Project Blue Book 1951-1969
by Michael Hall
September 10th, 1951 marked a series of sightings that would prove to be the impetus for a serious reevaluation of the Air Force investigation into the UFO phenomenon. This would lead directly to the establishment of Project Blue Book.
The incidents began when an Army Signal Corps radar operator at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, picked up an unknown flying target at 11:10 A.M. moving faster than the automatic setting mode could plot. The UFO followed the coast line, estimated at a speed of 700 miles per hour.
Twenty-five minutes later at 11:35 A.M. a T-33 jet piloted by Lieutenant Wilbert S. Rogers with Major Edward Ballard on board may have encountered that same object. They were flying over Point Pleasant, New Jersey, when Rogers spotted a “dull silver, flat disc-like object.” It appeared far below their aircraft which was then at 20,000 feet. Ballard confirmed the pilot’s observation as both crewmen estimated the craft to be around 30 to 50 feet in diameter. The UFO proceeded to descend toward Sandy Hook as Rogers nosed the jet down to investigate in a 360-degree descending turn. As Rogers executed that maneuver the unknown countered with a 90-degree turn to the left. By then both men knew they were not chasing a balloon. This UFO was not only banking left but was by then out-pacing their jet which Rogers had throttled up to 550 miles per hour! He then attempted to parallel its course from his current altitude of 17,000 feet, but it soon vanished out to sea.
Later that afternoon at 3:15 P.M., Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, radar picked up an object eighteen miles above the earth traveling slowly. Soon ground observers visually confirmed it although they could only see a silver speck. That sighting did later prove to be a balloon, but as a direct result of all of these Fort Monmouth, New Jersey Reports and some other odd radar reports the next day, many senior military leaders became concerned.
So much attention came to bear on the incidents that the Air Force Headquarters Intelligence director at the Pentagon, Major General Cabell, asked Air Technical Intelligence Center chief Harold Watson, in Dayton, Ohio, to look into the matter. Since 1948 the ATIC in Dayton had been responsible for collecting and investigating UFO reports.
Yet even before these incidents took place, General Cabell had come under pressure by many U.S. industrialists and scientists who felt the Air Force should be more forthcoming about UFO reports. They felt a renewed investigation should take place on a scale equal to that of 1948 during the first investigation named Project Sign. Cabell, who had once characterized the later Grudge Project and its report as “the most poorly written piece of unscientific tripe I’ve ever read,” seemed ready himself for a more serious study. That summer Cabell passed the mounting pressure on to Watson at ATIC although after the Fort Monmouth, New Jersey Reports, Cabell sent word down that he was even to be awakened during the middle of the night if he was needed!
Ironically, Watson had such a disdain for UFO sightings that initially he had hesitated to even forward the Fort Mommouth reports to Washington. In fact, when word of the incredible sightings first came into Dayton, the accounts were dismissed by Watson’s head of intelligence analysis, Colonel Bruno Feiling. Feiling completely bypassed Grudge and gave the report directly to James Rodgers who had once been in charge of the Grudge project and was Watson’s right-hand man. Apparently an argument of sorts soon arose within the ATIC offices as the New Jersey incidents gained more and more publicity. Finally, the report was sent to the Pentagon (apparently by some unnamed subordinate going over Watson’s head).
In response, Watson soon found himself in a heated conversation with Cabell. By then Watson knew he had to act fast, so he sent Lieutenant Colonel N.R. Rosengarten to New Jersey to conduct an investigation. Rosengarten then served as chief of Aircraft and Missiles at ATIC and technically had the old Grudge project under his many duties. He took with him intelligence officer Lieutenant Jerry Cummings who had actually taken over the administration of Grudge from James Rodgers. Although Cummings had only recently come to Grudge and, like Edward Ruppelt, had been reactivated with the start of hostilities in Korea. Ruppelt’s opinion of Cummings was very high, and it is evident from the UFO files that a more serious approach was taken as soon as Cummings was ordered to administer what was left of the Grudge operation. As a matter of fact, both Ruppelt and Cummings had desks in the same building. Ruppelt noticed that when Cummings was given the defunct operation, it had been due to Watson rewarding Rodgers with better duty. Yet during the transition, both Ruppelt and Cummings came to learn the history of Watson and Rodgers’ misadministration of Grudge.
