The Air Force Hands Me a Riddle
Shortly after my return from New York, I had a call from a TWA captain I'd known for some time.
"I suppose you read about that Air Force press conference?" he said. I told him I'd been there, and he went on. "It's made the airline pilots plenty sore. A lot of us thought the Air Force was on the level, asking for saucer reports. They'll play hell getting them now.
"The other night one of our ships was over Lake Michigan and a lighted disc buzzed it. It looked like the ones those PAA pilots reported. This captain was going to tell the Air Force and then he read what they said at the Pentagon. He told his crew if they said anything about it he'd deny the whole thing."
A few days later I had a letter from an Eastern captain.
"A while back," he said, "one of our crews sighted a disc shaped object that went from horizon to horizon in six minutes. All the passengers saw it, too, but the captain wouldn't report it. He'd wring my neck if I gave you his name, even off the record."
In the meantime I'd made my first attempt at a frank talk with the Air Force. In asking for ATIC cases, during the past year, I'd worked with Major D. E. Patterson, in
Defense Department public relations. I phoned him and explained what I had in mind.
"That sounds like a fair deal," he said. "Why don't you talk with Chop, over in the Air Force press branch? He can put it up to Intelligence."
While I waited, he called the press branch on another phone, but Chop was away.
"I guess he's at home, resting up," said Patterson. "He took it on the chin, the last week or two."
"How about my talking with an Air Force radar expert in the meantime? I'd like to get a couple of things straight."
"I'll see what I can do. By the way, that last request of yours, for ATIC cases, was turned down."
"That makes about the tenth time," I said. "But thanks, anyway, for trying."
An hour later Patterson called back. To my surprise, he had gotten me the radar interview. It was set for 1 o'clock.
"This man's an Intelligence colonel," said Patterson. "Kay Hampton, up in Colonel Boyd's office, will take you to him."
But a hitch developed the minute I saw Kay Hampton.
"The colonel said to make one thing clear," she told me "He'll explain all about radar and temperature inversions, but he won't discuss flying saucers."
"What's the use of seeing him, then? He must have known that's what I wanted."
"I'm sorry," she said, "but you can't even mention the saucers."
"Let it go," I said. "I should have known there was a joker in it.
On the way out, I stopped in at Colonel Boyd's office. Two other PIO's happened to be in the room.
"I wonder if you know how much harm this policy is doing," I said to Boyd. Then I told him about the airline pilots.
"You want those pilots to give you reports. General Samford said they'd like to have top scientists help analyze
the sightings, and you want people to trust the Air Force. Then you make a fool out of anybody who says he thinks the saucers are real."
The PIO's looked at each other. Nobody said anything.
"I know I've caused you people some trouble," I said. "But I told the Air Force—it was General Sory Smith the first time—that I'd stop writing about the saucers if they'd show me any reason for keeping still. I even offered to go on active duty, so they could show me the proof. That still goes."
"We're not holding out a thing," said Colonel Boyd. "I'm sorry you think so—you're the one person we'd like most to convince."
"It's a queer way to go about it. I've asked for ATIC reports nearly a dozen times, and I always get turned down. If there's nothing to the saucers, why sit on the reports?"
"Well, of course, that's not in my hands," said Colonel Boyd.
"I'm not trying to get tough," I said. "But I think it's been badly handled. And that press conference—maybe you sold the newspapers, but a lot of people still think you're covering up.
"You going to write an article on that?" said one of the PIO'S.
"That depends—I'd rather not go on sniping at the Air Force. It seems to me an off-the-record talk might pay off, if there's some angle I don't know. Maybe I could even help, if I knew the whole picture."
"We're honestly not holding out," said Colonel Boyd.
"OK, Colonel," I said. "I'm sorry if I blew off steam. I know you don't set the policy."
Within an hour after I got home I had a call from Colonel Boyd's office, asking me to come in next day and talk with Chop. I wasn't too excited; it probably wouldn't lead to anything.
