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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
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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. 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
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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
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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
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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.
The Big Flap
In early June 1952, Project Blue Book was operating according to the operational plan that had been set up in January 1952. It had taken six months to put the plan into effect, and to a person who has never been indoctrinated into the ways of the military, this may seem like a long time. But consult your nearest government worker and you'll find that it was about par for the red tape course.
We had learned early in the project that about 60 per cent of the reported UFO's were actually balloons, airplanes, or astronomical bodies viewed under unusual conditions, so our operational plan was set up to quickly weed out this type of report. This would give us more time to concentrate on the unknown cases.
To weed out reports in which balloons, airplanes, and astronomical bodies were reported as UFO's, we utilized a flow of data that continually poured into Project Blue Book. We received position reports on all flights of the big skyhook balloons and, by merely picking up the telephone, we could get the details about the flight of any other research balloon or regularly scheduled weather balloon in the United States. The location of aircraft in an area where a UFO had been reported was usually checked by the intelligence officer who made the report, but we double checked his findings by requesting the location of flights from CAA and military air bases. Astronomical almanacs and journals, star charts, and data that we got from observatories furnished us with clues to UFO's that might be astronomical bodies. All of our investigations in this category of report were double checked by Project Bear's astronomer.
Then we had our newspaper clipping file, which gave us many clues. Hydrographic bulletins and Notams (notices to airmen), published by
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the government, sometimes gave us other clues. Every six hours we received a complete set of weather data. A dozen or more other sources of data that might shed some light on a reported UFO were continually being studied.
To get all this information on balloons, aircraft, astronomical bodies, and what have you, I had to co-ordinate Project Blue Book's operational plan with the Air Force's Air Weather Service, Flight Service, Research and Development Command, and Air Defense Command with the Navy's Office of Naval Research, and the aerology branch of the Bureau of Aeronautics; and with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Bureau of Standards, several astronomical observatories, and our own Project Bear. Our entire operational plan was similar to a Model A Ford I had while I was in high school - just about the time you would get one part working, another part would break down.
When a report came through our screening process and still had the "Unknown" tag on it, it went to the MO file, where we checked its characteristics against other reports. For example, on May 25 we had a report from Randolph AFB, Texas. It went through the screening process and came out "Unknown"; it wasn't a balloon, airplane, or astronomical body. So then it went to the MO file. It was a flock of ducks reflecting the city lights. We knew that the Texas UFO's were ducks because our MO file showed that we had an identical report from Moorhead, Minnesota, and the UFO's at Moorhead were ducks.
Radar reports that came into Blue Book went to the radar specialists of ATIC's electronics branch.
Sifting through reams of data in search of the answers to the many reports that were pouring in each week required many hours of overtime work, but when a report came out with the final conclusion, "Unknown," we were sure that it was unknown.
To operate Project Blue Book, I had four officers, two airmen, and two civilians on my permanent staff. In addition, there were three scientists employed full time on Project Bear, along with several others who worked part time. In the Pentagon, Major Fournet, who had taken on the Blue Book liaison job as an extra duty, was now spending full time on it. If you add to this the number of intelligence officers all over the world who were making preliminary investigations and interviewing UFO observers, Project Blue Book was a sizable effort.
Only the best reports we received could be personally investigated in the field by Project Blue Book personnel. The vast majority of the reports had to be evaluated on the basis of what the intelligence officer who had written the report had been able to uncover, or what data we
The Big Flap.141
could get by telephone or by mailing out a questionnaire. Our instructions for "what to do before the Blue Book man arrives," which had been printed in many service publications, were beginning to pay off and the reports were continually getting more detailed.
The questionnaire we were using in June 1952 was the one that had recently been developed by Project Bear. Project Bear, along with psychologists from a Midwestern university, had worked on it for five months. Many test models had been tried before it reached its final form - the standard questionnaire that Blue Book is using today.
It ran eight pages and had sixty eight questions which were booby- trapped in a couple of places to give us a cross check on the reliability of the reporter as an observer. We received quite a few questionnaires answered in such a way that it was obvious that the observer was drawing heavily on his imagination.
From this standard questionnaire the project worked up two more specialized types. One dealt with radar sightings of UFO's, the other with sightings made from airplanes.
In Air Force terminology a "flap" is a condition, or situation, or state of being of a group of people characterized by an advanced degree of confusion that has not quite yet reached panic proportions. It can be brought on by any number of things, including the unexpected visit of an inspecting general, a major administrative reorganization, the arrival of a hot piece of intelligence information, or the dramatic entrance of a well stacked female into an officers' club bar.
In early June 1952 the Air Force was unknowingly in the initial stages of a flap - a flying saucer flap - the flying saucer flap of 1952. The situation had never been duplicated before, and it hasn't been duplicated since. All records for the number of UFO reports were not just broken, they were disintegrated. In 1948, 167 UFO reports had come into ATIC; this was considered a big year. In June 1952 we received 149. During the four years the Air Force had been in the UFO business, 615 reports had been collected. During the "Big Flap" our incoming message log showed 717 reports.
To anyone who had anything to do with flying saucers, the summer of 1952 was just one big swirl of UFO reports, hurried trips, midnight telephone calls, reports to the Pentagon, press interviews, and very little sleep.
