UFOS AND GOVERNMENT
As the problem of the flying disks passed into 1949, the Air Force’s ability to handle the issue had actually worsened. The dedicated team at Air Materiel Command had become dispirited and had been dispersed, with analysts Albert Deyarmond and Lawrence Truettner just clearing up the debris and writing the final SIGN report. At the Pentagon, there was no clarity of vision as to what the disks were, nor, therefore, how appropriately to organize an investigation. Probably because of leaks, members of the press and public were beginning to hear that the Soviets were the cause of this phenomenon: something not viewed as at all desirable as a public message. Within the military, officers were puzzled as to what the policy towards these objects really was. Do we take them seriously? Do we investigate? Report? To whom? Anyone hearing rumors of the shootout at the National Bureau of Standards and the embarrassment of the AMC Intelligence community probably thought that saying anything at all about flying disks was a career mistake. The Directorate of Intelligence was slow to realize that it had botched the situation, and, in the following year, things would get worse, not better. Things would have gotten better, of course, if the phenomenon would just stop. Then everyone could let these events fade with memory, and ultimately relax in the conviction that they had never happened.
But, of course, the phenomenon was very far from stopping. Sightings by some of the nation’s leading technology and science experts would occur during this year. We will get to them in their place, later in this chapter. However, to whet the appetite, and to demonstrate a point, there are two interesting incidents that occurred early in 1949.
In the early afternoon of January 4 at Hickam Field, Hawaii,1 an Air Force pilot and a base communications officer saw an unusual object, apparently several miles off the base and slowly circling. It was a disk, bright white on the underside and darker on top. The object possessed no other structures. It proceeded for fifteen minutes to make “rhythmical undulation” maneuvers in a cyclical manner. The “object seemed to maneuver under control at all times—completing 360° turns and 90° turns.” The object then “departed climbing at accelerated speed out of sight.” The observer received rave compliments for his level-headedness and integrity from the base’s investigating officer. Project Grudge asked that the captain fill out a form, asked no more questions, and filed it. Even Allen Hynek, in the thick of his orientation towards trying to debunk every sighting possible, felt that this was a rare case wherein the witness had really seen a flying disk.2 Trying to find something negative to say about this, months later in the Grudge report, the Grudge analyst at that time groused that the witness should have observed “a greater amount of detail.”
On January 27 near Eglin AFB, Florida,3 an Air Force officer and his wife were the witnesses. He was an engineer and chief of the aircraft branch at the base. He had also recently been part of the intelligence group at AMC, having transferred to Eglin in the fall of 1948. This was a nocturnal sighting, occurring around midnight, and lasting about 25 minutes. The object was similar to that seen in 1947 by Chiles and Whitted: an elongated fat cigar or cucumber-shaped structure with what the observers felt were one or two rows of windows along its length. It seemed to pulse its light, and made many maneuvers before disappearing. The witnesses thought, because of the pulses accompanied by “sparks,” that the object was rocket-propelled. The sudden “right-angle” changes of direction were an early case of a class of sightings that involved “impossible” non-inertial motions. One can imagine what excitement this would have caused 6 months earlier during the Chiles-Whitted affair. As it was, no one now was interested. The case received a minimal filing.
As the phenomenon continued doing whatever it was that it was doing, Albert Deyarmond and Lawrence Truettner soldiered onward with the last assignment for Project SIGN: the final report. It was completed in February: “Unidentified Aerial Objects, Project ‘SIGN’.”4 The report is marked “Secret” and is 35 pages long (about the same as the fabled “Estimate”). The big wheels of AMC (Clingerman signing for McCoy, and Miles Goll signing for Clingerman) approved it for transmission to the Pentagon. To the UFO historian, the whole document is interesting. But, for our purposes, a summary and a few remarks will suffice.
Deyarmond and Truettner had a problem. They had to compose the report but without the conclusion that they believed everything pointed towards. It was difficult to do that and make the report read as if it made sense. Deyarmond and Truettner accomplished this, as best they could, by adopting the view that it was just possible that all the incidents for which no “reasonable” solution was available were caused by inadequacies in human beings’ abilities to perceive details accurately. Thereby they could continue to describe the cases as honestly as possible, and dismiss certain theories as unlikely or not fitting the cases, but fall back in the end on the escape hatch that the observations were poor. This also allowed the AMC analysts to obey “to the letter” General Cabell’s flat order that any SIGN report would not say that we have identified these mysterious incidents. This then also brought them into line, because they could go right with Cabell’s “opinion” that we must maintain serious study of these unknown objects till we get the explanation. We know that Deyarmond and Truettner did not believe that all the observations of unidentified objects were poor (they believed them sufficient to eliminate all mundane explanations, as we have seen), but they were forced to rest their assessment upon this fiction. To reiterate, the Pentagon tells the analysts that these objects are to be considered unidentified. By definition, that means the information and the observations are not to be considered sufficient.
