Journal of UFO Studies, New Series, Vol. 7, 2000 (pp 27-64)
Project Sign and the Estimate of the Situation
By Michael D. Swords
Environmental Institute, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008, U.S.A.
Abstract: Upon becoming aware of the explosion of reports of anomalous aerial phenomena over the United States in the summer of 1947, the U.S. Air Force became alarmed and instituted emergency studies of the "flying disks." Quickly this task was delegated to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's intelligence division, and in January 1948 became a formal project, Sign. Sign investigated the phenomenon for seven months and decided that it was best explained by the extraterrestrial (spacecraft) hypothesis (ETH). An Estimate was produced for the Pentagon giving reasons for this. Elements of the very high rank in the Pentagon would not accept this, and their refusal led to a major debate on the ETH, which resulted in the ultimate breakup of the Project Sign team and the destruction of all (with perhaps one exception) copies of the document. This early confrontation set the tone for the USAF behavior toward UFOs for the next two years and, after a brief respite in the era of Capt. Edward Ruppelt, until the complete cessation of the formal USAF project on the phenomenon in 1969.
Project Sign was the first official, formal investigative body concerned with the mystery of unidentified flying objects. It was a United States Air Force (USAF) intelligence activity located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. Ohio. Its bureaucratic location was in Air Materiel Command's (AMC) Intelligence Division, referred to on the base as T-2. It operated formally for about one year, the calendar year of 1948.
During that year Project Sign collected reports on a large number of cases, conducted some on-site investigations and many interviews, and attempted to analyze the UFO phenomenon in any way available. By the fall of 1948 the lead personnel of Sign decided that their investigations pointed to a conclusion. As was usually done for any intelligence analysis, they then composed what the military called an "Estimate of the Situation" which they sent to their superiors in the Pentagon. Their conclusion: The flying-disk phenomenon was caused by extraterrestrial agencies.
This created a great stir in the Pentagon. Authorities there were unwilling to accept it. The fallout of this consternation resulted in a quashing of the document, and a denial to the public that it had ever existed. This paper will attempt to detail the origins, nature, and functioning of Project Sign, as well as the reasons for the creation, quashing, and denial of the now-famous Estimate.
THE SUMMER OF 1947
The June 24, 1947, sighting of nine disks near Mt. Rainier, Washington, by Idaho businessman Kenneth Arnold started a flurry of reports that began the modern era of UFO sightings. At first, the military did not take these reports too seriously, but they changed their minds considerably in about one week's time. This change of attitude was due to the continued stream of disk reports, many by their own pilots and personnel. In fact, the first week of July 1947 had created considerable excitement within the offices of the Pentagon, with the Air Force Directorate of Intelligence scrambling to make sense of these mysterious overflights and enlisting the aid of their bases, other services, and the FBI (Fitch, 1947).
Gen. George McDonald was director of intelligence for Chief of Staff Gen. Carl Spaatz. But he and Spaatz seemingly played no role in this story. The real energy at the top of the Air Force's command seems to have been Spaatz's junior executive and incoming replacement, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg. McDonald, too, seemed to be slipping toward retirement as well as his World War II mentor and friend, and much of the action at the Directorate was handled by his executive officer, Brig. Gen. George Schulgen. McDonald and Schulgen presided over the Directorate when it was adjusting to postwar changes and the newness of the Air Force itself (soon to achieve formal independence from the Army).
The Directorate had several divisions of which two played major roles regarding UFOs.1 The primary offices at the Pentagon involved those of the Directorate of Intelligence (AFOIN) and certain locations in the two other divisions, the Air Force Office of Intelligence Requirements (AFOIR) and the Air Force Office of Air Intelligence (AFOAI).
The former had more of a service function, and included the important Collections branch (AFOIR-CO). In this office we find the executive officer, Col. Robert Taylor, and his right-hand man and chief collector of UFO information, Lt. Col. George D. Garrett. Acting Chief Garrett would stay in this position at least to the end of 1949. He would be a veteran source of continuity through this early UFO era, and a person in sympathy with the idea that the flying disks were real, technological objects. AFOIR seems to have been a source of individuals sympathetic to taking UFOs seriously, as it included not only Garrett and Taylor, but Col. Frank Dunn in the main office (who would become Captain Ruppelt's open-minded superior at Wright-Patterson) and Col. (then Major) W. A. Adams of the Documents and Dissemination office (who as Maj. Dewey Fournet's boss in the Pentagon would become a strong proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1952. (Fournet was the Pentagon's chief UFO officer in 1952.)
1 All offices had letter designators, the "alphabet soup" of military focal points, and these were in the process of changing. I'll give the designators that applied through most of this early UFO period as examples of the relevant organizational structure. In the summer and fall of 1947, USAF used a set of designators beginning with "AFB" for the Pentagon and "TSD" for the T-2 intelligence office at Wright-Patterson. These designators all changed in about December 1947, were tweaked again by early 1950, and totally changed again by the time Project Blue Book Director Capt. Edward Ruppelt took over in late 1951. I give the structural designators for the late 1947-1950 period below. The real organizational format seems to have remained essentially the same.
Organizational Chart, USAF Intelligence, ca. 1948
The Pentagon's Directorate of Intelligence was undergoing reorganization in 19471952. Much change also occurred in the executive positions of AFOIN, AFOAI, and its branches. The chart below is representative of the type of structure and staff as it was in the 1948 Project Sign period.
On the other side at the Pentagon was Air Intelligence. This was more an analysis division. From its Defensive Air branch (AFOAI-DA) and certain elements in the main office and Air Estimates (AFOAI-AE) came consistently negative views about the flying disks, particularly about the extraterrestrial hypothesis but to some degree even to their existence at all. AFOAI-DA seems to have been in part almost a spin doctoring office, fixated on manipulating analyses and conclusions to have the proper effect and appropriate action. This was the realm of the saucer-killing Maj. Aaron J. (Jerry) Boggs and Col. E. H. Porter, a very supportive superior who became director of estimates. Boggs stayed in this position a long time and Porter was still there in 1952. The Pentagon was a split house on UFOs from the beginning.
Organizational Chart, USAF Air Materiel Command, ca, 1948
Like the USAF Directorate of intelligence, the intelligence Division at AMC went through major restructuring in 1947-1952. The partial organizational chart below is generally accurate for 1948, the year that Project Sign formally existed.
At Wright-Patterson AFB, the Commanding General of AMC Nathan Twining presided over the USAF's technical research and development operation (called T-3, or AMC-Engineering), as well as the technical intelligence group MCIA, or T-2. These two functions were in separate parts of the base: T-3 engineering was on Wright Field, and T-2 intelligence was tucked away in an outer area of Patterson. T-2 could call upon T-3 labs and experts for help with analysis of reports.
The director of intelligence at AMC was Col. Howard M. McCoy. An excellent engineer (known as "Mr. Propeller' in his prewar days in the engineering division), McCoy was also an experienced intelligence man, having done fieldwork in Europe to bring back the remains of German aviation technology and some of their technical libraries. McCoy's intelligence division was set up to analyze reports of a potential or real enemy's air power. The main part of the operation was the intelligence analysis division (MCIA: Material Command Intelligence Analysis). This group's executive officer was Col. William Clingerman, a fine engineer and intelligence officer who personally investigated what was perhaps the first instance where WrightPatterson was ordered by the Pentagon to send personnel to the site of a UFO case, at Harmon Field, Newfoundland.
MCIA was broken into two sections: MCIAT (the technical analysis section) and MCIAO (the operations section). Under MCIAT were several branches (e.g., aircraft analysis, foreign liaison, guided missiles, special analysis, and special projects). The latter branch was a catchall office where ad hoc projects could arise. It would become the location of the flying-disk team, Project Sign. These offices were fairly fluid with regard to the actual work of their staff. Many officers signed off on documents as "acting chief' of MCIAT and for Clingerman as MCIA. Albert Deyarmond, a friend and war colleague of McCoy, worked out of Clingerman's office, was assigned to Project Sign, and could be seen writing letters and signing off for officers all up and down the T-2 structure.
