THREE DAYS after my meeting with Steve Barrett, I was on a Mainliner 300, starting, a new phase of the saucer investigation. By the time I returned, I hoped to know the truth about Project "Saucer."
As the ship droned westward, fourteen thousand feet above the Alleghenies, I thought of what Steve had told me. I believed, that he had told me about the radar tracking. And I was fairly sure he believed the Air Institute story. But I wasn't so certain the story itself was true.
It would hardly be a gag; Steve wasn't easily taken in. It was more likely that one Institute officer, or perhaps several, believed the saucers were space craft and aired their personal opinions. The Institute wasn't likely to give an official answer to something that Project "Saucer" still declared unsolved.
If it were possible to get an inside look at Project "Saucer" operations, I could soon tell whether it was an actual investigation or a deliberate cover-up for something else. Whichever it was, the wall of official. secrecy still hid it.
As a formality, I had called the Pentagon again and asked to talk with some of the Project officers. As I expected, I was turned down. The only alternative was to dig out the story by talking with pilots and others who had been. quizzed by Project teams. I had several leads, and True had arranged some interviews for me.
My first stop was Chicago, where I met an airline official and two commercial pilots. I saw the pilots first. Since they both talked in confidence, I will not use their right names. One, a Midwesterner I already knew, I'll call Pete Farrell; the other, a wartime instructor, Art Green.
Pete was about thirty-one, stocky, blue-eyed, with a pleasant, intelligent face. Art Green was a little older, a lean, sunburned, restless man with an emphatic voice. Pete had served with the Air Force during the war; he
was now part owner of a flying school, also a pilot in the Air National Guard. Green was working for an air charter service. We met at the Palmer House. Art Green didn't need much prompting to talk about Project "Saucer." After reporting a disk, seen during a West Coast Right, he had been thoroughly grilled by a Project "Saucer" team.
"They practically took me apart," he said irritably. "They've got a lot of trick questions. Some of 'em are figured out to trip up anybody faking a story. The way they worked on me, you'd think I committed a murder.
"Then they tried to sell me on the idea I'd seen a balloon, or maybe a plane, with the sun shining on it when it banked. I told them to go to the devil--I knew what I saw. After seventeen years, I've got enough sense to tell a ship or a balloon when I see it."
"Did they believe you?" I asked him.
"If they did, they didn't let on. Two of 'em acted as if they thought I was nuts. The other guy-I think he was Air Force Intelligence--acted decent. He said not to get steamed up about the Aero-Medical boys; it was their job to screen out the crackpots.
"And on top of that, I found out later the F.B.I. had checked up on me to find out if I was a liar or a screwball. They went around to my boss, people in my neighborhood--even the pilots in my outfit. My outfit's still razzing me. I wouldn't report another saucer if one flew through my cockpit."
Pete Farrell hadn't encountered any Project "Saucer" teams personally, but he had some interesting angles. Some of the information had come from commercial and private pilots in the Midwest, part of it through National Guard contacts.
"I can tell you one thing," Pete said. "Guard pilots got the same order as the Air Force. If we saw anything peculiar flying around, we were to do our damnedest to identify it."
"What about trying to bring one down? I've heard that was in one order."
Pete hesitated for a second. "Look, I told you that much because it's been in the papers. But I'm still in the
Guard. I can't tell you the order itself. It was confidential."
"Well, I'm not in the Guard," said Art Green. He lit a cigarette, blew out the match. "Why don't you look into the Gorman case? Get the dope on that court-martial angle."
I'd heard of the Gorman case, but the court-martial thing was new to me. Gorman, I recalled, was a fighter pilot in the North Dakota Air National Guard. He had a mystifying encounter with a strange, fast-moving "light" over Fargo Airport in the fall of 1948.
"That case is on my list," I told Green. "But I don't remember anything about a court-martial."
"It wasn't in the papers. But all the pilots up that way know about it.
In his report, Gorman said something about trying to ram the thing. The idea
got around that Air Force orders had said to try this. Anyway, it got into
the papers and Gorman almost got court-martialed. If his family hadn't had
some influence in the state, the Air Force probably would have pushed
"Are you sure about this?" I said. "You know how those things build up."
"Ask Gorman," he said. "Or ask some of the pilots at Fargo."
Before I left them, Green double-checked my report on his sighting, which Hilton had forwarded. As in the majority of cases, he had seen just one disk. It had hovered at a very high altitude, gleaming in the sun, then had suddenly accelerated and raced off to the north.
"I couldn't tell its size or speed," said Green. "But if it was as high as I think, it must have been pretty big."
