Chapter VIIINext morning, in the broad light of day, the idea of space visitors somehow had lost its menace. If the disks were space ships, at least they had shown no sign of hostility, so far as I knew. Of course, there was Mantell; but if he had been downed by some weapon on the disk, it could have been self-defense. In most cases, the saucers retreated at the first sign of pursuit.
My mind was still reluctant to accept the space-travel answer, in spite of the old reports. But I kept thinking of the famous aircraft designer who thought the disks were space craft; the airline pilots Purdy had mentioned; Blake's copilot, Chuck.
Now that I recalled it, Blake had been more embarrassed than seemed called for when he told about Chuck. Perhaps he bad been the one who believed the saucers were space ships, instead of his absent copilot.
After breakfast, I went over the list of sightings since June 1947. There were several saucers that actually had been described as projectile-like ships. The most famous of all was the Eastern Airlines case.
It was 8:30 P.M., July 23, 1948, when an Eastern Airlines DC-3 took off from Houston, Texas, on a flight to Atlanta and Boston. The airliner captain was Clarence S. Chiles. During the war, he had been in the Air Transport Command, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He had 8,500 flying hours. His first officer was John B. Whitted, a wartime pilot on B-29's. Both men were known in Eastern as careful, conservative pilots.
It was a bright, moonlit night, with scattered clouds overhead. The DC-3 was twenty miles west of Montgomery, at 2:45 AM., when a brilliant projectile-like craft came hurtling along the airway.
Chiles saw it first and took it to be a jet plane. But the next instant both pilots saw that this was no jet fighter.
"It was heading southwest," Chiles said later, "exactly opposite to our course. Whatever it was, it flashed down toward us at terrific speed. We veered to the left. It veered
The mystery ship passed on Whitted's side, and he a fairly close look.
"The thing was about one hundred feet long, cigar-shaped and wingless," he described it. "It was about twice the diameter of a B-twenty-nine, with no protruding fins."
Captain Chiles said the cabin appeared like a pilot compartment except for its eerie brilliance. Both he and Whitted agreed it was as bright as a magnesium flare. They saw no occupants, but at their speed this was not surprising.
"An intense dark-blue glow came from the side of the ship," Chiles reported. (It was later suggested by engineers that the strange glare could have come from a power plant of unusual type.) "It ran the entire length of the fuselage - like a blue fluorescent light. The exhaust was a red-orange flame, with a lighter color predominant around the outer edges."
Both pilots said the flame extended thirty to fifty feet behind the ship. As it passed; Chiles noted a snout like a radar pole. Both he and Whitted glimpsed two rows of windows.
"Just as it went by," said Chiles, "the pilot pulled up as if he had seen the DC-three and wanted to avoid us. There was a tremendous burst of flame from the rear. It zoomed into the clouds, its jet wash rocking our DC- three."
Chiles's estimate of the mystery ship's speed was between five hundred and seven hundred miles an hour.
As the object vanished, Chiles went back into the cabin to check with the passengers. Most had been asleep or were drowsing. But one man confirmed that they were in their right senses. This passenger, Clarence McKelvie of Columbus, Ohio, told them (and a Project "Saucer" team later) that he had seen a brilliant streak of light flash past his window. It had gone too swiftly for him to catch any details.
The A.P. interviewed Mr. McKelvie soon after he landed, and ran the following story:
"I saw no shape or form,' Mr. McKelvie said, 'I was on the right side of the plane, and suddenly I saw this strange eerie streak out of my window, It was very in tense, not like lightning or anything I had ever seen.'
"The Columbus man said he was too startled and the object moved too quickly for him to adjust his eyes to it."
In Washington, Air Force officials insisted they could shed no light on the mystery. Out in Santa Monica, General George C. Kenney, then chief of the Strategic Air Command declared the Air Force had nothing remotely like the ship described.
"I wish we did," General Kenney told reporters. "I'd sure like to see that."
The publicized story of this "space ship" set off another scare - also the usual cracks about screwball pilots. But Chiles and Whitted were not screwballs; they were highly respected pilots. The passenger's confirmation added weight. But even if all three had been considered deluded, the Air Force investigators could not get around the reports from Robbins Air Force Base.
Just about one hour before the DC-3 incident, a strange flaming object came racing southward through the night skies over Robbins Field, at Macon, Georgia. Observers at the air base were astounded to see what appeared to be a huge, wingless craft streak overhead, trailing a varicolored exhaust. (The witnesses' description tallied with those of Chiles and Whitted.) The mystery ship vanished swiftly; all observers agreed that it disappeared from the line of sight just like a normal aircraft.
While I was working on this case, a contact in Washington gave me an interesting tip.
"Within forty-eight hours after that Eastern sighting, Air Force engineers rushed out blueprint plans and elevations of the 'space ship,' based on what the two pilots told them."
Whether or not this was true, I found that the Air
“Application of the Prandid theory of lift indicated that a fuselage of the dimensions, reported by Chiles and Whitted could support a load comparable to the weight of an aircraft of this size, at flying speeds in the sub-sonic range.” (This supports Chiles's estimate of 500-700 m.p.h.)
Four days after the space-ship story was published, a Navy spokesman was quoted as hinting it might have been a high-atmosphere rocket gone astray from the proving grounds in New Mexico. The brief report appeared on the editorial page of the Washington Star on July 28, 1947. It ran as follows:
"The Navy says that naval technicians have been testing a 3,000-mile-per-hour rocket in New Mexico. If one went astray, it could travel across our continent in a short time."
At first glance I thought this might be the real answer to the Chiles-Whitted case. But after a few minutes I saw it was almost impossible.
