Unidentified Flying Objects: An Historical Perspective
American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Design Engineering Conference
George W. Earley
Americana Hotel, New York City
May 15-18, 1967

 The paper presents an examination of the overall UFO scene during the past 20 years. Several representative unsolved sightings reported in the United States are summarized and the global nature of sighting reports is discussed. Brief mention is made of pre-2Oth Century sightings. The activities of hoaxers, psychotics and liars-for-a-profit are outlined. Attitudes towards sightings and the investigatory efforts of the USAF are examined.
 Possible explanations of the causes of UFO sightings are summarized and the hypothesis that some UFO's may be extra-terrestrial vehicles is advanced.
 In conclusion, some general suggestions are advanced for more effective studies of 'the UFO phenomenon.

In opening, I'd like to thank the sponsorsof the Design Engineering Conference for inviting me to New York and giving me the opportunity to speak to you all this evening. My topic is a highly controversial one; and controversy particularly when it grows out of opinions directly opposed to governmental agencies - seems to be a dirty word much too often these days.

Now - the things that I have to say, and the things that you all have read and heard about flying saucers will doubtless raise questions in your minds. Fine. I will be happy to answer as many as I can in the time available following my talk.

But first - a word from my sponsor. I am here this evening as a representative of The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, NICAP - a privately supported, non-governmental UFO investigatory organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C. NICAP was formed in 1956 to provide a place where persons could report UFO sightings without being subject to ridicule or harrassment. Aided by its Sub-Committees and Affiliated groups, NICAP endeavors, to the best of its ability, to investigate in a scientific manner UFO reports made to it. Operating funds come from member dues - $5 annually for which the members receive six issues of the UFO Investigator, an 8-page newsletter of current UFO events. In July of 1964, NICAP published the UFO EVIDENCE, a documented study of over 7OO UFO cases from NICAP's files. NICAP membership, over ten thousand at present, encompasses a representative cross section of our population. The Board of Governors and Panel of Special Advisers includes scientists, engineers and professional people in a variety of fields. Many of these men have earned doctorates in their specialty.

In the 20 years since the term came into existence, flying saucers have become a scientific controversy second only to the famed Canals of Mars. And, like the Canals of Mars, the term flying saucer is a misnomer created by the press. On June 24, 1947, while flying his private plane in the vicinity of Washington's Cascade Mountains, Idaho businessman Kenneth Arnold observed 9 objects flying near Mount Ranier and Mount Adams. "They flew", Arnold told newsmen, "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." [1] Arnold's saucers were not disc shaped, but resembled a crescent moon. The press, however, called them flying saucers, and the name stuck. In addition to the disc or saucer shape, other aerial unknowns have been described as having a cigar, rocket, or fuselage-without-wings shape. Arrowheads or flying triangles have also been reported, with Arnold's crescent shape and a rubber-heel shape also being reported in much less frequency. Because it was felt that the term "flying saucer" was misleading, the Air Force and the majority of other investigatory groups prefer the term Unidentified Flying Objects. A sighting is called a UFO when "the description of the object and its maneuvers could not be fitted into the pattern of any known object or phenomenon."

Once Arnold's sighting hit the press wires, other sighting reports began to make the papers. It wasn't long before people were seeing saucers, hubcaps, sausages, and all manner of peculiar looking aerial objects. About this time, the USAF began to take an interest in flying saucers, but no official conclusion was released until early 1949. Of course individual Air Force officers had voiced opinions, but they had not been representing any official investigatory group. The report released April 27, 1949, stated that 270 sightings had been investigated, including 30 from foreign countries and that 40% could not be explained. Since that time, according to subsequent Air Force press releases, 11,107 sightings have been investigated through December 31, 1966, with about 10% of this total still unidentified.

This, of course, does not take into account innumerable sightings made in foreign countries, as well as sightings made in this country and not reported to the USAF.

I might digress a moment to note that reports of strange aerial phenomena are not peculiar to the post WW II period. As NICAP staffers Lore and Deneault have shown [2], scores of unexplained sightings were reported prior to the 20th century by astronomers and other scientifically trained observers. However, coming back to the recent past - just what have people reported during the past two decades? How reliable are the sighters? I'll recap briefly some of the more outstanding sightings.