If you can pin down a date that the Big Flap started, it would probably be about June 1.
It was also on June 1 that we received a good report of a UFO that had been picked up on radar. June 1 was a Sunday, but I'd been at the
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office all day getting ready to go to Los Alamos the next day. About 5:00 P.M. the telephone rang and the operator told me that I had a long- distance call from California. My caller was the chief of a radar test section for Hughes Aircraft Company in Los Angeles, and he was very excited about a UFO he had to report.
That morning he and his test crew had been checking out a new late- model radar to get it ready for some tests they planned to run early Monday morning. To see if their set was functioning properly, they had been tracking jets in the Los Angeles area. About midmorning, the Hughes test engineer told me, the jet traffic had begun to drop off, and they were about ready to close down their operation when one of the crew picked up a slow moving target coming across the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. He tracked the target for a few minutes and, from the speed and altitude, decided that it was a DC-3. It was at 11,000 feet and traveling about 180 miles an hour toward Santa Monica. The operator was about ready to yell at the other crew members to shut off the set when he noticed something mighty odd - there was a big gap between the last and the rest of the regularly spaced bright spots on the radarscope. The man on the scope called the rest of the crew in because DC-3's just don't triple their speed. They watched the target as it made a turn and started to climb over Los Angeles. They plotted one, two, three, and then four points during the target's climb; then one of the crew grabbed a slide rule. Whatever it was, it was climbing 35,000 feet per minute and traveling about 550 miles an hour in the process. Then as they watched the scope, the target leveled out for a few seconds, went into a high speed dive, and again leveled out at 55,000 feet. When they lost the target, it was heading southeast somewhere near Riverside, California.
During the sighting my caller told me that when the UFO was only about ten miles from the radar site two of the crew had gone outside but they couldn't see anything. But, he explained, even the high flying jets that they had been tracking hadn't been leaving vapor trails.
The first thing I asked when the Hughes test engineer finished his story was if the radar set had been working properly. He said that as soon as the UFO had left the scope they had run every possible check on the radar and it was O.K.
I was just about to ask my caller if the target might not have been some experimental airplane from Edwards AFB when he second guessed me. He said that after sitting around looking at each other for about a minute, someone suggested that they call Edwards. They did, and Edwards' flight operations told them that they had nothing in the area.
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I asked him about the weather. The target didn't look like a weather target was the answer, but just to be sure, the test crew had checked. One of his men was an electronics/weather specialist whom he had hired because of his knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of radar under certain weather conditions. This man had looked into the weather angle. He had gotten the latest weather data and checked it, but there wasn't the slightest indication of an inversion or any other weather that would cause a false target.
Just before I hung up I asked the man what he thought he and his crew had picked up, and once again I got the same old answer: "Yesterday at this time any of us would have argued for hours that flying saucers were a bunch of nonsense but now, regardless of what you'll say about what we saw, it was something damned real."
I thanked the man for calling and hung up. We couldn't make any more of an analysis of this report than had already been made, it was another unknown.
I went over to the MO file and pulled out the stack of cards behind the tab "High Speed Climb." There must have been at least a hundred cards, each one representing a UFO report in which the reported object made a high speed climb. But this was the first time radar had tracked a UFO during a climb.
During the early part of June, Project Blue Book took another jump up on the organizational chart. A year before the UFO project had consisted of one officer. It had risen from the one man operation to a project within a group, then to a group, and now it was a section. Neither Project Sign nor the old Project Grudge had been higher than the project-within-a-group level. The chief of a group normally calls for a lieutenant colonel, and since I was just a captain this caused some consternation in the ranks. There was some talk about putting Lieutenant Colonel Ray Taylor of Colonel Dunn's staff in charge. Colonel Taylor was very much interested in UFO's; he had handled some of the press contacts prior to turning this function over to the Pentagon and had gone along with me on briefings, so he knew something about the project. But in the end Colonel Donald Bower, who was my division chief. decided rank be damned, and I stayed on as chief of Project Blue Book.
The location within the organizational chart is always indicative of the importance placed on a project. In June 1952 the Air Force was taking the UFO problem seriously. One of the reasons was that there were a lot of good UFO reports coming in from Korea. Fighter pilots reported seeing silver colored spheres or disks on several occasions, and radar in Japan, Okinawa, and in Korea had tracked unidentified targets.
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In June our situation map, on which we kept a plot of all of our sightings, began to show an ever so slight trend toward reports beginning to bunch up on the east coast. We discussed this build-up, but we couldn't seem to find any explainable reason for it so we decided that we'd better pay special attention to reports coming from the eastern states.
I had this build-up of reports in mind one Sunday night, June 15 to be exact, when the OD at ATIC called me at home and said that we were getting a lot of reports from Virginia. Each report by itself wasn't too good, the OD told me, but together they seemed to mean something. He suggested that I come out and take a look at them - so I did.
Individually they weren't too good, but when I lined them up chronologically and plotted them on a map they took the form of a hot report.
At 3:40 P.M. a woman at Unionville, Virginia, had reported a "very shiny object" at high altitude.
At 4:20 P.M.
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