First, rockets at White Sands are launched and controlled with utmost care. There have been no reported cases of such a long-distance runaway.
Second, if such a rocket had gone astray, it would certainly have caused wild confusion at White Sands until they found where it landed. Hundreds of people would have known about it; the story would be certain to leak out.
Third, such a rocket would have had to travel from White Sands to Macon, Georgia, then circle around south of this city for over forty, minutes. (if it had kept on at the speed observed at Robbins Field, it would have passed Montgomery long before the DC-3 reached the area). In addition, the rocket would have had to veer sharply away from the airliner, as both pilots testified, and then zoom into the clouds. No high-atmosphere test rocket has automatic controls such as this would require.
The Eastern Airlines "space ship," then, was not just a fugitive rocket. But it could be a new type of aircraft, something revolutionary, developed in absolute secrecy.
Other airline pilots had reported flying disks racing along the airways, though none that I knew of had described projectile-like objects. Chiles and Whitted insisted the mystery ship was not a disk, and the report from Robbins Field agreed on this point. Man-made devices or not, it seemed fairly certain there was more than one type of saucer.
The more I studied the evidence, the harder it was to believe that this was an earth-made ship. Such a wingless rocket ship would require tremendous jet power to keep it in the air. Even our latest jet bombers could not begin to approach its performance.
Going back over the Project "Saucer" preliminary report. I found strong evidence that the Air Force was worried. In their investigation, Project teams had screened 225 military and civilian flight schedules. After nine months, they reported that the mysterious object was no conventional aircraft.
On April 27, 1949; the Air Force admitted that Project "Saucer" had failed to find the answers The "space ship" was officially listed as unidentified.
"But Wright Field is still working on it," an Air Force officer told me. "Both Chiles and Whitted are responsible pilots, and McKelvie has a reputation for making careful statements. Even without the Robbins Field confirmation, no one could doubt that they saw something."
The Chiles-Whitted "space ship" was not the first of this type to be reported. Another wingless aircraft was sighted in August 1947, by two pilots for an Alabama flying service. It was at Bethel, Alabama, just after sunset, when a huge black wingless craft swept across their course. Silhouetted against the evening sky, it loomed larger than a C-54. The pilots saw no wings, motors, or jet exhausts.
Swinging in behind the mystery ship, they attempted to follow. But at their speed of 170 m.p.h. they were quickly outdistanced. Careful checking showed there were no
On New Year's day, 1948, a similar rocket-shaped object was sighted at Jackson, Mississippi. It was first seen by a former Air Force pilot and his passenger, and later by witnesses on the ground. Before the pilot could begin to close in, the odd wingless ship pulled away. Speeding up from 200 to 500 m.p.h. it swiftly disappeared.
Besides these two cases, already on record, I had the tips Purdy had given me. One wingless ship was supposed to have been seen three or four days before the Chiles Whitted sighting; like the thing they reported, the unidentified craft was a double-decked "space ship" but moving at even higher speed. At first I ran into a stone wall trying to check this story. Then I found a lead confirming that this was a foreign report. It finally proved to be from The Hague.
The tip had been right. This double-decked, wingless ship had been sighted on July 20, 1948 - four days before the Eastern case. Witnesses had reported it at a high altitude, moving at fantastic speed.
While working on this report, I verified another tip. We had heard a rumor of a space-ship sighting at Clark Field, in the Philippine Islands. Although I didn't learn the date, I found that there was such a record.
(In the final Project "Saucer" report, the attempt to explain away this sighting was painfully evident. Analyzing this case, Number 206, the Air Force said: "If the facts are correct, there is no astronomical explanation. A few points favor the daytime meteor hypothesis - snow-white color, speed faster than a jet, the roar, similarity to sky-writing and the time of day. But the tactics, if really performed, oppose it strenuously: the maneuvers in and out of cloud banks, turns of 180 degrees or more. Possibly these were illusions, caused by seeing the object intermittently through clouds. The impression of a fuselage with windows could even more easily have been a figment of imagination."
(With this conjecture, Project "Saucer" listed the sighting as officially answered. The Hague space-ship case was unexplained.)
"Charley, there's a rumor that airline pilots have been ordered not to talk," I told Planck. "You know anything about it?"
"You mean ordered by the Air Force or the companies?" he said.
"The Air Force and the C.A.A."
"If the C.A.A.'s in on it, it's a top-level deal," said Charley. "I think it's more likely the companies-with or without a nudge from the Air Force."
While we were talking, an official from another agency came in. Because the lead he gave me was off the record, I'll call him Steve Barrett. I knew Steve fairly well. We were both pilots with service training; our paths had crossed during the war, and I saw him now and then at airports around Washington.
When the saucer scare first broke, Steve had been disgusted. "Damn fools trying to get publicity," he snorted. "The way Americans fall for a gag! Even the Air Force has got the jitters."
So I was a little surprised to find he now thought the disks were real.
"What sold you?" I asked.
"The radar reports," said Steve. "I know of half a dozen cases where they've tracked the things. One was in Japan. The thing was climbing so fast no one believed the radar men at first. Then they got some more reports. One was up in Canada. There was a case in New Mexico, and I think a Navy destroyer tracked a saucer up in the North Atlantic."
"What did they find out?" said Charley Planck.
Steve shrugged. "I don't know all the answers. Whatever they are, the things can go like hell."
I had a hunch he was holding back, I waited until he had finished with Charley, and then went down the hall with him.
"If I thought so, I wouldn't be talking," he said flatly. "That's not a dig at you. But I was cleared last year for some secret electronics work, and it might be used in some way with guided missiles."
"I didn't know that, Steve."
