THAT NIGHT I went through the Project "Saucer" summary of cases. It was a strange experience.
The first report I checked was the Mantell case. Nothing that Boggs had said had changed my firm opinion. I knew the answer was not Venus, and I was certain Boggs knew it, too.
The Godman Field incident was listed as Case 33. The report also touches on the Lockbourne Air Base sighting. As already described, the same mysterious object, or a similar one, was seen moving at five hundred miles an hour over Lockbourne Field. It was also sighted at other points in Ohio.
The very first sentence in Case 33 showed a determined attempt to explain away the object that Mantell chased:
"Detailed attention should be given to any possible astronomical body or phenomenon which might serve to identify the object or objects."
(Some of the final Project report on Mantell has been given in an earlier chapter. I am repeating a few paragraphs below, to help in weighing Major Boggs's answer.)
These are official statements of the Project astronomer:
"On January 7, 1948, Venus was less than half its full brilliance. However, under exceptionally good atmospheric conditions, and with the eye shielded from the direct rays of the sun, Venus might be seen as an exceedingly tiny bright point of light. It is possible to see it in daytime when one knows exactly where to look. Of course, the chances of looking at the right spot are very few.
"It has been unofficially reported that the object was a Navy cosmic ray balloon. If this can be established it is to be preferred as an explanation. However, if reports from other localities refer to the same object, any such device must have been a good many miles high--25 to 50--in order to have been seen clearly, almost simultaneously, from places 175 miles apart."
This absolutely ruled out the balloon possibility, as the investigator fully realized. That he must have considered the space-ship answer at this point is strongly indicated in the following sentence:
"If all reports were of a single object, in the knowledge of this investigator no man-made object could have been large enough and far enough away for the approximate simultaneous sightings."
The next paragraph of this Project "Saucer" report practically nullified Major Boggs's statement that Venus was the sole explanation:
"It is most unlikely, however, that so many separate persons should at that time have chanced on Venus in the daylight sky. It seems therefore much more probable that more than one object was involved. 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. . . ."
Farther on in the summaries, I found a report that has an extremely significant bearing on the Mantell case. This was Case 175, in which the same consultant attempts to explain a strange daylight sighting at Santa Fe, New Mexico.
One of the Santa Fe observers described the mysterious aerial object as round and extremely bright, "like a dime in the sky." Here is what the Project "Saucer" investigator had to say:
"The magnitude of Venus was -3.8 (approximately the same as on January 7, 1948). it could have been visible in the daylight sky. It would have appeared, however, more like a pinpoint of brilliant light than 'like a dime in the sky.' It seems unlikely that it would be noticed at all. . . . Considering discrepancies in the two reports, I suggest the moon in a gibbous phase; in daytime this is unusual and most people are not used to it, so that they fail to identify it. While this hypothesis
has little to correspond to either report, it is worth mentioning.
"It seems far more probable that some type of balloon was the object in this case."
Both the Godman Field and the Santa Fe cases were almost identical, so far as the visibility of Venus was concerned. In the Santa Fe case, which had very little publicity, Project "Saucer" dropped the Venus explanation as a practically impossible answer. But in Case 33, it had tried desperately to make Venus loom up as a huge gleaming object during Mantell's fatal chase.
There was only one explanation: Project "Saucer" must have known the truth from the start-that Mantell had pursued a tremendous space ship. That fact alone, if it had exploded in the headlines at that time, might have caused dangerous panic. To make it worse, Captain Mantell had been killed. Even if he had actually died from blacking out while trying to follow the swiftly ascending space ship, few would have believed it. The story would spread like wildfire: Spacemen kill an American Air Force Pilot!
This explained the tight lid that had been clamped down at once on the Mantell case. It was more than a year before that policy had been changed; then the first official discussions of possible space visitors had begun to appear.