Rosengarten and Cummings thus took great interest in their trip to New Jersey because it gave them the chance to finally investigate a really good report without direct interference from Watson and Rodgers. After arriving on the scene via a commercial airliner direct from Dayton, they worked around the clock to interrogate the radar operators and all participating technicians at Fort Monmouth. Following their investigation, Rosengarten and Cummings interrogated the T-33 pilots in New York. After that they headed to Washington to brief Cabell but couldn’t get an airliner out of New York in time to catch a scheduled 10:00 A.M. meeting, so they charted a private plane. When they reached the Pentagon they found themselves participating in a very intense briefing with not just Cabell, but other top Pentagon Intelligence officials.
By the start of the meeting it is apparent that Rosengarten and Cummings had not only become impressed with the reports, but decided to take it upon themselves to put an end to Colonel Watson and his anti-UFO policy. We now know that during the meeting Cummings (with approval from Rosengarten) told Cabell all he knew about the behind-the-scenes influences on Project Grudge.
Cabell thus came to the realization that Watson had been deceiving him. He learned that since Watson took charge at ATIC in July of 1949, he had been intentionally downplaying sightings. Watson, he discovered, had been persistently debunking UFOs—even going out of his way to grab publicity to do so. He had even talked with reporters and columnist Bob Considine and branded all those who saw UFOs as “nuts,” or “fatigued airline pilots.” This greatly insulted U.S. service personnel who had filed many UFO reports themselves. Yet not until this meeting did Cabell fully realize that Watson, along with his confidant and former Grudge project leader James Rodgers, had run Grudge into the ground.
Cabell replaced Watson with Colonel Frank Dunn that very month. Other heads rolled too. Soon anti-UFO men in the Pentagon like Major Jerry Boggs were also out. Cabell then ordered ATIC to reactivate or create a new Project Grudge—hereafter referred to as New Grudge. But as urgent as the orders appeared, no one really seemed to want the added duty. Dunn proceeded to put all the responsibility on Rosengarten who then put it on Cummings, but Cummings soon left the Air Force for an assignment at the California Institute of Technology. So, the task went back up to Rosengarten. On September 16th he passed it on to Lieutenant Edward Ruppelt and Lieutenant Henry Metscher who had worked with Cummings on cases like the famous Lubbock Lights Incidents in Texas.
Ruppelt had been a decorated B-29 bombardier during WWII. In fact, during the war he won five battle stars, two theater combat ribbons, three Air Medals, a Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters, and a Presidential Citation. Ruppelt had gone over with the first B-29 squadron to India and followed it to Tinian Island. He remained in the 20th Bomber Command throughout the whole strategic bombing campaign of Japan and even flew on the last conventional raid of the war. After being decommissioned he entered Iowa State College and earned a BS degree in aeronautical engineering by 1950. With the outbreak of war in Korea he received a recall to duty from the Air Force and came into Intelligence at Wright-Patterson AFB. Given work immediately on classified projects, Ruppelt soon gained a reputation at ATIC as a problem solver. Although he would prove to be the best administrator of a UFO project the Air Force would ever have, he did not have the credentials or rank that would normally be drawn upon for what on the surface seemed an important intelligence assignment. Only 28 years old at the time, Ruppelt was not a career officer. Still a lieutenant by that fall, it is very odd that any non-career tracked officer would be put in charge of a project as important as one involving possible aerial intrusions into United States air space.