"It's O.K.," he said. "I don't mind talking, because I can't believe the saucers are guided missiles. Maybe a few of the things sighted out in the Southwest have been our test rockets, but that doesn't explain the radar reports in Canada and Japan."
"I'd already heard about a radar case in Labrador," I told Steve. He looked at me quickly.
"Where'd you pick that up?"
"True passed it on to me," I said.
"They've had some trouble tracking the things, they maneuver so fast," said Steve. "It sounds crazy, but I've been told they hit more than ten thousand miles an hour."
"You believe it?"
"Well, it's not impossible. Those saucers were tracked about fifty miles up, where there's not much resistance."
The elevator door opened. Steve waited until we were outside of the Commerce Building.
"There's one other thing that gets me," he said. "Unless the radar boys are way off, some of those saucers are enormous. I just can't see a guided missile five hundred feet in diameter." He stopped for a moment. "I suppose this will sound screwy to you."
"You think they're interplanetary," I said.
Steve was quickly on the defensive. "I haven't bought it yet, but it's not as crazy as it sounds."
Without mentioning names, I told him about the aircraft designer and the airline pilots.
"They're in good company," said Steve. "You know the Air Institute?"
"Sure - the Air Force school down at Montgomery."
"Six months ago, I was talking with an officer who'd been instructing there." Steve looked at me, deadly serious. "He told me they are now teaching that the saucers are probably space ships."
Chapter IXThree days after my meeting with Steve Barrett, I was on a Mainliner 300, starting a new phase of the saucer investigation. By the time I returned, I hoped to know the truth about Project "Saucer."
As the ship droned westward, fourteen thousand feet above the Alleghenies, I thought of what Steve had told me. I believed, that he had told me about the radar tracking. And I was fairly sure he believed the Air Institute story. But I wasn't so certain the story itself was true.
It would hardly be a gag; Steve wasn't easily taken in. It was more likely that one Institute officer, or perhaps several, believed the saucers were space craft and aired their personal opinions. The Institute wasn't likely to give an official answer to something that Project "Saucer" still declared unsolved.
If it were possible to get an inside look at Project "Saucer" operations, I could soon tell whether it was an actual investigation or a deliberate cover-up for something else. Whichever it was, the wall of official secrecy still hid it.
As a formality, I had called the Pentagon again and asked to talk with some of the Project officers. As I expected, I was turned down. The only alternative was to dig out the story by talking with pilots and others who had been quizzed by Project teams. I had several leads, and True had arranged some interviews for me.
My first stop was Chicago, where I met an airline official and two commercial pilots. I saw the pilots first. Since they both talked in confidence, I will not use their right names. One, a Midwesterner I already knew, I'll call Pete Farrell; the other, a wartime instructor, Art Green.
Pete was about thirty-one, stocky, blue-eyed, with a pleasant, intelligent face. Art Green was a little older, a lean, sunburned, restless man with an emphatic voice. Pete had served with the Air Force during the war; he
"They practically took me apart," he said irritably. "They've got a lot of trick questions. Some of 'em are figured out to trip up anybody faking a story. The way they worked on me, you'd think I committed a murder.
"Then they tried to sell me on the idea I'd seen a balloon, or maybe a plane, with the sun shining on it when it banked. I told them to go to the devil--I knew what I saw. After seventeen years, I've got enough sense to tell a ship or a balloon when I see it."
"Did they believe you?" I asked him.
"If they did, they didn't let on. Two of 'em acted as if they thought I was nuts. The other guy-I think he was Air Force Intelligence--acted decent. He said not to get steamed up about the Aero-Medical boys; it was their job to screen out the crackpots.
"And on top of that, I found out later the F.B.I. had checked up on me to find out if I was a liar or a screwball. They went around to my boss, people in my neighborhood--even the pilots in my outfit. My outfit's still razzing me. I wouldn't report another saucer if one flew through my cockpit."
Pete Farrell hadn't encountered any Project "Saucer" teams personally, but he had some interesting angles. Some of the information had come from commercial and private pilots in the Midwest, part of it through National Guard contacts.
"I can tell you one thing," Pete said. "Guard pilots got the same order as the Air Force. If we saw anything peculiar flying around, we were to do our damnedest to identify it."
"What about trying to bring one down? I've heard that was in one order."
Pete hesitated for a second. "Look, I told you that much because it's been in the papers. But I'm still in the
"Well, I'm not in the Guard," said Art Green. He lit a cigarette, blew out the match. "Why don't you look into the Gorman case? Get the dope on that court-martial angle."
I'd heard of the Gorman case, but the court-martial thing was new to me. Gorman, I recalled, was a fighter pilot in the North Dakota Air National Guard. He had a mystifying encounter with a strange, fast-moving "light" over Fargo Airport in the fall of 1948.
"That case is on my list," I told Green. "But I don't remember anything about a court-martial."
"It wasn't in the papers. But all the pilots up that way know about it. In his report, Gorman said something about trying to ram the thing. The idea got around that Air Force orders had said to try this. Anyway, it got into the papers and Gorman almost got court-martialed. If his family hadn't had some influence in the state, the Air Force probably would have pushed it."
"Are you sure about this?" I said. "You know how those things build up."
"Ask Gorman," he said. "Or ask some of the pilots at Fargo."
Before I left them, Green double-checked my report on his sighting, which Hilton had forwarded. As in the majority of cases, he had seen just one disk. It had hovered at a very high altitude, gleaming in the sun, then had suddenly accelerated and raced off to the north.
"I couldn't tell its size or speed," said Green. "But if it was as high as I think, it must have been pretty big."
