The Air Force Hands Me a Riddle
Shortly after my return from New York, I had a call from a TWA captain I'd known for some time.
"I suppose you read about that Air Force press conference?" he said. I told him I'd been there, and he went on. "It's made the airline pilots plenty sore. A lot of us thought the Air Force was on the level, asking for saucer reports. They'll play hell getting them now.
"The other night one of our ships was over Lake Michigan and a lighted disc buzzed it. It looked like the ones those PAA pilots reported. This captain was going to tell the Air Force and then he read what they said at the Pentagon. He told his crew if they said anything about it he'd deny the whole thing."
A few days later I had a letter from an Eastern captain.
"A while back," he said, "one of our crews sighted a disc shaped object that went from horizon to horizon in six minutes. All the passengers saw it, too, but the captain wouldn't report it. He'd wring my neck if I gave you his name, even off the record."
In the meantime I'd made my first attempt at a frank talk with the Air Force. In asking for ATIC cases, during the past year, I'd worked with Major D. E. Patterson, in
Defense Department public relations. I phoned him and explained what I had in mind.
"That sounds like a fair deal," he said. "Why don't you talk with Chop, over in the Air Force press branch? He can put it up to Intelligence."
While I waited, he called the press branch on another phone, but Chop was away.
"I guess he's at home, resting up," said Patterson. "He took it on the chin, the last week or two."
"How about my talking with an Air Force radar expert in the meantime? I'd like to get a couple of things straight."
"I'll see what I can do. By the way, that last request of yours, for ATIC cases, was turned down."
"That makes about the tenth time," I said. "But thanks, anyway, for trying."
An hour later Patterson called back. To my surprise, he had gotten me the radar interview. It was set for 1 o'clock.
"This man's an Intelligence colonel," said Patterson. "Kay Hampton, up in Colonel Boyd's office, will take you to him."
But a hitch developed the minute I saw Kay Hampton.
"The colonel said to make one thing clear," she told me "He'll explain all about radar and temperature inversions, but he won't discuss flying saucers."
"What's the use of seeing him, then? He must have known that's what I wanted."
"I'm sorry," she said, "but you can't even mention the saucers."
"Let it go," I said. "I should have known there was a joker in it.
On the way out, I stopped in at Colonel Boyd's office. Two other PIO's happened to be in the room.
"I wonder if you know how much harm this policy is doing," I said to Boyd. Then I told him about the airline pilots.
"You want those pilots to give you reports. General Samford said they'd like to have top scientists help analyze
the sightings, and you want people to trust the Air Force. Then you make a fool out of anybody who says he thinks the saucers are real."
The PIO's looked at each other. Nobody said anything.
"I know I've caused you people some trouble," I said. "But I told the Air Force—it was General Sory Smith the first time—that I'd stop writing about the saucers if they'd show me any reason for keeping still. I even offered to go on active duty, so they could show me the proof. That still goes."
"We're not holding out a thing," said Colonel Boyd. "I'm sorry you think so—you're the one person we'd like most to convince."
"It's a queer way to go about it. I've asked for ATIC reports nearly a dozen times, and I always get turned down. If there's nothing to the saucers, why sit on the reports?"
"Well, of course, that's not in my hands," said Colonel Boyd.
"I'm not trying to get tough," I said. "But I think it's been badly handled. And that press conference—maybe you sold the newspapers, but a lot of people still think you're covering up.
"You going to write an article on that?" said one of the PIO'S.
"That depends—I'd rather not go on sniping at the Air Force. It seems to me an off-the-record talk might pay off, if there's some angle I don't know. Maybe I could even help, if I knew the whole picture."
"We're honestly not holding out," said Colonel Boyd.
"OK, Colonel," I said. "I'm sorry if I blew off steam. I know you don't set the policy."
Within an hour after I got home I had a call from Colonel Boyd's office, asking me to come in next day and talk with Chop. I wasn't too excited; it probably wouldn't lead to anything.
The first person I saw at the Press Branch was Lieutenant
Colonel Searles. Back in '49, he had seemed seriously impressed by reports from competent pilots, but he was now apparently an out-and-out skeptic. Whether he had changed, or this was an official front, I still don't know, but in the press branch he was known as "Death to the saucers" Searles.
Searles introduced me to Chop, and the two of us talked for about three hours. At first I had the feeling I was being weighed carefully—not just my beliefs, but whether I could be trusted.
"You honestly believe they're interplanetary?" Chop said finally. I told him I couldn't see any other possible answer. When I repeated what I'd said to Colonel Boyd, Chop listened without expression, then at the end he shook his head.
"This isn't an off-the-record talk. You don't have to keep still. I've been instructed to help you, and you asked for ATIC sighting reports. Exactly what do you want?"
The sudden offer almost caught me off guard.
"Simultaneous radar and visual sightings—the toughest cases you've got," I said.
I expected him to stall, but Chop only nodded.
"I know they'll explain them as inversions," I said, "but I want to see how they prove it. I might as well tell you I’ll do my damndest to knock it down."
"We know that. Any specific cases in mind?"
"What about the Washington sightings?"
"They won't be analyzed for some time."
Here we go, I thought. The old runaround.
"What about that Dayton case a few days ago? The AP said two F-86 pilots chased a disc near Bellefontaine, Ohio. If they got the story right, the pilots both said it wasn't a mirage or a reflection. Right after that, the lid went on and reporters weren't allowed to talk to them."
"Yes, I know about that," said Chop. "I'll ask for it and call you back."
A little later I asked him how long he'd been on the
saucer assignment. He told me he'd seen most of the important cases when he was acting press chief at Dayton. Here at the Pentagon he'd seen the Intelligence reports as they came in, sat in on Intelligence conferences, and talked with top investigators like Major Foumet.
"You must have a pretty good idea of the answers," I said. "What do you think is behind this saucer survey?"
"I can't answer that," said Chop. "On this job I'm not allowed to express any personal belief."
He lit a cigarette, waited a moment, then went on, carefully measuring his words.
"The Air Force doesn't deny they may be interplanetary. But we have no concrete evidence to support it."
"What do you mean 'concrete?'"
"No wreckage—no bodies—no material objects."
"What about the pictures you've analyzed?"
Chop told me later my question had jolted him. For a moment, he thought I had somehow learned of the secret film. But his dead-pan expression didn't give me a hint.
"You've had some photographs," I said. "There have been ten or twelve in the papers. Maybe some were faked, but two or three looked genuine."
"So far, none of them has shown any details," said Chop. "No ATIC analysis has proved anything definite."
Just before I left, Chop took a copy of my book from a desk drawer. He ran through it, picked out a few paragraphs.
"You seem sure the saucers are friendly. If they are interplanetary—and I said if—why all this long observation without any contact?"
"I don't know, there could be several answers." I watched his face. "Of course, if the Air Force thinks they're hostile, I can see why they've kept quiet."
Chop gave me a dry smile.
"You said that-I didn't." He stood up. "OK, I’ll see what I can do on those cases. It may take a little time."
A week later he phoned me.
"Come on in," he said. "I've got three or four sightings cleared for you."