The first person I saw at the Press Branch was Lieutenant
Colonel Searles. Back in '49, he had seemed seriously impressed by reports from competent pilots, but he was now apparently an out-and-out skeptic. Whether he had changed, or this was an official front, I still don't know, but in the press branch he was known as "Death to the saucers" Searles.
Searles introduced me to Chop, and the two of us talked for about three hours. At first I had the feeling I was being weighed carefully—not just my beliefs, but whether I could be trusted.
"You honestly believe they're interplanetary?" Chop said finally. I told him I couldn't see any other possible answer. When I repeated what I'd said to Colonel Boyd, Chop listened without expression, then at the end he shook his head.
"This isn't an off-the-record talk. You don't have to keep still. I've been instructed to help you, and you asked for ATIC sighting reports. Exactly what do you want?"
The sudden offer almost caught me off guard.
"Simultaneous radar and visual sightings—the toughest cases you've got," I said.
I expected him to stall, but Chop only nodded.
"I know they'll explain them as inversions," I said, "but I want to see how they prove it. I might as well tell you I’ll do my damndest to knock it down."
"We know that. Any specific cases in mind?"
"What about the Washington sightings?"
"They won't be analyzed for some time."
Here we go, I thought. The old runaround.
"What about that Dayton case a few days ago? The AP said two F-86 pilots chased a disc near Bellefontaine, Ohio. If they got the story right, the pilots both said it wasn't a mirage or a reflection. Right after that, the lid went on and reporters weren't allowed to talk to them."
"Yes, I know about that," said Chop. "I'll ask for it and call you back."
A little later I asked him how long he'd been on the
saucer assignment. He told me he'd seen most of the important cases when he was acting press chief at Dayton. Here at the Pentagon he'd seen the Intelligence reports as they came in, sat in on Intelligence conferences, and talked with top investigators like Major Foumet.
"You must have a pretty good idea of the answers," I said. "What do you think is behind this saucer survey?"
"I can't answer that," said Chop. "On this job I'm not allowed to express any personal belief."
He lit a cigarette, waited a moment, then went on, carefully measuring his words.
"The Air Force doesn't deny they may be interplanetary. But we have no concrete evidence to support it."
"What do you mean 'concrete?'"
"No wreckage—no bodies—no material objects."
"What about the pictures you've analyzed?"
Chop told me later my question had jolted him. For a moment, he thought I had somehow learned of the secret film. But his dead-pan expression didn't give me a hint.
"You've had some photographs," I said. "There have been ten or twelve in the papers. Maybe some were faked, but two or three looked genuine."
"So far, none of them has shown any details," said Chop. "No ATIC analysis has proved anything definite."
Just before I left, Chop took a copy of my book from a desk drawer. He ran through it, picked out a few paragraphs.
"You seem sure the saucers are friendly. If they are interplanetary—and I said if—why all this long observation without any contact?"
"I don't know, there could be several answers." I watched his face. "Of course, if the Air Force thinks they're hostile, I can see why they've kept quiet."
Chop gave me a dry smile.
"You said that-I didn't." He stood up. "OK, I’ll see what I can do on those cases. It may take a little time."
A week later he phoned me.
"Come on in," he said. "I've got three or four sightings cleared for you."
Still skeptical, I drove in. The Air Force, I was positive, wouldn't be giving me cases of any importance—certainly none that would upset General Samford's statements. Probably they'd be watered-down reports that didn't prove anything. But they'd be enough to block any claim that the Air Force was holding out.
"These may surprise you," Chop said dryly, when he gave me the sightings. I looked at the first, an Intelligence report which had recently come in from Oneida Air Force Base in Japan.
Just before midnight, on August 5, 1952, a saucer carrying a bright white light had slowly approached the base. Up in the control tower, Air Force operators quickly focused binoculars on the mysterious light. As it came closer, they could see a dark, circular shape behind the glow, four times the light's diameter. A smaller, less brilliant light shone from the round, dark undersurface of the strange machine.