Pete told me later that Green believed the disk had been at least twenty miles high, because it was well above clouds at thirty thousand feet.
"It's kind of hard to believe," said Pete. "The thing would have to be a lot bigger than a B-twenty-nine, and the speed over two thousand miles an hour."
"You know what they said about the Mantell saucer," I reminded him. "Some of the Godman Field people said it was at least three hundred feet in diameter."
"I've heard it was twice that," said Pete.
"One or two," said Pete. "But they couldn't tell me anything. It was hushed up too fast."
That evening I talked with the airline official, whom I knew well enough to call by his first name. I put it to him bluntly.
"Dick, if you're under orders not to talk, just tell me. I’m trying to find out whether Project 'Saucer' has muzzled airline pilots."
"You mean the ones who've sighted things? Perhaps, in a few cases. But most of the pilots know what happened to Captain Emil Smith, on United, and those Eastern pilots. They keep still so they won't be laughed at. Also the airlines don't like their pilots to talk for publication."
"I've heard of several cases," I said, "where Air Force Intelligence is supposed to have warned pilots to keep mum. Two of the reports come pretty straight."
He made a gesture. "That could be. I'm not denying that airline pilots--and that includes ours--see these things all the time. They've been sighted on the Seattle-Alaska route, and between Anchorage and Japan. I know of several saucers that pilots have seen between Honolulu and the mainland. Check with Pan-American--you'll find their pilots have seen them, too."
"What happens to those reports?"
"They go to Operations," said Dick. "Of course, if something really important happens, the pilot may radio the tower before he lands. Then the C.A.A. gets word to the Air Force, and they rush some Intelligence officers to quiz the pilots. If it's not too hot, they'd come from Wright Field--regular Project 'Saucer' teams. Otherwise, they'd send the nearest Intelligence officers to take over temporarily."
I asked him if he had ever been in on one of thee sessions. Dick said he hadn't.
"But a couple of pilots talked to me later. They said these Air Force men seemed quite upset about it; they pounced on everything these boys said about the thing's appearance--how it maneuvered and so on."
Dick gave me a slightly ironic grin. "Why ask me? Captain Blake says you've been getting it firsthand."
"I wasn't pulling a fast one," I protested. "We're not going to quote actual names or sources, unless people O.K. it."
"Sure, I know that," said Dick. "But you've got the answer already. Some pilots say interplanetary, some say guided missiles. A few--a very few--still think its all nonsense, because they haven't seen any."
"What do you think?"
"I don't know the answer," said Dick, "but I'm positive of one thing. Either the Air Force is sitting on a big secret, or they're badly scared because they don't know the answer."
During the next week or so, I covered several northwest and mountain states. Although I was chiefly trying to find out about Project "Saucer," I ran onto two sightings that were not on my list.
One of these had occurred in California, at Fairfield Suisan Air Force Base. A Seattle man who had been stationed there gave me the details. It was on the night of December 3, 1948, with unusually high winds sweeping across the airfield. At times the gusts reached almost seventy miles an hour. Suddenly a weird ball of light flashed into view, at a height of a thousand feet. As the men on the base watched it, astonished, the mysterious light abruptly shot skyward. In an incredibly short time, it reached an altitude of twenty thousand feet and vanished.
"Was there any shape outlined behind the light?" I asked the Seattle man.
"Nobody saw any," he replied. "It looked just like I said--a ball of light, going like a streak."
"Did it leave any smoke behind it?"
"You mean like an engine, or a jet?" He shook his head. "Not a thing. And it didn't make a sound--even when it shot up like that."
"Did you hear any guesses about it, or reports later on?"
"Some major who didn't see it said it must have been
The second incident occurred at Salmon Dam, Idaho, on August 13, 1947. When I heard the date, it sounded familiar. I checked my sightings file and saw it was the same day as the strange affair at Twin Falls, Idaho.
In the Twin Falls case, the disk was sighted by observers in a canyon. There was one interesting difference from the usual description. This disk was sky-blue, or else its gleaming surface somehow reflected the sky because of the angle of vision. Although it was not close to the treetops, the observers were amazed to see the trees whip violently when the disk raced overhead, as though the air was boiling from the object's swift passage.
At Salmon Dam, that same day, two miners heard an odd roaring sound and stared into the sky. Several miles away, two brightly gleaming disks were circling at high speed.
"It was like two round mirrors whirling around the sky," one of the men was later quoted as saying. "They couldn't have been any ordinary planes; not round like that. And they were going too fast."
During this part of my trip, I also was told that one saucer had fallen into a mountain lake. This came to me secondhand. The lone witness was said to have rushed over to his car to get his camera as the disk approached. When it plunged toward the lake, he was so startled that he failed to snap the picture until the moment it struck. This story sounded so flimsy that I didn't bother to list it.
Months later, a Washington newsman confirmed at least part of the lake story. When he first related it, I thought he had fallen for a gag.
"I heard that yarn," I said. "Don't tell me you believe it?"
"I come from Idaho," he told me. "And I happen to know the fellow who took the picture. Maybe it wasn't a disk, but something fell into that lake."
"Did you see the picture?"
"Yes, at the Pentagon." At my surprised look, he added,
"What did it look like?"
"You couldn't tell much about it-just a big splash and a blur where something went under. Maybe a magnifying glass would bring it out, but I didn't get a chance to try it."
It was early in 1950 when he told me this. I asked at the Pentagon if this picture was in the Wright Field files, and if so whether I could see it. My inquiries drew blank looks. No one remembered such a photograph. And even if it were in the Project "Saucer" files, I couldn't see it.
This was more than two months after Project "Saucer" had been officially closed and its secrets presumably all revealed.