He had, however, impressed Rosengarten for some work he did on a captured Korean/ Soviet Mig jet. Because of the meticulous reports and files Ruppelt kept, he was without doubt highly valued at ATIC during a time that personnel resources were being strained by war in Korea. And as anyone who knew Ruppelt will testify, he became instantly liked by all he served with, winning not only their respect but earning it through a high degree of devotion to duty. In sort, Ruppelt was a team player and sweated the details.
Originally New Grudge existed as a more or less two-man operation, but became a project within an ATIC group in late 1951. By March of 1952 it developed into a full group in ATIC, technically designated the Aerial Phenomena Group. By June 1952 Ruppelt’s project became an ATIC section by which time the code name changed from Grudge to Blue Book. Soon promoted to captain, Ruppelt headed these projects through 1953 with a serious and honest approach, making these years known as “The Age of Ruppelt.”
Ruppelt not only took the job seriously but expected his staff to do so as well. If anyone under him either became too skeptical or too convinced of one particular theory, they soon found themselves off the project. At no time, however, was New Grudge or Blue Book more than fact-finding groups and never regained the serious attention besotted on the early Sign investigation of 1948. Ruppelt’s project was basically a military operation within ATIC and did not have the highly skilled civilian engineers employed by Sign like Alfred Loedding.
Nevertheless, Ruppelt did professionalize the project by using a standardized questionnaire developed by Ohio State University for UFO witnesses to describe their sightings. He sought further scientific help from a preexisting contract with the Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio. Already code named Project Stork, it assisted in the evaluation of statistical data produced by the Air Force investigations. (Project Stork had originally been set up to evaluate the Soviet Union as a military threat and when UFO analysis was tacked onto their duties, that part of the study became known as Little Stork.) He then secured Dr. Hynek, already an Air Force consultant in astronomy, as chief scientific consultant. Ruppelt contracted the Romeike news clipping service as well, (from May through September, 1952) bringing many UFO reports to ATIC that would have not been reported otherwise. The most visible change Ruppelt made involved a regular series of briefings that he gave to Air Force and military officials around the country. He then moved to implement a suggestion from General Cabell that would put cameras on the Air Defense Command’s more than 30 radar scopes around the country. Inspired by University of California physicist Joseph Kaplan, Ruppelt also attempted to develop special diffraction grid filters for camera lenses that could be used from aircraft or ground stations. Some duel lens models were called Videon cameras. With one of its lenses filtered, Videon cameras would be able to capture an object’s color spectrum and compare it to that of aircraft, stars and meteors, as well as its own unfiltered view. By comparing the two, at least non-anomalous occurrences could be weeded out.
One of Ruppelt’s actions affects us to this day. Prior to 1951 no one used the phrase unidentified flying object. Different combinations of the phrase were mentioned in the Sign project correspondence but as a catch word it did not really exist. Up to that time even stern high-ranking generals commonly talked of discs or saucers. Such phrases made Ruppelt uneasy. Realizing the complexities of the phenomenon, he insisted on popularizing “UFO.” It took several years, but his persistence eventually dissuaded the use of “flying saucer” in serious discussions.
As 1952 dawned, UFO reports began to gradually climb. Ruppelt and ATIC chief Colonel Frank Dunn attended a Pentagon briefing about that time with the new Air Force Intelligence Director, Major General John A. Samford. (Samford had replaced Cabell as head of Air Force Intelligence when Cabell took up the number two position at the CIA.) Samford already seemed very well informed about the UFO problem but soon appointed his Assistant for Production, Brigadier General W.M. Garland, to oversee liaison with ATIC’s New Grudge. Garland had been very close to Samford in the Pentagon and Ruppelt described Garland as a “moderately confirmed believer.” He learned that Garland had once seen a UFO while stationed in Sacramento, California. From the fall of 1952 on, Garland would serve as Ruppelt’s boss.
