On the night of May 29, 1950, the crew of an American Airlines DC-6 had just taken off from Washington National Airport, and they were about seven miles west of Mount Vernon when the copilot suddenly looked out and yelled, "Watch it - watch it." The pilot and the engineer looked out to see a bluish white light closing in on them from dead ahead. The pilot racked the DC-6 up in a tight right turn while the UFO passed by on the left "from eleven to seven o'clock" and a little higher than the airliner. During this time the UFO passed between the full moon and DC-6 and the crew could see the dark silhouette of a "wingless B-29." Its length was about half the diameter of the full moon, and it had a blue flame shooting out the tail end.
Seconds after the UFO had passed by the DC-6, the copilot looked
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out and there it was again, apparently flying formation off their right wing. Then in a flash of blue flame it was gone - streaking out ahead of the airliner and making a left turn toward the coast.
The pilot of the DC-6, who made the report, had better than 15,000 hours' flying time.
I didn't hear anything about UFO's, or flying saucers, as they were then known, for several weeks but I kept them in mind and one day I asked one of the old hands at ATIC about them - specifically I wanted to know about the Sioux City Incident. Why had it been sloughed off so lightly? His answer was typical of the official policy at that time. "One of these days all of these crazy pilots will kill themselves, the crazy people on the ground will be locked up, and there won't be any more flying saucer reports."
But after I knew the people at ATIC a little better, I found that being anti saucer wasn't a unanimous feeling. Some of the intelligence officers took the UFO reports seriously. One man, who had been on Project Sign since it was organized back in 1947, was convinced that the UFO's were interplanetary spaceships. He had questioned the people in the control tower at Godman AFB when Captain Mantell was killed chasing the UFO, and he had spent hours talking to the crew of the DC-3 that was buzzed near Montgomery, Alabama, by a "cigar shaped UFO that spouted blue flame." In essence, he knew UFO history from A to Z because he had "been there."
I think that it was this controversial thinking that first aroused my interest in the subject of UFO's and led me to try to sound out a few more people.
The one thing that stood out to me, being unindoctrinated in the ways of UFO lore, was the schizophrenic approach so many people at ATIC took. On the surface they sided with the belly laughers on any saucer issue, but if you were alone with them and started to ridicule the subject, they defended it or at least took an active interest. I learned this one day after I'd been at ATIC about a month.
A belated UFO report had come in from Africa. One of my friends was reading it, so I asked him if I could take a look at it when he had finished. In a few minutes he handed it to me.
When I finished with the report I tossed it back on my friend's desk, with some comment about the whole world's being nuts. I got a reaction I didn't expect; he wasn't so sure the whole world was nuts - maybe the nuts were at ATIC. "What's the deal?" I asked him. "Have they really thoroughly checked out every report and found that there's nothing to any of them?"
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He told me that he didn't think so, he'd been at ATIC a long time. He hadn't ever worked on the UFO project, but he had seen many of their reports and knew what they were doing. He just plain didn't buy a lot of their explanations. "And I'm not the only one who thinks this," he added.
"Then why all of the big show of power against the UFO reports?" I remember asking him.
"The powers-that-be are anti flying saucer," he answered about half bitterly, "and to stay in favor it behooves one to follow suit."
As of February 1951 this was the UFO project.
The words "flying saucer" didn't come up again for a month or two. I'd forgotten all about the two words and was deeply engrossed in making an analysis of the performance of the Mig-15. The Mig had just begun to show up in Korea, and finding out more about it was a hot project.
Then the words "flying saucer" drifted across the room once more. But this time instead of belly laughter there was a note of hysteria.
It seems that a writer from Life magazine was doing some research on UFO's and rumor had it that Life was thinking about doing a feature article. The writer had gone to the Office of Public Information in the Pentagon and had inquired about the current status of Project Grudge. To accommodate the writer, the OPI had sent a wire out to ATIC: What is the status of Project Grudge?
