Shortly after my talk with Steele, I flew to the Coast. For three weeks I investigated sightings that had been reported by airline and private pilots and other competent witnesses.
At first, the airline pilots were reluctant to talk. Most of them remembered the ridicule that had followed published accounts by other airline men. One pilot told me he had been ordered to keep still about his experience - whether by the company or the Air Force, he would not say. But most of them finally agreed to talk, if I kept their names out of print.
One airline captain - I'll call him Blake - had encountered a saucer at night. He and his copilot had sighted the object, gleaming in the moonlight, half a mile to their left.
"We were at about twelve thousand feet," he said, "when we saw this thing pacing us. It didn't have any running lights, but we could see the moonlight reflecting from something like bright metal. There was a glow along the side, like some kind of light, or exhaust."
"Could you make out the shape?" I asked.
Blake grinned crookedly. "You think we didn't try? I cut in toward it. It turned in the same direction. I pulled up about three hundred feet, and it did the same. Finally, I opened my throttles and cut in fast, intending to pull up if we got too close. I needn't have worried. The thing let out a burst of reddish flame and streaked up out of sight. It was gone in a few seconds."
"Then it must have been piloted," I said.
"If not, it had some kind of radar-responder unit to make it veer off when anything got near it. It matched every move I made, until the last one."
I asked him what he thought the saucer was. Blake hesitated, then he gave me a slow grin.
"Well, my copilot thinks it was a space ship. He says no pilot here on earth could take that many G's, when the thing zoomed."
I'd heard some "men from Mars" opinions about the saucers, but this was an experienced pilot.
"You don't believe that?" I said.
"No," Blake said. "I figure it was some new type of guided missile. If it took as many G's as Chuck, my co pilot, thinks, then it must have been on a beam and remote-controlled."
Later, I found two other pilots who had the same idea as Chuck. One captain was afraid the flying saucers were Russian; his copilot thought they were Air Force or Navy. I met one airline official who was indignant about testing such missiles near the airways.
"Even if they do have some device to make them veer off," he said, "I think it's a risk. There'll be hell to pay if one ever hits an airliner"
"They've been flying around for two years," a line pilot pointed out. "Nobody's had a close call yet. I don't think there's much danger."
When I left the Coast, I flew to New York. Ken Purdy called in John DuBarry, True's aviation editor; to hear the details. Purdy called him "John the Skeptic." After I told them what I had learned Purdy nodded.
"What do you think the saucers are?" asked DuBarry.
"They must be guided missiles," I said, "but it leaves some queer gaps in the picture."
I had made up a list of possible answers, and I read it to them:
"One, the saucers don't exist. They're caused by mistakes, hysteria, and so on. Two, they're Russian guided missiles. Three, they're American guided missiles. Four, the whole thing is a hoax, a psychological-warfare trick,"
"You mean a trick of ours?" said Purdy.
"Sure, to make the Soviets think we could reach them with a guided missile. But I don't think that's the answer - I just listed it as a possibility."
DuBarry considered this thoughtfully.
"In the first place, you'd have to bring thousands of people into the scheme, so the disks would be reported often enough to get publicity. You'd have to have some kind of device, maybe something launched from high flying bombers, to give the rumors substance. They'd
certainly do a better job than this, to put it oven And it wouldn't explain the world-wide sightings. Also, Captain Mantell wouldn't kill himself just to carry out an official hoax."
"John's right," said Purdy. "Anyway, it's too ponderous. It would leak like a sieve, and the dumbest Soviet agent would see through it."
He looked back at my list. "Cross off Number One. There's too much competent testimony, beside the obvious fact that something's being covered up."
"That leaves Russian or American missiles," I said, "as Steele first suggested. But there arc some points that just won't fit the missile theory."
"You've left out one answer," said Purdy.
"You're kidding!" I said.
"I didn't say I believed it," said Purdy. "I just say it's possible."
DuBarry was watching me. "I know how you feel. That's how it hit me when Ken first said it."
"I've heard it before," I said. "But I never took it seriously."