The rest of my interviews during this 1949 trip helped to round out my picture of Project "Saucer" operations.
Some witnesses seemed afraid to talk; a few flatly refused. I found no proof of official pressure, but I frequently had the feeling that strong hints had been dropped.
Though one or two witnesses showed resentment at investigators' methods, most of them seemed more annoyed at the loss of time involved. One man had been checked first by the police, then by the sheriff's office; an Air Force team had spent hours questioning him, returning the next day, and finally the F.B.I. had made a character check. What he told me about the Air Force interrogation confirmed one of Art Green's statements.
"One Intelligence captain tried to tell me I'd seen a weather balloon. I called up the airport and had them check on release schedules. They said next day it didn't fit any schedules around this area. Anyway, the wind wasn't right, because the thing I saw was cutting into the wind at a forty-five-degree angle."
Other witnesses told me that investigators had suggested birds, meteors, reflections on clouds, shooting stars, and starshells as probable explanations of what they had seen. I learned of one pilot who had been
On the flight back to Washington, I reread all the information the Air Force had released on Project "Saucer." Suddenly a familiar phrase caught my eye. I read over the paragraph again:
"Preliminary study of the more than 240 domestic and thirty foreign incidents by Astrophysicist Hynek indicates that an over-all total of about 30% can probably be explained away as astronomical phenomena."
I went through the report line by line. On page 17 I found this:
"Available preliminary reports now indicate that a great number of sightings can be explained away as ordinary occurrences which have been misrepresented as a result of human errors."
On page 22 I ran onto another use of the phrase:
"The obvious explanation for most of the spherical-shaped objects reported, as already mentioned, is that they are meteorological or similar type balloons. This, however, does not explain reports that they travel at high speed or maneuver rapidly. But 'Saucer' men point out that the movement could be explained away as an optical illusion or actual acceleration of the balloon caused by a gas leak and later exaggerated by observers. . . . There are scores of possible explanations for the scores of different type sightings reported."
Explained away . . . It might not mean anything. It could be just an unfortunate choice of words. But suppose that the real mission of Project "Saucer" was to cover up something. Or that its purpose was to investigate something serious, at the same time covering it up, step by step. The Project "Saucer" teams, then, would check on reports and simultaneously try to divert attention from the truth, suggesting various answers to explain the sightings. Back at Wright Field, analysts and Intelligence officers would go over the general picture and try to work up plausible explanations, which, if necessary, could even be published.
As an experiment, I fixed the idea firmly in mind that Project "Saucer" was a cover-up unit. Then I went back once more and read the items quoted above. The effect was almost startling.
It was as though I were reading confidential suggestions for diverting attention and explaining away the sightings; suggestions made by Project members and probably circulated for comment.
"Now, wait a minute," I said to myself. "You may be dreaming up this whole thing."
Trying to get back to a neutral viewpoint, I skimmed through the other details of Project operations, as described in the report.
The order creating Project "Saucer" was signed on December 30, 1947. (The actual code name was not "Saucer," but since for some reason the Air Force still has not published the name, I have followed their usage of "Saucer" in its place.)
On January 22, 1948, two weeks after Captain Mantell's death, the project officially began operations. (Preliminary investigation at Godman Field had been done by local Intelligence officers.) Project "Saucer" was set up under the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field.
Contracts were made with an astrophysicist (Professor Joseph Hynek), also a prominent scientist (still unidentified), and a group of evaluation experts (Rand Corporation). Arrangements were made for services by the Air Weather Service, Andrews Field; the U. S. Weather Bureau; the Electronics Laboratory, Cambridge Field Station; the A.M.C. Aero-Medical Laboratory; the Army
But the hoaxes and crank letters in reality play a small part in Project "Saucer."
Actually, it is a serious, scientific business of constant investigation, analysis and evaluation which thus far has yielded evidence pointing to the conclusion that much of the saucer scare is no scare at all, but can be attributed to astronomical phenomena, to conventional aerial objects, to hallucinations and to mass psychology.
But the mere existence of some yet unidentified flying objects necessitates a constant vigilance on the part of Project "Saucer" personnel and the civilian population. Investigation is greatly stepped up when observers report incidents as soon as possible to the nearest military installation or to Headquarters, A.M.C., direct.
A standard questionnaire is filled out under the guidance of interrogators. In each case, time, location, size and shape of object, approximate altitude, speed, maneuvers, color, length of time in sight, sound, etc., are carefully noted. This information is sent in its entirety, together with any fragments, soil photographs, drawings, etc., to Headquarters, A.M.C. Here, highly trained evaluation teams take over. The information is broken down and filed on summary sheets, plotted on maps and graphs and integrated with the rest of the material, giving an easily comprehended over-all picture.
Duplicate copies on each incident are sent to other investigating agencies, including technical labs within the Air Materiel Command. These are studied in relation to many factors such as guided missile research
activity, weather, and many others, atmospheric sounding balloon launchings, commercial and military aircraft flights, flights of migratory birds and a myriad of other considerations which might furnish explanations.
Generally, the flying objects are divided into four groups: Flying disks, torpedo or cigar-shaped bodies with no wings or fins visible in flight, spherical or balloon-shaped objects and balls of light. The first three groups are capable of flight by aerodynamic or aerostatic means and can be propelled and controlled by methods known to aeronautical engineers. As for the lights, their actions--unless they were suspended from a higher object or were the product of hallucination--remain unexplained.
Eventually, reports are sent back to Project "Saucer" headquarters, often marking incidents closed. The project, however, is a young one-much of its investigation is still under way.
