The Great Saucer Snafu


For a full understanding of the Air Force problem, and the evidence I later showed Riordan, it is necessary to go back to the start of the great saucer scare. Some of the facts I have learned throw new light on those earlier years. And tracing the investigation, on up into 1953, shows not only the strange incidents of the past year but the reasons for the present Air Force dilemma.

            The first official reports came in '44. During World War II, hundreds of American pilots encountered mysterious round, glowing objects over Europe and the Far East. Dubbed "foo-fighters"—sometimes "Kraut fireballs"—these early UFO's appeared both singly and in formations. Apparently their purpose was a close-range observation of aerial-war operations. Time after time they paced our bombers and fighters, maneuvering around them at high speed.

            Suspecting a Nazi device, Intelligence officers checked when the war ended. But they found no trace of any such secret machine. Both the Nazi and Jap pilots, too, had been baffled by the foo-fighters.

            In the next year or so a few strange reports trickled in to the Air Force. Most of them were brushed off as illusions.


Then on June 24, 1947, an Idaho private pilot named Ken Arnold set off the saucer uproar.

            While flying near Mount Rainer, Washington, Arnold sighted nine huge, gleaming discs, racing along in a column. He estimated their size at 100 feet in diameter, the speed at more than 1,200 miles per hour.

            Unfortunately Arnold described the discs as "saucer like," and the ridiculous name was born. Had he called them "flying discs," or simply unknown objects, the whole story might have been different. But from the start the "saucers" have been a big joke, a handicap to any serious investigation.

            Within a few days after Arnold's story hit front pages, weird objects were reported all over the country. There were a few hoaxes. Many reports were caused by hysteria. But mixed in with these were several serious accounts.

            At Muroc Air Force Base, veteran pilots reported silvery discs circling at high speeds. A United Airlines crew, until then hardheaded skeptics, sighted two groups of discs over Emmett, Idaho. Other stories came in from competent, trained observers.

            Even then, contradictions were the order of the day. At Muroc and other air bases, commanders worried by the thought of a Russian secret weapon kept fighters alerted. But when the United report came in to Washington, a Pentagon spokesman quickly debunked the story.

            "No investigation is needed," he said. "The saucers are only hallucinations."

            On that same day officers at Dayton admitted that the Air Materiel Command was seriously investigating the saucers.

            On through '47 the excitement alternately flared and faded. By this time reports were world-wide. One small group of Intelligence officers urged the Air Force to set up a secret probe. Perhaps they would not have succeeded, but for the strange death of Captain Mantell.

            Early on the afternoon of January 7, 1948, a huge, round,


glowing object was sighted by hundreds of people at Madisonville, Kentucky, and later by thousands throughout the state. State police, in warning Fort Knox, estimated the object to be at least 250 feet in diameter.

            Thirty minutes later, the strange device appeared over Godman Air Force Base, not far from Fort Knox. As it hovered over the field, alternately glowing red and white, Captain Thomas Mantell and three other F-51 pilots flew past on a training flight. Mantell, a war veteran, was contacted by radio from the Godman tower and asked to investigate.

            After a few minutes, climbing through broken clouds, Mantell called the tower.

            "I've sighted the thing. It looks metallic—and it's tremendous in size . . . Now it's starting to climb . . ."

            After a brief silence he called again.

            "It's still above me, making my speed or better. I'm going up to 20,000 feet. If I'm no closer, I’ll abandon chase."

            Minutes passed. The tower called Mantell again, but there was only silence. Later that day Mantels’ body was found near his wrecked plane, some 90 miles from the field. One witness said the F-51 seemed to explode in midair. There was no sign of fire, but the fighter had disintegrated before it struck the ground.

            Next day, a few papers carried the story of the fatal "saucer chase." Rumors began to fly. In one story Mantels’ body had been pierced by a mysterious ray. According to another, no body was found—Mantell had been spirited away for examination by unknown spacemen. The Air Force refusal to release any pictures of the wreckage or Mantels’ body naturally heightened public suspicion.

            Actually, as Intelligence has told me, this was out of respect for the feelings of Mantels’ relatives. While his body was not badly mutilated, there was one detail the Air Force preferred not to make public, though there was nothing mysterious about the wound.


            Soon after Mantels’ death, Air Force Intelligence established Project "Sign," the first investigating agency. Beside Intelligence officers, several rocket experts, aeronautical engineers, an astrophysicist, and other scientists were put to work on the riddle. The project, at first, was top-secret.

            On July 24, 1948, two Eastern Air Lines pilots, Captain C. S. Chiles and First Officer John B. Whitted, dumped a new mystery into the project's lap.

