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In late 1950, British scholar Gerald Heard published the third-ever non-fiction book on the flying discs, entitled "The Riddle of the Flying Saucers -- Is Another World Watching?". But though two American volumes had preceded him -- Major Donald Keyhoe's "The Flying Saucers Are Real" and Frank Scully's "Behind The Flying Saucers" -- Heard's was the first ever published in the United Kingdom. Reaction to the book came quickly, in the form of an opinion piece penned by H. Spencer Jones -- the Astronomer Royal since 1933 -- in the weekly British magazine "The Spectator", in its December 15, 1950, edition...


Above: Page six of the December 15, 1950, edition of The Spectator, in which the following appeared...

The Flying Saucer Myth

(Sir Harold Spencer Jones, F.R.S.)

FROM about midsummer 1947 and throughout the past three years there have been numerous reports of mysterious saucer-like and other objects having been seen moving through the sky at great speeds. These reports have largely emanated from the United States, where they have given rise to much interest and to some alarm. Are these mysterious objects secret weapons in course of trial? Are they sent by an enemy Power to spy out the land? Are they perhaps launched from another planet? Or is there a simple explanation, some natural phenomenon having been misrepresented and incorrectly reported?

It not infrequently happens that when there is a report of something having been seen which is mysterious and outside ordinary experience, other people begin to think that they see the same thing. The reports of the Loch Ness Monster provide an instance. In the case of the flying saucers, something similar seems to have occurred.

The first reports of these objects apparently came from Boise in Idaho; before long, flying saucers were being seen in many other of the States. It has been suggested that the whole thing may be merely a case of mass-hallucination.

So widespread has been the interest aroused by the flying-saucer problem that the reader will turn to Mr. Gerald Heard's book in expectation of finding some light thrown on the mystery. He will be doomed to disappointment, for, after summarising and discussing the evidence, the author, after possible alternatives have been examined and discarded, offers an explanation which is more improbable than the flying saucers themselves.

But, first of all, what do the observers of these objects state that they have seen? There is a marked diversity in the various reports, and it is certain that they cannot all refer to the same type of phenomenon. Most frequently the reports refer to disk-shaped or saucer-like objects which, however, are sometimes described as being heart-shaped or as having a tail fin. Statements about size are strangely discordant, ranging from a few feet to several hundred or one thousand feet in diameter; but it may be remarked that there are many people who estimate the moon to be about the size of a dinner plate. The speeds at which the objects move are variously estimated from about 200 to 18,000 miles an hour. In one instance, a flying saucer is said to have gone from horizon to horizon in three seconds. Some other reports describe giant cigar-shaped wingless torpedoes, with windows and fore-cabin, glaring with a weird mysterious light, which are capable of tremendous speed and are of master-manoeuvrability, so that they can make circles around a plane travelling at a speed of 300 miles an hour.

A third type is described as a giant balloon. One such is stated to have anchored itself for nearly two days at a height of about 5,000 feet about the town of Alice, Texas; it is curious that it was apparently seen by only five citizens of that town. In another instance the balloon is said to have been double-decked. One was seen to explode, but no fragments could be found. Then there are objects described as balls of light, appearing as bright white globes, a foot or so in diameter, which can make sudden darts, or rapid twists and turns, and which can suddenly hop up thousands of feet and perform other weird capers.

Almost all the reports appear to agree that there is no sound accompanying these appearances. If the objects have a material existence, they have never been observed to start from the ground, or to fall to or alight on the ground. They either disappear over the sea or into the depths of the sky. If they are of terrestrial origin they must sooner or later come down somewhere. If they are mechanical devices, something must sometimes go wrong and a crash occur. But this never happens with flying saucers.

There are many natural phenomena which appear mysterious, and for which, in some cases, there is as yet no satisfactory explanation. The accounts of such appearances given by those who are unfamiliar with them may be strangely unlike the real thing. The aurora borealis, ball lightning, St. Elmo's fire, mock suns and parhelia, the Brocken spectre, a blue sun or a blue moon, a bright fire-ball, a slow-moving train of meteors, for instance, are sufficiently far from the normal range of most people's experience to give rise to wonderment. I receive many reports of unusual or strange phenomena; but rarely is an account of what was seen sufficiently precise and accurate for a definite opinion to be given as to the cause. There was an occasion during the 1914-1918 War when it was reported by a British officer in France that a Zeppelin was in a certain direction and was moving westward; he had for some time been carefully watching Jupiter through his field-glasses and had interpreted the four bright satellites as lights in the hull; the diurnal motion of the planet had convinced him that he was observing a distant moving Zeppelin.

In December, 1949, the U.S. Air Force declared that all the reports of flying saucers received had been investigated and had been disposed of as having natural causes. I believe that many of them are distorted accounts of natural phenomena; in a few instances, meteorological balloons, experimental aircraft or guided missiles may possibly have been observed. In one or two cases fire-balls may have been seen.

But such explanations are too prosaic for Mr. Gerald Heard. He wants something more exciting. In the course of my experience I have come across so many instances of the unreliability of ocular evidence that I prefer to seek a natural explanation, and I frankly mistrust much of the testimony. Mr. Heard prefers to trust the evidence, and so is compelled to seek an unnatural explanation. For he accepts the view that flying saucers are not U.S. secret weapons in course of trial, and he admits that they cannot be launched by an unfriendly Power, as it would be quite illogical for any such Power to disclose its own secret weapons to a possible enemy.

Mr. Heard is therefore compelled to suggest an extra-terrestrial origin, and the suggestion which he makes is that the flying saucers have come from Mars. Because the largest sunspots ever recorded appeared not long after the firing-off of atomic bombs, he assumes (quite illogically) that the atomic bombs caused the sunspots. It is well-established that the sun's ultra-violet radiation is increased at times of great sun-spot activity; the Martians, he asserts, have the strongest of reasons for not wishing ultra-violet radiation from the sun to increase, since the tenuous Martian atmosphere affords little protection against the short-wave rays, which are deadly to life He suggests further that the sun is one of the pulsating stars known as Cepheids, and that it is these stars which are liable to explode and become novae (neither statement, incidentally, is correct); atom bombs might serve as the trigger which would cause the sun to explode. The Martians may have read the signs, have assumed that some trouble is brewing, and have therefore taken steps to find out what we are up to. That is presumably why they have devoted their attention almost entirely to the United States. The two small satellites of Mars have provided the platforms from which they have launched their Mars-to-Earth flights. The Martians, he considers, are large insects, super-bees about two inches in length, with a highly developed social organisation!

