saucer summer reading fest
In the late 1940s, American choices for news sources were far different -- and far fewer -- than today. It would not be until the early 1950s that television would make any significant impact, leaving radio as the major broadcast medium throughout the 1940s. But in-depth examination of current events was a low priority for radio. This left the print media -- newspapers and magazines -- as the primary source for information and analysis.
Magazines, then as now, were either focused on specific interests -- cars, adventure, sci-fi, Hollywood gossip and so forth -- or were general-interest publications covering a wide spectrum of topics. The first major story on the flying saucers would appear in May, 1948, in the special-interest press, by way of Popular Science magazine. But even then, the flying saucers were just a feint into an article actually about the United States Navy's Skyhook balloon program...
Above: Cover art and opening pages of the article. The caption at the upper left reads: "Unmanned research balloon soars upward, dangling its 70-lb. payload of weather instruments on line from open ring at bottom. Here, soon after launching, gas fills only tip of bag. As it rises, gas expands until at 100,000 feet it fills the entire balloon." The short sidebar, in black at the bottom, was the only mention of flying saucers.
Are Secret Balloons the Flying Saucers?
The saucers could be sun reflections on low clouds, or they could be flattened hailstones, gliding down toward the earth.
Then the saucers could be Army weather radiosonde balloons, fitted with radar reflectors.
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An Australian teacher showed his students that with prolonged gazing red corpuscles passed in front of the retina of the eye. As a result they "saw" objects in the sky.
One sure-fire flying saucer that fell to the earth in New Mexico turned out to be a weather balloon. Another, near New York, was just a cluster of balloons carrying cosmic ray equipment.
One educational authority suggested that seeing flying saucers was merely a case of the "meteorological jitters."
Another, that they were meteors.
* * *
Still another explanation: speeding airplanes churn up the atmosphere and cause distortion of light rays. The resulting phenomena could be electrical in nature, causing something like some rings in the sky.
* * *
A not implausible explanation was based on the high reflective qualities of glass. Why couldn't the saucers be sunlight reflected by plane windows?
At left above is a pretty convincing picture of a flying saucer.
It was created by Popular Science photographers in their own studio. By altering lighting on table-tennis ball at right, above, they simulated natural light on high-altitude balloons for effect at left.
* * *
And that's how your eyes can deceive you. Your guess is as good as the next.
Twenty miles above the earth, the U.S. Navy is hanging its laboratories in space. Balloons that swell to 77 times their starting size provide the floating platforms.
New Balloons Explore
By Devon Francis
Roof of the Airways
LITTLE FALLS, Minn -- In the brilliant Minnesota sky floats a pin point of light. To the unpracticed eye, it is only a meaningless white speck against the midday firmament. But to a cluster of men tracking its course by radio direction finder, radar, and theodolite, it represents the culmination of half a century of effort to throw light on some of this planet's darkest mysteries.
Such pin points, think the men who track them, may be the innocent source of the "flying saucer" stories. Actually, the one we are watching is an unmanned balloon, 100,000 feet above the earth. Never before has anything but a rocket gone that high. When the balloon was launched a little more than an hour ago, its helium content made a semi-transparent bubble only 17 feet in diameter. Now almost 20 miles above us, it has expanded to a great 100-foot-tall envelope measuring 70 feet in diameter.
Expansion did that. At 100,000 feet the air is only 1/100 as dense as it is at sea level. The helium is pushing, seeking release, despite a temperature so low that if a man were exposed to it he would die within a minute. Though the sun is at its zenith, the balloon floats in darkness under a canopy of stars, for the darkness at its altitude is eternal.
Helium is piped through thin, extruded-plastic tube to form 17-foot bubble. Tapelike line stretching toward truck is rest of balloon envelope. Helium-bottle dolly is at rear of truck.
Flow of helium from steel bottles into manifold, for piping to balloon envelope, is adjusted by technician. At start, only 1.3 percent of the balloon's capacity is filled by the gas.
Plastic balloon skin, forwarded to PS by reporter Francis, is polyethylene. It absorbs few infrared rays, and is unaffected by ultraviolet light, unlike some plastics, or by temperature.
From a harness at its open end dangles a long load line, and to the line are attached a limp parachute and a string of instruments. These instruments are all-important -- the balloon is only the vehicle used to deliver them to the altitude that scientists want to explore.
Yet the balloon is the focal point of observation from the ground. That is because the answers to the questions asked by chemists, physicists, and others depend on its behavior. Presently an electric charge timed by a tiny motor will melt a bit of wire, a razor-edged knife will sever the load line above the parachute, and the instruments will start their long journey to the ground.
At launching, helium bubble sails up, picking up load line. Apparatus weighing up to 70 lb. can be attached to it. Dark line seen in the final picture, far right, is the parachute.
This is Project Skyhook. No explorations initiated in this postwar period are more pregnant with meaning for the future than this one, carried out by General Mills, Inc. of Minneapolis, for the United States Navy.
"Where our balloons now float," explained Otto C. Winzen, "will be man's highway of tomorrow." He is the young engineer who started the project and brought it to fruition for the Aeronautical Research Laboratories of General Mills.
Those balloons are probing a region that as yet is almost wholly unknown. A few conditions up there have been discovered. It is bitter cold -- yet the sun's rays burn with fury far beyond that met anywhere on earth. Gravitational pull is practically unchanged. Winds often exceed 100 m.p.h.
But what about the composition of the air? The effect of cosmic rays on man and atomic structures? The speed of sound? What conditions will pilots encounter if wars are fought at that altitude?
Airplanes can't supply the answers. They can't get much more than half that high. Small rubber sounding balloons reach only the lower levels of the atmosphere. The record for manned balloons is only 72,395 feet. Rockets streaking up and down through this layer of the atmosphere go too fast to take adequate observations.
What is needed is an instrument platform that is relatively stable and motionless in relation to the air -- one that will reach and hold a precalculated ceiling of around 20 miles for hours or even days.
Hence, a new kind of balloon. No balloon ever made before is like those of the Aeronautical Research Laboratories. Their skin is tissue-thin. Yet these balloons carry a "payload" of 7/ 10 of their empty weight.
Science's secret weapon in this assault on the unknown is a plastic, polyethylene resin. Made by the Viking Corp., of Terre Haute, Ind., it weighs so little that one strong man can lift a whole deflated balloon.
Radiosondes, parachutes, tiny radio transmitting stations, radar reflectors, cosmic ray counters, special telemetering equipment, and other devices, about which the government maintains secrecy, have been sent aloft under a single plastic bubble.
Full 206,000-cubic-foot capacity of bag, when it has swollen to the size of several houses, is reached at 100,000 feet or so. If winds are high, bag may be blown out of sight in an hour.
Sandbag at anchor conceals secret device for cutting anchor line electrically at launching. Knife is used in emergency. Balloon will rise above normal airplane traffic in 12 minutes.
Aneroid cell -- reliable only up to about 60,000 feet -- uses air pressure to run this instrument that records altitude. During climb, stylus etches line on glass coated with lamp black.
For excitement, the launching of a plastic balloon is the next best thing to putting your last two dollars on a long shot at Hialeah. The weather must be good for observation. The wind cannot be too high; the plastic is fragile and subject to tearing.
First of all come safety precautions for other aircraft. The chances of collision are remote, but the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the Weather Bureau are advised of each flight in advance.
