History of the United States Air Force UFO Programs
Thomas Tulien

  1. In the Summer of 1947…
  2. The Public and the Press
  3. The United States Air Force Responds
  4. Project Sign
  5. Project Grudge
  6. Project Blue Book
  7. The CIA Robertson Panel
  8. A Turning Point in the Controversy

Endnote 1

Michael Swords, comp., Cases at the Beginning of the Modern UFO Era: Kenneth Arnold, June 24, 1947,” Historical Document Series, No. 1 (J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, Oct. 1992)

Kenneth Arnold and Raymond Palmer, The Coming of the Saucers (Amherst, WS: Legend Press, n.d.), 9-15.

Also, The 1947 Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting

Arnold provided a drawing for the Army Air Force, dated 12 July 1947. Available online from:


Endnote 2

For examples of early press reports (click on “More 1947 Reports”) see:

Also, David Rudiak’s extensive compilation of UFO sighting reports in local newspapers from New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and parts of Arkansas for June/July 1947.


Endnote 3

Ted Bloecher, Report on the UFO Wave of 1947 (Washington, DC: the author, 1967), (quote in Section I-2):

Also, Jan L. Aldrich, Project 1947: A Preliminary Report on the 1947 UFO Sighting Wave (UFO Research Coalition, 1997).


Endnote 4

Ted Bloecher, Report on the UFO Wave of 1947 (Washington, DC: the author, 1967), (Section I-4):


Endnote 5

David M. Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), pp. 39-40

Ted Bloecher, Report on the UFO Wave of 1947 (Washington, DC: the author, 1967), (Section I-4):


Endnote 6

See Bloecher’s updated chronological index of over 850 sighting reports for June and July 1947: http://nicap.org/waves/Wave47Rpt/SightingChronology.pdf

In the years following the publication of his report, Bloecher increased the number of reports for this period to over 1000.


Endnote 7

David M. Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), pp. 38-39

Jan L. Aldrich, Project 1947: A Preliminary Report on the 1947 UFO Sighting Wave (UFO Research Coalition, 1997).


Endnote 8

Ted Bloecher, Report on the UFO Wave of 1947 (Washington, DC: the author, 1967), (Quote in Section I-9):


Endnote 9

A comprehensive and very informative summary of the Roswell press releases and coverage is available online from:


Endnote 10

See, for example:


Endnote 11

See, DuBose interviews and affidavit available online from:


Endnote 12

See, for examples:


Endnote 13

See, for examples:


Endnote 14

Quoted from Herbert J. Strentz, A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 - 1966. (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1970), pp.29-30.


Endnote 15

Fourth Air Force, Hamilton Field, CA investigated the 8 July 1947 UFO sightings at Muroc Army Air Field (later, Edwards AFB, and Air Force Flight Test Center), California. The witness affidavits are available online from: http://www.project1947.com/fig/muroc47.htm.

A few month’s later, on 14 October 1947, Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 on the first manned supersonic flight at Muroc AAF.


Endnote 16

See Appendix 1 (pp. 57-61) in, Michael D. Swords, Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation,” Journal of UFO Studies, n.s. 7, 2000: 27-64.
HTML version available from:

Re: Item (b)—the silence from topside: “As July wore on into August, Garrett, Schulgen, and Reynolds became confused by a lack of interest and pressure emanating from the high echelons of the Pentagon. The previous year they had gone through an investigative furor about a subject that they considered to be similar to the flying discs, when hundreds of “ghost rocket” reports came out of Sweden and other European countries. In 1946, the top brass had exerted continuous pressure to find an answer, but now it had gone completely quiet. It was very peculiar to Garrett and the FBI. Their mutual suspicion was that the very highest officials knew what this phenomenon was already” (Swords, 2000, p. 31).


Endnote 17

Schulgen, George F, Memorandum to FBI Liaison Section, 5 September 1947. “A complete survey of research activities discloses that the Army Air Forces has no project with the characteristics similar to those which have been associated with the Flying Discs.” Quoted from, Michael D. Swords, Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation, p. 33.
HTML version available from:


Endnote 18

Letter from General N.F. Twining, “Subject: AMC Opinion Concerning “Flying Discs,” to Commanding General, Army Air Forces, 23 September 1947.
Text version: http://project1947.com/shg/condon/appndx-r.html


Endnote 19

Edward Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 27-28.