The writers’ language throughout the text is extremely mild and tentative. It’s obvious that everyone has gotten the message. Still, the phenomenon is stated as real, and in the “traditional” forms of expression (disks, fuselages, spheres, and balls of light) that we have seen in the previous estimates. The Soviet threat is mentioned; so, even, is the extraterrestrial hypothesis, though not supportively. Two appendices are intriguing: a thoughtful essay by MIT physicist Dr. George Valley, on the physical and astronomical considerations which might be involved in evaluations of the cases, plus suggestions on better investigation and analyses;5 and a RAND report by Dr. James Lipp, entirely on the consideration of extraterrestrial civilizations and space travel.6 Though neither Valley nor Lipp were about to make statements in support of the SIGN/Chiles-Whitted hypothesis for the flying disks, their objective, well- reasoned essays gave the report a strong extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) afterglow. We are not saying that Valley or Lipp bought into the ETH—Lipp is definitely known not to have7—but their essays have the open-minded flavor that would give the reader pause. Deyarmond and Truettner, taking no encouragement from any of that, ended by recommending that the project should be continued, but at only a minimal level. Their rationale was that once enough cases, examined over a reasonable period of time, indicated no national security issues, then the project should be terminated. It is almost their final defiance: since you (the Pentagon) don’t trust us to do this work, just close the project.
Problems continued at the Pentagon. Commands were confused by an equally confused policy and leadership. Cabell’s brief remarks in his autobiography attempted to rewrite this history by claiming that he was always encouraging his operatives to aim at proving that the disks were real.8 That might have been true in 1951, but the documents of 1949 show no evidence of Cabell allowing SIGN the freedom to interpret the UFO phenomenon as it saw fit. In fact, it could be said that the Air Force’s behavior towards the phenomenon was completely reactionary and disorganized.
A very important example of this is the way the Saturday Evening Post writer, Sidney Shalett, was handled. As we have seen, Cabell wanted none of this “flying saucer article,” but Secretary Forrestal’s approval forced it upon him. The damage control would be accomplished by giving Shalett a guided tour of AMC and a view of limited, low classification cases, plus a few “conservative” opinions by Air Force personnel. This happened in early February. Simultaneously, the Air Force would produce its own counter-document to be released at the same time as the article (in late April).
At the beginning of March, Shalett, as per a previous understanding with the Air Force, sent the Directorate of Intelligence a draft of his article for review.9 The Directorate disapproved printing it. It listed four problems. There was objection to Shalett stating a formal Air Force position, and claiming that his primary information source was the Air Force (even though it was). The Directorate did not want Irving Langmuir quoted as deprecating the Air Force UFO project, and they wanted no statement that the Air Force and the Navy were not cooperating in these investigations. In the published two-part article, it appears that Shalett revised his draft to accommodate these objections. Although one can identify commentary that seems to lead up to such declarations, these four points are not directly stated by Shalett.10 Langmuir, a thoroughly irascible character, was violently anti-UFO and “suggested” (to put it mildly) that the Air Force not even bother to look at the phenomenon (a surprising and paradoxically unscientific attitude for one so honored as a scientist), but at least he was not quoted as trashing the Air Force itself. The bigger problem rumbling beneath the surface was a rift between the Air Force and the Navy, of which we will see clear evidence as we continue.
The tenor of the first part of Shalett’s article is quite positive towards the mystery, starting with a brief retelling of several classic cases without much in the way of allusion and mockery. The back part of this first piece then begins laying out all the things that are mistaken for aerial anomalies. This first installment was a fairly even-handed introduction to the mystery.11
A week later, part two of the piece begins laying down the anti-mystery thunder. The Air Force’s biggest names (Vandenberg, Norstad, McCoy, Spaatz, and LeMay) are lined up with one debunking comment or example after another. “Vertigo,” “dizziness,” “hallucination,” and “stupor” leading to “self-hypnosis” are brought in to reduce (generically) the whole mystery to some unfortunate error. The Fargo “dogfight” is singled out for a particularly detailed trashing. Hoaxes and mass hysteria are then added to the list of the stewpot of errors, building up to Dr. Langmuir and his “Forget it!” climax quote on UFOs. One wonders what all the pilots, scientists, engineers, and just plain honest folks who had seen UFOs in circumstances not involving dizziness, stupor, and mass hysteria thought about this treatment. This exact issue, the trashing of peoples’ reports (and by association, aspects of their character), immediately became another serious problem for the Air Force. People—even within the military—began to refuse to report their sightings to the Air Force.
We do not know whether Shalett himself felt guilty about the tenor of his treatment, but he reversed course at the tail end of the article to write sympathetically about the Chiles-Whitted case, and of the men themselves. He then told the readers that they really should report their cases and gave them hints on how to make good observations.
On the whole the Shalett “problem” had not turned out too badly. But, strangely, it was the Air Force’s own simultaneous information management press release that got them in hot water.