In the summer 1952 Ruppelt found himself in the middle of the largest UFO wave to date. The excitement caused by that wave led the CIA into the picture because the Truman administration feared a possible hysteria developing over the subject. This in return led to a CIA- sponsored discussion of UFOs known as the Robertson Panel in January of 1953. Stamped “Secret,” the Robertson Panel’s report (formally known as the Scientific Advisory Panel on UFOs) sent its recommendations to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, Chairman of the National Resources Board, and former Intelligence Director General Cabell, but not to Ruppelt or his ATIC superior General Garland.
Ruppelt may have been head of Blue Book, but it was not until later that he and Garland were briefed. During their meeting the CIA intentionally lied to them, stating that the panel had actually recommended the expansion of Blue Book and the declassification of its files. Ruppelt left the meeting very excited. He made plans for the utilization of more personnel, the final implementation of the camera surveillance, and media release of more classified files as Air Force press assistant Albert Chop had already done via popular UFO writer Donald Keyhoe. In fact, Keyhoe had just been briefed on the famous Tremonton Movie and eagerly looked forward to a more forthcoming policy from the Air Force. But, it never happened.
While Ruppelt waited for his promised increase in staff and the new projects to be implemented, he received a temporary transfer to non-UFO related duties in Denver. (During that period he attended an advanced intelligence course at Lowry AFB from April 7, 1953, to July 3, 1953.) Then after a brief return to Blue Book Ruppelt was deactivated with the end of the war in Korea. The increase in staff never came nor did other plans. Fearing that the Air Force’s seagull explanation for the Tremonton Movie would not be believed, it remained classified until 1956. General Garland may have then become aware of the true nature of the panel’s recommendations because he reframed from speaking out on UFOs until he left the Air Force for a job at Rand. (In late 1953 Garland tried but failed to have Blue Book transferred over to the Air Defense Command.) Ruppelt seemed to have been kept in the dark about the actual magnitude of the Robertson Panel up until the time of his sudden death from a heart attack just seven years later. And, the public as a whole would not learn the full details of the Robertson Panel report until it was declassified in the summer of 1966.
But because of the military’s slow bureaucratic nature, the Robertson Panel’s recommendations took a great deal of time to be implemented. Through most of the first half of 1953 Ruppelt and his temporary replacement, Lieutenant Bob Olsson, continued operating Blue Book much as it had been the year before. The only major hindrance concerned getting replacements for staff members and of course the fruitless waiting for the increase in staff which never came. After being reduced to only two subordinates, Ruppelt had to become resourceful. He suggested utilizing other intelligence units for field investigations which eventually resulted in the use of the recently activated 4602nd Air Intelligence Service Squadron (or AISS) for that task.
Ruppelt’s actual end at Blue Book came with the close of hostilities in Korea in August of 1953, thus ending the most significant period in the project. At the time of his departure only two assistants remained out of what had become a ten-person section. That same year Pentagon liaison Dewey Fournet and Albert Chop left, being the last to openly lean toward the extraterrestrial hypothesis in the “Age of Ruppelt.” Chop had actually resigned his post following an accusation by the Air Force that Donald Keyhoe had fraudulently obtained sighting reports for his upcoming book. Yet, Chop had released the reports to him with full permission from Air Force intelligence and produced a signed affidavit to that effect.
For a period, Blue Book fell under the sole authority of one noncommissioned officer, Airman First Class Max Futch. Futch was a hard drinking Coca Cola man who not only kept himself going during the long days of the summer UFO wave of 1952 but served as Ruppelt’s right-hand man in the office. Ruppelt placed great confidence in Futch and could always rely on him. But Futch soon left the service along with Bob Olsson—both heading for law school. After that ATIC assisted when needed to investigate reports, but from that point on the project primarily became a repository for files. Most field investigations were turned over to the nineteen scattered 4602nd AISS units of the Air Defense Command.
