When they left McChord they had a good idea as to the identity of the UFO's. Fortunately they told the McChord intelligence officer what they had determined from their interview.
In a few hours the two officers were dead. The B-25 crashed near Kelso, Washington. The crew chief and a passenger had parachuted to safety. The newspapers hinted that the airplane was sabotaged and that it was carrying highly classified material. Authorities at McChord AFB confirmed this latter point, the airplane was carrying classified material.
In a few days the newspaper publicity on the crash died down, and the Maury Island Mystery was never publicly solved.
Later reports say that the two harbor patrolmen mysteriously disappeared soon after the fatal crash.
They should have disappeared, into Puget Sound. The whole Maury Island Mystery was a hoax. The first, possibly the second-best, and the dirtiest hoax in the UFO history. One passage in the detailed official report of the Maury Island Mystery says:
Both ______ (the two harbor patrolmen) admitted that the rock fragments had nothing to do with flying saucers. The whole thing was a hoax. They had sent in the rock fragments [to a magazine publisher] as a joke. ______ One of the patrolmen wrote to ______ [the publisher] stating that the rock could have been part of a flying saucer. He had said the rock came from a flying saucer because that's what [the publisher] wanted him to say.
The publisher, mentioned above, who, one of the two hoaxers said, wanted him to say that the rock fragments had come from a flying saucer, is the same one who paid the man I called Simpson $200 to investigate the case.
The Era of Confusion Begins.27
The report goes on to explain more details of the incident. Neither one of the two men could ever produce the photos. They "misplaced" them, they said. One of them, I forget which, was the mysterious informer who called the newspapers to report the conversations that were going on in the hotel room. Jackson's mysterious visitor didn't exist. Neither of the men was a harbor patrolman, they merely owned a couple of beat-up old boats that they used to salvage floating lumber from Puget Sound. The airplane crash was one of those unfortunate things. An engine caught on fire, burned off, and just before the two pilots could get out, the wing and tail tore off, making it impossible for them to escape. The two dead officers from Hamilton AFB smelled a hoax, accounting for their short interview and hesitancy in bothering to take the "fragments." They confirmed their convictions when they talked to the intelligence officer at McChord. It had already been established, through an informer, that the fragments were what Brown and Davidson thought, slag. The classified material on the B-25 was a file of reports the two officers offered to take back to Hamilton and had nothing to do with the Maury Island Mystery, or better, the Maury Island Hoax.
Simpson and his airline pilot friend weren't told about the hoax for one reason. As soon as it was discovered that they had been "taken," thoroughly, and were not a party to the hoax, no one wanted to embarrass them.
The majority of the writers of saucer lore have played this sighting to the hilt, pointing out as their main premise the fact that the story must be true because the government never openly exposed or prosecuted either of the two hoaxers. This is a logical premise, but a false one. The reason for the thorough investigation of the Maury Island Hoax was that the government had thought seriously of prosecuting the men. At the last minute it was decided, after talking to the two men, that the hoax was a harmless joke that had mushroomed, and that the loss of two lives and a B-25 could not be directly blamed on the two men. The story wasn't even printed because at the time of the incident, even though in this case the press knew about it, the facts were classed as evidence. By the time the facts were released they were yesterday's news. And nothing is deader than yesterday's news.
As 1947 drew to a close, the Air Force's Project Sign had outgrown its initial panic and had settled down to a routine operation. Every intelligence report dealing with the Germans' World War II aeronautical research had been studied to find out if the Russians could have developed any of the late German designs into flying saucers. Aerodynamicists at ATIC and at Wright Field's Aircraft Laboratory computed the maximum performance
28.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
that could be expected from the German designs. The designers of the aircraft themselves were contacted. "Could the Russians develop a flying saucer from their designs?" The answer was, "No, there was no conceivable way any aircraft could perform that would match the reported maneuvers of the UFO's." The Air Force's Aeromedical Laboratory concurred. If the aircraft could be built, the human body couldn't stand the violent maneuvers that were reported. The aircraft structures people seconded this, no material known could stand the loads of the reported maneuvers and heat of the high speeds.
