of a large Los Angeles newspaper, one of Douglas Aircraft Company's top scientists, a man who is guiding the future development of the supersecret Atlas intercontinental guided missile, a movie star, and a German rocket expert have called me and wanted to get together to talk about UFO's. Some of them had seen one.
I have kept up with the activity of the UFO and Project Blue Book over the past two years through friends who are still in intelligence. Before Max Futch got out of the Air Force and went back to law school he wrote to me quite often and a part of his letters were always devoted to the latest about the UFO's.
Then I make frequent business trips to ATIC, and I always stop in to
see Captain Charles Hardin, who is now in charge of Blue Book, for a "What's new?" I always go to ATIC with the proper security clearances so I'm sure I get a straight answer to my question.
Since I left ATIC, the UFO's haven't gone away and neither has the interest. There hasn't been too much about them in the newspapers because of the present Air Force policy of silence, but they're with us. That the interest is still with us is attested to by the fact that in late 1953 Donald Keyhoe's book about UFO's, Flying Saucers from Outer Space, immediately appeared on best seller lists. The book was based on a few of our good UFO reports that were released to the press. To say that the book is factual depends entirely upon how one uses the word. The details of the specific UFO sightings that he credits to the Air Force are factual, but in his interpretations of the incidents he blasts way out into the wild blue yonder.
During the past two years the bulk of the UFO activity has taken place in Europe. I might add here that I have never seen any recent official UFO reports or studies from other countries; all of my information about the European Flap came from friends. But when these friends are in the intelligence branches of the U.S. Air Force, the RAF, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the data can be considered at least good.
The European Flap started in the summer of 1953, when reports began to pop up in England and France. Quality-wise these first reports weren't too good, however. But then, like a few reports that occurred early in the stateside Big Flap of 1952, sightings began to drift in that packed a bit of a jolt. Reports came in that had been made by personal friends of the brass in the British and French Air Forces. Then some of the brass saw them. Corners of mouths started down.
In September several radar sites in the London area picked up unidentified targets streaking across the city at altitudes of from 44,000 to 68,000 feet. The crews who saw the targets said, "Not weather," and some of these crews had been through the bloody Battle of Britain. They knew their radar.
In October the crew of a British European Airways airliner reported that a "strange aerial object" had paced their twin-engined Elizabethan for thirty minutes. Then on November 3, about two-thirty in the afternoon, radar in the London area again picked up targets. This time two Vampire jets were scrambled and the pilots saw a "strange aerial object." The men at the radar site saw it too; through their telescope it looked like a "flat, white-coloured tennis ball."
The flap continued into 1954. In January those people who officially keep track of the UFO's pricked up their ears when the report of two
[paragraph continues] Swedish airline pilots came in. The pilots had gotten a good look before the UFO had streaked into a cloud bank. It looked like a discus with a hump in the middle.
On through the spring reports poured out of every country in Europe. Some were bad, some were good.
On July 3, 1954, at eight-fifteen in the morning, the captain, the officers and 463 passengers on a Dutch ocean liner watched a "greenish-colored, saucer-shaped object about half the size of a full moon" as it sped across the sky and disappeared into a patch of high clouds.
There was one fully documented and substantiated case of a "landing" during the flap. On August 25 two young ladies in Mosjoen, Norway, made every major newspaper in the world when they encountered a "saucer-man." They said that they were picking berries when suddenly a dark man, with long shaggy hair, stepped out from behind some bushes. He was friendly; he stepped right up to them and started to talk rapidly. The two young ladies could understand English but they couldn't understand him. At first they were frightened, but his smile soon "disarmed" them. He drew a few pictures of flying saucers and pointed up in the sky. "He was obviously trying to make a point," one of the young ladies said.
A few days later it was discovered that the man from "outer space" was a lost USAF helicopter pilot who was flying with NATO forces in Norway.
As I've always said, "Ya gotta watch those Air Force pilots—especially those shaggy-haired ones from Brooklyn."
The reporting spread to Italy, where thousands of people in Rome saw a strange cigar-shaped object hang over the city for forty minutes. Newspapers claimed that Italian Air Force radar had the UFO on their scopes, but as far as I could determine, this was never officially acknowledged.