With Ruppelt’s departure from Blue Book, the first significant effects of the Robertson Panel recommendations can be detected. It began with the reissuance of Air Force Regulation 200-2 to all American Air Force bases. This regulation put initial responsibility for investigating UFO sightings back with the commander of the air base closest to the event. Amendments would later state that only the 4602nd should make investigations unless there was not an AISS unit in the vicinity, and then the base commander could send a report to the one nearest him. USAFBs were also warned to treat UFO sightings with a restricted clearance at the very minimum and forbade the release of any information to the public except through Blue Book channels unless the sighting was positively identified. By decreasing attention on investigation and increasing the restriction on public information, the Air Force hoped it could successfully defuse (what the CIA had convinced them was) a growing hysteria over UFOs.
After a brief stint with Ruppelt’s former assistants heading up Blue Book, Captain Charles Hardin assumed command of the project in March of 1954 with only a two-man staff at his disposal. Because of Hardin’s meager resources, most field investigations by that time were being conducted by the 4602nd AISS. Hardin was assigned the task of concentrating Blue Book on countering public criticism and implementing the CIA’s Robertson Panel recommendations which were made known to ATIC sometime by 1956. The 4602nd, however, soon found itself in trouble with the dreaded saucer killer Harold Watson who had regained full reign of ATIC. He felt its men were classifying too many sightings as unidentifieds. Hardin and astronomical advisor to the Air Force, Dr. Hynek (then still more of a UFO debunker than advocate), compiled a field guide known as the UFOB Guide. The UFOB Guide used categories for the 4602nd to more conveniently organize its data into explainable conclusions. Hardin suggested “common sense” as the best way to rule out witnesses’ stories that seemed to contain contradictory evidence. Thus, unique or extraordinary details of sightings were not entered into the Blue Book files. As a result, unknowns fell from 60 percent in 1954 to 5.9 percent in 1955 and 0.4 by 1956. Ironically, as the number of unknowns fell, total UFO reports steadily increased.
In April 1956 the zealous debunker Captain George T. Gregory assumed leadership of Blue Book after Captain Hardin transferred to other duty. Other ATIC veterans also left in 1956, creating a loss of awareness in the project of its own history. During Gregory’s tenure UFO reports were carelessly and thoughtlessly classified. For example, if a child reported a UFO, policy dictated it automatically be attributed to an overactive imagination. Any reports coming out of Canada were put into the insufficient data category and overseas sightings were rarely recorded. Gregory, however, was not a poor officer. In Hynek’s words, “promotion was the be-all and end-all of existence” to this career-minded man.
That’s what Blue Book had become by 1956—a carefully controlled project run by those who could follow orders. No one wanted another Ruppelt who would run off to a comfortable highly paid civilian job and write (what they thought was) a tell-all book. The manner in which Air Force Headquarters required ATIC and thus Blue Book to handle UFO reports was by design, aimed more at public relations than investigation. Blue Book chiefs were made to believe that by dissuading public attention on UFOs, a correlation would result in decreasing numbers of those bothersome sightings. That became a form of results much easier to show to the Pentagon than the more difficult task of conducting expensive investigations into a complex phenomena. It might even mean a promotion and certainly guaranteed every career officer’s goal—a paid retirement.
In October 1958 Blue Book received a very needed shot in the arm when Major Robert Friend replaced Captain Gregory as head of the project. His presence significantly bolstered morale because Friend had substantial scientific training and approached his job in a fair and impartial way just as Ruppelt had. But by that time, Blue Book had many limitations Ruppelt never faced. Friend tried very hard to organize a then chaotic project. Fearing many UFO files had been taken as souvenirs just as had been done prior to Ruppelt’s time, he proposed microfilming reports. He also suggested cataloging sightings which would create an index to evaluate common characteristics. Both of these plans required funds that Friend was never able to acquire from his superiors, although he did succeed in establishing monthly meetings with an unofficial scientific advisory group chaired by Dr. Hynek to discuss the unexplained cases and hopefully discern trends. (Friend kept in almost daily contact with Hynek throughout his term at Blue Book.) Hynek’s panel met with Friend until the end of 1960 and included astronomer L.V. Robinson, public relations expert Theodore J. Hieatt, chaplain Captain R. Pritz, physicist V.J. Handmacher, and psychologist Leroy D. Pigg.
