Nuclear Connection Project
NCP Paper 

White Sands Films,
Mirarchi, and Project Twinkle

Bruce Maccabee

Here is "the story" on the White Sands films and Mirarchi and Project Twinkle. Anyone with more "dirt" on Project Twinkle, please let me know.   We should be hard on it.... because it was a supposedly scientific effort to collect info on UFOs....   and it was successful.... but the success covered up. Below is from my UFO FBI book.

The efforts of Dr. Kaplan and Major Oder to start a fireball research project came to fruition in the spring of 1950.   A $20,000 half-year contract was signed with the Land-Air Corporation which operated the phototheodolites at White Sands.   Land-Air was to set up a 24 hour watch at a location in New Mexico to be specified by the Air Force and the phototheodolite operators at White Sands were to film any unusual objects which happened to fly past.

The investigation began on March 24, 1950.  By this time there had been many sightings in the southwest  according to the sighting catalogue compiled by Lt. Col. Rees of the 17th District OSI at Kirtland, AFB, many of them around Holloman AFB.  His catalogue shows the following data for New Mexico in 1949:  the area of Sandia Base (Albuquerque) - 17 sightings, mostly in the latter half of the year; Los Alamos area - 26 sightings spread throughout the year; Vaughn area - none; Holloman AFB/Alamogordo/White Sands area - 12; other areas in southwest New Mexico-20; total - 75.   For the same areas in the first three months of 1950 there were:  Sandia - 6  (all in February);  Los Alamos - 7;  Vaughn - 1; Holloman AFB/Alamogordo/White Sands - 6; others - 6; total - 26.  With all these sightings, the scientists were quite confident that they could catch a fireball or a saucer.

On February 21 an observation post, manned by two people, was set up at Holloman with a theodolite, telescope and camera.   The post was manned only from sunrise to sunset.   The observers saw nothing unusual during a month of operation.  Then the scientists decided to begin a constant 24 hour watch on the first of April that would last for six months, with Land-Air personnel operating cinetheodolites (theodolites with movie cameras) and with Holloman AFB personnel manning spectrographic cameras and radio frequency receivers.  Thus began Project Twinkle with the high hopes of solving the fireball/saucer mystery.

A year and a half later, in November, 1951, Dr. Louis Elterman, the Director of Project Twinkle, who worked at the Atmospheric Physics Laboratory (APL) of the Geophysical Research Division (GRD) of  the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory (AFCRL),  wrote the final report.  According to Dr. Eltermans report, Project Twinkle was a dismal failure: no information was gained.   He recommended it be discontinued.   His recommendation was accepted.

But, was it a failure?  Was there really no information gained? Recall the FBI report presented in the last chapter which states that on May 24, 1950, personnel of Land Air saw 8 to 10 unidentified objects.  Isn't this information?   Let us look more carefully at  Project Twinkle.

According to Dr. Elterman, before Twinkle began there had been an abnormal number of reports from Vaughn, New Mexico, so it was decided to place a lookout post there. Why this place was chosen is a mystery to me. It is about 120 air miles from Los Alamos, about 90 from Sandia Base and nearly 150 from Alamogordo/Holloman AFB.   I have listed above the sighting statistics for the various New Mexico areas, being careful to list the sightings around Vaughn separately.  Note that Vaughn had only  1 sighting in the whole previous year.  So why did they waste a lookout post at Vaughn?  Why didnt they put one at Los Alamos or at White Sands?   Did they think that they could triangulate over a very  large baseline distance with the lookout post at Holloman AFB or  were they actually trying to avoid sightings?   These are questions which must forever remain unanswered.

Anyway, it was a mistake.   After Project Twinkle began the sighting rate dropped precipitously.    The Blue Book sighting list shows 1 sighting in April, 1 in May and 1 in August in the Holloman area.  There were  also fewer sightings in the other areas.  In fact, for the period from April 1 to October 1 covered by  the first Land Air contract there were only about 8 sightings in the whole of New Mexico as compared with the roughly 30 sightings during the previous 6 months.

The effect of this sudden decrease in sighting rate  is reflected in the Twinkle Final Report which says that there were very few observations.  However, of more importance is what is not reflected in the report.... what is ignored or covered up  in  the report...the fact that Twinkle was successful.