A ten-wheeled truck snakes a train of anchor boxes, special launching equipment, a helium-bottle dolly, wiring for the electrical cutting of chords holding the load line, and other such paraphernalia onto the field, about a hundred miles from Minneapolis. This permanent site was chosen because it is remote, free from intrusion, and off the scheduled airways.
The top of the balloon, where the helium bubble will develop, is laid out in the lee of an unused airplane hangar to protect it from the wind. The rest of the envelope is strung downward with all the gentleness of a mother's caress. As an extension of the downwind line, the load line, complete with its parachute and instruments, is hung on forked standards and anchored by boxes of sand. The load line must be put under exactly the right amount of tension. A slack line might cause an instrument to snap off when the helium bubble is released. That has happened.
The input of gas is measured volumetrically. Wind velocity and direction are checked minute by minute. If the wind shifts, the direction of takeoff must be aligned with it.
Now is the time. A tube, also of plastic, which has been feeding helium to the balloon is withdrawn. Wrenches close the gas bottles. The truck hauls away the dolly. One man prepares to release the bubble. Two others stand within sprinting distance of the anchor points -- there may be an emergency. A hundred feet to the side a fourth man will close successive circuits to chop the anchor cords.
The man in charge picks up a megaphone. "Set?" The men downwind respond individually . . . "All set."
The bubble soars. As it picks up the folds, the balloon becomes a cobra. For a second or two it writhes. It weaves. Now it has seized the load line. Up goes the parachute. As fast as the tongue can name them off, instruments, radar screens, radiosonde, and finally a bag of sand for ballast are airborne. The sand bag goes along only if there is a shortage of instruments, sent in for the flights by colleges and other institutions collaborating on fundamental upper-air research.
Either alarm clock, far left, or miniature, battery-fed motor with reduction gear, far right, is used to time release of parachute. Shown between them is load-line cutter. Upper-air research was started under auspices of Special Devices Center, Office of Naval Research, Port Washington, N.Y.; is directed by T.R. James, head of company's Aeronautical Research Lab.
Radiosonde contains, from top, tiny radio sender, battery, and baro-switch unit. Switch, run by aneroid cell, selects circuits for sending back temperature, humidity, and air pressure.
Aneroid-tripped electric light is hitched to parachute to warn aircraft when descent is made after dark. Cell cocks on way up, switches on flashing light at 20,000-foot level on way down.
Tracking a Soaring Laboratory
The work has only begun. Now the balloon must be tracked. Its trajectory provides valuable meteorological data. One man goes to the theodolite. The rest of the crew clumps upstairs to the field control tower above the hangar.
Tracking is going on in other places, too. Within a diamond-shaped pattern 100 miles long and 60 wide, observers aground are sending in azimuth and elevation reports as frequently as once a minute. Radio direction finders and radar equipment are trained on the balloon. Four shortwave radio communication stations correlate all this information, and it is entered on charts for future study.
Not much more than an hour has passed; the balloon has leveled out at about 100,000 feet, its ceiling. Through the theodolite telescope it looks like a translucent pear, less than half the size of a pea. Its load is not visible. Even if its parachute was large enough to be seen, its red color would reflect no light to the eye.
Hours of methodical receipt and entry of reports on the balloon's course go by. Suddenly, the man on the theodolite reports: "Parachute's cut loose! Balloon's in four pieces!"
A telephone rings. "Right," says the man on duty, answering, "Four pieces at 4:27. We caught it." That was an observer calling in. A voice pages the tower on the shortwave: "Broke into four pieces at 4:27."
Shock from inertia forces alone, induced by the balloon losing its load, destroys the delicate envelope to keep it from wandering around aimlessly in the sky.
The day's chores are done now. In anywhere from a half hour to an hour the parachute will touch the ground and collapse. Attached to the radiosonde are directions for the finder: please ship the parachute and instruments back. That system is unavoidable. Only now and then can the parachute be tracked by radar.
Few parachutes and instruments have been lost, out of scores of flights. Some remitters don't use their heads, of course. One cut a couple of precious shroud lines off the parachute to wrap his package for the post office. Another man, a trapper who stumbled on the gimmicks in the wilds of the north country, pulled his gun and shot up a couple of instruments.
The project is still experimental in that research never ends. For example, around 70,000 feet the radio transmitters may begin arcing between terminals because the air becomes too thin to act as a non-conductor. Something must be done about that.
Temperature-measuring equipment is also inadequate. It gives, not the temperature of the free air; but that of the air plus solar radiation effect. No instruments have yet been developed to measure pressure and dew-point accurately between 80,000 and 100,000 feet and telemeter the data back.
These are details. The end product of upper air exploration is a better understanding of our planet. Cosmic radiation and meteorological research alone will yield results that will benefit all mankind.
That realization helps the men get their feet on the floor when the alarm goes off at 3 a.m., signaling another day to fly a balloon.
Surprisingly it would take nearly two full years from the first flying saucer wave of 1947 for the first major general-interest magazine to address the subject in depth, via the following two-part article by Sidney Shalett -- published in the April 30 and May 7, 1949 editions of The Saturday Evening Post...
Above: Opening pages of Part One and Part Two of the article.
What You Can Believe
About Flying Saucers
By Sidney Shalett
Is there "something funny" about the silence that still envelops the mysterious disks that alarmed us all and lured three military pilots to crash deaths? Were they missiles from Russia? From Mars? Air Intelligence probed 250 reports and here, for the first time, are its findings.
DATING as far back as the eighteenth century, and possibly earlier, the annals of our race bulge with solemn reports of queer things seen undulating through the sky. Except in publications frankly devoted to fantasy, American literature and journalism have until recently been relatively free of such frightening accounts. But the Great Flying Saucer Scare, coming like a long-delayed and violent reaction, showed us to be, when frightened, as credulous as anyone else.
The scare had its origin in June, 1947. On the twenty-fourth day of that month, at one minute before three p.m., Kenneth Arnold, of Boise, Idaho, piloting his three-place cabin plane in the state of Washington, from Chehalis to Yakima, saw what appeared to him to be nine shiny disks. They seemed to be flipping and flashing along over Mount Rainier. Arnold reported his experience, and the Great Flying Saucer Scare began.
Within a few days it had achieved a rich, full-blown screwiness. Observers in practically all the forty-eight states and the District of Columbia reported seeing "saucers." Descriptions of the mysterious sky-borne objects achieved a lush variance. Besides disks, there were flying doughnuts and flame-spurting teardrops; there were wingless fuselages and balls of fire which streaked through the heavens at supersonic speeds, or hovered like a helicopter, or oscillated like an electric fan.
In speculation, oral and published, the saucers -- as the fearsome freaks came to he widely called -- were attributed variously to the machinations of the Russians, of our own secret military research and even of men from Mars. The deaths of three military aviators stemmed from the scare; one actually losing his life in pursuit of one of the so-called saucers. The furor grew to such proportions that the United States Air Force -- with considerable and understandable reluctance -- finally set up a special project to investigate the reported phenomena. To date, those in charge of the projects have collected reports on some 250 instances of "unidentified flying objects," and, though the scare has subsided considerably in late months, the list of incidents continues to grow.
