FROM OUTER SPACE
By the Same Author:
The Flying Saucers Are Real
Flying with Lindbergh
FROM OUTER SPACE
by Major DONALD E. KEYHOE
U. S. Marine Corps, Retired
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
Copyright, 1953, by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce
this book or portions thereof in any form.
Published simultaneously in the Dominion of Canada by George J. McLeod, Ltd.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 53-9588
Printed in the United States of America
Dedicated with love to Helen and the twins,
Cathleen and Caroline
Three years ago, in a book entitled The Flying Saucers Are Real, I reported the results of my first investigation into this world-wide mystery. At that time I stated my belief that the U.S. Air Force knew the answer and was hiding it from the public.
Since July, 1952, in a new investigation of the saucers, I have been privileged to cooperate with the Air Force. Because of my present understanding of their very serious problem, and certain dangers inherent in the situation, I have been given information unknown to most Americans.
Scores of impressive sighting reports by service pilots have been cleared for me, with the conclusions of Air Technical Intelligence—some so incredible they would have been ridiculed two or three years ago.
As a result of this close association, this book reveals, I believe, all that the Air Force has learned about the flying saucers. It also explains the contradictions that have come, from time to time, from various Defense officials, as well as the reasons for official silence.
It is my hope that this book will help to prepare all Americans, whether skeptics or believers, for the final act of the saucer drama—an act that will have an impact on the lives of all of us.
In closing this brief foreword, I should like to thank all the officers and civilian officials—not only of the Air Force, but other government departments—who so generously aided me in this long investigation. Without their advice and guidance, when I ran into blind alleys, this book could not have been written.
Major Donald E. Keyhoe
U. S. Marine Corps, Retired
1. Behind the Scenes 1
2. "Intercept—But Don't Shoot!" 16
3. The Great Saucer Snafu 30
4. The July Crisis 54
5. The Powder Keg 71
6. The Air Force Hands Me a Riddle 90
7. Jigsaw Puzzle 111
8. The Canadian Project 128
9. The Utah Pictures 150
10. Flight through Outer Space 169
11. Clues to the Riddle 189
12. Friends or Foes? 206
13. Exodus from Space 225
14. The Hidden Report 238
Behind the Scenes
During the past year, behind the scenes at the Pentagon, I have watched the Air Force struggle with an explosive problem:
What shall the public be told about the flying saucers?
Since 1951 a selected group of high government officials has been secretly briefed on the saucers by Air Force Intelligence. More than one former skeptic, after these closed-door sessions, has emerged badly jolted by the Intelligence officers' disclosures.
In the last nine months I have seen most of the evidence used in these secret briefings. Confidential sighting reports, by Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots, have been cleared to me with the conclusions of Air Technical Intelligence. Other important clues, unknown to most Americans, have been released by Project Bluebook, the "saucer" investigating agency at Wright-Patterson Field. Little by little the curtain has been raised to reveal a sobering picture.
So far, there is no proof of hostility. But several times these weird machines have come dangerously close to planes—foreign as well as American. One such approach, the evidence shows, led to a tragic disaster.
The date was May 2, 1953. It was raining that night at
Calcutta, as a British Comet jet-liner, with 43 aboard, took off from Dum Dum Airport. With its jets spitting flame, the ship climbed up and quickly disappeared.
Six minutes later, up in that somber night, something hit the Comet. Bits of the shattered airliner came flaming down through the rain. When it was over, the wreckage lay strewn across five square miles of ground.
The Dum Dum Airport tower heard no distress call. Whatever happened, it came too swiftly for the pilot to flash a message.
Carefully, Civil Air Ministry investigators gathered up the broken fragments. For days experts analyzed the strangely battered wreckage. Then the Air Ministry gave out a guarded statement.
The Comet had been hit by an unidentified flying body.
(In the United States the official term for a flying saucer is "unidentified flying object.")
Disturbing as it is, the Comet crash does not prove a hostile purpose. The collision may have been an accident, caused by an ill-timed "observation" approach on that dark and rainy night. But it could have been a deliberate test-attack by a flying weapon under remote control.
From the sighting patterns, the long saucer reconnaissance is possibly nearing its climax. The final operation may be entirely peaceful; if so, it could be of benefit to everyone on earth. But there are possible dangers, including one peril suggested by an Air Force Intelligence colonel.
Like many Air Force officers, I believe the American people should be told all the facts. An official admission that the flying saucers are real will startle many Americans. If it shows the conclusions of certain Intelligence officers, it will probably cause hysteria, until the first shock subsides.
But sooner or later the evidence must be made public, if not the final answer. If a crisis should come, knowing the facts now will help us to be prepared. It will also help
us to avoid any hasty steps that might change a peaceful contact into sudden, worldwide tragedy.
On the night of December 4, 1952, a frightened Air Force pilot landed at Laredo, Texas. Since actual names are deleted, in clearing Intelligence reports, I have called him Lieutenant Earl Fogle.
Twelve miles from the field, Fogle told air base officers, a mysterious, blue-lighted object had almost crashed into his fighter. It had been no accident—the strange device had raced head-on at his lighted F-51. At the last instant it had flipped to one side, streaking by at terrific speed.
Badly shaken, Fogle watched it flash up in a vertical climb. After a moment the blue-lit object turned, circling back as if for another pass. Fogle hastily switched off his lights, nosed down in a steep spiral.
The unknown machine dived to 2,000 feet. Apparently missing Fogle's plane in the dark, it circled toward Laredo Air Force Base, then swiftly turned away. Again climbing straight upward, it disappeared in the night.