But in the summer of 1947 the formal operation called Project Sign was not yet in existence. Reports of flying disks were coming from everywhere, but the investigation of these reports was disorganized. The Pentagon, through Schulgen, responded first as the natural focal point. AFOIR-CO was given the initial responsibility in the person of Lt. Colonel Garrett. He, Taylor, and Schulgen began to try to get their bases to investigate notable cases and forward the reports. They also enlisted the FBI, who assigned Special Agent S. W. Reynolds as the liaison. They began working furiously on this throughout July, involving Wright-Patterson now and then by direct communication with McCoy.
As July wore on into August, Garrett, Schulgen, and Reynolds became confused by a lack of interest and pressure emanating from the high echelons of the Pentagon. The previous year they had gone through an investigative furor about a subject that they considered to be similar to the flying discs, when hundreds of "ghost rocket" reports came out of Sweden and other European countries. In 1946, the top brass had exerted continuous pressure to find an answer, but now it had gone completely quiet. This puzzling void has been termed "the silence from topside." It was very peculiar to Garrett and the FBI. Their mutual suspicion was that the very highest officials knew what this phenomenon was already (Swords, 1991).
THE RESPONSE TO THE SILENCE
Agent Reynolds felt that it was a waste of personnel and resources to engage in a nationwide goose chase to find out what the Pentagon high brass already knew. Garrett agreed: It was no more useful for the USAF to waste its time. Garrett and Schulgen decided to place the issue squarely before the people who should know. They were certain that the response would be: "Yes, fellows, we believe that we do understand precisely what these disk reports are all about, and you really don't need to pursue it any longer." Instead, the chain of communications would ultimately lead to the establishment of Project Sign.
Garrett decided to broach this question of the wild goose chase in concert with a preliminary intelligence Estimate on the nature of the disks that he would write. During late July 1947, Garrett had collected and sifted his flying-disk case reports and selected 16 (two more were added later) from which to make his Estimate. We can visualize him sitting at his desk in the Pentagon, the case reports spread out before him ordered by date, marking each front page with a large circled number, and beginning to extract the pattern that he saw. What Garrett concluded in this first informal USAF Estimate was as follows (see Appendix 1 for the full text):
From detailed study of reports selected for their impression of veracity and reliability, several conclusions have been formed:
Garrett's 16-case (later 18-case) study was reported to the FBI and to his superiors in Schulgen's office. They then began using the study to query the research and development areas of the armed services: Are these devices our own technology? Are we flying them? Everyone, including USAF Chief of Research and Development Gen. Curtis LeMay, said no. Schulgen passed on LeMay's assessment. His exact words were:
A complete survey of research activities discloses that the Army Air Forces has no project with the characteristics similar to those which have been associated with the Flying Discs. [Schulgen, 1947a).
The FBI had contacted their sources in the Army and had received the same reply. We don't have similar documentation for the Navy, but the man who was to become the leading civilian UFO researcher of the 1950s and 1960s, retired Marine Major Donald E. Keyhoe, made his own inquiry of his personal friend, Adm. Calvin Bolster (naval chief of aeronautical research), and was also told that no such naval project existed (Keyhoe, 1950, p. 44).
This seemed peculiar - advanced technology flying in U.S. air space that none of the services was responsible for, and yet the very high brass not particularly nervous. Maybe there was something so new going on at Wright-Patterson that even LeMay hadn't yet been briefed. So, as a last resort, General Twining got the Garrett Estimate and the normal inquiry, probably in late August.
Twining passed the inquiry on to McCoy, Maj. Gen. Alden Crawford (chief of T-3), Gen. F. O. Carroll (director of research and development), Col. C. K. Moore (aircraft laboratory chief), Col. Russell Minty (power-plant laboratory chief), and Brig. Gen. Edgar Sorenson (Air Institute of Technology commander). They each studied Garrett's report, and held a conference on the disks sometime in mid-September. Twining reported the results to Schulgen (and thereby to Garrett and the FBI) on September 23, 1947 (Twining, 1947).
We don't have the polished Garrett report to compare with the Twining letter, but it appears that Twining's experts essentially agreed with Garrett's analysis. They added the observations that sound is rarely heard coming from the disks, and that their performance characteristics indicate that they are controlled objects. T-3 was of the opinion that something like this could be built with long-range but slow-speed capabilities, but it would be very expensive. AMC admitted ignorance of the nature of the disks, confirmed that they would continue to monitor reports, and suggested that an official project be formed to get to the bottom of the phenomenon. This was the last of the "we don't know" admissions. The Pentagon agreed that a formal project should be initiated.
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AND THE GERMAN/SOVIET THEORY
When the Pentagon first involved AMC intelligence in the flying-disk problem (probably about mid-July), T-2 chief McCoy began thinking about the possibility of German aeronautical technology. This is shown in the following sequence of events documented in the USAF's Project Blue Book files:
Also working for McCoy in the T-2 analysis division was Alfred C. Loedding, a design engineer on loan from the T-3 engineering division. Loedding had long been interested in low-aspect and disk-shaped airplane designs, and had produced a couple himself (Loedding, 1948). He was intrigued with the disk reports, and was sure that such designs could be made to fly. He soon became McCoy and Clingerman's liaison to the Pentagon on these matters. By late August, McCoy seems to have already gotten the hint that flying-disk investigations would be shifted to Wright-Patterson from the Pentagon and he asked for a meeting between Loedding, Garrett, and Dr. Charles Carroll (McCoy, 1947a). Carroll, a mathematics and missiles expert, had been making some kind of analysis of flying-disk activities. (One wonders, admittedly a bit idly, whether this was the beginning of the analysis mentioned by Project Sign a year later, correlating disks with near approaches of planetary bodies.) As Loedding became a strong supporter of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) for the disks, and Garrett already was a strong proponent of their reality and extreme unusualness, they could have formed the core of the ETH-friendly faction.
The meeting took place in the Pentagon on September 5, and Pentagon disk files were transferred to Wright-Patterson shortly thereafter. Therefore, even before Twining wrote his famous September 23 letter evaluating the disk problem and suggesting a formal intelligence project at the Dayton base, the matter had been decided.
The Twining letter ("AMC Opinion Concerning Flying Discs") was written by McCoy from his own and T-2's perspective. Not knowing what he was dealing with, he offered two hypotheses: a very high security project that even he, Brentnall, or LeMay didn't know about; or a project, maybe even nuclear, developed by "some foreign nation." He was thinking mainly of German scientists working for the Soviets. He wanted all the top scientific guns in on this: the Atomic Energy Commission, NACA (NASA's predecessor), the Rand think tank, the Nuclear Engine Propulsion Aircraft project, and others. He promised a detailed "Essential Elements of Information" (EEI intelligence requirements) to be formulated immediately, so that all agencies would have guidance on what to look for (Twining, 1947).
Exactly when this EEI was written is unknown, but in about a month it was distributed within the European Command by Lt. Col. Malcolm Seashore, former acting chief of MCIAT under McCoy and Clingerman (Schulgen. 1947b). The EEI covered all the expected bases of an intelligence operation concerned about the use of exNazi technology and engineers by Soviet projects. It was especially concerned with the same things that had been worrying McCoy and Loedding in August: the German engineers Walter and Reimar Horten and their disk-like flying technologies. Its description of the disks in flight were, of course, the same as those in the Twining letter, which were mainly those originally determined by Garrett at the Pentagon. A few descriptors were added, which must have made the idea of a German-Soviet craft seem very unlikely: the ability to almost hover, quickly disappear, group together very quickly, and "suddenly appear without warning as if from an extremely high altitude." All these new elements appeared in a December Pentagon estimation, rewritten from a similar Pentagon document of October 6. This indicates that radar detection of disks over Fukuoka, Japan, played a role in further concerning the Air Force about great maneuverability (McDonald, 1947).2
2 As an important sidebar to this discussion, a very nefarious misuse of the October 6 EE1 by McCoy has been uncovered (Todd, 1997). An unknown individual, apparently while investigating declassified Pentagon documents about the Horten brothers, seems to have taken this original EEI and constructed a fake version of it. The fake is dated the same as the October EEL called a "draft" instead of the completed official document distributed by Seashore, and attributed to Schulgen instead of to McCoy and Wright Field. The contents are largely left intact, undoubtedly on the theory that a good lie is always shrouded in the truth, but several deletions and additions occur. This manufactured fake was then somehow slipped back into the files to be discovered later by trusting ufologists who don't have such dishonest minds. When FOIA requests later included the fake alongside original accurate material, researchers naturally (including myself) were misled by the inclusions. This somewhat sick behavior points out yet another difficulty confronting scholars trying to piece together genuine historical accounts of what took place behind the mirror of secrecy in the military. The unfortunate pan of this is that the faked edition alleged that the USAF was having doubts in the fall of 1947 about the German-Soviet hypothesis and that some personnel were seriously considering the ETH. The tragedy of this hoax, I believe, is that it helps scuttle what was in fact the true situation. The genuine October 6 memo (rewritten in December 1947. and also genuine) indicates that by December the USAF was in serious doubt about the German hypothesis, yet strongly believed in a real "puzzling problem." They reasserted that the objects were not ours and didn't seem to be "theirs" either. Given what Loedding and Sign believed (the ETH) about one-half year later, is it not likely that the faked phrase of the hoax document ("it is the considered opinion of some elements that the object may in fact represent an interplanetary craft of some kind") is an accurate assessment? Sadly, due to the malfeasance of some scoundrel, it makes this case more difficult to defend.