The hardiness of the scare suggests that it might break out again in full bloom at any time, maybe at an embarrassing moment in our international affairs, and, with this thought in mind, I have spent the better part of two months investigating it. I have had what seemed to be the wholehearted co-operation of the Air Force in Washington and in other parts of the country. I have found that if there is a scrap of bona fide evidence to support the notion that our inventive geniuses or any potential enemy, on this or any other planet, is spewing saucers over America, the Air Force has been unable to locate it.
In reaching this finding, I am necessarily accepting the assurances of the highest officers of the Air Force, and those of its research and development experts that they have nothing concealed up their sleeves. Of course, there are a lot of people, some of them quite sober citizens, who insist that there is "something funny" about the saucer business. These will probably insist that the Air Force is kidding me. But I don't think it is.
One of the men who would be hard to convince that the Air Force is being completely frank is Kenneth Arnold, who saw those first famous nine. Arnold describes himself as sole owner of a small concern which distributes fire-fighting apparatus in five Western states. He also acts as Northwestern distributor for the type of plane he was flying on the day he spotted the saucers.
Arnold was flying at 9200 feet when he first saw them, he later wrote in the first of a series of articles he did on the subject for a Chicago-published magazine called FATE. His first article, titled "I Did See the Flying Disks," happened to appear in the maiden number of FATE, which styles itself a "cosmic reporter." The maiden issue also included articles titled Behind the Etheric Veil and Invisible Beings Walk the Earth.
Arnold did a number of things to get a fix on the strange objects. He concluded (a) that they were "saucerlike disks" with no tails; (b) that they flew extremely fast and "in a rather chainlike line, as if they were linked together," and (c) that, at a distance which he estimated as between twenty and twenty-five miles, each appeared somewhat smaller than a DC-4 airliner. Arnold said he had the flashing objects in sight for two and one half to three minutes, then they got away from him.
It was the immediate newspaper reports of Arnold's unusual experience which set off the excitement of June, 1947. Between then and the following Fourth of July, the newspapers and public officials were deluged with saucer reports from all over. The newspapers, on the whole, played the thing big, most of them mixing a little nervous whimsy [sic] with the upsetting reports.
The baffling thing about the reports was that, although some of the later ones obviously came from hoaxers and publicity seekers, others were coming in from persons whose standing in society was respectable. Army officers assigned to scientific projects, sane and sober commercial-airline pilots. Air Force test pilots and intelligence officers, police officers and deputy sheriffs, businessmen, astronomers and weather observers had incidents to describe.
One of the earliest of the more perplexing cases occurred on July 8, 1947, two weeks after Kenneth Arnold's experience, at Muroc Air Field in California. Muroc is the Air Force's most hush-hush sanctum, where the Air Force and Navy test their secret supersonic models, so it's not a place where you would expect the personnel to get unduly excited by strange things in the sky. But something did occur at Muroc, and the Air Force maintains that no experimental craft was involved.
A flying disk at rest? Expansion in the stratosphere makes gleaming monsters of these translucent plastic balloons used by the Navy for cosmic-ray research. They have floated over all parts of the U.S.
It was Lt. Joseph C. McHenry, the billeting officer, who, walking toward his office at 9:30 a.m., first saw "two silver objects of either spherical or disklike shape, moving at about 300 miles per hour at approximately 8000 feet." He yelled at a couple of sergeants and a stenographer, who were near by, and they saw them too. Three more witnesses were summoned, but the objects had disappeared by this time. However, a third object hove into sight, and five out of the seven witnesses saw it. Everyone was certain that, because of the apparent speed and the fact that they seemed to be traveling against the prevailing wind, the objects couldn't have been any type of weather or cosmic-ray balloon.
At noon the same day, Maj. Richard R. Shoop, attached to the office of the Chief of Technical Engineering Division, had his attention directed by a Colonel Gilkey to "what appeared to be a thin metallic object," which played lazily over the field, diving, climbing and oscillating for eight minutes. At the same time, a test pilot in the vicinity saw a strange whitish object floating to earth from a high altitude. And another test pilot recalled that, on the previous morning, he, too, had seen a roundish object whirling around at 12,000-feet altitude.
Four days prior to this, on the Fourth of July, the city of Portland, Oregon, had fairly erupted with saucer sightings. It began when Patrolman Kenneth A. McDowell was feeding the pigeons on the parking lot back of Precinct I. "I noticed," he reported later, "that the pigeons became quite excited over something." He looked around to see what had disturbed them and saw five large objects, disk-shaped and of undetermined color, in the air. They dipped up and down in an oscillating motion at great speed and disappeared quickly. McDowell notified the police radio, which broadcast an alert to all patrol cars.
At exactly the same time in another part of the city, two other Portland patrolmen, W.A. Lissy, who is a private pilot, and D.W. Ellis, saw "three flat round disks which flew at terrific speed in straight-line formation, the last disk fluttering very rapidly in a sideway arc." They saw no evidence of what made the things go, no vapor of smoke trails and no sound. They estimated altitude of the disks as 40,000 feet. In still another part of the city, Patrolman Earl E. Patterson, a former Air Force pilot, saw one disk, and a harbor pilot, backed up by two witnesses, reported seeing "three to six" objects which resembled "a shiny chromium hub cap off a car." Various citizens also saw the things, including one housewife who described it as looking "like a new dime flipping around."
The Geese With a Humming Sound
IN NEAR-BY Vancouver, Washington, a crew of deputy sheriffs heard the Portland police broadcast. They ran out to look at the sky and, sure enough, over Portland they saw "twenty to thirty objects... like a flight of geese." The deputies even heard "a low humming sound."
That evening Capt. E.J. Smith, of United Air Lines, was piloting his ship from Boise, Kenneth Arnold's home town, to Seattle. According to a report published in FATE, Captain Smith, before taking off, had remarked, apropos of the disk stories, "I'll believe 'em when I see 'em." Over Emmett, Idaho, he said he did see nine strange objects, and his story was corroborated by Copilot Ralph Stevens and Stewardess Marty Morrow. First there were five "somethings" which were "thin and smooth on the bottom and rough-appearing on top," Smith told investigators. Later, four more came into view. In all, they were observed for some twelve minutes, silhouetted against the sunset.
One of the strangest and most tragic of all the saucer cases on record was the incident of January 7, 1948, at Godman Field, an Air Force base at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was early afternoon -- between 1:45 and 1:50 p.m. -- when T/Sgt. Quinton A. Blackwell, chief operator in the Godman control tower, first saw the object appear over the south portion of the field. Fifteen minutes earlier the sergeant from the commanding officer's office had telephoned him to be on the lookout, saying that Fort Knox military police and the state police had warned that "a large, circular object, about 250 to 300 feet in diameter," had been seen over Madisonville, Kentucky, only ninety miles away.
Technical Sergeant Blackwell began telephoning and radioing, and in thirty minutes his control tower was jammed with practically all the brass hats on the airfield, including the C.O. himself, Col. Guy F. Hix. For the next two hours and fifteen minutes there was a lot of confusion. Everybody in the control tower had something to say about the object. Lt. Paul I. Orner, the detachment commander, thought it was hovering, and that it was shaped like a parachute, but with some strange red light reflecting from it. Capt. Gary W. Carter, the operations officer, thought it was "round and white," and noted that it could be seen through the clouds. Lt. Col. E. Garrison Wood, the executive officer, was sure it was "at least several hundred feet in diameter." Colonel Hix reported, "It seemed at times to have a red border at the top and at the bottom. ... I just don't know what it was."