Still skeptical, I drove in. The Air Force, I was positive, wouldn't be giving me cases of any importance—certainly none that would upset General Samford's statements. Probably they'd be watered-down reports that didn't prove anything. But they'd be enough to block any claim that the Air Force was holding out.
"These may surprise you," Chop said dryly, when he gave me the sightings. I looked at the first, an Intelligence report which had recently come in from Oneida Air Force Base in Japan.
Just before midnight, on August 5, 1952, a saucer carrying a bright white light had slowly approached the base. Up in the control tower, Air Force operators quickly focused binoculars on the mysterious light. As it came closer, they could see a dark, circular shape behind the glow, four times the light's diameter. A smaller, less brilliant light shone from the round, dark undersurface of the strange machine.
By this time tower men had flashed word to a Ground Control Intercept station. For several minutes the saucer hovered near the tower, its dark shape clearly visible behind the light. Then it suddenly turned away, accelerating at high speed.
As GCI picked up its track, a strange thing happened. The mysterious craft divided into three units, as if two other saucers had been launched from the first. While the amazed Air Force men watched, the three machines raced off, keeping accurate intervals, at a clocked speed of 300 knots.
Calling a nearby C-54 transport, the tower men tried to vector it in toward the three saucers. But with its slower speed, the transport had no chance. In seconds the strange machines disappeared from the area.
Incredulous, I looked at Chop.
"I can publish this?"
"But this report proves the saucers are solid objects."
He gave me his dead-pan look.
"Read the next one," he said.
The second Intelligence report was barely a day old. It was dated August 20, and it came from Congaree Air Base, near Columbia, South Carolina.
On that morning radar men at a nearby Air Defense Command post were watching normal traffic when the blip of some unknown object suddenly appeared on the scope.
When it was first sighted, the saucer was 60 miles from the ADC post. Almost instantly the men could see that it was moving at fantastic speed. In a matter of seconds, as the sweep went around, a row of widely spaced dots appeared on the glass. While the operators were still staring at the track, it ran off the scope. Hurriedly, before the blips could fade, they figured the object's speed. Then they looked at each other, astonished.
The unknown machine was making over 4,000 miles an hour.
One operator hastily cut in his mike. Then he realized it was useless to flash an alarm. The strange craft was moving at 70 miles a minute—nearly ten times the top speed of any interceptor. Even if he flashed word hundreds of miles ahead, jet pilots would see little more than a blur if they got anywhere near the saucer.
In this report Air Technical Intelligence had made no attempt to gloss over the facts. The operators were experts, trained to recognize blips of solid objects. The radar was working correctly.
Something had streaked through the South Carolina skies that morning, but the ATIC frankly admitted it had no explanation.
"This is cleared, too?" I said. "Even this ATIC statement?"
"That's right," said Chop. "There's only one condition."
Here it comes, I thought.
"We want you to emphasize the fact that our pilots aren't shooting at these things. We've been catching hell from all over the country." Chop showed me some telegrams and letters. "They even wire the President, 'In the name of God, don't shoot at the saucers.' So anything you can do—"
"Sure, I’ll include that," I said.
"I'll get you a statement from General Ramey. Go ahead, read the others. They're not quite so hot as those two, but they're important."
The third Intelligence report, dated July 23, covered an F-94 chase over Braintree, Massachusetts. Earlier, GCI had picked up a saucer circling at high speed, about the time that a bluish-green light was sighted from the ground. When the F-94 pilot was vectored in, he saw the machine's light, then locked onto the saucer with his radar. For a few seconds he tried to close in at full power. But the saucer swiftly pulled away and disappeared from his scope.
In this case, too, ATIC had found no explanation.
The next case, also unexplained, had occurred on the night of July 29. It had been only a few hours after the Air Force press conference.
At 9:30 p.m., Mountain Standard Time, a yellow-lighted saucer had abruptly appeared over Los Alamos. It was the second one to be sighted that day over the atomic energy base. When it was first seen, by an Air Force Reserve colonel, the machine seemed to be hovering almost over the base. As nearly as he could tell from the glowing light, its shape was round or oval.
After a minute the saucer streaked away, its color changing from yellow to white. From the way the light swiftly shrank in size, the machine's speed had been terrific. It disappeared within 15 seconds.
"Another color-change report," I said. "I guess you've had a lot of them—showing how these things change color when they speed up or slow down."
"Yes, it's nothing new." Chop eyed me a moment. "Any idea why they change?"
"I've heard one explanation. It was worked out by a Canadian government engineer; he happens to be in charge of one of their saucer projects. His answer explains all the color changes and the method of propulsion. Ever heard of it?"
"Maybe," said Chop. "Some of the Canadians came down to check things with Project Bluebook. We've exchanged information."
Just then his phone rang. While he was talking, I looked over the last Intelligence report. This IR had come from an Air Defense Command unit near Osceola, Wisconsin. It was dated July 28, 1952.
About 2:30 a.m., GCI radar had picked up several UFO's. As in the Washington Airport sightings, the first tracked speeds contrasted strangely with the later maneuvers. Most of the saucers were idling along at 60 m.p.h. until jet interceptors took off. Shortly after this, one machine's speed jumped to more than 600 miles an hour.
When the nearest pilot reached 25,000 feet, he spied several rapidly moving lights east of St. Paul, Minnesota. The saucers coincided with the track which GCI had given him. At the same time they were also sighted by a plane spotter of the Ground Observer Corps.
At Osceola some one had tentatively suggested a meteor shower, obviously without knowing of the tracked speeds. But an astronomer at the Washington Naval Observatory later reported this was impossible. Even the 600 mile-an-hour speed recorded would be entirely too slow for a meteor, and the original reports of 60 made it ridiculous. The sighting remained unsolved.
"There'll be some more IR's later," said Chop. "Well probably have that Dayton report before you finish the article."
Trying not to show what I felt, I thanked him and left. Getting these reports had baffled me. It was less than a
month since General Samford had branded the saucers as phenomena with no mass. The Oneida report, describing a solid machine of some kind behind the light, was official proof to the contrary. And the other cases were a start toward wrecking the inversion answer.
Why had Intelligence released them—to me, of all people? Chop must have had the Director's permission; no one would dare release the reports against General Samford's wishes. Yet anyone could see they would give an entirely new slant on the press conference.
Next day I was still puzzling over it when I had a call from True, in New York. A short time back an Army physicist at Fort Belvoir had come out with a "bell-jar" experiment which produced miniature "saucer" lights. Though it had now been almost forgotten in Washington, John DuBarry, the aviation editor of True, wanted me to check on it with a scientist.
The leading authority on the ionosphere was Dr. George Ray Wait, of Carnegie Institute. When I talked with him, he quickly disposed of the Army physicist's theory.
"I don't know of any atmospheric conditions that would duplicate the 'bell-jar' saucers," he told me. "You can do many things in a laboratory which you can't duplicate in nature."
While we were talking, he gave me a valuable guide in analyzing saucer reports.