Since September the intelligence department at Wright-Patterson had taken the lead responsibility for flying-disk analysis without having an official project or the material support that a special task would bring. Now the time had come to quit handling this as an add-on job, and become truly organized. The ball began rolling in early December, when LeMay made a request for information on the status of flying-disk analysis. Pentagon Colonel J. F. Olive (chief of AFOAI) and Lt. Col. J. E. Thomas of the Offensive Air section (AFOAI-OA) got the job. By December 18, Olive and Thomas had completed their reanalysis of the earlier documents from the Pentagon and Wright-Patterson, rewritten a new Estimate indicating a potentially serious but puzzling phenomenon, and turned this over to Chief of Air Force Intelligence McDonald for his signature. Also signing off on this document were Garrett's chief at AFOIR-CO and the new chief of AFO1R, Gen. Charles Cabell, who was being groomed to succeed McDonald. Around Christmas, the official letter was actually passed to LeMay recommending that Wright-Patterson should get an official flying-disk project, and that LeMay should formally notify the commanding general there. As it turned out, LeMay had just been replaced by Gen. Laurence C. Craigie, who sent the formal word to Wright-Patterson to establish Project Sign on December 30, 1947 (Craigie, 1947).
PROJECT SIGN AND ITS WORK
Sign was immediately organized as a special project under the Technical Analysis section of T-2. The name seems to have caught on a lot quicker than the alphabet-soup technical designation, but whether it was Sign or MCIAXO-3, the cases began to appear in Dayton to be analyzed. They landed on the desks of the following people:
1. Capt. Robert R. Sneider, the project chief.
2. Loedding, the T-3 veteran engineer.
3. Lawrence Truettner, a civilian engineer working on missile analysis at T-2 in the same corridor.
4. Deyarmond, the civilian intelligence analyst in Clingerman's office who had been a WW II field buddy of McCoy in Germany.
These four people would be considered the core group of the project. Helping this core were:
5. Maj. Raymond Llewellyn, the chief of the special projects branch of MCIAT.
6. Lt. Howard W. Smith.
7. George W. Towles, a civilian.
8. Occasional others (e.g., Chief of Special Analysis Nicholas Post and John (Red) Honker of McCoy's office) when needed. The project had the authority to ask any lab on the base for help, occasional field support (pilots or equipment), and contacts with outside experts. We do not know how much direct interest McCoy took in the work.
Sign believed (the ETH) about one-half year later, is it not likely that the faked phrase of the hoax document (“it is the considered opinion of some elements that the object may in fact represent an interplanetary craft of some kind”) is an accurate assessment? Sadly, due to the malfeasance of some scoundrel, it make this case more difficult to defend.
Although the project did not officially begin until later in January, Sign did not have long to wait for its first big case. It took place on January 7, 1948, and possibly produced more consternation and the longest after-effect of any other: the crash and death of national-guard pilot Capt. Thomas Mantell. The consensus of the UFO community today is that Mantell died while pushing his plane and himself too hard in a chase of a then-secret balloon called a Skyhook. Though this is almost certainly true, it wasn't at all obvious in 1948. From the viewpoint of 1948 and Project Sign, here are what the relevant facts seemed to be:
1. Ground personnel from a variety of locations were seeing a disk-like object in the sky.
2. Four national-guard planes were directed to it, three closed, and Mantel was in hot pursuit.
3. Mantell believed that the target was moving as fast as his plane.
4. It seemed to shine as if made of a reflecting substance like glass or metal.
5. Mantell was quoted, "[it] looks metallic and of tremendous size."
6. After the crash and investigation, the USAF (not Project Sign) said that Mantell had been chasing the planet Venus. No one involved with the investigation at Sign believed that, and in November 1948 they were still puzzling over this. Deyarmond wrote that this clearly was not Venus, and the case was unexplained.
It is easy to see how the Mantell case would get the project off to an excited but erroneous start. This incident highlights two important characteristics of the era: reason to believe that the UFO phenomenon was extremely interesting (and unexplained), and reason to disbelieve things said publicly by the Pentagon about UFO explanations. One wonders whether the project team felt that the Mantell object could have been the result of a Soviet-German secret project. The thought of a huge metallic disk leaving a fighter plane behind at high altitude was indeed an unsettling vision.
During the early months of the project another puzzling element added itself to the mystery: The UFOs appeared to be a truly worldwide phenomenon. Although there had been non-U.S. cases previously (and there had been a major wave of aerial anomalies in Europe, especially Scandinavia) in 1946, these were few in number and conveniently placed geographically so that the Soviet-German theory could be rationalized. Now reports seemed to be trickling in from everywhere. Cases in Finland, Denmark, Germany could be rationalized; but what about the Philippines, Paraguay, and the mid-Pacific? Of course, any report that didn't fit in could be wrong.
A second case that interested Sign occurred on February 18, 1948. Like Mantell's Skyhook balloon, this was not a UFO, but it is worth describing for other reasons. The case was of a spectacular exploding bolide over Norcatur, Kansas.
Concussion from the blast broke windows, rocked buildings and terrified residents over a wide section of Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.
One could see how a USAF intelligence project that did not view "extreme altitude" as some sort of impossible criterion and who were considering air technologies with unusually powerful engines might be interested. Maybe it was because the project was new or that the Army was already involved or just that our records of the case are incomplete, but the investigation by Sign seems incompetent. The investigation seems to have consisted of:
It was poor judgment not to send a project investigator to the site or work with LaPaz (or whatever experts were available) to interview witnesses and look for debris. No one from Wright-Patterson seems to have gone to Norcatur, talked personally with LaPaz (or with H. H. Nininger, who finally discovered fragment,, of the largest stony meteorite found up to that time), or got any direct evidence at all. Moreover, it was not at all certain that they were dealing with a bolide.
In addition to all this was extensive correspondence by Norman G. Markham, the first piece of which was sent to the Army Chief of Staff on February 20 (Markham, 1948). Markham was a lover of anomalies, a Fortean, and he felt that he had calculated a connection between the Norcatur event and the position of the moon. Markham suggested that perhaps the moon was inhabited and that flying objects visiting earth come from there. Several other past events were cited to buttress his views. This correspondence was not discarded as obviously crackpot. It went from the Army to the Air Force to Sign to the Scientific Board to LaPaz. Although LaPaz believed Markham's views to be fantastic, he noted that Markham was correct to call attention to certain unexplained incidents, possibly of real flying disks. One wonders whether Project Sign's statements six months later - that they had been plotting disk reports in relation to the positions of planetary bodies (and finding correlations) - stem from Markham's letters in this case file.