By this time tower men had flashed word to a Ground Control Intercept station. For several minutes the saucer hovered near the tower, its dark shape clearly visible behind the light. Then it suddenly turned away, accelerating at high speed.
As GCI picked up its track, a strange thing happened. The mysterious craft divided into three units, as if two other saucers had been launched from the first. While the amazed Air Force men watched, the three machines raced off, keeping accurate intervals, at a clocked speed of 300 knots.
Calling a nearby C-54 transport, the tower men tried to vector it in toward the three saucers. But with its slower speed, the transport had no chance. In seconds the strange machines disappeared from the area.
Incredulous, I looked at Chop.
"I can publish this?"
"But this report proves the saucers are solid objects."
He gave me his dead-pan look.
"Read the next one," he said.
The second Intelligence report was barely a day old. It was dated August 20, and it came from Congaree Air Base, near Columbia, South Carolina.
On that morning radar men at a nearby Air Defense Command post were watching normal traffic when the blip of some unknown object suddenly appeared on the scope.
When it was first sighted, the saucer was 60 miles from the ADC post. Almost instantly the men could see that it was moving at fantastic speed. In a matter of seconds, as the sweep went around, a row of widely spaced dots appeared on the glass. While the operators were still staring at the track, it ran off the scope. Hurriedly, before the blips could fade, they figured the object's speed. Then they looked at each other, astonished.
The unknown machine was making over 4,000 miles an hour.
One operator hastily cut in his mike. Then he realized it was useless to flash an alarm. The strange craft was moving at 70 miles a minute—nearly ten times the top speed of any interceptor. Even if he flashed word hundreds of miles ahead, jet pilots would see little more than a blur if they got anywhere near the saucer.
In this report Air Technical Intelligence had made no attempt to gloss over the facts. The operators were experts, trained to recognize blips of solid objects. The radar was working correctly.
Something had streaked through the South Carolina skies that morning, but the ATIC frankly admitted it had no explanation.
"This is cleared, too?" I said. "Even this ATIC statement?"
"That's right," said Chop. "There's only one condition."
Here it comes, I thought.
"We want you to emphasize the fact that our pilots aren't shooting at these things. We've been catching hell from all over the country." Chop showed me some telegrams and letters. "They even wire the President, 'In the name of God, don't shoot at the saucers.' So anything you can do—"
"Sure, I’ll include that," I said.
"I'll get you a statement from General Ramey. Go ahead, read the others. They're not quite so hot as those two, but they're important."
The third Intelligence report, dated July 23, covered an F-94 chase over Braintree, Massachusetts. Earlier, GCI had picked up a saucer circling at high speed, about the time that a bluish-green light was sighted from the ground. When the F-94 pilot was vectored in, he saw the machine's light, then locked onto the saucer with his radar. For a few seconds he tried to close in at full power. But the saucer swiftly pulled away and disappeared from his scope.
In this case, too, ATIC had found no explanation.
The next case, also unexplained, had occurred on the night of July 29. It had been only a few hours after the Air Force press conference.
At 9:30 p.m., Mountain Standard Time, a yellow-lighted saucer had abruptly appeared over Los Alamos. It was the second one to be sighted that day over the atomic energy base. When it was first seen, by an Air Force Reserve colonel, the machine seemed to be hovering almost over the base. As nearly as he could tell from the glowing light, its shape was round or oval.
After a minute the saucer streaked away, its color changing from yellow to white. From the way the light swiftly shrank in size, the machine's speed had been terrific. It disappeared within 15 seconds.
"Another color-change report," I said. "I guess you've had a lot of them—showing how these things change color when they speed up or slow down."
"Yes, it's nothing new." Chop eyed me a moment. "Any idea why they change?"
"I've heard one explanation. It was worked out by a Canadian government engineer; he happens to be in charge of one of their saucer projects. His answer explains all the color changes and the method of propulsion. Ever heard of it?"
