We investigated some of these reports and could find absolutely no fact behind the stories.
We had a hundred or so photos of flying saucers, both stills and movies. Many were fakes some so expert that it took careful study by photo interpreters to show how the photos had been faked. Some were the crudest of fakes, automobile hub caps thrown into the air, homemade saucers suspended by threads, and just plain retouched negatives. The rest of the still photos had been sent in by well meaning citizens who couldn't recognize a light flare of flaw in the negative, or who had chanced to get an excellent photo of a sundog or mirage.
But the movies that were sent in to us were different. In the first place, it takes an expert with elaborate equipment to fake a movie. We had or knew about four strips of movie film that fell into the "Unknown" category. Two were the cinetheodolite movies that had been taken at White Sands Proving Ground in April and May of 1950, one was the Montana Movie and the last was the Tremonton Movie. These latter two had been subjected to thousands of hours of analysis, and since we planned to give the panel of scientists more thorough reports on them on Friday, I skipped over their details and went to the next point I wanted to cover - theories.
Periodically throughout the history of the UFO people have come up with widely publicized theories to explain all UFO reports. The one that received the most publicity was the one offered by Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard University. Dr. Menzel, writing in Time, Look, and later in his Flying Saucers, claimed that all UFO reports could be explained as various types of light phenomena. We studied this theory thoroughly because it did seem to have merit. Project Bear's physicists studied it. ATIC's scientific consultants studied it and discussed it with several
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leading European physicists whose specialty was atmospheric physics. In general the comments that Project Blue Book received were, "He's given the subject some thought but his explanations are not the panacea."
And there were other widely publicized theories. One man said that they were all skyhook balloons, but we knew the flight path of every skyhook balloon and they were seldom reported as UFO's. Their little brothers, the weather balloons, caused us a great deal more trouble.
The Army Engineers took a crack at solving the UFO problem by making an announcement that a scientist in one of their laboratories had duplicated a flying saucer in his laboratory. Major Dewey Fournet checked into this one. It had all started out as a joke, but it was picked up as fact and the scientist was stuck with it. He gained some publicity but lost prestige because other scientists wondered just how competent the man really was to try to pass off such an answer.
All in all, the unsolicited assistance of theorists didn't help us a bit, I told the panel members. Some of them were evidently familiar with the theories because they nodded their heads in agreement.
The next topic I covered in my briefing was a question that came up quite frequently in discussions of the UFO: Did UFO reports actually start in 1947? We had spent a great deal of time trying to resolve this question. Old newspaper files, journals, and books that we found in the Library of Congress contained many reports of odd things being seen in the sky as far back as the Biblical times. The old Negro spiritual says, "Ezekiel saw a wheel 'way up in the middle of the air." We couldn't substantiate Ezekiel's sighting because many of the very old reports of odd things observed in the sky could be explained as natural phenomena that weren't fully understood in those days.
The first documented reports of sightings similar to the UFO sightings as we know them today appeared in the newspapers of 1896. In fact, the series of sightings that occurred in that year and the next had many points of similarity with the reports of today.
The sightings started in the San Francisco Bay area on the evening of November 22, 1896, when hundreds of people going home from work saw a large, dark, "cigar shaped object with stubby wings" traveling northwest across Oakland.
Within hours after the mystery craft had disappeared over what is now the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, the stories of people in other northern California towns began to come in on the telegraph wires. The citizens of Santa Rosa, Sacramento, Chico, and Red Bluff- several thousand of them saw it.
I tried to find out if the people in these outlying communities saw the
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UFO before they heard the news from the San Francisco area or afterward, but trying to run down the details of a fifty-six-year-old UFO report is almost hopeless. Once while I was on a trip to Hamilton AFB I called the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle and they put me in touch with a retired employee who had worked on a San Francisco paper in 1896. I called the old gentleman on the phone and talked to him for a long time. He had been a copy boy at the time and remembered the incident, but time had canceled out the details. He did tell me that he, the editor of the paper, and the news staff had seen "the ship," as he referred to the UFO. His story, even though it was fifty six years old, smacked of others I'd heard when he said that no one at the newspaper ever told anyone what they had seen; they didn't want people to think that they were "crazy."