Into the middle of all this confusion came a flight of four P-51 fighter planes. The fighters were Kentucky Air National Guard planes returning from Marietta, Georgia, to home base at Standiford Field near Louisville. The flight was led by twenty-five-year-old Capt. Thomas F. Mantell, Jr., a husky six-footer who had flown in the Normandy invasion and who had some 3000 military and civilian flying hours to his credit. Mantell, married and father of two small sons, had been a partner in a G.I. flying school since the end the war; he was skilled and courageous, but not foolhardy.
In the control tower, Captain Carter, the operations officer, suggested that the P-51's be tasked to chase the object. Sergeant Blackwell relayed the suggestion by radio. One of the P-51's peeled off and headed for Standiford, but Mantell and two other pilots, but Mantell and Lieutenants Clements and Hammond, roared upward.
At 2:45 -- five minutes after he began the bizarre chase -- Mantell reported by radio: "Object directly ahead and above and moving about half my speed." At 3:15, he reported: "Object is above and ahead, moving about my speed (360 MPH) or faster. I'm trying to close in for better look."
By now, the three fighters were approaching the layer of the sky where the air is thin, and they had no oxygen equipment. Five minutes later two of the ships turned back. Mantell kept climbing.
Mantell's wing man said afterward that he lost the flight leader between 18,000 and 20,000 feet. On the ground, the last word they had from Mantell was: "Going to twenty thousand feet. If no closer, will abandon chase."
Somewhere at this point -- as investigators since have reconstructed it -- Mantell began to suffer from lack of oxygen. At 25,000 feet, Mantell, his eyes fixed on the gleaming object, must have lost consciousness. His plane, now pilotless, continued climbing to about 30,000 feet. Then it went into a dive.
Somewhere between 20,000 and 10,000 feet, the P-51 began to disintegrate. Pieces of it were found scattered over the landscape as far as six tenths of a mile from the place where most of it fell.
What was it that lured Mantell to his death? I believe, as a result of my research, that it was either the planet Venus or a giant plastic balloon escaped from a Navy cosmic-ray-study project near Minneapolis, which is some 650 miles away.
In Mantell's case, the Venus theory is a strong probability. Dr. J.A. Hynek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State University, who has been retained as a consultant by the Air Force to help unscramble some of the confusion, estimates conservatively that 25 per cent of the so-called saucer sightings can be blamed on planets, comets, shooting stars and other cosmic fireballs. Venus, the closest major planet to the earth, is a prime offender. In World War II, hundreds of rounds of antiaircraft ammunition were wasted on Venus at times of the calendar when the planet was particularly close to the earth and was picking up rays from the sun.
Doctor Hynek, after carefully checking the position of Venus on the day Mantell was killed, reported that "nearly all of the sightings check approximately with the position of Venus," though he thought it "a little surprising that it was so easily picked out during daylight by the naked eye." On August 19, 1948, when another silvery spherical object came into sight over Godman Field, an astronomer was consulted before the fighter planes were called out. The astronomer reported that the object clearly was Venus, then only three weeks from its period of greatest brilliancy.
However, a responsible naval-research official in Washington told me unequivocally that one of the Navy's giant plastic cosmic-ray balloons was known to be loose in the Godman Field area the day Mantell was killed, and he is firmly convinced that the pilot met his death chasing it. It is entirely possible that both Venus and the balloon were rampant in the area that day, because the thing -- or one thing -- was reported seen over a bewildering course, stretching through Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.
Some weeks before the Mantell tragedy, the Air Force had already made the decision that the saucer business must be investigated. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Vice Chief (now Chief) of Staff for the Air Force, was instrumental in making the decision. However illogical and absurd the notion of unexplainable objects soaring over America might sound, the Air Force could not afford to close its mind arbitrarily to the possibility that something new might be in the skies.
There were a number of factors that were subjects for legitimate concern. For one thing, reports of strange objects in the air had started trickling in from Alaska, a strategic military area, and from parts of Scandinavia and North Germany, where it might be entirely possible to witness some of the known Russian experiments with guided missiles and rockets. Queer-shaped objects leaving trails of green light were seen coming from Peenemünde, the ex-Nazi missile center now in Soviet hands. And Russian rockets had fallen inside the American zone of occupied Germany.
We also knew that the Germans had been much further along than we were in the missile field, and that the Russians had scooped up all the German scientists they could corral. We knew that the Russians, with the help of German scientists, had developed some small disks with explosive edges launched by a compressed-air catapult, for possible use as an ordnance item. We knew that the Russians were hot for developing snorkel submarines capable of launching buzz bombs; our own Navy has been able to fire the Loon, its version of the German buzz bomb, from submarines off Point Mugu, California. And we remembered the Japanese wartime stunt of letting free balloons drift over to this country as a possible means of initiating incendiary or germ warfare; it was a slightly screwball undertaking, but some of the balloons did get here.
So the Air Force set up its project, under Air Intelligence, to investigate. For some obscure security reason, it still is not permissible to mention the code name of the project, so I will call it Project Saucer. Top supervision is from Washington, but the leg work cataloguing and evaluating are done by the Technical Intelligence Division at Air Materiel Command Headquarters, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio.
Project Saucer at Wright-Patterson provides a task force of intelligence officers and civilian technical experts who can jump into a plane any time an important saucer sighting is reported and go out to investigate. In practice, the task force has not personally investigated many cases on the scene, but has left the questioning to local intelligence officers, who report all information back to Dayton. However, General Vandenberg feels that more of the original information should he gathered by the same men each time, so new instructions have been issued which should keep the task force traveling more.
One of the tentative decisions made by Project Saucer early in the game is that there's nothing much new in any of this. Strong suggestions of it appear in the published works of the late Charles Fort, a writer from the Bronx, who spent a lifetime collecting obscure references to the unexplained phenomena of the ages. One of Fort's theses was that Science was a fraud. Nobody was ever quite sure whether Fort was serious or had his tongue in his cheek, but the intelligence officers waded through four of his books. Fort, they learned, had reports of elephant-sized hailstones, orange-flavored and horned hailstones, flying disks, snowflakes the size of plates, and strange airborne visitations of beef, blood, butter, coal, salt, black powder, axes, clinkers, bricks, fireballs, human bodies, fish, frogs, toads, serpents, ants, worms and even a haycock. Most of the phenomena were slimly documented, many being based solely on newspaper-filler items telling about purported freaks of nature.
When I went to Wright Field armed only with reports of what witnesses said they had seen, the Great Flying Saucer Scare seemed reasonably mysterious to me. When I had finished my investigation in Dayton, Washington and elsewhere, the thing seemed less mysterious than odd. There are any number of logical and perfectly normal solutions by which most of the saucer sightings can be explained.
In addition to the 25 per cent or more bona fide cases of mistaken identification that can be blamed on astronomical phenomena, a large percentage can be accounted for by weather-observation and radar-target balloons. The military services and the Weather Bureau use numerous types of balloons to record atmospheric data. Some carry steady lights, some carry blinking lights and others hoist up gleaming gadgets of various shapes. There is no doubt that balloons have bemused many a sane observer.