Whatever we have here in the Norcatur case, the investigation seems poorly performed. There were no direct interviews or other fieldwork, and the meteorite explanation was accepted on a letter from the uninvolved amateur, not a direct report from Nininger or LaPaz. No crater was ever found or photographed and placed in the file. And (this is the most telling aspect) the pattern of ignoring inconvenient contrary witness testimony was quietly condoned. What of the five "rocket" witnesses or Leland Sammons? It seemed that no one cared. But why this attitude, given the alleged concern at the times?
The next case activity worth citing was April 5, 1948, at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. Three highly trained balloon observers, including the project leader, J. W. Peoples, were working on a secret project for the Air Force's Watson Laboratories. They saw two objects. One observer followed one object, and the others followed the second object as they diverged. All were certain that the objects weren't balloons. They were large, whitish, roundish, very high, faster than any aircraft, and performing rapid, erratic motion. One object was lost low. The other went up quickly and seemed to just disappear. This case was deemed important enough to send Loedding and one of Clingerman's assistants, Lt. Col. J. C. Beam, to New Mexico to interview Peoples and the others. Unfortunately, the witnesses were gone when Sign arrived. (They were later interviewed at Watson Labs in New Jersey.) The witnesses were very sure of themselves and the case was classed as "Unidentified."
While at Holloman, Loedding and Beam talked with a Lieutenant Markley who had worked with the Watson team. Markley remembered one of them speaking of unusual radar returns from their equipment, but later the Watson personnel said that these were probably just "angels" (spurious echos due to atmospheric microstructures, insects, equipment malfunction, or other stimuli). Markley did report that UFOs had been seen around Holloman often. He himself had seen a disk in August 1947 and flat, round aeroforms on at least two further occasions. Beam and Loedding took a side trip to Phoenix, Arizona, to check up on an old sighting that especially interested Loedding: the July 4, 1947, case of a scooped-disk aeroform photographed by William A. Rhodes. Loedding's own views of a low-aspect, disk-like lifting body undoubtedly resonated with the object depicted in the Rhodes photos, and the report of their interview is very respectful. One might see this investigation as merely Loedding's interest, but it was generally true that Sign was interested in all the evidence, not just the cases which occurred "yesterday." At the end of their trips Beam and Loedding suggested that it was premature to place a permanent observing team at Holloman, despite the amount of activity that seemed to have occurred there.
The Memphis, Tennessee, case of May 7, 1948, is worth a brief mention. Two adult witnesses saw 50-60 unusual objects, apparently moving very high and fast, traveling in straight lines with slight zigzagging. They seemed shiny, like bright aluminum, with silvery trails. Beam also went out on this one. Three things are noteworthy about this case:
In the official Blue Book records, the Air Force unaccountably classed this case as a "meteor." Perhaps it was, but the experts appear on record as not thinking so. The assessment was probably not the original thinking of the Sign office. It is more likely the late-1948 thinking of Allen Hynek, once he was formally asked to make astronomical determinations, when possible, for UFO reports. His study, which was more an embarrassment to him in later years, would appear as an appendix to the reports of projects Sign and Grudge, Sign's new designation in 1949 (Hynek, 1949). Hynek viewed his job in these first case assessments as debunking. He was to get rid of UFOs as any sort of exceptional anomaly even when the so-called explanation he came up with was a huge stretch. He said that he originally enjoyed his job as a debunker (Hynek, 1973: 171-172; 1977: 34-38). Unfortunately this was a completely wrong-headed attitude, and it took him a long time to shake it thoroughly and return to a properly objective analysis of cases as they came in. But in May and June of 1948, Hynek was not yet around to throw water and rocks at mysteries, so Sign personnel probably viewed this and the next three cases to be real puzzles rather than foolishness, ignorance, or misperception.
The next case occurred between Plevna and Miles City, Montana, on May 17. There was one witness, a professional man named William A. Bonneville who believed that reporting this air intruder was a patriotic duty. A bright white ball, brilliantly illuminated (three times as bright as a locomotive's headlight would be), sailed over the hills from the northwest, and then to the south and back to the west, and repeated these meanderings for 20 minutes until sailing away into a dark cloud. No sounds could be heard. A long, bright light shot out from beneath. Somewhat stunned by this performance, the witness stated (with the charming naiveté of the 1940s):
Sign was probably as boggled by this experience as Bonneville was. But later, someone was up to the task: The case was explained away as "refraction of the planet Mars." This explanation is of interest not only because of its apparent ridiculousness, but because it is precisely the sort of idea continually used by Donald Menzel (Harvard astronomer and archenemy of UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s) in his later books and articles (Menzel, 1953). This refraction or mirage hypothesis was Menzel's siege gun. Almost any UFO case became a game to find some bright astronomical object in the general direction of the witness' line of sight, and then invoke misperception, ignorance, confusion, or rare atmospheric phenomena to account for the report. But as far as we know Menzel was not consulting on any of these 1948 cases. So where did this explanation come from?
INTERLUDE: J. ALLEN HYNEK AND SIGN
J. Allen Hynek formally became an astronomical consultant to Sign in 1948. The Plevna, Montana, explanation is one that probably came from an astronomer. This is a good place to try to understand Hynek's role, though it will not be possible to do so with any great certainty because of the lack of documentation concerning his earliest relations with the project. But it does offer an important glimpse of the Air Force's approach to UFO analysis.
We know that Hynek was officially tasked with studying UFO cases for astronomical explanations on December 16, 1948. This was Air Materiel Command contract W33-038-1118, the final report of which became the appendix for the Project Grudge report that largely debunked UFOs in 1949 (Hynek, 1949; USAF AMC. I949b). We also know that Herget suggested him as a consultant to the project around late May 1948. Sometime between these two dates, Hynek was signed on as a regular consultant and made "interim reports." It sounds as if the idea of a larger formal report (the Grudge appendix) was already in both Hynek's and Wright-Patterson's mind in the summer or fall of 1948. Still, Hynek said that he sent interim reports earlier than his formal study period. These reports were largely debunking in nature (Hynek, 1977: 15-17). Could Hynek himself have been the source of the "refraction of Mars" pseudoexplanation for the Plevna case? What an irony it would be if Hynek himself initiated the pseudoscientific mirage hypothesis that he would so vehemently criticize when touted by Menzel.
Let us first examine the key characteristics of the Plevna report. The object was an extremely bright ball of light (brighter than the moon, and three times brighter than a locomotive headlight) that flew through many viewing angles (north or northwest through "south of the road"). Whoever was doing the analysis must have had a hard time dealing with both the wide angular travel north to south and the extreme brightness. How any refraction would allow Mars to pick up that much extra luminosity should have given any astronomer pause. Hynek should have known better.
In his final report to Grudge he stated: "If this report is to be taken on face value, then no astronomical explanation of this incident is possible." Unfortunately, he continued:
This statement is of interest in several ways: Mars doesn't enter into it; the language is very subdued, though it stretches for a debunking answer; and there is a subtle hint of Hynek's (and the military's?) fundamental mind-set. Let's comment on each of these characteristics.
This is a Venus answer, not Mars. Hynek was quite ready to relegate many UFOs to Venus (e.g., the Mantell case, even though Sign refused to buy that). Hynek's Venus proposition tried to deal with the brightness while ignoring the traveling excursion. Refraction is never mentioned. Where then does the refraction of Mars come from? It is my opinion that Hynek was blameless. Refraction and mirage explanations were not his style. Of the 200-plus analyses in the Grudge appendix, only two - case number 33 (Mantell) and 229 - even hint of such a phenomenon, and the word "refraction" appears in neither place. In case number 148, with a Venus explanation crying out for him to tie up its loose ends with refraction, he never resorts to it. Hynek believed refractions of any spectacular kind to be very rare, and even then limited in what they could do (e.g., move erratically about two or three lunar diameters as in case 33). So where did this Menzelian answer come from? Herget? The University of Dayton? A chance interaction with Menzel? We'll probably never know. It does demonstrate a sad, early willingness on an unknown scientist's part to grasp for a debunking explanation wherever one could be found.
Unfortunately, Hynek's tentatively worded guess demonstrated the same thing. He was just being more polite about it. He saw his job as explaining away UFO reports. His typical Grudge style was to make a simple and honestly defensible statement, then (if the first statement didn't explain the case) launch into some low-key speculation. The latter often went well beyond the official descriptions and well outside his charge of providing astronomical analyses. He regularly speculated on balloons, aircraft, subjectivity, and you-name-it. His motives appear to lie in sociology.