Three years before, many Air Force officers would have scoffed at Fogle's report. He was not ridiculed now. For two hours Intelligence officers grilled him on every detail.
Did the UFO (unidentified flying object) seem to be piloted or under remote control? What was its size and shape, its speed compared with a jet? Did it oscillate in flight, or flutter when it climbed? Did the blue light blink or pulsate?
On and on went the probing questions, worked out by the Air Technical Intelligence Center to identify UFO types. Then secret reports were put on the wires, for the ATIC at Dayton and Intelligence Headquarters in Washington.
Several weeks later I learned the full details of the Laredo encounter. The Intelligence report was cleared for me by Albert M. Chop, the Air Force civilian expert on UFO's. Two years before, as acting press chief at Dayton,
Chop had learned most of the flying saucer story from Project Intelligence officers. When he transferred to the Pentagon, he had become the Air Force press specialist on the flying saucers.
It was the latter part of January when I saw the Laredo report. About noon that day Chop phoned me from the Pentagon.
"Don, can you get in here by 2 o'clock?"
"Why, what's up?" I said.
"Intelligence is ready to screen that saucer film—"
"You mean the secret one?"
"No, that's still under wraps," he said quickly. "I meant the South Carolina pictures—the ones you got McLean to send in for analysis. It'll be a private screening—you'll be the only one outside of Defense people."
"OK, Al," I said. "I’ll be there by 2."
"You might drop in earlier," he suggested. "I've got some of those sightings you asked me to clear."
As I drove in to the Pentagon, I thought over the McLean report. The pictures had been taken near Landrum, South Carolina, on November 16, 1952. About 5 o'clock hundreds of people near Florence had seen a huge, gleaming disc traveling across the sky. An air-traffic controller at Florence Airport, who watched it through binoculars, reported the disc tilted up sharply before it climbed out of sight.
About six minutes later a group of round; glowing objects were sighted north of Landrum. Among those who saw them were; J. D. McLean, David S. Bunch, and their wives. Using an 8-mm. camera with a telephoto lens, Bunch took 40 feet of film before the strange objects disappeared in the west.
After the film was developed, Bunch had turned it over to McLean's son, the editor of the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation News. Later, young McLean had asked me about submitting it to the Air Force. At first he was afraid the film would be confiscated. But after I got him a promise
of extra copies, he sent in the original for ATIC analysis.
When I reached the Pentagon, Chop was away from his desk. It was 20 minutes before the screening, so I skimmed through the Intelligence reports which had just been cleared. With the sightings was an ATIC statement bluntly refuting the theories of Dr. Donald Menzel, a Harvard astronomer who had tried to debunk the saucers as mirages and other illusions.
Weeks before, I'd been told what most Air Force officers thought of Menzel's theories. But to make it official, I'd put some pointed questions to Project Bluebook. This was the ATIC answer.
"These explanations were known to the Project, and carefully considered, long before Menzel published his theories. They explain only a small per cent of the sightings ... At the request of ATIC, prominent scientists analyzed Menzel's claims. None of them accepted his answers . . . Dr. Menzel was invited by Project Bluebook to apply his theories to any or all of the unexplained sightings, using Project records cleared for this purpose. He has not availed himself of this offer.
There was a lot more, but that could wait. The new sightings looked important.
The first ATIC report was dated January 9, 1953. (As in all these official cases, witnesses' names have been changed in accordance with Air Force requirements.)
Early on the evening of the 9th, a B-29 bomber, with Captain George Madden at the controls, was flying over California on a routine mission. Lieutenant Frank Briggs, the copilot, had the right-hand seat.
It was a clear night. Looking down, they could see Santa Ana, some 16,000 feet below. Except for the B-29, the sky seemed to be empty.
Captain Madden was checking his instruments when a flash of blue light suddenly caught Briggs' eye. He stared out to the right. Coming toward them, at fantastic speed, was a V-formation of blue-lighted objects.
Briggs gave a shout of warning. Madden took one look, hurriedly swerved to the left. For a split second the strange craft seemed to hold their speed. Then they abruptly slowed down, the V-formation twisting as if a few of the machines had overshot. Banking away, they slanted upward and vanished.
The entire sighting had lasted only five seconds.
The captain and Briggs stared across at each other. Now that the formation was gone, the whole thing was like a dream. But whatever they were, the blue UFO's had been real.
Though Madden knew of no supersonic test plane that could make such speeds, he cut in his mike and called Air Traffic Control. In a few moments the answer came back. No experimental aircraft—no planes of any kind—were known to be in their area.
After landing, both pilots were cross-examined, separately and together. From the wording of the report, it was plain that Intelligence did not question the truth of their statements.
The next sighting had happened back in October. At 2 o'clock, on the morning of the 29th, Lieutenants Burt Deane and Ralph Corbett were on an intercept mission over Hempstead, Long Island. Both pilots were flying F-94 jets, with radar operators in the rear cockpits.
Suddenly a fast-moving object, showing a bright white light, appeared a few miles ahead. Because of its brilliance, the shape behind the light was hidden.
Deane, the flight leader, signaled Corbett to "lock on" by radar and follow. Then he tried to close in. He knew at once they had been spotted. Whipping into a tight circle, the UFO cut inside the pursuit curve he had set up. At full power, Deane tried to tighten up, almost blacking out from the high-g turn. But the saucer still turned inside his orbit.
For eight minutes Deane and Corbett vainly attempted to match the machine's amazing performance. Finally, as
if tired of the game, the UFO climbed away at supersonic speed.
