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 service. 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 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 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 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 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 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 office all day getting ready to go to Los Alamos the next day. About 5:00P.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.
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.
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 3:40P.M. a woman at Unionville, Virginia, had reported a "very shiny object" at high altitude.
At 4:20P.M. 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 4:25P.M. the crew of an airliner northwest of Richmond, Virginia, reported a "silver sphere at eleven o'clock high."
At 4:43P.M. a Marine pilot in a jet tried to intercept a "round shiny sphere" south of Gordonsville.
At 5:43P.M. an Air Force T-33 jet tried to intercept a "shiny sphere" south of Gordonsville. He got above 35,000 feet and the UFO was still far above him.
At 7:35P.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 7:59P.M. the people in the CAA radio facility at Blackstone saw it.
At 8:00P.M. jets arrived from Langley AFB to attempt to intercept it, but at 8:05P.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 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.
"Probably a balloon" was a good enough answer for me.
The next morning at 8:00A.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 10:42P.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 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 10:47P.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 9:15A.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.
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." 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 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-l 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 lock-on 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 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 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 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 supersecret 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. Many of them were lying down looking at the stars, so that they saw the UFO as it came in from the west northwest, made a 180-degree turn directly over their heads, and disappeared over the horizon. It was a "large red light with small white lights on the side," most of the people reported. Some of them said that it changed to a single yellow light as it made its turn. It was in sight about five minutes, and during this time no one reported hearing any sound.
One of the people at the beach was the weather officer from O'Hare International Airport, an Air Force captain. He immediately called O'Hare. They checked on balloon flights and with radar, but both were negative; radar said that there had been no aircraft in the area of Montrose Beach for several hours.
I sent an investigator to Chicago, and although he came back with a lot of data on the sighting, it didn't add up to be anything known.
The next day Dayton had its first UFO sighting in a long time when a Mr. Roy T. Ellis, president of the Rubber Seal Products Company, and many other people, reported a teardrop-shaped object that hovered over Dayton for several minutes about midnight. This sighting had an interesting twist because two years later I was in Dayton and stopped in at ATIC to see a friend who is one of the technical advisers at the center.
Naturally the conversation got around to the subject of UFO's, and he asked me if I remembered this specific sighting. I did, so he went on to say that he and his wife had seen this UFO that night but they had never told anybody. He was very serious when he admitted that he had no idea what it could have been. Now I'd heard this statement a thousand times before from other people, but coming from this person, it was really something because he was as anti-saucer as anyone I knew. Then he added, "From that time on I didn't think your saucer reporters were as crazy as I used to think they were."
The Dayton sighting also created quite a stir in the press. In conjunction with the sighting, the Dayton Daily Journal had interviewed Colonel Richard H. Magee, the Dayton-Oakwood civil defense director; they wanted to know what he thought about the UFO's. The colonel's answer made news: "There's something flying around in our skies and we wish we knew what it was."
When the story broke in other papers, the colonel's affiliation with civil defense wasn't mentioned, and he became merely "a colonel from Dayton." Dayton was quickly construed by the public to mean Wright- Patterson AFB and specifically ATIC. Some people in the Pentagon screamed while others gleefully clapped their hands. The gleeful handclaps were from those people who wanted the UFO's to be socially recognized, and they believed that if they couldn't talk their ideas into being they might be able to force them in with the help of this type of publicity.
The temporary lull in reporting that Project Blue Book had experienced in early July proved to be only the calm before the storm. By mid-July we were getting about twenty reports a day plus frantic calls from intelligence officers all over the United States as every Air Force installation in the U.S. was being swamped with reports. We told the intelligence officers to send in the ones that sounded the best.
The build-up in UFO reports wasn't limited to the United States— every day we would receive reports from our air attaches in other countries. England and France led the field, with the South American countries running a close third. Needless to say, we didn't investigate or evaluate foreign reports because we had our hands full right at home.
Most of us were putting in fourteen hours a day, six days a week. It wasn't at all uncommon for Lieutenant Andy Flues, Bob Olsson, or Kerry Rothstien, my investigators, to get their sleep on an airliner going out or coming back from an investigation. TWA airliners out of Dayton were more like home than home. But we hadn't seen anything yet.
All the reports that were coming in were good ones, ones with no answers. Unknowns were running about 40 percent. Rumors persist that in mid-July 1952 the Air Force was braced for an expected invasion by flying saucers. Had these rumormongers been at ATIC in mid-July they would have thought that the invasion was already in full swing. And they would have thought that one of the beachheads for the invasion was Patrick AFB, the Air Force's Guided Missile Long-Range Proving Ground on the east coast of Florida.