An important suggestion that arose during Friend’s tenure urged UFO research to be transferred from ATIC to the more scientifically inclined Air Research and Development Command. ATIC did push for this, but ARDC commander, Lieutenant General Bernard Schriever, apparently did not want the burden of controversy that came with UFOs. In 1961 ATIC became part of the Air Force Foreign Technology Division of the Air Force Systems Command. At that time ATIC again tried to pass off UFO investigations onto other agencies like NASA or the National Science Foundation, but neither wanted the public relations nightmare that came with it.
Friend had so few resources by that late date in the project’s history that few cases could be investigated. In February of 1958 the Air Force revised regulation 200-2 for the fifth time. It stated that “Air Force activities must reduce the percentage of unidentified to the minimum.” In the wake of this change Blue Book started to look more and more like a mere repository of files with little investigative authority.
Back in July of 1957 ATIC was told that if it deemed further investigation warranted on a particular case, it could assign personnel of the 1006th Air Intelligence Service Squadron or AISS who were to take over the job from the 4602nd—disbanded by the Air Defense Command. By 1958, however, the Air Force cut the AISS’s budget, making it impossible to implement effective investigative procedures. By July of 1959 even that system ended when responsibility for follow up investigations was transferred from the 1006th to the 1127th Field Activities Group stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. But the 1127th completed very little work on UFO cases.
In 1963 Friend, by then a Lieutenant Colonel, retired as head of Blue Book—replaced by Major Hector Quintanilla. Quintanilla served merely as a caretaker of the project until it disbanded in 1969. A career-tracked officer, he always stressed the official line of public relations over investigation in strict accordance with orders. Quintanilla had no personal interest in UFOs and as the years went on strained the patience of the more eclectic Dr. Hynek due to his insistence on following Air Force policy at all times.
By 1965 a new UFO wave was well underway, proving to be the largest in history. Reports would flood in from all over the world but prove most numerous in the USSR and the United States. Dreading another onslaught of reports like the 1952 wave, the Air Force considered ways to extricate itself from the whole situation. They still had not overcome the public relations nightmare that UFOs presented and were tired of what they saw as not only an embarrassing problem, but an expensive one as well.
As the USAF continued to downplay sightings, NICAP, a large civilian research and lobbying coalition, became a very vocal critic. But as in the 1952 wave, the military had more on its mind than UFOs. The Cold War remained a real concern as the Robertson Panel’s words of forebodings continued to seem just as pertinent as they had been a decade earlier. U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated in the mid 1960s and civil rights demonstrations continued as America became less and less interested in the mysteries of the universe and more focused on its own problems. Actually the entire Western world entered a period of disillusionment in that decade, spawned not just by European decolonization, but a Third World population explosion, global hunger, and environmental pollution.
Yet even in the midst of that world-wide unrest, The U.S. Congress focused on UFOs but only briefly. Although the Air Force would take considerable heat during the inquiry, they would also learn how to resolve their nagging problem. As the most sensational wave of all time transpired, the Air Force used its authority on the subject to fund a university study into the phenomenon. On the surface it would appear as a purely independent and impartial scientific inquiry. At first it did exactly what the Air Force hoped it would do. NICAP praised the formation of what became known as the Condon Committee and Congress appeared pacified too. As time wore on, however, it became obvious that the committee did not have the desire to enter into a meaningful scientific inquiry. The motivation simply was not there—leading to a poorly organized study, and a very expensive one at that, costing the American taxpayers over a half million dollars. When the committee presented its final report, it recommended the Air Force drop UFO investigations, allowing them to gracefully bring a halt to Project Blue Book in 1969. Because it was published under the respected name of project leader Dr. Edward Condon, the scientific community automatically accepted the conclusions. Most scientists did this without ever reading it let alone even taking the time to pick up a copy of the report.