Still convinced that the UFO's were real objects, the people at ATIC began to change their thinking. Those who were convinced that the UFO's were of Soviet origin now began to eye outer space, not because there was any evidence that the UFO's did come from outer space but because they were convinced that UFO's existed and only some unknown race with a highly developed state of technology could build such vehicles. As far as the effect on the human body was concerned, why couldn't these people, whoever they might be, stand these horrible maneuver forces? Why judge them by earthly standards? I found a memo to this effect was in the old Project Sign files.
Project Sign ended 1947 with a new problem. How do you collect interplanetary intelligence? During World War II the organization that was ATIC's forerunner, the Air Materiel Command's secret "T-2" had developed highly effective means of wringing out every possible bit of information about the technical aspects of enemy aircraft. ATIC knew these methods, but how could this be applied to spaceships? The problem was tackled with organized confusion.
If the confusion in the minds of Air Force people was organized the confusion in the minds of the public was not. Publicized statements regarding the UFO were conflicting.
A widely printed newspaper release, quoting an unnamed Air Force official in the Pentagon, said:
The "flying saucers" are one of three things:
1. Solar reflections on low hanging clouds.
2. Small meteors that break up, their crystals catching the rays of the sun.
3. Icing conditions could have formed large hailstones and they might have flattened out and glided.
A follow-up, which quoted several scientists, said in essence that the unnamed Air Force official was crazy. Nobody even heard of crystallized meteors, or huge, flat hailstones, and the solar reflection theory was absurd.
Life, Time, Newsweek, and many other news magazines carried articles
about the UFO's. Some were written with tongue in cheek, others were not. All the articles mentioned the Air Force's mass hysterical induced hallucinations. But a Veterans' Administration psychiatrist publicly pooh-poohed this. "Too many people are seeing things," he said.
It was widely suggested that all the UFO's were meteors. Two Chicago astronomers queered this. Dr. Gerard Kuiper, director of the University of Chicago observatory, was quoted as flatly saying the UFO's couldn't be meteors. "They are probably man-made," he told the Associated Press. Dr. Oliver Lee, director of Northwestern University's observatory, agreed with Dr. Kuiper and he threw in an additional confusion factor that had been in the back of many people's minds. Maybe they were our own aircraft.
The government had been denying that UFO's belonged to the U.S. from the first, but Dr. Vannevar Bush, the world-famous scientist, and Dr. Merle Tuve, inventor of the proximity fuse, added their weight. "Impossible," they said.
All of this time unnamed Air Force officials were disclaiming serious interest in the UFO subject. Yet every time a newspaper reporter went out to interview a person who had seen a UFO, intelligence agents had already been flown in, gotten the detailed story complete with sketches of the UFO, and sped back to their base to send the report to Project Sign. Many people had supposedly been "warned" not to talk too much. The Air Force was mighty interested in hallucinations.
Thus 1947 ended with various sized question marks in the mind of the public. If you followed flying saucers closely the question mark was big, if you just noted the UFO story titles in the papers it was smaller, but it was there and it was growing. Probably none of the people, military or civilian, who had made the public statements were at all qualified to do so but they had done it, their comments had been printed, and their comments had been read. Their comments formed the question mark.
1948 was only one hour and twenty-five minutes old when a gentleman from Abilene, Texas, made the first UFO report of the year. What he saw, "a fan shaped glow" in the sky, was insignificant as far as UFO
30.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
reports go, but it ushered in a year that was to bring feverish activity to Project Sign.
With the Soviets practically eliminated as a UFO source, the idea of interplanetary spaceships was becoming more popular. During 1948 the people in ATIC were openly discussing the possibility of interplanetary visitors without others tapping their heads and looking smug. During 1948 the novelty of UFO's had worn off for the press and every John and Jane Doe who saw one didn't make the front pages as in 1947. Editors were becoming hardened, only a few of the best reports got any space. Only the "Classics" rated headlines. "The Classics" were three historic reports that were the highlights of 1948. They are called "The Classics," a name given them by the Project Blue Book staff, because: (1) they are classic examples of how the true facts of a UFO report can be twisted and warped by some writers to prove their point, (2) they are the most highly publicized reports of this early era of the UFO's, and (3) they "proved" to ATIC's intelligence specialists that UFO's were real.
