Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science (continued)

His first trip to Blue Book was an eye-opener. Its staff --- three persons. As he went through the files, he was shocked to find that many good cases had been written off as stars, mirages, and other illogical "explanations" by Blue Book's scientific consultant, J. Allen Hynek.

He put the whole Blue Book staff to work, including Major Hector Quintanilla, trying to find the Tucson B-36 case. They found nine other B-36 UFO encounters but not the one he was looking for. Other important cases weren't there, either. We know now why they weren't, but in 1966 McDonald didn't and neither did we. McDonald went over Quintanilla's head to Dr. Anthony Jacopo, the chief scientist of the Foreign Technology Division, and then went up higher, to Gen. Cruikshank, who was head of the entire FTD. McDonald told Gen. Cruickshank, and I quote from his journal, "the Air Force is in a bad spot with the incompetence at Project Blue Book. You're going to have a lot of difficulty getting out of it." Perhaps this first alerted the government that McDonald was going to be a force to reckon with, for shortly afterward, strange things began to happen to him, which amounted to what I call an "orchestrated attack."

He made four trips to Blue Book and Cruikshank upgraded the Blue Book staff with a meteorologist. Gen. Cruikshank also offered McDonald a consultancy-no strings attached. He was told he'd be free to use what he learned any way he wished. Then that offer was abruptly withdrawn --- no explanation.

He continued on a volunteer basis with the new Blue Book consultants and for a while he thought he was making headway. But within a few weeks, -the three new consultants were called to meetings at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California to discuss UFOs. Then they simply disappeared from Blue Book and were assigned elsewhere. McDonald queried Rand about this, and Rand denied in a letter that they'd ever discussed UFOs at all. Another government lie. The Rand report on UFOs has been declassified.

General Cruikshank was reassigned, too, abruptly, and McDonald couldn't even find out where he'd been transferred. All this seems to have been political maneuvering, part of the government cover-up, but this did not occur to McDonald. . He was too very honest himself to think that the government would be maneuvering in this way. But it's apparent now that McDonald was too effective in his efforts to bring about change, and had to be stopped at every turn.

He continued on. He wrote dozens of papers on the UFO question, which was distributed widely in the UFO field and in the scientific community, but scientific journals refused to publish them. He even spoke on the subject of UFOs before the U.N. He interacted with more influential people in the government, and the military, and the scientific community than anyone had ever done before, or has since. And the media, even members of the elite media, gave him objective, constant publicity.

In spite of his UFO research, McDonald never neglected his academic and professional work; he simply added UFO research to his life, and continued his climatology and meteorology work. He continued to participate in climate modification projects with the Office of Naval Research and the National Academy of Science. He was virtually tireless.

Afterwards, the Air Force dropped the "University team" approach and chose a single university with a single scientist to head the new government study, the so-called Condon committee. Dr. Edward U. Condon, in the Air Force's words, could be "completely objective". What this meant was that Condon didn't know anything about UFOs and had no interest in them!

McDonald respected Condon's good scientific reputation and hoped that he'd become interested. Condon chose a good staff, generally, which went to work at the University of Colorado. The staff was virtually all neophytes as far as UFOs were concerned. McDonald provided a list of 100 cases, which held out promise that physical evidence might be gleaned from them. He worked closely with Condon's staff, sharing all available data with them, as did NICAP, APRO, and others.

McDonald was convinced that the UFO phenomenon was real, but he knew that more evidential data was needed to convince other scientists. He concentrated on cases that held out promise of physical evidence. Such as radar-visual sightings, and reputable daylight photos, which showed features on the craft, like the Heflin photos taken in Santa Ana, California on August 3, 1965, which he studied for years and which puzzled him greatly.

In June 1967, he traveled to Australia on professional business connected with one of his Office of Naval Research contracts. His contract monitor, James Hughes, said it was OK if he used his spare time investigating UFO cases down under. He met with Australian and New Zealand researchers and investigated the best Australian cases, gave talks about UFOs at scientific meetings and at the end of his three-week visit he appeared on Australian TV and radio. But while he was there, he made one mistake. He criticized Project Blue Book on Australian television.

It was one thing for an American to criticize the U.S. Air Force on American soil, but this is not permitted, especially by authoritarian persons on foreign soil. Certain skeptics, like Phil Klass, demanded to know why, in Phil's words, quote "he was "permitted" to spend Navy funds on a frivolous subject like UFO research." The Office of Naval Research insisted he hadn't misused any navy funds, and the university of Arizona backed him up.

Finally, bowing to pressure coming somewhere "from above" the Navy terminated that particular Navy contract. There's good evidence in his journals to indicate that the Department of Defense made the Navy cave in.