We have mentioned that the Pentagon feared what Shalett would say and had recommended that it prepare a simultaneous document for damage control. As January and February proceeded, apparently no one took care of this. As Shalett finished his draft there was apparently a need to get something going which could be released to the press alongside it. This is where documents are lacking that could explain what seems to be a major gaff. During March, when the Pentagon was sleeping on this, some persons at AMC Project SIGN/Grudge decided to write the “companion piece.”12 An enigmatic fragment of a released document dated April 6 notifies the Pentagon that this has been completed. It was entitled The Flying Saucer Story. Perhaps it was specifically ordered by the Pentagon, believing that a Grudge-like attitude would be evoked. We do not know who wrote it, but the attitude reflected the beliefs of “SIGN.” As publication of Shalett’s piece became imminent, Major Boggs finally read it and queried Generals Cabell and Moore as to how to handle it.13 He recommended removing certain speculation from the writing, plus making it only available to persons who would physically present themselves at the Pentagon and read the report there. Otherwise, he felt, many briefs of cases et al. should be allowed to remain in the document since Shalett had viewed similar material and this document might get other reporters off their backs and, more importantly, not talking to AMC. Some exchanges and disagreements went on between General Cabell and Public Information Officer Stephen Leo, but we do not know the substance of this interchange.14 One thing this back-and-forth did was to shove the decision right up onto the Saturday Evening Post publishing date. So, on April 27, 1949, (Shalett’s date was the 30th), the Air Force released the re-titled Project “Saucer.”15
The release is quite remarkable, given what the Pentagon thought they were trying to accomplish. The attitude, as noted above, was pure SIGN. Even on the issue of possible extraterrestrial spacecraft the writer risked stating “almost a complete impossibility,” and followed with a number of solid and dramatic cases, including Arnold, the Portland policemen case, Muroc, Mantell, Chiles-Whitted, and the Fargo dogfight. All were discussed as if unidentified, including Mantell. The Air Force release was far more positive than was the article it was meant to dampen! Later in the release the writer included material taken from James Lipp and George Valley on extraterrestrial possibilities and how one might make a spacecraft go. There were hints that although it was unlikely, it was not impossible that not only life but also even intelligent life could live on Mars and Venus. Speculation was included on why such life could now be visiting Earth. The odds of such intelligent life were given as “at least a thousand to one”—a long way from “impossible.” The writer went on to say that very advanced life in deep space is essentially a certainty, but could it get here? A speculation on converting nuclear fuel is then made and applied to a trip from a nearby suitable star: time of flight estimate = 16 years. More difficulties are admitted, but the odds have reduced to “highly improbable.” Then the “foreign” aircraft (read: Soviet) theory is stated and quickly debunked with one sentence. In summary, all the thinking on the possibility of extraterrestrial craft has been “largely conjecture”—not flatly conjecture or pure bunk. Whoever was writing this was taking serious liberties with the Pentagon view of not encouraging Grudge 75
extraterrestrial thinking at all. The report ends with: “The saucers are not a joke. Neither are they cause for alarm.”
Once again, Air Force policy and actions regarding the UFO phenomenon were chaotic, contradictory, and all over the map. As this is a study of the government involvement with the phenomenon, we underplay the civilian involvement here, but one break in this orientation deserves to be made (at least in mention) now. This strange, backwards dichotomy of a civilian writer producing an Air Force–aided piece much more negative than the twinned Air Force release alongside it utterly boggled the mind of a civilian writer researching whether there was really a story to UFOs or not. This writer was retired Marine Major Donald Keyhoe.16 He could not understand how he could be reading what was in the Project “Saucer” release. His only answer was that there must be some big disagreement among authorities in the Air Force (as we have seen, a good guess), and that one group felt that there was much of importance in this (despite the public comments of the big wheels) and that they used this release as a way to get their ideas out there. Keyhoe was right about his first two guesses and may even have been right about the third. What we know for sure is that this publicity gaff turned him into the biggest advocate for the phenomenon’s importance, and consequently the biggest thorn in the Air Force’s side for the next twenty-odd years.
Even though Keyhoe had yet to get started with his criticisms of the Air Force, they were already having plenty of difficulty managing things without him. As mentioned, in January leaks were already occurring about the Pentagon’s concerns, as the AMC liaison officer to the Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project at Oak Ridge National Laboratories stated to the FBI, at length, his views that the flying disks were human-made nuclearpowered missiles originating in the USSR, views he felt paralleled those of the Pentagon.17 A couple of months later, famous radio newsman Walter Winchell was booming the same declaration all over the country, to the Air Force’s distress.18 By July, the idea of the Soviet nuclear-powered saucer was featured again, this time by writer Frederick Moorehouse in Argosy magazine.19 The Air Force was harvesting rotten fruit from its allegedly secret conclusions that the flying disks were real but neither our own nor interplanetary. The idea that people would be satisfied with simply “unknown” or “mysterious” flew in the face of human nature.
High authorities in the military wanted answers, too, and we know that at the same time as the Shalett affair, the Air Force was getting urgent inquiries from at least the Army.20 This indicated to General Cabell that he needed to make a presentation to the “Joint Intelligence Committee.” (JIC) In order to understand this, we should explain what the JIC was.
The National Security Act of 1947,21 among other things, created the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). This was a military super committee composed of the chiefs of staff of the three major services (the Marine Corps commandant was sometimes included), plus one super chief, who usually rotated through the services. The reason for the JCS was that modern warfare, cold or hot, required plenty of interservice cooperation to function properly. The real work of the JCS was done by deputies for each chief plus their staffs, and a JCS secretary, of high rank. 76
Beneath the JCS were mainly three important subcommittees that fed information, analysis, and strategy “upwards.”22 They were the “Joint Strategic Plans Committee,” the “Joint Logistics Plans Committee,” and the “Joint Intelligence Committee.” Cabell not only sat on the JIC but was also its chair. Cabell’s decision in April of 1949 to make a presentation on flying disks indicated that he thought that this was a critical topic at the moment and needed to be brought forward all the way to the JCS.