As America landed men on the moon, the public became even less fascinated with spaceships from other worlds. They now had spaceships of their own and were very proud of them. In connection with the Condon Report, great accomplishments like Apollo made science seem a solution to all of man’s problems. This had been a perception since the technological leaps in the 1890s, but prior to the space age, science still seemed a realm full of unlimited magical possibilities. With America’s acceleration in education following Sputnik, science lost that mystical veil, becoming a practical tool of even the layman. Yet, out of enlightenment came a hypocrisy which chose to only recognize the scientific laws men were able to utilize at hand.
It is interesting to note however that in 1968 the Committee on Science and Astronautics conducted a symposium at the urging of Representative J. Edward Roush of Indiana. Roush was a confirmed NICAP supporter. He outlined to Congress serious concerns he had developed after talking to Dr. James McDonald about the scientific profundity of the Colorado project. Roush then attracted attention through an interview he gave to the Denver Post, in which he talked about the implications of the Air Force’s influence on the Condon committee.
Six distinguished scientists from major universities attended the symposium including sociologist Dr. Robert L. Hall, Dr. Hynek, Dr. Carl Sagan, and Dr. McDonald. Two engineers, Dr. James A. Harder and Dr. Robert M. Baker, also sat on the panel. The committee was prohibited from getting entangled with the Condon committee or criticizing the Air Force as such statements could only have been discussed in a session of the Armed Services Committee.
Dr. Hynek used this as the first public forum to openly indicate that there may indeed be “scientific pay dirt” in the phenomenon. He also freely admitted that the Air Force had little interest in investigating UFO reports after 1953—having come to the conclusion that they did not present a threat to national security. He stressed that a small handful of contactees and pulp magazines had for years made UFOs an illegitimate subject in scientific circles. While he in no way suggested that UFOs were of an extraterrestrial origin, he made it clear that there was no way to even discuss the possibility without generating ridicule. Hynek then suggested the formation of an official “UFO Scientific Board of Inquiry” using the United Nations as a forum for an interchange of sighting reports.
Overall, the conclusions of the committee members stated that UFOs merited serious study and should be given closer and more objective attention. Some, like Sagan and Hall, questioned if UFOs were of an extraterrestrial nature but admitted that it was possible although unlikely. Both agreed with the need to study the subject further and Dr. Hall warned the government that it should release its files on UFOs to defuse concern over the issue. Dr. James Harder of the University of California went so far as to state: “On the basis of the data and ordinary rules of evidence, as would be applied in civil or criminal courts, the physical reality of UFOs has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” He went on to say that the objects were “interplanetary.”
Dr. Robert Baker, a former UCLA professor of astronomy and engineering and editor of the Journal of the Astronomical Science, concluded—expressing an opinion that the old Newhouse and Mariana Films were most probably of anomalistic objects. He revealed that the Air Defense Command, (which by then could monitor outer space for a possible Soviet missile attack) had produced “a number of anomalistic alarms.” Dr. Baker commented that he felt this was the only surveillance system that even had a “slight opportunity” of detecting advanced space visitors. Papers from the long time UFO debunker Dr. Donald Menzel as well as five other scientists with less pessimistic views including Stanton Friedman were then read into the record.
