the operators of the CAA radio facility at Gordonsville, Virginia, had reported that they saw a "round, shiny object." It was southeast of their station, or directly south of Unionville.
At 4:25 P.M. the crew of an airliner northwest of Richmond, Virginia, reported a "silver sphere at eleven o'clock high."
At 4:43 P.M. a Marine pilot in a jet tried to intercept a "round shiny sphere" south of Gordonsville.
At 5:43 P.M. an Air Force T-33 jet tried to intercept a "shiny sphere" south of Gordonsvllle. He got above 35,000 feet and the UFO was still far above him.
At 7:35 P.M. many people in Blackstone, Virginia, about 80 miles south of Gordonsville, reported it. It was a "round, shiny object with a golden glow" moving from north to south. By this time radio commentators in central Virginia were giving a running account of the UFO's progress.
At 7:59 P.M. the people in the CAA radio facility at Blackstone saw it.
At 8:00 P.M. jets arrived from Langley AFB to attempt to intercept it, but at 8:05 P.M. it disappeared.
This was a good report because it was the first time we ever received a series of reports on the same object, and there was no doubt that all these people had reported the same object. Whatever it was, it wasn't moving too fast, because it had traveled only about 90 miles in four hours and twenty five minutes. I was about ready to give up until morning and go home when my wife called. The local Associated Press man had called our home and she assumed that it was about this sighting. She had just said that I was out so he might not call the base. I decided that I'd better keep working so I'd have the answer in time to keep the
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story out of the papers. A report like this could cause some excitement. The UFO obviously wasn't a planet because it was moving from north to south, and it was too slow to be an airplane. I called the balloon- plotting center at Lowry AFB, where the tracks of the big skyhook balloons are plotted, but the only big balloons in the air were in the western United States, and they were all accounted for.
It might have been a weather balloon. The wind charts showed that the high altitude winds were blowing in different directions at different altitudes above 35,000 feet, so there was no one flow of air that could have brought a balloon in from a certain area, and I knew that the UFO had to be higher than 35,000 feet because the T-33 jet had been this high and the UFO was still above it. The only thing to do was to check with all of the weather stations in the area. I called Richmond, Roanoke, several places in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., and four or five other weather stations, but all of their balloons were accounted for and none had been anywhere close to the central part of Virginia.
A balloon can travel only so far, so there was no sense in checking stations too far away from where the people had seen the UFO, but I took a chance and called Norfolk; Charleston, West Virginia; Altoona, Pennsylvania; and other stations within a 150 mile radius of Gordonsville and Blackstone. Nothing.
I still thought it might be a balloon, so I started to call more stations. At Pittsburgh I hit a lead. Their radiosonde balloon had gone up to about 60,000 feet and evidently had sprung a slow leak because it had leveled off at that altitude. Normally balloons go up till they burst at 80,000 or 90,000 feet. The weather forecaster at Pittsburgh said that their records showed they had lost contact with the balloon when it was about 60 miles southeast of their station. He said that the winds at 60,000 feet were constant, so it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out where the balloon went after they had lost it. Things must be dull in Pittsburgh at 2:00 A.M. on Monday mornings, because he offered to plot the course that the balloon probably took and call me back.
In about twenty minutes I got my call. It probably was their balloon, the forecaster said. Above 50,000 feet there was a strong flow of air southeast from Pittsburgh, and this fed into a stronger southerly flow that was paralleling the Atlantic coast just east of the Appalachian Mountains. The balloon would have floated along in this flow of air like a log floating down a river. As close as he could estimate, he said, the balloon would arrive in the Gordonsville-Blackstone area in the late afternoon or early evening. This was just about the time the UFO had arrived.
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"Probably a balloon" was a good enough answer for me.
The next morning at 8:00 A.M., Al Chop called from the Pentagon to tell me that people were crawling all over his desk wanting to know about a sighting in Virginia.
The reports continued to come in. At Walnut Lake, Michigan, a group of people with binoculars watched a "soft white light" go back and forth across the western sky for nearly an hour. A UFO "paced" an Air Force B-25 for thirty minutes in California. Both of these happened on June 18, and although we checked and rechecked them, they came out as unknowns.
On June 19 radar at Goose AFB in Newfoundland picked up some odd targets. The targets came across the scope, suddenly enlarged, and then became smaller again. One unofficial comment was that the object was flat or disk shaped, and that the radar target had gotten bigger because the disk had banked in flight to present a greater reflecting surface. ATIC's official comment was weather.
Goose AFB was famous for unusual reports. In early UFO history someone had taken a very unusual colored photo of a "split cloud." The photographer had seen a huge ball of fire streak down through the sky and pass through a high layer of stratus clouds. As the fireball passed through the cloud it cut out a perfect swath. The conclusion was that the fireball was a meteor, but the case is still one of the most interesting in the file because of the photograph.