            At 2:45 a.m., as they were flying near Montgomery, a brilliant cigar-shaped craft came hurtling toward their airliner.

            "It was heading southwest," Captain Chiles said later, "and it flashed toward us at terrific speed. We veered to the left. It veered sharply, too, and passed us about 700 feet to the right."

            Both pilots saw two rows of windows and noted an intense blue glow from inside—possibly caused by an unknown means of propulsion. The speed of the weird-looking ship, they estimated, was between 500 and 700 miles an hour. As it raced past, trailing a red-orange exhaust, it pulled up sharply. The propulsion blast rocked the DC-3 for a moment, before the unknown craft climbed into the night.

            This strange UFO, called a "space ship" in newspaper stories, was also sighted at Robbins Field, near Macon, Georgia. Except for the windows, witnesses' descriptions tallied with those of the pilots.

            Two months later, on October 1, the Fargo "saucer" fight report came in from Lieutenant George Gorman. When Project investigators flew to the scene, two airport tower operators confirmed Gorman's sighting of the eerie "flying light."

            Then in November there was a sudden flurry of reports from our air bases abroad. On November 1, radar men at Goose Bay Air Force Base, in Labrador, picked up a strange object flying at 600 miles an hour. Five days later


Air Force radar men in Japan tracked two oddly maneu­vering UFO's for over an hour. On the scope they appeared like two planes, dogfighting. But there were no conventional aircraft in the area.

            Three weeks later another radar case startled Air Force officers in Germany. On the night of November 23 an F-80 jet pilot was flying near Furstenfeldbruck when he sighted a circling object with a bright red light. At about the same moment the UFO was picked up by Air Force ground radar. It was tracked as flying in circles at 27,000 feet— the altitude where the pilot encountered it.

            As the F-80 drew near, the red-lighted device swiftly climbed out of sight. But before it went off the scope, operators tracked it to 40,000 feet, circling at speeds estimated as high as 500 m.p.h.

            On through '48 and in the winter months of '49, saucer reports steadily poured in. But few of them were made public, and the excitement had died down. In the spring of '49, Ken W. Purdy, editor of True magazine, began a private investigation which he later asked me to take over. One of the first Air Force officers I saw was Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) Dewitt R. Searles, a pilot assigned to the press branch.

            Searles and I went over the first Project report, in which Intelligence admitted it had no answers for the Mantell, Chiles-Whitted, and Gorman sightings.

            The possibility that the saucers came from Mars or Venus was also admitted; but it was more likely, said the Air Force, that they came from outside our solar system. In discussing nearby star systems, the Project Sign report stated:

            "Outside the solar system other stars—22 in number-have satellite planets. Our sun has nine. One of these, the earth, is ideal for existence of intelligent life. On two others there is a possibility of life. Therefore, astronomers believe reasonable the thesis that there could be at least


one ideally habitable planet for each of the 22 other eligible stars.

            "The theory is also employed that man represents the average in advancement and development. Therefore, one half the other habitable planets would be behind man in development, and the other half ahead. It is also assumed that any visiting race could be expected to be far in ad­vance of man. Thus, the chance of space travelers existing at planets attached to neighboring stars is very much greater than the chance of space-traveling Martians. The one can be viewed as almost a certainty, if you accept the thesis that the number of inhabited planets is equal to those that are suitable for life and that intelligent life is not peculiar to the earth."

            After discussing numerous sightings, the report ended by saying the saucers were neither jokes nor any cause for alarm.

            "What do you personally think?" I asked Major Searles.  He shook his head.

            "You can't ignore the testimony of competent pilots. We don't know the answers, but we're making a careful investigation."

            In my own check-up, I talked with pilots who had seen saucers, with rocket designers, aircraft engineers, flight surgeons, and Washington officers I knew personally from my days at Annapolis. Among the latter were Captain (now Admiral) Delmar Fahrney, who was then top figure in the Navy guided-missile program, and Admiral Calvin Bolster, another Naval Academy classmate of mine. Bolster, now the Director of the Office of Naval Research, was then in charge of the special design section of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Though he has since been fully briefed on the saucers by Air Force Intelligence, at that time he was puzzled by the sightings.

            "Don, I swear it's nothing the U. S. is doing," he said. "I'm in on all special weapon programs and I'm sure I


would know. Our big cosmic-ray research balloons may have caused a few 'saucer' reports, but they don't explain all the sightings—especially those by experienced service and airline pilots. I honestly don't know the answer."

            When I saw Fahrney, I was already convinced that the saucers were not American guided missiles. But I put the question to him, anyway.