On November 30 the mystery ship was back over the San Francisco area and those people who had maintained that people were being fooled by a wag in a balloon became believers when the object was seen moving into the wind.
For four months reports came in from villages, cities, and farms in the West; then the Midwest, as the airship "moved eastward." In early April of 1897 people in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois reported seeing it. On April 10 it was reported to be over Chicago. Reports continued to come in to the newspapers until about April 20; then it, or stories about it, were gone. Literally thousands of people had seen it before the last report clicked in over the telegraph wires.
A study of the hundreds of newspaper accounts of this sighting that rocked the world in the late 1890's was interesting because the same controversies that arose then exist now. Those who hadn't seen the stubby winged, cigar shaped "craft" said, "Phooey," or the nineteenth- century version thereof. Those who had seen it were almost ready to do battle to uphold their integrity. Some astronomers loudly yelled, "Venus," "Jupiter," and "Alpha Orionis" while others said, "We saw it." Thomas Edison, the man of science of the day, disclaimed any knowledge of the mystery craft. "I prefer to devote my time to objects of commercial value," he told a New York Herald reporter. "At best airships would only be toys."
Thomas - you goofed on that prediction.
I had one more important point to cover before I finished my briefing and opened the meeting to a general question-and-answer session.
During the past year and a half we had had several astronomers visit Project Blue Book, and they were not at all hesitant to give us their opinions but they didn't care to say much about what their colleagues were thinking, although they did indicate that they were thinking. We decided
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that the opinions and comments of astronomers would be of value, so late in 1952 we took a poll. We asked an astronomer, whom we knew to be unbiased about the UFO problem and who knew every outstanding astronomer in the United States, to take a trip and talk to his friends. We asked him not to make a point of asking about the UFO but just to work the subject into a friendly conversation. This way we hoped to get a completely frank opinion. To protect his fellow astronomers, our astronomer gave them all code names and he kept the key to the code.
The report we received expressed the detailed opinions of forty five recognized authorities. Their opinions varied from that of Dr. C, who regarded the UFO project as a "silly waste of money to investigate an even sillier subject," to Dr. L, who has spent a great deal of his own valuable time personally investigating UFO reports because he believes that they are something "real." Of the forty five astronomers who were interviewed, 36 per cent were not at all interested in the UFO reports, 41 per cent were interested to the point of offering their services if they were ever needed, and 23 per cent thought that the UFO's were a much more serious problem than most people recognized.
None of the astronomers, even during a friendly discussion, admitted that he thought the UFO's could be interplanetary vehicles. All of those who were interested would only go so far as to say, "We don't know what they are, but they're something real."
During the past few years I have heard it said that if the UFO's were really "solid objects" our astronomers would have seen them. Our study shed some light on this point - astronomers have seen UFO's. None of them has ever seen or photographed anything resembling a UFO through his telescope, but 11 per cent of the forty five men had seen something that they couldn't explain. Although, technically speaking, these sightings were no better than hundreds of others in our files as far as details were concerned, they were good because of the caliber of the observer. Astronomers know what is in the sky.
It is interesting to note that out of the representative cross section of astronomers, five of them, or 11 per cent, had sighted UFO's. For a given group of people this is well above average. To check this point, the astronomer who was making our study picked ninety people at random - people he met while traveling - and got them into a conversation about flying saucers. These people were his "control group," to borrow a term from the psychologists. Although the percentage of people who were interested in UFO's was higher for the control group than for the group of astronomers, only 41 per cent of the astronomers were interested while 86 per cent of the control group were interested; 11 per cent of the
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astronomers had seen UFO's, while only about 1 per cent of the control group had seen one. This seemed to indicate that as a group astronomers see many more UFO's than the average citizen.
When I finished my briefing, it was too late to start the question- and- answer session, so the first day's meeting adjourned. But promptly at nine o'clock the next morning the group was again gathered, and from the looks of the list of questions some of them had, they must have been thinking about UFO's all night.
One of the first questions was about the results of photography taken by the pairs of huge "meteorite patrol" cameras that are located in several places throughout North America. Did they ever photograph a UFO? The cameras, which are in operation almost every clear night, can photograph very dim lights, and once a light is photographed its speed and altitude can be very accurately established. If there were any objects giving off light as they flew through our atmosphere, there is a chance that these cameras might have photographed them. But they hadn't.