On the night of July 18, at ten forty-five, two officers were standing in front of base operations at Patrick when they noticed a light at about a 45-degree angle from the horizon and off to the west. It was an amber color and "quite a bit brighter than a star." Both officers had heard flying saucer stories, and both thought the light was a balloon. But, to be comedians, they called to several more officers and airmen inside the operations office and told them to come out and "see the flying saucer." The people came out and looked. A few were surprised and took the mysterious light seriously, at the expense of considerable laughter from the rest of the group. The discussion about the light grew livelier and bets that it was a balloon were placed. In the meantime the light had drifted over the base, had stopped for about a minute, turned, and was now heading north. To settle the bet, one of the officers stepped into the base weather office to find out about the balloon. Yes, one was in the air and being tracked by radar, he was told. The weather officer said that he would call to find out exactly where it was. He called and found out that the weather balloon was being tracked due west of the base and that the light had gone out about ten minutes before. The officer went back outside to find that what was first thought to be a balloon was now straight north of the field and still lighted. To add to the confusion, a second amber light had appeared in the west about 20 degrees lower than where the first one was initially seen, and it was also heading north but at a much greater speed. In a few seconds the first light stopped and started moving back south over the base.
While the group of officers and airmen were watching the two lights, the people from the weather office came out to tell the UFO observers that the balloon was still traveling straight west. They were just in time to see a third light come tearing across the sky, directly overhead, from west to east. A weatherman went inside and called the balloon-tracking crew again—their balloon was still far to the west of the base.
Inside of fifteen minutes two more amber lights came in from the west, crossed the base, made a 180-degree turn over the ocean, and came back over the observers.
In the midst of the melee a radar set had been turned on but it couldn't pick up any targets. This did, however, eliminate the possibility of the lights' being aircraft. They weren't stray balloons either, because the winds at all altitudes were blowing in a westerly direction. They obviously weren't meteors. They weren't searchlights on a haze layer because there was no weather conducive to forming a haze layer and there were no searchlights. They could have been some type of natural phenomenon, if one desires to take the negative approach. Or, if you take the positive approach, they could have been spaceships.
The next night radar at Washington National Airport picked up UFO's and one of the most highly publicized sightings of UFO history was in the making. It marked the beginning of the end of the Big Flap.
The Washington Merry-Go-Round
No flying saucer report in the history of the UFO ever won more world acclaim than the Washington National Sightings.
When radars at the Washington National Airport and at Andrews AFB, both close to the nation's capital, picked up UFO's, the sightings beat the Democratic National Convention out of headline space. They created such a furor that I had inquiries from the office of the President of the United States and from the press in London, Ottawa, and Mexico City. A junior-sized riot was only narrowly averted in the lobby of the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington when I refused to tell U.S. newspaper reporters what I knew about the sightings.
Besides being the most highly publicized UFO sightings in the Air Force annals, they were also the most monumentally fouled-up messes that repose in the files. Although the Air Force said that the incident had been fully investigated, the Civil Aeronautics Authority wrote a formal report on the sightings, and numerous magazine writers studied them, the complete story has never fully been told. The pros have been left out of the con accounts, and the cons were neatly overlooked by the pro writers.
For a year after the twin sightings we were still putting little pieces in the puzzle.
In some aspects the Washington National Sightings could be classed as a surprise—we used this as an excuse when things got fouled up— but in other ways they weren't. A few days prior to the incident a scientist, from an agency that I can't name, and I were talking about the build-up of reports along the east coast of the United States. We talked for about two hours, and I was ready to leave when he said that he had one last comment to make—a prediction. From his study of the UFO reports that he was getting from Air Force Headquarters, and from discussions with his colleagues, he said that he thought that we were sitting right on top of a big keg full of loaded flying saucers. "Within the next few days," he told me, and I remember that he punctuated his slow, deliberate remarks by hitting the desk with his fist, "they're going to blow up and you're going to have the granddaddy of all UFO sightings. The sighting will occur in Washington or New York," he predicted, "probably Washington."
The trend in the UFO reports that this scientist based his prediction on hadn't gone unnoticed. We on Project Blue Book had seen it, and so had the people in the Pentagon; we all had talked about it.