            "We're years from anything like the saucers' performance," Fahmey told me. "And if we ever do match them, nobody'd be crazy enough to test the things near cities or along airways. If anyone under me ever tried it, I'd court-martial him—you ought to know that."

            "Sure, I know it, Del. I was just relaying what some people think."

            "Well, they ought to know better. All the services test their missiles over uninhabited areas or over the ocean. And even over water, we never fire a missile if a ship's near the danger zone. As for the saucers, I wish to heaven we did have something like that. We wouldn't have to worry about Russian air raids—the things would make per­fect defense missiles."

            "Back in '47," I said, "two or three Air Force officers said the saucers might be Russian. Not that I believe it—"

            "It's impossible," Fahrney said flatly. "That was just a hasty reaction, before they thought it out. The Soviet couldn't possibly have gotten that far ahead of us in '47— or even now—no matter how many Nazi scientists they kidnapped. No, either the saucers don't exist—and those reports are hard to brush off—or else they're interplanetary."

            It wasn't the first time I'd heard that idea. But from a practical man like Fahmey, it was a little startling. And yet it was ridiculous to think that the earth was the only inhabited planet in the whole universe. Civilizations probably had developed on many planets, some of them ahead of us, some not so far advanced.

            We ourselves were working hard for space travel; we'd


undoubtedly reach the moon within the next 20 years. It was certainly possible that some higher civilization, perhaps centuries ahead of us, had already conquered space travel and was now exploring our solar system.

            After weeks of checking, I was finally convinced it was the only answer. But saying so under my by-line was a lot different. It had taken me more than 20 years to establish myself with national magazines. If this article drew nothing but ridicule, it could set me back a long way. Yet the evidence all added up. Still a little uneasy, I decided to go ahead.

            During the hubbub over the published article the Air Force took an unusual step after denying that the saucers existed. It was arranged for an INS staff writer to interview Major Jere Boggs, a Project Intelligence officer who served as liaison man between the Pentagon and Wright Field. During the interview Boggs was asked for definite answers to the Mantell, Chiles-Whitted, and Gorman cases —which I had said were still unsolved.

            Captain Mantell, said Boggs, had been misled by the planet Venus; Chiles, Whitted, and the other witnesses in that case had seen a meteor flash by; and Gorman had chased a lighted weather balloon.

            When I phoned the Pentagon, I was told that Boggs was preparing to leave for Germany and could not see me. But press officials finally gave in, and I met Boggs in the office of General Sory Smith, deputy director for Air Information. (General Smith is now the director.)

            With General Smith and several press officers sitting in, I asked Major Boggs if he had been quoted correctly.

            "Yes, I was," said Boggs. "Captain Mantell was chasing the planet Venus when he was killed."

            "But Venus was practically invisible that day," I said. "And that's a flat contradiction of the April Project report. After checking for 15 months, they said it was not Venus— that the object was still unidentified."

            "They rechecked after that," Boggs said calmly.


            "Why?" I asked.

            But Major Boggs refused to be pinned down.

            "There's no other possible answer—Captain Mantell was chasing the planet Venus."

            It was the same in the other two cases. Boggs insisted that the Eastern pilots saw a meteor—a bolide (one which exploded in a shower of sparks). And Gorman, in chasing a lighted balloon, had been tricked into imagining the object's maneuvers. Each time I reminded him that the Project had investigated for months before calling the cases unsolved in its April report. When I asked him what new facts had been discovered, he admitted there were none. The Project had simply made a new analysis—and there, apparently to their surprise, were the answers.

            After Boggs left, General Smith asked if I was convinced I was wrong.

            "No," I said frankly, "I'm more certain than ever I was right. I'd like to see the complete files on those cases."

            "I don't know why you can't see them," said General Smith. "I'll ask Wright Field." (It was this request which was later denied, after I repeated it twice.)

            Before I left, General Smith told me that the Mantell case had shaken him at first. He had known Mantell personally, and the Godman Field CO., Colonel Hix, had been a West Point classmate of his. Neither one, said Smith, was the kind of man to have hallucinations. But when I asked if he believed the Venus answer, the general looked surprised.

            "Well, I don't know the details—but if Wright Field says that's the answer, it must be right."

            As it turned out, Wright Field—or rather, ATIC—hadn't said anything of the kind. Boggs apparently had been put on the spot at the Pentagon—someone had to knock down my three main cases, as quickly as possible. But unfortunately, in a mix-up of signals, Project "Sign" had sent on case summaries of these and other sightings—declassifying them from confidential and secret. Within an hour after


the Boggs interview these cases were in my hands—summaries which completely refuted all that he had told me.

