Bruce MaccabeeThe summer and fall of 1950 was an important time in the history of UFO phenomena. The first book devoted to flying saucers, Flying Saucers are Real, written by Donald Keyhoe (Fawcett, New York, 1950) was published in June. This book expanded on his True magazine article of six months before. Keyhoe argued that the Air Force was covering up evidence that proved saucers were ET craft because the Air Force was worried about an Orson Wells “War of the Worlds” type of panic if the information became public. Nevertheless, there had been some leakage of information, such as the article by Commander McLaughlin about sightings at White Sands. Keyhoe suspected that such leaks were intended to prepare humanity for the eventual news. Furthermore, he suspected that the arrival of the saucers was related to our detonations of atomic (fission) bombs, which were first tested at White Sands. He suggested that perhaps the aliens wanted to prevent us from destroying the earth with hydrogen (fusion) bombs.
During the time between the publication of Keyhoe’s magazine article and the publication of his book, there were important national and international political and military developments which affected the FBI perception of the flying saucer problem. The Cold War was hot. The Berlin Blockade had been successfully overcome, but the Russians had successfully taken over the satellite countries of East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Then, on June 25 North Korea marched about 60,000 men into South Korea and began the Korean War. Both the Soviet Union and China were aiding North Korea. The South Korean Army, not fully prepared, collapsed under the weight of the attack and two days later President Truman ordered US troops to South Korea. The next day Seoul fell to the North and General MacArthur reported that the South Korean army was too demoralized to mount an effective resistance. Two days after that Truman ordered U.S. ground forces to Korea. The first post-WWII war was on!
Meanwhile, at the end of January, 1950, President Truman announced that work would begin on the hydrogen bomb. The race for the Super Bomb was on! (The Soviet Union would win this race in 1953.) Suddenly spies were being caught everywhere. In February, Klaus Fuchs was arrested for given secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviets. (Fuch’s spy activities were in large part the cause of the Soviet Union’s successful detonation of a fusion bomb in August, 1949.) FBI Director Hoover made a personal report to President Truman on Fuchs’ capture and subsequent confession in Britain. A few days later Senator Joe McCarthy announced that there were over two hundred Communist Party members working for the Department of State. Five months later, about the time that the Korean War began, Harry Gold and David Greenglass were caught and provided information about a spy ring directed by the Rosenbergs which had provided atomic secrets to the Soviets during WWII. All of this espionage activity may have affected the FBI view of the UFO phenomenon because the Air Force was clearly worried about the green fireball and disc phenomena seen near the nuclear installations... could they be related to Communist subversion?... and because Colonel Gasser had indicated that the saucers were man-made missiles...but not made by the USA!
Soon after the publication of Keyhoe’s book, and at a time when the Air Force was publicly disparaging the subject, the first highly credible motion picture of saucers was taken at Great Falls, Montana, on August 5, 1950. The Air Force wanted to look at it but didn’t want to give the owner, Nicolas Mariana, any hint of particular interest in the subject. According to an AFOSI document, the agent contacting Mariana was to “exercise every caution so as not to unduly excite his curiousity or interest or in anywise conclude that the Air Force may have reversed its policy from that previously announced with regard to the existence or non-existence of such unconventional objects.”
In later years this film would cause a great controversy as the Air Force claimed that the two objects in the film were Air Force jets. However the objects certainly didn’t look like jets to Mariana and his secretary. When first sighted the objects were quite close and appeared to be round and rotating. Unfortunately by the time Mr. Mariana had obtained his camera they were considerably farther away so the film images appear as small, bright oval dots. The images do not look like jets and a scientific test performed years later indicated that jets filmed under similar circumstances would have been identified as such. The Air Force nevertheless claimed the objects were jets, even though the investigation turned up evidence that the only pair of jets which passed through the area of the sighting did so ten days after the film was shot!