The apparent lack of interest in UFO reports by the press was not a true indication of the situation. I later found out, from talking to writers, that all during 1948 the interest in UFO's was running high. The Air Force Press Desk in the Pentagon was continually being asked what progress was being made in the UFO investigation. The answer was, "Give us time. This job can't be done in a week." The press respected this and was giving them time. But every writer worth his salt has contacts, those "usually reliable sources" you read about, and these contacts were talking. All during 1948 contacts in the Pentagon were telling how UFO reports were rolling in at the rate of several per day and how ATIC UFO investigation teams were flying out of Dayton to investigate them. They were telling how another Air Force investigative organization had been called in to lighten ATIC's load and allow ATIC to concentrate on the analysis of the reports. The writers knew this was true because they had crossed paths with these men whom they had mistakenly identified as FBI agents. The FBI was never officially interested in UFO sightings. The writers' contacts in the airline industry told about the UFO talk from V.P.'s down to the ramp boys. Dozens of good, solid, reliable, experienced airline pilots were seeing UFO's. All of this led to one conclusion: whatever the Air Force had to say, when it was ready to talk, would be newsworthy. But the Air Force wasn't ready to talk.
Project Sign personnel were just getting settled down to work after the New Year's holiday when the "ghost rockets" came back to the Scandinavian countries of Europe. Air attaché's in Sweden, Denmark, and
Norway fired wires to ATIC telling about the reports. Wires went back asking for more information.
The "ghost rockets," so tagged by the newspapers, had first been seen in the summer of 1946, a year before the first UFO sighting in the U.S. There were many different descriptions for the reported objects. They were usually seen in the hours of darkness and almost always traveling at extremely high speeds. They were shaped like a ball or projectile, were a bright green, white, red, or yellow and sometimes made sounds. Like their American cousins, they were always so far away that no details could be seen. For no good reason, other than speculation and circulation, the newspapers had soon begun to refer authoritatively to these "ghost rockets" as guided missiles, and implied that they were from Russia. Peenemunde, the great German missile development center and birthplace of the V-2 and V-2 guided missiles, came in for its share of suspicion since it was held by the Russians. By the end of the summer of 1946 the reports were widespread, coming from Denmark, Norway, Spain, Greece, French Morocco, Portugal, and Turkey. In 1947, after no definite conclusions as to identity of the "rockets" had been established, the reports died out. Now in early January 1948 they broke out again. But Project Sign personnel were too busy to worry about European UFO reports, they were busy at home. A National Guard pilot had just been killed chasing a UFO.
On January 7 all of the late papers in the U.S. carried headlines similar to those in the Louisville Courier: "F-51 and Capt. Mantell Destroyed Chasing Flying Saucer." This was Volume I of "The Classics," the Mantell Incident.
At one fifteen on that afternoon the control tower operators at Godman AFB, outside Louisville, Kentucky, received a telephone call from the Kentucky State Highway Patrol. The patrol wanted to know if Godman Tower knew anything about any unusual aircraft in the vicinity. Several people from Maysville, Kentucky, a small town 80 miles east of Louisville, had reported seeing a strange aircraft. Godman knew that they had nothing in the vicinity so they called Flight Service at Wright-Patterson AFB. In a few minutes Flight Service called back. Their air Traffic control board showed no flights in the area. About twenty minutes later the state police called again. This time people from the towns of Owensboro and Irvington, Kentucky, west of Louisville, were reporting a strange craft. The report from these two towns was a little more complete. The towns people had described the object to the state police as being "circular, about 250 to 300 feet in diameter," and moving westward at a "pretty good
32.The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects
clip." Godman Tower checked Flight Service again. Nothing. All this time the tower operators had been looking for the reported object. They theorized that since the UFO had had to pass north of Godman to get from Maysville to Owensboro it might come back.