"The question is, are they navigated?" he said. "If the reports of reversals, sharp turns, and descents are fully confirmed, then no natural phenomena, to my knowledge, would explain such sightings."
When I checked at the Pentagon, Chop told me that the Air Force also had investigated the bell-jar theory.
"They agreed with Dr. Wait—there's nothing to it," he said.
On July 29, I was sure; they would have welcomed this bell-jar story, to help them reduce hysteria. It was plain
that something had happened to cause this change, and especially this sudden cooperation with me.
Once I might have thought it part of a cover-up scheme linked with a secret American weapon. However, that answer was out long ago. The only logical solution was a new policy of gradually preparing the public. But why the abrupt turnaround with the July crisis still fresh in the public mind?
Whatever the answer, it could wait. I still had a job to do, disproving the inversion angle.
For the next two weeks I talked with Barnes, Ritchey, Copeland, and most of the other Control Center men. Though they had cooled off, some were still bitter about the Air Force inversion answer. For years they had been guiding airliners through fog, snow, and rain without an accident. When the weather turned sour, thousands of lives were in their hands. As expert radar men, they were proud of their record—a record that depended on their ability to analyze and track blips in a split second.
Then, overnight, they had been, in effect, called fools-deceived by a simple atmospheric condition they'd known for years.
"Every man in here knows temperature-inversion effects," Barnes told me. "When an inversion's big enough, it picks up all sorts of 'ground clutter'—water tanks, buildings, shore lines, and so on.
"But anybody here can recognize it. You'll see huge purplish blobs, but nothing like those things we tracked. In the six years I've watched the scopes, absolutely nothing—high-speed jets, storms, inversions, or anything else —has ever caused blips that maneuvered like that. And we've had identical weather many times."
We were watching the main scope as Barnes talked, with Copeland and two or three others standing nearby.
"The only other time," interrupted Copeland, "was that night we saw the 'saucer' on Red Airway."
"That's right," said Barnes. "I'd forgotten that—but it
wasn't any inversion. That was something like these saucers we saw in July, except that it didn't maneuver."
"What happened?" I asked him.
"Jim and I were on duty together," replied Barnes. 'That was before the Control Center was built; we had our M.E.W. set operating for tests, over in the terminal. All of a sudden this strange object came racing down Red Airway—it passed to the west of the field. Since we weren't in regular operation, we hadn't been paying close attention to the scope, and we saw it at the last moment. It was going a lot faster than any jet, but the blips faded out before we could measure the speed. I'd say, to be conservative, it was well over 800 miles an hour—probably a lot higher."
"Over 1,000 would be my guess," said Copeland.
Ritchey, Copeland, Nugent, and all the other controllers were positive the July saucers could not have been inversion effects. The technicians, too, backed up Bames.
"Beside that," Chief Engineer J. L. McGivren told me, "there was no ground clutter either time, except the big blotch we always have at the center of the scope, where the bottom of the beam picks up the airport buildings."
When I checked at the Weather Bureau, I found the same answer. Vaughn D. Rockne, the senior radar specialist, had never heard of such blips as Bames and his men tracked.
By now the trail was getting hot. To nail down the answer, I checked with Dr. John Hagin, the chief radio astronomer at the Naval Research Laboratory. Hagin took the inversion theory apart in about 30 seconds.
"Even with a heavy inversion," he said, "conditions would have to be very, very unusual to cause effects like that. I'd say it was impossible, with blips pinpointed by three radar stations and lights seen simultaneously at the same points."
"How much of an inversion is needed for ordinary effects?" I asked him.
"At the very least, ten degrees Fahrenheit—to get really strong effects it would have to be much larger. Even then, it couldn't explain the simultaneous sightings."
As soon as I could get to a phone, I called Chop.
"I've got a request. It's the one that Intelligence turned down before—I want an interview with an Air Force radar expert."
'Maybe we can work it," said Chop.
"Wait a second," I said. "I want them to select a radar officer who'll give me the official opinion. I want to quote him. And I might as well tell you, I think it'll kill the inversion story."
There was a silence at the other end.
"Go ahead, knock my ears down," I said.
"I was just trying to think who'd be the right man," Chop said calmly. "Give me a couple of hours."
That afternoon he phoned me at my home.
"It's all set. Your man's Major Lewis S. Norman, Jr. He's in the Aircraft Control and Warning Branch, and he's made a special study of temperature inversions. Also, he's an interceptor pilot."
I hung up, puzzled. It was almost as if the Air Force wanted to throw the Menzel theory overboard. But that didn't make sense. Maybe Major Norman had an ace up his sleeve.
When I went into his office, I was braced for a repetition of the press conference arguments. I didn't get them. Major Norman, a quiet, friendly, competent man, made no wild claims for the Menzel theory.
"Inversions probably explain some saucer sightings," he said, casually. "How many, I don't know."
"Exactly what conditions would it take to explain the Washington sightings?" I asked him.
"Well, first, you'd have to have turbulence in the inversion layer. That could give an effect of high speed and sharp maneuvers."
"The Weather Bureau men at the airport said there
wasn't any turbulence," I told him. "But assuming there had been, how much of a temperature inversion would it take?"
"On the Centigrade scale, between five and ten degrees. If you used the Fahrenheit scale, between nine and eighteen degrees."
"Do you know what the inversions were on those two nights?" I asked him.
"No, I wasn't in on the investigation."
"The first night it was just one degree Fahrenheit. The second time it was barely two degrees."
If Norman was surprised, he didn't give any sign.
"Are those the official Weather Bureau figures?" he said.
"Yes, I double-checked them, and I also saw the inversion graphs. Would you still say inversions could be the answer?"
"No—they couldn't possibly explain the Washington sightings."
This was it. But it still seemed unbelievable that the Air Force would admit it.
"You realize I'm going to quote you as the official Air Force spokesman?" I asked Norman.
"Yes, I know," he said quietly. "They gave me the whole picture."
That evening I went over all that had happened, step by step, but I was more baffled than ever. A month ago the Director of Air Force Intelligence and his experts had done their best to explain the Washington cases as inversion phenomena. Now, an Air Force spokesman, furnished me with the help of Intelligence, had officially knocked that answer flat.
It was true this did not completely upset the inversion theory. The Air Force might insist that it explained other simultaneous sightings. But the claim would certainly be weakened by Major Norman's admission.
There must be some logical explanation for the Air Force action, even if I couldn't see it. Whatever it was,
there was no sense in pushing Chop for the answer. I was getting the facts; that was what counted.
Meantime, sighting reports were still coming in from many parts of the country. But the press conference had had its intended effect. Radio stations were putting psychiatrists on the air to debunk the saucers as figments of imagination. Many papers now gagged up sighting reports, making the witnesses sound like gullible morons. One of the most sarcastic was the Republican Times, at Ottawa, Illinois. In an editorial Managing Editor Herbert Hames told his readers:
"For five years, we've shrugged our shoulders and resigned ourselves to reading about deranged discs that flit from one end of the country to the other . . . The most exhaustive investigations have failed to uncover a solitary substantial clue to their existence. We're not printing saucer stories any more. And we invite the other 1700 daily newspapers to join in a fight against feeding pap to the public."