All this time the FBI was quietly monitoring the fireball and saucer situation. Recall that in late August 1950 (see Chapter 14) Agent A. H. Belmont had written a memorandum to Special Assistant D. M. Ladd summarizing recent developments regarding green fireballs and saucers. On October 9 Mr. Ladd wrote a memorandum for Mr. Hoover providing an update on Project Twinkle. The memorandum states that “To date the Air Force has not advised us of any new developments in connection with this project.” Evidently the Air Force had not told the FBI about the multiple witness sightings and filming of multiple objects on August 30 and 31. Mr. Ladd also made an explicit comparison between saucer sighting reports (referred to as “complaints”) and the war in Korea, which to this point had been going reasonably well, since the North Korean army had not (yet) succeeded in pushing the United Nations and United States forces into the sea:
“ According to Bureau files, an average of approximately three or four complaints have been received per month from June through September. These complaints were brought to the attention of OSI. A review of Bureau files does not indicate that there has been any increase in sightings of these phenomena during or as a result of the war in Korea.”
Mr. Hoover was probably glad to see that there were so few complaints and that there was no apparent connection with the war. However, there still was the major question of the origin of the phenomena seen near the vital installations and the secondary question of just what the Air Force was doing about it. Mr. Ladd provided the following comments on these subjects:
“The Bureau has been advised in the past by OSI that many of the sightings reported to them were determined by investigation to have been of weather balloons, falling stars, meteorological phenomena and other air-borne objects.
Bureau liaison determined on the morning of October 9, 1950 from OSI headquarters that the investigation of these aerial phenoena are being handled by OSI, Wright Field, Ohio. Their investigation of these phenomena fails to indicate that the sightings involved spaceships or missiles from any other planet or country.
According to OSI, the complaints received by them have failed to indicate any definite pattern of activity. OSI further advised they are closely following the investigation of the captioned matters and they will advise this Bureau of any matters of interest.”
Once again the FBI was told that the Air Force was sufficiently worried about these phenomena to continue secretly investigating even though many sightings could be explained. Since the Air Force was once again ruling out the interplanetary and “foreign country” explanations the FBI could only presume that all saucer sightings resulted from misidentifications, delusions and hoaxes.
Then the saucer controversy suddenly heated up again with the publication of the second flying saucer book, Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully (Henry Holt, New York, 1950), in early September. Whereas Keyhoe had based his book on official sources and sightings, Scully based his book on a crashed saucer report! According to Scully a total of three flying saucers had crashed and had been analyzed by government scientists! (Note: there was no connection between Scully’s crash story and the Roswell crash story.) The analysis of the saucers showed that they were fantastic devices and were piloted by little man-like creatures. Scully’s book claimed that the story was first told during a lecture by oilman Silas Newton at the University of Denver on March 8, 1950 and that he had researched the story. (Recall it was on March 22, 1950 that Guy Hottel, SAC Washington, wrote to Hoover about three crashed saucers, a message that prompted Hoover to ask “what are the facts re flying saucers.” See Chapter 14.) It turned out later that the source for Scully’s story was a con-man by the name of Silas Newton who claimed he had gotten the details from another man who, in turn, claimed to be one of the government scientists who analyzed the saucers. Scully apparently did not realize the story was fraudulent (it was proven to be a hoax many years later).
Scully’s book made quite a splash and regenerated the public saucer controversy, claiming, as it did, that a mysterious government scientist had verified the facts of the crash. Furthermore, Scully severely criticised the Air Force and all government authority, arguing that there had been extreme incompetence, a “double standard of morality” and official censorship. Scully’s story was so fantastic that it was almost uniformly panned by the media. On the other hand, Keyhoe’s more rational approach was not as flashy, but it convinced more people.
Keeping in mind that these books were coming at a time of “atomic paranoia,” it is not surprising to see that Hoover took a particular interest in Scully’s book. Ever on the alert for Communist subversion, on October 13 he sent an urgent teletype message to SAC, Los Angeles:
FLYING SAUCERS. YOU ARE INSTRUCTED TO DISCREETLY DETERMINE THROUGH APPROPRIATE SOURCES OF YOUR OFFICE WHETHER FRANK SCULLY AUTHOR OF THE BOOK QUOTE BEHIND THE FLYING SAUCERS UNQUOTE IS IDENTICAL TO THE FRANK SCULLY WHO HAS BEEN ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN COMMUNIST ACTIVITIES SINCE THE LATE NINETEEN THIRTIES IN THE TERRITORY OF YOUR OFFICE.