In 1956 a Navy Super-Constellation transport was flying west across the atlantic, carrying aircrews returning from overseas duty in Europe. Nearly 30 men were aboard - pilots, navigators, flight engineers. The night was clear, visibility unlimited. The Connie was cruising at 19,000 feet. Next stop, Gander, Newfoundland; final destination, the Naval Air Station at Patuxent, Maryland. Glancing down, the pilot saw a collection of lights where only open seas should be. The radio man reported no signals from below, and that no ships were scheduled to be bunched in the area. Curious, the pilot put the plane into a circle to examine the lights better. As they circled, the lights dimmed, and then they saw several colored rings appear and begin to spread out. It was then noticed that one ring was rushing up toward the plane. The pilot rolled out of his circle and tried to climb away, but the ring outclimbed him, reached their altitude, leveled off, and raced towards them. Then they realized that the ring of light was coming from the rim of a huge disc-shaped object. By this time, all men aboard were wide awake and watching out the windows. The disc raced toward the plane, flipped on edge, and angled past the port wing tip; then slowed, reversed course, and paced the plane off the port wing. The observers agreed that it was about 30 feet thick and 350 - 400 feet in diameter, with a blurred uneven glow from the rim. The glow was sufficient to show the disc's curving surface. The pilot held to a straight course, while the disc slowly drew ahead, then tilted upward, accelerated sharply, and was lost in the night sky. The pilot called Gander Airbase at once and asked if they had seen anything on the radar. Gander replied that they had had something on the scope along side the Connie, but that the unknown had not answered radio queries. The time it took the disc to get up to the Connie indicated a speed of 1600 mph or more. The speed it made climbing away was estimated at that or greater.

After landing at Gander, all personnel were thoroughly interrogated by Air Force Intelligence personnel. "They asked lots of questions, but gave us no answers," one Navy man grumbled later. When the Connie finally reached Patuxent Naval Air Station, the air crews were again interviewed, and they furnished Naval Intelligence with written statements as to what they had seen. Several days later the pilot was contacted by a scientist in another government agency who wished to talk to him about his sighting. After getting the necessary clearances, the pilot said okay. The scientist showed up, had the pilot go over his sighting again, and then unlocked a dispatch case, pulled out some photographs, and asked the pilot if the object he had seen resembled any of the pictures. The pilot picked out one as being virtually identical. The scientist thanked him, locked up the pictures again, refused to answer questions and left. The pilot, needless to say, was - and still is - a frustrated and bewildered man. [3]

Here's a case which occurred near an Air Force missile site. On August 25, 1966, the officer in charge of a North Dakota missile crew, based in a concrete capsule 60 feet underground, suddenly found his radio transmission interrupted by static. At the same time that he was trying to clear up his problem, other AF personnel on the surface, reported seeing a UFO - described as a bright red light - apparently alternately ascending and descending. A surface AF radar installation also reported tracking the object at an altitude of 100,000 feet. The report of the base operations director stated "when the UFO climbed, the static stopped. The UFO began to swoop and dive. It then appeared to land ten to fifteen miles south of the area. Missile-site control sent a strike team (well-armed Air Force guards) to check. When the team was about ten miles from the landing site, static disrupted radio contact with them. Five to eight minutes later the glow diminished, and the UFO took off. Another UFO was visually sighted and confirmed by radar. The one that was first sighted passed beneath the second. Radar also confirmed this. The first made for altitude toward the north, and the second seemed to disappear with the glow of red." [4] Still unsolved, the case is termed by Dr. J. Allen Hynek as "typical of the puzzling cases" he has studied in his 18 years as the Air Force's scientific consultant on UFO's.