Both pilots were convinced the saucer was some kind of revolutionary device.
"Based on my experience in fighter tactics," Lieutenant Deane told Intelligence, "it is my opinion that the object was controlled by something having visual contact with us. The power and acceleration were beyond the capability of any known U. S. aircraft."
Below this, the Wing Intelligence officer had added:
"It is believed this report is based on reliable and verifiable observations."
The third Intelligence report covered the Laredo action, but I had time for only a quick glance. I read over Fogle's description of the object he had encountered. Apparently the blue-lighted UFO's were on the increase. But at least two other types had been seen recently, as previous reports showed, not only in America but by our pilots all over the world.
Though few of these recent military sightings were known to the public, several saucers had been seen by civilians—near defense areas or over various cities. It could be the beginning of a new cycle.
If the public sightings kept on, the Air Force might be in for another tense period, trying to stop hysteria. Six months before, in July, a wave of published reports, topped by the eerie happenings at Washington Airport, had almost blown off the lid.
It had taken a special Air Force press conference to debunk the saucers and ward off the rising panic. Even then, it had been close. The memory still haunted more than one Intelligence officer who knew the inside story.
Just as I was starting for the projection room, Chop came in. A quiet, blue-eyed, serious-faced man in his mid-thirties, he sometimes had a dead-pan expression that told exactly nothing. But today he had a look of suppressed excitement
"Something new?" I asked him.
He hesitated. "There's been another Intelligence conference on the 'U' pictures." This was the code letter for the secret saucer film. "I can't tell you anything definite-it's not settled yet."
That was all he would say. But I knew what the secret film showed, and what Intelligence was considering. If the plan went through, a lot of Americans were due for a big surprise.
"We'd better get upstairs," said Chop, "before they start that picture."
While we were climbing the stairs to the fifth floor, he told me he had a message from Captain Ed Ruppelt, the Intelligence officer of Project Bluebook.
"Ed's going to recommend that you go on active duty with the Project, for a couple of weeks anyway. You'd be able to see everything in their files, and it would save time clearing reports."
Three years ago this proposal would have amazed me. In 1949, after months of investigation, I wrote an article for True magazine, stating that the saucers were probably interplanetary machines. Within 24 hours the Air Force was swamped with demands for the truth. To end the uproar the Pentagon announced that the saucer project was closed. The saucers, the Air Force insisted, were hoaxes, hallucinations, or mistakes.
Later, in a book called The Flying Saucers Are Real, I repeated my belief that the Air Force was keeping the answer secret until the country could be prepared. Several times officers at the Pentagon tried to convince me I'd made a bad mistake. But when I asked them to prove it by showing me the secret sighting reports, I ran into a stone wall.
Then suddenly, in August of 1952, the Air Force had changed its Sphinx-like attitude. In the last six months I'd seen the most baffling cases in the ATIC's secret files.
At first I'd been suspicious of this sudden cooperation. But I thought I knew the reason now . . .
The Intelligence officers were just going in when we came to the projection room. Two of them were top UFO authorities—Colonel William A. Adams, a compact six-footer, and Colonel Wendell S. Smith, a solid-built officer with command-pilot wings above his rows of ribbons.
The rest of the group had already arrived. One was a former Naval Intelligence officer named Billingsley, now attached to the Office of Secretary of Defense. The others were PIO's—public information officers. I recognized Colonel James K. Dowling and Colonel William S. Boyd. Some months back Colonel Boyd and I had had a blunt discussion about keeping facts from the public. But since I'd seen the evidence, I realized the serious problem they faced.
On the first run of the McLean film the scene was blurred. When the screen was brought closer, five glowing oval shapes appeared against the clouds. It was a weird effect, especially on color film, but because of the fading daylight no details could be seen. The picture was run three times, the Intelligence men peering closely at the screen.
"That's enough, we don't want to scratch it," Colonel Adams said crisply. He turned to an Intelligence captain. "Have copies made as soon as you can, so we can start the analysis."
"How long will the analysis take?" I asked Colonel Adams.
"Weeks, maybe months, if they don't get an easy answer. Assuming the film's genuine, and I'm sure it is, those people certainly saw something queer. You can't tell much, though, until the prints are blown up and checked frame by frame. If they prove to be bona-fide UFO's—not some light phenomenon—then the hard work begins."
Someone called him aside, and I turned to Colonel Smith. We talked for a minute about the secret film.
"Of course, that's a lot different from this McLean film," I said, "especially the speeds and maneuvers."
Colonel Smith nodded.
"You think that film will ever be made public?" I asked.
"I believe so," he said slowly. "But when, I don't know."
"I wonder what the effect will be, if the Air Force puts out the analysis, too."
The Colonel soberly shook his head. "It's hard to say, but there's no—" he stopped as Chop came up. "Al will let you know the final decision on that. It shouldn't be too long."
Chop gave me a dry smile when we left the others.
"I wasn't trying to pump Colonel Smith," I said. "Unless you've been holding out, I already know everything about those pictures."
"You've got the works," Chop said. "But remember the film's still secret, even if we did confirm it for you."
On the way out of the Pentagon, I dropped in at the second-floor snack bar for a cup of coffee. A lanky Air Force captain with a lean, ironic face was just coming out. He looked familiar, but his black mustache stopped me. Then as he paused to light his pipe, he glanced up and I recognized Jim Riordan, a jet pilot I'd known for several years, along with his wife Sheila.
(At Jim's request I have changed his last name, though none of the information he gave me later was restricted in any way.)
"Are you stationed here, Jim?" I asked as we shook hands.