Hynek's memory of the Air Force consensus was that there were two contrary schools of thought (Hynek, 1977: 13-14). One school, mostly at Wright-Patterson, felt that UFOs were real, technological, and, probably interplanetary. The second school, a majority in the Pentagon and a minority at Wright-Patterson, felt that the UFOs were nonsense. The Air Force's elite Scientific Advisory Board lined up on the side of nonsense; and these were the Elders of the Tribe of Science to which Allen Hynek belonged.
Hynek's mea culpa would have done much to relieve the sting of his early unscientific behavior in this matter if no one had paid any attention to him. Some did not, but others did. The core team at Project Sign apparently paid little or no mind to Hynek's negative analyses or interim reports: They were well on their way to their famous Estimate of the Situation and its interplanetary conclusion. If Hynek influenced bigger movers and shakers, like Clingerman and McCoy, there is no evidence of it. Who then did he affect? Possibly he influenced the negative school in the Pentagon, though there is no direct evidence of this. The Pentagon-created anti-UFO report of December 10, 1948 (USAF AID & USN ONI, 1948) shows nothing that could be attributed to Hynek. He may well have spoken to his tribesmen on the Scientific Advisory Board though, and in doing so reinforced their stance.
Those who were clearly influenced by Hynek were the people who read the Grudge report and who took over the UFO project after the sympathetic Sign team was broken up and dispersed. The evidence is abundant: It consists of the case evaluations written on the lower right-hand corners of the project's cards that led off the files of each individual report. There, scrawled in the corners, one can get the digested version of what the Grudge project was concluding about the cases: balloons, Venus, meteors, aircraft. Usually these were stolen directly from Hynek's report. Most regretfully, they were lifted from the speculation or stretch sections of each case, even when it was obvious that Hynek didn't think much of the explanation himself. Hynek had been very helpful.
One last thing before getting back to Sign's history. Note this phrase in the Plevna analysis: 'in seeking even a remote logical explanation." A logical explanation. This was a telling phraseology. These cases couldn't be what they seemed; this would not be "logical." Such objects were irrational, unscientific; they could not make sense. This was probably not only Hynek's restricted mind-set, but the Scientific Advisory Board's in toto. It was something that we do not understand enough about scientists and do not like to admit about them. Their curiosity is great; and it is restricted within broad but nearly ironclad limits. Outside of those limits is the realm of illogic and ridicule. Even in 1977, as he reminisced about his early sins, Hynek had still not made the complete transformation. He still spoke of "rationally" and "astronomically" as if one somehow defined the other (Hynek, 1973; 1977). His Grudge report, with its astronomical and often irrational comments, stood as a rich source of explanations for things not explained, and doubtless he and his tribesmen felt good about it. What an odd and dangerous way to come to conclusions on a matter of possible national security interest.
SIGN ROLLS ON
Ignoring the negative attitudes of consultants and the Pentagon, the Sign team was moving toward the watershed moment for the Project: the Chiles-Whitted case. We'll take two brief stops before arriving there. First, cast of Monroe, Michigan, May 25, 1948. Two Air Force officers were flying as passengers in an Air Force plane; one saw three objects come down from above and level off, approximately even with the plane and ahead of them. They were fuzzy-edged disks, and flying "astern" (one in line behind the other) and "stepped up" (those behind slightly elevated in step fashion). The objects were in sight about 10-15 seconds, flew opposite the plane's direction, took a sharp right turn, and were lost to sight. The viewer was fascinated by this and didn't call it to the other's attention until too late. Fortunately, moments later, a similar performance was put on by two disks instead of three. Both officers saw the action the second time.
The officers made wildly different size estimates (showing the dangers of this well-known subjective error when there are no clear referents), but the rest of the descriptions matched. Later for Grudge, Hynek followed his pattern: He said that there was no astronomical explanation. Then he speculated freely about holes in clouds, allowing a pattern of isolated shafts of sunlight to bounce off lower clouds and cause perfect echelon reflections moving opposite aircraft motion. The Grudge debunker was happy to write "Probable reflection" on the case record card, despite the fact that when Sign specifically asked for an opinion of the witness about reflections, they received a flat "no." Sign almost certainly felt that this was a UFO case. Grudge later "explained" it. Who knows what Hynek thought?
Next, Hecla, South Dakota, June 30, 1948. A husband and wife were driving and saw an unusual "star" high in the sky. The husband, an amateur astronomer and engineer, stopped the car and they got out to look for a while. The star, which they were pretty sure was not a star but a much larger (in angular aspect) mass, was not moving at all. They drove on, stopped again, and got others to look. More driving and another stop. This time, something seemed to be happening. The mass, still visually small, seemed to be larger and changing shape. A piece "fell off," moved away, and appeared like a round ball. Two more pieces now did the same, and moved to positions off the central body, which formed a perfect equilateral triangle. All the balls and the central object looked like polished aluminum. The central object now appeared like an aggregation of much smaller objects that dispersed and faded away. The three equilateral balls kept moving outward, always keeping their perfect geometry. Then they seemed to get smaller and fainter, as if rising to great height, and vanished. The astronomer-engineer said: "my convictions at this point were that it could not be anything terrestrial."
Sign probably agreed. Hynek again did his thing: This was nothing astronomical; on the other hand, "in all probability the object was a cluster of balloons, carrying, perhaps, cosmic ray apparatus." The explanation was within the normal pattern of Air Force explanations for the next 20 years: Find something sort of like what's described, ignore some awkward elements, say "maybe," and count it explained. The ignored awkward element here was the perfect equilateral triangle allegedly formed by the unintelligent, motorless balloon parts. Hynek's "maybe" became "fact" when the Grudge record card was labeled "BALLOON JAH," in honor of J. Allen Hynek.
And then came the Chiles-Whitted case. Capt. Edward Ruppelt, chief of the UFO Project in 1951-1953, said:
Between this event and the ultimate demise of Project Sign, many other interesting cases and activities occurred; but because of the overriding significance of this experience for the project's history, the other cases will be (mostly) ignored. From this point forward, the history of Project Sign primarily reflects the Chiles-Whitted case and those thoughts, beliefs, and actions that became closely related to it.
The observation occurred in the early morning hours of July 24, 1948. An Eastern Airlines flight was near Montgomery, Alabama, flying at 5,000 feet and soon to land. The night was mainly clear. Pilot Clarence Chiles and copilot John Whiffed were at the controls. Most of the passengers were asleep. Ahead of the plane and slightly above (the pilots estimated about 5,500 feet), a flying object came into view. Chiles said to Whitted: "Look, there comes one of those new jet jobs." As the device came nearer, they became more amazed. It was shaped like a DC-6, but with neither wings nor tail: a "flying fuselage." It seemed to be about 100 feet long with a barrel diameter about three times that of a B-29. At an estimated 500 miles per hour it took about 10 seconds to pass their plane and pull up sharply through the broken clouds overhead. They estimated its closest approach to be about half a mile. The device was dark at the front with a blue glow underneath. Red-orange jet exhausts spewed out 30 feet behind. The most spectacular aspect of its design was two double-decked rows of brightly lit, large, rectangular windows along the sides. Chiles thought he saw a more dimly lit front-cockpit area. Whitted did not. The whole display seemed a lot brighter and more vivid to Chiles than it did to Whitted. Still, in general estimates and configuration, the two pilots concurred.
The Eastern flight landed shortly afterwards and the pilots reported everything to their managers. Eastern released the reported details to the newspapers that day. The case immediately made national news: "Buck Rogers-like Plane Passes 2 Airline Pilots!" Everyone was reading the story the evening of July 24. It caught the attention of the Pentagon as well. The next day, Chief of Air Force Intelligence Gen. Cabell phoned McCoy's office at Wright-Patterson. Sign was ordered to get into the field immediately and investigate. By that afternoon, Loedding, Deyarmond, and Llewellyn were being flown by Capt. Clarence Groseclose to Atlanta. They met Chiles and Whitted in the Henry Grady Hotel the next day.