Back went a snappy reply: Everything is under control; each new report is being thoroughly analyzed by our experts; our vast files of reports are in tiptop shape; and in general things are hunky-dunky. All UFO reports are hoaxes, hallucinations, and the misidentification of known objects.
Another wire from Washington: Fine, Mr. Bob Ginna of Life is leaving for Dayton. He wants to check some reports.
Bedlam in the raw.
Other magazines had printed UFO stories, and other reporters had visited ATIC, but they had always stayed in the offices of the top brass. For some reason the name Life, the prospects of a feature story, and the feeling that this Bob Ginna was going to ask questions caused sweat to flow at ATIC.
Ginna arrived and the ATIC UFO "expert" talked to him. Ginna later told me about the meeting. He had a long list of questions about reports that had been made over the past four years and every time he asked a question, the "expert" would go tearing out of the room to try to find the file that had the answer. I remember that day people spent a lot of
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time ripping open bundles of files and pawing through them like a bunch of gophers. Many times, "I'm sorry, that's classified," got ATIC out of a tight spot.
Ginna, I can assure you, was not at all impressed by the "efficiently operating UFO project." People weren't buying the hoax, hallucination, and misidentification stories quite as readily as the Air Force believed.
Where it started or who started it I don't know, but about two months after the visit from Life's representative the official interest in UFO's began to pick up. Lieutenant Jerry Cummings, who had recently been recalled to active duty, took over the project.
Lieutenant Cummings is the type of person who when given a job to do does it. In a few weeks the operation of the UFO project had improved considerably. But the project was still operating under political, economic, and manpower difficulties. Cummings' desk was right across from mine, so I began to get a UFO indoctrination via bull sessions. Whenever Jerry found a good report in the pile - and all he had to start with was a pile of papers and files - he'd toss it over for me to read.
Some of the reports were unimpressive, I remember. But a few were just the opposite. Two that I remember Jerry's showing me made me wonder how the UFO's could be sloughed off so lightly. The two reports involved movies taken by Air Force technicians at White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.
The guided missile test range at White Sands is fully instrumented to track high, fast-moving objects - the guided missiles. Located over an area of many square miles there are camera stations equipped with cinetheodolite cameras and linked together by a telephone system.
On April 27, 1950, a guided missile had been fired, and as it roared up into the stratosphere and fell back to earth, the camera crews had recorded its flight. All the crews had started to unload their cameras when one of them spotted an object streaking across the sky. By April 1950 every person at White Sands was UFO conscious, so one member of the camera crew grabbed a telephone headset, alerted the other crews, and told them to get pictures. Unfortunately only one camera had film in it, the rest had already been unloaded, and before they could reload, the UFO was gone. The photos from the one station showed only a smudgy dark object. About all the film proved was that something was in the air and whatever it was, it was moving.
Alerted by this first chance to get a UFO to "run a measured course," the camera crews agreed to keep a sharper lookout. They also got the official O.K. to "shoot" a UFO if one appeared.
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Almost exactly a month later another UFO did appear, or at least at the time the camera crews thought that it was a UFO. This time the crews were ready - when the call went out over the telephone net that a UFO had been spotted, all of the crews scanned the sky. Two of the crews saw it and shot several feet of film as the shiny, bright object streaked across the sky.
As soon as the missile tests were completed, the camera crews rushed their film to the processing lab and then took it to the Data Reduction Group. But once again the UFO had eluded man because there were apparently two or more UFO's in the sky and each camera station had photographed a separate one. The data were no good for triangulation.
The records at ATIC didn't contain the analysis of these films but they did mention the Data Reduction Group at White Sands. So when I later took over the UFO investigation I made several calls in an effort to run down the actual film and the analysis. The files at White Sands, like all files, evidently weren't very good, because the original reports were gone. I did contact a major who was very cooperative and offered to try to find the people who had worked on the analysis of the film. His report, after talking to two men who had done the analysis, was what I'd expected - nothing concrete except that the UFO's were unknowns. He did say that by putting a correction factor in the data gathered by the two cameras they were able to arrive at a rough estimate of speed, altitude, and size. The UFO was "higher than 40,000 feet, traveling over 2,000 miles per hour, and it was over 300 feet in diameter." He cautioned me, however, that these figures were only estimates, based on the possibly erroneous correction factor; therefore they weren't proof of anything - except that something was in the air.