Then in early 1952 there was another good report from this area. It was an unknown.
The incident started when the pilot of an Air Force C-54 transport radioed Goose AFB and said that at 10:42 P.M. a large fireball had buzzed his airplane. It had come in from behind the C-54, and nobody had seen it until it was just off the left wing. The fireball was so big that the pilot said it looked as if it was only a few hundred feet away. The C-54 was 200 miles southwest, coming into Goose AFB from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, when the incident occurred. The base officer-of-the-day, who was also a pilot, happened to be in the flight operations office at Goose when the message came in and he overheard the report. He stepped outside, walked over to his command car, and told his driver about the radio message, so the driver got out and both of them looked toward the south. They searched the horizon for a few seconds; then suddenly they saw a light closing in from the southwest. Within a second, it was near the airfield. It had increased in size till it was as big as a "golf ball at arm's length," and it looked like a big ball of fire. It was so low that both the OD and his driver dove under
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the command car because they were sure it was going to hit the airfield. When they turned and looked up they saw the fireball make a 90 degree turn over the airfield and disappear into the northwest. The time was 10:47 P.M.
The control tower operators saw the fireball too, but didn't agree with the OD and his driver on how low it was. They did think that it had made a 90 degree turn and they didn't think that it was a meteor. In the years they'd been in towers they'd seen hundreds of meteors, but they'd never seen anything like this, they reported.
And reports continued to pour into Project Blue Book. It was now not uncommon to get ten or eleven wires in one day. If the letters reporting UFO sightings were counted, the total would rise to twenty or thirty a day. The majority of the reports that came in by wire could be classified as being good. They were reports made by reliable people and they were full of details. Some were reports of balloons, airplanes, etc., but the percentage of unknowns hovered right around 22 per cent.
To describe and analyze each report, or even the unknowns, would require a book the size of an unabridged dictionary, so I am covering only the best and most representative cases.
One day in mid June, Colonel Dunn called me. He was leaving for Washington and he wanted me to come in the next day to give a briefing at a meeting. By this time I was taking these briefings as a matter of course. We usually gave the briefings to General Garland and a general from the Research and Development Board, who passed the information on to General Samford, the Director of Intelligence. But this time General Samford, some of the members of his staff, two Navy captains from the Office of Naval Intelligence, and some people I can't name were at the briefing.
When I arrived in Washington, Major Fournet told me that the purpose of the meetings, and my briefing, was to try to find out if there was any significance to the almost alarming increase in UFO reports over the past few weeks.
By the time that everyone had finished signing into the briefing room in the restricted area of the fourth floor "B" ring of the Pentagon, it was about 9:15 A.M. I started my briefing as soon as everyone was seated.
I reviewed the last month's UFO activities; then I briefly went over the more outstanding "Unknown" UFO reports and pointed out how they were increasing in number - breaking all previous records. I also pointed out that even though the UFO subject was getting a lot of publicity, it wasn't the scare type publicity that had accompanied the earlier flaps - in fact, much of the present publicity was anti saucer.
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Then I went on to say that even though the reports we were getting were detailed and contained a great deal of good data, we still had no proof the UFO's were anything real. We could, I said, prove that all UFO reports were merely the misinterpretation of known objects if we made a few assumptions.
At this point one of the colonels on General Samford's staff stopped me. "Isn't it true," he asked, "that if you make a few positive assumptions instead of negative assumptions you can just as easily prove that the UFO's are interplanetary spaceships? Why, when you have to make an assumption to get an answer to a report, do you always pick the assumption that proves the UFO's don't exist?"
You could almost hear the colonel add, "O.K., so now I've said it."
For several months the belief that Project Blue Book was taking a negative attitude and the fact that the UFO's could be interplanetary spaceships had been growing in the Pentagon, but these ideas were usually discussed only in the privacy of offices with doors that would close tight.
No one said anything, so the colonel who had broken the ice plunged in. He used the sighting from Goose AFB, where the fireball had buzzed the C-54 and sent the OD and his driver belly whopping under the command car as an example. The colonel pointed out that even though we had labeled the report "Unknown" it wasn't accepted as proof. He wanted to know why.
I said that our philosophy was that the fireball could have been two meteors: one that buzzed the C-54 and another that streaked across the airfield at Goose AFB. Granted a meteor doesn't come within feet of an airplane or make a 90 degree turn, but these could have been optical illusions of some kind. The crew of the C-54, the OD, his driver, and the tower operators didn't recognize the UFO's as meteors because they were used to seeing the normal "shooting stars" that are most commonly seen.
But the colonel had some more questions. "What are the chances of having two extremely spectacular meteors in the same area, traveling the same direction, only five minutes apart?"
I didn't know the exact mathematical probability, but it was rather small, I had to admit.
Then he asked, "What kind of an optical illusion would cause a meteor to appear to make a 90 degree turn?"