Pete told me later that Green believed the disk had been at least twenty miles high, because it was well above clouds at thirty thousand feet.
"It's kind of hard to believe," said Pete. "The thing would have to be a lot bigger than a B-twenty-nine, and the speed over two thousand miles an hour."
"You know what they said about the Mantell saucer," I reminded him. "Some of the Godman Field people said it was at least three hundred feet in diameter."
"I've heard it was twice that," said Pete.
"You know any Kentucky National Guard pilots?" I asked.
"One or two," said Pete. "But they couldn't tell me anything. It was hushed up too fast."
That evening I talked with the airline official, whom I knew well enough to call by his first name. I put it to him bluntly.
"Dick, if you're under orders not to talk, just tell me. Fm trying to find out whether Project 'Saucer' has muzzled airline pilots."
"You mean the ones who've sighted things? Perhaps, in a few cases. But most of the pilots know what happened to Captain Emil Smith, on United, and those Eastern pilots. They keep still so they won't be laughed at. Also the airlines don't like their pilots to talk for publication."
"I've heard of several cases," I said, "where Air Force Intelligence is supposed to have warned pilots to keep mum. Two of the reports come pretty straight."
He made a gesture. "That could be. I'm not denying that airline pilots--and that includes ours--see these things all the time. They've been sighted on the Seattle-Alaska route, and between Anchorage and Japan. I know of several saucers that pilots have seen between Honolulu and the mainland. Check with Pan-American--you'll find their pilots have seen them, too."
"What happens to those reports?"
"They go to Operations," said Dick. "Of course, if something really important happens, the pilot may radio the tower before he lands. Then the C.A.A. gets word to the Air Force, and they rush some Intelligence officers to quiz the pilots. if it's not too hot, they'd come from Wright Field--regular Project 'Saucer' teams. Otherwise, they'd send the nearest Intelligence officers to take over temporarily."
I asked him if he had ever been in on one of thee sessions. Dick said he hadn't.
"But a couple of pilots talked to me later. They said these Air Force men seemed quite upset about it; they pounced on everything these boys said about the thing's appearance--how it maneuvered and so on."
"What do your pilots think the saucers are?"
Dick gave me a slightly ironic grin. "Why ask me? Captain Blake says you've been getting it firsthand."
"I wasn't pulling a fast one," I protested. "We're not going to quote actual names or sources, unless people. O.K. it."
"Sure, I know that," said Dick. "But you've got the answer already. Some pilots say interplanetary, some say guided missiles. A few--a very few--still think it's all nonsense, because they haven't seen any."
"What do you think?"
"I don't know the answer," said Dick, "but I'm positive of one thing. Either the Air Force is sitting on a big secret, or they're badly scared because they don't know the answer."
During the next week or so, I covered several northwest and mountain states. Although I was chiefly trying to find out about Project "Saucer," I ran onto two sightings that were not on my list.
One of these had occurred in California, at Fairfield Suisan Air Force Base. A Seattle man who had been stationed there gave me the details. It was on the night of December 1918, with unusually high winds sweeping across the airfield. At times the gusts reached almost seventy miles an hour. Suddenly a weird ball of light flashed into view, at a height of a thousand feet. As the men on the base watched it, astonished, the mysterious light abruptly shot skyward. In an incredibly short time, it reached an altitude of twenty thousand feet and vanished.
"Was there any shape outlined behind the light?" I asked the Seattle man.
"Nobody saw any," he replied. "It looked just like I said--a ball of light, going like a streak."
"Did it leave any smoke behind it?"
"You mean like an engine, or a jet?" He shook his head. "Not a thing. And it didn't make a sound--even when it shot up like that."
"Did you hear any guesses about it, or reports later on?"
"Some major who didn't see it said it must have been
a balloon. Anybody with brains could see that was screwy. No balloon ever went up that fast--and besides, the thing was going against the wind."
The second incident occurred at Salmon Dam, Idaho, on August 13, 1947. When I heard the date, it sounded familiar. I checked my sightings file and saw it was the same day as the strange affair at Twin Falls, Idaho.
In the Twin Falls case, the disk was sighted by observers in a canyon. There was one interesting difference from the usual description. This disk was sky-blue, or else its gleaming surface somehow reflected the sky because of the angle of vision. Although it was not close to the treetops, the observers were amazed to see the trees whip violently when the disk raced overhead, as though the air was boiling from the object's swift passage.
At Salmon Dam, that same day, two miners heard an odd roaring sound and stared into the sky. Several miles away, two brightly gleaming disks were circling at high speed.