On July 10 the crew of a National Airlines plane reported a light "too bright to be a lighted balloon and too slow to be a big meteor" while they were flying south at 2,000 feet near Quantico, Virginia, just south of Washington.
On July 13 another airliner crew reported that when they were 60 miles southwest of Washington, at 11,000 feet, they saw a light below them. It came up to their level, hovered off to the left for several minutes, and then it took off in a fast, steep climb when the pilot turned on his landing lights.
On July 14 the crew of a Pan American airliner en route from New York to Miami reported eight UFO's near Newport News, Virginia, about 130 miles south of Washington.
Two nights later there was another sighting in exactly the same area but from the ground. At 9:00P.M. a high-ranking civilian scientist from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Laboratory at Langley AFB and another man were standing near the ocean looking south over Hampton Roads when they saw two amber-colored lights, "much too large to be aircraft lights," off to their right, silently traveling north. Just before the two lights got abreast of the two men they made a 180-degree turn and started back toward the spot where they had first been seen. As they turned, the two lights seemed to "jockey for position in the formation." About this time a third light came out of the west and joined the first two; then as the three UFO's climbed out of the area toward the south, several more lights joined the formation. The entire episode had lasted only three minutes.
The only possible solution to the sighting was that the two men had seen airplanes. We investigated this report and found that there were several B-26's from Langley AFB in the area at the time of the sighting, but none of the B-26 pilots remembered being over Hampton Roads. In fact, all of them had generally stayed well south of Norfolk until about 10:30P.M. because of thunderstorm activity northwest of Langley. Then there were other factors—the observers heard no sound and they were away from all city noises, aircraft don't carry just one or two amber lights, and the distance between the two lights was such that had they been on an airplane the airplane would have been huge or very close to the observers. And last, but not least, the man from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a very famous aerodynamicist and of such professional stature that if he said the lights weren't airplanes they weren't.
This then was the big build-up to the first Washington national sighting and the reason why my friend predicted that the Air Force was sitting on a big powder keg of loaded flying saucers.
When the keg blew the best laid schemes of the mice and men at ATIC, they went the way best laid schemes are supposed to. The first one of the highly publicized Washington national sightings started, according to the CAA's logbook at the airport, at 11:40P.M. on the night of July 19 when two radars at National Airport picked up eight unidentified targets east and south of Andrews AFB. The targets weren't airplanes because they would loaf along at 100 to 130 miles an hour then suddenly accelerate to "fantastically high speeds" and leave the area. During the night the crews of several airliners saw mysterious lights in the same locations that the radars showed the targets; tower operators also saw lights, and jet fighters were brought in.
But nobody bothered to tell Air Force Intelligence about the sighting. When reporters began to call intelligence and ask about the big sighting behind the headlines, INTERCEPTORS CHASE FLYING SAUCERS OVER WASHINGTON, D.C., they were told that no one had ever heard of such a sighting. In the next edition the headlines were supplemented by, AIR FORCE WONT TALK.
Thus intelligence was notified about the first Washington national sighting.
I heard about the sighting about ten o'clock Monday morning when Colonel Donald Bower and I got off an airliner from Dayton and I bought a newspaper in the lobby of the Washington National Airport Terminal Building. I called the Pentagon from the airport and talked to Major Dewey Fournet, but all he knew was what he'd read in the papers. He told me that he had called the intelligence officer at Bolling AFB and that he was making an investigation. We would get a preliminary official report by noon.
It was about 1:00P.M. when Major Fournet called me and said that the intelligence officer from Bolling was in his office with the preliminary report on the sightings. I found Colonel Bower, we went up to Major Fournet's office and listened to the intelligence officer's briefing.
The officer started by telling us about the location of the radars involved in the incident. Washington National Airport, which is located about three miles south of the heart of the city, had two radars. One was a long-range radar in the Air Route Traffic Control section. This radar had 100-mile range and was used to control all air traffic approaching Washington. It was known as the ARTC radar. The control tower at National Airport had a shorter-range radar that it used to control aircraft in the immediate vicinity of the airport. Bolling AFB, he said, was located just east of National Airport, across the Potomac River. Ten miles farther east, in almost a direct line with National and Bolling, was Andrews AFB. It also had a short- range radar. All of these airfields were linked together by an intercom system.
Then the intelligence officer went on to tell about the sighting.