The people at White Sands continued to be on the alert for UFO's while the camera stations were in operation because they realized that if the flight path of a UFO could be accurately plotted and timed it could be positively identified. But no more UFO's showed up.
One day Lieutenant Cummings came over to my desk and dropped a stack of reports in front of me. "All radar reports," he said, "and I'm getting more and more of them every day."
Radar reports, I knew, had always been a controversial point in UFO history, and if more and more radar reports were coming in, there was no doubt that an already controversial issue was going to be compounded.
To understand why there is always some disagreement whenever a flying saucer is picked up on radar, it is necessary to know a little bit about how radar operates.
Basically radar is nothing but a piece of electronic equipment that
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"shouts" out a radio wave and "listens" for the echo. By "knowing" how fast the radio, or radar, wave travels and from which direction the echo is coming, the radar tells the direction and distance of the object that is causing the echo. Any "solid" object like an airplane, bird, ship, or even a moisture laden cloud can cause a radar echo. When the echo comes back to the radar set, the radar operator doesn't have to listen for it and time it because this is all done for him by the radar set and he sees the "answer" on his radarscope - a kind of a round TV screen. What the radar operator sees is a bright dot, called a "blip" or a "return." The location of the return on the scope tells him the location of the object that was causing the echo. As the object moves through the sky, the radar operator sees a series of bright dots on his scope that make a track. On some radar sets the altitude of the target, the object causing the echo, can also be measured.
Under normal conditions the path that the radar waves take as they travel through the air is known. Normal conditions are when the temperature and relative humidity of the air decrease with an increase in altitude. But sometimes a condition will occur where at some level, instead of the temperature and/or relative humidity decreasing with altitude, it will begin to increase. This layer of warm, moist air is known as an inversion layer, and it can do all kinds of crazy things to a radar wave. It can cause part of the radar wave to travel in a big arc and actually pick up the ground many miles away. Or it can cause the wave to bend down just enough to pick up trucks, cars, houses, or anything that has a surface perpendicular to the ground level.
One would immediately think that since the ground or a house isn't moving, and a car or truck is moving only 40, 50, or 60 miles an hour, a radar operator should be able to pick these objects out from a fast-moving target. But it isn't as simple as that. The inversion layer shimmers and moves, and one second the radar may be picking up the ground or a truck in one spot and the next second it may be picking up something in a different spot. This causes a series of returns on the scope and can give the illusion of extremely fast or slow speeds.
These are but a few of the effects of an inversion layer on radar. Some of the effects are well known, but others aren't. The 3rd Weather Group at Air Defense Command Headquarters in Colorado Springs has done a lot of work on the effects of weather on radar, and they have developed mathematical formulas for telling how favorable weather conditions are for "anomalous propagation," the two-bit words for false radar targets caused by weather.
The first problem in analyzing reports of UFO's being picked up on
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radar is to determine if the weather conditions are right to give anomalous propagation. This can be determined by putting weather data into a formula. If they are, then it is necessary to determine whether the radar targets were real or caused by the weather. This is the difficult job. In most cases the only answer is the appearance of the target on the radar-scope. Many times a weather target will be a fuzzy and indistinct spot on the scope while a real target, an airplane for example, will be bright and sharp. This question of whether a target looked real is the cause of the majority of the arguments about radar detected UFO's because it is up to the judgment of the radar operator as to what the target looked like. And whenever human judgment is involved in a decision, there is plenty of room for an argument.
All during the early summer of 1951 Lieutenant Cummings "fought the syndicate" trying to make the UFO respectable. All the time I was continuing to get my indoctrination. Then one day with the speed of a shotgun wedding, the long overdue respectability arrived. The date was September 12, 1951, and the exact time was 3:04 P.M.