At first this seemed to be an important piece of evidence and we had just about racked this fact up as a definite score against the UFO when we did a little checking. If the UFO had been flying at an altitude of 100 miles, the chances of its being picked up by the cameras would be good, but the chances of photographing something flying any lower would be less.
This may account for the fact that while our "inquiring astronomer" was at the meteorite patrol camera sites, he talked to an astronomer who had seen a UFO while operating one of the patrol cameras.
Many people have asked why our astronomers haven't seen anything through their big telescopes. They are focused light years away and their field of vision is so narrow that even if UFO's did exist and littered the atmosphere they wouldn't be seen.
Another question the panel had was about Orson Welles' famous War of the Worlds broadcast of October 1938, which caused thousands of people to panic. Had we studied this to see if there were any similarities between it and the current UFO reporting?
Our psychologist looked into the matter and gave us an opinion - to make a complete study and get a positive answer would require an effort that would dwarf the entire UFO project. But he did have a few comments. There were many documented cases in which a series of innocent circumstances triggered by the broadcast had caused people to completely lose all sense of good judgment - to panic. There were some similar reports in our UFO files.
But we had many reports in which people reported UFO's and obviously
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hadn't panicked. Reports from pilots who had seen mysterious lights at night and, thinking that they might be a cockpit reflection, had turned off all their cockpit lights. Or the pilots who turned and rolled their airplanes to see if they could change the angle of reflection and get rid of the UFO. Or those pilots who climbed and dove thousands of feet and then leveled out to see if the UFO would change its relative position to the airplane. Or the amateur astronomer who made an excellent sighting and before he reluctantly reported it as a UFO had talked to a half dozen professional astronomers and physicists in hopes of finding an explanation. All of these people were thinking clearly, questioning themselves as to what the sightings could be; then trying to answer their questions. These people weren't panicked.
The question-and-answer period went on for a full day as the scientists dug into the details of the general facts I had given them in my briefing.
The following day and a half was devoted to reviewing and discussing fifty of our best sighting reports that we had classed as "Unknowns."
The next item on the agenda, when the panel had finished absorbing all of the details of the fifty selected top reports, was a review of a very hot and very highly controversial study. It was based on the idea that Major Dewey Fournet and I had talked about several months before - an analysis of the motions of the reported UFO's in an attempt to determine whether they were intelligently controlled. The study was hot because it wasn't official and the reason it wasn't official was because it was so hot. It concluded that the UFO's were interplanetary spaceships. The report had circulated around high command levels of intelligence and it had been read with a good deal of interest. But even though some officers at command levels just a notch below General Samford bought it, the space behind the words "Approved by" was blank - no one would stick his neck out and officially send it to the top.
Dewey Fournet, who had completed his tour of active duty in the Air Force and was now a civilian, was called from Houston, Texas, to tell the scientists about the study since he had worked very closely with the group that had prepared it.
The study covered several hundred of our most detailed UFO reports. By a very critical process of elimination, based on the motion of the reported UFO's, Fournet told the panel how he and any previous analysis by Project Blue Book had been disregarded and how those reports that could have been caused by any one of the many dozen known objects - balloons, airplanes, astronomical bodies, etc., were sifted out. This sifting took quite a toll, and the study ended up with only ten or twenty reports that fell into the "Unknown" category. Since such critical methods of
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evaluation had been used, these few reports proved beyond a doubt that the UFO's were intelligently controlled by persons with brains equal to or far surpassing ours.
The next step in the study, Fournet explained, was to find out where they came from. "Earthlings" were eliminated, leaving the final answer - spacemen.
Both Dewey and I had been somewhat worried about how the panel would react to a study with such definite conclusions. But when he finished his presentation, it was obvious from the tone of the questioning that the men were giving the conclusions serious thought. Fournet's excellent reputation was well known.