When a new shift took over at the ARTC radar room at National Airport, the air traffic was light so only one man was watching the radarscope. The senior traffic controller and the six other traffic controllers on the shift were out of the room at eleven-forty, when the man watching the radarscope noticed a group of seven targets appear. From their position on the scope he knew that they were just east and a little south of Andrews AFB. In a way the targets looked like a formation of slow airplanes, but no formations were due in the area. As he watched, the targets loafed along at 100 to 130 miles an hour; then in an apparent sudden burst of speed two of them streaked out of radar range. These were no airplanes, the man thought, so he let out a yell for the senior controller. The senior controller took one look at the scope and called in two more of the men. They all agreed that these were no airplanes. The targets could be caused by a malfunction in the radar, they thought, so a technician was called in —the set was in perfect working order.
The senior controller then called the control tower at National Airport; they reported that they also had unidentified targets on their scopes, so did Andrews. And both of the other radars reported the same slow speeds followed by a sudden burst of speed. One target was clocked at 7,000 miles an hour. By now the targets had moved into every sector of the scope and had flown through the prohibited flying areas over the White House and the Capitol.
Several times during the night the targets passed close to commercial airliners in the area and on two occasions the pilots of the airliners saw lights that they couldn't identify, and the lights were in the same spots where the radar showed UFO's to be. Other pilots to whom the ARTC radar men talked on the radio didn't see anything odd, at least that's what they said, but the senior controller knew airline pilots and knew that they were very reluctant to report UFO's.
The first sighting of a light by an airline pilot took place shortly after midnight, when an ARTC controller called the pilot of a Capital Airlines flight just taking off from National. The controller asked the pilot to keep watch for unusual lights—or anything. Soon after the pilot cleared the traffic pattern, and while ARTC was still in contact with him, he suddenly yelled, "There's one—off to the right— and there it goes." The controller had been watching the scope, and a target that had been off to the right of the Capitaliner was gone.
During the next fourteen minutes this pilot reported six more identical lights.
About two hours later another pilot, approaching National Airport from the south, excitedly called the control tower to report that a light was following him at "eight o'clock level." The tower checked their radar-scope and there was a target behind and to the left of the airliner. The ARTC radar also had the airliner and the UFO target. The UFO tagged along behind and to the left of the airliner until it was within four miles of touchdown on the runway. When the pilot reported the light was leaving, the two radarscopes showed that the target was pulling away from the airliner.
Once during the night all three radars, the two at Washington and the one at Andrews AFB, picked up a target three miles north of the Riverdale Radio beacon, north of Washington. For thirty seconds the three radar operators compared notes about the target over the intercom, then suddenly the target was gone—and it left all three radarscopes simultaneously.
But the clincher came in the wee hours of the morning, when an ARTC traffic controller called the control tower at Andrews AFB and told the tower operators that ARTC had a target just south of their tower, directly over the Andrews Radio range station. The tower operators looked and there was a "huge fiery-orange sphere" hovering in the sky directly over their range station.
Not too long after this excitement had started, in fact just after the technician had checked the radar and found that the targets weren't caused by a radar malfunction, ARTC had called for Air Force interceptors to come in and look around. But they didn't show, and finally ARTC called again—then again. Finally, just about daylight, an F-94 arrived, but by that time the targets were gone. The F-94 crew searched the area for a few minutes but they couldn't find anything unusual so they returned to their base.
So ended phase one of the Washington National Sightings.
The Bolling AFB intelligence officer said he would write up the complete report and forward it to ATIC.
That afternoon things bustled in the Pentagon. Down on the first floor Al Chop was doing his best to stave off the press while up on the fourth floor intelligence officers were holding some serious conferences. There was talk of temperature inversions and the false targets they could cause; but the consensus was that a good radar operator could spot inversion-caused targets, and the traffic controllers who operated the radar at Washington National Airport weren't just out of radar school. Every day the lives of thousands of people depended upon their interpretation of the radar targets they saw on their scopes. And you don't get a job like this unless you've spent a good many years watching a luminous line paint targets on a good many radarscopes. Targets caused by inversions aren't rare—in the years that these men had been working with radar they had undoubtedly seen every kind of target, real or false, that radar can detect. They had told the Bolling AFB intelligence officer that the targets they saw were caused by the radar waves' bouncing off a hard, solid object. The Air Force radar operator at Andrews backed them up; so did two veteran airline pilots who saw lights right where the radar showed a UFO to be.
Then on top of all this there were the reports from the Washington area during the previous two weeks—all good—all from airline pilots or equally reliable people.
To say the least, the sighting at Washington National was a jolt.