On this date and time a teletype machine at Wright-Patterson AFB began to chatter out a message. Thirty-six inches of paper rolled out of the machine before the operator ripped off the copy, stamped it Operational Immediate, and gave it to a special messenger to deliver to ATIC. Lieutenant Cummings got the message. The report was from the Army Signal Corps radar center at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and it was red-hot.
The incident had started two days before, on September 10, at 11:10 A.M., when a student operator was giving a demonstration to a group of visiting brass at the radar school. He demonstrated the set under manual operation for a while, picking up local air traffic, then he announced that he would demonstrate automatic tracking, in which the set is put on a target and follows it without help from the operator. The set could track objects flying at jet speeds.
The operator spotted an object about 12,000 yards southeast of the station, flying low toward the north. He tried to switch the set to automatic tracking. He failed, tried again, failed again. He turned to his audience of VIPs, embarrassed.
"It's going too fast for the set," he said. 'That means it's going faster than a jet!"
A lot of very important eyebrows lifted. What flies faster than a jet?
The object was in range for three minutes and the operator kept trying, without success, to get into automatic track. The target finally went off the scope, leaving the red-faced operator talking to himself.
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The radar technicians at Fort Monmouth had checked the weather - there wasn't the slightest indication of an inversion layer.
Twenty-five minutes later the pilot of a T-33 jet trainer, carrying an Air Force major as passenger and flying 20,000 feet over Point Pleasant, New Jersey, spotted a dull silver, disk like object far below him. He described it as 30 to 50 feet in diameter and as descending toward Sandy Hook from an altitude of a mile or so. He banked the T-33 over and started down after it. As he shot down, he reported, the object stopped its descent, hovered, then sped south, made a 120 degree turn, and vanished out to sea.
The Fort Monmouth Incident then switched back to the radar group. At 3:15 P.M. they got an excited, almost frantic call from headquarters to pick up a target high and to the north - which was where the first "faster-than-a-jet" object had vanished - and to pick it up in a hurry. They got a fix on it and reported that it was traveling slowly at 93,000 feet. They also could see it visually as a silver speck.
What flies 18 miles above the earth?
The next morning two radar sets picked up another target that couldn't be tracked automatically. It would climb, level off, climb again, go into a dive. When it climbed it went almost straight up.
The two-day sensation ended that afternoon when the radar tracked another unidentified slow moving object and tracked it for several minutes.
A copy of the message had also gone to Washington. Before Jerry could digest the thirty-six inches of facts, ATIC's new chief, Colonel Frank Dunn, got a phone call. It came from the office of the Director of Intelligence of the Air Force, Major General (now Lieutenant General) C. P. Cabell. General Cabell wanted somebody from ATIC to get to New Jersey - fast - and find out what was going on. As soon as the reports had been thoroughly investigated, the general said that he wanted a complete personal report. Nothing expedites like a telephone call from a general officer, so in a matter of hours Lieutenant Cummings and Lieutenant Colonel N. R. Rosengarten were on an airliner, New Jersey bound.
The two officers worked around the clock interrogating the radar operators, their instructors, and the technicians at Fort Monmouth. The pilot who had chased the UFO in the T-33 trainer and his passenger were flown to New York, and they talked to Cummings and Rosengarten. All other radar stations in the area were checked, but their radars hadn't picked up anything unusual.
At about 4:00 A.M. the second morning after they had arrived, the investigation was completed, Cummings later told. He and Lieutenant
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Colonel Rosengarten couldn't get an airliner out of New York in time to get them to the Pentagon by 10:00 A.M., the time that had been set up for their report, so they chartered an airplane and flew to the capital to brief the general.
General Cabell presided over the meeting, and it was attended by his entire staff plus Lieutenant Cummings, Lieutenant Colonel Rosengarten, and a special representative from Republic Aircraft Corporation. The man from Republic supposedly represented a group of top U.S. industrialists and scientists who thought that there should be a lot more sensible answers coming from the Air Force regarding the UFO's. The man was at the meeting at the personal request of a general officer.