"It was like two round mirrors whirling around the sky," one of the men was later quoted as saying. "They couldn't have been any ordinary planes; not round like that. And they were going too fast."
During this part of my trip, I also was told that one saucer had fallen into a mountain lake. This came to me secondhand. The lone witness was said to have rushed over to his car to get his camera as the disk approached. When it plunged toward the lake, he was so startled that he failed to snap the picture until the moment it struck. This story sounded so flimsy that I didn't bother to list it.
Months later, a Washington newsman confirmed at least part of the lake story. When he first related it, I thought he had fallen for a gag.
"I heard that yarn," I said. "Don't tell me you believe it?"
"I come from Idaho," he told me. "And I happen to know the fellow who took the picture. Maybe it wasn't a disk, but something fell into that lake."
"Did you see the picture?"
"Yes, at the Pentagon." At my surprised look, he added,
"That was long before they clamped down. I was talking to an Air Force officer about this lake thing, and he showed me the picture."
"What did it look like?"
"You couldn't tell much about it-just a big splash and a blur where something went under. Maybe a magnifying glass would bring it out, but I didn't get a chance to try it."
It was early in 1950 when he told me this. I asked at the Pentagon if this picture was in the Wright Field files, and if so whether I could see it. My inquiries drew blank looks. No one remembered such a photograph. And even if it were in the Project "Saucer" files, I couldn't see it.
This was more than two months after Project "Saucer" had been officially closed and its secrets presumably all revealed.
The rest of my interviews during this 1949 trip helped to round out my picture of Project "Saucer" operations.
Some witnesses seemed afraid to talk; a few flatly refused. I found no proof of official pressure, but I frequently had the feeling that strong hints had been dropped.
Though one or two witnesses showed resentment at investigators' methods, most of them seemed more annoyed at the loss of time involved. One man had been checked first by the police, then by the sheriff's office; an Air Force team had spent hours questioning him, returning the next day, and finally the F.B.I. had made a character check. What he told me about the Air Force interrogation confirmed one of Art Green's statements.
"One Intelligence captain tried to tell me I'd seen a weather balloon. I called up the airport and had them check on release schedules. They said next day it didn't fit any schedules around this area. Anyway, the wind wasn't right, because the thing I saw was cutting into the wind at a forty-five-degree angle."
Other witnesses told me that investigators had suggested birds, meteors, reflections on clouds, shooting stars, and star shells as probable explanations of what they had seen. I learned of one pilot who had been
startled by seeing a group of disks racing past his plane. Air Force investigators later suggested that he had flown through a flock of birds, or perhaps a cluster of balloons,
On the flight back to Washington, I reread all the information the Air Force had released on Project "Saucer." Suddenly a familiar phrase caught my eye. I read over the paragraph again:
"Preliminary study of the more than 240 domestic and thirty foreign incidents by Astro-Physicist Hynek indicates that an over-all total of about 30% can probably be explained away as astronomical phenomena."
I went through the report line by line. On page 17 I found this:
"Available preliminary reports now indicate that a great number of sightings can be explained away as ordinary occurrences which have been misrepresented as a result of human errors."
On page 22 I ran onto another use of the phrase:
"The obvious explanation for most of the spherical-shaped objects reported, as already mentioned, is that they are meteorological or similar type balloons. This, however, does not explain reports that they travel at high speed or maneuver rapidly. But 'Saucer' men point out that the movement could be explained away as an optical illusion or actual acceleration of the balloon caused by a gas leak and later exaggerated by observers. . . . There are scores of possible explanations for the scores of different type sightings reported."
Explained away . . . It might not mean anything. It could be just an unfortunate choice of words. But suppose that the real mission of Project "Saucer" was to cover up something. Or that its purpose was to investigate something serious, at the same time covering it up, step by step. The Project "Saucer" teams, then, would check on reports and simultaneously try to divert attention from the truth, suggesting various answers to explain the sightings. Back at Wright Field, analysts and Intelligence officers would go over the general picture and try to work up plausible explanations, which, if necessary, could even be published.
"Explaining away" would be one of the main purposes of Project personnel. These words would probably be used in discussions of ways and means; they would undoubtedly would be used in secret official papers. And since this published preliminary report had been made up from censored secret files, the use of those familiar words might have been overlooked, since, read casually, they would appear harmless. If the report had been thrown together hastily, the use of these telltale words could be easily understood, and so could the report's strange contradictions.
As an experiment, I fixed the idea firmly in mind that Project "Saucer" was a cover-up unit. Then I went back once more and read the items quoted above. The effect was almost startling.
It was as though I were reading confidential suggestions for diverting attention and explaining away the sightings; suggestions made by Project members and probably circulated for comment.