Besides trying to figure out what the Washington National UFO's were, we had the problem of what to tell the press. They were now beginning to put on a squeeze by threatening to call a congressman— and nothing chills blood faster in the military. They wanted some kind of an official statement and they wanted it soon. Some people in intelligence wanted to say just, "We don't know," but others held out for a more thorough investigation. I happened to be in this latter category. Many times in the past I had seen what first seemed to be a good UFO report completely fall apart under a thorough investigation. I was for stalling the press and working all night if necessary to go into every aspect of the sighting. But to go along with the theme of the Washington National Sightings—confusion—there was a lot of talk but no action and the afternoon passed with no further investigation.
Finally about 4:00P.M. it was decided that the press, who still wanted an official comment, would get an official "No comment" and that I would stay in Washington and make a more detailed investigation.
I called Lieutenant Andy Flues, who was in charge of Project Blue Book while I was gone, to tell him that I was staying over and I found out that they were in a de luxe flap back in Dayton. Reports were pouring out of the teletype machines at the rate of thirty a day and many were as good, if not better, than the Washington incident. I talked this over with Colonel Bower and we decided that even though things were popping back at ATIC the Washington sighting, from the standpoint of national interest, was more important.
Feeling like a national martyr because I planned to work all night if necessary, I laid the course of my investigation. I would go to Washington National Airport, Andrews AFB, airlines offices, the weather bureau, and a half dozen other places scattered all over the capital city. I called the transportation section at the Pentagon to get a staff car but it took me only seconds to find out that the regulations said no staff cars except for senior colonels or generals. Colonel Bower tried—same thing. General Samford and General Garland were gone, so I couldn't get them to try to pressure a staff car out of the hillbilly who was dispatching vehicles. I went down to the finance office—could I rent a car and charge it as travel expense? No—city buses are available. But I didn't know the bus system and it would take me hours to get to all the places I had to visit, I pleaded. You can take a cab if you want to pay for it out of your per diem was the answer. Nine dollars a day per diem and I should pay for a hotel room, meals, and taxi fares all over the District of Columbia. Besides, the lady in finance told me, my travel orders to Washington covered only a visit to the Pentagon. In addition, she said, I was supposed to be on my way back to Dayton right now, and if I didn't go through all the red tape of getting the orders amended I couldn't collect any per diem and technically I'd be AWOL. I couldn't talk to the finance officer, the lady informed me, because he always left at 4:30 to avoid the traffic and it was now exactly five o'clock and she was quitting.
At five-one I decided that if saucers were buzzing Pennsylvania Avenue in formation I couldn't care less. I called Colonel Bower, explained my troubles, and said that I was through. He concurred, and I caught the next airliner to Dayton.
When I returned I dropped in to see Captain Roy James in the radar branch and told him about the sighting. He said that he thought it sounded as if the radar targets had been caused by weather but since he didn't have the finer details he naturally couldn't make any definite evaluation.
The good UFO reports that Lieutenant Flues had told me about when I called him from Washington had tripled in number before I got around to looking at them. Our daily take had risen to forty a day, and about a third of them were classified as unknowns.
More amber-red fights like those seen on July 18 had been observed over the Guided Missile Long-Range Proving Ground at Patrick AFB, Florida. In Uvalde, Texas, a UFO described as "a large, round, silver object that spun on its vertical axis" was seen to cross 100 degrees of afternoon sky in forty-eight seconds. During part of its flight it passed between two towering cumulus clouds. At Los Alamos and Holyoke, Massachusetts, jets had chased UFO's. In both cases the UFO's had been lost as they turned into the sun.
In two night encounters, one in New Jersey and one in Massachusetts, F-94's tried unsuccessfully to intercept unidentified lights reported by the Ground Observer Corps. In both cases the pilots of the radar- nosed jet interceptors saw a light; they closed in and their radar operators got a lock-on. But the lock-ons were broken in a few seconds, in both cases, as the light apparently took violent evasive maneuvers.
Copies of these and other reports were going to the Pentagon, and I was constantly on the phone or having teleconferences with Major Fournet.
When the second Washington National Sighting came along, almost a week to the hour from the first one, by a stroke of luck things weren't too fouled up. The method of reporting the sighting didn't exactly follow the official reporting procedures that are set forth in Air Force Letter 200-5, dated 5 April 1952, Subject: Reporting of Unidentified Flying Objects—but it worked.