Thankfully, this is a document that we have. It is eight pages and Top Secret. Written by a major in “Air Estimates,” the document amounts to another mini-estimate of the situation for the Joint Chiefs. It was vetted by the chief of Air Estimates, Colonel B.E. Allen, and Cabell’s executive officer, Colonel John Schweizer. The main points were these:
1. Because of difficulties inherent in these type of reports, “positive identification” is extremely difficult;There is much in Cabell’s JIC estimate. It is certainly an attitudinal opposite to the manufactured debunking statements that the Air Force big wheels gave to Shalett to quote in his articles. So again, it is the understandable Janus face: serious, on-the-alert concern on the “Inside,” relaxed, calming dissembling for the public “Outside.” Looking more specifically, the JIC estimate is a natural evolution from the early estimates of 1947 and the AIR-100 document. Added to those is “new” knowledge, such as the RAND opinion, and new concerns, such as the “green fireballs” of New Mexico (we will address that mystery, later). One thing relating to RAND should be mentioned. It appears to be true that it is in the dealing with RAND that the term “reasonable” begins to get replaced with “rational.”24 This may seem a small matter, and perhaps it is. But, as we know, “reasonable” and “rational” do not quite have the same tone. This is especially true when one uses them in the negative. “Irrational” is a term that persons such as Irving Langmuir use to type those things which are so a priori unthinkable that they are simply foolish and insane. The flying disk reality was not so considered in the intelligence community in the years we are discussing (by anyone who drove opinion and policy, anyway). Even the extraterrestrial possibilities were not so painted (as we’ve seen via Lipp and Valley). Such possibilities were highly unlikely and improbable, but not irrational. This is raised now, because, as years of investigation pass, the label of irrational (that is, foolish and insane) begins to be applied to the UFO phenomenon and those who are interested in it. Cabell himself did not view any of this as irrational despite using the “rational” allusion in his estimate. It is likely that it snuck in there due to the military conservatism of using the exact words of a reference document wherever they can in composing their own. The most striking thing within the estimate is, of course, the main summary paragraph: “there are reliable, competent observers, who report unknowns. Some of these look like advances in aerodynamics. Some surpass even that.”
The green fireballs of New Mexico are a complicated business. Were they part of the flying disk mystery, or a coincidental sideshow? Were they more, or less, likely to be Soviet mischief? Who was investigating them? Who should have been? Whatever was going on here in late 1948 and into 1949, it thoroughly alarmed some of the authorities. However we now choose to look at this episode, it became entwined with all the UFO concerns, puzzlements, and incompetence that we have been discussing.
One can, if one wishes, see the green fireball mystery as a so-called “mini-flap” of incidents (a group of sightings fairly concentrated in time and spatial circumstances). The period: December 1948 to January 1949. The location: New Mexico, particularly near atomic laboratory installations (especially Los Alamos and Sandia). There were other times and places of incidents, but it was this “flap” that awakened concern.25
In the following narrative, we will parallel the outstanding write-up of the beginning of our concern about the green fireball phenomenon in Jerome Clark’s foundational UFO Encyclopedia (which we recommend to readers for many topical subjects within the UFO field). Clark, an esteemed colleague in UFO history, wrote a masterful essay on the fireballs, based upon research entirely from the Project Blue Book documents regarding these original incidents. The readers may consider reading his more artful telling of these occurrences which we will merely outline below.
The first of anything is always debatable, but for our purposes 9:05 p.m. on December 5, 1948 will do. At that time, an Air Force pilot and co-pilot, flying near Las Vegas, New Mexico, saw a bright green aerial flash. Near Albuquerque, N.M., another green light flashed through the air. The officers contacted Kirtland AFB air traffic control. Kirtland then began questioning flight officers, both military and civilian, as to whether they had contacted unusual lights during flights.
By December 6, Kirtland’s commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), Lt. Colonel Doyle Rees, was already concerned that the green lights might be products of Soviet technology. Two of his chief operatives, Captains Neef and Stahl, began interviewing governmental organizations as to whether anything that they were doing might relate to flying green flares. Just as in 1947, when Colonel George Garrett and General George Shulgen of the Pentagon were asking similar questions about flying disks, all inquiries came back: not ours.
Neef and Stahl decided upon an aerial reconnaissance of the airspaces within which green flare lights had been seen. After they reached 5000 feet, they got their own dose of the mystery. The Blue Book documents describe their encounter.
At an estimated altitude of 2,000 feet higher than the airplane . . . a brilliant green light was observed coming toward the airplane at a rapid rate of speed from approximately 30 degrees to the left of course, from 60 degrees ENE, to 240 degrees WSW. The object was similar in appearance to a burning green flare of common use in the Air Force. However, the light was much more intense and the object appeared to be considerably larger than a normal flare. No estimate can be made of the distance or the size of the object since no other object was visible upon which to base a comparison. The object was definitely larger and more brilliant than a shooting star, meteor, or flare. The trajectory of the object when first sighted was almost flat and parallel to the earth. The phenomenon lasted approximately two seconds at the end of which the object seemed to burn out. The trajectory then dropped off rapidly and a trail of glowing fragments reddish orange in color was observed falling toward the ground. The fragments were visible less than a second before disappearing. The phenomenon was of such intensity as to be visible from the very moment it ignited and was observed a split second later.26
Sightings such as these, and others that began coming in on a daily basis, seemed to be showing a pattern of too much familiarity with the big atomic laboratories. Fortunately, Colonel Rees knew that he had, locally, one of the nation’s leading experts in the study of meteors, Dr. Lincoln LaPaz. LaPaz had often been an Air Force and Army consultant on atmospheric phenomena. LaPaz was extremely interested and had, in fact, already been collecting some information on the fireballs. He agreed to make an investigation on December 9.27 At a multi-agency meeting called by Colonel Rees on the 11th, everyone said that nothing they were involved with produced this sort of phenomenon.28 So, on the 12th, LaPaz went on the hunt.
