MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS AGO, during the most amazing flap of flying saucer sightings in the USA (and the world), the Air Force almost publicly stated that at least some of the objects seen during sightings of UFO sightings could be, literally, "interplanetary." However, during a large press conference in late July, 1952, instead of admitting that the Air Force couldn't explain all sightings and that some "high officials" essentially assumed that flying saucers were "interplanetary craft," the Air Force said that everything could be explained as natural phenomena and there was no conceivable threat to the USA. Thus the Air Force established a "tradition" which is part of the Legacy of 1952: there is nothing of real significance in UFO reports. We still live under this "tradition." Another consequence of the large number of sightings in1952 was that the CIA convened the "Robertson Panel" which decided that saucer sightings are not evidence of interplanetary vehicles and established the second part of Legacy of 1952: UFO reports should all be explained and debunked. This report tells story of the 1952 sighting flap and how it caused the Air Force and CIA to effectively "slam the lid" on scientific UFO investigation.
Pre-History of 1952
The world first became aware of flying saucer sightings in the summer of 1947 with the nationwide and worldwide publication of the report of Kenneth Arnold's June 24 sighting of nine "discs" traveling rapidly past Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington. In the subsequent weeks well over a thousand sightings were reported in the local press accounts throughout the USA and in other parts of the world. The Air Force quickly became involved because some of the AF pilots (and many commercial pilots) were also witnesses. The Air Force quickly and publicly denied having any secret projects that could account for UFO sightings. This denial was also made privately at the highest levels to the director of the FBI (J. Edgar Hoover) when the AF asked the FBI to investigate sightings to find out if any could be attributed to communist subversive activities. The FBI investigated for a month or so and found no such evidence (yes, there was an "X" file). The FBI stopped actively investigating in the fall of 1947 but continued to collect information from the Air Force. The Air Force continued investigating, compiling collections of sighting reports by AF pilots and other qualified observers. By the fall of 1947 the research staff of the Air Force Air Materiel Command (AMC) at Wright Field (Wright Patterson Air Force Base) had concluded that flying saucers were "real and not visionary" (statement in a report by General Nathan Twining, head of AMC at the time) and recommended that a special investigation group be set up to determine what they were and where they came from. In response to this recommendation the Air Force established its first UFO investigation group, called PROJECT SIGN, in early 1948.
During the spring and summer of 1948 the SIGN investigators analyzed the 1947 and 1948 sightings to determine if they could be evidence of advanced military technology. These investigators were experienced in all branches of aeronautics and would have recognized advances in propulsion and aircraft design shapes. Despite high level searches of USAF and Navy aircraft research projects, they could find no US project that could explain the saucer sightings. Furthermore, they rejected the idea that the Soviets (Russians) had leapfrogged our own technologies and created such highly advanced, highly reliable and probably atomic powered craft that they would dare to fly these craft over the United States. Although they could reasonably explain many of the sightings as misidentifications by the witnesses, they eventually concluded that the only reasonable explanation for some of the sightings was that the witnesses saw flying craft from an interplanetary source... the "ET hypothesis" in modern parlance. In the fall of 1948 this explanation was incorporated into a document entitled "Estimate of the Situation" and was sent through the chain of command from the AMC to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Hoyt Vandenberg. Vandenberg rejected the conclusion. Essentially he said to the Air Force's own experts in aeronautics, "Sorry, wrong answer." That meant that the experts had to find some other answer. They spent the next few months trying to shoehorn the truly unexplainable sightings into the "Russian" explanation, but failed to do so. Eventually, the projects that succeeded PROJECT SIGN , namely, PROJECT GRUDGE (1949-1952) and PROJECT BLUE BOOK (1952-1969), assigned all flying saucer sightings to one of the following 5 general categories: unexplained, insufficient information, misidentifications of known phenomena, hoaxes and delusions (mental states of the observer(s)). In order to "explain" the cases that were officially left unexplained the Air Force claimed (without evidence) that these, too, could have been explained if there had been more information. In other words, they implied that the unidentified cases were really cases of insufficient information. (One wonders, then, why there were any cases labeled "unidentified.") However, a careful review of many unexplained sightings indicates that more than enough information was available for explanation, if that were reasonable or possible. Instead, in many cases the available information convincingly pointed AWAY from any conventional explanation.
As far as the general public was concerned, by late 1947 the official public position of the Air Force was well known: there was no interplanetary phenomenon causing flying saucer/UFO sightings; instead, they could all be explained as natural phenomena. The scientific community and the major news media, without any in-depth study of the sighting report information (which was held by the Air Force), agreed. A consequence of this was that witnesses, including highly credible witnesses such as commercial pilots and police officers, were often criticized or made the butt of jokes for reporting "impossible things." Nevertheless, sighting reports continued beyond 1948. Agencies responsible for security around nuclear power and atomic bomb installations were startled by sightings near secure areas starting in late 1948 and continuing through 1949 and 1950 ("green fireball" sightings and associated phenomena). In 1950 a special project (TWINKLE) managed to obtain film of unidentified, high speed, high altitude (150,000 ft !), 30 ft diameter objects flying over White Sands but this information was known to only a few people in military employ and the photographic evidence was suppressed.