One of the best radar confirmed sightings - so stated by Captain Ed Ruppelt, [5] who headed the Air Force saucer investigations for several years - occurred near Rapid City, South Dakota, the evening of August 12, 1953. The events of that night started out like this. Shortly after dark, a woman spotter of the local Ground Observer Corps rang up the Air Defense Command radar station at Ellsworth AEB just east of Rapid City, and reported an extremely bright light to the northeast. The radar swung to the area the spotter had designated, and picked up a solid blip moving slowly. The heightfinding radar also picked it up and established the UFO at 16,000 feet. The warrant officer on duty at the radar station got a direct wire to the spotter, and they compared notes for about two minutes. In the middle of a sentence, the woman suddenly said that the object was starting to move towards Rapid City. The radar scope confirmed this, and the warrant officer sent two men outside for a visual check. They reported a large bluish-white light moving toward Rapid City. The three groups - the radar people, the outside men, and the woman spotter - watched the UFO make a swift sweep around Rapid City and then return to its original position. The warrant officer then called a jet fighter on patrol and put him on an intercept course. The light was still at l6,OOO feet. The pilot spotted the light visually, and had moved to within three miles of it, when the light took off north towards the Badlands. The pilot followed it 120 miles, with the light staying a couple miles ahead; and then, with fuel running low, the jet returned - with the UFO trailing him!

The jet squadron at the air field then stated that they were scrambling another F-84, with a skeptical combat veteran of World War II and Korea at the controls. Once he was airborne, radar worked him toward the UFO. The pilot quickly reported visual contact, and maneuvered to get above the light. The light headed northeast, with the F-84 behind but several thousand feet above it. The pilot, even though getting radar reports and seeing the light, was still skeptical. Once away from the Rapid City area, he turned off all his lights to see if it was a reflection on his canopy. The light was still there. Next he rolled his plane, to see if some unnoticed ground light was causing it. The light's position didn't change. Next he checked its motion against three bright stars - it moved with relation to them. He then figured, if it is real, my gunsight radar should pick it up. He activated his gun cameras, turned on his radar and got a solid blip. At this point he got scared - and remember, this was a man who'd fought Hitler's best airplanes and tangled with Mig 15's over Korea. But that large, bright, bluish-white light was more than he cared to chase any longer. He requested and received permission to abandon the chase. The UFO headed off toward Fargo, North Dakota, and a check minutes later showed that spotter posts between Rapid City and Fargo had seen and reported a fast-moving, bluish-white light. So there you are - two serial visuals, an aerial radar lock-on, two ground radar sightings, numerous ground visuals from several locations, and gun camera film which, when developed, showed a blurry object. No details - just a light source.

On April 224, 1964, near Socorro, New Mexico, shortly before 6:00 p.m. local time, Patrolman Lonnie Zamora was chasing a speeding car. [6] Seeing and hearing what he then thought was a dynamite shed exploding, Zamora abandoned the speeder and drove over a rough, dirt road towards the apparent impact spot. Briefly, during his approach, he saw a shiny object about the size of an overturned car. Beside it were two "man-like" figures in white - no details of hands, feet or face were visible. Based on a nearby bush, later measurements indicated that the figures were about 4 and a half - 5 feet tall and that the bottom of the object was about the same distance above the ground. Because of intervening hills, Zamora lost sight of the object and when he again had it in view, the figures were gone. Parking about 150 feet away, he began to approach the object on foot when it suddenly began to spew flame from its underside. Believing it was about to explode, he ran the other way. When the noise ceased, he looked back and saw it fly away, narrowly missing a nearby dynamite shed. Investigators from nearby military installations, local police, NICAP representatives, and Air Force investigators from the Air Technical Intelligence Center in Ohio and Northwestern University thoroughly examined the scene. Several depressions, apparently from the object's four legs, were found and nearby bushes and grass appeared to have been seared by intense heat. Soil samples were taken but no traces of fuel residues were found following laboratory tests. Zamora's reliability and integrity are unquestioned and the Air Force still carries the sighting as one of an unidentified vehicle. [7]

Of course, these are only four of many similar outstanding UFO sightings from all points in the USA. But sauceritis is not a peculiarly American ailment. Radar reports, visual reports both day and night, and combined radar-visual reports have also been received from British, French, Australian; Italian, Belgian, and other foreign sources. For example, in November of 1962, the Argentine Embassy in Washington, D.C., furnished NICAP with official reports of UFO sightings made by Argentine Navy pilots. Argentine Navy Captain Luis Moreno informed NICAP that the Argentine Navy had been constantly concerned about UFO's for the preceding 10 years. [8] Representative accounts of puzzling foreign sightings can be found in The UFO Evidence as well as in the works of the French mathematician-astronomer Jacques Vallee. [9] And, of course, even the Russians got into the act - they said that saucers were all a capitalistic hoax designed to keep up the production of war material. [10]