Endnote 20

Directive from Major General L. C. Craigie to Commanding General Wright-Patterson AFB, on disposition of security for Project “Sign,” 30 December 1947.


Endnote 21

See Project Sign, “Supplement to Trip Report to Watson Labs—3-4 June 1948.”
http://www.bluebookarchive.org/page.aspx?PageCode=MAXW-PBB3-845 (845-846)


Endnote 22

See NICAP Case Summary, “Subject: Chiles-Whitted Case, Montgomery, AL, July 24, 1947.”

See also follow-up and other witness reports, in Air Intelligence Information Report 129-122-79, 20 Dec. 1948.
http://www.bluebookarchive.org/page.aspx?PageCode=MAXW-PBB4-18 (18-23)


Endnote 23

Michael D. Swords, “Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation,” p. 48-49.
http://www.nicap.org/papers/swords_Sign_EOTS.htm (845-846)
HTML version: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sign/sign.htm

Ruppelt was chief of Project Blue Book from 1951-1953. In 1956 he published a memoir of his experiences investigating UFOs for the USAF, titled, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Only the last paragraph of the quote was included in Ruppelt’s book (p. 41). Mike Swords (CUFOS) is the conservator of the Ruppelt Files.


Endnote 24

USAF Directorate of Intelligence and Office of Naval Intelligence, Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the U.S., Air Intelligence Report 100-203-79, 10 December 1948.
Text version: http://www.webroots.org/library/usamisc/airts000.html


Endnote 25

Swords, “Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation,” p. 62.
HTML version: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sign/sign.htm


Endnote 26

Swords, “Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation,” p. 63-64.
HTML version: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sign/sign.htm ×

Endnote 27

Unidentified Aerial Objects Project “Sign” (Technical Report No. F-TR-2274-IA), February 1949. (Quote on page 10).


Endnote 28

Unidentified Aerial Objects Project “Sign,” Appendix “D”. (pp. 37-45)

“Appendix D” text version: http://project1947.com/shg/condon/appndx-d.html


Endnote 29

For an insider’s view of the abrupt change in policy, see:
Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, pp. 58-59


Endnote 30

Unidentified Flying Objects Project “Grudge” (Technical Report No. 102-AC 49/15-100), August 1949. The quote (Conclusions) appear on p. 9.


Endnote 31

Michael Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, ed. David M. Jacobs, (University Press of Kansas, 2000), 97-99.


Endnote 32

For examples see items: 112; 187; 202; 231; 235; 238; 290; 291; 292; 297; 298; 304; 325; 326 in Brad Sparks, comp., Comprehensive Catalog of 1,500 Project Blue Book UFO Unknowns: A Work in Progress, 2001-2003.

In addition, http://www.cufos.org/BB_Unknowns.html

Also, for a compilation of 42 UFO sighting reports covering a period from Sept. 1950-1954, by military personnel serving in Korea, see Richard F. Haines, Advanced Aerial Devices Reported During the Korean War (Los Altos, CA: LDA Press, 1990).


Endnote 33

Jerome Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon From The Beginning, Vol. 1 (Detroit: Omnigraphics Books, 1998), pp. 431-432.


Endnote 34

Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, pp. 91-93, and Ruppelt Files.


Endnote 35

Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions, p. 103-104. Original quote from Ruppelt Files.


Endnote 36

Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era,” in UFOs and Abductions, p. 105.


Endnote 37

Department of the Air Force, AFL 200-5, (29 April 1952).
Text version from: http://www.cufon.org/cufon/AFL200-5.htm.


Endnote 38

For examples of 1952 press accounts and various documents, see:


Endnote 39

Peter Carlson, “Alien Armada! (1952 Washington, DC UFO sightings),” Washington Post, 21 July 2002.


Endnote 40

Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, p. 160.


Endnote 41

Jerome Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon from the Beginning, Vol. 2 (Detroit: Omnigraphics Books, 1998), p. 999. Original quote from: Harry G. Barnes, “Washington Radar Observer Relates Watching Stunts by Flying Saucers,” New York World-Telegram (July 29, 1952).
http://www.nicap.org/articles/newsarticlesJuly1952.pdf (page 16)


Endnote 42

Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, p. 164-165.