Major General Charles Cabell was the Director of Air Force Intelligence in 1949-1951. In early 1949 he sent out a sighting form to all Air Commands and even to the FBI. He made it clear that he wanted everything investigated and he wanted to know what flying saucers were. However, he also wanted to "keep a lid on" to prevent public interest in the subject from generating spurious reports that would waste the time of his analysts. The GRUDGE staff went a bit farther and played down the importance of saucer sightings, implying that all sightings had mundane explanations. In the spring of 1949 Sydney Shallet, a well known writer, requested from the Air Force help in writing an article for the Saturday Evening Post. The article was to present the Air Force viewpoint on the flying saucer mystery that had begun in the summer of 1947. Shallet wanted access to reports collected by the Air Force and wanted to know the official opinions. Shallet talked to some of the Air Force people working at AMC and was given the clear impression that the Air Force didn't think much of the saucers and that investigating them was a waste of time. This impression was echoed in his two-part article appeared that on April 29 and May 7, 1949. To the general public, then, it appeared that the Air Force was not interested in flying saucers. However, this was not the case, at least at the top levels of the Air Force. Two days before Shallet's article panned saucers (pun intended), General Cabell sent a top secret report entitled Unidentified Aerial Objects to the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Air Force, Army, Navy, State Department, FBI and CIA. In this report he wrote:
There are numerous reports from reliable and competent observers for which a conclusive explanation has not been made. Some of these involve descriptions which would place them in the category of new manifestations of probable natural phenomena but others involve configurations and described performance which might conceivably represent an advanced aerodynamic development. A few unexplained incidents surpass these limits of credibility.
This statement clearly indicates that General Cabell took the subject seriously and furthermore, that he was allowing for the possibility that at least some of the credible reports could be of phenomena which were neither natural nor manmade. General Cabell's desire for thorough saucer investigations would have a major impact on PROJECT GRUDGE about a year and a half later (see below).
In late 1949 the Air Force issued a "final report" (the GRUDGE Report) which claimed that all of the several hundred sightings to that time had been explained. This report was later criticized by the General Cabell, who called it worthless "tripe," even though he approved of the press release which said that the Air Force had found no threat to the United States and was, therefore, closing the investigation project. It had not closed the project, however, as GRUDGE continued at a low level of activity into 1951.
In the fall of 1951 General Cabell became aware of a publicized sighting (at Fort Monmouth, NJ) which interested him because it involved radar. He asked for a briefing on the investigation of that case. At the briefing he was told that, for all practical purposes, the PROJECT GRUDGE was nearly inactive. At the very least, it was not following his earlier instructions to investigate all sightings. Cabell was angry. He realized that those under him had lied about the project. He ordered that the project be reorganized and revitilized under new management.
This reorganization, which began in the fall of 1951 under the direction of Capt. Edward Ruppelt, was underway at the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright Patterson AFB when 1952 "hit." The name of the project was changed in March, 1952, to BLUE BOOK, a name that became famous as the years went by. Ruppelt was the director from late 1951 through 1953. While he was the director it was the most unbiased, scientifically-oriented and publicly known UFO investigation by the Air Force. (It is likely that there were other investigations which were not, and are still not, publicly known.) The Air Force officers and personnel who continued PROJECT BLUE BOOK (PBB) after Ruppelt were not as unbiased as Ruppelt and the scientific quality of the project deteriorated in the following years. (BLUE BOOK was formally closed in 1969 after collecting about 13,000 sightings of which about 700 were left as unexplained.)
In the spring of 1952 PBB was "up and running," but was completely unprepared for the onslaught of sighting reports that would begin in late April. In the months preceding the flap the typical reporting rate was generally lower than a dozen and a half reports per month. This is what the Air Force saucer project was accustomed to; this is a rate that they could handle. Keep this in mind as you enter…
ONE THE LEGACY OF 1952:
YEAR OF THE UFO
TWO 1952, THE YEAR OF THE
THREE THE INTERPLANETARY
FOUR THE WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
FIVE A WAR OF WORDS or A WAR OF
PAGE SIX SHIPS
FROM ANOTHER PLANET
PAGE SEVEN SHIPS
FROM ANOTHER PLANET (con't)
PAGE EIGHT MORE
PAGE NINE THE CIA INVESTIGATES BLUE BOOK
PAGE TEN UFOS
AND THE SOVIET THREAT
PAGE ELEVEN LEGACY
OF THE ROBERTSON PANEL
PAGE TWELVE STATISTICAL POSTSCRIPT - Project
Blue Book Report
PAGE THIRTEEN APPENDIX
The Rogue River Sighting
PAGE FOURTEEN APPENDIX
The Rogue River Sighting (con't)