Evidently SAC, Los Angeles didn’t respond immediately because Hoover sent another request on October 17 and yet another on October 18. There is no document in the Flying Disc file which indicates whether or not SAC Los Angeles answered Hoover, or whether Frank Scully, the author, was a Communist sympathizer.
On the same day that Hoover initiated the investigation of Frank Scully, the FBI received the first information on strange happenings at yet another “vital installation,” Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. William Gray, SAC Knoxville, reported that radar had detected unidentified objects over Oak Ridge, the home of Project NEPA, the project to develop atomic powered aircraft.... Colonel Gasser’s project!
On the 19th of October, before the FBI was fully aware of what was taking place at Oak Ridge, Hoover received from Mr. Ladd more information about Air Force activities:
“The matter of flying saucers was discussed by Special Agent .....(name censored)...with Major General Joseph F. Carroll of OSI on October 16, 1950, at which time General Carroll advised that insofar as he has been able to determine the Air Force is not working on any type of ‘flying saucer’ or ‘flying disc.’ General Carroll stated that the Air Force is working on high altitude rockets and jet aircraft. He stated these experiments may account for some of the reports concerning flying saucers but that the air Force is not apparently working on anything which is the cause of the many flying saucers reports. He stated that the Air Force program for investigating reports concerning flying saucers, etc., has been reinstituted at Wright Field and that any pertinent information of interest coming to his attention will be furnished to the Bureau.”
Recall that Major General Cabell, Director of AFI, had requested that AMC reinstate the investigation and analysis at ATIC. On September 25, 1950 the Bureau received from Cabell a copy of an intelligence collection memorandum entitled “Reporting of Information on Unconventional Aircraft.” This was yet another request to provide sighting information with the added request that “no publicity be given this reporting or analysis activity.” The memorandum to Mr. Ladd, quoted above, reflected this new activity at ATIC. Once again, in private the Air Force was contradicting its public stance that saucer sightings were not worthy of attention. In private the Air Force and the FBI found out that sightings which were about to occur at Oak Ridge were worthy of attention...a lot of attention.
Recall that, in January, 1949, Colonel Gasser had reported to the FBI that two photos of a UFO had been taken near Oak Ridge in the summer of 1947. That was the first Oak Ridge sighting. The second occurred at about noon on May 25, 1949. It was a multiple witness sighting of a strange flat metallic object passing over the area while making a cracking noise. The third occurred at 7:00 PM, June 20, 1949. Several people observed three objects, two rectangular in shape and one circular, flying over Oak Ridge. After that there were no unusual observations until March 1, 1950. At 11:15 PM that night a Knoxville radio amateur with experience in radar technology, Stuart Adcock, called the local FBI agent, Mr. Robey, to report that he had detected an object circling at an altitude of about 40,000 feet over Oak Ridge. He was using a surplus military radar set. Adcock reported another detection the next day at 11:15 AM. This time the object was about 100,000 feet up. The Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) and the AFOSI sent representatives to Adcock’s house on the night of March 2 and they saw radar returns indicating an object at high altitude at about midnight. Over the next several days Adcock’s radar occasionally indicated the presence of an object. The local CIC and OSI agents were not radar experts, but it appeared to them that the radar set was not particularly reliable. (To help in the investigation a radar expert was requested, but he didn’t arrive until March 8, two days after Adcock had left town.) The local Navy Training Center radar equipment did not detect anything in the area where Adcock reported a radar taget, but it was not adapted to the detection of objects at such a high altitude. A joint experiment was carried out using both Adock’s and the Navy’s radar sets. They both detected two aircraft that were flying at 2,000 feet, indicating that Adcock’s radar was working correctly. Adcock’s last high altitude radar detection occurred during the morning of March 6, after which he left town (reason unknown). The local OSI agent attempted to contact Adcock, but was not able to and the investigation was ended on March 8. There was no conclusion as to what, if anything, Adcock had detected. SAC Robey reported to FBI headquarters that the most impressive thing to him had been the “lack of any agency actually taking responsibility for the situation and taking any action to verify or disprove the threat.” He also pointed out that it was many hours after the initial detection or “threat” was reported that any action at all was taken. Evidently Oak Ridge was not as well protected against a threat of sabotage as the security agencies had hoped!