I had asked our Project Bear astronomer this same question, and he couldn't answer it either. So the only answer I could give the colonel was, "I don't know."
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I felt as if I were on a witness stand being cross-examined, and that is exactly where I was, because the colonel cut loose.
"Why not assume a point that is more easily proved?" he asked. "Why not assume that the C-54 crew, the OD, his driver, and the tower operators did know what they were talking about? Maybe they had seen spectacular meteors during the hundreds of hours that they had flown at night and the many nights that they had been on duty in the tower. Maybe the ball of fire had made a 90 degree turn. Maybe it was some kind of an intelligently controlled craft that had streaked northeast across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Quebec Province at 2,400 miles an hour.
"Why not just simply believe that most people know what they saw?" the colonel said with no small amount of sarcasm in his voice.
This last comment started a lively discussion, and I was able to retreat. The colonel had been right in a sense - we were being conservative, but maybe this was the right way to be. In any scientific investigation you always assume that you don't have enough proof until you get a positive answer. I don't think that we had a positive answer - yet.
The colonel's comments split the group, and a hot exchange of ideas, pros and cons, and insinuations that some people were imitating ostriches to keep from facing the truth followed.
The outcome of the meeting was a directive to take further steps to obtain positive identification of the UFO's. Our original idea of attempting to get several separate reports from one sighting so we could use triangulation to measure speed, altitude, and size wasn't working out. We had given the idea enough publicity, but reports where triangulation could be used were few and far between. Mr. or Mrs. Average Citizen just doesn't look up at the sky unless he or she sees a flash of light or hears a sound. Then even if he or she does look up and sees a UFO, it is very seldom that the report ever gets to Project Blue Book. I think that it would be safe to say that Blue Book only heard about 10 per cent of the UFO's that were seen in the United States.
After the meeting I went back to ATIC, and the next day Colonel Don Bower and I left for the west coast to talk to some people about how to get better UFO data. We brought back the idea of using an extremely long focal length camera equipped with a diffraction grating.
The cameras would be placed at various locations throughout the United States where UFO's were most frequently seen. We hoped that photos of the UFO's taken through the diffraction gratings would give us some proof one way or the other.
The diffraction gratings we planned to use over the lenses of the cameras were the same thing as prisms; they would split up the light
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from the UFO into its component parts so that we could study it and determine whether it was a meteor, an airplane, or balloon reflecting sunlight, etc. Or we might be able to prove that the photographed UFO was a craft completely foreign to our knowledge.
A red-hot, A-1 priority was placed on the camera project, and a section at ATIC that developed special equipment took over the job of obtaining the cameras, or, if necessary, having them designed and built.
But the UFO's weren't waiting around till they could be photographed. Every day the tempo and confusion were increasing a little more.
By the end of June it was very noticeable that most of the better reports were coming from the eastern United States. In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland jet fighters had been scrambled almost nightly for a week. On three occasions radar equipped F-94's had locked on aerial targets only to have the lockon broken by the apparent violent maneuvers of the target.
By the end of June there was also a lull in the newspaper publicity about the UFO's. The forthcoming political conventions had wiped out any mention of flying saucers. But on July 1 there was a sudden outbreak of good reports. The first one came from Boston; then they worked down the coast.
About seven twenty five on the morning of July 1 two F-94's were scrambled to intercept a UFO that a Ground Observer Corps spotter reported was traveling southwest across Boston. Radar couldn't pick it up so the two airplanes were just vectored into the general area. The F-94's searched the area but couldn't see anything. We got the report at ATIC and would have tossed it out if it hadn't been for other reports from the Boston area at that same time.
One of these reports came from a man and his wife at Lynn, Massachusetts, nine miles northeast of Boston. At seven thirty they had noticed the two vapor trails from the climbing jet interceptors. They looked around the sky to find out if they could see what the jets were after and off to the west they saw a bright silver "cigar shaped object about six times as long as it was wide" traveling southwest across Boston. It appeared to be traveling just a little faster than the two jets. As they watched they saw that an identical UFO was following the first one some distance back. The UFO's weren't leaving vapor trails but, as the man mentioned in his report, this didn't mean anything because you can get above the vapor trail level. And the two UFO's appeared to be at a very high altitude. The two observers watched as the two F-94's searched back and forth far below the UFO's.
Then there was another report, also made at seven thirty. An Air
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Force captain was just leaving his home in Bedford, about 15 miles northwest of Boston and straight west of Lynn, when he saw the two jets. In his report he said that he, too, had looked around the sky to see if he could see what they were trying to intercept when off to the east he saw a "silvery cigar shaped object" traveling south. His description of what he observed was almost identical to what the couple in Lynn reported except that he saw only one UFO.
