[- We are definately NOT Alone -]One January evening, as he was hunting six miles south of Denison, Texas, John Martin saw a fast-moving object in the southern sky. When it passed overhead, he noted its resemblance to a "large saucer." What distinguished Martin's sighting from many thousands of others is that it took place in 1878.
"Flying saucers" as a phenomenon did not enter popular culture until late June 1947, after a flurry of sightings of mysterious aerial discs excited speculation focusing on, as some thought, secret American or Soviet aircraft and, as others suspected, extraterrestrial visitors. On the twenty-fourth, private pilot Kenneth Arnold spotted nine disc-shaped objects flying in formation and at an estimated 1,200 mph over Mount Rainier, Washington. In a newspaper interview he compared their motion to that of saucers skipping across water. Soon afterwards an anonymous headline writer in the Pacific Northwest coined the phrase "flying saucer," and the UFO age began, though "unidentified flying objects--the more sober and literally descriptive phrase thought up by an equally anonymous U.S. Air Force functionary-would not become a part of the public vocabulary until the mid-1950s.
Yet, as the Martin report indicates, flying saucers and UFOs were around before 1947. In fact, from November 1896 until May 1897 newspapers all across America were filled with stories about mysterious "airships", cigar-shaped objects often said to flash brilliant searchlights-which at least some theorists, not to mention more than a few hoaxers, linked to visitors from Mars. Reports of what could reasonably be called UFOs appear sporadically in scientific journals and newspapers in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century but are rare or nonexistent before that. Pre-1800 reports of anomalous aerial phenomena, sometimes cited as evidence of the UFO phenomenon's long history, are more credibly explained as manifestations of nature or psyche. UFOs seem a relatively recent presence.
The Official HistoryThe role of official agencies in UFO investigation is a subject of continuing dispute. There is, indisputably, a public history, and there is also evidence of a history concealed by official secrecy.
In the public history, the first U.S. Air Force effort to study UFO reports was conducted under the code name Project Sign, set up under the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio (later Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), on December 30, 1947. Sign investigated sighting reports considered significant (routine sightings were handled by intelligence officers at local air bases). The first of these was a January 7, 1948, incident in which a Kentucky Air National Guard pilot, Capt. Thomas F. Mantell, Jr., died in a plane crash while trying to intercept something he described, in one of his last radio transmissions, as a "metallic object ... of tremendous size." Though the Air Force first contended, implausibly, that this "object" was the planet Venus, it eventually would be identified as a balloon launched in connection with the Navy's then-classified Skyhook project.
A more impressive report came later in 1948 from two Eastern Air Lines pilots, Clarence S. Chiles and John B. Whitted. As their DC-3 flew over Alabama at 2:45 A.M. on July 24, Chiles and Whitted sighted a wingless, torpedo-shaped object as it streaked past them. It had two rows of square windows from which, Chiles reported, "a very bright light was glowing. Underneath the ship there was a blue glow of light." A flame extended 50 feet from the rear. The UFO, in view for no more than 10 seconds, was also seen by a passenger. Sign investigators learned that an hour earlier, a ground maintenance crewman at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, had observed an identical UFO. Moreover, four days before that, a rocket shaped object with two rows of windows had been seen over The Hague, Netherlands.
By the time of the Chiles-Whitted sighting, Project Sign had split into factions with differing views of the flying-disc mystery. One held that the objects were interplanetary spacecraft, another that they were Soviet secret weapons, yet another that they were mundane phenomena which had been misinterpreted. It seemed clear that the Chiles-Whitted object was neither terrestrial nor conventional, the first faction boldly prepared an "estimate of the situation" which argued that the UFO evidence pointed unmistakably to otherworldly visitation. The estimate, classified Top Secret, was sent through channels all the way to the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who rejected it and ordered all copies burned. The document remained secret until 1956, when a book by a retired Air Force UFO-project officer, Edward J. Ruppelt, reported the story behind it. Though other sources backed Ruppelt's account, for years the Air Force insisted the document was a fiction created by, as a Pentagon UFO spokesman put it in 1960, "avid saucer believers."