"Maybe," said Chop. "Some of the Canadians came down to check things with Project Bluebook. We've exchanged information."
Just then his phone rang. While he was talking, I looked over the last Intelligence report. This IR had come from an Air Defense Command unit near Osceola, Wisconsin. It was dated July 28, 1952.
About 2:30 a.m., GCI radar had picked up several UFO's. As in the Washington Airport sightings, the first tracked speeds contrasted strangely with the later maneuvers. Most of the saucers were idling along at 60 m.p.h. until jet interceptors took off. Shortly after this, one machine's speed jumped to more than 600 miles an hour.
When the nearest pilot reached 25,000 feet, he spied several rapidly moving lights east of St. Paul, Minnesota. The saucers coincided with the track which GCI had given him. At the same time they were also sighted by a plane spotter of the Ground Observer Corps.
At Osceola some one had tentatively suggested a meteor shower, obviously without knowing of the tracked speeds. But an astronomer at the Washington Naval Observatory later reported this was impossible. Even the 600 mile-an-hour speed recorded would be entirely too slow for a meteor, and the original reports of 60 made it ridiculous. The sighting remained unsolved.
"There'll be some more IR's later," said Chop. "Well probably have that Dayton report before you finish the article."
Trying not to show what I felt, I thanked him and left. Getting these reports had baffled me. It was less than a
month since General Samford had branded the saucers as phenomena with no mass. The Oneida report, describing a solid machine of some kind behind the light, was official proof to the contrary. And the other cases were a start toward wrecking the inversion answer.
Why had Intelligence released them—to me, of all people? Chop must have had the Director's permission; no one would dare release the reports against General Samford's wishes. Yet anyone could see they would give an entirely new slant on the press conference.
Next day I was still puzzling over it when I had a call from True, in New York. A short time back an Army physicist at Fort Belvoir had come out with a "bell-jar" experiment which produced miniature "saucer" lights. Though it had now been almost forgotten in Washington, John DuBarry, the aviation editor of True, wanted me to check on it with a scientist.
The leading authority on the ionosphere was Dr. George Ray Wait, of Carnegie Institute. When I talked with him, he quickly disposed of the Army physicist's theory.
"I don't know of any atmospheric conditions that would duplicate the 'bell-jar' saucers," he told me. "You can do many things in a laboratory which you can't duplicate in nature."
While we were talking, he gave me a valuable guide in analyzing saucer reports.
"The question is, are they navigated?" he said. "If the reports of reversals, sharp turns, and descents are fully confirmed, then no natural phenomena, to my knowledge, would explain such sightings."
When I checked at the Pentagon, Chop told me that the Air Force also had investigated the bell-jar theory.
"They agreed with Dr. Wait—there's nothing to it," he said.
On July 29, I was sure; they would have welcomed this bell-jar story, to help them reduce hysteria. It was plain
that something had happened to cause this change, and especially this sudden cooperation with me.
Once I might have thought it part of a cover-up scheme linked with a secret American weapon. However, that answer was out long ago. The only logical solution was a new policy of gradually preparing the public. But why the abrupt turnaround with the July crisis still fresh in the public mind?
Whatever the answer, it could wait. I still had a job to do, disproving the inversion angle.
For the next two weeks I talked with Barnes, Ritchey, Copeland, and most of the other Control Center men. Though they had cooled off, some were still bitter about the Air Force inversion answer. For years they had been guiding airliners through fog, snow, and rain without an accident. When the weather turned sour, thousands of lives were in their hands. As expert radar men, they were proud of their record—a record that depended on their ability to analyze and track blips in a split second.
Then, overnight, they had been, in effect, called fools-deceived by a simple atmospheric condition they'd known for years.
"Every man in here knows temperature-inversion effects," Barnes told me. "When an inversion's big enough, it picks up all sorts of 'ground clutter'—water tanks, buildings, shore lines, and so on.
