History of the United States Air Force UFO Programs
- In the Summer of 1947…
- The Public and the Press
- The United States Air Force Responds
- Project Sign
- Project Grudge
- Project Blue Book
- The CIA Robertson Panel
- A Turning Point in the Controversy
Michael Swords, comp., Cases at the Beginning of the Modern UFO Era: Kenneth Arnold, June 24, 1947,” Historical Document Series, No. 1 (J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, Oct. 1992)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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
Michael D. Swords, “Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation,” p. 48-49.
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.
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.
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).
Jerome Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia: The Phenomenon From The Beginning, Vol. 1 (Detroit: Omnigraphics Books, 1998), pp. 431-432.
Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions, p. 103-104. Original quote from Ruppelt Files.
Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era,” in UFOs and Abductions, p. 105.
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)
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.
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:
Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions, p. 109-111.
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)
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.
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)
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:
Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. p. 97.
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.
Swords, “UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era," in UFOs and Abductions, p. 117. Original quote from the Ruppelt Files.
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:
Jacques and Janine Vallee, Challenge to Science: The UFO Enigma (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery Co., 1966), p. 46.
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)
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.
Vallees, Challenge to Science, pp. 44-45; Jerome Clark, “The Greatest Flap Yet?” Flying Saucer Review 12,1 (January/February 1966), p. 27
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:
Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” pp. 47-48. Clark, UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.
Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” p. 48. Clark, UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.
Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 194-195.
Clark, UFO Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 737.
Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” p.48.
Strentz, “A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947 – 1966,” p.50.
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,”
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.
Ann Arbor (AP), 21 March 1966, in Sherwood, Flying Saucers Are Watching You.
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).
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.
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.
Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975. pp. 224.
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.
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).
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.
"A Sledgehammer for Nuts," Nature Volume 221 (March 8, 1969): 899-900.
History of the United States Air Force UFO Programs
2. The Public and the Press
Based on Arnold’s description, headline writers coined the phrase “flying saucers” for the new phenomenon, heralding the story in newspapers across the country in the days following.2 In the 1960s, researcher Ted Bloecher traveled the country searching the 1947 newspaper files of local libraries for press accounts of UFOs. He surveyed newspapers representing over 90 cities and towns in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Remarkably, in more than 140 newspapers examined, the wire service account of Arnold’s sighting appeared in nearly all—often as a front-page feature.3
The repercussions opened a floodgate, encouraging other citizens to come forth with their own reports of puzzling things seen in the sky—many before Arnold’s account. Bloecher’s survey uncovered 29 such sighting reports for June, in which several of the witnesses stated they were initially reticent to report unusual sightings “until others were reporting the same thing.”4 In effect, “Flying Saucers” created a new category in which seemingly inexplicable observations could be identified, often broadly, without regard to specific details and exceptions, and from each perspective—with more than one explanation. For example, on 27 June the San Francisco Chronicle published a roundup of explanations for Arnold’s sighting. A United Air Lines pilot believed that Arnold had seen reflections of his instrument panel. A meteorologist suggested that Arnold had encountered a slight touch of snow blindness; and a University of Oregon astronomer said that Arnold’s sighting was a result of persistence of vision, often experienced after staring at the sun for long periods of time. As historian David Jacobs notes, “this urge to explain, as it may be called, became an integral part of the UFO controversy.” Instead of attempting to discover whether any of the observations could be anomalous phenomenon, scientists and other professionals simply categorically ignored the possibility, and many denied that witnesses had seen anything at all. These explanations by “experts” were readily accepted, while “the urge to explain became a severely limiting factor in the study of unidentifed flying objects.”5
June 1 - 15 / 9 cases
June 16 - 20 / 9 cases
June 21 - 23 / 11 cases
June 24 / 20 cases
June 25 - 26 / 21 cases
June 27 - 28 / 32 cases
June 29 - 30 / 26 cases
July 1 - 2 / 47 cases
Series of eight (1-8) maps showing the distribution of 175 sighting reports from June 1-July 2, 1947 (Bloecher, 1967).
In the first week of July 1947, an intense wave of saucer reports from people in all walks of life descended in newspapers across the nation. Bloecher’s survey uncovered more than 850 original sighting reports for June and July 1947. During the Fourth of July weekend more than 300 were published, culminating in the crest on 7 July with more than 160 sighting accounts from 37 states.6
Over the weekend, and into the following week, people spent hours watching the skies. In Connecticut, on 9 July the Hartford Times reported that the mayor encountered a number of city employees on the steps of city hall scanning the sky for flying saucers. He told the press it was time for everyone to get back to work. In the Pacific Northwest, private pilots and several Air National Guard units equipped with cameras, patrolled the skies in search of flying saucers. But without success, only chance observations by unprepared observers seemed to confirm a growing suspicion that there had been nothing in the air to begin with.