I first heard about the sighting about ten o'clock in the evening when I received a telephone call from Bob Ginna, Life magazine's UFO expert. He had gotten the word from Life's Washington News Bureau and wanted a statement about what the Air Force planned to do. I decided that instead of giving a mysterious "no comment" I would tell the truth: "I have no idea what the Air Force is doing; in all probability it's doing nothing." When he hung up, I called the intelligence duty officer in the Pentagon and I was correct, intelligence hadn't heard about the sighting. I asked the duty officer to call Major Fournet and ask him if he would go out to the airport, which was only two or three miles from his home. When he got the call from the duty officer Major Fournet called Lieutenant Holcomb; they drove to the ARTC radar room at National Airport and found Al Chop already there. So at this performance the UFO's had an official audience; Al Chop, Major Dewey Fournet, and Lieutenant Holcomb, a Navy electronics specialist assigned to the Air Force Directorate of Intelligence, all saw the radar targets and heard the radio conversations as jets tried to intercept the UFO's.
Being in Dayton, 380 miles away, there wasn't much that I could do, but I did call Captain Roy James thinking possibly he might want to talk on the phone to the people who were watching the UFO's on the radarscopes. But Captain James has a powerful dislike for UFO's— especially on Saturday night.
About five o'clock Sunday morning Major Fournet called and told me the story of the second sighting at Washington National Airport:
About 10:30P.M. on July 26 the same radar operators who had seen the UFO's the week before picked up several of the same slow-moving targets. This time the mysterious craft, if that is what they were, were spread out in an arc around Washington from Herndon, Virginia, to Andrews AFB. This time there was no hesitation in following the targets. The minute they appeared on the big 24-inch radarscope one of the controllers placed a plastic marker representing an unidentified target near each blip on the scope. When all the targets had been carefully marked, one of the controllers called the tower and the radar station at Andrews AFB—they also had the unknown targets.
By 11:30P.M. four or five of the targets were continually being tracked at all times, so once again a call went out for jet interceptors. Once again there was some delay, but by midnight two F- 94's from New Castle County AFB were airborne and headed south. The reporters and photographers were asked to leave the radar room on the pretext that classified radio frequencies and procedures were being used in vectoring the interceptors. All civilian air traffic was cleared out of the area and the jets moved in.
When I later found out that the press had been dismissed on the grounds that the procedures used in an intercept were classified, I knew that this was absurd because any ham radio operator worth his salt could build equipment and listen in on any intercept. The real reason for the press dismissal, I learned, was that not a few people in the radar room were positive that this night would be the big night in UFO history—the night when a pilot would close in on and get a good look at a UFO—and they didn't want the press to be in on it.
But just as the two '94's arrived in the area the targets disappeared from the radarscopes. The two jets were vectored into the areas where the radar had shown the last target plots, but even though the visibility was excellent they could see nothing. The two airplanes stayed around a few minutes more, made a systematic search of the area, but since they still couldn't see anything or pick up anything on their radars they returned to their base.
A few minutes after the F-94's left the Washington area, the unidentified targets were back on the radarscopes in that same area.
What neither Major Fournet nor I knew at this time was that a few minutes after the targets left the radarscopes in Washington people in the area around Langley AFB near Newport News, Virginia, began to call Langley Tower to report that they were looking at weird bright lights that were "rotating and giving off alternating colors." A few minutes after the calls began to come in, the tower operators themselves saw the same or a similar light and they called for an interceptor.
An F-94 in the area was contacted and visually vectored to the light by the tower operators. The F-94 saw the light and started toward it, but suddenly it went out, "like somebody turning off a light bulb." The F-94 crew continued their run and soon got a radar lock-on, but it was broken in a few seconds as the target apparently sped away. The fighter stayed in the area for several more minutes and got two more lock-ons, only to have them also broken after a few seconds.
A few minutes after the F-94 over Newport News had the last lock-on broken, the targets came back on the scopes at Washington National.
With the targets back at Washington the traffic controller again called Air Defense Command, and once again two F-94's roared south toward Washington. This time the targets stayed on the radarscopes when the airplanes arrived.
The controllers vectored the jets toward group after group of targets, but each time, before the jets could get close enough to see anything more than just a light, the targets had sped away. Then one stayed put. The pilot saw a light right where the ARTC radar said a target was located; he cut in the F-94's afterburner and went after it, but just like the light that the F-94 had chased near Langley AFB, this one also disappeared. All during the chase the radar operator in the F-94 was trying to get the target on his set but he had no luck.