"No, thank God," Riordan said tartly. "I'd rather take the MIG's again than be stuck in this mausoleum. In fact, I'm out of the service. I just came over to see one of my old gang"
He saw me glance at his Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star ribbons.
"Haven't had time to get civilian clothes—only been out
a couple of days. The Air Force took so much fat off me my old civvies look like bags."
"When were you in Korea?" I said.
"Got back a couple of weeks ago. Why?"
"Did you see any saucers over there?"
He gave me a sidewise look.
"I heard about two or three sightings."
"Did you ever try to intercept a UFO?"
"I wouldn't tell you, of all people," growled Riordan. "The Air Force would hang me."
"Maybe not." I showed him the ATIC reports. Riordan's brows went up.
"What's the deal?" he said suspiciously. "After that book of yours, I thought you'd be pure poison to the Air Force."
"They've got a new policy. This thing may be out in the open before long."
"It's a little late," Riordan said grimly. "The way people are mixed up . . ."
He broke off, his black eyes flicking over the Santa Ana report. When he finished, he shook his head.
"Suppose the newspapers had got hold of that captain's story—you know some of them monitor airways frequencies, to get scoops on crashes. The way they'd have played it up, it would have scared a lot of people."
"They've been playing it down," I told him. "Probably they'd have tossed in one of the usual answers—like ground-light reflections on windshields."
"They must think pilots are fools," snapped Riordan. He hunted through the report, jabbed his finger at a paragraph. "See what this Intelligence officer says? 'Both pilots were familiar with the reflective characteristics of B-29 cockpits. These were checked to insure that the lights were not ground reflections.' That's the first thing we do if we see a strange light."
"Most people don't know that. If you're not a pilot, ground-light reflections sounds like a good answer."
"There've been too many good answers," Riordan retorted. "That's what makes it dangerous—people don't know what to believe. You remember that panic in '38, when Orson Welles put on a radio play about an invasion from Mars?"
I said I did; I didn't tell him the memory of that stampede still worried Defense officials.
"Well, people are more ripe for panic than they were then," said Riordan. "You take those blue saucers—suppose they'd swooped down over Los Angeles. Or make it right here. Just imagine what would happen if those things came streaking in over Washington, down low where everybody could see them. It'd make that Orson Welles deal look like a Sunday school picnic."
"I'm not so sure," I said. "Those people had it sprung on them cold, and the radio play built up the monster idea. Just seeing a saucer formation wouldn't necessarily cause a panic—"
"Unless somebody began yelling 'Invasion from Mars!' " Riordan said sardonically. "And you can bet some fool would."
He glanced at his wrist watch.
"I've got to run, but I'd like to hear more about this new setup. Let's get together."
"How about tomorrow night?"
"No, I'm meeting some of my old outfit—wait a minute, they'd like to be in on it, too. OK, let's say Bolling Field, around 7. These guys are flying in about then. Incidentally, I’ll give you a tip on a Japan sighting by a fighter wing commander. There was a little AP item on it, so I won't be breaking security."
We agreed to meet at the Officers' Club, and I went out to the Mall parking zone where I'd left my car.
There was one angle Riordan hadn't mentioned, though I was sure he knew it—the saucers' effect on our radar-warning system. In the last two years hundreds of fighters had been scrambled to intercept UFO's. Blips from these
mysterious machines had shown up on many radar screens, here and at foreign bases. Until the blips were tied to saucers, there was always a chance of a surprise attack by enemy aircraft.
Usually the saucers' high-speed maneuvers were easily recognized by trained radar operators. But sometimes lower UFO speeds made them harder to identify. If this happened at a time of enemy air attack, it could cause serious trouble. Fighters badly needed for defense might have to be diverted from enemy bombers, to make sure the saucers were not additional raiders.
When I got home, I read over the rest of the ATIC answers to Menzel's theories.
Several of Menzel's claims had startled me, in view of his scientific background. Most surprising of all were his easy solutions of the more baffling cases—sightings still unexplained by Air Technical Intelligence.
One of these was the puzzling case of Captain Thomas Mantell, who died when his fighter crashed during a saucer chase. The weird object he chased was also seen by thousands of people in Kentucky, including the commanding officer, several pilots, and the control tower operators at Godman Field.
Dr. Menzel's explanation was simple. Mantell, he said, was lured to his death by a "sundog"—a glowing mock sun caused by ice crystals in cirrus clouds. Though Menzel did not say so, he implied that all the other witnesses were likewise deluded.
Another unsolved Air Force case, which Menzel quickly explained, was the 1948 "space ship" sighting by Eastern Air Lines pilots. This strange-looking craft, which the pilots encountered near Montgomery, Alabama, was also seen earlier near Robbins Field, at Macon, Georgia.
Again, Menzel had an easy solution: All the witnesses were misled by a mirage caused by layers of hot and cold air.
A third sighting which Menzel quickly solved was the
case of Lieutenant George Gorman, who chased an oddly maneuvering light over Fargo, South Dakota. This, said the Harvard astronomer, was still another illusion. Gorman, he explained, had seen only a light reflection from a distance, caused by a whirlpool of air over the fighter's wingtip.
When I first saw Menzel's answers, I was frankly puzzled. Certainly he would not have tried to explain the sightings without all the Air Force records. But knowing the evidence in the three cases, I couldn't see how he could reach these remarkable conclusions.
To clear it up, I'd asked Project Bluebook several specific questions:
1. Question: "Does the ATIC accept Menzel's "sundog" explanation of the Mantell case?" Answer: "No."
2. Question: "Does the ATIC accept his explanation of the Eastern Air Lines sighting, in 1948, near Montgomery, Alabama?" Answer: "No."