McDonald's influence helped bring about the first and only public Congressional hearing on the subject of UFOs. From 1957 to 1962, Don Keyhoe and NICAP had worked incessantly to bring about open Congressional hearings on the UFO subject, and finally succeeded in having one scheduled in 1962. Then those plans were abruptly squashed by none other than Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter who was a prominent NICAP board member and ostensibly Don Keyhoe's friend! Hillenkoetter as you know, is listed as a member of MJ-12.

But finally, in July 1968, Congressional hearing on UFOs over the objections of the Air Force, and through the sheer force of his personality, McDonald helped bring about an open hearing in a congressional subcommittee. The proceedings were printed by the Government Printing Office. Six reputable scientists participated, including McDonald, J. Allen Hynek, and Carl Sagan, who at that time was not an avowed skeptic. McDonald reasoned that the proceedings would encourage more scientists to accept UFOs as a serious question. He expected that the one-day hearing would lead to extended open hearings on the floor of Congress, but was later disappointed. He was told that it was due to "politics", i.e. General elections were coming up, and Congressmen were more interested in seeking re-election than continuing hearings into UFOs. But consider the word "political" in Webster's dictionary and we find the usual synonyms. But consider the word "politic" and its adjective, "political", and we find "shrewdness", "practical", "and sly." What "practical", "sly" reason or reasons does our government, or a group in government consider sufficient to withhold information about UFOs from the public?

Meanwhile, the Condon committee was hard at work. The Air Force was sharing reports with them as well as volunteer civilian researchers. But then the whole project began to fall apart. Condon wasn't an objective scientist. He delighted in "interviewing" the so-called "contactees" who, in the 'fifties and 'sixties, muddied Ufological waters with their tales of blond-haired, benevolent occupants who took them for rides in their spacecraft around the moon, and up to Venus and-never presenting any proof.

But Condon gave talks to scientific groups about contactees, making his audiences laugh at the stories they told. He ignored the problem of physical UFOs altogether. Then he wrote this article; "UFOs I Have Loved and Lost", which was published in a refereed, scientific journal! Politics?

And some members of Condon's staff found a memo written by Condon's assistant project director, Robert Low, which read, in part, "The trick, would be, I think, to describe the UFO project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a group of non-believers trying their best to be objective...."

The few researchers who knew about this memo didn't know what to do about it. But when McDonald got a copy of the memo, typically he made sense of the mess. At a meeting of scientists at the home of NICAP affiliate director George Earley, McDonald met journalist John G. Fuller, who had written two outstanding books about UFOs. McDonald shared the memo with him, because he felt that for the good of the American people, it should be made public. Fuller published an article about the memo in Look magazine, which caused quite a stir.

The final report of the Condon committee was released in January 1969. Condon's "conclusions", at the front of the 900-page report stated flatly that UFOs were not worthy of further scientific study. As a result the U.S. Government abruptly terminated project blue book. This dismayed McDonald. He'd hoped that the Air Force might improve Blue Book operations with an adequate, scientific staff.

McDonald had also worked toward setting up a nationwide tracking system to track UFOs through the sky. He discussed this with other UFO researchers who had similar ideas. McDonald proposed that if government, military, scientific, and public sources all worked together openly, tracking UFOs that indisputable evidence of their existence could be obtained.

This should be a priority now; scientists and technicians in the field should set up a tracking system such as McDonald and others proposed, using modern satellite and astronomical technology. This should be a public tracking system in which private citizens are fully involved. It should be set up as soon as possible; it is the best way to convince the scientific establishment, and Congress, that UFOs truly exist.

McDonald became the Condon report's most outspoken critic. By this time, 1969, his activities were being monitored. Strange cars without license plates followed him around Tucson, his briefcase was stolen, filled with confidential sightings that he'd gotten from military bases. Frequently, during his travels, his luggage was repeatedly "lost" and then returned later, rifled through. He found out he was being impersonated by someone unknown, who carried copies of his University of Arizona ID and his driver's license! The impersonator was going around for months, warning UFO witnesses not to speak out openly because the government didn't want them to! McDonald confided these troubling events to a few trusted colleagues, and continued on.

He was the first to read the Condon report all the way through, and found 30 outstanding UFO cases, in the middle of the very thick book, which were listed as unexplained, a full one third of all the cases the report contained. Condon's staff had managed to slip them in, and Condon apparently hadn't even bothered to read his own report! Some of these cases had been obtained from Air Force files but they hadn't been available at blue book when McDonald made his visits there.

With considerable difficulty, he tracked some of them down, most notably the Lakenheath case, which had occurred in England on August 13-14, 1956. This case has recently received notice in some UFO journals but was totally unknown to the field in 1969. The Lakenheath sightings took place over RAF and USAF bases in eastern England and involved objects traveling up to 4000 mph, caught by ground and airborne radar, viewed by pilots and ground personnel. For hours, groups of UFOs came from the north, over England, and disappeared back over the North Sea, all excellent R-V (radar visual) sightings.