Some of the public, however, had their own ideas. In all the letters I'd received since July 29, less than 20 per cent believed the Air Force statements. Many letters to newspapers showed the same disbelief as this one in the Washington Star:
"The Air Force states that the things are perfectly friendly heat inversions and that they are positively not holding out on the public. I'm greatly relieved. If I should happen to see a thingamajig in the sky, I'll just say 'not so' three times, throw some salt over my left shoulder and go on my way.
E. S. Walker."
The apparent brush-off by the Air Force had one unexpected result. Several groups of reputable civilians began private investigations of the saucers. One was the Delaware Flying Saucer Investigative Associates, which was organized by a National Guard general and included experienced pilots and aeronautical engineers. Another investigation
was sponsored by Ohio Northern University, at Ada, Ohio. Labeled "Project A," this saucer research unit included the departments of mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, physics, electrical and mechanical engineering, and psychology.
"What do you think of these private outfits?" I asked Chop, when he called me in one day.
"We're not against them," he said, "but there's one bad effect. It gives the public the idea we're not taking the saucers seriously."
"After that press conference you couldn't expect anything else."
Chop looked unhappy.
"I know, but we are working hard on it. Sightings are being analyzed more carefully than ever—even some apparent hoaxes. The trouble is we've learned as much as we can until the saucers move into a new phase."
Two weeks before, newspapers had carried a new "natural phenomena" theory by two Chicago engineers. The saucers, they said, were only pockets of ionized air, caused by the recent A-bomb tests in Nevada.
Chop smiled wearily when I mentioned it.
"I wish to heaven it were right. We could stop scrambling all those jets, tell the public this was it, and close the project. But ATIC had scientists look into that long ago, though they knew it wasn't the answer—we had sightings before the first A-bomb blast. No, it's just another wild idea by people who don't know the evidence. If they'd seen Intelligence reports like these, they'd know better."
He took two new IRs from a folder.
"If you think Major Norman told you something, read these. Funny thing, this first one happened the very night of the press conference."
This UFO encounter, the report showed, had occurred just ten minutes before the "yellow saucer" sighting at Los Alamos. At 9:40 Central Standard Time, a GCI station in Michigan was tracking three F-94s which were
making practice runs on a B-25 bomber. Suddenly a trail of saucer blips appeared on the radarscope. The unknown machine was making 635 m.p.h., flying a course of 350 degrees.
Seconds after the blips appeared, GCI called Captain Ned Baker, one of the F-94 pilots. Giving him the UFO's position, they ordered an interception.
Baker put the jet into a steep climb and his radar operator, Lieutenant Guy Sorenson, carefully watched the rear-pit scope. As the F-94 reached 20,000' feet, GCI vectored Baker into a left turn. A moment later Sorenson picked up the saucer's blips and locked on. The UFO was four miles away, flying at their altitude.
Calling Baker on the intercom, Sorenson gave him the bearing. Peering into the night, Baker saw the strange machine, its position marked by a flashing light. As he watched, the light changed from red to green to white, alternating at regular intervals. Opening up to full power, he tried to close in.
Back at Ground Control, fascinated radar men watched the chase on their scope. They could tell the F-94 was at its maximum speed. But the saucer, slightly increasing its speed, easily stayed ahead.
For 20 minutes Baker stubbornly kept on. By now they were over Sanilac County, at a point some 20 miles north of Port Huron. The lights on the saucer were still flashing red, green, and white and its blips were clear on Sorenson's scope—exactly where GCI had them on its screen.
Finally Baker gave up and turned back. Though he didn't know it, several residents of Sanilac County had also seen the saucer. Every night for the past week machines of this same type had been sighted over the county, identified by their red, green, and white lights.
When I finished the action account, I looked down at the ATIC conclusion. I read it twice to be sure I was seeing correctly:
"The temperature inversion theory will not explain
simultaneous visual and radar sightings when observers on the ground and in planes see a UFO at the same spot, when a plane's radar has locked on the object, and ground radar stations have both the plane and the UFO on their scopes at the same spot. Conclusion: Unknown."
I looked up, caught Chop studying my face.
"Al" I said, "what the devil goes on here? This absolutely contradicts—"
"I know," he interrupted. "But if you think that's hot, read the other one. You've seen the preliminary, but this is the final analysis."
It was the Bellefontaine case, the saucer chase which the AP had briefly mentioned before ATIC banged down the lid.
At 10:51 a.m., August 1, 1952, radar men at a GCI post had spotted a fast-moving saucer. Apparently it was observing Wright-Patterson Field, for the track showed it not far from the base, though at a high altitude. About this same time the strange machine was seen from the ground by several civilians near Bellefontaine. It appeared to be round, with a shiny, metallic gleam.
When the blips came on the scope, two F-86 jets were about ten miles from the saucer, on a GCI intercept problem. The two pilots, Major James B. Smith and Lieutenant Donald J. Hemer, were immediately vectored toward the UFO. (Since the AP got their names, I have been allowed to use them in this case.)
As Smith and Hemer reached 30,000 feet, they saw a bright, round, glowing object maneuvering above them. To make certain it was not a ground reflection, both pilots changed course, circled, and climbed, to view it from different angles. The saucer's appearance did not change. Positive it was a solid object; both pilots switched on their gun-cameras and climbed at full power.
At 40,000 feet the mysterious device was still above them. Pulling up at a sharp angle, Major Smith tried to get a picture. But his F-86 stalled and fell off. When
Hemer nosed up for a camera shot, the same thing happened.
Then Major Smith, climbing again to 40,000 feet, made a second attempt. This time he was successful, and he clicked off several feet of film before the plane stalled.
As he began the camera run, Smith's radar gun sight had caught the saucer for a moment. (Hemer's radar sight was "caged"—inoperative—so he saw no radar blips.) From the range of his radar set, Major Smith knew the unknown device must be between 12,000 and 20,000 feet above him to cause such a weak blip.
To confirm his estimate he quickly checked with his telescopic gun sight and found it just covered the saucer. But before he could get a closer look, the machine quickly accelerated, disappearing at a tremendous speed. Later, using the radar and optical sight data, Smith carefully calculated the UFO's size. Apparently, it had been one of the medium-sized types. If it had been 12,000 feet above him, then it was about 24 feet in diameter. If it was at 20,000, its diameter was not less than 40 feet . . .
The Intelligence report on this case, which had been cleared for me, also included the ATIC analysis. To anyone who had been at the press conference it would have been a revelation.
"The ground radar squadron established two facts: Reaffirmation that the UFO moved at 400 knots (480 land miles per hour) and indications that the F-86s and the UFO appeared simultaneously on the GCI scope. It is obvious that all eyes and antennas put a fix on the same object.
"The object was obviously not a balloon, since the speed was too fast. (A radiosonde balloon was released at 1500 Zebra [10 a.m. Central Time] and moved off to the east. The object was sighted north-northwest of the base.)
"The object moved against the wind, its blip size that of a normal aircraft. The object was not a known aircraft because the altitude was too high. It was not astronomical, as the dual radar returns eliminate this."