In fact, Vandenberg's rejection of the estimate's conclusion led to the dissolution of the pro-extraterrestrial faction, whose members left the Air Force or were reassigned. The anti-UFO faction now came into prominence, and on February 11, 1949, the aptly named Project Grudge was created to replace the demoralized Project Sign. Grudge devoted itself to minimal investigating and maximum debunking, and by the end of the year, its files had been put into storage. By the summer of 1950, it was down to a single investigator, Lt. Jerry Cummings.
After a series of radar/visual sightings of fastmoving UFOs over Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in September 1951, complaints about the quality of Grudge's work by the head of Air Force Intelligence, Maj. Gen. C. P. Cabell, and other high-ranking officers and officials led to the reorganization of the project. Lt. Ed Ruppelt, an intelligence officer assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, became its head. Ruppelt insisted that investigations be conducted without prior judgments about the reality or unreality of UFOs, and under his leadership Grudge and, as it became known in March 1952, Project Blue Book did just that. By the time he left the project in early 1954, Ruppelt was essentially convinced of the reality of space visitors, and his memoir of his experiences, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956), would become one of the literature's most important works.
Blue Book, however, would revert before long to the pattern Grudge had set. The summer 1952 sighting wave instigated this renewed skepticism, culminating in a spectacular series of radar and eyewitness observations over Washington, D.C., on the weekends of July 19-20 and 26-27. Intelligence channels were clogged with UFO-related traffic, leading to high-level concerns about the Soviet Union's ability to exploit this communications logjam and also to use UFO stories for psychological-warfare purposes.
Because of this concern, in January 1953 a panel of five scientists, all UFO skeptics, was secretly convened to examine Blue Book's data. Over the next four days they spent a total of 12 hours considering various sighting reports as well as two UFO films (one taken in Montana, the other in Utah) before declaring further official study a "great waste of effort." The Robertson panel (named after its head, physicist and CIA employee H. P. Robertson) recommended a public "debunking" campaign which "would result in the reduction in public interest of 'flying saucers'." It also urged that civilian UFO groups "be watched because of their potentially great influence on mass thinking.... The apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind."
Though the Robertson panel and its recommendations remained classified for years, they would exert an enormous impact on the course of UFO history. The Air Force began immediately to reduce Blue Book's status and resources, and after Ruppelt's departure the project became mostly a public-relations exercise devoted to explaining sightings by whatever means necessary and downplaying their significance. Even the Air Force's chief scientific advisor, astronomer J. Allen Hynek, who had attended the meetings (though not as a panel member), would complain, "The Robertson panel ... made the subject of UFOs scientifically unrespectable, and for nearly 20 years not enough attention was paid to the subject to acquire the kind of data needed even to decide the nature of the UFO phenomenon."
The Air Force botched an opportunity to do just that when it prepared Project Blue Book Special Report 14, released in October 1955. The report had its genesis in a January 1952 agreement between Grudge and the Battelle Memorial Institute, a think tank based in Columbus, Ohio. Battelle was to analyze UFO reports and in other ways to assist the Air Force in dealing with the problem. Project Stork, as the classified Battelle project was code-named, officially commenced work on March 31 and continued into the spring of 1955. Its findings were incorporated into Report 14.
The Stork study found that from a number of points of view, the best UFO sightings were puzzling indeed. A chi-square test, used in statistics to determine whether one thing is truly different from another, showed that there was virtually no possibility that "unknown" (unexplained) sightings were the same as "knowns" (explained)-thus falsifying the hypothesis that unknowns are simply knowns for which there is insufficient information for a proper identification. As Stork learned, the unknown--, were the cases for which the greatest amount of information was available.
Crashes, Cover-ups, and ControversiesIn the United States, however, the enthusiasm for occult and psychosocial approaches had mostly passed by the late 1970s. One reason was that the release of many classified UFO reports, retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act, reminded ufologists of the radar/visual cases and other impressive sightings that had excited their interest in the subject to start with. Related to this was revived speculation about an official cover-up.