True's plans to announce the interplanetary answer would have fitted a program of preparing the people. But the Air Force had not expected such nation-wide reaction from True's article; that much I knew. Evidently, they had not suspected such a detailed analysis of the Godman Field case, in particular. I could see now why Boggs, Jesse Stay, and the others had tried so hard to convince me that we had made a mistake.
It was quite possible that we had revived that first Air Force fear of dangerous publicity. But Mantell had been dead for two years. News stories would not have the same impact now, even if they did report that spacemen had downed the pilot. And I doubted that there would be headlines. Unless the Air Force supplied some
convincing details, the manner of his death would still be speculation.
Apparently I had been right; this case was the key to the riddle. It had been the first major sighting in 1948. Project "Saucer" had been started immediately afterward. In searching for a plausible answer, which could be published if needed, officials had probably set the pattern for handling all other reports, "Explaining away" would be a logical program, until the public could be prepared for an official announcement.
As I went through other case reports, I found increasing evidence to back up this belief.
Case 1, the Muroc Air Base sightings, had plainly baffled Project men seeking a plausible answer. Because of the Air Force witnesses, they could not ignore the reports. Highly trained Air Force test pilots and ground officers had seen two fast-moving silver-colored disks circling over the base.
Flying at speeds of from three to four hundred miles an hour, the disks whirled in amazingly tight maneuvers. Since they were only eight thousand feet above the field, these turns could be clearly seen.
"It is tempting to explain the object as ordinary aircraft observed under unusual light conditions," the case report reads. "But the evidence of tight circles, if maintained, is strongly contradictory."
Although Case 1 was technically in the "unexplained" group, Wright Field had made a final effort to explain away the reports. Said the Air Materiel Command:
"The sightings were the result of misinterpretation of real stimuli, probably research balloons."
In all the world's history, there is no record of a three-hundred-mile-an-hour wind. To cover the distance involved, the drifting balloons would have had to move at this speed, or faster. If a three-hundred-mile wind had been blowing at eight thousand feet, nothing on earth could have stood it, Muroc Air Base would have been blown off the map.
What did the Muroc test pilots really see that day?
While searching for the Chiles-Whitted report, ran across the Fairfield Suisan mystery-light case, which I
had learned about in Seattle. This was Case 215. The Project "Saucer" comment reads:
"If the observations were exactly as stated by the witnesses, the ball of light could not be a fireball. . . . A fireball would not have come into view at 1,000 feet and risen to 20,000. If correct, there is no astronomical explanation. Under unusual conditions, a fireball might appear to rise somewhat as a result of perspective. The absence of trail and sound definitely does not favor the meteor hypothesis, but . . . does not rule it out finally. It does not seem likely any meteor or auroral phenomenon could be as bright as this."
Then came one of the most revealing lines in all the case reports:
"In the almost hopeless absence of any other natural explanation, one must consider the possibility of the object's having been a meteor, even though the description does not fit very well."
One air-base officer, I recalled, had insisted that the object had been a lighted balloon. Checking the secret report from the Air Weather Service, I found this:
"Case 2 15. Very high winds, 60-70 miles per hour from southwest, all levels. Definitely prohibits any balloon from southerly motion."
This case is officially listed as answered.
In Case 19, where a cigar-shaped object was seen at Dayton, Ohio, the Project investigator made a valiant attempt to fit an answer:
"Possibly a close pair of fireballs, but it seems unlikely. If one were to stretch the description to its very limits and make allowances for untrained observers, he could say that the cigar-like shape might have been illusion caused by rapid motion, and that the bright sunlight might have made both the objects and the trails nearly invisible.
"This investigator does not prefer that interpolation, and it should he resorted to only if all other possible explanations fail."
This case, too, is officially listed as answered.
Case 24, which occurred June 12, 1947, twelve days before the Arnold sighting, shows the same determined
attempt to find an explanation, no matter how farfetched.
In this case, two fast-moving objects were seen at Weiser, Idaho, Twice they approached the earth, then swiftly circled upward. The Project investigator tried hard to prove that these might have been parts of a double fireball. But at the end, he said, "In spite of all this, this investigator would prefer a terrestrial explanation for the incident."