LaPaz and two Kirtland officers were driving on a desert road near Bernal, N.M. There in the sky was a green fireball flying above the horizon. LaPaz timed the trajectory at 2.2 seconds and thought that it was essentially horizontal. “Horizontal trajectory” meant “Not meteoric” to LaPaz. Because a second simultaneous sighting of this object was reported, a triangulation was possible. The plot indicated a twenty-five mile path flying directly away from Los Alamos. LaPaz was convinced that this could not have been a meteor. LaPaz:
none of the green fireballs has a train of sparks or a dust cloud. . . . This contrasts sharply with the behavior noted in cases of meteoritic fireballs—particularly those that penetrate to the very low levels where the green fireball of December 12 was observed. . . . On the basis of the various differences . . . the writer remains of the opinion that the fireball . . . was definitely non-meteoric and that in all probability the same is true of most, if not all, the other bright green fireballs. . . .29
LaPaz and the Atomic Energy Security Service felt that a possible threat was realistic enough that a patrol using “fast” astronomical quality cameras was authorized. They had no luck initially. But just as the patrol was getting ready to quit on the night of December 20, another green fireball appeared. This was also sighted in two places and the resultant triangulation indicated an almost opposite path to the fireball of the 12th. This fireball’s path seemed directly towards Los Alamos.
By the end of December, Rees and LaPaz felt that they had, at a minimum, ten well-observed cases of the unusual, slow-moving fireballs.30 LaPaz was careful to point out that the color of these things was wrong. Green does appear in fireball displays, but it is in the deep green and blue-green end of that color’s spectrum. These objects were producing light at the “light green” and “yellow green” end, something that LaPaz said he had never observed in the Geminid meteor showers which dominated that time of the year. Rees was very concerned that they had some kind of enemy missile, possibly involved in targeting the atomic sites, on their hands. And (shades of the ghost rockets!), these things seemed to disintegrate, leaving no trace to pick up and test. Colonel Rees was already using his authority to get other OSI offices around the country to send him any similar-sounding incidents in their areas, and a few came in from Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona.
By January of 1949, the 4th Army Command was so alarmed that they asked the Pentagon for help.31 This was something “in the air” so the Army handed it to the Air Force. Remembering what was happening with the Air Force and SIGN, this could not have come at a worse time. SIGN was crushed, humiliated, discredited, and disintegrating. The Air Force did not want to go that route. Luckily, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board, Dr. Joseph Kaplan, an atmospheric physics expert from UCLA, was visiting LaPaz, and was brought up on the problem. Kaplan received this information and a preliminary report from an anxious LaPaz, who was absolutely convinced that the fireballs were technology. This happened on February 8. Kaplan went on to Washington and met with SAB chairman Theodore von Karman.32 Von Karman, though a UFO skeptic, was impressed by this matter. He communicated to Pentagon Intelligence that this looked like a serious issue, which needed to be addressed.33 (A copy of von Karman’s letter is included in the appendix.) Von Karman did not know it, but this opinion was not welcome at the time with the current “Grudge” attitude.
Meanwhile, Rees and LaPaz were taking matters into their own hands. They organized a conference of Los Alamos scientific luminaries. These included Norris Bradbury, Marshall Holloway, Frederick Reines, and Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb. Also included were LaPaz, two Air Force witnesses, and a Sandia representative.34 Rees sent his investigator/aide, Captain M.E. Neef, to introduce the problem and give background on Air Force UFO investigations. LaPaz detailed the cases so far, including his own observation. He said that there were ten incidents that strongly fit the pattern and 20 more that might do so. Teller thought that the phenomenon must be “electro-optical” (i.e. more of a “light” nature than “mass”) due to the lack of sound. Bradbury was not ready to agree with him, feeling that this was a problem no matter which way one looked at it. The scientists took some heart in the fact that, if Teller was right, these observations were not of massive objects like missiles. Everyone agreed that they should be concerned and alert about these things and do more to explain them. Back at the Pentagon, however, Major Boggs was writing a Grudge-oriented opinion that none of this was likely to be of significance, and that analyses such as those pursued by Allen Hynek for Grudge would, in time, prove that.35
Boggs and Hynek were not on the same page. Hynek, a friend of LaPaz, received the green fireball facts and assessment from him and wrote:
Dr. Lincoln LaPaz has summarized thoroughly the nature of these incidents and, particularly, has noted the reasons why the objects concerned cannot be dismissed as ordinary meteoric phenomena. Dr. LaPaz is an extremely able man in the field of meteoritics and an enthusiastic, almost to the point of extravagance, investigator and worker. On the basis of the description on hand, I concur in his conclusions: Dr. LaPaz, who is "on location" and has observed at least one of these objects at first hand, should be fully supported in a continued investigation. Apart from the unusual appearance of the objects, the pattern of incidents is particularly striking. It would be exceedingly unlikely that so many meteors would appear in that small sector of the Southwest and nowhere else; if they did, they would not have consistently horizontal paths and head in a consistent direction. These points alone are sufficient to dismiss the meteoric hypothesis. It is entirely possible that, among the many incidents reported, one or two of the objects may have been fireballs, thus serving to confuse the issue, but a blanket explanation of that sort is improbable.Note that Hynek introduced some inside information about top-secret “artificial meteor-launching” experiments that he, somehow, knew about. This is reminiscent of other such high velocity launches accomplished by Dr. Fritz Zwicky a few years earlier in the region.37 LaPaz was involved in those experiments and should have known about intermediate and current projects. Plus, he knew that the Navy was doing something involving “meteor photography” at White Sands, but could not get their cooperation on information sharing. LaPaz’ and perhaps Hynek’s views were moving towards “artificial meteors” which burn up with a distinctive color but, for the moment, were not “our” artificial meteors.