So you can understand where the writer of the Project Twinkle report was dishonest here is one part of it verbatim.  Commenting on the first contractual period, 1 April 1950 to 15 September 1950  Dr. Elterman wrote:

Some photographic activity occurred on 27 April and 24 May, but simultaneous sightings by both cameras were not made, so that no information was gained.    On 30 August 1950, during a Bell aircraft missile launching, aerial phenomena were observed over Holloman Air Force Base by several individuals; however, neither Land-Air nor Project personnel were notified and, therefore, no results were acquired.  On 31 August 1950, the phenomena were again observed after a V-2 launching. Although much film was expended, proper triangulation was not effected, so that again no information was acquired.

During the second contractual period, 1 October 1950 to 31 March 1951 there were no sightings.  It  was as if the phenomenon had reacted to the setting up of observation posts by moving elsewhere.  There were continuing sightings in other parts of the country and even a few in the other parts of New Mexico, but none near Holloman AFB.  The lack of sightings was enough to end the contract.  After the contract ended there were discussions about what to do with the data and whether or not to continue observations at at some low level of effort.  It was decided in the late spring of 1951 not to continue the special effort.   Elterman, writing in November, 1951, recommended no further expenditure of time and effort...and there was none.

But, what about  the sightings during the first half of the contract, the sightings at Holloman Air Force base in April and May, 1950?  According to Eltermann, no information was gained.  Was Elterman justified in making such a comment?

No!  Certainly information is gained when a number of qualified obervers simultaneously view unidentified objects from various locations. And more information is gained if some of these observers film these objects through cinetheodolite telescopes.  There is useful information even if a proper triangulation is not accomplished.  And there is even more information gained if a proper triangulation is accomplished...and one was accomplished, only Eltermann didnt mention it!

Farther on in the report Dr. Elterman indicates a serious deficiency in the operational plan for Project Twinkle.  The project scientists knew that they might have some film to analyze, but according Elterman there were insufficient funds built into the contract to analyze the film.  After a discussion with Mr. Warren Kott, who was in charge of the Land-Air operations,  Elterman estimated that it would take 30 man-days to analyze the film and do a time correlation study which would assure that these records did not contain significant material.   According to Elterman, no provisions are contained in the contract for this analysis.

One reads this previous statment with some astonishment. They set up a photographically instrumented search for unknown objects and then failed to provide for the film analysis if  they were lucky enough to get film.  What sort of a scientific project is that?  Did they want to succeed or did they want to fail?

Furthermore, Eltermans statement that a time correlation study should be done to assure that the records contained no significant material sounds as if Elterman had already concluded that there was no worthwhile evidence in the film.  Does this sound like an unbiased investigation?

Near the end of the report Elterman supported his statement that no information was gained by offering explanations for the sightings: Many of the sightings are attributable to natural phenomena such as flights of birds, planets, meteors and possibly cloudiness.
The typical reader of the Project Twinkle Final Report would accept Dr. Eltermans opinion as the final word on the subject.  Only the perceptive person would realize that Dr. Elterman had not actually proven his statement to be true, even though he presumably had access to the photographic evidence which would prove it, if it were true. 

Dr. Anthony Mirarchi was not the average scientist.  He was skeptical, all right, but he was skeptical of  the glib explanations.  In 1950 he was the Chief of the Air Composition Branch at GRD/AFCRL.  Project
Twinkle began as Dr. Mirachis project.   However, he retired from AFCRL in October, 1950,  so he was not involved with Twinkle when Dr. Elterman wrote the final report a year later.  In fact, Dr.  Mirarchi may never have seen that report.

Dr. Mirarchi visited Holloman Air Force Base in late May, 1950, and requested a brief report on the April 27 and May 24 sightings which Elterman mentioned (see above).  Fortunately for the truth,  the brief
report to Mirarchi survived in the National Archives microfilm record where it was found in the late 1970s long after the Twinkle report had had its...intended?...debunking effect on the green fireball sightings!  As you will see, this document refutes Elterman:

1.  Per request of Dr. A. O. Mirarchi, during a recent visit to this base, the following information is submitted.

2.  Sightings were made on 27 April and 24 May 1950 of aerial phenomena during morning daylight hours at this station.  The sightings were made by Land-Air, Inc., personnel while engaged in tracking regular projects with Askania Phototheodolites.  It has been reported that objects are sighted in some number; as many as eight have been visible at one time.  The individuals making these sightings are professional observers.  Therefore I would rate their reliability superior.  In both cases photos were taken with Askanias.