Endnote 43

Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 1001. Albert Chop, the Pentagon’s Public Information Officer, was present in the radar room during Lt. Patterson’s encounter:

“Let's say I was apprehensive. Damn apprehensive and maybe a little frightened! Because I didn't know what was going to happen! And, I could see what was going on on the radarscope. So, everybody was silent, and we're just listening to Barnes vectoring the plane around the different areas. And then having Patterson say he saw these objects: ‘I see them, and I'm moving in for a better look.’ And then, ‘They're all around me. What shall I do?’ You know, what would you tell him?” Chop, Albert M., 1999

Interviewed by Thomas Tulien and Brad Sparks, November 5 (Sign Oral History Project) pp. 10-14; 45-46.


Endnote 44

Peter Carlson, “Alien Armada! (1952 Washington, DC UFO sightings).

Farnsworth’s quote also in: Australian Associated Press, 30 July 1952.


Endnote 45

Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, pp. 168-167.


Endnote 46

Peter Carlson, “Alien Armada! (1952 Washington, DC UFO sightings).

Donald E. Keyhoe, Flying Saucers from Outer Space (New York: Henry Holt, 1953), pp. 71-89. See also NICAP Case Directory: Washington National Radar/Visual Sightings from:

and July 1952 newspaper accounts


Endnote 47

Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, pp. 169-1970.

Also of interest, original case documents for Project Blue Book case #1661, Washington National Sightings (July 1952); and a study by the Civil Aeronautics Administration in May 1953, titled, A Preliminary Study of Unidentified Targets Observed On Air Traffic Control Radars. This study was conducted on numerous targets observed 13-14 August on the Washington Microwave-Early-Warning (MEW) radar, supplemented by observations in November during initial test runs on the Indianapolis ASR-2 radar.

Also, James E. McDonald, “Meteorological Factors in Unidentified Radar Returns” (presented to the American Meteorological Society, Nov. 1970). Available online from:


Endnote 48

Truman had been receiving quarterly briefings on the flying saucer issue from his Air Force Aide, Brig. General Robert B. Landry since 1948. See (Addendum, Subject: UFOs)

Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, p. 167.


Endnote 49

Gerald K. Haines. "CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90" Studies in Intelligence, Semiannual Edition, No. 1 (1997). Available online (see “Early CIA Concerns, 1947-52”)
Also from: http://www.fas.org/sgp/library/ciaufo.html


Endnote 50

Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions, p. 109-111.

Endnote 51

Marshall Chadwell, memorandum for DCI, ""Unidentified Flying Objects," 2 December 1952.

Chadwell, memorandum for Amory, DDI, "Approval in Principle - External Research Project Concerned with Unidentified Flying Objects," no date.

Haines, "CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90" Studies in Intelligence. (Early CIA Concerns, 1947-52)


Endnote 52

“Report of Panel” (Tab A). In Report of Meetings of Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects Convened by Office of Scientific Intelligence, CIA, 14-18 January 1953.

Also, declassified CIA documents pertaining to UFOs available from:


Endnote 53

Somewhat ironically, in 1965 Arthur Godfrey disclosed on his nationwide television program an alarming UFO encounter he and co-pilot Frank Munciello experienced while piloting his private executive airplane. Donald Keyhoe, Aliens From Outer Space (1973) pp. 111-112.

Also: http://www.rense.com/ufo5/filers112699.htm


Endnote 54

Haines. "CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90" Studies in Intelligence.
https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/97unclass/ufo.html#top (see Robertson Panel, 1952-53)

Endnote 55

Original quote (pp. 23-24)

Also, “Within a month, the FBI was investigating Los Angeles’s Civilian Saucer Investigations, and Walter Riedel was being pressured to resign. Robertson shortly wrote to Marshall Chadwell: “That ought to fix the Forteans.” Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era,” UFOs and Abductions, p. 115. Historical information on CSI-LA from:


Endnote 55

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. p. 97.


Endnote 57

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 104-105; JANAP 146C and JANAP 146E


Endnote 58

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 142-144. For example, the 24 October 1968 Minot AFB case report concluded two probable (Ground-visual: Aircraft-B-52, and Astro-Sirius), and two possible explanations (Radar: Plasma, and Air-visual: Plasma). Multiple explanations were required to account for different aspects of the observations. The Blue Book Statistical Data for 1968 categorized the Minot AFB case as identified (Other), by Radar Analysis (as plasma). The Minot AFB targeting officer that analyzed the B-52 radarscope film for SAC/HQ concluded that the object was unidentified. See Quintanilla, “UFOs: An Air Force Dilemma,” (see p. 115 of PDF)

The final chapter provides Blue Book statistical data based on UFO reports received for the years 1953-69.