The most common sources of innocent deception in the balloon field are the so-called RAWIN (radar-wind) target balloons. The balloons generally are white, and at 40,000 to 60,000 feet where they usually operate, they are invisible to persons on the ground. Dangling below each balloon, however, is a six-cornered "target" of aluminum foil, strung out on kitelike sticks. Radar operators on the ground track these aluminum targets for weather information. The targets oscillate and gyrate in the wind, and sunlight glinting from these shiny, wind-tossed objects can create a perfect illusion of a flying saucer. Movies of airborne RAWINs were taken for me, and in some shots the oscillating aluminum targets appeared perfectly round.
At the very time the saucer sightings were at their height, the Air Force had just turned over thousands of surplus RAWINs to Weather Bureau stations all over the country, so they were being used in greater numbers than ever before. Sometimes several RAWINS were released together, which might account for "disk formations."
Another common -- and obvious -- solution lies in the field of cosmic-ray study balloons. The armed forces, seeking to learn more secrets about atomic energy, have set up projects all over the country to penetrate the stratosphere with giant balloons. They are often released in clusters.
The Navy, particularly keen to harness atomic energy for submarine and warship propulsion, has gone a step further in its Operation Skyhook, which it is carrying out in collaboration with the General Mills aeronautical laboratory at Minneapolis. A new type of plastic balloon -- a huge, translucent thing with a long tail -- has been devised to carry seventy pounds of equipment 100,000 feet and more into the air. When the balloon starts aloft with its case of instruments which is four feet tall, it is filled to only one per cent of its capacity with helium. When it reaches the stratosphere, expansion causes it to swell to a monstrous thing 100 feet tall and 70 feet in diameter.
The Skyhook balloons are released in the vicinity of Minneapolis, and the Navy even has released them from an aircraft carrier. Sometimes they carry lights. They travel to widely separate corners of the United States -- one drifted as far as 1300 miles from base -- before a timing device cuts loose the instrument container, allowing it to descend by parachute. The released balloon then breaks into pieces, and the descending fragments do some tricks of their own in floating earthward. According to a General Mills scientist, "At sunset the balloons glow like a large evening star in the reflected rays of the sun. Since they are far above the horizon, they may be visible for as long as thirty minutes after darkness has shrouded the earth. Thousands of people in the Minneapolis area have observed this phenomenon with mixed emotions, ranging from mild interest to terror."
How much of the scare can be blamed on experimental aircraft and missiles? Our research and development authorities insist that nothing they are doing with aircraft or missiles should cause people to see flying saucers. However, some of the sightings have been in the White Sands, New Mexico, area, where the frightening marriage of the German V-2 and the Wac Corporal is being forged, and the conclusions are obvious. Also, after Air Force officials had said that they knew nothing of anything flying in the vicinity of their highly secret Muroc base that might be making people see saucers, it came out that a former test pilot near Muroc had been playing around with a six-foot all-metal disk-shaped tow target. And both the Navy and Air Force, of course, are filling the air with strangely shaped experimental planes -- needle-nosed things which break the sonic barriers; a "flying flapjack" plane that really looked like a Saucer, but now has been dropped by the Navy; eight-engine "flying wing" bombers, rocket-assisted craft and planes with fire-belching ram-jet engines on their wing tips.
However, the investigating authorities have learned that all the logic in the world will not convince the witness who wants to believe that the thing he sighted was something sinister or maybe interplanetary. At Wright Field, for instance, there is a civilian technical consultant, an expert on rockets in his own right, who is convinced that the saucers are visitations either from Moscow or Mars.
Fate magazine, which has beat the drum for the interplanetary-spaceship theory, printed an article signed by Neil Stanley and Chester S. Geier, stating: "As no evidence has turned up as yet to show that the disks originated on this planet, it must be assumed that they are visitors from space." In an earlier issue, another writer opined that if Kenneth Arnold, who seemed to have started it all, actually had seen what he described, it must have been "a train of spaceships from some other planet."
Arnold himself has been conducting a one-man campaign to prove that he did see something out of the ordinary that day over Mount Rainier. Several witnesses to saucer phenomena elsewhere told me that after their stories were published they received correspondence from Arnold urging them to disclose full information. Arnold has written other articles for Fate -- one titled Phantom Lights Over Nevada, and another Are Space Visitors Here? In the latter, discussing a fisherman's report of seeing weird purplish spheres with portholes maneuvering over the Crown River, in Ontario, Arnold wrote: "Once again, we can be sure that these Canadian blue-green-purple globes are not meteors, nor are they fragments of a comet or Venus. What, then, are they? Spacecraft from another world?"
I wrote to Arnold, asking for more information about his activities and his ideas. He replied, in part: "Since my first observation and report of the so-called 'flying disks' I have spent a great deal of money and time thoroughly investigating this subject. ... It may be of interest to you to know there is a connection between tremendous amounts of furnace slag which is being found in giant dumps on our ocean floor, strange submarines, rocket ships and flying disks. ... There is no doubt in my mind but what these objects are aircraft of a strange design, and material that is unknown to the civilization of this earth."
About five weeks after his first saucer sighting, Arnold appeared in another Northwestern town to investigate a report that two men had seen a "wounded" saucer -- a sort of "doughnut-shaped aircraft" escorted by five similar craft -- crash on an island off the coast. Arnold's account of this investigation in Fate is a real cloak-and-dagger epic, and he mentions that while flying to the scene of the investigation he spotted another covey of some twenty-five flying disks. He was joined in his investigation by Capt. E.J. Smith, United Air Lines pilot who had seen saucers while en route to Seattle.
Later, a Government investigation indicated that Arnold probably had run up against an elaborate hoax. In the course of his own investigation, Arnold telephoned 4th Air Force intelligence at Hamilton Field, California, with the result that two officers, Capt. William L. Davidson and Lt. Frank M. Brown, were sent out to see what it was all about. After talking with Arnold and the air line pilot, Smith, and also to one of the supposed actual collaborators in the hoax, the two officers pulled out after midnight to fly hack to Hamilton Field.
On the way back to California, the B-25 bomber that Captain Davidson and Lieutenant Brown were flying crashed. Both men were killed.
Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles by Mr. Shalett on the Flying Saucers. The second will appear next week.
* * *
What You Can Believe
About Flying Saucers
By Sidney Shalett
Science growls "Bunk!" But in nervous times like these the air-borne disk scare can -- and probably will -- flare up again. If you see a "saucer," just do what Air Chief Vandenberg did.
THE MEN who constitute the high command of the United States Air Force do not believe in flying saucers, disks, space ships from Mars -- or Russia -- which citizens of the United States have been reporting with increasing frequency since the atomic age burst upon the world. But they are not surprised that people are seeing them. The Air Force generals have seen saucers themselves -- or, rather, what would have passed for saucers with less knowledgeable observers. No one knows better than an experienced airman what strange tricks the sun, stars and senses can play upon you in the wild blue.
Less than a year ago, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the Air Chief of Staff, who was responsible for the decision to set up an Air Force project to sift the saucer reports, was piloting a B-17 bomber on a night flight when a strange, disk-shaped, lighted object streaked by somewhere over to his right. If the general had rushed into print with his experience, it would have been another incident in the Great Flying Saucer Scare. Instead of getting rattled, he just experimented a bit by moving his head at different angles, and, sure enough, he could reproduce the saucer at will. It was merely a reflection of a ground light on his window.