Then, as the statement continued, Air Technical Intelligence for the second time kicked the Menzel theory in the teeth.
"The electronic or visual mirage of meteorological phenomena is out of the question, as the radar set was on high beam and both would not occur simultaneously in the same place. The sighting occurred above the weather. Conclusion: Unknown."
I put down the report and looked at Chop.
"You know, of course, what this does to the press conference story."
"They didn't have all the answers then on temperature inversions. And remember, General Samford didn't say positively it was the explanation."
"But that's the impression he gave. Understand, I'm not criticizing the general. I know he was caught in the middle, and he was doing what he thought best for the country. What gets me is their releasing these cases. It reverses everything Samford and James said."
"General Samford himself decided it."
"You'd have to ask him."
From Chop's manner it seemed best to let it drop.
"Can you say what the gun-camera pictures showed?" I asked.
"They showed a round object. You can't tell anything else because it's blurred—it was at least 12,000 feet away."
Later I saw several of the blown-up pictures. As Chop said, they showed only a blurred round shape. But that didn't lessen their importance. For the first time a saucer had been photographed during simultaneous radar and visual sightings, with the camera plane also locked on by radar. It was absolute proof that this saucer was a solid object, a controlled, disc-shaped machine.
The article I had written, with Air Force help, was already finished when the Michigan case and the Bellefontaine sighting analysis were given to me at the Pentagon. The Oneida case, describing the disc shape behind
the saucer light, also was left out because of a last-minute double-check on clearance. When the final word came, True’s presses were already rolling.
As a result these important revelations have remained, until now, unknown to the general public.
Just before the article went to press, Chop asked me to come in to the Pentagon.
"I've got an insert the Air Defense Command wants you to use," he said when I saw him. For a moment I thought it might be some last-second joker, but it proved to be only the statement from Major General Ramey:
"No orders have been issued to the Air Defense Command, or by the Air Defense Command, to its fighter units to fire on unidentified aerial phenomena. The Air Force, in compliance with its mission of air defense of the United States, must assume the responsibility for investigation of any object or phenomena in the air over the United States. Fighter units have been instructed to investigate any object observed or established as existing by radar tracks, and to intercept any airborne object identified as hostile or showing hostile interest. This should not be interpreted to mean that Air Defense pilots have been instructed to fire haphazardly on anything that flies."
"Anything else you want in the story?" I asked Chop.
"No," he said. "All we ask is for you to try to see the Air Force problem and give a fair picture." He paused, then went on in a casual tone, "If you think of any other angles, when you finish this piece, come on back in. Well give you whatever we can."
I went out, still wondering. What had caused this about-face, the sudden cooperation since July? It wasn't because of my talk with Colonel Boyd—I'd said the same thing for two years before that.
There must be some deep, underlying reason. But what it was remained a mystery.
Strange as it was, the Air Force rebuttal of the inversion theory was not the only enigma I'd found. In the past two months there had been several contradictory incidents.
The first was the Air Force reaction to a new "little men" report, started by Joseph Rohrer, a Pueblo radio executive. Ordinarily the story might have been laughed off. But Rohrer was a respected citizen, president of the Pike's Peak Broadcasting Company, and he insisted he was telling the truth. His sober account, given in a chamber of commerce talk, was headlined by the Pueblo Chieftan, reprinted in other papers, and broadcast by several Western radio stations.
According to Rohrer, seven flying discs had fallen into the government's hands. Three of them, he said, had been forced down in Montana. Most remarkable of all, one saucer crewman—a man about three feet tall—had survived when his disc crashed. For two years he had been kept alive in incubator-type quarters at an isolated spot in California. At first, attempts to communicate with him had failed. But gradually he had been educated by means of pictures, and linguists had now taught him to read and write English.
From Rohrer's description, the saucers consisted of giant rotating discs with stationary cabins.
"I have been in one saucer," he told the chamber of commerce men. "It was 100 feet in diameter and 18 feet thick. The saucer was put together in five sections, and sleeping quarters for the crew are tubes with caps on the ends."
The cabins, he added, were pressured with 30 per cent oxygen and 70 per cent helium. (The oxygen-helium combination, in a different ratio, is now being considered by our own space-travel planners.) For propulsion the discs used electrostatic turbines, and the magnetic fields created by the rotating rings gave them tremendous speeds. Variations in the fields, at different speeds, explained the various color changes so frequently reported.
Because of their high voltages, said Rohrer, the discs usually avoided close approaches to cities and planes. But on one occasion, in a section of Seattle, fuses were blown and electric appliances were burned out when a disc momentarily flew too low.
The government, Rohrer concluded, was keeping it secret because of possible panic.
When this report became public, some people tied it to the Aluminum Man story of 1950: the capped sleeping tubes sounded like the "silvery capsules" with little men, supposed to have fallen from a disc hit by antiaircraft fire.
As Chop had expected, Rohrer's story brought a new crop of letters demanding the truth. He told me that ATIC knew nothing of the discs Rohrer reported.
"Why doesn't the Air Force publicly deny it?" I asked him.
"We'd rather not," said Chop.
"Why? Colonel Watson denied the Scully story, and this man's gone a lot farther. He claims he's been inside a saucer. I don't see how you can let it stand."
Chop shook his head dubiously.
"It'll cause more publicity if we make a statement."
"Well, then make him retract the story without mentioning the Air Force."
"How?" said Chop. "We can't order Rohrer to retract it."
"Have General Samford get him on the phone and throw a scare into him. Put it to him point-blank—where did he see the saucer, what date, who were the officers that showed it to him? The general could tell him he'd have to retract it or the Air Force would blast him. Even if Rohrer meant it just as a joke, a lot of people will believe it, if you let it ride."
Chop rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"It's an idea—about General Samford, I mean. I'll put it up to Intelligence."
Next day he told me it had been turned down.
"We'd have to go through channels—this way, it might offend the Area commander."
"That sounds pretty flimsy to me," I said. "I don't know of any regulation that keeps the Director of Intelligence from making a phone call."
"Anyway, local Intelligence men would have to check on Rohrer's story."
"If you know it's bunk, why bother to check?"
"That's the routine."
"What about the people who wrote in? You going to tell them it was a hoax?"
"No. Well just say we haven't any knowledge of what Rohrer claims."
Shortly after this the story of a sensational encounter by a West Palm Beach scoutmaster, hit papers all over the country. After the Rohrer case, I expected the Air Force to ignore it. But Intelligence surprised me.
The saucer encounter took place in a woods near West Palm Beach, on the night of August 19, 1952. About 9 o'clock that evening, Scoutmaster D. S. Desvergers and three scouts were riding home from a meeting when they saw strange lights in the woods. Leaving the boys in his
car Desvergers went to investigate, carrying a machete and a flashlight.
Two minutes later one of the scouts saw a reddish-white ball of fire. It came from about the height of the trees and seemed to slant down toward the spot where Desvergers had last been seen. When the scoutmaster failed to return, one boy ran to the nearest house and phoned for the sheriff.