Endnote 59

Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions, p. 117. Original quote from the Ruppelt Files.


Endnote 60

Donald E. Keyhoe, The Flying Saucers Are Real (New York: Fawcett Publications, 1950); Flying Saucers From Outer Space (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1953); The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1955).

See also the Donald E. Keyhoe Archives:


Endnote 61

Jacques and Janine Vallee, Challenge to Science: The UFO Enigma (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Co., 1966), p. 46.


Endnote 62

Top five months for reports; July 1952: 536, November 1957: 361, August 1952: 326, August 1965: 262, May 1967: 165. See “Table 1: Number of UFO Reports Received each Month by Project Blue Book.” (p. 861)

Also, Los Angeles Times, 1 August 1965


Endnote 63

Francis E. Warren AFB, Cheyenne, WY is home of the 90th [Strategic] Missile Wing. The 200 ICBM Minuteman missile sites are spread over an area of 12,600 square miles in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Each Flight (designated A-T) contains a centralized Launch Control Facility, manned by a Flight Security Controller, and Security Alert Teams responsible for the security requirements of 10 Minuteman ICBM missiles, housed in remote underground silos.

More information on F.E. Warren AFB:

F. E. Warren AFB, Missile Site Map:


Endnote 64

J. Allen Hynek, The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Co., 1972) pp. 184-185. Original transcript of telephone calls received by Project Blue Book (roughly halfway down the page)


Endnote 65

See for example, “Ellington AFB [Houston, TX] UFO reports associated with Midwest flap 31 July-7 August 1965”

The reports were apparently compiled in a separate folder (file #9665) not presently available online.


Endnote 66

Vallees, Challenge to Science, p. 44; and Jerome Clark, “The Greatest Flap Yet?” Flying Saucer Review 12,1 (January/February 1966), p. 27. Also in Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.


Endnote 67

Vallees, Challenge to Science, pp. 44-45; Jerome Clark, “The Greatest Flap Yet?” Flying Saucer Review 12,1 (January/February 1966), p. 27


Endnote 68

Vallees, Challenge to Science, p. 45; Hynek, The UFO Experience, photo insert, Plate 2 (two photos and caption); Jacques Vallee, Forbidden Science: Journals 1957-1969 (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1992) p.146; and Clark, “The Greatest Flap Yet?” Flying Saucer Review 12,1, p. 27.

Also, of photographic interest see:


Endnote 69

Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” pp. 47-48. Clark, UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.


Endnote 70

Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” p. 48. Clark, UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.


Endnote 71

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 194-195.

Clark, UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.


Endnote 72

Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” p.48.


Endnote 73

Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” p.50.


Endnote 74

Hynek, The UFO Experience, pp. 197-198. Gen. LeBailly memorandum (pp. 1286-1287)


Endnote 75

Ann Arbor (AP), 14 March 1966; and Ann Arbor (AP), 17 March 1966, in John C. Sherwood, Flying Saucers Are Watching You: The Incident at Dexter and the Incredible Michigan Flap (Clarksburg, WV: Saucerian Publications, 1967). Also, UFO Case Report, “The Michigan Sightings/’Swamp Gas’ Case,”


Endnote 76

Detroit Free Press, 22 March 1966, in Sherwood, Flying Saucers Are Watching You; and Life Magazine, “Well Witnessed Invasion by Something: from Australia to Michigan,” 1 April 1966, pp. 24-31.


Endnote 77

Ann Arbor (AP), 21 March 1966, in Sherwood, Flying Saucers Are Watching You.


Endnote 78

UFO Case Report, “Sheriffs Watch High-Performance Discs, Also Tracked on Radar”


Endnote 79

“News Release by William Van Horn including Lab Results of 1966 Swamp Gas Case”

Los Angeles Times, 23 August 1966

Life Magazine, 1 April, 1966.

Also, various press accounts of the Michigan sightings from:

…and a collection of documents from:


Endnote 80

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 201-202; “Statement on Dexter and Hillsdale UFO Sightings by J. Allen Hynek, Scientific Consultant to Project Blue Book,” (Detroit Press Club, 25 March 1966).


Endnote 81

Time Magazine, “Fatuus Season” 1 April 1966.