"But anybody here can recognize it. You'll see huge purplish blobs, but nothing like those things we tracked. In the six years I've watched the scopes, absolutely nothing—high-speed jets, storms, inversions, or anything else —has ever caused blips that maneuvered like that. And we've had identical weather many times."
We were watching the main scope as Barnes talked, with Copeland and two or three others standing nearby.
"The only other time," interrupted Copeland, "was that night we saw the 'saucer' on Red Airway."
"That's right," said Barnes. "I'd forgotten that—but it
wasn't any inversion. That was something like these saucers we saw in July, except that it didn't maneuver."
"What happened?" I asked him.
"Jim and I were on duty together," replied Barnes. 'That was before the Control Center was built; we had our M.E.W. set operating for tests, over in the terminal. All of a sudden this strange object came racing down Red Airway—it passed to the west of the field. Since we weren't in regular operation, we hadn't been paying close attention to the scope, and we saw it at the last moment. It was going a lot faster than any jet, but the blips faded out before we could measure the speed. I'd say, to be conservative, it was well over 800 miles an hour—probably a lot higher."
"Over 1,000 would be my guess," said Copeland.
Ritchey, Copeland, Nugent, and all the other controllers were positive the July saucers could not have been inversion effects. The technicians, too, backed up Bames.
"Beside that," Chief Engineer J. L. McGivren told me, "there was no ground clutter either time, except the big blotch we always have at the center of the scope, where the bottom of the beam picks up the airport buildings."
When I checked at the Weather Bureau, I found the same answer. Vaughn D. Rockne, the senior radar specialist, had never heard of such blips as Bames and his men tracked.
By now the trail was getting hot. To nail down the answer, I checked with Dr. John Hagin, the chief radio astronomer at the Naval Research Laboratory. Hagin took the inversion theory apart in about 30 seconds.
"Even with a heavy inversion," he said, "conditions would have to be very, very unusual to cause effects like that. I'd say it was impossible, with blips pinpointed by three radar stations and lights seen simultaneously at the same points."
"How much of an inversion is needed for ordinary effects?" I asked him.
"At the very least, ten degrees Fahrenheit—to get really strong effects it would have to be much larger. Even then, it couldn't explain the simultaneous sightings."
As soon as I could get to a phone, I called Chop.
"I've got a request. It's the one that Intelligence turned down before—I want an interview with an Air Force radar expert."
'Maybe we can work it," said Chop.
"Wait a second," I said. "I want them to select a radar officer who'll give me the official opinion. I want to quote him. And I might as well tell you, I think it'll kill the inversion story."
There was a silence at the other end.
"Go ahead, knock my ears down," I said.
"I was just trying to think who'd be the right man," Chop said calmly. "Give me a couple of hours."
That afternoon he phoned me at my home.
"It's all set. Your man's Major Lewis S. Norman, Jr. He's in the Aircraft Control and Warning Branch, and he's made a special study of temperature inversions. Also, he's an interceptor pilot."
I hung up, puzzled. It was almost as if the Air Force wanted to throw the Menzel theory overboard. But that didn't make sense. Maybe Major Norman had an ace up his sleeve.
When I went into his office, I was braced for a repetition of the press conference arguments. I didn't get them. Major Norman, a quiet, friendly, competent man, made no wild claims for the Menzel theory.
"Inversions probably explain some saucer sightings," he said, casually. "How many, I don't know."
"Exactly what conditions would it take to explain the Washington sightings?" I asked him.
"Well, first, you'd have to have turbulence in the inversion layer. That could give an effect of high speed and sharp maneuvers."
"The Weather Bureau men at the airport said there
wasn't any turbulence," I told him. "But assuming there had been, how much of a temperature inversion would it take?"
"On the Centigrade scale, between five and ten degrees. If you used the Fahrenheit scale, between nine and eighteen degrees."
"Do you know what the inversions were on those two nights?" I asked him.
"No, I wasn't in on the investigation."