There are no limits to such unscientific speculation. Once one embarks upon it, it is necessary to plunge deeper and deeper. The enormous speeds attributed to these objects, and their silence, almost presuppose that some form of super-energy, which is unknown to us, is available to these Martian insects. The ability to hover silently for any time at any height "seems to demand the power to resist gravity with its counter-force, a negative reaction to the pull of the earth, as on the negative pole of the magnet objects are not drawn in but driven out." Mr. Heard supposes that "magnetism is, as it were, the other pole of gravity." Two saucers, reported to have been whirling round each other, were, it is suggested, recharging each other. Even radar is brought in to add an air of plausibility for the unscientific reader: the "rods and foci of force that, the radar picks up, directed force, may be from the disks."

Mr. Heard supposes that the smaller disks come down from a giant disk, riding as a second and very midget moon right under our lee, and that the dancing balls of light were directed by a super-intelligence from this space-platform.

The scientific reader will jettison the whole of this chain of argument. We know enough about Mars and the conditions that prevail there to be confident that no animal life can exist on it. As for very big manufacturing plants being in operation on Mars in order to turn out disks in large numbers, as is supposed, it is just fantastic. The unscientific reader will find his credulity strained to the utmost. The fact that such arguments have to be put forward to account for these flying saucers seems to me to provide the strongest possible demonstration that the whole thing is a myth.

In late 1950, following the publication of Frank Scully's book "Behind the Flying Saucers" which alleged crashed discs and recovered alien bodies now in the government's possession, a series of anti-saucer articles -- some written with the Air Force's enthusiastic participation -- began to appear in the nation's press. First was a four-part series by International News Service correspondent Bob Considine in November, 1950 (reprinted in Part Eight of this series). Then, in January, 1951, Considine's newspaper series was basically reformatted -- albeit with an even more vitriolic assault on witnesses as an introduction -- into an article for Cosmopolitan magazine...


Above, top: Opening pages of article. Middle: Blow-up of pictures from first page. Bottom: Blow-up of picture caption on page 2. The caption reads: "1. This "flying saucer" is part of an alfalfa dehydrator. "Man-from-Mars" effect is obtained by pulling a football helmet over the face and tying a glass paperweight over nose and mouth. 2. One of the countless experiments in aircraft design, sometimes mistaken for flying saucers. 3. These parts, found in a Maryland barn, were simply a farmer's attempt to build a plane. 4. A flying disk made of old machine parts -- picture from the Air Force's secret files."

The disgraceful Flying Saucer hoax!

It has cost millions of dollars and some lives. Our dreams have been haunted by little men from nowhere. Here is the truth about the most wild-eyed fake of our time -- By Bob Considine

Let us say that you, as a taxpayer, were called upon to pay for every fraudulent share of oil-well and gold-mine stock sold to credulous investors in this country. Let us suppose, in addition, that you were held liable for the injuries suffered by every person whose chair was pulled from under him by a nitwit prankster.

You'd raise hell, and demand that Something Be Done!

Well, you're paying for something even less enchanting: the daily cost of running to ground every phony clue concerning the purely idiotic and wholly nonexistent "flying saucers."

Pranksters, half-wits, cranks, publicity hounds, and fanatics in general are having the time of their lives playing on the gullibility and Cold War jitters of the average citizen. It is their malicious fancy to populate the skies over America with a vessel that just does not exist -- the flying saucer. And every time a newspaper or radio news bureau falls for their gag, or dementia, another legion of screwballs is mobilized. Many of the daft stories they circulate must be investigated.

Now and then the lunatic fringe in America, who could see whales in the sky if whale-seeing became the Thing To Do, gains unwarranted reassurance from respected quarters. A usually conservative radio commentator swears that there are flying saucers and that they are secret Navy aircraft. The conservative David Lawrence, of the U.S. News & World Report, solemnly assures his readers that flying saucers exist. True Magazine prints two widely quoted articles, one by Donald Keyhoe, one-time aeronautical adviser to the Department of Commerce, and the other by a Navy commander and radar expert, testifying to the existence of such craft. Airmen (and airwomen) employed and trusted by such commercial air lines as TWA, Eastern, United, and Chicago and Southern, speak of unidentifiable winged things blazing by their ships. And Frank Scully, a Hollywood humorist whose most substantial literary effort up to that time was something called Fun in Bed, writes a best seller in which a mysterious "Dr. Gee" tells of grounded saucers complete with tiny men from the planet Venus. And so on.

The "saucer department" of the United States Air Force, an unhappy facet of the important Air Materiel Command at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, feels dutybound [sic] to investigate not only the claims and warnings of responsible people but also the vagrant dreams and downright hoaxes of less respected folks.

All of this has cost you an appalling amount of money since that hapless Tuesday, June 24, 1947, when a Boise, Idaho, businessman named Kenneth Arnold announced (for publication, unfortunately) that while steering his private plane around Washington's Mt. Rainier he had spotted a chain of nine saucerlike [sic, throughout] objects playing tag with the jagged peaks at "fantastic speed."

Americans as far back as Thomas Jefferson had been reporting, usually apologetically, seeing what they considered nonastronomical bodies floating or sizzling in their skies. But Arnold's report ignited a chain reaction of mass hypnotism and fraud that has taken on the guise of a prolonged "Martian Invasion" broadcast by that bizarre hambone, Orson Welles. The ink was barely dry on Arnold's report about his apparition (he estimated that the nine bright things he saw were about twenty-five miles away, traveling at 1,200 mph) before others in this country began seeing flying "hubcaps," "dimes," "tear drops," "ice-cream cones" "pie plates" "saucers" and "disks."

From under what amounted to every old rock in the country emerged True Believers, and gagsters who, seeing a royal chance for what they considered fun, began operations. They were promptly joined by the envious. The neighbor of a man who got his name in the newspapers as one who saw a flying saucer coveted his notoriety and, in a short time, was trying to top him by spotting a team of saucers. It was (and is) an easy achievement to see a saucer once the mind is made up.

You can see a heavenly host of flying saucers simply by looking a bit too long at a bright sun and then looking to another part of the sky. Red corpuscles, flitting past the retina of the eye, supply the mirage. It helps, too, to begin with a touch of dyspepsia.

The nonsense of flying saucers would be as harmless as the legend of Kilroy's omnipresence if it were not an integral part of the Air Force's credo to maintain a lively interest in whatever is reported in the American skies. That's its job and, with heavy heart, it feels it cannot afford to pigeonhole any saucer report. It has sent agents from its Office of Special Investigation and enlisted the aid of the FBI on missions improbable enough to wrest a snort of derision from an editor of Weird Comics.

For instance, it looked into the report of a man and wife who wrote in to say that while on a hiking trip through a woods, they had detected a flying saucer "moving about" in a clump of tall, thick pines. It developed, after considerable questioning by agents who had traveled hundreds of miles to hear the story, that the couple estimated they were two or three miles away from the "saucer" and that impenetrable woods were between them and what they thought they saw.