As is often the case with sweeping Russian pronouncements, there is a grain of truth in this one - there have been saucer hoaxes. Some have been of the practical joker variety - cardboard or aluminum discs stuffed with junk radio parts and lit up by railroad flares. One man, to win a bet, bought, chloroformed, shaved, and ran over a monkey, which was then passed off - until a vet queered the game - as a man from Mars. Numerous people have claimed contact with space people - some even claim to have ridden in saucers. I know a man near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who claims that there is a saucer base under the Berkshire mountains. None of these contactees have presented any verifiable proof and most have declined to take lie detector tests. Several hoaxers have gone after money and apparently done pretty well. A few years ago, TRUE magazine reported on Otis T. Carr, a one time elevator operator and hotel night clerk, who has reportedly acquired several hundred thousand dollars from trusting souls who think he has an engine and spaceship that will revolutionize present day propulsion techniques. [11] Frankly, I wish he really did - I'd like to go space travelling myself but based on present day planning, it doesn't look possible for many years. So, hoaxers, psychotics, and liars-for-a-profit are with us, and have contributed quite a bit to fogging up the UFO question. That, however, is no excuse for failure to conduct a proper investigation.

Now - what has the Air Force done in the field of UFO investigations? The answer is, surprisingly little. There have been innumerable press releases telling of all the studies that have been conducted, of investigations and the like; but when you look closely at the record, you see that very little has really been done. For example, even at the height of the UFO sightings, there were never more than three or four men permanently assigned to investigate UFO's. Investigations were usually made long after a report, and the investigators often seemed more interested in seeing how they could explain away the sightings than in getting all the facts from the witnesses. Airline crews have been accused - anonymously - of being drunk on duty. Radar sightings have been passed off as resulting from temperature inversions, even when weather-bureau records did not bear out such a claim. There have been several instances when UFO sightings have apparently resulted in a rapid and substantial increase in background radioactivity, but the USAF has made no attempt to set up any radiation-detection stations in areas where there have been repeated sightings over the past 14 years. NICAP has offered to sit down with the Air Force and review the reports in NICAP's files and to publicly correct those disproved by the Air Force. [12] The Air Force, however, refused such joint meetings and insisted that NICAP furnish its data for secret review. Results released following such secret reviews would not include any basis on which to evaluate the validity of the Air Force conclusions. These are but a few examples. The overall record is worse; and speaking as an ex-Air Force officer, I can only say that I have no confidence in the Air Force UFO investigation program to date.

Criticism of the Air Force position, as well as the position held by far too many of his fellow scientists, has recently come from Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the chief civilian consultant on UFO to the Air Force. Dr. Hynek, head of Northwestern University1s Dearborn Observatory, stated flatly: "No true scientific investigation of the UFO phenomena has ever been undertaken, despite the great volume of hard data... we should put as much effort on one of these puzzling cases as we would on a Brinks robbery or a kidnap case. [13]

In fairness to the Air Force, it should be noted that they are finally coming to realize that their attitude has tarnished their image in the public eye. A civilian scientific review committee was convened in February, 1966, by order, not of the Director of Aerospace Research, but of the Director of Public Information! This civilian scientific panel, while it did not endorse the possibility of extra-terrestrial visitors, did make strong recommendations that the Air Force substantially increase its UFO investigatory teams and solicit aid from the scientific community to more adequately examine both future and past UFO reports. [14] NICAP is fully in accord with such recommendations - indeed, a full-scale scientific investigation on a global basis has long been one of our major goals. In Dr. Hynek's words "Instead of having UFO a synonym for crackpot and ridicule, let's make it scientifically respectable." [15] We know that more and more scientists are willing to discuss the subject of UFO's "off the record" but we sincerely hope that more will follow the example set by Dr. Hynek and by NICAP's own scientific advisers. And, of course, we also hope that the recently begun 15 month study program, funded by the Air Force but to be conducted independently by the University of Colorado, will be the beginning of a full scale, impartial scientific investigation of UFO's. We, quite frankly, see this study as vindication of our long held position that the Air Force investigatory program has been both inadequate and unscientific.