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. p. 202.

For Quintanilla’s perspective see “The Michigan Flap” (pp. 51-52 of PDF):


Endnote 82

News release, Gerald R. Ford to George P. Millar, Chairman; Rep. L. Mendel Rivers, Chairman, Science and Astronautics Committee, Armed Services Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, 3/28/66; (Folder “UFO 1966,” Box D9) Gerald R. Ford Congressional Papers, Gerald R. Ford Library.


Endnote 84

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 198-199.

“Special Report of the USAF Scientific Advisory Board, Ad Hoc Committee to Review Project Blue Book,” March 1966.


Endnote 85

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 204-206.

Also, for Quintanilla’s perspective see “The Beginning of a Congressional Coup” (pp. 53-56 of PDF)


Endnote 86

Air Force Regulation 80-17


Endnote 87

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 206-209.

Articles and documents re: the University of Colorado UFO project and the Condon report:


Endnote 88

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 224.


Endnote 89

Michael D. Swords, “The University of Colorado UFO Project: The ‘Scientific Study of UFOs’” Journal of UFO Studies, n.s. 6, 1995/1996: pp. 157-161.

Quoted in Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon From The Beginning, Vol. 2, p. 949.


Endnote 90

Lt. Col. Robert Hippler, to Dr. Edward Condon, 16 January 1967.
(includes Robert Low to Lt. Col. Robert Hippler, 27 January 1967; and news clipping of Condon’s 25 January lecture at Corning).


Endnote 91

Dick Olive, “Most UFO’s Explainable, Says Scientist,” Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY, 26 January 1967).
http://www.nicap.org/docs/HipplerLetters.pdf (page 5)


Endnote 92

John G. Fuller, “Flying Saucer Fiasco,” Look, 14 May 1968.


Endnote 93

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 225-238.

David Saunders and R. Roger Harkins, UFOs? Yes! (New York: Signet, 1968).

Also, U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Hearings, Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects, 90th Cong., 2d sess., 29 July 1968.


Endnote 94

Review of the University of Colorado Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by a Panel of the National Academy of Sciences. (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 8 January 1969).
Text version: http://www.project1947.com/shg/articles/nascu.html

Also of interest re: NAS, Richard Greenwell, “Odishaw and the Condon Report” from:


Endnote 95

Daniel Gilmore, ed., Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (New York: Bantam, 1968). (quote in Section I, page 2)


Endnote 96

"A Sledgehammer for Nuts," Nature Volume 221 (March 8, 1969): 899-900.


Endnote 97

“The Condon Report and UFOs,” review by J. Allen Hynek, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, April 1969: 39-42.

See also P.A. Sturrock, “An Analysis of the Condon Report on the Colorado UFO Project,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. I, No. I, 1987, pp. 75-100.


Endnote 98

Air Force to Terminate Project “Blue Book”. Washington, DC: Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), 17 December 1969.


Endnote 99

Records of Project Blue Book 1947-69 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T1206, [94 rolls of 35 mm film]); Records of Headquarters United States Air Force (Air Staff), Record Group 341; National Archives II, College Park, MD. NARA Guide to Federal Records

See also, The Project Blue Book Archive: free access to tens of thousands of official documents related to the U.S. government's investigation of the UFO phenomenon.


Endnote 100

This statement appears to originate in USAF Fact Sheets from the 1970s.

Re: Bibliography—see also Library of Congress, Science Reference Series (Tracer Bullet 91-1)

Naval Historical Archive - Project Blue Book Bibliography


History of the United States Air Force UFO Programs

Thomas Tulien

4. Project Sign

In late August, AMC commander Lt. General Nathan F. Twining passed the inquiry on to his director of intelligence, Colonel Howard M. McCoy, who convened a conference of experts to study the AFOIR (AC/AS-2) assessment.

On 23 September, Gen. Twining wrote to the commanding general of the Army Air Forces, to the attention of Gen. Schulgen:

It is the [AMC] opinion that:

  1. The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious.
  2. There are objects probably approximating the shape of a disc, of such appreciable size as to appear to be as large as man-made aircraft.
  3. There is a possibility that some of the incidents may be caused by natural phenomena, such as meteors.
  4. The reported operating characteristics such as extreme rates of climb, maneuverability (particularly in roll), and action which must be considered evasive when sighted or contacted by friendly aircraft and radar, lend belief to the possibility that some of the objects are controlled either manually, automatically or remotely.