In another case, an Ohio farmer excitedly called Air Materiel Command to give a vivid description of "two huge saucers" that had raced out of the stratosphere, hovered over two small islands in a lake near his home, lowered sixteen steel claws, scooped up samples of earth, and sped away. Agents found out that the man had been released from an insane asylum two weeks before his hallucination.

SOMETIMES many months are needed to complete the investigation of a preposterous flying-saucer story.

Late in 1949, at the nineteeth [sic] hole of Hollywood's Lakeside Country Club, film actor Bruce Cabot overheard a man named Si Newton say he knew a man who had in his possession parts of a flying saucer. The friend-of-the-friend spoke also of a "magnetic radio" taken from a grounded saucer, which had been exhibiting miraculous powers as an oil-divining rod. Cabot reported the incident to an Air Force office in Los Angeles, which relayed the tip to Wright Field, and the mechanism of an investigation began to turn.

Cabot went on location and could not be reached. Newton was vaguely known at Lakeside, but the club couldn't put the investigators in touch with him. The trails cooled, but the investigation expense remained hot, until January 6, 1950, when the Kansas City Times printed an interview with one Rudy Fick, giving somewhat similar details.

Fick was found and said he had seen none of these wonders but had been told about them by someone he called "Coulter." He didn't know Coulter's first name or where to reach him, but he understood he was a friend of Jack Murphy, of the Ford Company in Denver.

When the highly skeptical Murphy was questioned, "Coulter" became George Koehler, an advertising salesman for a Denver radio station. Most of the fantastic stories that Murphy had heard attributed to Koehler, had come to Murphy, he said, through a mutual friend named Morley B. Davies, of a foremost advertising agency.

Probing deeper and deeper into the maze, the investigators heard from one of the principals that he understood that parts of two grounded saucers were being held in the "United States Research Bureau" in Los Angeles. The Post Office Department's inspectors reported that there was no such place.

There now entered into the case a mysterious "Dr. Gebauer" (or Jarbrauer) from whom Koehler was said to have borrowed the "magnetic radio." He entered in name only. The Doc, as we will call him in a vain effort to simplify, was the fount of most of the stories that swirled through the case. He had been a party to many supernatural adventures, and was said to have supplied Koehler with souvenirs from a grounded saucer -- several small gears and metal disks and a gadget said to be a radio that picked up occasional messages in a language not of this earth.

Murphy had seen the souvenirs, he said, and had identified the disks as standard "knockout plugs" of the kind placed in the walls of automobile engines to help prevent cracks caused by freezing. The gears were stenciled with an Arabic numeral and an arrow, but were otherwise standard. The radio, if it was one, was as silent as a clam when Murphy saw it.

Yet the story expanded. Investigators were told that Koehler had quoted the Doc as saying he (the Doc) and another "scientist" had lifted one of the grounded saucers from the place where it had crashed, but that they had hastily dropped it when it showed signs of taking off.

Investigators heard, too, that one of the saucers -- said to have alighted near Aztec, New Mexico -- had contained sixteen men ranging in height from thirty-six to forty-two inches. The Doc and eight other "magnetic scientists" alleged to have been called in by the Air Force were detailed to lift the charred bodies of the midgets out of the saucer ("which had a beam of 99-99/100ths feet") and examine them. Later, when another and smaller saucer "fell near Phoenix," the Doc helped to take out the crew of two little men and was quoted as saying that these, like the previous sixteen, had come from Venus. Fifteen others had parachuted to earth and "had made themselves invisible" when the Doc gave chase.

One can perhaps picture the facial expressions of the sane and sober investigators when Davies quoted Koehler as saying that he had either seen or heard that the grounded saucers came from Venus at a speed of 100,000 miles per second. And that he (Koehler) had examined a saucer in the Doc's alleged laboratory near Phoenix, after slipping into a special one-piece examining suit that proved to be an insufficient precaution because, as he entered the place, a warning bell sounded "on account of the plate in his head."

During the bizarre inquiry, the fantastic material of which was so soon to be presented in straight-faced book form by Frank Scully, investigators had to track down a report that one of the little men had been sent to Chicago's "Rosenwald Institution," for examination. The directors of the famed Rosenwald Foundation issued an immediate and indignant denial.

For nearly six months, Air Force officers and trained civilian agents -- who had been schooled for more rewarding work at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars -- were immobilized on this preposterous case, which ended with several of the principals refusing to answer investigators' questions on "Constitutional grounds."

And nothing can be done about it!

ON JUNE 19, 1950, the Air Materiel Command received a letter from one Martin W. Peterson. Enclosed were four snapshots of a friend holding an odd object with a saucerlike body. From its thin sides, there protruded what appeared to be the tip of a spear and the fins and exhaust-pipe assembly of a miniature V-2.

Peterson was located in Warren, Minnesota. So was his friend, the saucer man -- Walter Sirek, a gas-station attendant. Sirek told the investigators that he had found the strange device two years before, imbedded in the earth behind Nish's Tavern, in Warren. He had figured, he said, that it was the work of a local tinsmith named Art Jensen. Jensen, when questioned, remembered putting something of the sort together at the request of a Warren hardware man named Ted Heyen and a radio repairman named Robert Schaeffer -- as a gag entry in a local newspaper "saucer contest." An acetylene torch had been played over the tail surfaces to give them the appearance of having been scorched by gases escaping from the hauntingly familiar "engine" encased in the saucer.

Heyen and Schaeffer tired of their gadget after a time and threw it away. Sirek found it. Peterson, visiting Sirek shortly thereafter, took snapshots of Sirek holding the contraption -- and two years later sent them to the Air Materiel Command.

It took this particular investigative chain reaction from June nineteenth to September twenty-seventh to run its course. Agents had to be transported from Wright Field, Washington, and elsewhere to the points of inquiry, fed, housed, and paid. The fruits of their labors were a few apologies and the saucer -- which had been made of the lid of an automatic washing machine, a sawed-off curtain-rod spear, tin tail assembly, and an "engine" composed of a disemboweled midget radio and an old insecticide bomb.

More malicious gagsters have taken the trouble to buy and crudely assemble mounds of scrap steel and iron, burn the junk into an unrecognizable tangle, and report to the Air Force that a saucer had crashed and burned on their property. However plain the hoax, the Air Force often feels that it must take samples of the "wreckage" for study in its Wright Field laboratories or in other metallurgical centers.

And nothing can be done about such frauds. A man who pilfers a three-cent stamp from the Post Office Department can be fined and sent to a Federal prison. One who turns in a false alarm that routs out the local fire department on a Halloween night can also be jailed, as can a man who writes a check for a dollar when he has no bank funds to cover it. Yet the most callous and cynical saucer-hoaxers will continue to go scot free, with a cackle of delight, until a penal act is created to check such offenses.