All right - we've looked at some reports of UFO's, and some attitudes towards reports Now, the inevitable questions that arise are, just what are these UFO's and where do they come from? It has been suggested that they are:

Let's look at each of these suggestions. The Russian and American origin suggestions can be disposed of together. If the UFO's were of Russian manufacture, this meeting would be sponsored by Soviet Society of Mechanical Engineers and I'd be a visiting Commissar lecturing on Applied Marxism. And if the UFO's were American - well, we wouldn't be spending 13 million dollars per day on Project Apollo.

After all, the speed and maneuverability displayed by these UFO's calls for propulsion systems far in advance of anything we now have. The entire vehicle represents, in terms of present earthly knowledge, a tremendous technological break-through. Such a break-through would be quickly reflected in hundreds of allied fields, as well as in fields never dreamed of before. Look at the applications of nuclear energy since 1945 - even the most imaginative science fiction writer never dreamed, before Hiroshima, of all the applications that would be found in less than 20 years. The break through required to create a terrestrial UFO would have even more far-reaching effects.

Misinterpretations? These already account for a large number of the many sightings of UFO's. Perhaps 80% of those investigated by the Air Force to date. There's no denying that many people have been fooled by balloons, meteors, high-flying airplanes, the planet Venus, peculiar vapor trails, and the like - and thought they saw UFO's.

Glowing clouds, resulting from chemicals released hundreds of miles in the air by NASA rockets, have caused UFO reports. So have re-entering space satellites as well as oribiting satellites seen under peculiar atmospheric conditions. These, like the other misinterpretations already mentioned, can be readily explained. They do not, however, explain the sightings I spoke of earlier nor do they explain the hundreds of still unsolved reports made to the Air Force, to NICAP, and to other UFO investigatory groups over the past 20 years.

So we are left with the Interplanetary theory. And when I say "we", I include not only myself and the majority of the Board of Governors of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, but also many officers of the USAF, innumerable pilots and aircrewmen - private and commercial, foreign and domestic - many eminent scientists, missile experts, and just plain people. Speaking for myself, I accepted this theory only after examining the UFO question for over a dozen years. No single sighting report led to my acceptance of this hypothesis, but rather the ever growing accumulation of reports by reliable and trained observers. I have never seen a UFO, but as Dr. J. E. McDonald put it, the idea of extra-terrestrial vehicles seems to be "the least unsatisfactory hypothesis for... the intriguing array of credibly reported UFO phenomena that are on record" [16] - reports such as those mentioned earlier in this talk.

Now - regardless of your feelings as to the validity of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, I would hope that we are in general agreement that "something" has been seen and that the recurrence of such reports from reliable observers over the past two decades requires a more extensive investigation than has taken place heretofore.

With that thought in mind, then, I want to conclude by outlining some ideas on what is needed in the way of a more thorough investigation. Let me say too, that these ideas are not just mine but are a synthesis of those of Hynek, [17] Vallee, [18] LeBlanc, [19] the NICAP staff and other sources.

Finally, assuming that the efforts outlined above warrant the expense, serious thought should be given to the building of a "saucer trap", not to "capture" physically but to "trap" information by instruments. Many apparently reliable reports have commented on the seeming "curiosity" of UFO's about the works of man. It would seem possible that a large installation, built with a maximum of clearly visible activity and located in an otherwise barren area, might attract the attention of UFO's. If such an installation were equipped with all manner of detection and recording apparatus capable of covering the entire visible, audible and electromagnetic spectrum a wealth of valuable information might be obtained.

All of the above, of course, presupposes a willingness on the part of the scientific community at large to examine the entire UFO question with open minds, devoid, insofar as possible, of emotion charged prejudgment that the entire subject is "utter bilge". [21] It is the hope of all of us in NICAP that the Condon study group will be the beginning of a major change in attitude toward the study of UFO1s by the scientific community.