Seven months later, at 11:25 PM on October 12, a military radar unit at Knoxville Airport suddenly detected 11, “and possibly more,” unidentified targets moving over the restricted flight zone at Oak Ridge. This time action was taken. At 11:30, the radar station commander scrambled an F-82 fighter. It was in the air nine minutes later. The fighter was vectored toward two targets and, according to the radar, closed with the targets, but the pilot saw nothing. Ground observations also failed to detect anything in the sky. No unusual objects were seen visually or on radar for the next two days. Then the “dam broke.”
On October 15, at 3:25 PM, three Oak Ridge security guards and a caretaker saw an exceedingly strange object, described as looking like a card with a long thin tail, moving through the atmosphere in the vicinity of the restricted zone. It appeared to be carrying out controlled maneuvers. The Knoxville radar showed on its screen some strange targets at the same time as the visual sightings. Again an aircraft was scrambled and saw nothing. The Project Blue Book master list shows that ATIC could not explain the visual sighting.
The next day at about 1:30 PM, John Isabell, a security guard of the Oak Ridge Patrol Force, saw a silver-white spherical object traveling from the southwest to the northeast and passing over the K-25 restricted area at high altitude. It was white or silvery and round like a ball. The second sighting on that day occurred at “exactly 2:55 PM.” Mr. Isabell and two other members of the patrol force saw the same round object approaching from the northeast at a lower altitude and speed. The object, while spinning about an axis, traveled in a wide circle toward the southwest and disappeared. In a couple of minutes it reappeared in the southwest at a very high altitude and headed northeast at a high rate of speed. The guard phoned the information on the sighting immediately to headquarters where radar was picking up an indistinct target every third or fourth sweep over the K-25 area. An F-82 was scrambled. The ground witnesses reported that the fighter plane arrived about 15 minutes after the object had disappeared. (The ATIC sighting analysts subsequently decided that this object was a balloon in spite of the decription of spinning amd in spite of the odd flight path.) Later on, during the evening, some of the security guards heard strange, loud noises.
That same day, October 16, the CIC agent decided it was time to review the situation. He wrote a report mentioning the 1947 and 1949 sightings and discussed the recent sightings. The CIC took these sightings very seriously and thoroughly checked the backgrounds of the witnesses by using employment records and FBI reports in order “to ascertain their reliability, integrity and loyalty to the United States Government.” The was no reason found to discredit these witnesses, many of whom were professional security guards.
The CIC and the other security agencies discussed the situation and attempted to arrive at some conclusions. The CIC report of these discussions make amusing reading in view of the concerted attempt later on by ATIC to explain the sightings any way possible. One gets the impression from the following document that, when it came to explaining UFO sightings as mundane phenomena, the security officials who were involved in the investigations had “been there, done that” and now they were looking for something new and convincing to explain these sightings:
“ The opinions of the officials of the Security Division, AEC, Oak Ridge; Security Branch, NEPA Division, Oak Ridge; AEC Security Patrol, Oak Ridge; FBI Knoxville; Air Force Radar and Fighter Squadrons, Knoxville; and the OSI, Knoxville, Tennessee, fail to evolve an adequate explanation for OBJECTS SIGHTED OVER OAK RIDGE, however the possibilities of practical jokers, mass hysteria, balloons of any description, flights of birds (with or without cobwebs or other objects attached), falling leaves, insect swarms, peculiar weather conditions, reflections, flying kites, objects thrown from the ground, windblown objects, insanity, and many other natural happenings have been rejected because of the simultaneous witnessing of the objects with the reported radar sightings; because of the reliability of the witnesses; because of the detailed, similar description of the objects seen by different persons; and because of impossibility.”