Currently, a psychological analysis is being made by A.M.C.'s Aero-Medical laboratory to determine what percentage of incidents are probably based on errors of the human mind and senses. Available preliminary reports now indicate that a great number can be explained away as ordinary occurrences which have been misrepresented as a result of these human errors.Near the end of the last page, a paragraph summed tip the report.
"The 'Saucers' are not a joke. Neither are they cause for alarm to the population. Many of the incidents already have answers. Meteors. Balloons. Falling stars. Birds in flight. Testing devices, etc. Some of them still end in question marks."
From what I had learned on this trip, I strongly doubted the answer suggested. All but the "testing devices." What did they mean by that? It could be a hint at guided missiles; they had already mentioned guided-missile research activity in another spot.
But if that was what lay behind this elaborate project,
I was still trying to figure it out when my plane let down for the landing at Washington. I had hoped by this time to know the truth about Project "Saucer." Instead, it was a deeper mystery than ever.
True, I had found out how they operated--outside of Wright Field. Some of the incidents had been enlightening. By now, I was certain that Project "Saucer" was trying hard to explain away the sightings and hide the real answer.
Chapter XWHEN I reached home, I found a brief letter from Ken Purdy.
The Mantell and Eastern cases both look good. I don't see how they can brush them off. It looks more like the interplanetary answer to me, but we won't decide on treatment until we're sure. [I had suggested two or three angles, if this proved the real answer.]
Who would be the best authority to check our disk operation theory and give us more details on directional control? I'd like to have it checked by two more engineers.
Next day, I dug out my copy of Boal's interview with D------, the famous aircraft designer.
"It wouldn't have the stability of the conventional airplane, but it would have enormous maneuverability--it could rise vertically, hover, descend vertically, and fly at extremely high speed, with the proper power. Don't take my word for it. Check with other engineers."
Before looking up a private engineer I had in mind, I went to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The N.A.C.A. is America's most authoritative source of aerodynamic knowledge. I knew they had already tried
Later, I talked with one of the top engineers in the N.A.C.A. Without showing him D------'s sketch, I asked how a disk might operate.
"It could be built with variable-direction jet or rocket nozzles," be said. "The nozzles would be placed around the rim, and by changing their direction the disk could be made to rise and descend vertically. It could hover, fly straight ahead, and make sharp turns.
"Its direction and velocity would be governed by the number of nozzles operating, the power applied, and the angle at which they were tilted. They could be pointed toward the ground, rearward, in a lateral direction, or in various combinations.
"A disk flying level, straight ahead, could be turned swiftly to right or left by shifting the angles of the nozzles or cutting off power from part of the group. This method of control would operate in the earth's atmosphere and also, using rocket power, in free space, where conventional controls would be useless."
The method he had described was not the one which D------ had outlined.
"What about a rotating disk?" I asked the N.A.C.A. man. "Suppose you had one with a stationary center, and a large circular section rotating around it? The rotating part would have a camber built into it, or it would have slotted vanes."
He gave me a curious look, "Where'd you get that idea about the camber?"
I told him it had come to me from True.
"It could be done," he said. "The slotted-vanes method has already been tried. There's an engineer in Glendale, California, who's built a model. His name's E. W. Kay."
He gave me a few details on how a cambered or slotted-vane rotating disk might operate, then interrupted himself to ask me what I thought the saucers were.
"The N.A.C.A. has no proof they even exist," he answered.
When I left the building a few minutes later, I was still weighing that statement. If the Air Force or the Navy had a secret disk device, the N.A.C.A. would almost certainly know about it. The chances were that any disk-shaped missile or new type of circular aircraft would first have been tested in the N.A.C.A. wind tunnels at Langley Field. If the saucers were interplanetary, the N.A.C.A.--at least top officials--would probably have been in on any discussion of the disks' performance. Either way, the N.A.C.A.'s official attitude could be expected to match the Pentagon's.
After lunch, I took a taxi to the office of the private engineer. Like D------, he has asked that he not be quoted by name. The name I am using, Paul Redell, will serve that purpose. Redell is a well-known aeronautical engineer. He has worked with major aircraft companies and served as a special consultant to government agencies and the industries. He is also a competent pilot.
Although I had known him several years, he refused at first to talk about the saucers. Then I realized he thought I meant to quote him. I showed him some of the material I had roughed out, in which names were omitted or changed as requested.
"All right," Redell said finally. "What do you want to know?"
"Anything you can tell us. But first, your ideas on these sketches." I showed him D------'s drawings and then gave him the high points of the investigation. When I mentioned the mystery-light incident at Fairfield Suisan Air Force Base, Redell sat up quickly.
"The Gorman case again!"
"We heard about some other 'light' cases," I said. "One was at Las Vegas."
"I know about that one. That is, it you mean the green light--wait a minute!" Redell frowned into space for a few seconds, "You say that Fairfield Suisan sighting
"Those light reports have got me stumped," I said. "A light just can't fly around by itself. And those two-foot disks--"
"You haven't worked on the Gorman case?" asked Redell.
I told him I hadn't thought it was coming up on my schedule.
"Leave these sketches here," he said. "Look into that Gorman sighting. Then check on our plans for space exploration. I'll give you some sources. When you get through, come on back and we'll talk it over."
The Gorman "saucer dogfight" had been described in newspapers; the pilot had reported chasing a swiftly maneuvering white light, which had finally escaped him. Judging from the Project "Saucer" preliminary report, this case had baffled all the Air Force investigators. When I met George Gorman, I found him to be intelligent, coolheaded, and very firmly convinced of every detail in his story. I had learned something about his background. He had had college training. During the war, he had been an Air Force instructor, training French student pilots. In Fargo, his home, he had a good reputation, not only for veracity but as a businessman. Only twenty-six, he was part owner of a construction company, and also the Fargo representative for a hardware-store chain. Even knowing all this, I found it hard at first to believe some of the dogfight details. But the ground observers confirmed them.