McDonald studied the original report and realized, for the first time, that he was looking at proof that Project Blue Book wasn't the only official government agency interested in UFOs, as the public had been brainwashed into thinking. There were official telexes from England to the Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, and one of the telexes described the interception of a UFO by RAF jets! This case was a breakthrough-proof that UFOs were an international problem and proof of a widespread cover-up, far more comprehensive than McDonald had believed.

He distributed the Lakenheath case widely among the UFO field and the scientific community. He made up his mind to write a book pointing out in detail that most of the Condon reports were false information paid for by public tax money but that it also contained formerly unknown proof of UFO existence! He started on his book.

Suddenly, everything began to fall apart. In December 1969, the same month McDonald revealed the true facts of the 1956 Lakenheath case, NICAP was deliberately destroyed. Don Keyhoe and assistant director Gordon Lore were abruptly fired by an executive committee of the board of directors, led by a secret CIA agent, "Col." Joseph Bryan, who had secretly wormed himself into a position of power. NICAP limped on, ineffectually, under the control of other secret CIA agents, but by 1975 it was all over. It's all a matter of record now, but McDonald never knew what really happened.

McDonald continued to break through other levels of secrecy. He'd been curious about the Tremonton, Utah UFO film, for instance. The Air Force, and Condon, had identified the numerous sky borne objects in this film as a flock of birds! But McDonald learned from a trusted government official that the objects actually were large, unidentified metallic craft, performing intricate maneuvers.

Then comes another mystery: in February of 1971, he told a fellow scientist, Dr. Robert M. Wood, that he was "close to the answer about UFOs" and that he would soon be able to talk publicly about it. Around the same time, he indicated to another trusted colleague, former NICAP staff member, Marty Lore, that he was "talking with people on the highest level" and felt that he could soon be able to reveal what the government knew about UFOs.

Very shortly after this, McDonald became involved in scientific study of the ozone layer and the growing danger of pollutants. There's no time left here to give details but he testified at an open congressional hearing in February 1971 with 30 other scientists and environmentalists.

During this hearing, he was subjected to persistent ridicule by Congressman Leon Conte. The ridicule had nothing to do about his ozone testimony, but about his UFO research. McDonald repeatedly tried to get back on the subject, but Conte kept attacking his credibility in startling terms, stating that if he were to believe McDonald's ozone testimony, McDonald "would have to prove his theory about little men flying around in the sky!" This public ridicule of McDonald was reported nationwide, in contrast to the favorable media attention he had been given the past five years. This ridicule stunned and hurt him.

But the same day, his final request for UFO research funding was turned down in an unmerciful manner, stunning him even more. He told a colleague privately, "They won't let them say yes," and he seemed to understand at last why funding had been denied so many times.

He never explained who "they" were, but I wonder if he was referring to the "people on the highest level" he had been talking to. When his private "pocket notebooks" are found, we'll most probably find answers.

But McDonald bounced back again and successfully defended his ozone research in later scientific meetings. His interest in UFOs continued and he prepared a detailed outline of chapters for his book. But in ways perhaps not completely understood, at present, he was being driven to a breaking point.

The tragic events of the last two months of his life are too devastating to properly describe but they're all in Firestorm. He was found dead in an isolated section of his beloved Arizona desert on June 13th, 1971.

There are many questions still unanswered about how, and why, he died. To his family and close colleagues it was self-inflicted suicide. However, many in the UFO field suspected foul play and some of us still suspect foul play. Firestorm presents two logical hypotheses, so you may judge for yourselves.

Was his depression brought on, at least partially, by orchestrated events --- the promises of funding, the monitoring activities, the puzzling impersonator, the public ridicule, the persons he was speaking with at the highest level? Then add his success in proving, for the first time, that some UFO incidents are international and classified by the U.S. Government along with other governments, working together - an official cover-up.

We must never forget what he taught us. For UFO research to be scientific, we must work only with the best evidential data available, discard anything that is doubtful and unsubstantiated. It's only in this way that the scientific establishment and congress will listen.

Firestorm is an authorized history of "the McDonald years" and is also a history of NICAP. McDonald is UFO history and those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. I've only had time to touch upon a few of the events in McDonald's UFO research life in this conference paper but I've chosen the events that are most applicable to the question of government disclosure. The rest is in Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science.

  1. Widely available, published by Wildflower Press July 2003. Can be ordered through bookstores, the publisher ( and at

  2. This memorable NICAP book has recently been updated and re-published with Richard Hall, former Assistant NICAP Director, as Editor.

  3. The four Helflin photos have recently been re-analyzed with state-of-the-art enhancement procedures and all the features which puzzled McDonald have at last been answered. See paper by Ann Druffel, Dr. Robert M. Wood and Dr. Eric Kelson in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 14, No. 4.

Ann Druffel's website:

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