There can, of course, be honest mistakes. Not even the Air Materiel Command is safe from authentic-looking mirages. Last year a radar operator at Wright Field picked up a curiously shaped object on his screen, shortly after a near-by farmer had phoned the field to report a saucer headed that way. Visual observation was not possible at the field because black smoke from the chimneys of a cement plant had settled over the area.

Jets were dispatched to chase the object. As they neared it -- obscure in the smoke haze but of a vaguely different color -- the radio compasses on the instrument boards of the pursuing Air Force planes spun around as if they had just passed over a radio guide beacon.

It was a magnetically charged cloud, a familiar phenomenon of the heavens and one that is always able to jar a plane's radio compass and reveal itself on a radar screen.

At 11:30 A.M. last August fifteenth, Nick Mariana, manager of the Great Falls, Montana, baseball club, looked up from the grandstand of the ball park and saw what he later described as two bright flying saucers, streaking across the clear Montana sky. He raced outside the park, unlocked his car, took out his home-movie camera, ran back to the stands, adjusted the camera and exposed about fifteen feet of film, aiming at that part of the sky where he had seen his saucers. He panned the camera from left to right.

The Air Force came into the case, received the film, enlarged it many times, and -- sure enough -- the film showed two bright disks that appeared to be streaking across the sky.

After some study, the Air Force was able to tell Mariana that the bright disks on his film were sun reflections from the ball park's water tower. And when he insisted that he had seen two bright things blazing across the sky, the Air Force agreed. It had checked with the operations officer of the Great Falls airbase and found that two F-84's (Air Force jets with a top speed of 600 mph) had landed at the near-by field at 11:33 A.M.

THERE have been many cases in which I the Air Force drew criticism, wholly unjustified, because it could give no pat explanation of what seemed phenomenal events.

The True Believers in flying saucers, as well as those who seem to have taken up saucers commercially, like to point to the strange death of Capt. Thomas F. Mantell, Jr.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1948, the combat veteran was leading a wedge of three F-51's to Louisville when he was asked by the control tower at Godman airbase, near Fort Knox, to investigate a report that a mysterious round object, "250 feet in diameter and giving off a reddish glow," was in the air over the great gold cache.

Mantell and his buddies gave chase up to 18,000 feet, at which point two of the three '51's peeled off and dropped down to Godman. They had no oxygen equipment -- nor did Mantell, who radioed back that he had spotted something "tremendous and metallic" above him and would pursue it up to 20,000, the limit of his unaided lung power.

That was the last message from Mantell. He and his plane were found a short time later near Fort Knox, the wreckage strewn over a half-mile area.

DONALD F. Keyhoe, writing in True Magazine some time later, rejected Air Force theories concerning Mantell's death and quoted one of the F -51 pilots as saying: "It looks like a cover-up to me. I think Mantell did just what he said he would -- closed in on the thing. I think he either collided with it, or more likely they knocked him out of the air. They'd think he was trying to bring them down, barging in like that." "They" were not further identified.

The Air Force's first diagnosis was that Mantell probably was chasing one of those large, silvery meteorological balloons used in the continuing studies of cosmic rays and, in following it too high, fell unconscious or dead from lack of oxygen.

A second Air Force proposal was that the airman had been deluded by a rare daytime appearance of Venus and, in the chase, had been suffocated by the rare air high above the earth. Air Force critics leaped on what they considered an evasive job of answering and, as a result, fifteen months after Mantell's death, the Air Force acknowledged honestly, "The mysterious object that the flier chased to his death is still unidentified."

Keyhoe contended in his article that in view of the fact that the wreckage of Mantell's plane had been scattered over an area of a half mile it obviously had "disintegrated in mid-air." If it had done so, the Air Force wearily answered, the plane's wreckage would have spread itself over a much greater stretch of land. A B-29 went to pieces at 30,000 feet not long ago, and its debris covered a twenty-mile area.

The Air Force has had to close its saucer files (which are marked "Confidential" only because no purpose could be served by revealing the names of FBI agents and its own investigators from the Office of Special Investigation) on cases other than the tragic Mantell incident. Two such cases concerned an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 and an Air National Guard F -51.

The Eastern crew reported at 2:45 A.M., July 24, 1948 (an hour after a "flaming object" was observed over Robbins Field, Macon, Georgia), that a big, wingless thing that glowed as if from a magnesium flare had shot past the DC-3 near Montgomery, Alabama. The plane's pilot, Clarence S. Chiles, former Air Transport Command man, and co-pilot, John B. Whitted, B-29 pilot during the war, agreed that the thing had a fiery plume of a tail and, after passing the air liner, zoomed up into the overcast at about 700 MPH -- "its jet or prop wash rocking our DC-3."

National Guard Lt. George F. Gorman described, the following October first, a "dog fight" he had waged in the night over Fargo, North Dakota, with a noiseless little light that appeared to be the exhaust glow from a supernatural craft easily capable of outmaneuvering the maneuverable F-51.

The Air Force knocks down the testimony of experienced airmen with regret. It speaks of weather balloons, flares, fireballs, meteorites, hallucinations, pilot fatigue, and that ephemeral thing called the power of suggestion. It points out, too, that the windshields and windows of some air liners tend to reflect and distort ground lights, and that for a while the windshields of early F-51's were accidentally built in such a way as to cause a pilot to believe occasionally that he was seeing parts of the landscape floating in the air above him.

THE HEAVY, costly job of tracking down and disproving an average of five saucer scares a day has fallen into the patient lap of an outstanding Air Force colonel named Harold E. Watson. Watson climaxed this writer's investigation of the flying-saucer delusion and hoax by flying in from Wright Field to Washington to lay his files before me -- at the Pentagon.

"I've seen a lot of flying saucers," the heavily decorated and prematurely gray airman told me, with a note of weary resignation in his voice. "Chased them and caught them, too," he added. "And every single saucer turned out to be the sun or moon shining off the wing or body of a plane -- the DC-4 at 12,000 feet or more is an especial offender -- or a weather balloon, or sun reflections, or something else readily explainable."

Watson attributed the occasional rises in saucer-observation reports to periodical national broadcasts, scarehead [sic] magazine and newspaper articles and, last fall, to Scully's Behind the Flying Saucers, a book that became a best seller but that, said Watson, the authority, "made me slightly ill after fifteen pages."

Watson added, "The most ridiculous part of the whole nonsense is the spreading report that the Air Force is trying to keep something sinister from the people. We are accused of having in our possession the bodies of 'little men' from Venus, grounded saucers from outer space and from Russia, and secret saucers of our own make."

He shook his head, sadly. "I wish we did have a form of propulsion capable of doing all the things people attribute to saucers. It certainly would have come in handy during the war in Korea."

I asked him why he remained in command of "Project Saucer," a Wright Field unit the Air Force announced it was formally disbanding December 27, 1949.