Rees became more and more upset with the Pentagon’s and AMC’s inactivity. AMC was ordered to send someone down, finally. The meeting, on February 24, was hostile.38 After some angry exchanges about whose business this was and what should be done about it, the attendees finally agreed that there should be an organized observation and patrol project, manned by Air Force personnel, and looking for ground fragments and spectrum pictures.
Two months passed, with no action from AMC or the Pentagon. Rees sent another report. Then a letter:
was AMC going to act or not? Pushed by concerns from the Atomic Energy commission, General Cabell decided that it was time, but not for Grudge (they were to be left out of it). Cabell sent Kaplan to New Mexico on April 27, bringing news that a network of observation posts and a project to attempt to sample the air after a green fireball overflight was approved and to be implemented immediately.39 The only AMC role was to organize troops for the task of night patrol observations. Somewhat oddly, as this latter was Rees’ idea, the Pentagon batted this idea around for the entire month of June, the analysis being again in the hands of Major Boggs, and he denied it.40 Boggs had, once more, given a “Grudge” opinion that there probably was not anything to this anyway, so why should AMC be burdened with an extra duty.
On June 24, a fireball flyover resulted in an apparently successful air sampling.41 The analysis was, in LaPaz’ mind, flatly abnormal. It showed copper. And copper “burned” green. Meteors, LaPaz reminded, have almost no copper—ever. This cinched, in his mind, that the things were human-made missiles of some kind. Late in the summer, reports like the above and continued communications-of-concern by the bases and the AEC, brought Kaplan and Air Force Research and Development to call for a summit meeting of top experts on the problem. The Pentagon, with its usual glacial pace, took another month before it ordered General Chidlaw, the new commanding officer at AMC, to make an evaluation of the data so far.42 Chidlaw was not to assign this to Project Grudge, but rather to the Cambridge Research Laboratories of the Directorate for Geophysical Research. A meeting was arranged at Los Alamos on October 14.
Most of the previous players attended (LaPaz, Neef, Rees, Kaplan, Bradbury, Reines, and Teller). FBI agents were present. So was atmospheric physics expert Stanislaw Ulam. Cambridge Research Station was represented by Major F. C. E. Oder, not only of the Air Force, but also of the CIA. No one could agree on an explanation, but all admitted that the concentration of the events around Los Alamos and Sandia did not sound like a natural phenomenon, and was a bit ominous. They proposed that a field project be run out of Oder’s lab, with LaPaz’ help. Kaplan pushed for the project and, perhaps aided by another letter of concern by the AEC in November, the Air Force’s Research and Development Board approved it. The independent-of-Grudge project was initiated in February of 1950 as “Project Twinkle.”44 But, albeit still muddled in the confusion over all this, we will now return to 1949 before picking up the last of this story, in the next chapter.
Whether or not green fireballs were part of the UFO phenomenon in 1949, there were several spectacular cases that were. Right in the middle of the shenanigans in the New Mexican desert, our greatest observational astronomer saw a UFO. At his Las Cruces home, on a summer night of spectacular transparency, Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and leader of many nocturnal missilelaunch observation teams for the White Sands Proving Grounds, was relaxing with his wife and mother, enjoying the heavens’ display. Then something appeared. Tombaugh’s own words are best. A copy of the original letter is shown on the next page.45 Tombaugh did not run to the papers with this story, nor formally report it to AMC. But he talked with his friends and colleagues who worked out of White Sands. Many of them had already seen unusual objects in the sky. Tombaugh himself had seen two other “unknowns” and three green fireballs. He felt that these objects “defied any explanation of known phenomena, such as Venus, atmospheric optics, meteors, or planes.”
July 1949, Longview, Washington: An air show was in progress as part of local 4th of July celebrations (this event was on the 3rd). Over 200 people were in attendance. At the microphone was local aero-technology legend, retired commander Moulton Taylor. Military and civilian pilots speckled the crowd. As an air performer engaged in a skywriting demonstration, Taylor noticed something else in the sky—something not on the program. Taylor used the public address system to direct attention to the “visitor.” The object, in binoculars, looked like a discus, with a metal-like reflective top surface and a darker bottom. As people were ordered into silence, no sound was heard. The object had “an undulating motion with its thwart ship axis rocking approximately thirty degrees above and below level” (that is, through 60° in all). It moved slowly, then undulated more rapidly as it accelerated. There was no shock wave. Especially amazing to Taylor was the object’s ability to make abrupt “seemingly right angle corners.” Referring to his wartime work as Officer-in-Charge of Guided Missile Research under Admiral Delmar Fahrney (the Navy’s program) he said:
It was in that capacity that we had extensive experience in the actual handling of guided missiles and pilot less aircraft by means of Radio Control . . . We flew the first jet and rocket-powered controlled missiles ever successfully launched in this country, and of course accumulated many hours of flying of aircraft of various types by remote control. We believe that this experience somewhat qualifies us for the remote observation of aircraft and flight phenomena.47The phenomenon had thereby been witnessed by one of the best-qualified technologists that the U.S. could offer. What did he think that it was? Writing in 1957, Taylor said this:
The sighting was definitely of some flying object unlike anything then or even presently known … Many of the other observers at that time are still in the area and we have discussed this particular incident whenever UFOs are mentioned. Everyone still agrees that it was not an airplane or any other reasonably well explained object. I have spent many hours looking for other such objects, but have never been successful since. I only wish one would land and that I could be there to interview them. Ha.48
May 1949, Rogue River, Oregon:49 A group of people were taking a vacation, getting away to nature and doing some fishing. Five adults were in a boat. It was still daylight, about 5 p.m. A round object manifested itself, like a brilliant mirror standing on edge. The witnesses had binoculars and passed them around. Two of the group worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the predecessor of NASA). One worked with the Moffett Field (CA) Supersonic Wind Tunnel, and the other as a drafter (thereby being familiar with fine details of aerodynamic designs). So, we have two more unusually qualified observers. The device was flat on the bottom and judged to have a diameter of 25-30 feet. There was an edge (somewhat like the edge of a thick coin), perhaps a foot high. The top was gently convex, and there was a thick “fin” which began about mid-ship and rose slowly but still was only a modest elevation at the rear. We can thank the unusual situation that this sighting featured an observer who could draw. A copy of that drawing is shown on page 84.