"The first night it was just one degree Fahrenheit. The second time it was barely two degrees."
If Norman was surprised, he didn't give any sign.
"Are those the official Weather Bureau figures?" he said.
"Yes, I double-checked them, and I also saw the inversion graphs. Would you still say inversions could be the answer?"
"No—they couldn't possibly explain the Washington sightings."
This was it. But it still seemed unbelievable that the Air Force would admit it.
"You realize I'm going to quote you as the official Air Force spokesman?" I asked Norman.
"Yes, I know," he said quietly. "They gave me the whole picture."
That evening I went over all that had happened, step by step, but I was more baffled than ever. A month ago the Director of Air Force Intelligence and his experts had done their best to explain the Washington cases as inversion phenomena. Now, an Air Force spokesman, furnished me with the help of Intelligence, had officially knocked that answer flat.
It was true this did not completely upset the inversion theory. The Air Force might insist that it explained other simultaneous sightings. But the claim would certainly be weakened by Major Norman's admission.
There must be some logical explanation for the Air Force action, even if I couldn't see it. Whatever it was,
there was no sense in pushing Chop for the answer. I was getting the facts; that was what counted.
Meantime, sighting reports were still coming in from many parts of the country. But the press conference had had its intended effect. Radio stations were putting psychiatrists on the air to debunk the saucers as figments of imagination. Many papers now gagged up sighting reports, making the witnesses sound like gullible morons. One of the most sarcastic was the Republican Times, at Ottawa, Illinois. In an editorial Managing Editor Herbert Hames told his readers:
"For five years, we've shrugged our shoulders and resigned ourselves to reading about deranged discs that flit from one end of the country to the other . . . The most exhaustive investigations have failed to uncover a solitary substantial clue to their existence. We're not printing saucer stories any more. And we invite the other 1700 daily newspapers to join in a fight against feeding pap to the public."
Some of the public, however, had their own ideas. In all the letters I'd received since July 29, less than 20 per cent believed the Air Force statements. Many letters to newspapers showed the same disbelief as this one in the Washington Star:
"The Air Force states that the things are perfectly friendly heat inversions and that they are positively not holding out on the public. I'm greatly relieved. If I should happen to see a thingamajig in the sky, I'll just say 'not so' three times, throw some salt over my left shoulder and go on my way.
E. S. Walker."
The apparent brush-off by the Air Force had one unexpected result. Several groups of reputable civilians began private investigations of the saucers. One was the Delaware Flying Saucer Investigative Associates, which was organized by a National Guard general and included experienced pilots and aeronautical engineers. Another investigation
was sponsored by Ohio Northern University, at Ada, Ohio. Labeled "Project A," this saucer research unit included the departments of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, electrical and mechanical engineering, and psychology.
"What do you think of these private outfits?" I asked Chop, when he called me in one day.
"We're not against them," he said, "but there's one bad effect. It gives the public the idea we're not taking the saucers seriously."
"After that press conference you couldn't expect anything else."
Chop looked unhappy.
"I know, but we are working hard on it. Sightings are being analyzed more carefully than ever—even some apparent hoaxes. The trouble is we've learned as much as we can until the saucers move into a new phase."
Two weeks before, newspapers had carried a new "natural phenomena" theory by two Chicago engineers. The saucers, they said, were only pockets of ionized air, caused by the recent A-bomb tests in Nevada.
Chop smiled wearily when I mentioned it.
"I wish to heaven it were right. We could stop scrambling all those jets, tell the public this was it, and close the project. But ATIC had scientists look into that long ago, though they knew it wasn't the answer—we had sightings before the first A-bomb blast. No, it's just another wild idea by people who don't know the evidence. If they'd seen Intelligence reports like these, they'd know better."
He took two new IRs from a folder.
"If you think Major Norman told you something, read these. Funny thing, this first one happened the very night of the press conference."