"We're still in business," he replied, "and will stay in it as long as people insist on reporting invasions of the skies we command. But we are now able to eliminate a great number of reports. We look into only such reports as appear to be outside the spheres of regular reports we receive on scheduled and unscheduled flights of commercial and military aircraft, radar and astrological reports, balloon releases, rocket and guided-missile tests, and air-gunnery targets towed by mother planes or remotely controlled. This sort of screening reduces the number of cases that seem to warrant investigation to about five a day.

"And at the end of a great percentage of these five, we find a crackpot or some joker who thinks it's real funny to cause us trouble and expense.

"Try to get this over to the people," he asked. "There are no flying saucers, no 'little men,' no burned saucer wreckage or pieces of flying saucers, no disappearing parachutists, no potential enemy with any craft of this sort, and none of our own design.

"There just ain't no such animal, but tracking down the nonexistent cause of mass hysteria is still costing us -- and you -- plenty."

One month later, in its February 27, 1951, issue, Look magazine made national headlines with its article "A Nuclear Physicist Exposes Flying Saucers". The article focused on claims by physicist Dr. Urner Liddel, head of the prestigious Office of Naval Research, that the Navy's Skyhook balloon program accounted for all flying saucer sightings...

Look pages
Look pages

Above, top: Opening pages of the article in Look magazine. Bottom: Photographs for article. The caption beneath reads: "Pictured above is a Skyhook balloon 77,000 feet over Minneapolis. This first published photo of a Skyhook at that altitude was made through a refracting telescope. To Dr. Urner Liddel, chief of the nuclear-physics branch of the Office of Naval Research, it is the first visual confirmation of his explanation for the hundreds of 'flying saucers' seen soaring over the U.S. Dr. Liddel's field of nuclear research is centered on cosmic rays in the outer atmosphere, and the big helium-filled balloons carry his instruments aloft. At the right, being launched, the balloon is partially inflated. Nearing the limit of its ascent, above, it clearly resembles a 'flying saucer.'"

Look pages


"There is no longer any need for secrecy," says Navy scientist, after finding that his own research started the "saucers"

Chief of LOOK Washington Bureau

THE literal-minded FBI, skeptical but determined, could not let the flying-saucer excitement go by without getting to the bottom of it. Such a profusion of strange objects littering the American skies could not be ignored.

A 10-page report by the nuclear physics branch of the Office of Naval Research has given the answer:

Flying saucers were, and are, undeniably real. They are part of a basic research program of the Federal Government which is as important, if not so dramatic, as the visitation from Mars feared by an imaginative public.

A flying saucer is the base of a huge balloon, 100 feet in diameter, called a "Skyhook." It is seen by earthlings traveling at speeds up to 200 miles per hour at heights up to 19 miles.

These balloons are carrying delicate instruments to plumb the secrets of the cosmos in the dizzy reaches of a 100,000-foot height where the atmosphere reaches the vanishing point.

The instruments on the balloons observe and measure the countless explosions of atoms in the atmosphere as they are smashed by cosmic particles hurtling in by the billions from the cold reaches of outer space.

The balloons seek to break the secret of how matter is put together by recording how it is blown apart. And, finally, of how the countless atomic explosions taking place silently, smokelessly, flamelessly but energetically at the fringe of the earth's atmosphere may be reproduced under controlled conditions.

This is atomic research aimed not at producing an atomic bomb but at harnessing the energy from the decomposition of the atom. Dr. Urner Liddel, chief of the nuclear physics branch of the Office of Naval Research, is in charge of the Skyhook-Flying Saucer project.

No "Saucers" Without ONR

"When this project first began," he said, "it was kept secret. Now, there is no longer any need for secrecy on a scientific basis. And, certainly, there is no longer any need to keep the public in the dark about what flying saucers are.

"If we are completely successful in our research with these balloons, which so many people have called flying saucers, we will find out how to break up the atom in a useful way. It is not too much to hope that some day we will learn enough to cause the atomic reaction under conditions as we want them -- not as they exist today in the atomic bomb.

"Some day we may learn enough so that we can pour a cup of water into a reactor the size of an average room and draw off from it in cables enough energy to heat a large city."

The Office of Naval Research, where Dr. Liddel is sponsoring the cosmic experiments, is a part of the regular naval establishment, with a $40,000,000-a-year program of basic and applied research. The Liddel report is considered to be the most authoritative scientific explanation of the flying-saucer phenomenon. As far as Dr. Liddel is concerned personally, he considers his answer incontrovertibly right.

One of the most convincing factors supporting Dr. Liddel's findings is that flying saucers or flying disks were unheard of until the ONR's experiments in the stratosphere began. There were some flights in 1947, the first year that strange objects were seen in the skies. These reports multiplied in 1948, when Skyhooks were put in the air in large numbers, and continued through 1949. Reports diminished in 1950 when the number of Skyhook balloon flights were reduced.

Ionization Chambers in the Sky

Observers have agreed that the best time of day to see what is called a flying saucer is at dusk of a cool summer evening.

You may be standing on a plain in New Mexico or Montana. You may be flying a plane at 10,000 feet over Alabama. And there in the distance, above you but far from you, is a strange lighted disk. It may be moving or just hovering.

But there it is. You see it with your own eyes. Your companions see it. This thing is round. It appears cup-shaped. It may appear to have a strong glow on one side or to be trailing an exhaust.

What you have seen may be Flight 10, Balloon No.3 of the Brookhaven National Laboratory at 84,300 feet carrying a 167-pound payload consisting of a cloud chamber, a beacon transmitter, a Geiger telescope, an ionization chamber and photographic equipment.

This object in the sky may appear to you to be from two to ten times the size of Venus, the evening star, which in certain months seems to fill the heavens as it rises. If you are 10,000 feet up in an airplane, the object may appear 20 per cent larger than from the ground.

Look pages
The lateral rays of the sun at dusk illuminate the base of the balloon. There is no chance of your ever seeing the full roundness of it because you are so far below it. You see only the illuminated cup of the bottom. If your imagination soars, the light reflection on one side may impress you as the glow of an atomic engine. The wisp of the balloon's instrument-filled tail may impress you as the exhaust. The sun's rays may suffuse the plastic bag with a fiery glow.

Experienced Observers Fooled

Even seasoned airmen have no way of estimating the size and the speed of an object they see. To peg size and speed, the mind must know the nature of the object. Experienced seamen have difficulty estimating the distance, speed and size of another ship unless they know its type. The balloon is unknown and hence eludes efforts to measure it by familiar craft aloft.

Dr. Liddel and his associates arrived at their findings on these baffling stories by studying about 2,000 reports of flying-saucer observations of every kind and description. They discarded some as seeming to be the visions of crackpots or psychopaths. Other reports were clearly the result of inaccurate vision.