Just as the sheriff arrived, Desvergers came out of the woods, apparently badly frightened and on the verge of exhaustion. He had reached a clearing, he said, when he realized something was hovering above him. Pointing his flashlight upward, he saw a metallic disc-shaped machine about 25 feet in diameter. An instant later the saucer's turret opened. Then a fiery spray shot out at him, scorching his arm and burning his hat. When he got to his feet after lying dazed for a few minutes, the saucer was gone.
Many people took Desvergers' story seriously, and with good reason. The scoutmaster's arm was curiously reddened, his hat was burned, and when the sheriff searched the clearing he found a small scorched area. But later Desvergers refused to talk with reporters, holding his story for a magazine sale, and some people, like me, began to wonder.
However, there had been one other case where a saucer was said to have burned an observer. Two boys at Amarillo, Texas, had reported seeing a small disc land near them, its top section still spinning. When one boy touched it, the rotating part speeded up, throwing off a hot gas or spray. Then the disc took off with a whistling sound and quickly disappeared.
To back up this incredible story, the boy displayed some odd red spots on his face and arms. Later I was told that Intelligence had made no investigation; apparently they believed the story had been made up to cover some childish prank which had caused the burns. It sounded like a logical answer.
Remembering this, I expected the Desvergers case to
get the same treatment. Instead, I found that Ruppelt had been ordered to fly to Florida for an on-the-spot check. After quizzing Desvergers, Ruppelt took the scoutmaster's cap back to Dayton for analysis.
"What's the low-down on that case?" I asked Chop a few days later.
No final conclusion yet," he said. "Personally, I wouldn't waste time on it."
But even if there was nothing to the story, one fact stuck in my mind. The Air Force had ordered a special investigation by Captain Ruppelt, instead of a routine check by an Intelligence officer from Miami. At least they had not believed such an encounter impossible.
While I was thinking this over, a new "space ship" report came in, from the town of Pittsburgh, Kansas. There was only one witness, a musician named Squires, who worked at station KOAM.
Just about dawn, on August 27, Squires was driving into Pittsburgh when he saw something hovering above an open field. When he got closer he saw it was a machine composed of two huge discs, one above the other. Between them was a round cabin with three or four curved windows, through which he could see a bluish light. The discs, he said later, were about 75 feet in diameter.
The saucer, Squires reported, was hovering ten feet above the ground. He got out of his car, cautiously approached the strange machine. As he came nearer, he could dimly see movement inside the cabin. Though he was not sure, he thought he saw a shadowy, humanlike figure. At the same time he heard an odd, pulsating sound from some unknown type of machinery.
Before he could get any closer, the blue-lighted ship suddenly lifted. Taking off straight up, it swiftly climbed out of sight.
Since there were no other witnesses, the musician's story was ridiculed by some papers. At the Pentagon I found three different reactions. Though a check on Squires showed he had a reputation for honesty, Lieutenant Colonel
Searles gave his story the horselaugh. Chop took it more seriously, but he denied that Project Bluebook was making a special investigation. In view of this, I was surprised when an Intelligence officer gave me a tip on the case.
"Don't write off the Pittsburgh sighting," he said. "If I were you, I'd go out there and check on it personally. Also, I'd get all the facts on that Pan American sighting near Norfolk. It's one of the most impressive reports we have."
A New York trip kept me from going to Kansas, but I put in a request for the two case reports.
"I can tell you right now about the Pittsburgh sighting," said Chop. "The Project's listed it as unexplained. They got some soil samples from the spot where the thing was hovering, so they could test for radioactivity. But the samples were broken up when they came in, so they couldn't make an accurate analysis."
While I was waiting for the Pan American report, I found myself faced with another puzzle—the case of the "Sutton Monster."
Of all the eerie saucer stories, this was the weirdest. There is good evidence that this was merely a case of autosuggestion and hysteria, but it has some peculiar angles.
The action took place near Sutton, West Virginia, on the night of September 12. Early that evening a glowing object was seen by thousands of people as it flashed over the state. Among those who saw it, near Sutton, were Mrs. Kathleen May, her three young boys, and a 17-year-old National Guardsman, Gene Lemon. Though they couldn't be sure, they thought they saw something land on a nearby hill.
It was dark when they climbed the slope, and Gene Lemon turned on his flashlight. The first thing they noticed was an unpleasant, suffocating odor. As they neared the spot where the object seemed to have landed, two shining eyes were reflected in the light. Thinking it was a raccoon on a limb, young Lemon caught it in the beam.
The light fell squarely on a huge figure, at least nine feet tall, with a sweaty red face and protruding eyes about a foot apart. As the light fell on it, the monster's body glowed a dull green, then with an odd hissing sound it started toward them.
Terrified, Mrs. May and the boys fled down the hill. While Mrs. May was phoning the sheriff, her mother noticed a queer oily substance on the boys' faces. Soon after this, their throats began to swell. Later it was suggested that the monster had sprayed the boys with some kind of gas; but in the excitement Mrs. May could not be certain.
When the sheriff arrived, a fog was settling over the hillside. Twice he tried to get his dogs to lead him to the spot where the monster had been seen. Each time they ran away, howling, and he gave up until morning.
During the night the Lemon boy became seriously ill, almost in convulsions. His throat, like those of the May boys, was strangely inflamed and swollen. Later, a doctor compared the effects with those of mustard gas.
Just after sunrise, according to a Sutton school-board member, a strange machine took off from the hilltop. When the sheriff and his men searched the area they found tracks on the ground, the grass mashed flat, and bits of what looked like black plastic. There was no trace of the fearful-looking creature Mrs. May and the boys had described.
Such was the Sutton Monster tale.
When the story first appeared, it gave none of the evidence found on the hilltop, and I put it down to hysteria. As a joke, I phoned Chop.
"How many Intelligence officers are you rushing down to Sutton?"
"You, too?" he said sourly. "We're not even bothering to investigate. Several astronomers said a meteor went over there. Those people must have dreamed up the rest."
But the Sutton story wasn't so easily downed. Radio commentators repeated it all over the country. A newspaper
syndicate ran a series of articles. Then Mrs. May and the Lemon boy appeared on "We, the People" and retold their frightening experience. It was obvious they believed the monster was real, and a dozen papers and magazines sent staff writers to Sutton for new angles on the story.
"This could get out of hand," I told Chop. "Why doesn't the Air Force squelch it?"
"We've already said the object was a meteor," he retorted.
"A lot of people don't believe it. And the way this has built up, it's bad. It plants the menace idea ten times more than Desvergers' story did."
(About three months later, when the scoutmaster's story appeared in the American Weekly Magazine, Desvergers said he had seen a terrifying creature in the saucer's turret —so dreadful he would not even describe it. But in September, when the Sutton case broke, this was not widely known.)
"It'll die out," Chop insisted.
"But people will remember it later, if something breaks. Why doesn't Intelligence go down there and kill it? They sent Ed Ruppelt to Florida, and that thing didn't have half the potential danger."
"We didn't know the answer to that one. This time we do. All those people saw was a meteor—they imagined the rest. We can't send Intelligence officers out on every crazy report—Project Bluebook hasn't the people or the funds."