After staying in the area about twenty minutes, the jets began to run low on fuel and returned to their base. Minutes later it began to get light, and when the sun came up all the targets were gone.
Early Sunday morning, in an interview with the press, the Korean veteran who piloted the F-94, Lieutenant William Patterson, said:
I tried to make contact with the bogies below 1,000 feet, but they [the radar controllers] vectored us around. I saw several bright lights. I was at my maximum speed, but even then I had no closing speed. I ceased chasing them because I saw no chance of overtaking them. I was vectored into new objects. Later I chased a single bright light which I estimated about 10 miles away. I lost visual contact with it about 2 miles.
When Major Fournet finished telling me about the night's activity, my first question was, "How about the radar targets—could they have been caused by weather?"
I knew that Lieutenant Holcomb was a sharp electronics man and that Major Fournet, although no electronics specialist, was a crackerjack engineer, so their opinion meant a lot.
Dewey said that everybody in the radar room was convinced that the targets were very probably caused by solid metallic objects. There had been weather targets on the scope too, he said, but these were common to the Washington area and the controllers were paying no attention to them.
And this something solid could poke along at 100 miles an hour or outdistance a jet, I thought to myself.
I didn't ask Dewey any more because he'd been up all night and wanted to get to bed.
Monday morning Major Ed Gregory, another intelligence officer at ATIC, and I left for Washington, but our flight was delayed in Dayton so we didn't arrive until late afternoon. On the way through the terminal building to get a cab downtown, I picked up the evening papers. Every headline was about the UFO's:
FIERY OBJECTS OUTRUN JETS OVER CAPITAL—INVESTIGATION VEILED IN SECRECY FOLLOWING VAIN CHASE
JETS ALERTED FOR SAUCERS—INTERCEPTORS CHASE LIGHTS IN D.C. SKIES
EXPERT HERE TO PUSH STUDY AS OBJECTS IN SKIES REPORTED AGAIN
I jokingly commented about wondering who the expert was. In a half hour I found out—I was. When Major Gregory and I walked into the lobby of the Roger Smith Hotel to check in, reporters and photographers rose from the easy chairs and divans like a covey of quail. They wanted my secrets, but I wasn't going to tell nor would I pose for pictures while I wasn't telling anything. Newspaper reporters are a determined lot, but Greg ran interference and we reached the elevator without even a "no comment."
The next day was one of confusion. After the first Washington sighting the prevailing air in the section of the Pentagon's fourth floor, which is occupied by Air Force Intelligence, could be described as excitement, but this day it was confusion. There was a maximum of talk and a minimum of action. Everyone agreed that both sightings should be thoroughly investigated, but nobody did anything. Major Fournet and I spent the entire morning "just leaving" for somewhere to investigate "something." Every time we would start to leave, something more pressing would come up.
About 10:00A.M. the President's air aide, Brigadier General Landry, called intelligence at President Truman's request to find out what was going on. Somehow I got the call. I told General Landry that the radar target could have been caused by weather but that we had no proof.
To add to the already confused situation, new UFO reports were coming in hourly. We kept them quiet mainly because we weren't able to investigate them right away, or even confirm the facts. And we wanted to confirm the facts because some of the reports, even though they were from military sources, were difficult to believe.
Prior to the Washington sightings in only a very few of the many instances in which radar had picked up UFO targets had the targets themselves supposedly been seen visually. Radar experts had continually pointed out this fact to us as an indication that maybe all of the radar targets were caused by freak weather conditions. "If people had just seen a light, or an object, near where the radar showed the UFO target to be, you would have a lot more to worry about," radar technicians had told me many times.
Now people were seeing the same targets that the radars were picking up, and not just at Washington.
On the same night as the second Washington sighting we had a really good report from California. An ADC radar had picked up an unidentified target and an F-94C had been scrambled. The radar vectored the jet interceptor into the target, the radar operator in the '94 locked-on to it, and as the airplane closed in the pilot and RO saw that they were headed directly toward a large, yellowish- orange light. For several minutes they played tag with the UFO. Both the radar on the ground and the radar in the F-94 showed that as soon as the airplane would get almost within gunnery range of the UFO it would suddenly pull away at a terrific speed. Then in a minute or two it would slow down enough to let the F-94 catch it again.
When I talked to the F-94 crew on the phone, the pilot said that they felt as if this were just a big aerial cat-and-mouse game—and they didn't like it—at any moment they thought the cat might have pounced.
Needless to say, this was an unknown.