One report of "little men" found in the wreckage of a flying saucer near Mexico City turned out to be the unsubstantiated story of a traveler. No one else knew anything about it.

This left a solid base of reports from airplane pilots, scientific observers and reliable laymen which could not be brushed aside. After a thorough investigation, Dr. Liddel said: "There is not a single reliable report of an observation which is not attributable to the cosmic balloons."

The Death of Captain Mantell

The most tragic report the nuclear physicists had to consider was that of an Air Force pilot in Kentucky. A circular object, metallic in appearance, was seen over a U.S. Air Force base on Jan. 7, 1948. Three fighter planes, one piloted by Capt. Thomas F. Mantell, took off in hot pursuit. From their relatively low altitudes, the balloon seemed to be traveling at the rate of 360 miles an hour. Two of the planes turned back at 18,000 feet. Captain Mantell kept going. He radioed that he would go to 25,000 feet and abandon the search if he got no closer. None of the planes was equipped with reserve oxygen supplies, and thus could not fly long at high altitudes. Mantell was not heard from again. His plane crashed, and the instruments found in the wreckage indicated it might have risen to 30,000 feet.

"Our studies show," said Dr. Liddel, "that Captain Mantell and the other pilots were pursuing a balloon of the Skyhook type. Captain Mantell could never have reached the height at which the balloon was traveling."

Several reports have been received of "squadrons" of flying saucers. People have seen little disks apparently flying together in the sky. This is explained by Dr. Liddel as clusters of 20 to 30 balloons, 10 to 15 feet in diameter, which are sometimes used in place of the huge Skyhook.

Under certain conditions, they might be more visible than the single plastic bag, and would certainly be unexplainable by anyone who didn't know their purpose.

Liddel Got the Facts

After Dr. Liddel had sifted all the reports which appeared to have some foundation, he used his entree as a government nuclear physicist to check other government agencies. He is satisfied that no other research or experimental project has utilized anything even roughly resembling a flying saucer.

"And secondly," he said, "interplanetary travel is not possible at the present time."

This disposed of all the possibilities, according to Dr. Liddel. His analysis of the flying-saucer phenomenon as presented here is the first government disclosure of what is considered to be the real cause.

The Skyhook's distinct visual similarity to a flying-saucer description was noted strongest at the Minneapolis project of ONR under the direction of General Mills, Inc. Telescopic photographs brought out the similarity so clearly that Dr. Liddel was elated. He could at last offer visual proof of his findings.

Tracing the "Saucers"

General Mills is the only successful manufacturer of the huge and delicate plastic bags. Most of the total of 270 flights so far made have been launched at Camp Ripley near Little Falls, Minn., and at University Airport, Minneapolis, Minn.

Look pages
Enough flights have been made from other points, however, to litter the country. Balloons have ascended from Chicago, from Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands, N.M., and from aircraft carriers in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific.

Workers at the General Mills aeronautical laboratories advised Dr. Liddel that they were able to trace lost balloons by published reports of flying saucers: The big bags are engineered to stay up eight hours. Otherwise, they would be a hazard to air navigation. But some have actually stayed up more than 30 hours.

Look pages
Elaborate arrangements are made to trace the balloons, for the data the cosmic physicists want are recorded on the instruments dangling from them. The instruments are released electronically by parachute at the end of the flight.

The cosmic-ray experiments themselves stem from pioneer work done by Dr. Robert A. Millikan 30 years ago when the bombardment of particles from outer space was first discovered. These peculiar phenomena were thought to be some kind of light ray from an unknown source. They were later discovered to be atomic particles striking at the rate of five per square inch per minute at the earth's surface.

Cosmic-Ray Mystery

The source of these particles is unknown. One theory firmly held for a while was that they originated from explosions on the sun. Some scientists believe now that their impact and energy are so great they must originate from higher-powered galaxies outside the solar system.

Whatever their source, these particles strike atoms in the earth's atmosphere, cause them to explode and fill the atmosphere with atomic debris.

Physicists early discovered that the higher they went in the atmosphere the more certain they could be of recording the explosions with the greatest accuracy. Their ultimate aim is to make photographs and measurements at the very fringe of the earth's atmosphere, for all the air below that is filled in greater or lesser degree with atomic debris from the explosions.

These explosions, of course, cannot be seen or felt by the human mechanism. But their dramatic impact on the measuring devices can be photographed w1th startling clarity.

Four levels of cosmic-ray experimentation have been in progress. The first is at sea level where the bombardment is measured and photographed in devices called cloud chambers. This type of experimentation also goes on at two laboratories, Mount Evans and Climax Mountain, both in Colorado, at 14,000 feet.

A third type of experimentation was carried on in three B-29 bombers, fitted out as flying laboratories. They flew up and down a degree of latitude toward the North Pole and away from it between Fort Churchill, Manitoba, and Lima, Peru. These flying laboratories made their recordings at between 30,000 and 40,000 feet.

The fourth type is the Skyhook project which has led to so many reports of flying saucers. But there are still more to come.

General Mills and the Office of Naval Research are working on a new balloon with four times the capacity of the Skyhook, which can rise to heights of 120,000 feet. This will leave only 0.4 per cent of the earth's atmospheric envelope above the new balloon.

It can safely be predicted that a year hence there will be a new wave of flying-saucer reports. A new, improved model will be observed by credulous and alarmed citizens of middle America. These observers will be unable to escape the conclusion that the thing in outer space is gaining on us.

Reaction was swift to Look's article, and the claims of Liddel to be in charge of a secret balloon program that was the source of all saucer reports was widely repeated in newspapers across the nation -- and across the seas -- even before the article itself appeared on the newsstands. But not everyone was so accepting of Liddel's claim, as in this February 26, 1951, Associated Press wirestory as found in the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Daily Oklahoman...


Above, top: Associated Press wirephoto accompanying the article. The caption in the Daily Oklahoman read, "Dr. Anthony O. Mirarchi uses a blackboard drawing at his home to explain his theory on flying saucers".

Scientist Fears Flying Saucers Portend a Worse 'Pearl Harbor'

Scituate, Mass., Feb 25 -- (AP) -- A former airforce [sic, throughout] scientist Sunday brushed aside the idea that flying saucers are just balloons and urged a full investigation of what he said may be experiments by "a potential enemy of the United States."

Dr. Anthony O. Mirarchi, who was employed by the airforce as an air chemist in its geophysical laboratory, took issue with a recent magazine article written by Dr. Urner Liddel, navy scientist. Liddel said what people have been seeing are plastic balloons sent into the upper air for radiation research.

Mirarchi said that if flying saucers are experimental missiles launched by foreign hands they could "lead to a worse Pearl Harbor than we ever experienced."

"The navy report is erroneous, it lulls people into a false sense of security," he said in an interview.