In December a photograph of two UFO's over Taormina, Sicily, appeared in many newspapers. The picture showed three men standing on a bridge, with a fourth running up with a camera. All were intently watching two disk-shaped objects. The photo looked good, but there was one flaw, the men weren't looking at the UFO's; they were looking off to the right of them. I'm inclined to agree with Captain Hardin of Blue Book—the photographer just fouled up on his double exposure.
Sightings spread across southern Europe, and at the end of October, the Yugoslav Government expressed official interest. Belgrade newspapers said that a "thoughtful inquiry" would be set up, since reports had come from "control tower operators, weather stations and hundreds of farmers." But the part of the statement that swung the most weight was, "Scientists in astronomical observatories have seen these strange objects with their own eyes."
During 1954 and the early part of 1955 my friends in Europe tried to keep me up-to-date on all of the better reports, but this soon approached a full-time job. Airline pilots saw them, radar picked them up, and military pilots chased them. The press took sides, and the controversy that had plagued the U.S. since 1947 bloomed forth in all its confusion.
An ex-Air Chief Marshal in the RAF, Lord Dowding, went to bat for the UFO's. The Netherlands Air Chief of Staff said they can't be. Herman Oberth, the father of the German rocket development, said that the UFO's were definitely interplanetary vehicles.
In Belgium a senator put the screws on the Secretary of Defense—he wanted an answer. The Secretary of Defense questioned the idea that the saucers were "real" and said that the military wasn't officially interested. In France a member of parliament received a different answer—the French military was interested. The French General Staff had set up a committee to study UFO reports.
In Italy, Clare Boothe Luce, American Ambassador to Italy, said that she had seen a UFO and had no idea what it could be.
Halfway around the world, in Australia, the UFO's were busy too. At Canberra Airport the pilot of an RAAF Hawker Sea Fury and a ground radar station teamed up to get enough data to make an excellent radar-visual report.
In early 1955 the flap began to die down about as rapidly as it had flared up, but it had left its mark—many more believers. Even the highly respected British aviation magazine, Aeroplane, had something to say. One of the editors took a long, hard look at the over-all UFO picture and concluded, "Really, old chaps—I don't know."
Probably the most unique part of the whole European Flap was the fact that the Iron Curtain countries were having their own private flap. The first indications came in October 1954, when Rumanian newspapers blamed the United States for launching a drive to induce a "flying saucer psychosis" in their country. The next month the Hungarian Government hauled an "expert" up in front of the microphone so that he could explain to the populace that UFO's don't really exist because, "all `flying saucer' reports originate in the bourgeois countries, where they are invented by the capitalist warmongers with a view to drawing the people's attention away from their economic difficulties."
Next the U.S.S.R. itself took up the cry along the same lines when the voice of the Soviet Army, the newspaper Red Star, denounced the UFO's as, you guessed it, capitalist propaganda.
In 1955 the UFO's were still there because the day before the all-important May Day celebration, a day when the Soviet radio and TV are
normally crammed with programs plugging the glory of Mother Russia to get the peasants in the mood for the next day, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences had to get on the air to calm the people's fears. He left out Wall Street and Dulles this time—UFO's just don't exist.
It was interesting to note that during the whole Iron Curtain Flap, not one sighting or complimentary comment about the UFO's was made over the radio or in the newspapers; yet the flap continued. The reports were obviously being passed on by word of mouth. This fact seems to negate the theory that if the newspaper reporters and newscasters would give up the UFO's would go away. The people in Russia were obviously seeing something.
While the European Flap was in progress, the UFO's weren't entirely neglecting the United States. The number of reports that were coming into Project Blue Book were below average, but there were reports. Many of them would definitely be classed as good, but the best was a report from a photo reconnaissance B-29 crew that encountered a UFO almost over Dayton.
About 11:00 A.M. on May 24, 1954, an RB-29 equipped with some new aerial cameras took off from Wright Field, one of the two airfields that make up Wright-Patterson AFB, and headed toward the Air Force's photographic test range in Indiana. At exactly twelve noon they were at 16,000 feet, flying west, about 15 miles northwest of Dayton. A major, a photo officer, was in the nose seat of the ’29. All of the gun sights and the bombsight in the nose had been taken out, so it was like sitting in a large picture window—except you just can't get this kind of a view anyplace else. The major was enjoying it. He was leaning forward, looking down, when he saw an extremely bright circular-shaped object under and a little behind the airplane. It was so bright that it seemed to have a mirror finish. He couldn't tell how far below him it was but he was sure that it wasn't any higher than 6,000 feet above the ground, and it was traveling fast, faster than the B-29. It took only about six seconds to cross a section of land, which meant that it was going about 600 miles an hour.