The interviewers (Loedding and Deyarmond) were impressed. The pilots told their stories, as recounted above, and were consistent. Both pilots had been military veterans and had good commercial reputations. Chiles particularly was considered by his bosses to be outstanding. Loedding, an excellent aeroengineer who leaned towards the extraterrestrial hypothesis, must have been stunned. Deyarmond seemed a more grounded military engineer, but he too had to be enthusiastic. This seemed to be the case Sign was looking for. Later, Llewellyn was able to locate and interview the lone passenger who had awakened and noticed something. He only saw the bright redorange exhaust of the retreating object and no details. Still, it was a small corroboration. Presumably, as Cabell himself had ordered this, they made some preliminary report to the Pentagon and began their analysis back at Wright-Patterson.
The pieces of Sign's thinking coalesced around this case during August and September of 1948. In the first week of August they received word of an independent ground witness (an experienced observer on a military base) to the Chiles-Whitted object. They immediately requested details from the base. Although official forms took about a month to arrive, this was another corroboration. Cross-checking anomalous cases, they noted that an apparently identical object had been sighted over The Hague. Netherlands, on July 20. They also recalled the wave of so-called "ghost rocket" sightings over Scandinavia in 1946 and early 1947 - more jet-propelled, flying fuselages. They requested special interviews for more information on August 19. It looked like the Chiles-Whitted object was the real thing.
But how could it fly? It was the exploration of this question that, I believe, finally tipped the balance. The object was a wingless, tailless fuselage. It was not simply a missile; it had windows, ergo, presumably, pilots and passengers. It must be able to take off, maneuver, and land. But how? This is exactly the sort of problem that air-intelligence engineers love. When they dove into it and (in their minds) came up with the solution, it placed the last powerful overlay of reality on the investigation. They found their aerodynamic answers in the advanced theories of the German aerodesign geniuses. Ludwig Prandtl's theory of lift provided not only the rationale of how such an object could fly, but also a guesstimate of the required power plant (USAF AMC, 1949a). The latter then took them the final step into the Land of Oz. Conventional power plants were nowhere near sufficient. It would take something much more powerful to fly the Chiles-Whitted object ... perhaps something nuclear.
This investigative odyssey must have been as exciting as it was astounding. Nuclear powered aircraft, or something even more unsuspected. We couldn't do it. The Soviets couldn't do it. Sometime during all of this the project personnel must have wondered about the correlation that they felt they were finding between UFO events and close approaches of the inner solar-system planets. Based on these correlations and their new conviction about Chiles-Whitted, Sign later sent notice to the Pentagon to alert all operatives, bases, and the other services to the potential for new UFOs reports in mid-October (Earle, 1948).
THE ESTIMATE OF THE SITUATION
In September 1948, Sign heard the details of the Chiles-Whitted ground-witness corroboration. The third qualified observer had seen a cylindrical object jetting red-orange exhaust over Robins AFB in Georgia, one hour earlier. It was heading in the direction of Montgomery. Project officer Capt. Robert Sneider had decided that the time had come to climax the project's task and write the required "Estimate of the Situation." Every intelligence operation's task was ultimately to present such a bestguess summary, strongly backed with as much fact ("proof") as possible. Using Chiles-Whitted as the core, and collecting around it many cases from the summer of 1947 to September 1948, Sneider composed the fateful document. The latest case known to have been utilized in the document took place on September 23, at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
We know that two prominent Air Force intelligence officers (Ruppelt and Fournet) saw the document in 1952. Ruppelt described it:
As project officer, Sneider would have been the primary author. Throughout this era, several other staff members typically got involved in approvals and sign-offs on drafts and reports. Deyarmond, Loedding, and Truettner almost certainly were part of the writing. Llewellyn certainly looked in. All these people, as well as higher-ups in Clingerman's and McCoy's offices, had to approve, at least in some sense. And an Estimate of UFOs as extraterrestrial would have been no small thing to assent to.
No one can give a detailed description of the contents of this famous yet mysterious document, as it has not been available for modern analysts to read. Yet the following cryptic description by Ruppelt, only the last paragraph of which made it into his book, offers some hints:
The Estimate would have been addressed to Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, but it really was meant for Director of Intelligence Gen. Charles Cabell. It was probably sent near the end of September, just prior to the next stunning UFO case: the George Gorman "UFO Dogfight" in Fargo, North Dakota, on October 1 (Ruppelt, 1956: 41-43). It would have landed in Garrett's Collections office and been handcarried to Cabell. Cabell may or may not have been shocked. It is my guess that he and his operatives knew what was coming. Very few real surprises are good strategy in military circles. Still, with a pro-ETH Wright-Patterson intelligence group on one side, an anti-ETH Pentagon Intelligence Requirements Office on the other, and open-minded collections officers and the powerful Research and Development chief (Gen. Donald Putt) in between, Cabell didn't want to decide this on his own. He handed the Estimate further upstairs to Vandenberg himself (Ruppelt, 1956: 45).
Upon reflection, this seems a bit extraordinary. Cabell's job was to deal with these Estimates and not burden Vandenberg with them. And Cabell almost certainly had to know that this was coming. But he still ducked. This situation, UFOs and extraterrestrials, was too big for anyone but the chief of staff himself to rule on. Cabell must have been in doubt about this, not just about the reality of UFOs but their extraterrestrial nature. It was Cabell who reinitiated the Wright-Patterson UFO project in 1951 as a serious investigation and cleaned the anti-ETH elements out of Wright-Patterson and the Pentagon (Ruppelt, n.d.). And much later, in the 1960s. Cabell told UFO and ETH-friendly CIA photo analyst Art Lundahl that he still felt the UFO matter deserved serious investigation (McDonald, n.d.).
But Vandenberg didn't have any doubts - not about action anyway. In what was apparently a very short time period for contemplation, the chief sent the Estimate cascading back down channels to Sign as unacceptable. We don't know who Vandenberg consulted or why he did this, but he was quick and decisive. He did not want an extraterrestrial assessment. He was saying clearly and loudly to Sign and everyone in between that he was not happy with this.
The timetable is uncertain, but a few facts are known. An October 7 document from Sign to Garrett and Cabell is an upbeat Sneider report on the initial investigation of the Gorman dogfight, making the object sound extremely unusual and intelligent in behavior. This was almost like a supplement to the Estimate (Snider, 1948a). However, on the same day a separate set of letters, composed not by Sneider but by S. Z. Hunnicutt, a member of T-2 and the Sign team, and approved by MCI heavyweights McCoy, Clingerman, and Leland Money, went out to the CIA, U.S. Army Intelligence, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. The query: What domestic (U.S.) technological developments do you know of that might explain UFOs and help us differentiate them from inimical (Soviet) foreign developments? McCoy writes in Hunnicutt's letter:
This certainly was not the conclusion of the Estimate. McCoy may have already gotten the word. None of the primary Sign personnel signed off on the draft.
The intelligence roil over this extraterrestrial conclusion for UFOs must have been fierce in October. Headquarters had expressed dissatisfaction over Sign's views but, fueled by the enthusiasm over the Gorman case investigation, Sign was undaunted at first. McCoy was caught in the middle. The fact that Sign preceded with their ETH opinions in the face of high-level Pentagon opposition is a source of some wonder. Either Vandenberg's slap down was very mildly delivered, or there was much support, albeit in the minority, for the respectability of the ETH in the Pentagon. Otherwise, McCoy would have reined in his staff at Sign. My guess is that both conditions were true.
In October, Sign personnel met with Garrett in the Pentagon to make reports, especially those from foreign sources, more efficiently transferable to the project. Word was spread about the impending new wave of reports due soon (which apparently actually happened). Internal memos referred to the Gorman case as possibly nuclear-powered and interplanetary. A request was made for the Rand Corporation to assess the feasibility of interplanetary spaceships (Clingerman, 1948a). Meanwhile, opposing elements in the Pentagon were marshalling their forces for a counterstrike. The most hostile area, the Defensive Air branch of Air Intelligence, had been pursuing a study of "flying saucer tactics" since early August, when the first assessment of the Chiles-Whitted object had reached them. Now AFOAI-DA brought the Office of Naval Intelligence seriously into this game. ONI had been mildly involved with USAF concerns about UFOs since it had requested to be included in January 1948 (USN Chief of Naval Intelligence, 1948). Out of this liaison would come a counter-ETH report in December. More immediately, AFOAI-DA and ONI would begin to change the atmosphere in the Pentagon to a more hostile, overt position. Ultimately these efforts swayed Cabell into writing a firm letter to Wright-Patterson on November 3 (Cabell, 1948a; see Appendix 2).