He said that as an assistant chief of a branch of the geophysical research organization, he conducted an investigation and recommended a "considerable appropriation" to press a study of the mysterious phenomenon.

AT Washington, an airforce spokesman who was asked about Mirarchi's contentions had this to say:

"In over 500 investigations we have made so far we have yet to find one concrete bit of evidence to back up these reports of flying saucers."

However, the spokesman added, the airforce has not terminated the long study of flying saucer rumors. It is still to be carried on at the USAF air materiel command center at Dayton, Ohio, with Col. Harold E. Watson directing the studies.

Dr. Mirarchi said that after studying extensive files of the office of strategic information, covering hundreds of eyewitness reports of flying saucers or "fireballs," he concluded the observations were consistent with "a missile programmed in advance."

IN other words, the objects had "maneuvered motion" as though guided by some mechanism. He said the descriptions of vertical and horizontal motions did not indicate any natural phenomenon like a meteor or erratic motion of drifting balloons.

He remarked that a number of "the fireball observations came from a certain region of New Mexico which is critical to the national interest." In that region is the Los Alamos atomic installation.

Not to be outdone, the United Press responded with its own national newswire story and interview, as found in the February 28, 1951, issue of the Mansfield, Ohio, News Journal...

Says Saucers Launched By Enemy
Missiles Appeared Over Atom Project

SCITUATE, Mass., Feb. 28 -- (UP) -- Former Air Force scientist Dr. Anthony O. Mirarchi says flying saucers may have been missiles launched by a foreign power to carry out photographic missions over the nation's atom testing grounds.

"The missiles sighted," he said in an interview, "may have been on test runs to see how far they would go. However, the fact that the greatest number have been sighted over New Mexico leads me toward the conclusion they were on reconnaissance to carry out photographic missions."

It was recalled that shortly after the government announced plans to build the new hydrogen-bomb plant in South Carolina, residents reported seeing "flying saucers" in that area.

Dr. Marachi [sic], who was chief of the Air Force's atmospheric composition bureau of the geophysical division in 1950, said he reached his conclusion after investigating more than 300 reports of flying saucers.

He said his theory was substantiated by his experience in New Mexico when he set up phototheodolites -- a special camera to record bearings -- and nothing happened in three months.

"The logical conclusion was that the word had been passed back through a spy system," he said. "The missiles were stopped as long as we were on the spot. At one time we gave some weight to the theory the missiles were built by this nation, and that our agency was simply established to test the security of the saucer project."

Dr. Mirarchi's theory conflicts with that of Dr. Urner Liddell [sic throughout, should be Liddel], a Navy scientist. Dr. Liddell said that flying saucers were plastic balloons sent into the upper atmosphere for radiation research.

Dr. Mirarchi said he quit his job with the Air Force partly because he was unable to get radar equipment to track the saucers. He said he didn't know whether some agency had purposely withheld the equipment or that it simply was a case of governmental enertia [sic].

In his report to the Air Force, he said, he had suggested a considerable appropriation for "photographic, radar and spotter tracking points to study the mysterious phenomena."

But when all was said and done, 1951 would prove a relatively quiet year for actual flying-saucer sightings -- at least as reported in the major press -- prompting Popular Science magazine to ask, in its August, 1951, issue, "What Were The Flying Saucers?"...

PopSci page
PopSci page
PopSci page

Above, top: Opening pages of article. Second and third: Enlargements of the headline illustrations.

What Were The Flying Saucers?
Eyewitnesses Believe They Saw Secret Aircraft

Polled in a PS survey, the people who actually saw the "saucers" declare overwhelmingly for man-made aircraft.

PopSci page
THE experts can say what they like, but a lot of people who saw "flying saucers" have made up their minds for themselves. And they don't think they saw balloons. Most believe they got a quick look at some secret, radically different airplane.

The eyewitnesses were asked this summer in an unofficial survey conducted by POPULAR SCIENCE editors to choose which of the four explanations illustrated above seemed most plausible to them.

52% believe they saw "man-made aircraft."

16% believe they saw "something commonplace."

4% believe they saw a "visitor from afar."

28% are still uncertain, but more than half of them think they saw either man-made aircraft or visitors from afar.

None thought that he'd seen a balloon -- not even as a second choice.

The four theories were described in the questionnaire as shown under the photographs above. The choices were made broad enough to cover the theories put forward by all the experts who have explained the saucers to their own satisfaction. To find out whether these explanations were accepted by the only people who have actually seen so-called saucers, the editors wrote to all the eye-witnesses whose addresses could be obtained. About 25 percent responded.

Among them were airline pilots, professional men, scientists, businessmen and members of the armed forces. No one reading their replies cou1d fail to be impressed by their sincerity.

Typical of the arguments put forward against the balloon theory was the letter of Coastguardsman Frank L. Ryman, Jr., now stationed in Saint Louis. After explaining how he fixed the altitude of the "saucer" by obtaining, from a nearby Naval air station, the height of two layers of clouds between which it passed, Ryman went on:

"The winds at this altitude were very moderate and from the northwest, directly across the course of the object, precluding any possibility of its being a balloon."

Do Birds Have Optical Illusions?

Policeman Kenneth A. McDowell, of Portland, Ore., declared that the things he saw. "were not round, they traveled at too great a speed, and were more maneuverable than a balloon could be."

As for optical illusion, McDowell pointed out that his attention was first drawn to the objects by pigpens in a park, who stopped eating and looked up. "Would birds be subject to optical illusions?" he asked.

On the other hand, a Canadian reported his opinion that it was "an ordinary aeroplane at a distance flying toward a setting sun in our case."

But J.U. Watts, Jr., a Darlington, S.C., lawyer, wrote:

"They are real and man-made. I remember the details as vividly as if they had passed over yesterday ... One thing is certain, the reports of flying saucers were not mass hysteria or optical illusions. Incidentally, the ones observed by me were not round but oval in shape and moving much as a flying wing might do."

Some witnesses were tantalizing, like the Air Force sergeant who reported watching a saucer with high-powered binoculars from an airport control tower, then added that he couldn't reveal what he saw because it was classified. Others opened new vistas, like a veteran pilot, Captain Willis Sperry, of American Airlines, who wrote:

"I have talked to just as many pilots who have seen strange occurrences while flying and have not reported it, as have reported the incident. The ones who did not report it feared adverse publicity ... I flew on the Tokyo airlift last fall and several P.A.A. pilots have seen unexplained objects far from land -- one near Australia, several between the mainland of California and Hawaii, and two that I talked to out there said they saw an object close enough so they could describe it in some detail ..."