As usual, there was no noise, nor evidence of a jet stream. The object seemed to fly at normal jet plane speed. Both NACA employees were impressed that the object made a turn without needing to tilt or bank to accomplish it. The reader may wonder how a hostile (i.e. Project Grudge) Air Force dealt with reports like this. On the project record card is typed: “No data presented to indicate object could NOT have been an aircraft. Conclusion: AIRCRAFT.” One wonders what the NACA men would have said if they had been informed of the Air Force’s solution.
September 1949, Lexington, Nebraska:50 Six members of a farming enterprise were threshing wheat when they saw three objects coming from the general direction of the sun (southwest at about 6:30 p.m.). As the objects proceeded they gave off a dazzling brilliance. They maintained a level flight with two of the objects changing positions as they flew. The power of the illumination remained constant throughout the incident (i.e. no pulses or flashes). Once the objects reached a direction northwest of the observers, they made a smooth 90 degree turn straight upwards and climbed rapidly out of sight. One of the farmers was a recent graduate of a two-year course in aeronautical design and thought the objects looked like a domed-disk when viewed face-forward, but were actually like a stubby, wingless, tailless fuselage when seen from the side. About five miles away, four other persons saw what they felt were two fast-moving objects flying in the distance at level flight before abruptly turning straight up and flying away from the Earth. This group of people did not know their distant “neighbors.” How did Grudge handle this case? They apparently “lost” it. The only record seems to be the local Offutt Air Force Base investigation found in the files of Air Force consultant J. Allen Hynek. The project microfilms simply note: “Case missing.” The case (six adult witnesses, four independent corroborative witnesses, abnormal aircraft structure and striking flight plan—disappearing straight upwards) can stand on its own as one worth remembering, but it is mentioned here to illustrate the incompetent neglect that characterized the Grudge period.
April 1949, Arrey, New Mexico:51 In the midst of extreme Pentagon confusion over Sidney Shalett, the Project “Saucer” release fiasco, and trying to decide what to do about Green Fireballs, a sighting occurred which in many military and intelligence community minds became the poster child for unidentified objects. The reason for this status was not the spectacular quality of the phenomenon, but the spectacular quality of the witnesses.
The witnesses formed the Navy’s top Secret balloonlaunching Project Team, a group of the best-trained and experienced object-trackers in the world, and scientists who had “seen it all.” The prestige and discipline of Dr. Charles Moore’s team was such that even Grudge caved in and admitted that this was an “unidentified.” As said, the case hardly wows one if taken apart from the circumstances. The team was launching a mid-morning balloon and tracking it with a theodolite. Looking visually, the team members initially thought they had picked up their balloon, but then realized it was something else. It was moving rapidly to the east, a white ellipsoid with a light yellow band on one side as if a shadow. The object altered to a northerly direction (none of this being in the same direction that the wind was taking their own balloon). The new object seemed to be rising all the way until it disappeared in the distance. The balloon experts’ flat statement: “the object was not a balloon.” But, given size, speed, and shape, what else could it be? Moore made what he felt were some reasonable assumptions based upon observations, experience, and knowledge of the current conditions. He guessed that the object was at about 300,000 feet when over their launch station. If true, it would have been about 100 feet in diameter. Once again, we must remember as the Air Force did, Moore and his team knew all about the big polyethylene balloons manufactured at General Mills and flown under Project Mogul et al. They were, after all, the ones who were flying them. Moore, later in the year, concluded:
We did see an object under almost ideal observational conditions, which we cannot explain nor rationalize, but we do not claim that it was necessarily a flying disk or space ship.52Upon hearing how the Air Force had tried to debunk his team’s case, and several other such highquality observations, Moore had one other insightful thing to say:
It appears from reading the report analysis that the Air Forces have been more interested in disproving or casting doubt on all unidentified object observations rather than any attempt to evaluate or explore them. It is believed that should some object, extra-terrestrial in origin, actually be observed, this group would spend more time disproving its existence than investigating it.53The Arrey-Moore sighting was just one of a surprising (to say the least) number of incidents involving our Top Secret balloon projects. We will say more about this later, but suffice it to say for now that there was a specific request for General Mills teams to log every incident.54 Arrey was also just one of a set of sightings involving personnel from White Sands Proving Grounds. More about this later also, as we address the affair with Commander Robert McLaughlin’s publication of these facts (much to the distress of the Air Force). These cases involving Naval personnel or projects seem to have created a real rift between the Navy and the Air Force on this subject.