            In discussing the Mantell case, the Project analysis quickly let the cat out of the bag:

            "Under exceptionally good atmospheric conditions, and with the eye shielded from direct rays of the sun, Venus might be seen as an exceedingly tiny bright point of light. However, the chances of looking at just the right spot are very few.

            "It has been unofficially reported that the object was a Navy cosmic-ray research balloon. If this can be established, it is to be preferred as an explanation. [This was later proved false.] However, if one accepts the assumption that reports from various other localities refer to the same object, any such device must have been a good many miles high in order to have been seen clearly, almost simultaneously, from places 175 miles apart ... no man-made object could have been large enough and far enough away for the approximate simultaneous sightings.

            "It is most unlikely, however, that so many separated persons should at that time have chanced on Venus in the daylight sky . . . The sighting might have included two or more balloons (or aircraft) or they might have included Venus (in the fatal chase) and balloons ... Such a hypothesis, however, does still necessitate the inclusion of at least two other objects than Venus, and it certainly is coincidental that so many people would have chosen this one day to be confused (to the extent of reporting the matter) by normal airborne objects."

            This was Major Boggs' proof that the UFO was Venus.

            When it came to the Chiles-Whitted case, the summary at first backed Boggs, then cut the ground from under him. It was admitted that flight schedules of 225 aircraft had been checked by ATIC, and that no known plane was flying in the vicinity of the DC-3. Then the report went on:

            "The sheer improbability of the facts, in the absence of any known aircraft, makes it necessary to see whether any


other explanation, even though farfetched, can be considered."

            With this candid admission of his purpose, the Project analyst did his best to turn the "space ship" into a meteor.

            "It will have to be left to the psychologists," he concluded, "to tell us whether the immediate trail of a bright meteor could produce the subjective impression of a ship with lighted windows." A bit lamely, he added, "Considering only the Chiles-Whitted sighting, the hypothesis seems very improbable."

            To offset the confirmation from Robbins Air Force Base, an hour earlier, the Project investigator suggested a one-hour error in time. The reason: the airliner might have been on Daylight Saving Time. If this were true, he said, then observers at both spots saw a meteor, which was traveling so fast that it covered the distance between them in a very few moments.

            But actually, as was proved later, there was no error in the reported times. And here is where the Project analyst tripped up Boggs.

            "If the difference in time is real, the object was some form of known aircraft, regardless of its bizarre nature."

            The summary did not try to explain the "bizarre" nature of the UFO, and the analyst shied away from even discussing the space-ship possibility.

            In the Gorman case the Project report barely hinted at the balloon answer, carefully avoiding any definite claim. There was good reason to play it down. Though a weather balloon had been released at Fargo, the Weather Bureau observer, tracking it with his theodolite, recorded a course that took it away from the "dogfight" area.

            I have detailed these old cases because they show the tendency, at that time, to explain away all sightings. All through the summaries of the first 244 cases I found such comments as these:

            "It is tempting to explain the objects as ordinary aircraft observed under unusual light conditions, but the evidence


is strongly contradictory . . . despite these conjectures, no logical explanation seems possible . . . possibly fireballs, but unlikely. This investigator does not prefer that interpretation, and it should be resorted to only if all other possible explanations fail . . . this investigator would prefer the meteor hypothesis even though the evidence is entirely insufficient to establish it."

            Two years later I was told the reason for this "explaining away" policy. But when I first saw the summaries, I was amazed that the Air Force had released them. For the determination to find some explanation in each case, no matter how farfetched, was impossible to miss.

            Of the 244 cases in this first group, 210 were listed as answered, many on mere conjecture, some in spite of contrary evidence. The other 34 cases, the Project admitted, were unexplained. But reviewing officers in the Air Materiel Command refused to let this stand. In an appendix to the summaries, they quickly disposed of all but three cases.

            The method used is illustrated by Case 1.

            On July 8, 1947, two silver-colored discs had maneuvered over Muroc Air Force Base. After circling tightly at 8,000 feet, the discs had reached speeds which Air Force officers estimated between 300 and 400 miles an hour. When Project investigators confessed they were stumped, the Air Materiel Command tersely explained the report:

            "The sightings were the result of misinterpretation of real stimuli, probably research balloons."

            This answer was so incredible that I couldn't believe the AMC had meant it to be public. Aside from the fact that balloons do not maneuver in tight circles, it would have taken a 300-400 mile wind to move them at the reported speeds. Such a wind—which has never been known on earth—would have flattened Muroc and killed everyone on the base.

            When I finished the Project report I was badly puzzled.