"Maybe this will interest you," Purdy said. He gave me a note from Sam Boal:
"Just talked with D ," the note ran. (D is a prominent aeronautical engineer, the designer of a world- famous plane.) "He believes the disks may be interplanetary and that the Air Force knows it - or at least suspects it. I'm enclosing sketches showing how he thinks the disks operate."
"He's not the first one who told us that," said Purdy. "We've heard the same thing from other engineers. Over a dozen airline pilots think they're coming from out in space. And there's a rocket expert at Wright Field who's warned Project 'Saucer' that the things are interplanetary. That's why I'm not writing it off."
"Have you read 'the Project 'Saucer' ideas on space travel?" DuBarry asked me. I told him my copy hadn't reached me. He read me some marked paragraphs in his copy of the preliminary report:
"'There has been speculation that the aerial phenomena might actually be some form of penetration from another planet . . . the existence of intelligent life on Mars is not impossible but is completely unproven . . . the possibility of intelligent life on the Planet Venus is not considered completely unreasonable by astronomers. . .Scientists concede that living organisms might develop in chemical environments which are strange to us. . .in the next fifty years we will almost certainly start exploring space . . . 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. . .'"
DuBarry handed me the report. "Here - I practically know it by heart. Take it with you. You can send it back later."
"I know the space-travel idea sounds silly at first," said Purdy, "but it's the only answer that explains all the sightings - especially those in the last century."
He asked DuBarry to give me their file of historic reports. While John was getting it, Purdy went on:
"Be careful about this man Steele. After what he said about 'moral responsibility' I'm sure he's planted."
I thought back to Steele's warning. I told Purdy: "If he had the space thing in mind, maybe he's right. It could set off a panic that would make that Orson Welles thing look like a picnic."
"Certainly it could," Purdy said. "We'd have to handle it carefully - if it turned out to be the truth. But I think the Air Force is making a mistake, if that's what they're hiding. It could break the wrong way and be serious."
John DuBarry came back with the file of old reports. "It might interest you to know," he said, "that the Air Force checked all these old sightings too."
The idea was still a difficult one for me to believe.
"Those space-travel suggestions might be a trick," I said. "The Air Force may be hinting at that to hide the guided-missile secret."
"Yes, but later on they deny the space thing," said Purdy. "It looks as if they're trying to put people on guard and then play it down. so thev won't get scared."
As I put the historic-reports file in my brief case, Purdy handed me a letter from an investigator named Hillton, who had been working in the Southwest. I skimmed over his report.
Hilton had heard of some unusual night sightings in New Mexico. The story had been hushed up, but he had learned some details from a pilot at Albuquerque.
One of these mysterious "flying lights" had been seen at Las Vegas, on December 8, 1948 - just one month before Mantell was killed in Kentucky. It was too dark to make out the shape behind the light, but all witnesses had agreed on its performance. The thing had climbed at tremendous speed, its upward motion shown by a bright green light. Though the green glow was much brighter than a plane's running light, all plane schedules were carefully checked.
"I think they were trying to pin it on a jet fighter," the Albuquerque pilot told Hilton. "But there weren't any jets near there. Anyway, the thing climbed too fast. It must have been making close to nine hundred miles an hour."
The Air Force had also checked balloon release times - apparently just for the record, since no balloon could even approach the saucer's terrific ascent. Again, they drew a blank.
"From the way this was hushed up," Hilton commented, "they seem to be worried about this group of sightings. I've heard two reports that the F.B.I. is tied into the deal somehow, but that's as far as I can get."
"See if you can get any lead on that," Purdy told me. "That F.B.I. business puzzles me. Where would they come in?"
I said I would try to find out. But it was almost four months before we learned the answer: The F.B.I. men had been witnesses. (This was later admitted in an obscure cross-reference. in the final Project "Saucer" report. But all official answers to the strange green light sightings had been carefully omitted. The cases concerned were 223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 230, and 231, which will be discussed later.)
"When you go back to Washington," said Purdy, "see what reaction you get to the interplanetary idea."
I had a pretty good idea what the reaction would be, but I nodded. "O.K. I'll go flag a space ship and be on my way."
"O.K. - gag it up," said Purdy. "But don't sell it short. If by any chance it's true, it'll be the biggest story since the birth of Christ."