Rules Out Unearthly Visitors

One of the most convincing accounts came from a professor of meteorology. After observing that most reports were probably of commonplace objects, he added: "There remain a few observations by reliable individuals which are not so easily disposed of. I believe my own observation falls into this category ... the most probable explanation is that they are some sort of guided missile being developed by our armed forces. It seems ... incredible that they could have come from another planet, especially in view of our knowledge of physical conditions on the other planets."

He ought to know. He's a specialist on the atmospheres of the planets.

Perhaps the last word should go to a North Dakota doctor. "I am afraid you will have to put me down in another column marked 'just dumfounded.' Sometimes I wish I had not seen the fool things at all."

go to comments on this entry


1. In Sir Harold Spencer Jones' review of Gerald Heard's book, he states that the American possession of the atomic bomb is "presumably why they have devoted their attention almost entirely to the United States." But in fact more than a year prior to both Heard's book and Jones' review President Truman announced that the Soviets had exploded their own atomic weapon.

2. In Sir Harold Spencer Jones' review he states that, "We know enough about Mars and the conditions that prevail there to be confident that no animal life can exist on it." That careful wording glossed over the belief held at the time by at least some prominent scientists that Mars was home to vegetable life. Even two years later noted astronomers such as Dr. Otto Struve and Dr. Gerard P. Kuiper were allowing for the possibility of a "low form of lichen-like plant life" on Mars. And in a lengthy article in the October, 1943, issue of Popular Science, just seven years before, Dr. Donald Menzel wrote in an article entitled "New Light On The Mystery of Mars: Does Life Exist On Our Neighboring Planet" that...

At present the only vegetation existing on Mars is to be found in the low river valleys and in the ancient ocean beds. Water is now a scarce commodity on Mars, and the last traces of it appear only in the lowlands and at the polar caps. The remaining portion of Mars is arid. Although at one time it may have been fertile country, those areas have now reverted to desert, like the Painted Desert of Arizona. The predominant orange-pink color of Mars is due to sand-sand filled with iron rust. The small amount of vegetation still remaining on Mars is in no wise sufficient to replenish the oxygen, which has disappeared from the original atmosphere and has gone into combination with the iron of the planet as the result of oxidation.

3. As mentioned in the above post, Considine's article in Cosmopolitan was a revision of his four-part International News Service (INS) syndicated story in late 1950. Conventional wisdom has it that it was the Cosmopolitan article which afterward cowed witnesses from coming forward, but in fact the original INS series may have had an equal or greater impact (Cosmopolitan was primarily a "women's magazine"). And in fact many newspapers reported on Considine's "hoax" story, giving it still wider coverage. It is interesting to note that INS, Cosmopolitan and at least some of the newspapers involved were all owned and controlled by the Hearst publishing empire.

4. Considine's assertion that the Air Force investigation had "cost millions of dollars" was not only a wild exaggeration, but represented an exponential increase over his previous claim in his four-part newspaper series just three months earlier, which had pegged it at a cost of "hundreds of thousands" -- in itself, a gross overestimation.

5. Further notes on the vagaries of Considine's article may be read in Part Eight of this series, available through the Past Weeks portal of this site.

6. The misspellings and alternative spellings found in the United Press article on Dr. Mirarchi were contained in the original newswire story sent nationwide.

7. The Look magazine article makes the startling claim that, "Dr. Liddel and his associates arrived at their findings on these baffling stories by studying about 2,000 reports of flying-saucer observations of every kind and description." That number far exceeds the number of reports claimed by the Air Force in their investigations up to that time, indicating that -- if true -- a separate reporting channel would have had to exist within the Office of Naval Research. But the claim itself is dubious, in that the personnel and resources to study "about 2,000 reports of flying-saucer observations of every kind and description" would far outstrip those devoted to the Air Force investigation, and would almost certainly have come to the attention of the press prior to Liddel's announcement. Further the sheer number of reports allegedly studied appears to contradict on its face Liddel's claim of all sighting reports being attributable to Skyhook flights (the magazine says there have been 270 flights in total).

8. Liddel's claims concerning the death of Capt. Mantell was apparently never shared with the Air Force officially, and the wording Liddel used is curious: "Our studies show that Captain Mantell and the other pilots were pursuing a balloon of the Skyhook type." The death of Captain Mantell will be reported in detail in a future post.

9. Dr. Mirarchi was in fact the scientist in charge at one time of the Air Force's Project Twinkle, an ambitious plan to photograph the "green fireball" phenomenon.

10. Captain Ed Ruppelt, former head of the Air Force's Project Blue Book, in his 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects had this to say about Liddel's claim (though without naming Liddel specifically)...

The Aeronautical Division of General Mills, Inc., of Wheaties and Betty Crocker fame, had launched and tracked every skyhook balloon that had been launched prior to mid-1952. They knew what their balloons looked like under all lighting conditions and they also knew meteorology, aerodynamics, astronomy, and they knew UFO's. I talked to these people for the better part of a full day, and every time I tried to infer that there might be some natural explanation for the UFO's I just about found myself in a fresh snowdrift.

What made these people so sure that UFO's existed? In the first place, they had seen many of them. One man told me that one tracking crew had seen so many that the sight of a UFO no longer even especially interested them. And the things that they saw couldn't be explained.

For example: On January 16, 1951, two people from General Mills and four people from Artesia, New Mexico, were watching a skyhook balloon from the Artesia airport. They had been watching the balloon off and on for about an hour when one of the group saw two tiny specks on the horizon, off to the northwest. He pointed them out to the others because two airplanes were expected into the airport, and he thought that these might be the airplanes. But as they watched, the two specks began to move in fast, and within a few seconds the observers could see that "the airplanes" were actually two round, dull white objects flying in close formation. The two objects continued to come in and headed straight toward the balloon. When they reached the balloon they circled it once and flew off to the northwest, where they disappeared over the horizon. As the two UFO's circled the balloon, they tipped on edge and the observers saw that they were disk-shaped.

When the two UFO's were near the balloon, the observers also had a chance to compare the size of the UFO's with the size of the balloon. If the UFO's were as close to the balloon as they appeared to be they would have been 60 feet in diameter.

After my visit to General Mills, Inc., I couldn't help remembering a magazine article I'd read about a year before. It said that there was not a single reliable UFO report that couldn't be attributed to a skyhook balloon.

In a later chapter Ruppelt reiterated...

And there were other widely publicized theories. One man said that they were all skyhook balloons, but we knew the flight path of every skyhook balloon and they were seldom reported as UFO's. Their little brothers, the weather balloons, caused us a great deal more trouble.

11. A June, 2004, post at the Skeptical Inquirer website entitled The Cold War's Classified Skyhook Program: A Participantís Revelations alleges much the same as Liddel, but over a period of decades.


The Arrival

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The Day The Earth Stood Still

Invasion of The Body Snatchers, 1956

It Came from Outer Space, 1953

Queen of Outer Space, 1958

2001: A Space Odyssey


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