“...because of impossibility”? What was that supposed to mean? It meant that all the suggested explanations had been rejected because, in view of the high quality of the witnesses and the descriptive details, these explanations were impossible. So, having rejected mundane explanations, what were these objects? The CIC agent continued:
“The trend of opinions seem to follow three patterns of thought. The first is that the objects are a physical phenomenon which have a scientific explanation; the second is that the objects are experimental objects (from an undetermined source) guided by electronics and the third is similar to the second except that an intended demoralization or harrassment is involved. The fantastic is generally rejected.
These objects have apparently followed only two patterns. The first is that they were sighted at the same hour on two consecutive days and the second is that the time of flight is either to or from the Northeast and Southwest, which directions (are) parallel the terrain ridges in the locality.”
The fantastic is generally rejected?
It is not too surprising that “the fantastic” would not be in an official report. However, the fact that it was rejected means that they at least thought about “the fantastic.” They also showed a healthy degree of skepticism regarding the ATIC treatment of such sightings because they questioned the ATIC “identification” of the image in the 1947 photographs as a photographic flaw:
“Attention is invited to the 1947 photograph of a flying object. Atomic Energy Commission officials advise that the Air Force Laboratory at Wright Field, Ohio, indicate that the object is a water spot on the photograph. Because this object does not resemble other water spots of the photograph and because the object in the second photograph is following the dim trail left by the first object, some officials at (the) Atomic Energy Commission question the veracity of this statement. They also believe it is significant that the Air Force did not return the negative of this print.”
These security agencies were quite correct to be skeptical of the ATIC treatment of these sightings. The Project Blue Book record shows that the radar sightings were identified as “radar pecularities,” the first October 16 sighting was identified as an aircraft and the second as a balloon (even though the description of the object was the same for both sightings!). Only the October 15 sighting discussed above was listed as Unidentified.
Copies of the reports by the CIC agents were made available to the FBI. When he saw them Hoover may have wondered if the saucers had now transferred their activities from the west, where atomic bombs were designed, built and stored, to Oak Ridge where the uranium isotope U-235 was being extracted for use in atomic bombs and where nuclear energy was being studied as a possible source for aircraft propulsive power.
Strange noises were also part of the phenomena reported. Major Ronniger, a Senior Instructor at Oak Ridge, reported that at 3 PM on October 15 he heard a sound like the blast of a jet engine. He and another person searched the sky for such an aircraft but could find none. The next day several security guards reported that around 8 PM they heard what sounded like the blast of a jet several times. Each time the noise lasted about 3 1/2 seconds. “The sounds seemed to leave the vicinity making an ascent almost vertical. None of the guards could see an object in the sky.”
By October 16 things were already hot at Oak Ridge, but that was only the beginning. Four days later, at 4:55 PM on October 20, Larry Riordan, the Superintendent of Security for the X-10 control zone became a witness. While driving to a residential area he saw an object which he thought at first was a balloon which had lost its “basket.” It was generally round, appeared to “come together at the bottom in wrinkles (rather indistinct and something was hanging below.” It appeared to be 8 to 10 feet long and lead or gunmetal colored. It didn’t seem to be moving but, since he was traveling and only saw it for a number of seconds, he couldn’t be sure. He was sure it wasn’t a weather balloon, although he thought it might have been a gas bag balloon launched by the nearby University of Tennessee Agricultural Research Farm.. On the same day at 3:27 PM the radar unit at the Knoxville airport detected radar targets near the area of Mr. Riordan’s sighting and scrambled a fighter plane. The pilot searched the area for about an hour and a half, which included the time of Mr. Riordan’s sighting, and found nothing.