It was plain that this report had not been planned originally for release to the public. No Project investigator would have been so frank. With each new report, I was more and more convinced that these had been confidential discussions of various possible answers, circulated between Project "Saucer" officials. Why they had been released now was still a puzzle, though I began to see a glimmer of the answer.
The Chiles-Whitted sighting was listed as Case 144. As I started on the report, I wondered if Major Boggs's "bolide" answer would have any more foundation than these other "astronomical" cases.
The report began with these words:
"There is no astronomical explanation, if we accept the report at face value. But the sheer improbability of the facts as stated, particularly in the absence of any known aircraft in the vicinity, makes it necessary to see whether any other explanation, even though farfetched, can be considered."
After this candid admission of his intentions, the Project consultant earnestly attempts to fit the two pilots' space ship description to a slow-moving meteor.
"It will have to be left to the psychologists," he goes on, "to tell us whether the immediate trail of a bright meteor could produce the subjective impression of a ship with lighted windows. Considering only the Chiles-Whitted sighting, the hypothesis seems very improbable."
As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, observers at Robbins Air Force Base, Macon, Georgia, saw the same mysterious object streak overhead, trailing varicolored
flames. This was about one hour before Chiles and Whitted saw the onrushing space ship.
To bolster up the meteor theory, the Project consultant suggests a one-hour error in time. The explanation: The airliner would be on daylight-saving time.
"If there is no time difference," he proceeds, "the. object must have been an extraordinary meteor. . . . in which case it would have covered the distance from Macon to Montgomery in a minute or two."
Having checked the time angle before, I knew this was incorrect. Both reports were given in eastern standard time. And in a later part of the Project report, the consultant admits this fact. But he has an alternate answer: "If the difference in time is real, the object was some form of known aircraft, regardless of its bizarre nature."
The "bizarre nature" is not specified. Nor does the Project "Saucer" report try to fit the Robbins Field description to any earth-made aircraft. The air-base observers were struck by the object's huge size, its projectile-like shape, and the weird flames trailing behind. Except for the double-deck windows, the air-base men's description tallied with the pilots'. With the ship at five thousand feet or higher, its windows would not have been visible from the ground. All the observers agreed on the object's very high speed.
Neither of the Project "Saucer" alternate answers will fit the facts.
1. The one-hour interval has been proved correct. Therefore, as the Project consultant admits, it could not be a meteor.
2. The Robbins Field witnesses have flatly denied it was a conventional plane. The Air Force screened 225 airplane schedules, and proved there was no such plane in the area. No ordinary aircraft would have caused the brilliant streak that startled the DC-3 passenger and both of the pilots.
Major Boggs's bolide answer had gone the way of his Venus explanation. I wondered if the Gorman light-balloon solution would fade out the same way.
But the Project report on Gorman (Case 172) merely
hinted at the balloon answer. In the Appendix, there was a brief comment: "Note that standard 30 inch and 65 inch weather balloons have vertical speeds of 600 and 1100 feet per minute, respectively."
In all the reports I have mentioned, and on through both the case books, one thing was immediately obvious. All the testimony, all the actual evidence was missing. These were only the declared conclusions of Project "Saucer." Whether they matched the actual conclusions in Wright Field secret files there was no way of knowing.
But even in these sketch reports, I found some odd hints, clues to what Project officials might really be thinking.
After an analysis of two Indianapolis cases, one investigator reports:
"Barring hallucination, these two incidents and 17, 75 and 84 seem the most tangible from the standpoint of description, of all those reported, and the most difficult to explain away as sheer nonsense."
Case 17, I found, was that of Kenneth Arnold. But in spite of the above admission that this case cannot be explained away, it is officially listed as answered.