About midmorning on Tuesday, July 29th, Major General John Samford sent word down that he would hold a press conference that afternoon in an attempt to straighten out the UFO situation with the press.
Donald Keyhoe reports on the press conference and the events leading up to it in detail in his book, Flying Saucers from Outer Space. He indicates that before the conference started, General Samford sat behind his big walnut desk in Room 3A138 in the Pentagon and battled with his conscience. Should he tell the public "the real truth"—that our skies are loaded with spaceships? No, the public might panic. The only answer would be to debunk the UFO's.
This bit of reporting makes Major Keyhoe the greatest journalist in history. This beats wire tapping. He reads minds. And not only that, he can read them right through the walls of the Pentagon. But I'm glad that Keyhoe was able to read the General's mind and that he wrote the true and accurate facts about what he was really thinking because I spent quite a bit of time talking to the General that day and he sure fooled me. I had no idea he was worried about what he should tell the public.
When the press conference, which was the largest and longest the Air Force had held since World War II, convened at 4:00P.M., General Samford made an honest effort to straighten out the Washington National Sightings, but the cards were stacked against him before he started. He had to hedge on many answers to questions from the press because he didn't know the answers. This hedging gave the impression that he was trying to cover up something more than just the fact that his people had fouled up in not fully investigating the sightings. Then he had brought in Captain Roy James from ATIC to handle all the queries about radar. James didn't do any better because he'd just arrived in Washington that morning and didn't know very much more about the sightings than he'd read in the papers. Major Dewey Fournet and Lieutenant Holcomb, who had been at the airport during the sightings, were extremely conspicuous by their absence, especially since it was common knowledge among the press that they weren't convinced the UFO's picked up on radars were weather targets.
But somehow out of this chaotic situation came exactly the result that was intended—the press got off our backs. Captain James's answers about the possibility of the radar targets' being caused by temperature inversions had been construed by the press to mean that this was the Air Force's answer, even though today the twin sightings are still carried as unknowns.
The next morning headlines from Bangor to Bogota read:
AIR FORCE DEBUNKS SAUCERS AS JUST NATURAL PHENOMENA
The Washington National Sightings proved one thing, something that many of us already knew: in order to forestall any more trouble similar to what we'd just been through we always had to get all of the facts and not try to hide them. A great deal of the press's interest was caused by the Air Force's reluctance to give out any information, and the reluctance on the part of the Air Force was caused by simply not having gone out to find the answers.
But had someone gone out and made a more thorough investigation a few big questions would have popped up and taken some of the intrigue out of the two reports. It took me a year to put the question marks together because I just picked up the information as I happened to run across it, but it could have been collected in a day of concentrated effort.
There was some doubt about the visual sighting of the "large fiery- orange-colored sphere" that the tower operators at Andrews AFB saw when the radar operators at National Airport told them they had a target over the Andrews Radio range station. When the tower operators were later interrogated they completely changed their story and said that what they saw was merely a star. They said that on the night of the sighting they "had been excited." (According to astronomical charts, there were no exceptionally bright stars where the UFO was seen over the range station, however. And I heard from a good source that the tower men had been "persuaded" a bit.)
Then the pilot of the F-94C changed his mind even after he'd given the press and later told me his story about vainly trying to intercept unidentified lights. In an official report he says that all he saw was a ground light reflecting off a layer of haze.
Another question mark arose about the lights that the airline pilots saw. Months after the sighting I heard from one of the pilots whom the ARTC controllers called to learn if he could see a UFO. This man's background was also impressive, he had been flying in and out of Washington since 1936. This is what he had to say:
The most outstanding incident happened just after a take-off one night from Washington National. The tower man advised us that there was a UFO ahead of us on the take-off path and asked if we would aid in tracking it down. We were given headings to follow and shortly we were advised that we had passed the UFO and would be given a new heading. None of us in the cockpit had seen anything unusual. Several runs were made; each time the tower man advised us we were passing the UFO we noticed that we were over one certain section of the Potomac River, just east of Alexandria. Finally we were asked to visually check the terrain below for anything which might cause such an illusion. We looked and the only object we could see where the radar had a target turned out to be the Wilson Lines moonlight steamboat trip to Mount Vernon. Whether there was an altitude gimmick on the radar unit at the time I do not know but the radar was sure as hell picking up the steamboat.
The pilot went on to say that there is such a conglomeration of lights around the Washington area that no matter where you look you see a "mysterious light."