It would be interesting to know who composed this letter for Cabell to sign. Two prime candidates are AFOAI-DA, the office of the consistently anti-ETH saucerkiller, Maj. Aaron J. Boggs; or the Office of Director of Estimates, wherein resided Boggs's main anti-ETH confederate, Col. E. H. Porter, who was its deputy director. Essentially, the letter asked Sign for another Estimate. While admitting that the objects seemed real, it also cautioned that they were not identified. (Read: You may not identify them as extraterrestrial craft.) Efforts at identification must be serious and increased, since national security was concerned. Countermeasures must be considered. All of these comments were in line with Boggs's and Porter's concern (as well as many others) that some objects could be Soviet or Nazi-inspired weaponry. While Sign had been immersed in a world of investigating essentially local cases, the darker Pentagon corridors had been fixated on the Soviets and German scientific geniuses. Two different realities had been created.
Wright-Patterson's response was timely. By November 8, a Sign viewpoint was sent over McCoy's signature to Cabell and presumably Boggs, Porter, and ONI (McCoy, 1948b; see Appendix 3). The letter, written by Sign operative Deyarmond, was overtly submissive but covertly rebellious. It contained several comments agreeing with Cabell that the phenomenon was not identifiable and that no concrete physical proof existed to identify it. At the same time it dropped all sorts of hints, doubtless the same arguments used in the original Estimate, that the objects really were extraterrestrial whether the Pentagon thought so or not: It mentioned the ETH; it mentioned plotting waves against planetary approaches and finding a correlation; it mentioned the books of Charles Fort as indicating that this has been going on for at least a century (Fort, 1941); it mentioned that odd shapes (like Chiles-Whitted) can fly but require more advanced power plants than we have. It is interesting that the letter was written by Al Deyarmond, who was McCoy's old WWII buddy. One can imagine the two conferring personally on exactly what tactic Sign could take that would still be consistent with what McCoy was willing to say. The letter seems very strategically worded. McCoy was sympathetic to UFOs and remained so his whole life. In the late 1950s, stationed in Washington, he was a frequent and interested visitor at the major civilian UFO organization in the world, the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (Swords, 1997).
SHOWDOWN AND AFTERMATH
The Pentagon surely recognized the letter for what it was: a diplomatic refusal to give up. Either it or Sign initiated a confrontational meeting on this scheduled for November 12. Meanwhile, on the 10th, Deyarmond completed his reassessment of the Mantell crash from the beginning of the year. The object could not have been Venus, he concluded, and therefore was a true unidentified. With this added ammunition, some Sign personnel trekked to Washington to attempt to convince Cabell and Vandenberg of the ETH (Ruppelt, 1956:45). Other than Sneider, we don't know who attended from the pro-ET side. Deyarmond, Loedding, and perhaps even McCoy are good candidates. Ruppelt wrote that a "group from ATIC' went. The meeting was held at the National Bureau of Standards. Again, we don't know who attended on the D.C. side. Boggs is known to have been there. Ruppelt hints that Vandenberg himself was there. Some representative of the Air Force's Scientific Advisory Board came (probably Col. Ted Walkowicz). NBS personnel attended. As Edward Condon was then director, he may have had a stiff introduction to ufology at that time. Others, including Cabell, were certainly present.
I suspect that this was the final watershed moment for the project. Boggs, Porter, and ONI essentially won the war. Suddenly all the big scientific guns and overseers were required to peek over Sign's shoulders and assess their work. The Scientific Advisory Board and George Valley of MIT were to be made aware of all cases. So too Boggs' office, ONI, and maybe even the NBS (USAF DI, 1948; McCoy, 1948c; Clingerman, 1948b; McCoy, 1948d). Hynek was to be formally commissioned for an assessment, as well as Irving Langmuir and Rand. Going back home to Dayton, Deyarmond and Truettner went about the labor of writing the sanitized final Project Sign report of November 30 (USAF AMC, 1949a). Loedding met with Langmuir and had his views rebuffed. He said that he learned that "his stock was at an all-time low" in Washington (Trenton Tunes-Advertiser, 1954). Sneider continued to believe that the Chiles-Whiffed case was undeniable evidence, but it was a battle lost for almost everyone else.
On December 10 the victorious powers in the Pentagon published their own version of an Estimate - Air Intelligence Report number 100-203-72, Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the U.S. (USAF AID & USN ONI, 1948). This was the culmination of AFOAI-DD's work since early August, augmented by ONI collaboration over the past two months. UFOs are not extraterrestrial (the idea was hardly noticed). UFOs are probably real, but if so there is a small chance that they are Soviet and therefore dangerous. All in all, the word "Soviet" dominates the commentary. This estimate, like that of Sign, was classified top secret. Sign's Estimate was ordered destroyed. Six days later, the director of research and development ordered that the code word Sign be changed to Grudge. Ruppelt said that the choice of words was not random (Ruppelt, 1956: 59-60). The Air Force bore a grudge against UFO reports. One would guess that quite a few grudges remained among the contending intelligence elements. Ruppelt said that by the end of 1948 the morale on the project was very low and no one wanted to do the work any more. Sneider persisted with his analysis of the Chiles-Whitted object, and his five-page summary, Air Intelligence Report number 102-122-79, was forwarded to Cabell on December 20 (Sneider, 1948b). It has been called, probably insightfully, "The Ghost of the Estimate" by some UFO researchers. Report no. 100-203-72 has also been given this nickname, much less insightfully. It might more properly be labeled "The Assassin of the Estimate."
By the beginning of 1949, Sign personnel had begun to evaporate. Loedding disappeared from project records. Deyarmond's attention went elsewhere. Truettner made one last serious attempt at interviewing about nuclear propulsion (at Oak Ridge), and was given a negative opinion on UFOs by Col. Wassell. He, too, disappeared from the project. The civilian members were relieved of their duties and reassigned to other intelligence tasks within T-2. For Loedding in particular, his role and prestige were never the same. After a few further years of intelligence work, both he and Truettner left AMC. For the higher military ranks (Llewelyn and Sneider), all we know is that they were soon no longer involved, perhaps not even assigned to the same base. Even Clingerman and McCoy became less involved, perhaps because they had also heard that their tenures would soon be up and they would be sent to school and then transferred. The only persons left active on the project were two of the lower ranks: Lieut. Howard Smith and civilian George Towles. Their job was reduced basically to collection and filing. In this condition, or worse, would remain the Air Force commitment to a UFO investigation project until the summer of 1951: two years of neglect (Ruppelt, 1956: 59-95).
The Estimate and Sign had their revenge, however, in an unintended way. For whatever reason, the public and the media had become more interested in UFOs at the turn of the year. Perhaps the Mantell, Chiles-Whitted, and Gorman cases were having an effect on popular opinion, as well as behind the doors of secrecy. Or perhaps the doors of secrecy were leaky. Either way, the media was becoming proactively interested (Shalett, 1949). Sidney Shalett's push into the Pentagon to get Defense chief Forrestal's permission for a Saturday Evening Post article was the most spectacular example of this, but other magazines such as Argosy and True were snooping around as well (Moorehouse, 1949; Keyhoe, 1950a). Shalett visited the Pentagon and Wright-Patterson in early 1949, and got case information and quotes for his two-part article that would appear in April 1949 (Clingerman, 1949a). While he was collecting information, two things happened directly related to our story. The first was that the Pentagon really didn't like the idea of a civilian press person messing around a classified subject and then writing a "Lord knows what" rendition of what he'd found with apparent government approval (Cabell, 1948b). Therefore, the Pentagon determined to produce its own more elaborate report to be released simultaneously with the Post article (Boggs, 1949).