3. Question: "In the case reported by Lieutenant George Gorman, does the ATIC accept Menzel's light-reflection solution?" Answer: "No."
4. Question: "Did Dr. Menzel obtain all available ATIC records in these three cases?" Answer: "He did not obtain this information. In answer to a query, he was offered all Project data on these and other cases, through usual channels. We have heard nothing further from Dr. Menzel in regard to this."
In view of this last answer, I was a trifle baffled by Dr. Menzel's complaint about Air Force cooperation:
"Scientists who might have easily provided the key that would unlock the secrets of the saucers did not receive detailed information necessary for a serious study of the whole problem."
There were a few other surprises in Menzel's book. One was a sarcastic jibe at science-fiction writers—Menzel himself turns out science fiction in his spare time at Harvard.
At another point the astronomer admitted he was mystified by two discs he'd seen in New Mexico.
"Both discs shone with a slightly bluish light," he said. "I have long wondered what it was that I actually saw."
But even though he could not explain it, he was positive this was only some natural phenomenon.
In the end Menzel seemed to reverse his field. Though he insisted the present saucers were illusions, he admitted that future saucers from other planets were not at all unlikely. As a final step he even suggested ways to communicate with our future visitors from space.
In spite of all this, I believe Menzel was sincere even if not too careful in his investigation. But most of the other debunkers also had been sincere, or apparently so: Dr. Urner Liddel, with his "sky hook" balloon answer, Henry J. Taylor and his "good news" secret-weapon story, and all the rest who had misled and confused the public in the last four years.
Probably none of them knew they were pushing the Air Force into a tight corner. Each time, in slapping down a debunking answer, the Air Force had to say publicly what the saucers are not. Each time it was pushed closer to the fateful admission of what the saucers are.
To some in the Pentagon, silence still seemed the only safe course, until there was absolute proof that the saucers were not hostile.
So far, they had won the argument.
But they couldn't walk that dangerous tightrope much longer.
"Intercept—But Don't Shoot!"
It was almost 7, the following night, when I drove into Bolling Field. Looking across the Potomac, I could see the blaze of lights at Washington National Airport, the scene of those tense hours back in July.
Riordan was waiting just inside the club entrance. He told me his friends had been delayed.
"It'll probably be a couple of hours," he said, "so we might as well eat."
We went down to the dining room and found a table at one side.
"I just heard from Sheila," said Riordan. "She's all packed, ready to move as soon as I find an apartment."
"I didn't know she gave up her job here," I said.
"She decided it wasn't fair to young Jimmy—keeping him in a day nursery, and no real home life. They've been staying with my folks. Sheila and Dad wanted me to settle down back there, but after the last three years I can't see it. I'd just be sponging off the old man anyway, moving in on his real estate business."
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
"Try for a commercial flying job. If that's no go, then maybe electronics—I've picked up some of the dope, this last year."
After we ordered, I gave Riordan the reports he hadn't seen. The last one he read was the Laredo case, which I'd finished the night before.
Lieutenant Earl Fogle, the Intelligence report showed, was an experienced jet pilot. But on the night of December 4 he had been flying the slower F-51, which has a top speed of about 400 miles per hour.
At 8:49, after a two-hour practice flight, Fogle called the Laredo tower and asked permission to land. But since several jets were ahead of him, the tower told him to circle outside the traffic pattern.
Flying at 6,000 feet, several miles from the base, Fogle suddenly noticed a bright, fast-moving light. At first he took it for the after-burner of a jet. Then he realized no jet could make such a swift, tight turn. As he banked toward it, he saw that the light had a queer blue tinge.
The unknown machine rose quickly to his level, circling at tremendous speed. All that Fogle could see was its bright bluish-white glow. Whether it came from an exhaust, a light on the object, or some other source, he was unable to tell.
After a moment the strange device shot up in an odd, flitting ascent. Fogle watched it, astonished. In a few seconds, it climbed almost 9,000 feet. Then it dived back to his level.
Fogle went after it at full power. The UFO seemed to stop, or turn tightly, almost in one spot. Abruptly he realized it was coming straight toward him. The terrific closing speed gave him no time to turn. Paralyzed, expecting a head-on collision, he watched the thing streak toward him.
Three hundred feet away, the machine wavered for a split second. Then it flashed to one side, hurtling past his right wing, so fast it was only a blur.
Looking fearfully over his shoulder, Fogle saw it shoot up in another flitting climb. When it plunged back, as if for a second pass, he hurriedly cut off his lights. Afraid
that a straight drive would make him too easy a target, he threw his fighter into a screaming spiral.
For a moment he thought his unknown pursuer would follow him all the way down. But at 2,000 feet the blue-lit device swiftly turned away. Climbing sharply, in another flitting ascent, it vanished in the dark . . .
Riordan reread the description of the head-on pass.
"Close call," he muttered. "It looks to me like a practice attack."
"Maybe it was only a remote-control observer unit, and whoever was guiding it didn't mean to get that close."
"Whatever they're up to, I don't like it. Some day they're going to hit a plane—if they haven't already."
"Got anything definite on that?" I said.
"There've been some peculiar crashes the last few years. Take that Northwest Airlines DC-4 that went into Lake Michigan—"
Riordan stopped as the waiter came up. While the man was putting down our orders, I thought back to the Northwest crash. It had been just before midnight, June 23, 1950. The DC-4, with 58 aboard, was flying over Benton Harbor, Michigan. It was a rough night, with wind and rain lashing the coast.