3.  The Holloman AF Base Data Reduction Unit analyzed the 27 April pictures and made a report, a copy of which I am enclosing with the film for your information.  It was believed that triangulation could be effected from pictures taken on 24 May because pictures were taken from two stations.  The films were rapidly processed and examined by Data Reduction.  However, it was determined that sightings were made on two different objects and triangulation could not be effected.  A report from Data Reduction and the films from the sighting are enclosed.

4.  There is nothing further to report at this time.

The writer of this letter is not known (no signature).   The Data Reduction report attached to the letter reads as follows:

Objects observed following MX776A test of 27 April 1950
2nd Lt.   (name censored)  EHOSIR  15 May 50
    1.  According to conversation between Col. Baynes and Capt. Bryant, the
following information is submitted directly to Lt. Albert.
    2.  Film from station P10 was read, resulting in azimuth and elevation
angles being recorded on four objects.  In addition, size of image on film
was recorded.
    3.  From this information, together with a single azimuth angle from
station M7, the following conclusions were drawn:
             a). The objects were at an altitude of approximately 150,000 ft.
             b). The objects were over the Holloman range between the base
                  and Tularosa Peak.
             c). The objects were approximately 30 feet in diameter
             d). The objects were traveling at an undeterminable, yet high
                                                                Wilbur L. Mitchell
                                                                Data Reduction Unit

So, there you have it, four unidentified objects... UFOs... were flying at 150,000 ft near the White Sands Proving Ground.  Each was roughly 30 ft in size.   The sighting was similar to that of  Charles Moore a year earlier.  Could Mr. Mitchell and the Askania operators have made a mistake?  Not likely. Their business was tracking fast moving objects (rockets) and calculating the trajectories of the rockets.  As the writer of the above letter stated, The individuals making these sightings are professional observers.  Therefore I would rate their reliability superior.

Human beings had made no objects that could fly at 150,000 ft in the spring of 1950.   So, what were they?  Whose were they?

Compare  the above letter with the first paragraph of Eltermans statement where he says ...simultaneous sightings by both cameras were not made so that no information was gained.    It seems that Elterman got his information on these sightings from this report to Dr. Mirarchi. Yet he did not even give a hint of the existence of the most important result of Project Twinkle, the April 27 triangulation which yielded information on altitude and size.  Could it be that he didnt know about the Data Reduction Unit report? Or did he know and choose to  purposely ignore or withhold the information?

Ruppelt, in The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, described the April, 27 event in more detail.  A guided missile had just been tracked and the cinethodolite crews were starting to unload their cameras when someone spotted objects moving through the sky.  The camera stations were linked by a  telephone network, so that crew alerted the others. Unfortunately all but one camera had been unloaded and the UFOs had departed before the other cameras could be reloaded.  According to Ruppelt, the photos from the one station showed only a smudgy dark object.  About all the film proved was that something was in the air and, whatever it was, it was moving.  Evidently Ruppelt didnt know that a triangulation had been accomplished 

Ruppelt  also discussed the May 24 event and its failure at triangulation due to the fact that the two cameras were looking at different objects.  Ruppelt wrote that in February, 1951, when he first learned of these sightings (this was about 9 months before he became the director of Project Grudge and over a year before the name was changed to Blue Book), The records at AMC didn't contain the analysis of these films but they did mention the Data Reduction Group at White Sands.  So, when I later took over the UFO investigation I made several calls in an effort to run down the actual film and analysis.  Unfortunately, he was not successful even though he did manage to contact, through a major who was very cooperative,  two men who had analyzed what was either the May, 24, or the August, 31, film or both (see Eltermans statement above regarding the August 31 sighting).  Ruppelt writes as follows:

...(the majors) report.... was what I had expected - nothing concrete except
that the UFOs were unknowns.  He did say that by putting a correction
factor in the data gathered by the two cameras they were able to arrive at
a rough estimate of speed, altitude and size. The UFO was higher than
40,000 feet, traveling over 2,000 miles per hour, and it was over 300 feet
in diameter.  He cautioned me that these figures were only estimates, based
on the possibly erroneous correction factor; therefore they werent proof of
anything - except that something was in the air.