Every word of the two-hour meeting was recorded on a wire recorder. The recording was so hot that it was later destroyed, but not before I had heard it several times. I can't tell everything that was said but, to be conservative, it didn't exactly follow the tone of the official Air Force releases - many of the people present at the meeting weren't as convinced that the "hoax, hallucination, and misidentification" answer was quite as positive as the Grudge Report and subsequent press releases made out.
Toward the end of the two-hour conference a general asked Lieutenant Cummings to review the activity of the UFO investigation for the past year and a half. Maybe it was just a lack of sleep, or maybe it was just Cummings, but the general got the straight answer - for all practical purposes the project was dead. Then Cummings proceeded to elaborate on the details, the attitude at ATIC, the opposition to his reorganizing the project, and the methods of processing reports. Lieutenant Cummings didn't miss a point. He later told me that all of the generals and about three fourths of the full colonels present at the meeting turned the shade of purple normally associated with rage while a sort of sickly grin graced the faces of the remaining few. Then one of the generals on the purple- faced team glared at the sickly grin team and cut loose.
The first thing the general wanted to know was, "Who in hell has been giving me these reports that every decent flying saucer sighting is being investigated?"
Then others picked up the questioning.
"What happened to those two reports that General sent in from Saudi Arabia? He saw those two flying saucers himself."
"And who released this big report, anyway?" another person added, picking up a copy of the Grudge Report and slamming it back down on the table.
Lieutenant Cummings and Lieutenant Colonel Rosengarten came back to ATIC with orders to set up a new project and report back to General
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Cabell when it was ready to go. But Cummings didn't get a chance to do much work on the new revitalized Project Grudge - it was to keep the old name - because in a few days he was a civilian. He'd been released from active duty because he was needed back at Cal Tech, where he'd been working on an important government project before his recall to active duty.
The day after Cummings got his separation orders, Lieutenant Colonel Rosengarten called me into his office. The colonel was chief of the Aircraft and Missiles branch and one of his many responsibilities was Project Grudge. He said that he knew that I was busy as group leader of my regular group but, if he gave me enough people, could I take Project Grudge? All he wanted me to do was to get it straightened out and operating; then I could go back to trying to outguess the Russians. He threw in a few comments about the good job I'd done straightening out other foul-up projects. Good old "Rosy." With my ego sufficiently inflated, I said yes.
On many later occasions, when I'd land at home in Dayton just long enough for a clean clothes resupply, or when the telephone would ring at 2:00 A.M. to report a new "hot" sighting and wake up the baby, Mrs. Ruppelt and I have soundly cussed my ego.
I had had the project only a few days when a minor flurry of good UFO reports started. It wasn't supposed to happen because the day after I'd taken over Project Grudge I'd met the ex-UFO "expert" in the hall and he'd nearly doubled up with laughter as he said something about getting stuck with Project Grudge. He predicted that I wouldn't get a report until the newspapers began to play up flying saucers again. "It's all mass hysteria," he said.
The first hysterical report of the flurry came from the Air Defense Command. On September 23, 1951, at seven fifty-five in the morning, two F-86's on an early patrol were approaching Long Beach, California, coming in on the west leg of the Long Beach Radio range. All of a sudden the flight leader called his ground controller - high at twelve o'clock he and his wing man saw an object. It was in a gradual turn to its left, and it wasn't another airplane. The ground controller checked his radars but they had nothing, so the ground controller called the leader of the F-86's back and told him to go after the object and try to identify it. The two airplanes started to climb.
By this time the UFO had crossed over them but it was still in a turn and was coming back. Several times they tried to intercept, but they could never climb up to it. Once in a while, when they'd appear to be getting close, the UFO would lazily move out of range by climbing
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slightly. All the time it kept orbiting to the left in a big, wide circle. After about ten minutes the flight leader told the ground controller, who had been getting a running account of the unsuccessful intercept, that their fuel was low and that they'd have to break off soon. They'd gotten a fairly good look at the UFO, the flight leader told the ground controller, and it appeared to be a silver airplane with highly swept back wings.
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