Unfortunately, the symposium’s dialogue became completely overshadowed by the release of the Condon Committee’s final report in the fall. Its 1,485 page hard back version studied 91 total cases, 61 of which were identified as misperceptions or hoaxes. The rest were classified as unidentified. Some famous UFO cases were reexamined like Major Lewis D. Chase’s July 1957 incident in an RB-47. But just as during the Robertson Panel discussions, very few of the thousands of cases available were studied. NICAP had donated some of its best cases and less than one percent were examined. The scientific community, unaware of this, praised the efforts of the Condon report and the press then soon followed with an overall endorsement of its work. The conclusions everyone focused on, especially the Air Force, stated: There has been no advance to science through the study of UFOs in the past, and there likely will be no advance in the future. Consequently, the Air Force should give up its official project. There are, therefore, three main elements to the conclusion:
1. There has been no advance.
The Air Force, not surprisingly, agreed with the assessments. Condon in fact repeatedly urged in his conclusions that the government as a whole should not be involved with the study of UFOs and agreed with the Air Force’s conviction that the phenomenon presented no danger to national security. Condon even went so far as to warn that children in the school system could be “educationally harmed” by studying UFOs—recommending teachers discipline those having interest in the subject! (The Air Force, by the way, was then receiving approximately 3,000 letters per month from children desiring information to assist them in writing papers on UFOs for school projects.)
On December 17th of 1969, virtually a foregone conclusion after the Condon report, the new Secretary of the Air Force, Robert C. Seamans, Jr., announced the termination of Blue Book and all involvement in UFO investigations. The Air Force’s justification stated UFOs presented no threat to national security and had no scientific value for study. The dissolution of Blue Book marked the end of an official recognition of the subject. Afterwards, UFOs would occasionally be discussed, but always with the suggestion that they were merely a periodic fad.
Although Blue Book ended in 1969, the speculation continued that the government might still have a secret, high level investigation. The subject was discussed at a meeting at Hynek’s home on September 14, 1969, with his close friends affectionately known as the the “Invisible College.” Hynek told his friends Jacques Vallee and Bill Powers that there may indeed be another study but that it would undoubtedly have the same data that Blue Book collected. His colleagues, however, disagreed. They felt a real study would go beyond the scope of file clerks. It would have access to radar records that Blue Book was never allowed to see.
After that meeting Vallee made a significant entry in his diary that tells a great deal about the last days of Blue Book and Hynek’s association with it. It is so very critical to understanding the hypocrisy of the time:
I have to agree with Fred when he says that the Air Force
has kept Hynek
Allen is now fifty-nine years old. He still goes to
‘What do you talk about?’ asks Fred.
‘Oh, we talk about lots of things, ordinary things like the
Hynek has been charmed and neutralized by the Air Force.
In the last year of its existence, Blue Book received 146 UFO reports of which only one received the unidentified classification. Virtually all of the cases that came in by that point were civilian sightings. Military personnel no longer reported UFOs—they weren’t supposed to. The Air Force claimed UFOs were no longer seen by the military simply because they are trained observers that cannot be fooled by such things. Historically, however, that was not true. For the 22 years that the Air Force investigated UFOs they received 12,750 reports of which 587 were classified as unidentified. (At one time Air Force files listed 701 unidentifieds but today only 587 are noted in the declassified index.)
A significant percentage of those came from trained military observers and pilots. It is also important to remember that the USAF on average only received reports from about ten percent of those seeing UFOs. Many of the sightings they did get were never investigated, but merely filed according to a predetermined category as Blue Book personnel saw fit. And not all of those reports were given case numbers—making the total count of incidents on file closer to 16,000.
These records are now available on microfilm from the National Archives for anyone to view. Other material can be studied at the Air Force Historical Center at Maxwell AFB. In addition, the Air Force has periodically declassified relevant material about UFO investigations. Combined with determined freedom of information requests filed by researchers from many fields of discipline, new information on UFO events since 1947 are still coming to light. In fact, at the time of this writing 240 pages of UFO-related records have been released from the National Security Agency. Several thousand pages of mid-1950s era UFO case files of the 4602nd Air Intelligence Service Squadron have also been released. The National Archives’ Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, despite stating for years that their Air Force intelligence files were destroyed in a fire, have also announced the existence of 910 pages of old Sign and Grudge files including many of the missing cases. What new evidence will these records and future releases tell us? The history of Blue Book is not complete—not without your help.