Case 75 struck a familiar note. This was the strange occurrence at Twin Falls, Idaho, on which True had had a tip months before. A disk moving through a canyon at tremendous speed had whipped the treetops as if by a violent hurricane. The report was brief, but one sentence stood out with a startling effect:
"Twin Falls, Idaho, August 13, 1847," the report began. "There is clearly nothing astronomical in this incident. . . . Two points stand out, the sky-blue color, and the fact that the trees 'spun around on top as if they were in a vacuum.'"
Then came the sentence that made me sit up in my chair.
"Apparently it must be classed with the other bona fide disk sightings."
The other bona fide sightings!
Was this a slip? Or had the Air Force deliberately left this report in the file? If they had, what was back of it
--what was back of releasing all of these telltale case summaries?
I skimmed through the rest as quickly as possible looking for other clues. Here are a few of the things that. caught my eye:
Case 10. United Airlines report . . . despite conjectures, no logical explanation seems possible. . . .
Case 122. Holloman Air Force Base, April 6, 1948. [This was the Commander McLaughlin White Sands report.] No logical explanation. . . .
Case 124. North Atlantic, April 18, 1948 . . . radar sighting . . . no astronomical explanation. . . .
Case 127. Yugoslav-Greek frontier, May 7, 1948 . . . information too limited. . . .
Case 168. Arnheim, The Hague, July 20, 1948 . . . object seen four times . . . had two decks and no wings . . . very high speed comparable to a V-2. . . .
Case 183. Japan, October 15, 1948. Radar experts should determine acceleration rates. . . .
Case 188. Goose Bay, Labrador, October 29, 1948. Not astronomical . . . picked up by radar . . . radar experts should evaluate the sightings . . . .
Case 189. Goose Bay, Labrador, October 31, 1948 . . . not astronomical . . . observed on radarscope. . . .
Case 196. Radarscope observation . . . object traveling directly into the wind. . . .
Case 198. Radar blimp moving at high speed and continuously changing direction. . . .
Case 222. Furstenfeldbruck, Germany, November 23, 1948 . . . object plotted by radar DF at 27,000 feet . . . short time later circling at 40,000 feet . . . speed estimated 200-500 m.p.h. . . .
Case 223 . . . seventeen individuals saw and reported object . . . green flare . . . all commercial and government airfield questioned . . . no success. . . .
Case 224. Las Vegas, New Mexico, December 8, 1948 . . . description exactly as in 223 . . . flare
reported traveling very high speed . . . very accurate observation made by two F.B.I. agents. . . .
Case 231 . . . another glowing green flare just as described above. . . .
Case 233 . . . definitely no balloon . . . made turns . . . accelerated from 200 to 500 miles per hour . . . .
Going back over this group of cases, I made an incredible discovery: All but three of these unsolved cases were officially listed as answered.
The three were the United Airlines case, the White Sands sightings, and the double-decked space-ship report from The Hague.
Going back to the first report, I checked all the summaries. Nine times out of ten, the explanations were pure conjecture. Sometimes no answer was even attempted.
Although 375 cases were mentioned, the summaries ended with Case 244. Several cases were omitted. I found clues to some of these in the secret Air Weather Service report, including the mysterious "green light" sightings at Las Vegas and Albuquerque.
Of the remaining 228 cases, Project "Saucer" lists all but 34 as explained. These unsolved cases are brought up again for a final attempt at explaining them away. In the appendix, the Air Materiel Command carefully states:
"It is not the intent to discredit the character of observers, but each case has undesirable elements and these can't be disregarded."
After this perfunctory gesture, the A.M.C. proceeds to discredit completely the testimony of highly trained Air Force test pilots and officers at Muroc. (The 300-400 m.p.h. research balloon explanation.)
The A.M.C. then brushes off the report of Captain Emil Smith and the crew of a United Airline plane. On July 4, 1947, nine huge flying disks were counted by Captain Smith and his crew. The strange objects were in sight for about twelve minutes; the crew watched them for the entire period and described them in detail later.