Suddenly there was a prolonged flash in the sky. Witnesses later described it as a ball of fire, lasting too long to be lightning. Whatever the answer, it was the end for the 58 aboard the big airliner. No last-second radio call gave any clue to how they had met their fate.
Next day a Coast Guard cutter crew found an oil slick offshore. For two days Navy divers tried to probe the thick mud, 150 feet down. Finally they gave up, leaving the DC-4 and its dead entombed in the deep silt.
Meantime, oddly shredded wreckage had come to the surface—bits of blankets, sliced in strips, similar fragments of clothing, seat cushions, and plywood. But no bodies, no wreckage large enough to analyze, were ever recovered . . .
When we were alone, I told Riordan I'd been thinking over the crash.
"I know people who swear the plane was hit by a saucer," he said. "And there was a radio commentator, Frank Edwards, on Mutual—"
"I know Frank," I said. "I remember he dug into that case."
"Well, Edwards said there was something funny about the investigation."
"He thought the Civil Aeronautics Board should have kept on until they got the answer. I think myself they could have tried harder. But it would have taken a lot of dough—they might have had to dive for weeks."
"Did the CAB ever report on it?" asked Riordan.
"They said they couldn't figure out the answer. What bothers me is the way the blankets and plywood were shredded, as if something had hit the ship with terrific force. Of course, it may have been struck by lightning so that it dived in hard enough to do all that."
"And it could have been hit by the same kind of thing that almost got Fogle."
We were silent for a minute or two. Riordan ate absently, reading over the scanty description Fogle had given Intelligence.
"Too bad he didn't get more details," I said.
"You sound like an Intelligence officer. A pilot comes down, jittery from a close one like that, and before he can even get a drink to quiet his nerves, Intelligence grabs him. 'Was it round or oval? Could you see anything inside? Do you think it was—'"
He broke off. Three Army officers at the next table had stopped eating and were obviously listening. Riordan went on in a quieter voice.
"I’ll tell you this—Intelligence is dead serious about the saucers. But what gets me is the way some of the Pentagon people brush them off in public."
"They had to, once that I know of—"
Riordan made an impatient gesture.
"Who are they kidding? If the saucers were bunk, why would hundreds of careful pilots keep on seeing them? And why would Intelligence have those special UFO report forms?* They ask you everything under the sun—get you to draw sketches—and end up asking what you personally think the thing was. Same thing for the radar operators."
"You sound as if you'd been through it."
"Oh, you hear that interrogation stuff at any field," said Riordan.
"Look, Jim," I said, "I'm not asking you to break security on any particular UFO intercept. But I'd like to know how a man feels, chasing a saucer—"
"You ought to be able to dope it out—you're a pilot."
"All I've flown lately are private planes. I've never even seen a saucer from the ground, except on a radar screen."
Riordan didn't answer.
It wasn't the first time a pilot had balked at this question. Many of them had talked freely about technical angles of an encounter, but few would discuss their emotions. The nearest I'd come was when Lieutenant George Gorman told me about his dogfight with the "saucer" light at Fargo.
During this weird night battle the fight came head-on toward Gorman's F-51. At a safe margin he dived under it, missing collision by several hundred feet.
"I'd half intended to ram it," he said. "But I guess I lost my nerve. The thing didn't scare me very much—maybe it would have, if it'd been larger, or I'd seen a solid object back of the light."
Later, a captain on a major airline, who'd seen a saucer at close range, had given me his story.
"When you've got a ship full of passengers, it's no joke-even if you do kid about it later. One night a big orange-
* See Appendix III, p. 260.
red disc—it was glowing like hot metal—flew alongside and paced us for miles. Every time, when I tried to ease away, it would swerve in and follow. The same if I tried to climb away.
"At first I was just plain dumfounded. Then I realized we were helpless, if whoever controlled the thing wanted to attack. The copilot and I had a bad five minutes, before it pulled up and left us. Maybe the saucers are friendly— but I wish to heaven they'd stay off the airways."
For a long time I'd wondered about the effect of Captain Mantell's death on Air Force pilots ordered to chase UFO's. About six months before this meeting with Riordan, I'd gotten a hint from Major Lewis Norman, a jet pilot stationed at the Pentagon. He had been telling me the final steps in a UFO interception.
"First you prepare for combat—in case you're fired on. Then you try to ease in—at least I would—for a camera-gun shot."
"Suppose you got close and saw some strange machine— I mean really close. Would you signal for it to land?"
"How?" said Norman.
"Blink your lights, if it didn't answer your radio. Or maybe fire a burst to one side."
Norman eyed me. I had a feeling he thought I wasn't too bright.
"That's the last thing I'd do, unless it attacked me," he said grimly. "Cutting loose your guns might be suicide."
I asked Riordan the same thing now, expecting an even blunter answer.
"Suppose you'd been Fogle, and the ship had had guns, would you have fired when the thing made that head-on pass?"
"Not me," Riordan said curtly. "I'd have just sat there and prayed."
"But as a last resort—"
"Who knows what kind of weapons that thing had?" he demanded. "It might even have been a flying bomb. You'd
fire on it, and the damned thing might blow up right in your face."
We finished dinner and headed for the Visiting Officers Quarters to see if Riordan's friends had checked in there. But they had not arrived, and Operations had no word of the plane.
"Might as well wait here," said Riordan. He filled his pipe and we found chairs in a corner of the lobby. After I got a pack of cigarettes from the vending machine, I tried again to get Riordan to talk.