The second awkward moment occurred when Walter Winchell apparently was given a "Pentagon rumor" that the UFOs were Soviet missiles, and announced as much on his national radio program (Clingerman, 1949b). The rumor was pretty much what some Pentagon loose cannons would have said if they had been privy to the information and attitude of Air Intelligence Report number 100-203-79, the so-called "Assassin of the Estimate." By killing the Estimate, the Pentagon had produced an awkward and unhelpful rumor that they hurried to deny, but which stuck in many citizens' minds.
The Pentagon was clear in its intent to create and release a countering UFO report, but it blundered in executing the task. Whoever was responsible did not use the AIR information or perspective, or a strong debunking attitude of any kind. Instead, the report - called Project Saucer to match the nickname given Shalett to use in his article - was written in the mildest agnostic tradition of the post-Vandenberg Project Sign (USNME, 1949). It read like a sanitized Estimate.
How this UFO-friendly report was released is itself a mystery. Someone at AMC in the Public Relations Office had written something called "Flying Saucer Story," which was aimed at public release in order to give the official story. This was described as an article, whereas the Project Saucer press release was 22 pages long. Still, they may have been one and the same.
This article was shipped to the Pentagon's director of public relations, and from there to the Intelligence Department. There some disagreement occurred between Boggs, Brig. Gen. Moore, and Cabell (Boggs, 1949). Apparently Cabell himself approved the friendlier Project Saucer release, coming down squarely between the attitude of the Estimate and the attitude of his antipathetic underlings Boggs and Moore. A line from Boggs's memorandum cited above reads like a comment from Cabell:
Whether the busy general had time to think through all the aspects of this decision can be debated.
So the Pentagon's poor communications and blundering had produced the exact opposite effect from what they had seemingly intended: Shalett's article was the mainly debunking publication and the Pentagon's release looked like a corrective in the pro-UFO, amazing-unidentified-technology direction.
The individual most confused by all this was a freelance writer brought in by True magazine in the hopes of getting more information on the flying disks. The Project Saucer release convinced him to make a serious investigation, which got more and more fascinating. This, of course, was Donald E. Keyhoe: the Ultimate "Revenge of the Estimate," and an ongoing nightmare for the Air Force for the next 20 years (Keyhoe, 1950b. 1953; Swords, 1996; Jacobs, 1975).
For purposes of analysis by AFBIR-CO, eighteen reported sightings of "Flying Discs' were selected for breakdown into detailed particulars. Each report was assigned a number and each number appears in the left-hand column of the data on the following pages.
One report, Number 7, has not yet been received and therefore no information is included other than Date, Name of Observer, and Location. The Fourth Air Force is attempting to secure a statement from this observer.
Four reports, Numbers 2, 4, 17, and 18, have not yet been analyzed.
The subject headings on which the breakdown has been made are:
Hour (Local standard Time)
Observed from Ground or Air
Number of Objects Sighted
Direction of Flight
Length of Time in Sight
Deviation from Straight Flight
Manner of Disappearance
From detailed study of reports selected for their impression of veracity and reliability, several conclusions have been formed:
Department of the Air Force
3 Nov 1948
SUBJECT: Flying Object Incidents in the United States
TO: Commanding General, Air Materiel Command
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
1. By letter dated 30 December 1947 from the Director of Research and Development, Headquarters USAF, your Headquarters was required to establish Project "SIGN".
2. The conclusion appears inescapable that some type of flying object has been observed. Identification and the origin of these objects is not discernible to this Headquarters. It is imperative, therefore, that efforts to determine whether these objects are of domestic or foreign origin must be increased until conclusive evidence is obtained. The needs of national defense require such evidence in order that appropriate countermeasures may be taken.
3. In addition to the imperative need for evidence to permit countermeasures, is the necessity of informing the public as to the status of the problem. To date there has been too little data to present to the public. The press, however, is about to take it into its own hands and demand to be told what we do or do not know about the situation. Silence on our part will not long be acceptable.
4. Request immediate information as to your conclusions to date and your recommendations as to the information to be given to the press. Your recommendation is requested also as to whether that information should be offered to the press or withheld until it is actively sought by the press.
BY COMMAND OF THE CHIEF OF STAFF:
C. P. CABELL
Major General, USAF
Director of Intelligence, Office of Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations
Basic ltr fr Hq USAF, 3 Nov 48 to CG, AMC, "Flying Object Incidents in the United States"
1st lnd MCIAT/ABD/amb
Hq AMC, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. 8 Nov 48
TO: Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, Washington 25, D. C., ATTN: AFOIR
1. In attempting to arrive at conclusions as to the nature of unidentified flying object incidents in the United States, this Command has made a study of approximately 180 such incidents. Data derived from initial reports have been supplemented by further information obtained from check lists submitted by mail, from interrogations of other field agencies, and by personal investigation by personnel of this Command in the case of incidents that seem to indicate the possibility of obtaining particularly significant information.
2. The objects described fall into the following general classification groups, according to shape or physical configuration:
3. Some of the objects sighted have definitely been identified, upon further investigation, as weather or upper air scientific balloons of some type. A great many of the round or balloon shaped objects indicated in paragraph 2c above are probably of the same nature, although in most cases, definite confirmation of that fact has been impossible to obtain.
4. Some of the objects have been identified as being astrophysical in nature. For example, in daylight sightings, the planet Venus has been reported as a round, silvery object at extremely high altitude. Action is being taken to obtain the services of a prominent astrophysicist as a consultant, to study all of the incidents to determine whether some can be identified as meteors, planets or other manifestations of astral bodies.
5. Arrangements for accomplishing a study of the psychological problems involved in this project are being made in coordination with the Aero-Medical Laboratory at this Headquarters. The possibility that some of the sightings are hallucinations, optical illusions or even deliberate hoaxes has been considered.
6. Although explanation of many of the incidents can be obtained from the investigations described above, there remains a certain number of reports for which no reasonable everyday explanation is available. So far, no physical evidence of the existence of the unidentified sightings has been obtained. Prominent scientists, including Dr. Irving Langmuir of the General Electric Company, have been interviewed to determine whether they could advance any reasonable explanation for characteristics exhibited by the objects sighted. In an early interview, Dr. Langmuir indicated that these incidents could be explained, but insufficient data were available at that time on which to base definite conclusions. It is planned to have another interview with Dr. Langmuir in the near future to review all the data now available, and it is hoped that he will be able to present some opinion as to the nature of many of the unidentified objects, particularly those described as "balls of light."
7. All information that has been made available to this Headquarters indicates that the discs, the cigar shaped objects, and the "balls of light" are not of domestic origin. Engineering investigation indicates that disc or wingless aircraft could support themselves in flight by aerodynamic means. It is probable that the problems of stability and control could also be solved for such aircraft. However, according to current aerodynamic theory in this country, aircraft with such configurations would have relatively poor climb, altitude and range characteristics with power plants now in use.
8. The possibility that the reported objects are vehicles from another planet has not been ignored. However, tangible evidence to support conclusions about such a possibility are completely lacking. The occurrence of incidents in relation to the approach of the earth of the planets Mercury, Venus and Mars have been plotted. A periodic variation in the frequency of incidents, which appears to have some relation to the planet approach curves, is noted, but it may be purely a coincidence.
9. Reference is made to "The Books of Charles Fort" with an introduction by Tiffany Thayer, published 1941, by Henry Holt & Co., New York, N. Y. It appears that similar phenomena have been noted and reported for the past century or more.
10. In view of the above, the following conclusions are drawn:
11. It is not considered advisable to present to the press information on those objects which we cannot yet identify or about which we cannot present any reasonable conclusions. In the event that they insist on some kind of a statement, it is suggested that they be informed that many of the objects sighted have been identified as weather balloons or astral bodies, and that investigation is being pursued to determine reasonable explanations for the others.
12. A report, summarizing the results obtained from analysis of the data and a technical investigation of the engineering aspects of the objects described, is nearly complete, and a copy will be forwarded to your Headquarters in the near future.
FOR THE COMMANDING GENERAL
H. M. McCOY,
Chief, Intelligence Department