Three days later, October 23, at 4:30 PM, Francis Miller, an Oak Ridge laboratory employee, while driving along a road in Oak Ridge saw an object that appeared to be less than half a mile away and between 1,000 and 2,000 feet up. It appeared as an “aluminum flash” that was traveling in a south-southeast direction. He only saw it for a few seconds. Subsequently it was discovered that a nuclear radiation detection station (a Geiger counter) in the vicinity of the sighting registered a burst of alpha and beta radiation. The purpose of this station was to detect any leaks of radiation from the Oak Ridge Laboratory. There was no leakage of radiation, however. An expert from the Health and Research Division analyzed the readings from the Geiger counter and pronounced them unexplained. This association between radiation detection and a UFO sighting was similar to that at Mt. Palomar mentioned in Chapter 13. Whether the reading of the Geiger counter was actually a result of nuclear radiations or whether the presence of the UFO induced a transient electrical fault in the counter or whether there was some other explanation is not known. This case does not appear in the Project Blue Book file.
During the evening of the next day there was a “light in the sky” sighting by two witnesses who were at widely separated locations. The first to see it was Mr. William Fry, the Assistant Chief of Security for Project NEPA. He was at a drive-in theater with his family at about 6:45 PM waiting for the movie to begin when he saw the lighted object in the southwest while casually looking around the sky. He reported to the CIC investigator,
“...I observed what I at first thought to be an unusually bright star. The exceptional brilliance caused me to continue to observe it when it suddenly seemed to change color rapidly from a reddish hue to a bright orange and again to a brilliant light blue. (His wife and son also saw it.) ...A few moments later I heard a plane directly overhead making passes over the Oak Ridge area, which was later identified as one of the F-82 fighter planes from the Air Force unit stationed at McGhee-Tyson Airport..
(At this point Mr. Fry went to a phone and called someone to look, but the person could not see it because of the hills and trees.) While returning to my car I met a friend...who stated he had been observing the object. I continued to observe the object with my wife but it seemed to be in a more northerly position which caused me to select a fixed point to determine whether or not the object was changing in either direction or altitude. There seemed to be a deviation from north to south for approximately five to ten degrees. The changing colors were still very evident but the object seemed to be continually getting smaller and smaller as though it was becoming more distant. At approximately 7:18 by my watch it disappeared from view entirely. During these observations my wife continued to report to me the identical things that I was observing. During the entire time the F-82 airplane continued to make passes over the area until approximately 7:15. The weather conditions were excellent; the air was calm; and the sky was cloudless with the exception of a very slight haze over the distant horizon.
The following morning, upon reporting to work I confided my story to...(name censored)...stationed at Oak Ridge with the NEPA project, but I hesitated to go on record as having observed such an unidentified object.”
Mr. Fry did go on record because he learned that he was not the only witness. Air Force Major Lawrence Ballweg also saw the light. He reported as follows:
“On the evening of 24 October 1950 at approximately 1855 (6:55 PM) I heard a plane fly over my home in the Woodland area. Being a curious individual I went outdoors to watch it with my binoculars. While looking for the plane I saw an object in the western sky which appeared at first to be a star but upon closer observation I noticed that it was rapidly changing colors from red to blue to white. When first seen it appeared to be moving very slowly in a northwest direction. It was moving relative to the other stars. The object was too small to be able to see any details even with the glasses. It disappeared from sight about 1920 (7:20 PM). During this period of time my wife also observed the object.”
Mr. Fry then learned that the radar unit had also detected something. He was told that an unidentified object appeared at 6:30 PM at an altitude of approximately 5,000 feet in the same general vicinity as the object he saw. The radar target disappeared at 7:20 PM. The complete radar report to the CIC investigator says that targets appeared at 6:23 PM moving over the restricted flight zone and at 6:26 a fighter was scrambled to the area of the targets but failed to see anything.