"Now, wait a minute," I said to myself. "You may be dreaming up this whole thing."
Trying to get back to a neutral viewpoint, I skimmed through the other details of Project operations, as described in the report.
The order creating Project "Saucer" was signed on December 30, 1947. (The actual code name was not "Saucer," but since for some reason the Air Force still has not published the name, I have followed their usage of "Saucer" in its place.)
On January 22, 1948, two weeks after Captain Mantell's death, the project officially began operations. (Preliminary investigation at Godman Field had been done by local Intelligence officers.) Project "Saucer" was set up under the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field.
Contracts were made with an astrophysicist (Professor Joseph Hynek), also a prominent scientist (still unidentified), and a group of evaluation experts (Rand Corporation). Arrangements were made for services by the Air Weather Service, Andrews Field; the U. S. Weather Bureau; the Electronics Laboratory, Cambridge Field Station; the A.M.C. Aero-Medical Laboratory; the Army
and Navy Departments; the F.B.I.; the Department of Commerce, Civil Aeronautics Administration; and various other government and private agencies. In addition, the services of rocket experts, guided-missile authorities, space-travel planners, and others (in the defense services or assigned to them) were made available as desired. Under the heading "How Incidents Are Investigated," the Project "Saucer" report says:
But the hoaxes and crank letters in reality play a small part in Project "Saucer."
Actually, it is a serious, scientific business of constant investigation, analysis and evaluation which thus far has yielded evidence pointing to the conclusion that much of the saucer scare is no scare at all, but can be attributed to astronomical phenomena, to conventional aerial objects, to hallucinations and to mass psychology.
But the mere existence of some yet unidentified flying objects necessitates a constant vigilance on the part of Project "Saucer" personnel and the civilian population. Investigation is greatly stepped up when observers report incidents as soon as possible to the nearest military installation or to Headquarters, A.M.C., direct.
A standard questionnaire is filled out under the guidance of interrogators. In each case, time, location, size and shape of object, approximate altitude, speed, maneuvers, color, length of time in sight, sound, etc., are carefully noted. This information is sent in its entirety, together with any fragments, soil photographs, drawings, etc., to Headquarters, A.M.C. Here, highly trained evaluation teams take over. The information is broken down and filed on summary sheets, plotted on maps and graphs and integrated with the rest of the material, giving an easily comprehended over-all picture.
Duplicate copies on each incident arc sent to other investigating agencies, including technical labs within the Air Materiel Command. These are studied in relation to many factors such as guided missile research
activity, weather, and many others, atmospheric sounding balloon launchings, commercial and military aircraft flights, flights of migratory birds and a myriad of other considerations which might furnish explanations.
Generally, the flying objects are divided into four groups: Flying disks, torpedo or cigar-shaped bodies with no wings or fins visible in flight, spherical or balloon-shaped objects and balls of light. The first three groups are capable of flight by aerodynamic or aerostatic means and can be propelled and controlled by methods known to aeronautical engineers. As for the lights, their actions--unless they were suspended from a higher object or were the product of hallucination--remain unexplained.
Eventually, reports are sent back to Project "Saucer" headquarters, often marking incidents closed. The project, however, is a young one-much of its investigation is still under way.
Currently, a psychological analysis is being made by A.M.C.'s Aero-Medical laboratory to determine what percentage of incidents are probably based on errors of the human mind and senses. Available preliminary reports now indicate that a great number can be explained away as ordinary occurrences which have been misrepresented as a result of these human errors.
Near the end of the last page, a paragraph summed tip the report.
"The 'Saucers' are not a joke. Neither are they cause for alarm to the population. Many of the incidents already have answers. Meteors. Balloons. Falling stars. Birds in flight. Testing devices, etc. Some of them still end in question marks."
From what I had learned on this trip, I strongly doubted the answer suggested. All but the "testing devices." What did they mean by that? It could be a hint at guided missiles; they had already mentioned guided-missile research activity in another spot.
But if that was what lay behind this elaborate project,
they would hardly be hinting at it. If the answer was space travel, then such hints made sense, They would be part of the cover-up plan. Everyone--including the Soviet Union--knew we were working on guided missiles. It would do no harm to use this as one of the "myriad explanations" for the flying saucers.
I was still trying to figure it out when my plane let down for the landing at Washington. I had hoped by this time to know the truth about Project "Saucer." Instead, it was a deeper mystery than ever.
True, I had found out how they operated--outside of Wright Field. Some of the incidents had been enlightening. By now, I was certain that Project "Saucer" was trying hard to explain away the sightings and hide the real answer.