Despite Project "Saucer's" admission that it had no
answer, the A.M.C. contrived one. Ignoring the evidence of veteran airline pilots, it said:
"Since the sighting occurred at sunset, when illusory effect are most likely, the objects could have been ordinary aircraft, balloons, birds, or pure illusion."
In only three cases did the A.M.C. admit it had no answer. Even here, it was implied that the witnesses were either confused or incompetent.
In its press release of December 27, 1949, the Air Force had mentioned 375 cases. It implied that all of these were answered. The truth was just the reverse, as was proved by these case books. Almost two hundred cases still were shown to be unsolved-although the real answers might be hidden in Wright Field files.
These two black books puzzled me. Why had the Air Force lifted its secrecy on these case summaries? Why had Major Boggs given me those answers, when these books would flatly refute them?
I thought I new the reason now but there was only one way to make sure. The actual Wright Field files should tell the answer.
When I phoned General Sory Smith, his voice sounded a little peculiar. "I called Wright Field," he said. "But they said you wouldn't find anything of value out there."
"You mean they refused to let me see their files?"
"No, I didn't say that. But they're short of personnel. They don't want to take people off other jobs to look up the records."
"I won't need any help," I said. "Major Boggs said each case had a separate book. If they'd just show me the shelves, I could do the job in two days."
There was a long silence.
"I'll ask them again," the General said finally. "Call me sometime next week."
I said I would, and hung up. The message from Wright Field hadn't surprised me. But Smith's changed manner did. He had sounded oddly disturbed.
While I was waiting for Wright Field's answer, Ken Purdy phoned. He told me that staff men from Time and Life magazines were seriously checking on the "little men" story. Both Purdy and I were sure this was a
colossal hoax, but there was just a faint chance that someone had been on the fringe of a real happening and had made up the rest of the story.
They key man in the story seemed to be one George Koehler, of Denver, Colorado. The morning after Purdy called, I took a plane to Denver. During the flight I went over the "little men" story again. It had been printed in over a hundred papers.
According to the usual version, George Koehler had accidentally learned of two crashed saucers at a radar station on our southwest border. The ships were made of some strange metal. The cabin was stationary, placed within a large rotating ring.
Here is the story as it was told in the Kansas City Star:
Each of the two ships seen by Koehler were occupied by a crew of two. In the badly damaged ship, these bodies were charred so badly that little could be learned from them. The occupants of the other ship, while dead when they were found, were not burned or disfigured, and, when Koehler saw them, were in a perfect state of preservation. Medical reports, according to Koehler, showed that these men were almost identical with earth-dwelling humans, except for a few minor differences. They were of a uniform height of three feet, were uniformly blond, beardless, and their teeth were completely free of fillings or cavities. They did not wear undergarments, but had their bodies taped.
The ships seemed to be magnetically controlled and powered.
In addition to a piece of metal, Koehler had a clock or automatic calendar taken from one of the crafts.
Koehler said that the best assumption as to the source of the ships was the planet Venus.
where Koehler worked. I told him that if he had proof that we could print, we would buy the story.
As the first substantial proof, I asked to see the piece of strange metal he was supposed to have. Koehler said it had been sent to another city to be analyzed. I asked to see pictures of the crashed saucers. These, too, proved to be somewhere else. So did the queer "space clock" that Koehler was said to have.
By this time I was sure it was all a gag. I had the feeling that Koehler, back of his manner of seeming indignation at my demands, was hugely enjoying himself. I cut the interview short and called Ken Purdy in New York.
"Well, thank God that's laid to rest," he said when I told him.
But even though the "little men" story had turned out-as expected--a dud, Koehler had done me a good turn. An old friend, William E. Barrett, well-known fiction writer, now lived in Denver. Thanks to Koehler's gag, I had a pleasant visit with Bill and his family.
On the trip back, I bought a paper at the Chicago airport. On an inside page I ran across Koehler's name. According to the A.P., he had just admitted the whole thing was a big joke.
But in spite of this, the "little men" story goes on and on. Apparently not even Koehler can stop it now.