  1. Due consideration must be given the following:
    1. The possibility that these objects are of domestic origin - the product of some high security project not known to AC/AS-2 or this Command.
    2. The lack of physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits which would undeniably prove the existence of these objects.
    3. The possibility that some foreign nation has a form of propulsion possibly nuclear, which is outside of our domestic knowledge.18

Twining recommended that Headquarters issue a directive prioritizing a special project to conduct a more detailed study of the matter. In the meantime, T-2’s analysts considered the possibility that the Soviets could have developed a flying saucer from expropriated Nazi technologies. Having determined that they were not our technology, it was either the Soviets or extraterrestrial.

But soon, aerodynamicists at Wright Field’s Aircraft Laboratory established there was no conceivable way that any aircraft could match the reported performance of the flying saucers. No material known could withstand the loads of the reported manuevers, or the tremendous heat at the reported speeds. Even if the vehicle could be built, the human body would not survive the violent manuevers. Toward the end of 1947, the inconceivable level of technological advance demonstrated by the reports presented some unsettling implications, and a new problem. How do you collect interplanetary intelligence?19

By late December, an official exchange of letters established Project Sign as a secret official project, with the directive to collect, collate, evaluate and distribute to interested government agencies and contractors all information concerning sightings and phenomena in the atmosphere which can be construed to be of concern to the national security. . . . This project is assigned priority 2A, with a security classification of “restricted” and Code Name of “SIGN”.20

Project Sign personnel in the T-2 Conference Room at Wright-Patterson AFB (1948)

Project Sign personnel in the T-2 Conference Room at Wright-Patterson AFB (1948).
Personnel from the left around the table are: Lt. Col. Malcolm Seashore, chief of the Material Command Intelligence Technical Analysis (MCIAT); Unidentifiable person blocked by Seashore; Lt. Col. J.J. Hausman; Col. Howard McCoy, director of Air Material Command T-2 Intelligence Division; Believed to be Capt. Robert Sneider, project officer under McCoy and Clingerman; Believed to be Col. William Clingerman, executive officer for Material Command Intelligence Analysis (MCIA); John “Red” Honaker (with a pipe in his mouth), liaison to the AMC Commander Lt Gen. Nathan Twining. (Photo: Faded Discs).

Late January 1948, Col. McCoy and the experts at Project Sign began their study. Over the next several months, project personnel looked into about 180 cases, many that they felt were profoundly puzzling. For example, on 5 April 1948, at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico three highly trained balloon observers, under the direction of Dr. J. W. Peoples, were working on a secret project for the Air Force’s Watson Laboratories. Initially, one observer saw two large, whitish, irregularly rounded objects going very high up. One veered to the right, started down in a large loop and disappeared suddenly. The second object made three vertical loops before vanishing at a tremendous speed in a large arc to the west. All were certain that the objects weren’t balloons, and faster than any aircraft.21

Then on 24 July Eastern Air Lines pilots, Capt. Clarence S. Chiles, and John B. Whitted, had a very close encounter in the skies over Alabama. Chiles first saw the object ahead emerging out of a distant squall line. Closing fast, just above their flight altitude, at first they thought it was a jet by the advancing glow of the exhaust. But as the device neared they were amazed to observe a large, wingless, cigar-shaped fuselage, with double-decked rows of large rectangular windows, or apparent openings emitting a bright glow “like burning magnesium.” Along its underside there was a bluish glow, and a flaming red-orange exhaust spewing out the rear of the object. As it passed off their starboard wing at an estimated speed of at least 500 mph, Chiles’ spontaeneous reaction was to jerk the DC-3 to the left to avoid the object. Both saw it pass aft of them and abruptly pull-up, and Whitted, on the right side, saw the object vanish after a short but fast vertical ascent. At the time, most of the passengers were asleep, though one observed a strange, intense streak of light out of his window; and a report from a crew chief at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and a pilot flying near the Virginia-North Carolina border, also seemed to confirm the sighting.22

Eastern released the reported details to the newspapers, and the case made national news the next day: “Buck Rogers-like Plane Passes 2 Airline Pilots!” Sign investigators arrived the same day, and were impressed by the quality of the observations and general agreement of physical details. This was one of the first times that two reliable observers were really close enough to get a good look.