Lt. Gen. Lauris Norstad, who has served both the Air Force and Army as director of Plans and Operations, was flying back from Maxwell Field one night when both he and his copilot noticed a strange large object pacing them above. It failed to answer their identification signals. A little calm reconnaissance, however, established that the aircraft was nothing but the reflection of a star on a cloud.
Other generals have been bewildered -- but not for long -- by highly realistic illusions from ground air beacons and searchlights. Even Col. H.M. McCoy, who heads up the intelligence division at Air Materiel Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio, where saucer reports are screened, once thought he saw a disk while flying a P-51 fighter in broad daylight. It turned out to be a glint of sunlight from the canopy of another distant P-51.
Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, now the tough-minded Strategic Air Command boss, was particularly rough on saucer reports when he headed up the Air Force's research-and-development program at the height of the scare. He put his weather expert on the trail, and substantial proof was uncovered that one out of six of the then current crop of reports could be traced to a certain type of aluminum-covered radar-target balloon then in wide use. LeMay said nothing for publication, but soon thereafter, when a certain lieutenant colonel gave out a lulu of a story on how he, too, had seen flying saucers, the general rebuked him blisteringly by telegram ... and sent, it collect.
Gen. Carl Spaatz, the retired Air Chief, is another who gets indignant when he thinks of saucer hysteria, "If the American people are capable of getting so excited over something which doesn't exist," Spaatz told me, "God help us if anyone ever plasters us with a real atomic bomb." He added, "I can tell you unequivocally that the reported sightings of so-called saucers were completely unconnected with any form of secret research that the Air Force was conducting during my term as Chief of Staff."
Among the many hoax "saucers" was this fraud found in a North Hollywood yard. It was made of galvanized iron, a radio tube, a piece of pipe.
First to point out the planet Venus illusion, Nobel Prize scientist Langmuir says no real proof of "saucers" exists. His friendly advice: "Forget it."
It is no secret, of course, that the Russians are experimenting with supersonic aircraft and guided missiles just as we are. But if any of the things which have popped up over America for a few seconds or minutes are Soviet gadgets, the cold brain of Air Intelligence - which painstakingly sifts reports - would like to know how they do it and then return to home base without being seen by more people. It also is reasonable to wonder why, out of more than 250 reported saucers, not one has crashed so we could lay hands on a tangible bit of evidence; so far, Air Intelligence does not have so much as one loose nut off any unexplained object to examine.
The officers and technical experts assigned to Project Saucer -- a nickname for the top-secret Air Force investigative effort -- sometimes get to feeling they're living in a dream world, so utterly unfettered and mysterious are some of the reports they are assigned to evaluate. One of the most fanciful came from a Montana man who wrote in to tell of sighting a large, blue-white ball that had beamed a bright light at him. "I am perfectly sincere and do not drink," the Montanan said, "so the foregoing is absolutely the truth."
An Army pilot at Dayton, Ohio, had three or four teardrop-shaped objects come so close to his plane that he had to duck to avoid collision. Asked to describe them, he replied, "Take about one half gallon of water and dump it two hundred yards in front of an approaching aircraft about two hundred feet above it, with the water taking the shape of a teardrop --" In San Francisco, an aviation student strolling in Golden Gate Park said he was attacked by a mysterious light "like an electric arc," which seemed to have the power to "lower my hand like a sack of shot"; he said he had delicate skin and that it even left a bruise on him.
One of the main solutions to the reported phenomena lies in the aero-medical field. Both Air Force and Navy aero-medical experts have prepared volumes of research findings, spelling out in detail how vertigo, hypnosis and other sensory illusions affect pilots traveling at high altitudes and extreme speeds.
Vertigo is a loose term used to describe a condition of dizziness and stupor which pilots themselves call "the leans." Case histories set down by the Navy's School of Aviation Medicine at Pensacola have established that vertigo and self-hypnosis brought on by staring too long at a fixed light have caused pilots to dogfight with stars, to mistake ground lights for other aircraft, flying saucers or what not, and to have outright hallucinations about things which weren't even there.
Wright Field aero-medical experts confirm these findings. In general, they feel that when a flier starts chasing an illuminated weather balloon or a star, and vertigo or hypnosis sets in, the pilot can come down and practically tell you how many rivets were on the nose of that Martian space ship.
The trouble with all the logical explanations, however, is that the person who has had, or thinks he has had, a sufficiently vivid encounter with a saucer is absolutely certain none of those explanations can apply to him. And in a number of the cases it is pretty hard to apply any of the logical explanations to the reported facts. You have to keep reminding yourself that even an experienced pilot laboring under strain and excitement finds it difficult to judge distances, altitudes and speeds accurately.
One particularly baffling case was the encounter of twenty-five-year-old George F. Gorman, of Fargo, North Dakota, a second lieutenant in the North Dakota Air National Guard, with an apparently disembodied and soundless white light that could climb, swoop and outmaneuver any jet plane now operating. I flew to Fargo to interview Gorman.
Gorman, a native of Fargo, is an employee of a farm-machinery company. He bears a good reputation for veracity and personal habits. During the war be instructed French flying cadets. He is articulate and above average intelligence. He has had several years of college education, and describes himself as an amateur student of Freud, physics and other subjects. Gorman insists be was not particularly conscious of the flying-saucer craze at the time of his reported experience, October 1, 1948, though the saucer excitement had been bubbling since June of the previous year.
At nine o'clock that evening, Gorman, who had been flying with his outfit, the 178th Fighter Squadron, decided to take a turn over the local stadium and watch a night football game which was in progress. The other planes landed, leaving him alone in the air in a fast P-51 fighter. He had been watching the game for about five minutes, which perhaps is significant. The aero-medical people would hold that concentration on the floodlights for that period might bring on vertigo or autohypnosis, but Gorman told me emphatically he was certain the lights had not disturbed his vision.
He first saw the light pass over the football field. He was at 4500-feet altitude and the object, he said, was "a littlie below." It was "a small ball of clear white light, with no physical form or shape attached." It was perhaps six to eight inches in diameter, Gorman figured. It seemed to be making about 250 MPH at an altitude of 1000 feet. The light varied in intensity; it never was extremely bright and it blinked on and off.
To his surprise, he couldn't overtake it. He pushed his speed up to the limit, but the thing, which be thought had been traveling relatively slowly, exceeded him by at least 160 MPH. It seemed to Gorman, he said, that the light could outmaneuver and outrace him, though several times during the twenty-seven minutes he "fought" with it, he thought he came fairly close to the object. At one point he determined to ram it. He made a head-on pass, but lost his nerve and dived under it. During this pass, the object passed not more than 500 feet over his canopy, he estimated.
Later, the object initiated a pass at Gorman -- "I had the distinct impression that its maneuvers were controlled by thought or reason," he said -- and he tried to ram it again. This time it pulled up and streaked to 14,000 feet, with Gorman following. He said that he blacked out several times during the violent maneuvers, but not for long. He also said he eventually climbed to 17,000 feet without oxygen, but is certain it did not make him groggy. Vertigo, he stated, was "absolutely out of the question."