But that didn't stand up. Major Fournet and other investigators were available in Washington; a plane from Bolling Field could get them there in an hour. A local Intelligence officer could have been sent from the nearest base, or the check-up could be made by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, which had men in West Virginia.
Despite Chop's answer, the Air Force hands-off attitude seemed peculiar to me. For the monster story was having a serious effect, in addition to letters from worried
Americans. With the Air Force apparently refusing to act, some civilian investigating groups were now taking over at Sutton. One of these was the Delaware organization, which made a careful check at the scene.
"This monster story could very well be true," one of the Delaware group told me. "We've gone over all the evidence, and we re convinced those people aren't faking—they're absolutely convinced they saw the thing. And from what we saw, something did land on that hill."
Soon after this, I discovered that the Air Force had not ignored the Sutton report. To avoid public attention Intelligence had worked through the West Virginia state police, securing all the details. Later, from a source outside the Pentagon, I heard that Intelligence had followed this up by sending two men in civilian clothes who posed as magazine writers while interviewing witnesses. Even if this was not true—and the Air Force denied it—their check through the state police showed more interest than they had admitted.
There was only one reasonable answer, and I should have seen it before. If the Air Force had sent investigators publicly in the hope of killing the story, it might have backfired. Papers and magazines would picture the Intelligence officers as making a serious investigation. It might seem proof to some people that the Air Force was soberly impressed by the report—or at least that giants from space were considered a strong possibility.
When the time came to admit that the saucers were real, the slightest official hint of possible menace would be quickly remembered. From that angle the Sutton story was dangerous, with its picture of a fearsome creature intelligent enough to build and control space ships. It was far better to brand the whole thing as a hallucination— which Intelligence evidently believed was the answer.
It was not until months later that I found my guess was right. In January, 1953, I was told what Intelligence believed to be the basic facts.
First, the glowing object seen by Mrs. May and the boys
actually was a meteor; it merely appeared to be landing when it disappeared over the hill. Second, the group did see two glowing eyes, probably those of a large owl perched on a limb. Underbrush below may have given the impression of a giant figure, and in their excitement they imagined the rest. Third, the boys' illness was a physical effect brought on by their fright. Fourth, the flattened grass and supposed tracks were caused by the first villagers when they came to investigate.
Civilian investigators who examined the hilltop refuse to accept these answers, especially in view of the doctor's report on the boys' inflamed throats. Whether or not the Air Force analysis is correct, one point is certain—Intelligence carefully avoided a public investigation in order to prevent hysteria.
But for months no one at the Pentagon would admit it.
"We're simply not bothering with monster stories," Chop repeated, when I asked him again in November. "We've got enough trouble with confirmed sightings."
By way of proof he gave me two Intelligence reports from ATIC.
The first sighting had been on August 3, at Hamilton Air Force Base in California. At 4:15 p.m., two huge silvery discs, flying at different altitudes, had raced out of the east. As jet pilots on the ground watched them, the higher machine dived to the other one's level. Then the two saucers began to circle the base, maneuvering like fighter planes in a dogfight.
The pilot who saw them first, Lieutenant D. A. Swimley, had always scoffed at the saucers. Still incredulous, he got a pair of binoculars and trained them on the strange craft. He could plainly see their round shapes, but the discs were too high for detailed observations.
By this time GCI radar had picked up the saucers' blips, and plane spotters were phoning in reports. While interceptor pilots were dashing for their F-86s, six more discs came into sight and joined the others. As Swimley and other pilots watched from the ground, the saucers took
up a diamond-shaped formation, heading into the west. Before the jets could reach their altitude, the machines had vanished.
When an Intelligence officer questioned Swimley, he estimated the discs to be 60 to 100 feet in diameter.
"And don't tell me they were reflections," he added. "I know they were solid objects."
The second sighting had been made by Colonel Carl Sanderson, another jet pilot who had also been a skeptic. In a coolly factual report he told Intelligence officers he was now convinced the discs were real.
"On the 24th of August," he said, "I was flying an F-84 at 35,000 feet, en route to Turner Air Force Base, in Georgia. At 10:15, Mountain Standard Time, I sighted two round silvery objects flying abreast over Hermanas, New Mexico. One made a right turn, in front of my F-84. Both objects disappeared at very high speed, then reappeared over El Paso, Texas. I saw one climb straight up, two or three thousand feet. Then the second one came across in front of me and joined the other in close formation. In a few minutes they both vanished. From their maneuvers and their terrific speed, I am certain their flight performance was greater than any aircraft known today."
In both of these cases, and especially at Hamilton Field, there had been ample time for pilots or ground men to try to signal the saucers. But the reports made no mention of such an attempt.
At the end of the July press conference, I had asked Colonel Bowers about this. He told me the Air Force had never tried to communicate with the saucers, and Ruppelt had given me the same answer.
Now, after reading the two IRs, I brought it up again.
"Why didn't somebody try to signal those discs?" I asked Chop.
"Probably didn't think of it," he said.
"Are you sure the Air Force has never tried it?"
"Positive. Oh, some pilot may have blinked his lights
or tried a radio contact—but there's no official plan for communication."
"Why don't they work out a program? It would be easy to set up a simple code system—the same one would work for radio and blinking lights. All the airliner pilots could be in on it, too."
Chop reached for a cigarette, took his time lighting it.
"We can't set up any public scheme like that. People would take it as an official admission."
"Of what?" I said as he stopped.
"That the saucers are interplanetary."
"It's pretty clear from all these reports that Intelligence thinks so."
"Even if the evidence did indicate it," Chop said carefully, "the Air Force would never admit it until they had absolute proof and knew all the answers."
"How much do they know? They must have most of the picture—except maybe the motive back of all this."
Chop silently shook his head, and I let it drop.
Once again I'd come up against the invisible wall. In talks with Air Force officers I'd met the same resistance. Time and again I'd been given proof that the saucers were real, that they were super machines capable of speeds and maneuvers no earth-made craft could attain. Beyond this, most of my questions had been neatly evaded.
Even so, I'd come a long way since July. The first riddle had been cleared up—I knew now why I was getting this close cooperation.
It was a curious situation. The officers and civilian officials involved in UFO policy decisions were divided, roughly, into three main groups. The first, which I’ll call Group A, believed that sighting reports should be made public to prepare the country for the final solution—whatever it proved to be. Most of the men in this group had seen all the evidence and were convinced the saucers were machines superior to any known aircraft. The other two groups believed in silence, but for different reasons. Those in the B group also had seen the evidence, believed the
saucers were real, but feared the effect of a public admission. Group C was made up of hardheaded nonbelievers. Most of them had never troubled to examine the ATIC evidence; the few who had, flatly refused to believe it.
Since the first part of '52, Group A had urged that ATIC files be opened to the press. At first the two "silence" groups stubbornly resisted. But there was one argument that carried weight. The Soviet might suddenly claim that the saucers were Russian weapons. With the country ignorant of the facts, many Americans might believe the lie, increasing the chance of nationwide stampedes if the Russians made a sneak attack.