On Friday morning we presented the feature attractions of the session, the Tremonton Movie and the Montana Movie. These two bits of evidence represented the best photos of UFO's that Project Blue Book had to offer. The scientists knew about them, especially the Tremonton Movie, because since late July they had been the subject of many closed door conferences. Generals, admirals, and GS-16's had seen them at "command performances", and they had been flown to Kelly AFB in Texas to be shown to a conference of intelligence officers from all over the world. Two of the country's best military photo laboratories, the Air Force lab at Wright Field and the Navy's lab at Anacostia, Maryland, had spent many hours trying to prove that the UFO's were balloons, airplanes, or stray light reflections, but they failed - the UFO's were true unknowns. The possibility that the movie had been faked was considered but quickly rejected because only a Hollywood studio with elaborate equipment could do such a job and the people who filmed the movies didn't have this kind of equipment.
The Montana Movie had been taken on August 15, 1950, by Nick Mariana, the manager of the Great Falls baseball team. It showed two large bright lights flying across the blue sky in an echelon formation. There were no clouds in the movie to give an indication of the UFO's speed, but at one time they passed behind a water tower. The lights didn't show any detail; they appeared to be large circular objects.
Mariana had sent his movies to the Air Force back in 1950, but in 1950 there was no interest in the UFO so, after a quick viewing, Project Grudge had written them off as "the reflections from two F-94 jet fighters that were in the area."
In 1952, at the request of the Pentagon, I reopened the investigation of the Montana Movie. Working through an intelligence officer at the Great Falls AFB, I had Mariana reinterrogated and obtained a copy of his movie, which I sent to the photo lab.
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When the photo lab got the movie, they had a little something to work with because the two UFO's had passed behind a reference point, the water tower. Their calculations quickly confirmed that the objects were not birds, balloons, or meteors. Balloons drift with the wind and the wind was not blowing in the direction that the two UFO's were traveling. No exact speeds could be measured, but the lab could determine that the lights were traveling too fast to be birds and too slow to be meteors.
This left airplanes as the only answer. The intelligence officer at Great Falls had dug through huge stacks of files and found that only two airplanes, two F-94's, were near the city during the sighting and that they had landed about two minutes afterwards. Both Mariana and his secretary, who had also seen the UFO's, had said that the two jets had appeared in another part of the sky only a minute or two after the two UFO's had disappeared in the southeast. This in itself would eliminate the jets as candidates for the UFO's, but we wanted to double check. The two circular lights didn't look like F-94's, but anyone who has done any flying can tell you that an airplane so far away that it can't be seen can suddenly catch the sun's rays and make a brilliant flash.
First we studied the flight paths of the two F-94's. We knew the landing pattern that was being used on the day of the sighting, and we knew when the two F-94's landed. The two jets just weren't anywhere close to where the two UFO's had been. Next we studied each individual light and both appeared to be too steady to be reflections.
We drew a blank on the Montana Movie - it was an unknown.
We also drew a blank on the Tremonton Movie, a movie that had been taken by a Navy Chief Photographer, Warrant Officer Delbert C. Newhouse, on July 2, 1952.
Our report on the incident showed that Newhouse, his wife, and their two children were driving to Oakland, California, from the east coast on this eventful day. They had just passed through Tremonton, Utah, a town north of Salt Lake City, and had traveled about 7 miles on U.S. Highway 30S when Mrs. Newhouse noticed a group of objects in the sky. She pointed them out to her husband; he looked, pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and jumped out to get a better look. He didn't have to look very long to realize that something highly unusual was taking place because in his twenty one years in the Navy and 2,000 hours' flying time as an aerial photographer, he'd never seen anything like this. About a dozen shiny disk like objects were "milling around the sky in a rough formation."
Newhouse had his movie camera so he turned the turret around to a 3 inch telephoto lens and started to photograph the UFO's. He held the camera still and took several feet of film, getting all of the bright objects
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in one photo. All of the UFO's had stayed in a compact group from the time the Newhouse family had first seen them, but just before they disappeared over the western horizon one of them left the main group and headed east. Newhouse swung his camera around and took several shots of it, holding his camera steady and letting the UFO pass through the field of view before it disappeared in the east.