All this activity in New Mexico stimulated the formation at both White Sands and Los Alamos of informal groups of scientists who became interested in the mystery, and spent some of their time in watch groups or otherwise trying to study it. We do not know much about the White Sands people, but a little more about the “Los Alamos Birdwatchers Association.”55
The Birdwatchers was not their original nickname. As a member of the group attested, they were
…a group of our physicists (who) set up watches to observe and record the mysterious green fireballs.56 As watching progressed, we armed ourselves with a camera and grating to try to photograph the spectrum of the light. We set up a Doppler meteor detector . . . and a low frequency electromagnetic listening and recording device.Though obviously serious and talented, the group was unable to get a correlation between an overflight and a reading on one of those instruments. Later on, that changed.
The group was composed of ten physicists, several of whom were Los Alamos heavyweights (one of whom, Harold Agnew, became the lab’s scientific director later in his career).57 Some of them had seen unidentified phenomena themselves. Upon leaving his lab one evening, Fred Kalbach saw a green object, so brilliant that he could “read a newspaper” by it, fly over the location, apparently soundlessly, abruptly change direction without slowing, and rapidly disappear over the Jemez mountains. The wife of a second member, herself an explosives expert, was in a remote canyon destroying outdated charges, when she witnessed the same thing. “The sightings were so numerous that a group of us staff members produced a reporting form and encouraged those who saw these events to fill out the check list. Over a period of say three months, we collected possibly 50 reports.”58
The group announced its desire to the Air Force, the FBI, (and doubtless, by procedure, the CIA) to participate in aiding the Air Force’s attempt to solve the mystery. The Air Force approved. The group felt that they already had several observations within the first week. They hoped to prove or disprove two hypotheses: the things are a natural phenomenon (i.e. something like meteors or auroras); and the things are human-made.59 Fred Kalbach said later: “I have personally attempted to follow up on some of the reports of others only to conclude that there are many things which competent observers have seen which cannot be explained in terms of our present knowledge.”60
Meanwhile, something taking place at another scientific establishment would concern both the Birdwatchers and the Air Force project. Many persons interested in science know that for many years the world’s most prestigious telescope was the great 200-inch reflector at Mt. Palomar, California. What most do not know is that Palomar was also the site of other scientific experiments. One of these was a cosmic-ray measuring project run by the Naval Electronic Laboratory (NEL). This project involved radiation counting equipment housed in the Observatory’s powerhouse, located about 800 feet from the dome. The chart recorders were checked regularly by personnel attached to the observatory and, less frequently, by NEL members who had to travel to get there. On at least two occasions in 1949, interesting coincidences occurred: there was a fly-by of an unidentified object, and the cosmic ray counters surged.61 We do not know much about the two (or more) sightings other than they somehow involved Dr. Ben Traxler of the Observatory and Dr. William Carter, who was completing his doctorate from Cal Tech at the time, and would soon be heading to Los Alamos. We do know one incident in a great deal of detail, however, that being the one by the observatory’s weather bureau observer.
October 1949, Mt. Palomar, California:62 Harley Marshall had finished his work at the dome and was driving over to the powerhouse to check on both the permanent weather instruments and the NEL Geiger counter. To his left and above he noticed a light reflection and motion. He looked closely: nine highly reflective objects were moving swiftly in a geometric pattern (a “V” of “V’s”: imagine three triangles in formation to create a larger one). The objects were “circular” with no wings nor projections, and moved, despite their great speed, without sound or jet trail. They disappeared while never breaking their geometric formation. Mr. Marshall said that he was quite excited as he drove up to the powerhouse to complete his work. Once inside, he saw that the radiation counter had risen to a rapid peak and then tailed off in a slower decline. Wondering if there could be a connection, he called Traxler, who came over, viewed the counter and was impressed. They then immediately called NEL. The Navy technicians arrived within two hours, making jokes until they saw the chart recorder. Also quite excited, they suddenly became serious and said that no one should talk about this until higher authorities were brought in. Sometime later, a Naval officer arrived and told everyone not to discuss the event. Some information, though not apparently an actual report, got to the Air Force eventually, but it appears that the Navy largely withheld the information from the Air Force. Dr. Carter took his information to the Los Alamos labs where the “Birdwatchers” heard about it. And somehow, by means Harold Agnew holding part of the A-Bomb core device. Grudge 87
not known, the information ultimately leaked to the hi-tech aero industry engineers of the area within the following two years.63 So, attempts at secrecy were not like a sieve, but things did tend sooner or later to escape into the wider domain.
By the end of 1949, the Air Force had accomplished essentially nothing on any front except to destroy the only enthusiastic (admittedly, maybe too enthusiastic) group that they had working on the UFO subject. The public was confused by contrary signals. Highly qualified people—some of the best imaginable like Tombaugh, Taylor, and Moore—had seen extremely strange objects, and yet were hearing, both from public statements and through their more “insider” channels of information, that the subject was considered to be bunkum. Inside the intelligence community everything was at least that confused. Not only did the Air Force not know what they were dealing with, they had not figured out any method for properly dealing with the UFO phenomenon, nor even any method for properly dealing with public information. Compounding the Air Force’s problems, the Navy seemed already to question Air Force competence (note the number of critical events already which involved Naval personnel and projects). Plus, it was almost impossible to get anyone to take the phenomenon seriously if they a) did not think that the objects might be Soviet, or b) had not seen one themselves (or had a close colleague who had), or c) both.
The Air Force made their next “brilliant” move at solving their problem by announcing to everyone, both within the services and to the public, that their project was now closed, since there was nothing to be concerned with in the phenomenon anyway. The Grudge report was finished on December 30.64 In the midst of almost nothing but negativity in its pages was one ominous note: a recommendation that this situation be checked for psychological warfare implications.65
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