Obviously Ruppelt underplayed the importance of this report by suggesting that the films didnt prove anything.  So what, if the size, distance and speed estimates might be wrong.... something was there,
obviously large, fast and unusual or the camera crews wouldnt have bothered to film it!  Since Ruppelt apparently was not aware that a triangulation had been accomplished for the April 27 sighting one wonders if he would have tried to downplay that film, also,  as not proof of anything.

At the bottom of the report to Dr. Mirachi is a list of enclosures which shows that two reports (Data Red Report #1 and Data Red Report #2) and three films (P-10 and P-8 of  May 24 and P-10 of  April 27) were sent to Mirarchi along with a map of the Holloman range showing, I presume, the locations of the cameras.  There is a hand written note Film on repository with AFCRL and a few other undecipherable scribbles.   Recent attempts to locate these films have failed.

Incidently,  the Project Blue Book master sighting list indicates that all four of the sightings listed by Elterman had insufficient information for evaluation.

The sighting rate in New Mexico dropped nearly to zero in the latter part of 1950 and remained low in 1951.  During 1951 there were about a dozen sightings in New Mexico, most of which occurred away from Holloman AFB.  The most important of these occurred on January 16 at Artesia, while Project Twinkle was still ongoing, but Project Twinkle personnel were not involved.   During the early morning two Navy balloon project engineers launched a giant Skyhook balloon near Artesia.  Near the end of the day it caused a rash of sightings over western Texas.  But the important events occurred in the morning while the balloon was still in the vicinity of Artesia airport.
At about 9:30 AM  the project engineers were observing the balloon which, by this time, was at its maximum altitude of about 110,000 ft and its maximum diameter of about 110 feet and was drifting in an easterly direction at about 5 mph.   They noted another round object that had appeared in the clear sky not far from, but seemingly above, the balloon.This unidentified object appeared to be dull white in color and considerably larger than the balloon.  This object went out of sight in the distance.  These engineers then traveled several miles westward to the Artesia airport to view the balloon from another location.  While again watching the balloon high overhead, this time in the company of the airport manager and several other individuals, they and the others saw two dull grey objects at a very high altitude which came from the  northeast toward the balloon, made an arc (a turn) of about 300 degrees around the balloon and then departed in a northerly direction.    The objects seemed to be the same size,  relative to the balloon, as the object seen earlier.  They were separated by a distance about 7 times the diameter of either one and, when they made the sharp turn, seemingly around the balloon, they appeared to tilt on edge and could not be seen until they apparently levelled out again.  The objects traveled at  high speed and, after passing around the balloon, disappeared in the distance in several seconds.  In the Blue Book master list this case is listed as having insufficient information, apparently because Project Grudge did not learn of this sighting until over
a year later.

Although Dr. Mirarchi retired in October 1950 and had no part in writing the final Twinkle report that was completed over a year later, his involvement with the green fireballs and saucers did not end when he retired.   Four months later he returned to action in a public way and his actions nearly got him into serious trouble three years afterward!

In the middle of February, 1951  Time  magazine published  an article that featured a well known scientist, Dr. Urner Liddel of the Naval Research Laboratory near Washington, DC.  In the article Dr. Liddel stated that he had studied around 2,000 saucer reports and, in his opinion, the only credible saucer sightings were actually sightings of misidentified Skyhook balloons, balloons which had been kept secret by the armed services.   Apparently Dr. Liddel wasnt aware of the several sightings by balloon project scientists.

Evidently  Dr. Mirarchi felt it was his civic duty to repudiate Liddels claims because two weeks later he responded publicly.  According to a United Press story filed  on February 26, 1951  Mirarchi said he
believed, after investigating 300 reports of flying saucers, that  the saucers were missiles from Russia which had photographed our atomic bomb test sites.  According to the United Press article the 40 year old scientist who for more than a year conducted a top secret investigation into the weird phenomena said that he had worked with balloons and balloons did not leave an exhaust trail.  Another reason given against the balloon explanation was that balloons could not be seen at night.  Mirachi explained how scientists had picked up dust particles containing copper which could have come from no other source than the saucer motive plants (the engines).  (This was a reference to efforts by Dr. La Paz to have air samples taken after a green fireball sighting to see if there were any small particles of copper or copper compounds in the air.  Such compounds burn green or give off a characteristic green color when heated, so La Paz had conjectured that the green color could be attributed to burning copper compounds associated with the fireballs.  In one case there was success in detecting such particles, although La Paz was not completely convinced that the particles were from the fireball.)