            Why had the Air Force let me see these cases, the unbelievable "explanations," and especially the evidence wrecking Boggs' claims?

            After weighing the possible answers, I came to these conclusions:

      1.  The Air Force was puzzled, and some officials were worried, when the discs were so widely reported in 1947.

      2.  The Air Force began to suspect the truth after Mantell's death, if not before.

      3.  Project "Sign" was created to investigate and also conceal the truth from the public.

      4.  In 1949 this policy, set by Secretary James Forrestal, was reversed at the Pentagon. It was decided to let the facts leak out gradually, to prepare the American people. This was the reason for the April 27, 1949, report, with its suggestions of visitors from space.

      5.  While I was preparing my first saucer article, it had been considered in line with the gradual-education program. But the public reaction frightened Air Force officials, causing their hasty denials that the saucers were real.

      6.  To prevent closer analysis of the Mantell case, Major Boggs had been told to publicize the Venus answer. Though it had been denied by the Project, the Air Force knew that most people had forgotten or had never known this. Having been pushed into this public explanation, Boggs was forced to stick to it, though he knew it was wrong and the case summaries would prove it. (Later I learned he had not known the summaries would be released.)

      7.  The case summaries were shown to a small number of Washington newsmen to continue planting the space-travel idea after the hysteria died down.

            Including these points in a book, I added this paragraph, which has since been proved true:

            "I believe that the Air Force is still investigating the saucer sightings, either through the Air Materiel Command or some other headquarters. It is possible that some


Air Force officials still fear a panic when the truth is officially revealed. In that case, we may continue for a long time to see the routine denials alternating with new suggestions of interplanetary travel."

            Meanwhile, other answers had hit the headlines. The first came from Henry J. Taylor, radio commentator. The saucers, said Taylor, were American devices whose pur­pose he couldn't reveal. Some were guided, some just flew around aimlessly. Most of them were made to disintegrate in mid-air—even the big ones—but they were quite harmless. In size, they varied from a few feet to the length of a city block.

            "And that's very big," said Taylor.

            Some Air Force officers' comments on Taylor's "good news" devices are not exactly printable. The ATIC, more restrained, recently told me:

            "We have found no factual basis for the Henry J. Taylor belief that the saucers are Air Force or Navy weapons or devices. His material was not cleared with the Air Force."

            Pentagon officers were still muttering about Taylor's broadcast when they got a second jolt. This one came from U. S. News and World Report, a fact magazine with a high Washington rating. The saucers, said this magazine, were secret Navy weapons, one a jet-propelled disc-shaped plane, the XF-5U.

            Knowing the XF-5U was old stuff—and propeller-driven at that—I called up Admiral Cal Bolster.

            "I'm afraid somebody sold them a joke," he said. "We had one model, as you know, without jets. But it was never produced. We're denying the Taylor and U. S. News stories."

            Even the White House joined the services in blasting the secret-weapons claim. Some of the public believed the denials, some called them a cover-up. But regardless of anyone's belief, the sightings kept on.

            For several months, since January, 1950, reports had increased steadily. On February 1, a strange machine had


streaked over Tucson, Arizona. Thousands of citizens saw it hover for a moment above the city, then race on westward, leaving a trail of black smoke. Three weeks later two glowing saucers sighted over Key West were tracked by Navy radar men and found to be 50 miles above the earth.

            Just after this, a Chilean naval officer, Commander Augusto Orrego, reported that several mysterious devices had circled his Antarctic base.

            "During the bright Antarctic night," he said, "we saw flying saucers, one above the other, turning at tremendous speeds. We have photographs to prove what we saw." (Later, when I requested copies from the Chilean Embassy in Washington, I was told the pictures were classified.)

            By this time reports were coming in from Turkey, Mexico, Cuba, Peru—almost every part of the world. Most of them described silent, disc-shaped machines. On March 9 one of these gleaming discs was sighted over Dayton, and four fighter pilots were ordered to intercept it. But the saucer swiftly climbed out of range. Twelve days later a Chicago and Southern airliner crew had a night encounter with a saucer near Stuttgart, Arkansas. As the machine zoomed, at terrific speed, the pilots saw lighted ports on the under side.

            About this same time the Pentagon cleared an article by Commander R. B. McLaughlin, U.S.N., a Navy rocket expert. In this article Commander McLaughlin described three sightings near the White Sands guided missile base.

            One large disc, tracked at 18,000 miles per hour, was found to be flying 56 miles above the earth. Two smaller discs, tracked from five observation posts, were seen to pace an Army high-altitude rocket. After circling the rocket for a moment, the discs speeded up and rapidly out climbed the Army projectile.