The object finally pulled away from him, climbing straight up until it was out of sight, Gorman said. Gorman was in touch with the Fargo airport tower during the encounter, broadcasting an account of his dogfight with the light. His story has partial corroboration. A sixty-seven-year-old flying grandfather, Dr. A.D. Cannon, an oculist, was in the air at the time in his plane. Cannon and a passenger, Einar Neilson, also had flown over the floodlighted football field. They saw a light in the air. It was "moving fast," Doctor Cannon said, and he thought it might be a Canadian Vampire jet plane from Stevenson field near Winnipeg, some 200 miles from Fargo. After landing, Cannon saw a light twice from the ground; it seemed to him to keep a constant altitude, and definitely changed its direction from east-west to north-south.
Also, Lloyd D. Jensen, the airport traffic controller, and Manuel E. Johnson, his assistant, Civil Aeronautics Administration employees and both extremely nonflighty citizens, each saw a strange light once, moving over the airfield.
I learned from the weather observer at the Fargo airport, George Sanderson, who is a member of Gorman's National Guard squadron, that a black weather balloon carrying a lighted candle had been released shortly before Gorman's strange encounter. But Sanderson, Jensen and Johnson, all experienced hands, insisted it couldn't have been the balloon-borne candle that perturbed the pilot. Sanderson said the balloon was being tracked by a theodolite, an observer's instrument, and that the wind direction and velocity were all wrong in relation to the course of the object Gorman said he was chasing. Sanderson said his assistant tracked the balloon until it disappeared, just before Gorman landed, at 12,000 feet.
Another solution suggests itself: Fargo is only about 200 miles away from the Operation Skyhook base near Minneapolis, where the Navy is releasing giant, light-bearing plastic balloons as part of a project to study cosmic rays. These balloons travel high and fast, and have frightened the wits out of observers wherever they have drifted. Navy scientists in Washington said it is entirely possible one of their balloons drifted over Fargo that night.
The Air Force checked across the border to determine if any Canadian jets had been skylarking over North Dakota that evening, and were assured that such was not the case. None of the ground witnesses heard the banshee whine typical of Canadian jets, anyway. Investigators even tested Gorman's fighter with a Geiger counter, but got a negative reaction for atomic radiation.
So it adds up to a sweet mystery. Was Gorman suffering from a combination of vertigo and confusion with a balloon or ground light? If so, how is the testimony of the ground witnesses, who certainly didn't have vertigo, to be explained rationally? Or did Gorman stumble onto something that has been kept secret successfully by the Air Force, or some other nation, or our friends up on Mars? Personally, after my investigation, I'll vote for the balloon and vertigo.
An encounter similar to Gorman's occurred as recently as last November eighteenth at the Air Force's great Andrews Field base on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. At 9:45 a.m., Henry G. Combs, a twenty-five-year-old second lieutenant in the Air Force reserve, was returning from a night mission with his squadron. Combs, a quiet, serious physical-culture enthusiast, is a young man who trained with the Air Force during the war, but never got overseas; he is so anxious to get back on active duty that he even has written President Truman asking if anything can be done.
As he was preparing to land, Combs spotted something. It was a "dull gray globe" six feet thick and twelve to fifteen feet across. It gave off a sort of frosty light and had rough edges; no blinking, no exhaust flames.
Just as Gorman did, Combs gave chase. For the next ten minutes the thing led him through astounding maneuvers, changing its air speed, Combs related, from seventy-five to 600 MPH and varying its altitude from 2000 to 7500 feet. In the back seat of his T-6 trainer was 2nd Lt. Kenwood W. Jackson, who was unhappy about the whole business. Jackson confirmed that a light was seen and chased, though his description of what happened differs somewhat from Combs'. He wanted to radio the control tower, but Combs wouldn't let him.
Combs' encounter ended, he said, when he stood his T-6 practically on its tail and flashed his landing lights squarely on the thing. At this point, Combs said, the thing streaked away toward the East Coast at 600 MPH and disappeared.
Here again it is a distinct possibility that a pilot was mixed up by a combination of vertigo and a balloon. However, the continued testimony of pilots that these "things" could outmaneuver them bothered me, as balloons are notoriously nonmaneuverable. So, while at Wright Field, I asked a pilot to go up and make a few passes at a weather balloon and see how it looked to him. He came down and told me, with some surprise, that, when he turned around the balloon, it definitely appeared to be turning at the same rate as his plane, and at times it even seemed to be turning faster than his aircraft.
Another wide area through which Project Saucer investigators have had to plow is the rich, intangible field of hallucinations, hoaxes and mass hysteria. For example, a man from Zelienople, Pennsylvania -- who said he was "strictly scientific" in his thinking -- wrote to the Air Force: "I am prepared to state that careful study and research has absolutely CONVINCED me that these 'Objects X' are creations of realms above or beyond our sphere; are, if you please, GHOST objects or craft, propelled by paranormal tele-portion [sic] (the telekinesis of the poltergeist manifestation). ... They are controlled by intelligent, ghostlike, invisible beings or animals bearing, I believe, very little likeness to human beings."
As for hoaxes: Near Black River Falls, Wisconsin, at the height of the Great Flying Saucer Scare, a "flying disk" was found at the county fairgrounds. The finder obligingly placed it on exhibition at fifty cents a look until the local chief of police confiscated it. FBI agents flew all the way up from Milwaukee in a chartered plane to see it. It was found to be a crude concoction of plywood and cardboard, with pieces of propellers and radio cells mounted on it -- strictly an opportunistic fake.
A "flying disk" fell in the street in a Southern city. It was composed of aluminum strips, fluorescent-lamp starters, condensers, rivets, screws and copper wire. A little investigation resulted in a confession from the culprit, the superintendent of an electric-fan factory, who said he concocted the device and threw it from the roof of the factory, hoping to scare his boss, who was getting into his car.
Mass hysteria is a phenomenon that has fascinated philosophers and psychologists for ages; there is no limitation on what impressionable people will think they've seen if someone starts a sufficiently convincing rumor. Even an honest rumor will do the trick.
It is a jittery age we live in, particularly since our scientists and military spokesmen have started talking about sending rockets to the moon and about experiments to by-pass the law of gravitation by creating a man-made planet that will streak off the earth at 25,000 miles per hour or so and start circling in our orbit. Though we have not yet produced the rocket-to-the-moon and the homemade satellite, it is small wonder that harassed humans, already suffering from atomic psychosis, have started seeing saucers and Martians.
Perhaps the most outspoken foe of the flying saucer in the United States is Dr. Irving Langmuir, the distinguished scientist and Nobel Prize winner. Doctor Langmuir, associate director of General Electric's Research Laboratory at Schenectady, has spent a lifetime debunking what he calls "pathological science" -- that is, untruthful scientific theories which were carelessly accepted as truthful until someone came along to prick a hole in them -- and he lumps saucers in this category. He also happens to he a member of the Air Force's Scientific Advisory Board. Though Doctor Langmuir speaks on saucers in his nonofficial capacity as a scientist, he has given the Air Force an earful on the -- as it appears to him -- absurdity of it all.
Doctor Langmuir was one of the first to point out that Venus was close to its peak brilliance the day an unfortunate National Guard pilot killed himself chasing a saucer in Kentucky. When shown a picture that someone took of a heel-shaped "saucer" flying over Phoenix, Arizona, he acidly inquired if anyone had taken the trouble to determine whether there was a violent squall over Phoenix that day.