It was about nine o'clock in the evening, October 1, 1948. Gorman, now an Air National Guard lieutenant, had been on a practice flight in an F-51 fighter. The other pilots on this practice patrol had already landed. Gorman had just been cleared by the C.A.A. operator in the Fargo Airport tower when he saw a fast-moving light below his circling fighter.
From his altitude, 4,500 feet, it appeared to be the tail light of a swiftly flying plane. As nearly as he could tell, it was 1,000 feet high, moving at about 250 m.p.h.
But the Cub was nowhere near the strange light.
As the mystery light raced above the football field. Gorman noticed an odd phenomenon. Instead of seeing the silhouette of a plane, he saw no shape at all around the light. By contrast, he could see the Cub's outline clearly.
Meantime, the airport traffic controller, L. D. Jensen, had also spotted the queer light. Concerned with the danger of collision--he said later that he, too, thought it a plane's tail light--he trained his binoculars on it. Like Gorman, he was unable to distinguish a shape near the light. Neither could another C.A.A. man who was with him in the tower, a Fargo resident named Manuel E. Johnson.
Up in the F-51, Gorman dived on the light, which was steadily blinking on and off.
"As I closed in," he told Project "Saucer" men later, "it suddenly became steady and pulled up into a sharp left turn. It was a clear white and completely roundabout six to eight inches in diameter.
"I thought it was making a pass at the tower. I dived after it and brought my manifold pressure up to sixty, but I couldn't catch the thing."
Gorman reported his speed at full power as 350 to 400 miles per hour. During the maneuvers that followed, both the C.A.A. men watched from the tower. Jensen was using powerful night glasses, but still no shape was visible near the mysterious light. The fantastic dogfight continued for twenty minutes. Gorman described it in detail.
"When I attempted to turn with the light, I blacked out temporarily, owing to excessive speed. I am in fairly good physical condition, and I don't believe there are many, if any, pilots who could withstand the turn and speed effected by the light and remain conscious."
"I put my fifty-one into a sharp turn and tried to cut it off," said Gorman. "By then we were at about seven thousand feet, suddenly it made a sharp right turn and we headed straight at each other. Just when we were about to collide I guess I lost my nerve. I went into a dive and the light passed over my canopy at about five hundred feet. Then it made a left circle about one thousand feet above and I gave chase again."
When collision seemed imminent a second time, the object shot straight into the air. Gorman climbed after it at full throttle.
Just about this time, two other witnesses, a private pilot and his passenger, saw the fast-moving light. The pilot was Dr. A. D. Cannon, an oculist; his passenger was Einar Nelson. Dr. Cannon later told investigators the light was moving at high speed. He thought it might be a Canadian jet fighter from over the border. (A careful check with Canadian air officials ruled out this answer.) After landing at the airport, Dr. Cannon and Mr. Nelson again watched the light, saw it change direction and disappear.
Meanwhile, Gorman was making desperate efforts to catch the thing. He was now determined to ram it, since there seemed nothing solid behind it to cause a dangerous crash. If his fighter was disabled, or if it caught fire, he could bail out.
But despite the F-51's fast climb, the light still outdistanced him. At 14,000 feet, Gorman's plane went into a power stall; He made one last try, climbing up to 17,000 feet. A few moments later, the light turned in a north-northwest direction and quickly disappeared.
Throughout the dogfight, Gorman noticed no deviation on his instruments, according to the Project "Saucer" report. Gorman did not confirm or deny this when I talked with him. But he did agree with the rest of the Project statement. He did not notice any sound, odor, or exhaust trail.
Gorman's remarks about ramming the light reminded me of what Art Green had said. When I asked Gorman
"Where did you hear that?"
"Several places," I told him. "At Chicago, in Salt Lake City--in fact, we've been hearing it all over."
"Well, there's nothing to it," Gorman declared. He changed the subject.
Some time afterward, a Fargo pilot told me there had been trouble over the ramming story.
"But it wasn't Gorman's fault. Somebody else released that report to the A. P. The news story didn't actually say there was an Air Force order to ram it, but the idea got around, and we heard that Washington squawked. Gorman had a pretty rough time of it for a while. Some of the newspapers razzed his story. And the Project 'Saucer' teams really worked on him. I guess they were trying to scare him into saying he was mistaken, and it was a balloon."
When I asked Gorman about this, he denied he'd had rough treatment by the Project teams.
"Sure, they asked about a thousand questions, and I could tell they thought it might be a hoax at first. But that was before they quizzed the others who saw it."
"Anybody suggest it was a balloon?" I said casually.
"At first, they were sure that's what it was," answered Gorman. "You see, there was a weather balloon released here. You know the kind; it has a lighted candle on it. The Project teams said I'd chased after that candle and just imagined the light's maneuvers--confused it with my own movement, because of the dark."
Gorman grinned. "They had it just about wrapped up--until they talked to George Sanderson. He's the weather observer. He was tracking the balloon with a theodolite, and he showed them his records. The time and altitudes didn't fit, and the wind direction was wrong. The balloon was drifting in the opposite direction. Both the tower men backed him up. So that killed the weather-balloon idea."
The next step by Project "Saucer" investigators had been to look for some unidentified aircraft. This failed, too. Obviously, it was only routine; the outline of a conventional
An astronomical check by Professor Hynek ruled out stars, fireballs, and comets--a vain hope, to begin with. The only other conventional answer, as the Project report later stated, was hallucination. In view of all the testimony, hallucination had to he ruled out. Finally, the investigators admitted they had no solution.