"I wouldn't quote you by name, Jim. But the public ought to know its serious business, chasing a saucer. Right now, they read some newspaper story where the pilot says the object made a tight turn and came near his ship, but he couldn't tell much because the light was too bright. It sounds like a breeze. Even people who don't brush it off as a joke won't feel any need to worry—and I think it's time they did begin to worry."
Riordan turned and gazed out of the window. Then he looked back.
"They don't all feel the same. Some pilots never get very close—"
"What about the ones that do?"
"They're on edge—what the hell do you think?" Riordan glowered at me a second, then he said abruptly, "All right, I’ll give you the picture, but it sounds kind of silly when you're on the ground, good and safe."
He rattled his pipe stem against his teeth, took a long drag.
"OK," he said, blowing out the smoke, "you're flying an F-94 jet, with a radar operator behind you. You're on a routine patrol. Ground Control Intercept calls you. They've got an unknown on their radar, which is a surveillance type, with a longer range than yours. Their tracks show the unknown is making tight turns and speeds too high for any aircraft. So they give you the word—it's a UFO."
Riordan's black eyes jerked across at me.
"Right then, it stops being an ordinary intercept. Going after a MIG, it's different. You know what you're up against. When you get him in your sights, you're ready to fire. With the saucers, you're on the spot. The orders are to intercept but not to shoot—unless you're sure they're hostile."
I knew about that. Major General Roger Ramey, chief of the Air Defense Command, had told me about the instructions.
"How're you going to tell if they're hostile or not?" Riordan said harshly. "Who knows what they—well, anyway, GCI vectors you in. All of a sudden you see a light, circling faster than any plane. Your radar picks it up, too, and you lock on, so you're automatically following the thing. About that time Ground Control calls and says they've got you both on their scope, and the UFO's right where your radar shows it. That does it. You know the thing's real—not a reflection or a set malfunction."
He dragged on his pipe for a moment, his lean face somberly looking into space.
"It's your job to get in close. Maybe you'll learn something Intelligence doesn't know. So you open up and go on in. The UFO is still circling, or perhaps it's hovering by now, or it's slowed down. If it didn't do one of those things, you'd never get within miles—even at 100 per cent power. Then it makes a quick turn toward you. You know you've been spotted, and you start getting butterflies in your stomach—"
Riordan broke off, looked at me ironically.
"Sounds pretty dopey, huh? A fighter pilot sitting behind 50-caliber guns and rockets and scared of a light in the dark."
"Go ahead," I said.
"You watch the thing start a tight turn around you. Nobody on earth could take all the gs in that turn. It's so fast you almost twist your neck off, trying to keep it in
sight. Maybe you see a shape behind the light, maybe not. Even if you do, you can't tell its size—you don't know if the thing's close or half a mile away."
Riordan's pipe had gone out. He sucked on it, made a sour face, emptied the ashes.
"One thing's sure," he said. "Something with intelligence is in control of the thing, the way it maneuvers. Even if it's remote-controlled, it must have a TV 'eye' or something like that—so you know you're being watched, maybe on a screen a long way off."
I waited as he refilled his pipe and got it going again.
"It's a queer feeling, knowing a thing like that," Riordan said slowly. "You'd give anything if it was suddenly daylight, so you could see exactly what the thing is. But all you really know is that you're a sitting duck, if whoever's watching you wants to let you have it. Then the saucer pulls away, so fast you feel like you're standing still. You go back home and Intelligence pumps you. Then you make a big joke of it, so nobody in your outfit will get the idea you were scared."
Riordan shrugged, stood up.
"I told you it'd sound silly. I'm going to phone Operations again."
The trouble was, it wasn't silly. Fear of the unknown could get anyone, even a veteran combat pilot.
Riordan came back, swearing under his breath.
"I've got to get over to Washington Airport—those jokers came in on a MATS plane an hour ago. I just thought to phone my hotel, and they've been calling there every ten minutes."
"Got your car here?" I said.
"No—don't have one yet. I came down on a Bolling bus."
I told him I'd run him over; the airport was on my way home. Riordan was still growling as we rolled out through the main gate.
"Same old snafu. They swear they told me Washington Airport—I know blamed well they said Bolling."
We turned left, into the Bolling Field road to Washington. To get Riordan's mind off the mix-up, I asked about the sighting tip he'd mentioned. The report, he told me, was made by Colonel Curtis Low, commanding officer of the 86th Fighter Wing, in Japan. The sighting had happened around the last of December. Colonel Low and crews of two other planes had seen a unique type of UFO with revolving red, green, and white lights.
"There was a news item on it," said Riordan. "Tokyo Headquarters let it out. But the papers didn't come within a mile of the important part. You ask ATIC for Colonel Low's report—I know Intelligence in Tokyo took it pretty seriously."
We rode in silence for a while. The lights of Washington began to loom up, and in a few minutes we were rolling through the southeast section, taking the waterfront shortcut to Fourteenth Street Bridge. I was thinking of Riordan's somber expression as he talked back in VOQ, when he swung around in the seat.
"You're right—people should know all about those UFO intercepts. The way it is, too many of 'em think the saucers are some U. S. secret weapon."
"Not so many think so now," I said. "If we'd had anything with that power and speed back in '47, by now they’d be in operating squadrons. We wouldn't be building jets—they'd be completely obsolete. And those remote-controlled types would be perfect guided missiles. We'd be able to tell Russia where to head in, fast."
Riordan wagged his head.
"I know all that—but you still hear people say the saucers are our secret weapon, so we needn't be afraid of Russia."