Drawing by pilot Clarence Chiles
Drawing by co-pilot John Whitted

Drawings by pilot Clarence Chiles (top), and co-pilot John Whitted (bottom) for Sign investigators (26 July 1948). Chiles had a distinguished wartime flying career in the Army Air Force, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Whitted also had military experience flying B-29s during the war. An important clue to the urgency of the Air Force reaction to the report may have been the strong resemblance of the Chiles/Whitted object to the super-secret 1946 Project RAND "Preliminary Design for a World-Circling Spaceship," and the Navy HATV studies. Also, a few days earlier, Sign had received a report of a very similar object with two rows of windows along the side, over The Hague, Netherlands (Ruppelt, p. 40).
Source: "Subject: Statements by Pilot Clarence S. Chiles and Co-pilot John B. Whitted."

The Chiles-Whitted sighting proved to be a watershed event. How could a wingless, tailess fuselage fly? It was not simply a missile, it had windows, and it must be able to take off, manuever and land. But how? By this time Sign had investigated several dozen sighting reports from credible observers that they could not explain, and considering the performance characteristics, and inconceivable powerplant requirements, possibly nuclear—or even more exotic—it was impossible they could be be ours, or even the Soviets.

In September 1948 they drafted a formal intelligence summary, or “estimate of the situation,” concluding that the flying objects were interplanetary spacecraft. The following excerpt, partially describing the contents of the Sign estimate, was written by Capt. Edward Ruppelt:

As documented proof, many unexplained sightings were quoted. The original UFO sighting by Kenneth Arnold; the series of sightings from the secret Air Force Test Center, Muroc AFB; the F-51 pilot’s observation of a formation of spheres near Lake Meade; the report of an F-80 pilot who saw two round objects diving toward the ground near the Grand Canyon; and a report by the pilot of an Idaho National Guard T- 6 trainer, who saw a violently maneuvering black object.

As further documentation, the report quoted an interview with an Air Force Major from the Rapid City AFB (now Ellsworth AFB) who saw twelve UFO’s flying a tight diamond formation. When he first saw them they were high but soon they went into a fantastically high speed dive, leveled out, made a perfect formation turn, and climbed at a 30 to 40 degree angle, accelerating all the time. The UFO’s were oval-shaped and brilliant yellowish-white.

Also included was one of the reports from the AEC’s Los Alamos Laboratory. The incident occurred at 9:40 AM on September 23, 1948. A group of people were waiting for an airplane at the landing strip in Los Alamos when one of them noticed something glint in the sun. It was a flat, circular object, high in the northern sky. The appearance and relative size was the same as a dime held edgewise and slightly tipped, about 50 feet away.

The document pointed out that the reports hadn’t actually started with the Arnold Incident. Belated reports from a weather observer in Richmond, Virginia, who observed a “silver disk” through his theodolite telescope; an F-47 pilot, and three pilots in his formation, who saw a “silver flying wing”; and the English “ghost airplanes” that had been picked up on radar early in 1947, proved this point. Although not received until after the Arnold sighting, they all had taken place earlier. [Unedited MS of The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects in Ruppelt files].23

The Top Secret estimate made its way up into the higher eschelons of the Air Force, but when it reached all the way to Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, it was “batted back down” without his approval. The report lacked proof. The general wouldn’t buy the extraterestrial theory, and he wanted everyone to know. Some month’s later it was declassified and relegated to the incinerator.

Despite Vandenberg’s rebuke of the estimate, Project Sign personnel were undaunted, and continued to explore their advanced propulsion theory. But behind the scenes, opposing elements in the Pentagon were marshalling forces to impose a different outcome. Following the Chiles-Whitted sighting, Director of Intelligence Maj. General Charles Cabell requested that his Office of Air Intelligence, Defensive Analysis (AFOIA-DA) prepare a study examining “the possible tactics of the flying objects reported over the U.S.” Contrary to Sign’s extraterrestrial estimate, the resulting document, Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the U.S., focused the issue on national security, and the responsibility of the Air Force in the air defense of the U.S.:

THE FREQUENCY of reported incidents, the similarity in many of the characteristics attributed to the observed objects and the quality of observers considered as a whole, support the contention that some type of flying object has been observed… The identification of that object cannot be readily accomplished on the basis of information reported on each incident. It is possible that the object, or objects, may have been domestically launched devices such as weather balloons, rockets, experimental flying wing aircraft, or celestial phenomenon. It is necessary to obtain information on such domestic activity to confirm or deny this possibility. Depending upon the degree with which this may be accomplished, foreign devices must then be considered as a possibility.