Considering that the atmosphere can make a star or planet which is within a few degrees of the horizon appear to change color and move very slightly or twinkle, one might be tempted to identify the light as the bright planet Venus or a very bright star seen in the west an hour after sunset, which was at about 6 PM local dayight savings time. However, two elements of the description reject that sort of explanation. First, the light was described by Major Ballweg as moving relative to the stars. Since Major Ballweg used binoculars to view the light it is likely that his description of motion is accurate. Furthermore, it must have been quite large because Mr. Fry, not using binoculars, also detected motion. Second, Major Ballweg said that the light appeared over a telephone pole that was about 100 yards away. That would make the angular elevation greater than 5 degrees. According to the CIC investigator, Mr. Fry indicated that the elevation from his location was 30 to 40 degrees above horizontal. Hence it was so high in angular elevation that atmospheric effects would not make it appear to change color and there would be no noticeable effects other than the normal twinkling which affects stars at any angular elevation. The final reason for rejecting Venus or a bright star is that Venus was below the horizon at the time and there were no excessively bright stars in that sector of the sky at the time. The disappearance of the radar target at the same time as the light suggests that the UFO was a some kind of metallic unknown object hovering in the vicinity of Oak Ridge. This is another Oak Ridge sighting that is not in the Blue Book file, nor are the following October events.
About six hours later, between 2 AM and 3 AM, October 25, the radar unit reported several slowly moving objects such as had been seen previously. On October 26 at 5 AM Col. Edwin Thompson heard an intermittent noise like the blast of a jet, similar to what had been reported on the 15th and 16th. He saw no aircraft associated with the noise. Three days later seven people waiting at the Knoxville Airport “saw an object traveling to the Southwest at a great rate of speed. (name censored), who has considerable flying experience, was extremely excited and stated that this object was not an aircraft. He described it as a circular object, leaving a trail of smoke.”
There were two reported sightings on November 5. At 9:29 AM an object was detected on radar traveling over the restricted area at a speed of 80 mph. A fighter aircraft attempted an intercept and then trailed the object for 20 miles. The pilot reported no visual contact. Two and a half hours later, at 11:55 AM, Don Patrick of the NEPA Division saw a very strangely shaped object travel by, apparently just above the mountain range. It seemed to change rapidly from a pear shape to a bean shape and other sausage-like shapes as it traveled. Although the shape changed the overall size was about constant. It seemed translucent but had definite outlined edges as seen against the sky and background clouds. There was no particular color and there were no bright highlights. Mr. Patrick at first thought it was a balloon but then realized that the shape changes and rapid motions meant it was something else. He told the CIC investigator that “the core (dark triangular portion) remained constant and the apex of the core varied only a few degrees while the body of the object seemed to change shapes rapidly and would become elongated during a quick movement of the object.” Project Blue Book files list this sighting as unidentified.
As part of the CIC agent’s attempts to explain these sightings he asked Mr. J. Holland, chief of the Weather Section of the AEC at Oak Ridge, to provide information on balloon launches at the times of the sightings. There was no correlation. The only sighting that could have been a balloon was the October 20 sighting, and even that was not correlated with the Weather Section data. With regard to the radar detections during the previous month, Mr. Holland said radar can be reflected from patches of ionized air and if a large quantity of radioactive material were released it might provide sufficient ionaization of the air. However, he didn’t believe any such release had occurred. According the the CIC agent’s report the Weather Section would carry out research to determine whether or not “radioactive energy ejections” could cause radar returns. There is no report on the results of the radar research.
Between 5 and 11 PM on November 29 radar targets returned to the Oak Ridge area. Fighters were scrambled. They saw nothing. However, at 7 PM, during this period of radar sightings, graphic records of Geiger counter detections in the restricted area of Oak Ridge indicated an abnormal increase in alpha and gamma radation that could not be attributed to a known source. Apparently this was “too much” for the officials in charge of Oak Ridge security. They held a two day meeting to discuss the “operational difficulties” of the early warning radar of the Air Defense Command at Knoxville. AFI was asked to investigate the situation and to set up a separate radar set for comparison.
The suggestion that some radar targets might be the result of ionization of the air by nuclear radiation must have been on the mind of Mr. Gray, SAC Knoxville, because on December 4 he called FBI headquarters and discussed the speculation that releases of radioactive material could have caused the anomalous radar targets observed. The next day Mr. Hoover sent an urgent teletype to SAC Knoxville: “Arrangements should be made to obtain all facts concerning possible radar jamming by ionization of particles in the atmosphere. Conduct appropriate investigation to determine whether incident occurring northeast of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, could have had any connection with alleged radar jamming.” Unfortunately any information that might have been available on the “Oliver Springs” case has not been released. Nor is there any response to Hoover’s teletype message.