The major called the crew and told them about the UFO, but neither the pilot nor the copilot could see it because it was now directly under the B-29. The pilot was just in the process of telling him that he was crazy when one of the scanners in an aft blister called in; he and the other scanner could also see the UFO.
Being a photo ship, the RB-29 had cameras—loaded cameras—so the logical thing to do would be to take a picture, but during a UFO sighting logic sometimes gets shoved into the background. In this case, however, it
didn't, and the major reached down, punched the button on the intervalometer, and the big vertical camera in the aft section of the airplane clicked off a photo before the UFO sped away.
The photo showed a circular-shaped blob of light exactly as the major had described it to the RB-29 crew. It didn't show any details of the UFO because the UFO was too bright; it was completely overexposed on the negative. The circular shape wasn't sharp either; it had fuzzy edges, but this could have been due to two things: its extreme brightness, or the fact that it was high, close to the RB-29, and out of focus. There was no way of telling exactly how high it was but if it were at 6,000 feet, as the major estimated, it would have been about 125 feet in diameter.
Working with people from the photo lab at Wright-Patterson, Captain Hardin from Project Blue Book carried out one of the most complete investigations in UFO history. They checked aircraft flights, rephotographed the area from high and low altitude to see if they could pick up something on the ground that could have been reflecting light, and made a minute ground search of the area. They found absolutely nothing that could explain the round blob of light, and the incident went down as an unknown.
Like all good "Unknown" UFO reports, there are as many opinions as to what the bright blob of light could have been as there are people who've seen the photo. "Some kind of light phenomenon" is the frequent opinion of those who don't believe. They point out that there is no shadow of any kind of a circular object showing on the ground—no shadow, nothing "solid." But if you care to take the time you can show that if the object, assuming that this is what it was, was above 4,000 feet the shadow would fall out of the picture.
Then all you get is a blank look from the light phenomenon theorists.
With the sighting from the RB-29 and the photograph, all of the other UFO reports that Blue Book has collected and all of those that came out of the European Flap, the big question—the key question—is: What have the last two years of UFO activity brought out? Have there been any important developments?
Some good reports have come in and the Air Force is sitting on them. During 1954 they received some 450 reports, and once again July was the peak month. In the first half of 1955 they had 189. But I can assure you that these reports add nothing more as far as proof is concerned. The quality of the reports has improved, but they still offer nothing more than the same circumstantial evidence that we presented to the panel of scientists in early 1953. There have been no reports in which the speed or altitude of a UFO has been measured, there have been no reliable
photographs that show any details of a UFO, and there is no hardware. There is still no real proof.
So a public statement that was made in 1952 still holds true: "The possibility of the existence of interplanetary craft has never been denied by the Air Force, but UFO reports offer absolutely no authentic evidence that such interplanetary spacecraft do exist."
But with the UFO, what is lacking in proof is always made up for in opinions. To get a qualified opinion, I wrote to a friend, Frederick C. Durant. Mr. Durant, who is presently the director of a large Army Ordnance test station, is also a past president of the American Rocket Society and president of the International Astronautical Federation. For those who are not familiar with these organizations, the American Rocket Society is an organization established to promote interest and research in space flight and lists as its members practically every prominent scientist and engineer in the professional fields allied to aeronautics. The International Astronautical Federation is a world-wide federation of such societies.
Mr. Durant has spent many hours studying UFO reports in the Project Blue Book files and many more hours discussing them with scientists the world over—scientists who are doing research and formulating the plans for space flight. I asked him what he'd heard about the UFO's during the past several years and what he thought about them. This was his reply:
This past summer at the Annual Congress of the IAF at Innsbruck, as well as previous Congresses (Zurich, 1953, Stuttgart, 1952, and London, 1951), none of the delegates representing the rocket and space flight societies of all the countries involved had strong feelings on the subject of saucers. Their attitude was essentially the same as professional members of the American Rocket Society in this country. In other words, there appear to be no confirmed saucer fans in the hierarchy of the professional societies.