THE ORIGIN of the devices is not ascertainable. There are two reasonable possibilities: (1) The objects are domestic devices, and if so, their identification or origin can be established by a survey of all launchings of airborne objects… (2) Objects are foreign, and if so, it would seem most logical to consider that they are from a Soviet source… As early as 1924 Tscheranowsky developed a ‘Parabola’ aircraft, an all wing design, which was the outcome of considerable Soviet experimentation with gliders of the same general form. Soviet aircraft based on such designs might have speeds approaching trans-sonic speeds attributed to some flying objects or greater over-all performance assuming the successful development of some unusual propulsion device such as atomic energy engine…

ASSUMING THAT the objects might eventually be identified as foreign or foreign-sponsored devices, the possible reason for their appearance over the U.S. requires consideration. Several possible explanations appear noteworthy, viz:

  1. To negate U.S. confidence in the atom bomb as the most advanced and decisive weapon in warfare.
  2. To perform photographic reconnaissance missions.
  3. To test U.S. air defenses.
  4. To conduct familiarization flights over U.S. territory.24

Essentially the AFOIA analysis ignored the extraterrestrial theory; the flying objects were probably real, and if so, possibly Soviet and therefore dangerous. The objects present a potential psychological threat. Echoing these concerns, on 3 November 1948, Gen. Cabell asked Project Sign for another opinion—not extraterrestrial:

The conclusion appears inescapable that some type of flying object has been observed. Identification and the origin of these objects is not discernible to this Headquarters. It is imperative, therefore, that efforts to determine whether these objects are of domestic or foreign origin must be increased until conclusive evidence is obtained. The needs of national defense require such evidence in order that appropriate countermeasures may be taken.25

Col. McCoy’s response was a carefully worded letter essentially agreeing with Cabell, while strongly implying extraterrestrial between the lines.

All information that has been made available to this Headquarters indicates that the discs, the cigar shaped objects, and the “balls of light” are not of domestic origin. Engineering investigation indicates that disc or wingless aircraft could support themselves in flight by aerodynamic means. It is probable that the problems of stability and control could also be solved for such aircraft. However, according to current aerodynamic theory in this country, aircraft with such configurations would have relatively poor climb, altitude and range characteristics with power plants now in use.26

The Pentagon must have recognized the letter for what it was—a diplomatic refusal to give up—leading to a confrontational meeting in Washington between Sign personnel, to bolster their position, and the opposing forces in the Pentagon. The argument was lost. When the smoke cleared the Pentagon was victorious, and Sign was ordered to send all of its case summaries to the Pentagon and the USAF Scientific Advisory Board for assessment.

In February 1949, Project Sign issued its final sanitized report, qualifying the project as “still largely characterized by the collection of data.”

No definite and conclusive evidence is yet available that would prove or disprove the existence of these unidentified objects as real aircraft of unknown and unconventional configuration. It is unlikely that positive proof of their existence will be obtained without examination of the remains of crashed objects.27

Unidentified Aerial Objects Project “Sign” Document Cover

Unidentified Aerial Objects Project “Sign” (Technical Report No. F-TR-2274-IA), February 1949. Available online from: http://www.nicap.org/docs/SignRptFeb1949.pdf.

On the other hand, “proof of non-existence is equally impossible to obtain unless a reasonable and convincing explanation is determined for each incident,” acknowledging that the lack of data in reports by qualified and reliable witnesses “prevents definite conclusions being drawn.” An appendix prepared by Dr. James E. Lipp of Project RAND addressed the feasibility of the flying objects being extraterrestrial:

It is hard to believe that any technically accomplished race would come here, flaunt its ability in mysterious ways and then simply go away… The lack of purpose apparent in the various episodes is also puzzling. Only one motive can be assigned; that the spacemen are “feeling out” our defenses without wanting to be belligerent. If so, they must have been satisfied long ago that we can't catch them. It seems fruitless for them to keep repeating the same experiment. Conclusions: Although visits from outer space are believed to be possible, they are believed to be very improbable. In particular, the actions attributed to the “flying objects” reported during 1947 and 1948 seem inconsistent with the requirements for space travel.28

5. Project Grudge ››