The first Project "Saucer" report, on April 27, 1949, left the Gorman "mystery light" unidentified.
In the Saturday Evening Post of May 7, 1949, Sidney Shallett analyzed the Gorman case, in the second of his articles on flying saucers. Shallet suggested this solution: that Gorman had chased one of the Navy's giant cosmic-ray research balloons. Each of these huge balloons is lighted, so that night-flying planes will not collide with the gas bag or the instrument case suspended below. Shallett concluded that Gorman was suffering from a combination of vertigo and confusion with the light on the balloon.
As already mentioned, these huge Navy balloons are filled with only a small amount of helium before their release at Minneapolis. They then rise swiftly to very high altitudes, unless a leak develops. In Shallett's words, "These balloons travel high and fast. . . ."
Fargo is about two hundred miles from Minneapolis. Normally, a cosmic-ray research balloon would have reached a very high altitude by the time it had drifted this far. The only possible answer to its low-altitude sighting would be a serious leak.
If a leaking balloon had come down to one thousand feet at Fargo, it would either have remained at that height or kept on descending. The mystery light was observed at this altitude moving at high speed. If a Cub's outline was visible against the lighted football field, the massive shape of even a partly deflated balloon would have stood out like an elephant. Even before release, the partially inflated gas bags are almost a hundred feet tall. The crowd at the football game would certainly have seen such a monstrous shape above the glare of the floodlights, for the plastic balloons gleam brightly
For the cosmic-balloon answer to be correct, this leaking gas bag would have had to rise swiftly to seventeen thousand feet--after a loss of helium had forced it down to one thousand. As a balloon pilot, I know this is impossible. The Project "Saucer" report said unequivocally: "The object could out turn and out speed the F-51, and was able to attain a much steeper climb and to maintain a constant rate of climb far in excess of the Air Force fighter."
A leaking balloon? More and more, I became convinced that Secretary Forrestal had persuaded some editors that it was their patriotic duty to conceal the answer, whatever it was.
That thought had begun to worry me, because of my part in this investigation. Perhaps John Steele had been right, and we shouldn't be trying to dig out the answer. But I had already told Purdy, and he had agreed that if national security was involved, we would drop the thing completely.
By the time I had proved the balloon answer wrong, I was badly puzzled. The idea of a disembodied light was the hardest thing to swallow that I'd come across so far.
And yet there were the other light reports--the strange sighting at Fairfield Suisan Field, the weird green lights at Las Vegas and Albuquerque. And there was the encounter that Lieutenant H. G. Combs had had one night above Andrews Field, near Washington, D. C.
This incident had occurred on November 18, 1948, six weeks after Gorman's experience. Combs, flying with another lieutenant named Jackson, was about to land his T-6, at 9:45 P.M., when a strange object loomed up near him. It looked like a grayish globe, and it gave off an odd, fuzzy light.
Combs chased the weird object for over ten minutes, during which it appeared to evade every move he made. Once, its speed was nearly six hundred miles an hour, as closely as he could estimate. In a final attempt to identify it, Combs zoomed the T-6 up at a steep angle
Since Combs's story had been in the newspapers, Project "Saucer" evidently had felt it wise to give some explanation. When I read it, in the preliminary report, I was amazed. Here was the concluding sentence:
"The mystery was cleared up when the object was identified positively as a cluster of cosmic-ray research balloons."
Even one of the giant balloons would have been hard to take as the explanation. Combs was almost sure to have collided with it in his head-on passes. But an entire cluster! I tried to picture the T-6 zooming and twisting through the night sky, with several huge balloons in its path. It would be a miracle if Combs got through without hitting one of them, even if each balloon was lighted. But he had seen only one light; so had Lieutenant Jackson. That would mean all the rest of the balloons were unlighted--an unbelievable coincidence.
It was not until months afterward that I found Project "Saucer" had withdrawn this "solution." In its final report, this case, Number 207, was listed in the "Unidentified" group. How the balloon-cluster explanation ever got into the first report is still a mystery.
When I talked with Gorman, I told him I was baffled by the idea of a light maneuvering through the skies with no airfoil to support it.
"I know," he said. "It got me, too, at first."
"You mean you know the answer?" I demanded.
"It's just my personal opinion," said Gorman. "But I'd rather not have it printed. You see, I got some ideas from all the questions those Project teams asked me. If my hunch turns out to be right, I might be talking about an official secret."
I tried to pry some hint out of him, but Gorman just smiled and shook his head.
"I can tell you this much," he said, "because it's been mentioned in print. There was thought behind every move the light made. It wasn't any radar-responder gadget making it veer away from my ship."
"Because it reacted differently at different times. If it had been a mechanical control, it would have turned or climbed the same way each time I got near it. Instead, it was as if some intelligent mind was directing every turn like a game of chess, and always one move ahead of me. Maybe you can figure out the rest."
That was all I could get out of him. It bothered me, because Combs's report indicated the same thing. I had a strong temptation to skip the space-plans research and tell Redell what Gorman had told me. But Redell had an orderly mind, and he didn't like to be pushed.
Reluctantly, I gave up the idea. I had a feeling Redell knew the answer to the mystery lights, and it wasn't easy to put off the solution.
The letter that came from Art Green, while I was working on the space plans, didn't make it easier:
Just heard about your Seattle visit. That Fairfield Suisan thing is on the level; several Air Force pilots have told me about it.
When you get to Fargo, ask Gorman what they found when they checked his ship with a Geiger counter. If he says it was negative, then he must be under orders. I happen to know better.