"To me," he said, "the picture has all the scientific aspects of a piece of tar paper, or a torn blanket, or a collapsed balloon, tossing in a high wind.
"One of the characteristics of a thing that isn't so," Doctor Langmuir continued, "is the impossibility of bringing it out into the open. If a man tells me that two and two equal five -- or that he has seen a flying saucer -- I don't feel I have to prove he is wrong. I feel the burden is on him to prove that he is right."
I asked Doctor Langmuir what he would advise the Air Force to do about flying saucers. He snapped his answer, "Forget it!" The Air Force, I suspect, would like to forget it. But then something new comes along like the strange adventure of two Eastern Air Lines pilots with what seemed to be a flame-shooting, double-decker space ship, and Wright Field has to send out another team of investigators.
Of all the so-called saucer stories, the most difficult to rationalize is the account of what Eastern Air Lines pilots Clarence Shipe Chiles and John B. Whitted said they saw twenty miles west of Montgomery, Alabama, on the morning of July 24, 1948. At 2:45 a.m., the two men were flying a DC-3 airliner into Atlanta, Georgia. Chiles, a thirty-one-year-old Tennessean, wartime lieutenant colonel and former commanding officer of the Air Transport Command's Ascension Island base, was captain of the ship. He has had 8500 hours in the air and has flown more than 1,000,000 miles. Whitted, a thirty-year-old North Carolinian, a wartime pilot of B-29 Superfortresses, was his copilot.
Chiles and Whitted told me their story during an interview I had with them in Atlanta. "We were flying at five thousand feet on VFR -- visual flight rules," said Chiles. "That meant we were even more alert than normally for stray aircraft, for we were on our own rather than at a specified altitude assigned by the CAA.
"I saw the thing first. 'Here comes a new jet job!' I yelled to John. He saw it too. Then we knew it was like no jet job we'd ever heard about. We had five to ten seconds to look at it. The moon was full and the object came quite close -- not more than a mile away, I thought, and John here thought it was even closer. It was traveling on a southwesterly course -- exactly opposite to our direction. Its velocity, allowing for our own air speed, could have been anywhere from five hundred to seven hundred miles per hour -- I'm sure it was faster than any jet I've ever seen flown."
Despite the flashing speed with which the airliner and the reported object would have passed each other, both pilots noted a wealth of details. They agreed the object was at least 100 feet long. Chiles thought the fuselage was somewhat more streamlined than that of a B-29. Whitted, on whose side of the cockpit the object passed, thought it was nearly twice the diameter of a Superfortress. But the hair-raising thing to them, they said, was that the thing looked like a plane, flew like a plane, but had no wings.
"We couldn't have been mistaken about it -- the illumination from both the moon and the thing itself were too good for that," Chiles continued earnestly. "There were two rows of windows, or 'breathers,' along the fuselage. A highly intense white light -- it was much too bright to be used for interior illumination, so it may have been from a power plant -- came through these windows. And a fluctuating blue flame danced along the belly of the thing. From an exhaust in the tail of the object came a trail of red-orange flames that shot out for some fifty feet."
Chiles and Whitted agree on the above details. Chiles also paid particular attention to the nose of the thing, and observed that it had a radarlike protrusion from its snout that "looked like a swordfish," and that there were four to six metallic-looking objects in front that resembled streamlined windshields, or louvers.
As soon as the thing had disappeared, by pulling up sharply and climbing, Chiles and Whitted said, they started gaping at each other. They said they couldn't believe it. Chiles went back in the darkened interior of the plane and started asking the passengers if they'd seen anything. Apparently, the only one who had been looking out of the window at that hour was Clarence L. McKelvie, of Columbus, Ohio. He had seen a bright streak of light whiz by the window, but had observed no form or details. He told Air Force investigators that Chiles seemed genuinely excited when he came back into the cabin.
Chiles and Whitted still say they do not know what to think; they say they are certain that they were not suffering from hallucinations and that what they saw was a manufactured object -- not a meteor -- and unlike any aircraft or missile known to them. They immediately checked with the nearest control tower to ascertain if there were any commercial or Army aircraft in their vicinity, and were told there were not. The Air Force has confirmed it had nothing flying in the area at the time.
Both men are married and fathers. They had nothing to gain by their story, for it was bad publicity. Neither has tried to profit by the incident, nor were they responsible, so far as I could learn, for the story being given out to the newspapers. Chiles told me he didn't even report the incident to his superiors until the middle of the next day, and that he did so then only because he was worried that if the Army had any experimental craft flying in those lanes it might collide with some airliner.
The high command and the research-and-development chiefs of the Air Force gave me unequivocal assurance that nothing tested at Eglin Field, which is 130 miles to the south, possibly could answer the description of the Chiles-Whitted object. Not even the slow V-1 buzz bomb has been launched from there within the past two years, they said. They also pointed out that a guided missile does not perform in the manner described by the two pilots, and that a V-2 rocket would travel so fast they couldn't have seen it from their cockpit. As for aircraft, they said, maybe a wingless fuselage could fly, but it would have to have nothing short of atomic power to lift it from the ground.
While the Air Force finds it difficult to believe that the heavens are populated with inexplicable skimming saucers, diving disks, bounding [sic] balls or spooky space ships, even when the testimony comes from such excellent witnesses as pilots Chiles and Whitted, it does want to know about such things.
So, if you're standing out in your back yard or flying your plane some afternoon or evening, and see one of these things in the sky, here is what the Air Force would like to have you do: Before running for the telephone to call your favorite newspaper, take some mental notes on what and where the object is, and what it is doing. If possible, try to estimate how far it is from you by making comparisons with some fixed object, such as a town or mountain. If there is a mountain handy, you may be able to make some guess as to the object's altitude. Try to estimate its apparent angle above the horizon; if you're viewing it from the ground, hold your arm straight up -- that's ninety degrees -- and guess the angle of the object in relation to the ninety-degree mark. Try to estimate its size; if you have a rough idea how far you are from it, you can get a "fix" on its size by holding up a dime -- or any small object, such as the blunt end of a pencil or the tip of your thumb -- and seeing how much of the object is obliterated by the dime.
Take a photograph or make a sketch if you can; if not, remember all you can about its appearance and whether it has any protuberances. Carefully note its color and whether or not it reflects or projects any lights. Note what maneuvers it engages in and what it appears to be made of; whether it makes any sound, spurts flames, sparks or smoke or gives out an odor. If it is in horizontal flight, try to estimate its speed by timing how long it takes to travel between two points. Note weather and cloud conditions, and observe how it disappears -- whether it explodes, fades or vanishes behind clouds. And, of course, if it is obliging enough to crash or shower down any fragments in front of you, by all means secure the pieces -- if they seem harmless.
Then sit down and write a letter containing all this information to Technical Intelligence Division, Air Materiel Command Headquarters, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. At the same time, maybe you'd better buttress yourself with an affidavit from your clergyman, doctor or banker.
If you've really seen something and can prove it, you may scare the wits out of the United States Air Force, but it will be grateful to you.
Editors' Note --This is the second of two articles by Mr. Shalett.
1. It was a widespread practice at this type to append "like" to a word without hyphenation, as in "tapelike" rather than "tape-like" or "saucerlike" rather than "saucer-like", etc.
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