            Just after midnight, on June 22, 1950, a mysterious device rocketed in over Hamilton Field, California. Trailing


a blue-green exhaust, it made three passes, flashing by the control tower. Before Intelligence officers clamped down the lid, the control-tower men estimated the machine's speed from 1,000 to 1,500 miles an hour.

            That same month a new story broke, to some Air Force officers the most outrageous of all. This one, started by a small weekly bulletin, Talk of the Times, was "proved" by two photographs supposed to have been taken in Arizona. The first showed a huge disc flying at an angle. The cap­tion read:

            "Hit by flak rockets, the object exploded in a shower of fireworks. About 20 silvery capsules fell to the ground."

            The second picture showed two men in trench coats, each holding an arm of a queer, shiny figure about three feet high. Two girls standing nearby seemed to be awestruck by the little man. The second caption ran:

            "As one silver capsule broke, the first Mars man was captured. Eyewitness G-Man McKennerich, from Phoenix, reports: 'I was astounded by the importance of this great moment. For the first time I was seeing a being from another world. At the same time I was equally amazed by the desperation of this Aluminum Man. His body was covered with a shiny metal foil. The observatory in Phoenix presumes this is for protection from cosmic rays

            How the Aluminum Man had survived his fall was not explained.

            The "little men" story was not new; Frank Scully had started it in Variety, and later he built it up in his book, Behind the Flying Saucers. In this book Scully reported that two flying discs from Venus had crashed in the Southwest. In the wreckage, according to Scully's informants, investigators found the bodies of several little men. The Air Force, said Scully, had spirited the bodies and the discs away for secret analysis.

            Apparently Scully was duped—he still insists he believes his sources. Regardless of that, his book gave the Air Force a new headache. Out in Dayton, Colonel Harold E.


Watson, chief of Intelligence for AMC, decided to end all the saucer talk.

            "It's a lot of damned nonsense," he told Bob Considine in the interviews for INS. "There are no such things as flying saucers."

            Then with a blast that included even high-ranking Air Force pilots, he branded most saucer witnesses as jokers, crackpots, or publicity hounds. A few, he admitted, might be honest—like airline pilots who, suffering from fatigue, mistook windshield reflections for space ships.

            Watson's acid remarks drew some bitter comments from pilots I knew.

            "To hell with him and the Air Force, too," one airline captain told me. "I wouldn't report a UFO now if they paid me."

            "If we're that fatigued," said another captain, "we've got no business flying passengers. Maybe they'd better ground every pilot who sees a flying saucer."

            That very night I received a special-delivery letter from a Navy pilot. On the evening of November 7, he and his radar man had sighted a UFO north of the Navy's base at Lakehurst.

            "It played a cat-and-mouse game with us for 15 minutes," the pilot wrote me. "It was also seen by the pilot of an F9F-2 Panther jet. But of course you know all people who see saucers are liars or crackpots. So just throw this into your wastebasket."

            In spite of this general reaction, a few pilots braved public ridicule. One was Captain Lawrence W. Vinther of Mid-Continent Airlines. On January 20, 1951, the control tower at Sioux City Airport asked Vinther to check on a strange, brilliant light above the field. As Vinther maneu­vered toward the light, it suddenly dived toward his airliner. Flashing above the DC-3, the UFO abruptly reversed its direction, pacing the ship for several seconds. Vinther and his copilot described it as larger than a B-29, with no visible means of propulsion.


            About a month later, after the public had been officially told the saucers did not exist, another expert took the floor. This one was Dr. Urner Liddel, of the Office of Naval Research. Yes, said Dr. Liddel, the saucers were real. But they were only the Navy's "sky-hook" cosmic-ray research balloons, huge plastic bags which often rise as high as 100,000 feet. Mantell, said Dr. Liddel, had been chasing a sky-hook balloon. He added:

            "There is not a single reliable report which is not attributable to the cosmic balloons."

            Liddel's claim brought a hot answer from a former Air Force scientist, Dr. Anthony O. Mirachi.

            "The Navy report is erroneous," said Mirachi. "It lulls people into a false sense of security."

            Describing the "maneuvered motion" of the saucers, he said they might be missile experiments by a potential enemy, and he urged a new investigation. Otherwise, we might be risking another and far more dreadful Pearl Harbor.

            Though I knew both answers were wrong, I didn't get official statements until two years later. Then the ATIC told me:

            "We have not the slightest evidence to indicate that the objects reported are foreign secret weapons.