This UFO encounter, the report showed, had occurred just ten minutes before the "yellow saucer" sighting at Los Alamos. At 9:40 Central Standard Time, a GCI station in Michigan was tracking three F-94s which were
making practice runs on a B-25 bomber. Suddenly a trail of saucer blips appeared on the radarscope. The unknown machine was making 635 m.p.h., flying a course of 350 degrees.
Seconds after the blips appeared, GCI called Captain Ned Baker, one of the F-94 pilots. Giving him the UFO's position, they ordered an interception.
Baker put the jet into a steep climb and his radar operator, Lieutenant Guy Sorenson, carefully watched the rear-pit scope. As the F-94 reached 20,000' feet, GCI vectored Baker into a left turn. A moment later Sorenson picked up the saucer's blips and locked on. The UFO was four miles away, flying at their altitude.
Calling Baker on the intercom, Sorenson gave him the bearing. Peering into the night, Baker saw the strange machine, its position marked by a flashing light. As he watched, the light changed from red to green to white, alternating at regular intervals. Opening up to full power, he tried to close in.
Back at Ground Control, fascinated radar men watched the chase on their scope. They could tell the F-94 was at its maximum speed. But the saucer, slightly increasing its speed, easily stayed ahead.
For 20 minutes Baker stubbornly kept on. By now they were over Sanilac County, at a point some 20 miles north of Port Huron. The lights on the saucer were still flashing red, green, and white and its blips were clear on Sorenson's scope—exactly where GCI had them on its screen.
Finally Baker gave up and turned back. Though he didn't know it, several residents of Sanilac County had also seen the saucer. Every night for the past week machines of this same type had been sighted over the county, identified by their red, green, and white lights.
When I finished the action account, I looked down at the ATIC conclusion. I read it twice to be sure I was seeing correctly:
"The temperature inversion theory will not explain
simultaneous visual and radar sightings when observers on the ground and in planes see a UFO at the same spot, when a plane's radar has locked on the object, and ground radar stations have both the plane and the UFO on their scopes at the same spot. Conclusion: Unknown."
I looked up, caught Chop studying my face.
"Al" I said, "what the devil goes on here? This absolutely contradicts—"
"I know," he interrupted. "But if you think that's hot, read the other one. You've seen the preliminary, but this is the final analysis."
It was the Bellefontaine case, the saucer chase which the AP had briefly mentioned before ATIC banged down the lid.
At 10:51 a.m., August 1, 1952, radar men at a GCI post had spotted a fast-moving saucer. Apparently it was observing Wright-Patterson Field, for the track showed it not far from the base, though at a high altitude. About this same time the strange machine was seen from the ground by several civilians near Bellefontaine. It appeared to be round, with a shiny, metallic gleam.
When the blips came on the scope, two F-86 jets were about ten miles from the saucer, on a GCI intercept problem. The two pilots, Major James B. Smith and Lieutenant Donald J. Hemer, were immediately vectored toward the UFO. (Since the AP got their names, I have been allowed to use them in this case.)
As Smith and Hemer reached 30,000 feet, they saw a bright, round, glowing object maneuvering above them. To make certain it was not a ground reflection, both pilots changed course, circled, and climbed, to view it from different angles. The saucer's appearance did not change. Positive it was a solid object; both pilots switched on their gun-cameras and climbed at full power.
At 40,000 feet the mysterious device was still above them. Pulling up at a sharp angle, Major Smith tried to get a picture. But his F-86 stalled and fell off. When
Hemer nosed up for a camera shot, the same thing happened.
Then Major Smith, climbing again to 40,000 feet, made a second attempt. This time he was successful, and he clicked off several feet of film before the plane stalled.
As he began the camera run, Smith's radar gun sight had caught the saucer for a moment. (Hemer's radar sight was "caged"—inoperative—so he saw no radar blips.) From the range of his radar set, Major Smith knew the unknown device must be between 12,000 and 20,000 feet above him to cause such a weak blip.