On December 5 and 6 there was a discussion of the technical aspects of the radar sightings with ATIC and intelligence officials. They concluded that the targets were probably “radar angels” which are reflections of objects on the ground which are observed only because of a temperature inversion which bends the radar radiation downward. On the other hand, that did not mean that there were no flying saucers around. At about 12:50 PM, December 5, the wife of one of the security officers saw an unusual object north of her position, flying apparently over the Post Office building in Oak Ridge. It appeared to be a couple of miles away and 500 feet above the ground. It appeared to be made of highly polished aluminum or metal that reflected the sun. Its shape was round and flat or disklike. She saw the object for about a minute as it flew in a direct course eastward. Ten minutes later another lady at a different location observed the same or a similar object heading westward. The OSI agent who investigated this case learned that there was an east wind at 6 mph and a clear sky. No balloons had been launched near that time. He also learned that there were two aircraft airborne at the time, but both were about fourteen miles south of the witnesses. ATIC subsequently claimed that the witnesses saw an aircraft
Although ATIC would eventually claim that most of these events were mundane (radar anomalies, balloons, aircraft) and leave only two of the Oak Ridge sightings unidentified, the local military officials and scientists were not so certain of easy identifications. They planned to begin their own scientific investigation. Lt. Col. John Hood, the AMC Field Engineering Officer, outlined the plan in a December 5 memorandum entitled “Technical Approaches to the Problems of UFOs.” He proposed placing radiation counters over a wide area. After there had been sufficient anomalous object reports to establish a pattern, the data recorded by these counters would then be compared for time and location with the sightings “to see if any change in the background (radiation) occurs with the presence of sighted objects.” He also proposed that portable counters be made available which could be taken to the area of a sighting. Along with the counters he proposed that an aircraft with Geiger counters and also a magnetometer be made available. The magnetometer would indicate any fluctuations in the local magnetic field associated with sightings. He also proposed more accurate radars capable of measuring height as well as range and azimuth. This plan was to begin operating near the end of December.
The next anomalous event in the Oak Ridge area was yet another appearance of radar targets which “blanketed the radar scopes in the area directly over the government Atomic energy Commission projects.....these objects could not be identified from the radar image and a perfect fighter interception met with negative results.”
The last Oak Ridge sighting of any consequence occurred at about 8:30 AM on December 18. Groups of people in separate cars traveling to work saw an unusual object fly over the Oak Ridge area. To the Air Force officers in one of the cars it appeared as would a bright reflection from a very distant aircraft. It was southwest of them and they only saw it for a few seconds. At the same time several other NEPA project employees were in another car at a different location. They saw this object for about 30 seconds before it was obscured by the nearby hills. They described it as a bright circular light with an intensity greater than that of the full moon. It was between 15 and 30 degrees above the horizon as it moved in a northwesterly direction. They observed a strange effect on the circular light: it seemed to “darken, starting at approximately 7:00 t o 9:00 o’clock along the perimeter and continuing to darken along the perimeter and inner area until the light was concentrated in approximately 1:00 to 3:00 o’clock position of a very small diameter, at which point it appeared somewhat similar to a large star.”
About the time that Col. Hood’s research plan was to be put into effect the last two Oak Ridge sightings occurred. These were on December 20 and January 16. The December 20 case was another radar-only event (no visual contact) and the January 16 sighting involved sightings of stars. The Oak Ridge flap was over. There were no more sightings until a single one in the late fall of 1951. By that time the research project had effectively died. Thus, as happened with Project Twinkle in New Mexico, just as the local scientists and security agencies were about to carry out precise research that could prove the UFOs were real anomalous objects.... they disappeared!
In retrospect, although it might be possible that some of the radar detections were weather anomalies, often called “radar angels,” caused by temperature inversions in the atmosphere, the visual sightings cannot be so easily dismissed.
Source: UFO FBI Connection, Pages 163-181 (Bruce Maccabee)