Reluctantly the "silence" men gave ground. The first result had been the Life and Look articles, written with ATIC aid. Then the July crisis arose, forcing Intelligence to debunk the saucers. When the danger of a panic was over, Group A began to fight again, pointing to the July hysteria as proof for their case.
At this time, by sheer good luck, I had gone to the Pentagon and made my offer. By then the Menzel theory had served its purpose; some Intelligence officers felt it should not be allowed to stand as the official answer. Believing that I would give a fair picture of the Air Force problem, Intelligence had released the facts which wrecked the inversion story.
Some time after the article was written, an Intelligence officer gave me a new slant on Project Sign and the early investigation.
"I've read your book," he said. "You were right about the policy of explaining sightings, but you had the reasons all wrong. Back in those days most Air Force people were convinced the saucers didn't exist. It seemed just too fantastic. Oh, there were a few in Project Sign who thought the saucers must be real, but the evidence wasn't so definite then and the majority believed each sighting must have a conventional explanation. So that was the guiding policy, to find the most likely answer. Some of them, I’ll
admit, were farfetched, but the policy was based on an honest belief."
"What about the space visitor’s suggestion?" I asked. "The one that said spacemen might have seen our A-bomb explosions and were investigating."
"That was only speculation. It would have been better if that hadn't been released—and that goes for those 'explaining-away' reports you quoted. You made a good case. No one could have come to any other conclusion, after digging into the evidence as you did. But we weren't trying to prepare the public because we just didn't know the answers. And that's the God's honest truth."
After this talk, I asked for all the old ATIC reports and rechecked the main cases. Though I wasn't completely convinced, I could see this new slant might be true—the Air Force might not have been hiding the answer, back in the early years.
But I was positive they knew a lot more than they were telling now.
By this time—it was mid-November—the Pan American-Norfolk report had been cleared for me. I could see why Intelligence had been impressed. This was one of the very few cases where pilots had flown above the saucers. Seeing the discs at a low altitude, with the earth as a background, the pilots had been able to make accurate estimates of their size and speed.
On that night, July 14, the weather had been CAVU— clear and visibility unlimited. In the darkness of early evening the pilots could see the distant lights of Norfolk and Newport News.
It was 9:12 by the cockpit clock when Nash and Fortenberry saw the strange reddish glow ahead. A split second later they could see the six discs. Glowing an orange red, like hot metal, the saucers approached at fantastic speed, a mile below the airliner. By comparison with ground objects, 2,000 feet below them, the discs appeared to be 100 feet in diameter.
The six strange craft were in echelon formation, the
leader at the lowest point. Apparently sighting the DC-4, the first disc abruptly slowed, its bright glow dimming noticeably. As it slowed down, the next two discs wobbled for an instant. To the pilots it seemed they almost overran the leader, as if his signal had come too quickly.
Then in unison all six discs flipped up on edge. From that brief glimpse, they seemed to be about 15 feet thick. Only the upper surfaces glowed; the sides and the bottoms appeared to be dark.
With a violent change of course—at least 150 degrees— the saucers streaked away. Flipping back to their original flat position, they again lined up in echelon, their glow brightening swiftly as if from an increase in power.
A second after this two other discs raced under the DC-4 and joined the six ahead. In the two or three seconds it took to catch up, these discs seemed to glow the brightest of all.
Suddenly all the saucers went dark. When their glow reappeared, the pilots saw that all eight machines were now in line. Heading west, the discs climbed to a high altitude and quickly vanished in the night.
After radioing the Norfolk tower, Nash and Fortenberry estimated the discs' speed with a Dalton Mark 7 computer. The distance covered, from the first sighting to the point of disappearance, was about 50 miles. The strange machines had traveled this distance in not over 15 seconds, at a speed of 200 miles a minute.
It was an unbelievable figure. Later, in talking with reporters, the pilots warily gave the speed as "something over 1,000 miles an hour." Even in their confidential reports to Intelligence, the two men hesitated in telling their true estimate. But to their surprise the Air Force men did not scoff, either at the incredible speed or the discs' fantastic reversal in course.
From the way the saucers abruptly lighted up when first sighted, the pilots suggested they might have been hovering near Norfolk. Perhaps they had been observing the city, the naval base, or the naval air station. Or they
could have been waiting to rendezvous with the two other discs.
Regardless of their purpose, both Nash and Fortenberry were convinced the discs were intelligently controlled machines from outer space. Whether they were under remote control, or guided by creatures inside, neither man would hazard a guess. But both agreed that no human being on earth could have stood the shock of the discs' violent maneuvers.
In the Intelligence report ATIC made no comment on the pilots' opinion. As usual, in unsolved cases, it ended with a terse: "Conclusion: Unknown."
Because of its precise details, the Norfolk sighting was later included in the secret briefings at Washington. With all the developments since July, I had forgotten about these briefings. Then, early in December, I heard that Intelligence officers had given a new report on the saucers to high Defense officials, among them Admiral Cal Bolster.
Though we were old friends, I knew Cal couldn't reveal what he'd been told secretly. But it gave me a new angle to try at the Pentagon, so I went in and saw Chop.
"How about putting some cards on the table?" I asked.
"Such as what?" he said.
"The lowdown on the saucer briefings."
"What do you want to know?" he said warily.
"Are they top-secret, secret, or confidential?"
"Let's just say they're classified."
"Who gets them?"
"I haven't any list. Secretary Finletter's was the only one announced."
"How about the Director of Naval Research Admiral Bolster?"
"Maybe. I can't say."
"Look, Al," I said, "you and everybody else keep telling me you're not holding out. I appreciate all that the Air Force has done for me, but these secret briefings are the key to the whole deal. It's obvious Intelligence knows something pretty hot—"
"They don't have all the answers," Chop said flatly. "They simply discuss recent sightings, like the ones you've got."
"For two or three hours—busy people like Cal Bolster? They must cover a lot more than that."
All that drew was silence. I tried another tack. "Does anybody but the military get these briefings?"
"Maybe a few top people in certain civilian agencies."
"How about the President?"
"If they did brief him, it would be through his Air Force aide."
"Well, have they?"
"Don, I can't answer that," Chop said doggedly. "You'd have to get it straight from Intelligence."
"They must think there's some real danger, if it's bottled up that tight."
"It's not that. If you were in on a briefing, you'd get just about what we've been giving you."
"Then why not give me a transcript of a briefing?"
Chop threw up his hands.
"We can't do that. It would show certain secret Intelligence procedures."
"OK, Al, I give up. Hope you don't mind the third degree."
He gave me a weary grin.
"No, I'm used to it in this job."
For the next day or two I tried to think of some new approach to the problem. Temporarily, at least, I seemed to have come to a standstill at the Pentagon, though they might tell me more later.
But there was another source I hadn't tried recently— the engineer in charge of the first Canadian saucer project, Mr. Wilbur B. Smith.
Since 1950, Smith had given me several valuable leads. The Canadian situation had changed, I knew; security could have muzzled him. But if not, I might get a clue that would lead to the final answer.