At one forty-five they saw it, or something like it. Later, in his official report, the assistant tower operator said that he had seen the object for several minutes before he called his chiefs attention to it. He said that he had been reluctant to "make a flying saucer report." As soon as the two men in the tower had assured themselves that the UFO they saw was not an airplane or a weather balloon, they called Flight Operations. They wanted the operations officer to see the UFO. Before long word of the sighting had gotten around to key personnel on the base, and several officers, besides the base operations officer and the base intelligence officer, were in the tower. All of them looked at the UFO through the tower's 6 x 50 binoculars and decided they couldn't identify it. About this time Colonel Hix, the base commander, arrived. He looked and he was baffled. At two thirty, they reported, they were discussing what should be done when four F-51's came into view, approaching the base from the south.
The tower called the flight leader, Captain Mantell, and asked him to take a look at the object and try to identify it. One F-51 in the flight was running low on fuel, so he asked permission to go on to his base. Mantell took his two remaining wing men, made a turn, and started after the UFO. The people in Godman Tower were directing him as none of the pilots could see the object at this time. They gave Mantell an initial heading toward the south and the flight was last seen heading in the general direction of the UFO.
By the time the F-51's had climbed to 10,000 feet, the two wing men later reported, Mantell had pulled out ahead of them and they could just barely see him. At two forty-five Mantell called the tower and said, "I see something above and ahead of me and I'm still climbing." All the people in the tower heard Mantell say this and they heard one of the wing men call back and ask, "What the hell are we looking for?" The tower immediately called Mantell and asked him for a description of what he saw. Odd as it may seem, no one can remember exactly what he answered. Saucer historians have credited him with saying, "I've sighted the thing. It looks metallic and it's tremendous in size.... Now it's starting to climb." Then in a few seconds he is supposed to have called and said, "It's above me and I'm gaining on it. I'm going to 20,000 feet." Everyone in the tower agreed on this one last bit of the transmission, "I'm going to 20,000 feet," but didn't agree on the first part, about the UFO's being metallic and tremendous.
The two wing men were now at 15,000 feet and trying frantically to call Mantell. He had climbed far above them by this time and was out of sight. Since none of them had any oxygen they were worried about Mantell. Their calls were not answered. Mantell never talked to anyone again. The two wing men leveled off at 15,000 feet, made another fruitless effort to call Mantell, and started to come back down. As they passed Godman Tower on their way to their base, one of them said something to the effect that all he had seen was a reflection on his canopy.
When they landed at their base, Standiford Field, just north of Godman, one pilot had his F-51 refueled and serviced with oxygen, and took off to search the area again. He didn't see anything.
At three fifty the tower lost sight of the UFO. A few minutes later they got word that Mantell had crashed and was dead.
Several hours later, at 7:20 P.M., airfield towers all over the Midwest sent in frantic reports of another UFO. In all about a dozen airfield towers reported the UFO as being low on the southwestern horizon and disappearing after about twenty minutes. The writers of saucer lore say this UFO was what Mantell was chasing when he died; the Air Force says this UFO was Venus.
The people on Project Sign worked fast on the Mantell Incident. Contemplating a flood of queries from the press as soon as they heard about the crash, they realized that they had to get a quick answer. Venus had been the target of a chase by an Air Force F-51 several weeks before and there were similarities between this sighting and the Mantell Incident. So almost before the rescue crews had reached the crash, the word "Venus" went out. This satisfied the editors, and so it stood for about a year; Mantell had unfortunately been killed trying to reach the planet Venus.
To the press, the nonchalant, offhand manner with which the sighting was written off by the Air Force public relations officer showed great confidence in the conclusion, Venus, but behind the barbed wire fence that encircled ATIC the nonchalant attitude didn't exist among the intelligence analysts. One man had already left for Louisville and the rest were doing some tall speculating. The story about the tower-to-air talk, "It looks metallic and it's tremendous in size," spread fast. Rumor had it that the tower had carried on a running conversation with the pilots and that there was more information than was so far known. Rumor also had it that this conversation had been recorded.
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