To confirm his estimate he quickly checked with his telescopic gun sight and found it just covered the saucer. But before he could get a closer look, the machine quickly accelerated, disappearing at a tremendous speed. Later, using the radar and optical sight data, Smith carefully calculated the UFO's size. Apparently, it had been one of the medium-sized types. If it had been 12,000 feet above him, then it was about 24 feet in diameter. If it was at 20,000, its diameter was not less than 40 feet . . .
The Intelligence report on this case, which had been cleared for me, also included the ATIC analysis. To anyone who had been at the press conference it would have been a revelation.
"The ground radar squadron established two facts: Reaffirmation that the UFO moved at 400 knots (480 land miles per hour) and indications that the F-86s and the UFO appeared simultaneously on the GCI scope. It is obvious that all eyes and antennas put a fix on the same object.
"The object was obviously not a balloon, since the speed was too fast. (A radiosonde balloon was released at 1500 Zebra [10 a.m. Central Time] and moved off to the east. The object was sighted north-northwest of the base.)
"The object moved against the wind, its blip size that of a normal aircraft. The object was not a known aircraft because the altitude was too high. It was not astronomical, as the dual radar returns eliminate this."
Then, as the statement continued, Air Technical Intelligence for the second time kicked the Menzel theory in the teeth.
"The electronic or visual mirage of meteorological phenomena is out of the question, as the radar set was on high beam and both would not occur simultaneously in the same place. The sighting occurred above the weather. Conclusion: Unknown."
I put down the report and looked at Chop.
"You know, of course, what this does to the press conference story."
"They didn't have all the answers then on temperature inversions. And remember, General Samford didn't say positively it was the explanation."
"But that's the impression he gave. Understand, I'm not criticizing the general. I know he was caught in the middle, and he was doing what he thought best for the country. What gets me is their releasing these cases. It reverses everything Samford and James said."
"General Samford himself decided it."
"You'd have to ask him."
From Chop's manner it seemed best to let it drop.
"Can you say what the gun-camera pictures showed?" I asked.
"They showed a round object. You can't tell anything else because it's blurred—it was at least 12,000 feet away."
Later I saw several of the blown-up pictures. As Chop said, they showed only a blurred round shape. But that didn't lessen their importance. For the first time a saucer had been photographed during simultaneous radar and visual sightings, with the camera plane also locked on by radar. It was absolute proof that this saucer was a solid object, a controlled, disc-shaped machine.
The article I had written, with Air Force help, was already finished when the Michigan case and the Bellefontaine sighting analysis were given to me at the Pentagon. The Oneida case, describing the disc shape behind
the saucer light, also was left out because of a last-minute double-check on clearance. When the final word came, True’s presses were already rolling.
As a result these important revelations have remained, until now, unknown to the general public.
Just before the article went to press, Chop asked me to come in to the Pentagon.
"I've got an insert the Air Defense Command wants you to use," he said when I saw him. For a moment I thought it might be some last-second joker, but it proved to be only the statement from Major General Ramey:
"No orders have been issued to the Air Defense Command, or by the Air Defense Command, to its fighter units to fire on unidentified aerial phenomena. The Air Force, in compliance with its mission of air defense of the United States, must assume the responsibility for investigation of any object or phenomena in the air over the United States. Fighter units have been instructed to investigate any object observed or established as existing by radar tracks, and to intercept any airborne object identified as hostile or showing hostile interest. This should not be interpreted to mean that Air Defense pilots have been instructed to fire haphazardly on anything that flies."
"Anything else you want in the story?" I asked Chop.
"No," he said. "All we ask is for you to try to see the Air Force problem and give a fair picture." He paused, then went on in a casual tone, "If you think of any other angles, when you finish this piece, come on back in. Well give you whatever we can."
I went out, still wondering. What had caused this about-face, the sudden cooperation since July? It wasn't because of my talk with Colonel Boyd—I'd said the same thing for two years before that.
There must be some deep, underlying reason. But what it was remained a mystery.