The Arrey Sighting

One of the most significant early sightings of a UFO by multiple, trained observers using precision instruments

In the late 1940s, supersonic wind tunnels were a scarce commodity in high demand. One alternative method of data-gathering that was used well into the 1950s involved dropping test bodies equipped with experimental airfoils and other aerodynamic test equipment from high-altitude aircraft. Shortly after World War II, Lt Cdr George Hoover, of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Special Devices Center, Port Washington, New York, saw similar potential in the new plastic high-altitude balloons being developed by the General Mills balloon group in Minneapolis. The plastic balloons could lift significant payloads to stratospheric altitudes, and a test body dropped from such heights could achieve supersonic speeds for useful periods of time under aerodynamic conditions that would be more realistic than the ones that small models in wind tunnels would experience.

Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory brochure, circa 1949

The ONR Special Devices Center contracted with Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Buffalo, to develop such a balloon-launched supersonic drop test body. By 1948 CAL (Later renamed CALSPAN) already had considerable experience in working with supersonic models and projectile designs under military contract. The balloon-dropped projectile was given the designation 9UJ-1 Free Fall Test Vehicle (FFTV).

Three Skyhook plastic balloons, seventy-three feet in diameter when fully inflated, would be used to lift the FFTV. The balloons were arranged in a cluster and connected to the fifteen foot long projectile by a tether system. Drop altitude was planned to be about 100,000 feet. After being launched from a site near Las Cruces, the assembly would climb to altitude and drift over the White Sands Proving Ground range into a test area where optical and radar tracking systems could observe the test vehicle. The balloons could be tracked by radar even at 100,000 feet because their radar cross-sections were enhanced by RAWIN corner-reflectors (just visible at the base of each balloon in the photo below). When it was in the proper location, the FFTV would be cut loose from the balloons by radio command and would begin its supersonic descent.

On April 24, 1949, a team of White Sands technicians was studying the upper-atmosphere winds in preparation for the launch the FFTV scheduled to be conducted a few days later. From an off-range site about three miles north of Arrey, New Mexico, General Mills engineer Charles B Moore and four Navy enlisted men - Chief Akers and three men named Davidson, Fitzsimmons and Moorman, were launching small neoprene pilot balloons - "pibals" - to measure winds aloft to help predict the flight path of the actual FFTV Skyhook system.




























FFTV and Skyhook cluster on April 29, 1949 (courtesy Charles B Moore)









Closeup of the 9UJ-1 FFTV

The White Sands area had been experiencing a growing number of sightings of unexplained aerial phenomena, particularly of high-speed, strangely-behaving nocturnal "Green Fireballs" that some experts believed were artificial projectiles of some type. According to the document below, Moore was aware of these concerns and was prepared to make measured observations if the opportunity presented itself.


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Moore, Charles B - interviews, August 14, 1994, August 31, 1995, July 29, 2000

Ryan, Craig, The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995)

Vaeth, J Gordon - interview, May 15, 1995