            "Relatively few sightings have been caused by balloons. The ATTC is aware of all sky-hook balloon launchings. In checking UFO reports, it gets maps showing sky-hook balloon tracks for comparison, also, the launching times and the tracks of small weather balloons, when sightings in the general area are involved. All these have very definitely been cleared in such cases, and all balloons, including sky hooks, have explained not more than 20 per cent of the sightings."

            But long before this, Liddel's balloon answer had flopped; there were too many sightings it could not explain.

            But Mirachi's solemn warning had not been forgotten. Though the Air Force knew he was wrong, the ominous


idea had been planted. In a crisis, Intelligence knew it could lead to a dangerous panic.

            During all this time the Air Force had quietly continued the investigation it was supposed to have closed. The name of the ATIC project had been changed from "Sign" to "Grudge." Instead of sending Intelligence investigators from Dayton, the Project mainly relied on officers in areas where sightings occurred. Before, civilian experts had been under direct contract. Now the Project used scientists and expert analysts under general Air Force contract. There were other changes, but the machinery was there for following up any new clues to the saucers.

            In the first part of 1951 there was a lull in reports from service and airliner pilots. Foreign sightings tapered off. For a while it appeared that the saucer survey might end without an attempt at contact.

            Then, slowly, sightings began to increase. One new and important report came from the guided-missile tracking base near White Sands, New Mexico. On the morning of July 14, two radar operators caught a fast-moving object on their scope. At the same time a tracker watching a B-29 with binoculars saw a large UFO near the bomber. Another observer quickly lined it up with his 35-mm. camera, then shot 200 feet of film. Because of the high altitude, the saucer showed only as a round, bright spot. But at least it was proof—this was no hallucination.

            On September 11, an Air Force jet pilot spotted a gleaming disc flying over New Jersey at 900 miles an hour. Three days later, at Los Alamos, a saucer was seen maneuvering not far from the Atomic Energy laboratory. (Shortly before this, UFO-report forms had been distributed at Los Alamos, after saucers were sighted over several atomic installations.)

            Later that month, on the 23d, two F-86 jet pilots were scrambled from March Field, California. Vectored by GCI, they spotted a round, silvery object flying a controlled orbit at 50,000 feet. The strange machine passed over the


jets, kept on circling above them. Four more jets were scrambled, but none of the pilots was able to reach the UFO's altitude.

            One sighting which seriously impressed Project analysts was reported by a scientist on the Navy cosmic-ray study at Minneapolis, Mr. J. J. Kalizewski. When the incident occurred, Kalizewski and a Navy-General Mills engineer were flying near Minneapolis, checking on a cosmic-ray research balloon.

            Suddenly they saw a bright object moving east to west at terrific speed. Crossing above and ahead of their plane, it slowed for a minute and circled. Then with a swift acceleration it disappeared in the east.

            A few minutes later a second mysterious device flashed into sight. This time Kalizewski hastily called ground technicians at their airport. One of the ground men caught the machine in his theodolite telescope. He had a brief glimpse of a strange, cigar-shaped craft, but it was moving so swiftly he was unable to track it.

            When an Intelligence officer investigated, all the witnesses told him the device definitely had been controlled.

            "It is significant," he summed up the report, "that these very experienced reliable sources observed an object with which they were entirely unfamiliar."

            Kalizewski, normally a calm man, was worried by the sightings.

            "I can't say whether they were space ships, saucers, or what. I had never seen them before. They were strange, terrifically fast. I think the government should set up a 24-hour alert with radar, telescopes, sky cameras, and other instruments."

            Though he didn't know it, Air Force Intelligence was already at work on this plan. The first step was to secure 200 special grid-cameras, to analyze the saucers' source of power and light. These cameras, a stereoscopic type using 35-mm. film, have a piece of finely etched glass, known as a defraction grid, fastened to one lens. By breaking


down an image into small sections, it reveals whether a saucer's glow is caused by radiant heat, an exhaust trail, or some other source.

            Early in '52, the cameras were under contract, and plans were worked out to send them to strategic points—air bases, A-bomb plants, and other spots where UFO's have frequently been seen.

            Other steps in the plan included the use of cine-theodolites, which photograph guided missiles as they are tracked, and modified sonar sound-detection devices to catch any faint propulsion sounds from the seemingly silent machines.

            As if to date this new, stepped-up investigation, the project's name was changed to "Bluebook," and Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, aeronautical engineer and World War II bombadier, was assigned to coordinate the reports and, in special cases, make on-the-spot investigations.

            For the first quarter of '52, another lull seemed in the making. Then several things happened in quick succession.

            During a flight to Hawaii a plane carrying Navy Secretary Dan Kimball was buzzed by a flying saucer. Kimball's pilot hurriedly radioed a second Navy plane, some distance behind. In a few moments word came back. The saucer had just buzzed the second plane, so swiftly that no one aboard could make out its shape.

