A History of UFO Research, Part 2

Robert Emenegger

It has been speculated about in books, hinted at in articles, expounded on by lecturers, and argued by UFO buffs that the Air Force has been, and still is, involved in an elaborate and perhaps sinister conspiracy to hide the real facts about UFOs from the public. Considering some of the Pentagon's past indiscretions, this allegation would appear to be quite in keeping.

But, after reviewing the subject within the Pentagon in some frank, closed-door discussions, spending several days with the ex-heads of Project Blue Book, retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Friend and Lieutenant Colonel Hector Quintanilla, reviewing the subject with the Air Force's scientific advisor on UFOs, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, plus many official internal documents, personal letters, and files - after all that, I feel the "conspiracy" idea is mostly in the minds of the accusers. The only thing that's been proven to my satisfaction is that the mere accusation of a "conspiracy" in itself sells books and puts lecturers in demand. After all, what's more titillating than rumors of "three flying saucers carefully hidden away in some cave behind the hills of Colorado Springs by the Air Force?" Or the often-heard rumor that there are "two small extraterrestrial bodies, recovered from a downed spacecraft, now pickled and kept in the third sub-basement of the Air Force's Foreign Technology Division in Ohio?" That's potent stuff - but in reality I believe our government may be as mystified by the phenomenon as the man down the street.

If the Air Force gives an outer appearance of having the situation well under control, internally it is plagued by loose ends. Report after report reads, "no definite and conclusive evidence is yet available that would prove or disprove the existence of unidentified flying objects as real aircraft of unknown and conventional configurations" or "it can never be absolutely proven that 'flying saucers' do not exist." In fact, an extraterrestrial theory, at one time had been seriously considered as the explanation. But to understand the Air Force's real interest in UFOs, a brief background of its involvement might be helpful.

The Pentagon first became actively involved in the UFO phenomenon in the late 1940s, when reports started coming in about objects and lights seen in the sky by military personnel and others with high credibility.

The Air Force - then it was the Air Corps - thought there was a logical explanation but decided to investigate the matter anyway. There was that one possibility that these flying objects could well be foreign weapons deployed here for test purposes, and that possibility made it a national-security concern. Early investigations led right into no-man's land, and it quickly became apparent to the Pentagon that the UFO phenomenon would need increased and more penetrating study. So, General Nathan F. Twining - then commander of Air Materiel Command, which included the intelligence-gathering arm for the Air Corps - recommended, in a top-level discussion, starting a full-scale classified study to identify these unidentifiable objects.

The investigation branch was called Project Sign. The project had been under way for only two weeks when Captain Mantell crashed in his P-51 pursuing what the press felt to be a UFO. It made headlines across the nation. The staff's investigation was far from complete, but public pressure was enormous and building. Project Sign personnel were forced to come up with an answer to quiet growing speculation that Mantell had been killed by hostile aliens in a flying saucer. That's when they decided that Mantell was probably chasing Venus. They had statistics to back it up. It was, in the last analysis, an explanation, right or wrong.

Now the task was to determine whether the growing number of reports coming in were descriptions of foreign secret weapons. German scientists brought to the US at the close of World War II from Peenemünde (the German's secret rocket proving grounds) were carefully interrogated. Many of their former colleagues had been taken to Russia after the war; could they have developed a vehicle that matched the reported descriptions of UFO behavior? In each case, the German scientists responded that there was "no possibility of a colleague inventing a flying object matching the descriptions of the behavior given to them of UFOs." After checking out the other military branches and our World War II allies, Project Sign personnel couldn't come up with a definite explanation.

Then, in 1948, the Chiles and Whitted case had a great impact on the Air Force's project - it presented them with the first close-up account by highly reliable witnesses. Examination of the drawings and description of the object led some of the staff to postulate an "extraterrestrial theory." And they wrote up their then-top-secret "Estimate of the Situation," suggesting that the saucers were most probably from outer space.

This theory was rejected by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Hoyt Vandenberg, and even by other Project Sign staff members as not having enough proof - so the "extraterrestrial visitation" idea was dropped for the time being.

In light of this, it was felt that Air Force officers should investigate these UFO reports. After enough reports had been solved - and the phenomena clearly shown to be no threat to national security - the Air Force should then drop UFO investigations as a special program. The project was thus re-organized under the name Project Grudge.

Grudge attempted to identify the unidentifiable objects in the reports, and in most cases suggested the most probable explanation, based on current scientific knowledge. But still, about twenty-three percent remained unexplained. The staff stated publicly that it felt these unknowns could be misinterpretations of conventional objects, hoaxes, or the result of "a mild form of mass hysteria or war nerves," and they recommended closing down the project.

Nevertheless, more sightings by reputable and competent witnesses followed, and the press got hold of the information. The Air Force was forced to upgrade the project again, and it decided to make another attempt at solving and explaining the various sightings from around the country. Project Grudge's name was changed to Project Blue Book in 1952, and that became it's permanent name.

1952 was a big year for UFO sightings - over 1,500 reports. Of course, the early fifties were full of anxiety: the Korean War, fears of Russian attack, the McCarthy hearings, the cold war.

Against this background the CIA entered the picture: Could UFOs indirectly create a menace to us? Could they be used in any way as a "decoy" or propaganda aid to the Communists? The Air Force cooperated with the CIA and sponsored a scientific inquiry called the Robertson Panel.

After several days, the panel determined that the evidence-to-date did not justify the Air Force's sustained and systematic study of UFOs. The panel concluded that the public should be educated to the fact that most UFO sightings were, as the Air Force had always thought, misidentifications of conventional objects or natural phenomena. The thrust from that time on should be to show the public that all reported objects could be identified, if there were sufficient information. So with an almost "explain it come hell or high water" approach, the investigations continued.

From this point - up until 1969 - the Air Force came into a lot of criticism. For one thing, the Blue Book files were under the jurisdiction of an intelligence organization of the Air Force; by necessity, all intelligence information was classified. Blue Book also had other confidential material, like names and addresses of witnesses, in the records. To satisfy the public, there were regular press releases with Blue Book's conclusions, and annual summary reports were available. But because of the classification policies, the Air Force was still subject to heavy criticism - mainly the charge that it was holding back proof that UFOs were extraterrestrial vehicles. It created a bad dilemma for the Air Force: it had no proof that UFOs were spaceships, but it couldn't prove they weren't spaceships either.

Criticism was the greatest around 1966, about the time that Dr. J. Allen Hynek made headlines by saying that sightings in Michigan were of swamp gas, not UFOs. Then-Congressman Gerald Ford called for a congressional hearing, and more study was proposed. This finally led to the famous Condon Committee Reports.

In December, 1969, amidst great public controversy, the Condon Report from the University of Colorado finally came out. The committee had found no evidence whatsoever that UFOs were a threat to the national security (which so far has not been disproved), and Condon recommended that the Air Force terminate it's UFO investigations and analysis. He also stated that no scientific knowledge had came out of previous studies, and none could be expected in the future. Everyone seemed satisfied with the report, in 1969, with a great sigh of relief, the Air Force officially disbanded Project Blue Book. As a result, they are no longer studying UFOs.

The Air Force's struggle over how to handle the UFO phenomenon is now history, and it makes an interesting side story to the UFOs themselves. But in spite of official positions and the collective conclusions of all the reports, the UFO phenomena keep going strong - with or without official Air Force sanction.

A close look at the official data relating to the UFO phenomenon is most revealing. In the following pages you are invited to look behind the scenes and judge for yourself.

Continue with UFO Research History, Part 3.


UFO Casebook Home