When we received the report, I wanted to send someone up to Boston immediately in the hope of getting more data from the civilian couple and the Air Force captain; this seemed to be a tailor-made case for triangulation. But by July 1 we were completely snowed under with reports, and there just wasn't anybody to send. Then, to complicate matters, other reports came in later in the day.
Just two hours after the sighting in the Boston area Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, popped back into UFO history. At nine thirty in the morning twelve student radar operators and three instructors were tracking nine jets on an SCR 584 radar set when two UFO targets appeared on the scope. The two targets came in from the northeast at a slow speed, much slower than the jets that were being tracked, hovered near Fort Monmouth at 50,000 feet for about five minutes, and then took off in a "terrific burst of speed" to the southwest.
When the targets first appeared, some of the class went outside with an instructor, and after searching the sky for about a minute, they saw two shiny objects in the same location as the radar showed the two unidentified targets to be. They watched the two UFO's for several minutes and saw them go zipping off to the southwest at exactly the same time that the two radar targets moved off the scope in that direction.
We had plotted these reports, the ones from Boston and the one from Fort Monmouth, on a map, and without injecting any imagination or wild assumptions, it looked as if two "somethings" had come down across Boston on a southwesterly heading, crossed Long Island, hovered for a few minutes over the Army's secret laboratories at Fort Monmouth, then proceeded toward Washington. In a way we half expected to get a report from Washington. Our expectations were rewarded because in a few hours a report arrived from that city.
A physics professor at George Washington University reported a "dull, gray, smoky colored" object which hovered north northwest of Washington for about eight minutes. Every once in a while, the professor reported, it would move through an arc of about 15 degrees to the right or left, but it always returned to its original position. While he was watching the UFO he took a 25 cent piece out of his pocket and held it at arm's length
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so that he could compare its size to that of the UFO. The UFO was about half the diameter of the quarter. When he first saw the UFO, it was about 30 to 40 degrees above the horizon, but during the eight minutes it was in sight it steadily dropped lower and lower until buildings in downtown Washington blocked off the view.
Besides being an "Unknown," this report was exceptionally interesting to us because the sighting was made from the center of downtown Washington, D.C. The professor reported that he had noticed the UFO when he saw people all along the street looking up in the air and pointing. He estimated that at least 500 people were looking at it, yet his was the only report we received. This seemed to substantiate our theory that people are very hesitant to report UFO's to the Air Force. But they evidently do tell the newspapers because later on we picked up a short account of the sighting in the Washington papers. It merely said that hundreds of calls had been received from people reporting a UFO.
When reports were pouring in at the rate of twenty or thirty a day, we were glad that people were hesitant to report UFO's, but when we were trying to find the answer to a really knotty sighting we always wished that more people had reported it. The old adage of having your cake and eating it, too, held even for the UFO.
Technically no one in Washington, besides, of course, Major General Samford and his superiors, had anything to do with making policy decisions about the operation of Project Blue Book or the handling of the UFO situation in general. Nevertheless, everyone was trying to get into the act. The split in opinions on what to do about the rising tide of UFO reports, the split that first came out in the open at General Samford's briefing, was widening every day. One group was getting dead serious about the situation. They thought we now had plenty of evidence to back up an official statement that the UFO's were something real and, to be specific, not something from this earth. This group wanted Project Blue Book to quit spending time investigating reports from the standpoint of trying to determine if the observer of a UFO had actually seen something foreign to our knowledge and start assuming that he or she had. They wanted me to aim my investigation at trying to find out more about the UFO. Along with this switch in operating policy, they wanted to clamp down on the release of information. They thought that the security classification of the project should go up to Top Secret until we had all of the answers, then the information should be released to the public. The investigation of UFO's along these lines should be a maximum effort, they thought, and their plans called for lining up many top scientists to devote their full time to the project. Someone once said that enthusiasm
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is infectious, and he was right. The enthusiasm of this group took a firm hold in the Pentagon, at Air Defense Command Headquarters, on the Research and Development Board, and many other agencies throughout the government. But General Samford was still giving the orders, and he said to continue to operate just as we had - keeping an open mind to any ideas.
After the minor flurry of reports on July 1 we had a short breathing spell and found time to clean up a sizable backlog of reports. People were still seeing UFO's but the frequency of the sighting curve was dropping steadily. During the first few days of July we were getting only two or three good reports a day.
On July 5 the crew of a non-scheduled airliner made page two of many newspapers by reporting a UFO over the AEC's super secret Hanford, Washington, installation. It was a skyhook balloon. On the twelfth a huge meteor sliced across Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri that netted us twenty or thirty reports. Even before they had stopped coming in, we had confirmation from our astronomer that the UFO was a meteor.
But forty two minutes later there was a sighting in Chicago that wasn't so easily explained.
According to our weather records, on the night of July 12 it was hot in Chicago. At nine forty two there were at least 400 people at Montrose Beach trying to beat the heat.
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