"Yes, and you'll hear some others say they're Soviet weapons—"
That's even crazier," snapped Riordan. "The Reds were barely crawling out of the wreckage of World War II, back in '47. They couldn't possibly have produced the
saucers in that short time, even if they'd stumbled on some new method of propulsion. And even if they could have, they wouldn't be shooting them all over the world, taking a chance one would crash and give away the secret."
"You don't have to sell me," I said. "I dropped that answer years ago, and I don't know anyone in the Pentagon who gives it a serious thought."
"Besides," said Riordan, "the Reds would own the world now if they'd jumped that far ahead in '47. At least they'd be holding a gun at our heads."
We swung off the bridge on the Virginia side. Over to the right the Pentagon's sprawling shape loomed in the darkness. Riordan glanced at it, looked back at me.
"I still think its queer, your getting those Intelligence reports."
"I told you it was a new policy."
Riordan eyed me sharply.
"Sure you're not back on active duty, for some kind of undercover deal?"
"I may go on active duty, but I'm not now." I told him about Ed Ruppelt's suggestion.
"What's back of all this?" said Riordan. "Why are you getting this inside stuff?"
"General Samford—Director of Intelligence—just decided to release the sightings."
Riordan frowned. "You can publish them?"
"All the ones they've cleared."
"You got any hotter cases than the ones you showed me?"
"Quite a few. And when you add them all up—"
"I'd like to see all of them," Riordan cut in.
"OK, come out to my place next week and I’ll show you the works."
Riordan was silent until we turned into the airport road.
"These foreign sightings—how many have there been?"
"Hundreds, anyway. Probably as many as we have here, only we don't get all the reports."
"How many countries that you know of?"
"Every country in Europe and South America, and most of the Far East. They've been seen in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Africa, Hawaii, the Bahamas, Greenland—practically everywhere, even the Antarctic."
"Somebody's certainly damn curious about this earth. Any foreign air force pilots report the things?"
"Plenty," I said. "And foreign airline crews, too."
"Any other countries investigating the saucers?"
"Five, at least—Canada, France, Norway, Sweden, and England. Probably more. Canada has two projects, one of them top-secret."
"Secret—secret!" growled Riordan. "They're all so blasted hush-hush. Even our own Intelligence people won't talk. In five years they must have found out something. But you ask them and they clam up. 'Don't worry, Captain, you're not crazy. We've got reports even stranger than this.'"
We pulled up in front of the MATS terminal. Riordan opened the door, then stopped and gave me a searching look.
"What have they told you? Do you know the answers?"
"I know part of the picture, Jim. I think maybe they'll show me the rest, but—"
A taxi honked impatiently behind us.
"Keep your shirt on!" Riordan snapped. He turned back.
"I’ll tell you when you come out," I said. "Maybe by then I’ll know what the Air Force is going to do about making all their evidence public."
Riordan climbed out.
"I hope they don't wait too long. But how they're going to break it without scaring people is beyond me."
When I got home, I typed out the details of what Riordan had told me. Then I put the latest ATIC reports in my sighting file. Beside the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps sightings, this file included reports by general
military personnel—radar men, guided missile trackers, crews of naval vessels, and members of ground combat forces. In addition, there were sightings by competent civilians: Civil Aeronautics airport traffic controllers, Weather Bureau observers, astronomers, Ground Observer Corps members, FBI agents, state, county, and city police, reputable private pilots, aeronautical engineers, and other specially qualified observers. The last group included veteran airliner crews—captains and copilots of American, United, Eastern, Pan-American, Northwest, Chicago and Southern, Mid-Continent, Western, Trans World, and many other lines.
It would have been hard to find a group better qualified to observe and report on the saucers. But time and again, since '47, these men had been publicly ridiculed.
Up in the front of one filing drawer was a bulky folder labeled, "Official statements on flying saucers." I took it out and ran over a few items.
"We have no experimental craft of that nature; we're completely mystified." (From a 1947 statement by an Air Force spokesman.)
"The mere existence of some yet unidentified flying objects necessitate a constant vigilance on the part of Project personnel and on the part of the civilian population." (From an Air Force report dated April 27, 1949.)
"The saucers are misinterpretations of various conventional objects, mild hysteria, meteorological phenomena, aberrations, or hoaxes." (From an Air Force public statement on December 27, 1949.)
"Such a civilization might observe that on Earth we now have atomic bombs and are fast developing rockets. In view of the past history of mankind, they should be alarmed. We should therefore expect at this time above all to behold such visitations.
"Since the acts of mankind most easily observed from a distance are A-bomb explosions, we should expect some relation to obtain between the time of the A-bomb explosions,
the time at which the space ships are seen, and the time required for such ships to arrive from and return to home base." (From a formerly secret Project report, released by the Air Force on December 30, 1949.)
"At the end of nearly every report tracked down stands a crackpot, a religious crank, a publicity hound, or a malicious practical joker." (Published statement by Colonel Harold E. Watson, Chief of Intelligence at Dayton, November, 1950, after an interview with Bob Considine, for International News Service.)
"These reports come from sincere people; they are not crackpots. They are seeing something; we have to find out what." (From a statement by an ATIC colonel at Dayton, published in Look, June 24, 1952.)
It was small wonder that the American people were confused about the saucers.
After the last few months the reason for these contradictions was fairly clear. The situation had changed several times. Individual opinions had changed with it. Some officials had retracted earlier statements—or their words had been offset by still other officials. But these five years of contradictions, along with the various "expert" explanations of the saucers, had put the Air Force in a difficult spot. It couldn't have been worse if they had deliberately planned it.
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.