I continue to follow the subject of UFO's primarily because of my being requested for comment on the interplanetary flight aspects. My personal feelings have not changed in the past four years, although I continue to keep an objective outlook.
There are many other prominent scientists in the world whom I met while I was chief of Project Blue Book who, I'm sure, would give the same answer—they've not been able to find any proof, but they continue to keep an objective outlook. There are just enough big question marks sprinkled through the reports to keep their outlook objective.
I know that there are many other scientists in the world who, although they haven't studied the Air Force's UFO files, would limit their comment to a large laugh followed by an "It can't be." But "It can't be’s"
are dangerous, if for no other reason than history has proved them so.
Not more than a hundred years ago two members of the French Academy of Sciences were unseated because they supported the idea that "stones had fallen from the sky." Other distinguished members of the French Academy examined the stones, "It can't be—stones don't fall from the sky," or words to that effect. "These are common rocks that have been struck by lightning."
Today we know that the "stones from the sky" were meteorites.
Not more than fifty years ago Dr. Simon Newcomb, a world-famous astronomer and the first American since Benjamin Franklin to be made an associate of the Institute of France, the hierarchy of the world science, said, "It can't be." Then he went on to explain that flight without gas bags would require the discovery of some new material or a new force in nature.
And at the same time Rear Admiral George W. Melville, then Chief Engineer for the U.S. Navy, said that attempts to fly heavier-than-air vehicles was absurd.
Just a little over ten years ago there was another "it can't be." Ex-President Harry S. Truman recalls in the first volume of the Truman Memoirs what Admiral William D. Leahy, then Chief of Staff to the President, had to say about the atomic bomb. "That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done," he is quoted as saying. "The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."
Personally, I don't believe that "it can't be." I wouldn't class myself as a "believer," exactly, because I've seen too many UFO reports that first appeared to be unexplainable fall to pieces when they were thoroughly investigated. But every time I begin to get skeptical I think of the other reports, the many reports made by experienced pilots and radar operators, scientists, and other people who know what they're looking at. These reports were thoroughly investigated and they are still unknowns. Of these reports, the radar-visual sightings are the most convincing. When a ground radar picks up a UFO target and a ground observer sees a light where the radar target is located, then a jet interceptor is scrambled to intercept the UFO and the pilot also sees the light and gets a radar lock-on only to have the UFO almost impudently outdistance him, there is no simple answer. We have no aircraft on this earth that can at will so handily outdistance our latest jets.
The Air Force is still actively engaged in investigating UFO reports, although during the past six months there have been definite indications that there is a movement afoot to get Project Blue Book to swing back to the old Project Grudge philosophy of analyzing UFO reports—write
them all off, regardless. But good UFO reports cannot be written off with such answers as fatigued pilots seeing a balloon or star; "green" radar operators with only fifteen years’ experience watching temperature inversion caused blips on their radarscopes; or "a mild form of mass hysteria or war nerves." Using answers like these, or similar ones, to explain the UFO reports is an expedient method of getting the percentage of unknowns down to zero, but it is no more valid than turning the hands of a clock ahead to make time pass faster. Twice before the riddle of the UFO has been "solved," only to have the reports increase in both quantity and quality.
I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to what the final outcome of the UFO investigation will be, but I am sure that within a few years there will be a proven answer. The earth satellite program, which was recently announced, research progress in the fields of electronics, nuclear physics, astronomy, and a dozen other branches of the sciences will furnish data that will be useful to the UFO investigators. Methods of investigating and analyzing UFO reports have improved a hundredfold since 1947 and they are continuing to be improved by the diligent work of Captain Charles Hardin, the present chief of Project Blue Book, his staff, and the 4602nd Air Intelligence Squadron. Slowly but surely these people are working closer to the answer—closer to the proof.
Maybe the final proven answer will be that all of the UFO's that have been reported are merely misidentified known objects. Or maybe the many pilots, radar specialists, generals, industrialists, scientists, and the man on the street who have told me, "I wouldn't have believed it either if I hadn't seen it myself," knew what they were talking about. Maybe the earth is being visited by interplanetary spaceships.
Only time will tell.