Though the press had been impartially reporting the facts, by the end of the weekend an air of skepticism was pervading news coverage, and in many cases outright ridicule of those who reported them. Sensational, even tongue-and-cheek stories began to appear. A midwestern newspaper offered $3,000 to anyone who could prove the existence of flying saucers, prompting hoaxers and practical jokers to make matters worse. A steady stream of often absurd explanations, and contradictory official statements fueled the fact that no one had found a flying saucer, or could offer any evidence that such things existed. Adding to this, reports were summarily dismissed by most experts, without the slightest degree of scientific curiosity about what this new phenomenon might be.7
On Sunday, at a convention held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, a number of astronomers made their opinions known. Dr. Harlow Shapley, director of Harvard College Observatory, said that unless he saw a disc himself, he had absolutely nothing to say. Dr. Charles P. Olivier, president of the American Meteor Society, told reporters that while reports did not appear to resemble meteors, sightings might be expected to increase toward the end of July, when the Delta Aquarids made their annual appearance. Dr. Roy Marshall, of the Fels Planetarium wrote off all reports as "plain hysteria." [He commented] unless he saw one himself, he wouldn’t comment.8
July 3 / 27 cases
July 4 / 88 cases
Local Map 10A Portland, Oregon, July 4
July 5 / 77 cases
Local Map 11A Bay Area, California, July 5
July 6 / 157 cases
Local Map 12A Bay Area, California, July 6
Local Map 12B Birmingham, Alabama, July 6
July 7 / 160 cases
Local Map 13A Chicago, Illinois, July 7
Local Map 13B Chicago, Illinois, July 7
July 8 / 90 cases
July 9 - 10 / 42 cases
July 11 - 15 / 19 cases
July 20 - 30 / 12 cases
Series of nine maps (9-17) and six insets maps illustrating the distribution of a total of 678 sighting reports from July 3-July 30, 1947 (Bloecher, 1967).
Into this milieu, “the many rumors regarding the flying discs became a reality yesterday when…”
RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region
ROSWELL, N.M., July 8 (AP)—The intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment group at Roswell Army Air Field announced at noon today, that the field has come into possession of a flying saucer.
According to information released by the department, over authority of Maj. J. A. Marcel, intelligence officer, the disk was recovered on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity, after an unidentified rancher had notified sheriff Geo. Wilcox, here, that he had found the instrument on his premises.
Major Marcel and a detail from his department went to the ranch and recovered the disk, it was stated. After the intelligence office here had inspected the instrument it was flown to "higher headquarters".
The intelligence office stated that no details of the saucer's construction or its appearance had been revealed.9
National and international media interest was overwhelming, and soon Roswell AAF public relations, the local newspapers, Sheriff Wilcox’s office, and the local radio station that broke the story, were swamped with calls.10
Later that day, Major Marcel, along with some of the debris recovered from the ranch near Roswell, were flown to Fort Worth, TX, for a meeting in the office of Brig. General Roger M. Ramey, commanding general of the Eighth Air Force. Marcel showed Ramey the material he had brought from New Mexico. Then, purportedly, the material was replaced with the remnants of a neoprene weather balloon. Later, Marcel, Ramey, and Colonel Thomas DuBose, Ramey’s chief of staff, were photographed with the weather balloon for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Following, the base weather officer, Warrant Officer Irving Newton, informed the press that the debris spread out on the floor was unquestionably the remains of a balloon and battered radar target. Ramey then issued a statement to the press declaring the Roswell “saucer” had been positively identified as fragments of a weather balloon and its radar target.
General Roger M. Ramey, with chief of staff Colonel Thomas DuBose in Ramey’s office with the weather balloon (8 July 1947). Roswell Army Air Field was home of the 509th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), one of the first units assigned to the Strategic Air Command and the only atomic bomber base at the time. Part of the 509th BG was previously designated the 509th Composite Group, which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
More than four decades later, retired Brig. General Thomas DuBose straightforwardly admitted “the weather balloon explanation for the material was a cover story to divert the attention of the press,” and that the material photographed in Ramey’s office was not what was found at Roswell.11 Regardless, the press widely published the story—witnesses had simply misidentified conventional phenomenon.
Reports of Flying Saucers Dwindle; New Mexico 'Disc' is Only Weather Balloon
SACRAMENTO, CA., 9 July (UP)—Reports of flying saucers whizzing through the sky fell off sharply today as the Army and Navy began a concentrated campaign to stop the rumors. One by one, persons who thought they had their hands on the $3,000 offered for a genuine flying saucer found their hands full of nothing. Headquarters of the 8th army at Fort Worth, Tex., announced that the wreckage of a tin-foil covered object found on a New Mexico ranch was nothing more than the remnants of a weather balloon.12
Immediately following the announcement, numerous military-related demonstrations of weather balloons, particularly with radar targets, were staged for the press and public as the explanation for the nationwide flying saucer reports. Researcher David Rudiak has documented at least nine military balloon demonstrations in various parts of the country.13 The first wave of flying saucer reports quietly subsided, and few, if any stories were carried by the national wire services after 10 July. Though local newspapers published some reports, the intial wave of sighting reports would not be equaled until the summer of 1952, when an unprecedented tidal wave swept the nation. In the meantime, by 21 July Newsweek sought to write an early end to the phenomenon:
Where the flying saucers had gone, no one knew last week and few cared. Saucer-eyed scientists blamed the whirling phenomena on (1) optical illusions followed by (2) mass suggestion. As quickly as they had arrived, the saucers disappeared into the limbo of all good hot-weather headlines.14
3. The United States Air Force Responds ››