Keyhoe and other early critics of the cover-up suspected the Air Force of hiding dramatic sightings by interceptor pilots as well as films and radar trackings of UFOs. Few credited widespread rumors that the Air Force possessed more positive proof of extraterrestrial visitation, such as the remains of crashed saucers and the bodies of their occupants. Reports of this nature had figured in a notorious hoax perpetrated on a gullible writer, Frank Scully, who passed them on in a best-selling book, Behind the Flying Saucers (1950). Launched as part of a scam by two confidence artists, the hoax subsequently was exposed in the then-popular magazine True.
Even so, the stories refused to die. In the 1970s veteran ufologist Leonard H. Stringfield started collecting reports and interviewing individuals who claimed knowledge, sometimes firsthand, of such events. Two other ufologists, Stanton T. Friedman and William L. Moore, concentrated their attention on one particular episode, the alleged crash of a UFO in Lincoln County, New Mexico, in early July 1947, and pursued the first in-depth investigation of what Stringfield had dubbed a "retrieval of the third kind." They interviewed nearly three dozen individuals who were directly involved and also spoke with another fifty or so who had indirect involvement. A few years later a Chicago organization, the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), conducted its own inquiry, bringing the total of sources, ranging from area ranchers to Air Force generals, to over four hundred. The "Roswell incident"-so called because the Air Force's initial investigation was conducted out of Roswell Field in Roswell, New Mexico-emerged as a central concern of American ufology.
Though the Roswell incident itself seemed well documented and genuinely puzzling, it brought with it a host of less verifiable claims. Moore reported that his investigation of the Roswell incident brought him into contact with cover-up insiders within military and civilian intelligence agencies. These individuals, to whom he assigned various avian pseudonyms and whom he dubbed "the birds" (Falcon, Condor, Sparrow, and so on), related fantastic tales not only of spaceship crashes but of faceto-face contact between aliens and U.S. government representatives. The birds promised, in their words, a "truckload of documents" to support these incredible allegations but produced only a handful of pieces of paper, including pages from a briefing book supposedly prepared for President Carter.
The most notorious document arrived one day in December 1984 in an envelope, postmarked Albuquerque and sent to Moore associate Jaime Shandera with no return address. Inside the envelope was a roll of 35mm. film which, when developed, was found to contain a portion of a Presidential briefing document dated November 18,1952. Allegedly writtenby Vice Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, it purported to inform President-elect Eisenhower of two UFO crashes--one in Roswell in 1947, the other along the Texas-Mexico border in 1950-and of the existence of an "Operation Majestic-12" (MJ-12 for short), consisting of prominent figures in intelligence, science, and the military, who oversaw the study of the wreckage and the corpses of "extraterrestrial biological entities" (EBEs).
When a copy of the briefing paper came into the hands of British ufologist Timothy Good (who claimed an unnamed intelligence source had given it to him), Good announced as much to the British press. Moore and Shandera released their copy at the same time May 1987-and the result was furious controversy and massive publicity, including coverage in the New York Times and on ABC television's Nightline. The FBI launched a probe out of its offices in New York City and Los Angeles but was as unsuccessful as ufologists were in getting to the bottom of the matter. For technical reasons having to do with a suspicious signature and format problems, the document is believed to be a forgery by all but a few diehard defenders. The forger's motives and identity, however, remain as mysterious as do those of Moore's "birds."
The future of UFOlogyRecent years have seen the growing professionalization of UFO study. This is partly the result of a natural maturation process, but it also has to do with the influx into ufology's ranks of social scientists and mental-health professionals intrigued by UFO-abduction experiences reported by apparently sane and sincere persons. In the early 1990s systematic work on the phenomenon commenced as efforts were made to determine whether such experiences were internally or externally generated.
The psychosocial hypothesis still holds sway in Europe, though it has been challenged by a series of spectacular radar/visual cases in Belgium between 1989 and 1990. In America, interest in coverups, crashes, and the extraterrestrial hypothesis continues, with new discoveries, documents, rumors, and stories surfacing regularly. Whether or not it succeeds in making its case or in settling its disagreements, ufology has unquestionably entered what may be its liveliest period.