Mirarchi went on to explain that the flying saucers or fireballs as he terms them, were regularly observed near Los Alamos until he set up a system of phototheodolites to measure their speed, size and distance away....  but the fireballs mysteriously ceased appearing before the theodolites could go to work.  Dr. Mirarchi concludes that spies must have tipped off the saucers home base.   Mirarchi referred to two sightings for which there was photographic evidence: a single photo of a round glowing object and a motion picture which showed one streaking across the sky for one and a half minutes.   Mirarchi went on to say that he was aware that some sightings were actually sightings of balloons, but that there was too much evidence in favor of saucers to say they could have all been balloons. I was conducting the main investigation.  The government had to depend on me or my branch for information.  He said he did not see how the Navy (i.e., Dr Liddel) could say that there had been no concrete evidence on the existence of the phenomena.

Mirachi concluded by accusing the government of committing suicide by secrecy for not admitting that the saucers were real and probably missiles from Russia.

Strong words!   So strong they nearly got Mirarchi in trouble more than two years later.  According to an Air Force document released in 1991(!), in 1953, during a time of espionage and spy hunting (the Rosenbergs, atomic spies, were executed in 1953) the FBI queried the Air Force as to whether or not Mirarchi should be investigated for breaking security.  Lt. Col. Frederick Oder, who had been instrumental in getting Project Twinkle started  (see Chapter 12), responded by writing that, because Mirarchi had released to the newspaper some information that was classified Confidential or Secret it could cause serious harm to the internal security of the country...if it were to fall into unfriendly hands...both from the point of view of the prestige of our Government and the point of view of revealing our interest in certain classified projects.

Brigadier General W. M. Garland, who was in charge of AMC in 1953, decided not to pursue Dr. Mirarchi because, in his opinion, the information was not that important.  Furthermore, in Gen. Garlands opinion, the facts about saucers being missiles, as stated in the newspaper article, had been disproved or are, at best, personal opinions, and are not considered classified data.  In other words, Gen. Garland apparently believed that the green fireball and saucer sightings were not Russian missiles, although he did not say what he thought they were.
Perhaps Gen. Garland let Mirarchi off the hook because he recalled that there had been a recommendation to declassify and release the results of Project Twinkle in December, 1951, a month after the final report was written.  However, he could find no record of declassification in the files of AMC.  Evidently he was not aware of the recommendation against declassification contained in a February 1952 letter to the Directorate of Intelligence from the Directorate of Research and Development which states:

The Scientific Advisory Board Secretariat has suggested that this project
not be declassified for a variety of reasons, chief among which is that no
scientific explanation for any of the fireballs and other phenomena was
revealed by t he (Project Twinkle) report and that some reputable scientists still
believe that the observed phenomena are man-made. 

Another letter, this time from the Directorate of Intelligence to the Research Division of the Directorate of Research and Development, dated  March 11, 1952, adds another reason for withholding the information from the public:

It is believed that a release of the information to the public in its present condition would cause undue speculation and give rise to unwarranted fears among the populace such as occurred in previous releases on unidentified flying objects.  This results from releases when there has been no real solution.

In other words, Air Force Intelligence had realized that the public could see through the smokescreen of previous explanations and wanted real answers, so, if they couldnt come up with real answers it  was better to say nothing.

Over a year after Mirarchi responded to Liddel,  LIFE  Magazine published an article on flying saucers (discussed in Chapter 19).  In that article the authors described some of the sightings which caused the Air Force to start Project Twinkle.   One of the hundreds of letters which the magazine received in response to that article was from Captain Daniel McGovern who wrote I was very closely associated with Projects Twinkle and Grudge at Alamogordo, N. Mexico where I was chief of the technical photographic facility at Holloman Air Force Base.  I have seen several of these objects myself` and they are everything you say they are as to shape, size and speed. (LIFE,  April 28, 1952)

Source: UFO FBI Connection, Pages 149-161 (Bruce Maccabee)