            Shortly after this, Air Force instructors in New Mexico sighted a huge, shining, oval-shaped craft, about six times the size of a B-29. Since it was at an extremely high altitude, some witnesses estimated its size as even larger.

            About this same time new foreign reports came in. Over in Norway a bluish-colored light appeared above an electric power plant. As it descended, witnesses could distinctly see the disc shape of the glowing device. A few days later, at Singapore, hundreds of people sighted a rocket-shaped UFO moving at tremendous speed.

            In the midst of this, Life magazine hit the newsstands with its article, "Have We Visitors from Space?" In a serious


review of the evidence, Life stated its case for interplanetary saucers. Except for a few sightings which writers Darrach and Ginna had dug up to add to the official record, there were no points which I had not known back in '49. But that was unimportant. What counted was that Life, after seeing the evidence, had swung from amused skepticism to a serious belief in the saucers.

            Another reversal, which went unnoticed in the United States, was headlined in Canadian papers on April 16. On that date the Canadian government announced an all-out investigation of the saucers, by Royal Canadian Air Force Intelligence and also by a secret project in the Defense Research Board. Until this time, as I knew from personal contacts, a small group of Canadian engineers had been trying—without much success—to convince their government that the saucer problem was serious. It was obvious that something unusual had happened to bring about this change.

            In Washington, too, Defense officials suddenly took a new, serious interest in the saucers. On May 8, Air Force Secretary Thomas K. Finletter and his highest staff officers were secretly briefed by Air Technical Intelligence officers. After this long briefing, which covered the entire five-year investigation, it was left to Finletter to decide on a public statement.

            Some Air Force officers, believing the facts should be told, were hoping for a break. But in the end, after weighing the possible dangers, Finletter—like others before him —carefully walked the tightrope. On June 4 he gave out this report on the briefing:

            "No concrete evidence has yet reached us either to prove or disprove the existence of the so-called flying saucers. There remain, however, a number of sightings that the Air Force investigators have been unable to explain. As long as this is true, the Air Force will continue to study 'flying saucer' reports."

            In making this public, the Air Force asked for detailed


reports and photographs of any strange objects sighted.

            In April the sudden saucer activity had worried some officers who remembered the spring of 1950; during those months, saucer reports had almost swamped the Air Force. But now May had passed with no outbreak, and June seemed even quieter.

            No one suspected it was the calm before the storm.

            There were a few sightings; the saucer reconnaissance was still going on, and defense bases now seemed to be the chief interest.

            On the night of June 19, 1952, Goose Bay Air Force Base, in Labrador, came in for a brief observation. Just as radar men picked up a UFO track, ground men outside saw a strange, red-lighted machine come in over the field.

            The radar blip suddenly enlarged, as if the device had banked, exposing a larger surface to the radar beam. At the same moment the watching airmen saw the red light wobble or flutter. After a moment the light turned white and quickly disappeared. Apparently the unknown craft had gone into a steep climb, and its change of color had been caused by the sudden application of power. But in the dark the airmen could not be sure.

            Just five days after this, an article called, "Hunt for the Flying Saucer," appeared in Look magazine. It was the first article prepared with Air Force help which emphasized the possible dangers.

            Published with the story was a map showing saucer observations at many defense bases. It carried the caption:

            "This map scared the Pentagon."

            Under this a solemn blurb stated:

            "Fearful of danger from the skies, the United States Air Force is launching a secret scientific search to discover once-and-for-all what is the mysterious, unbelievable thing Americans keep sighting overhead."

            Backing up this idea was a quotation from General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force:

            "Many of these incidents have been satisfactorily explained.


Others have not. With the present world unrest, we cannot afford to be complacent."

            In ending, the magazine let Captain Ed Ruppelt sum up the situation:

            "The only conclusion we have come to so far is that 'flying saucers' are not an immediate and direct threat to the U. S. They have been around for five years and haven't struck yet. But that doesn't mean they are not a potential threat."

            When this story appeared, the Pentagon "silence" group saw red. After the Life article, also written with ATIC aid, some of this group had demanded that Project officers be muzzled. The Look story clinched it. Once more, on-the-record interviews with Intelligence officers were forbidden, and ATIC files were again closed to the press.

            Except for this, the saucer situation was quiet as June came to an end. The public, busy with the political conventions, had forgotten the mysterious discs. Even the Pentagon had no hint of what lay just ahead.

            This was the situation when, almost without warning, the saucer scare revived, putting Air Force Intelligence squarely on the spot.