When I received the Tremonton films I took them right over to the Wright Field photo lab, along with the Montana Movie, and the photo technicians and I ran them twenty or thirty times. The two movies were similar in that in both of them the objects appeared to be large circular lights - in neither one could you see any detail. But, unlike the Montana Movie, the lights in the Tremonton Movie would fade out, then come back in again. This fading immediately suggested airplanes reflecting light, but the roar of a king-sized dogfight could have been heard for miles and the Newhouse family had heard no sound. We called in several fighter pilots and they watched the UFO's circling and darting in and out in the cloudless blue sky. Their unqualified comment was that no airplane could do what the UFO's were doing.
Balloons came under suspicion, but the lab eliminated them just as quickly by studying the kind of a reflection given off by a balloon - it is a steady reflection since a balloon is spherical. Then, to further scuttle the balloon theory, clusters of balloons are tied together and don't mill around. Of course, the lone UFO that took off to the east by itself was the biggest argument against balloons.
Newhouse told an intelligence officer from the Western Air Defense Forces that he had held his camera still and let this single UFO fly through the field of view, so the people in the lab measured its angular velocity. Unfortunately there were no clouds in the sky, nor was he able to include any of the ground in the pictures, so our estimates of angular velocity had to be made assuming that the photographer held his camera still. Had the lone UFO been 10 miles away it would have been traveling several thousand miles an hour.
After studying the movies for several weeks, the Air Force photo lab at Wright Field gave up. All they had to say was, "We don't know what they are but they aren't airplanes or balloons, and we don't think they are birds."
While the lab had been working on the movies at Wright Field, Major Fournet had been talking to the Navy photo people at Anacostia; they thought they had some good ideas on how to analyze the movies, so as soon as we were through with them I sent them to Major Fournet and he took them over to the Navy lab.
The Navy lab spent about two months studying the films and had just
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completed their analysis. The men who had done the work were on hand to brief the panel of scientists on their analysis after the panel had seen the movies.
We darkened the room and I would imagine that we ran each film ten times before every panel member was satisfied that he had seen and could remember all of the details. We ran both films together so that the men could compare them.
The Navy analysts didn't use the words "interplanetary spacecraft" when they told of their conclusions, but they did say that the UFO's were intelligently controlled vehicles and that they weren't airplanes or birds. They had arrived at this conclusion by making a frame-by-frame study of the motion of the lights and the changes in the lights' intensity.
When the Navy people had finished with their presentation, the scientists had questions. None of the panel members were trying to find fault with the work the Navy people had done, but they weren't going to accept the study until they had meticulously searched for every loophole. Then they found one.
In measuring the brilliance of the lights, the photo analysts had used an instrument called a densitometer. The astronomer on the panel knew all about measuring the density of an extremely small photographic image with a densitometer because he did it all the time in his studies of the stars. And the astronomer didn't think that the Navy analysts had used the correct technique in making their measurements. This didn't necessarily mean that their data were all wrong, but it did mean that they should recheck their work.
When the discussion of the Navy's report ended, one of the scientists asked to see the Tremonton Movie again; so I had the projectionists run it several more times. The man said that he thought the UFO's could be sea gulls soaring on a thermal current. He lived in Berkeley and said that he'd seen gulls high in the air over San Francisco Bay. We had thought of this possibility several months before because the area around the Great Salt Lake is inhabited by large white gulls. But the speed of the lone UFO as it left the main group had eliminated the gulls. I pointed this out to the physicist. His answer was that the Navy warrant officer might have thought he had held the camera steady, but he could have "panned with the action" unconsciously. This would throw all of our computations way off. I agreed with this, but I couldn't agree that they were sea gulls.
But several months later I was in San Francisco waiting for an airliner to Los Angeles and I watched gulls soaring in a cloudless sky. They were "riding a thermal," and they were so high that you couldn't see them until they banked just a certain way; then they appeared to be a bright white
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flash, much larger than one would expect from sea gulls. There was a strong resemblance to the UFO's in the Tremonton Movie. But I'm not sure that this is the answer.
The presentation of the two movies ended Project Blue Book's part of the meeting. In five days we had given the panel of scientists every pertinent detail in the history of the UFO, and it was up to them to tell us if they were real - some type of vehicle flying through our atmosphere. If they were real, then they would have to be spacecraft because no one at the meeting gave a second thought to the possibility that the UFO's might be a super secret U.S. aircraft or a Soviet development.
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