Blue Book: The U.S. Air Force Verses the Flying Saucers
scene of alien craft attacking Washington D.C. from the
film Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers promoted the "aura
of mystery" about UFOs that the Air Force very much
wanted to get rid of.
After investigating over 12,600 incidents, the
military's 22 year-long effort to crack the mystery of UFOs ended
with anger, suspicion and claims of a cover up.
On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a businessman
and pilot, reported observing 9 flat disc-like aircraft flying
at high speed near Mt. Rainer, Washington. Arnold's report of
these objects, which the press would dub "flying saucers," and
his clear identification of them as some kind of aircraft, seemed
to open the floodgate to similar reports. Over the next few months
and years thousands of other observations of strange things in
the sky would be reported from across the United States. This
created a dilemma for the U.S. Air Force: As the agency charged
with the security of the nation's air space, what would they do
about these sightings of unknown aircraft that seemed to brazenly
cruise above American soil? This was the beginning of the cold
war: Were these strange craft invaders from the Soviet Union,
or somewhere else?
The Air Force's initial response to this phenomenon
was the creation of Project Sign. Project Sign and the investigations
that would follow it (including project Blue Book) would be the
twenty-two year-long effort by the Air Force to deal with the
UFO problem. An effort, which many claimed was designed not to
discover the truth, but cover it up.
Project Sign lasted for just over a year working
out of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
According to U.S Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt (who would
later be a director of project Blue Book and author of the book
The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects) Sign was a very
serious attempt to resolve the UFO problem:
ATIC's intelligence specialists were confident
that within a few months or a year they would have the answer
to the question, "What are UFO's?" The question, "Do UFO's exist?"
was never mentioned. The only problem that confronted the people
at ATIC was, "Were the UFO's of Russian or interplanetary origin?"
Either case called for a serious, secrecy-shrouded project.
Ruppelt (left) with Maj.Gen.John A.Samford at a UFO conference
Sign's official results were inconclusive with the
final report stating that the existence of "flying saucers" could
neither be confirmed nor denied. According to Ruppelt, internally
the group had become split between those who favored the idea
that "flying saucers" were extra-terrestrial in origin and those
that believed they were not.
In 1948 the project authored a document known as
The Estimate of the Situation which was sent up the Air
Force command chain. According to Ruppelt, most of the personel
at Sign had been impressed by what has become known as the Chiles-Whitted
UFO Encounter that occurred on July 24, 1948. In this incident,
two pilots flying a Douglas DC-3 reported that they had nearly
collided with a strange torpedo shaped flying object. Many of
Sign's investigators became convinced of the truth of the report.
They concluded that based on the level of the technology that
must have been involved the object could neither be of U.S. or
U.S.S.R origin and therefore must have been extra-terrestrial.
The Estimate document reflected this belief.
Ruppelt wrote that Air Force brass rejected the
Estimate for lack of physical evidence and had all copies
destroyed. In fact, an Air Force spokesman denied the Estimate
ever existed and all attempts to use the Freedom of Iinformation
Act to get a hold of it have failed. Several other sources, however,
including Dr. Allen Hynek, who was a scientific consultant to
Sign and Blue Book, have confirmed its existence.
Sign was replaced by Project Grudge. The project's
name reflected the Air Force's new antagonistic attitude toward
handling UFO reports. According to Ruppelt, the project was the
"Dark Ages" of USAF UFO investigation with Grudge operating under
a debunking directive that all UFO reports were to be judged to
have natural explanations. Little investigation was conducted,
and many of the "explanations" strained credulity.
Report No: 14 contained a statistical analysis of UFO sightings.
The situation came to a boil in September of 1951
when there was a UFO sighting near Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.
Pilots and radar operators reported observing a number of fast-moving,
highly maneuverable disc-shaped aircraft. Project Grudge personnel
were ordered to investigate and report directly to Major General
Charles P. Cabell, the head of Air Force intelligence at the Pentagon.
During the meeting it became apparent that the Grudge investigators,
in particular Lt. Gerry Cummings, believed that the discs in the
Monmouth incident were "intelligently controlled." However, they
were frustrated by Grudge's mandate to debunk all reports. Cummings
told Cabell that any UFO sighting examined by the project was
taken as a huge joke.
Cabell, who believed the flying saucer problem deserved
serious scrutiny, was furious and under pressure from him Grudge
was dissolved to be replaced by Project Blue Book, so named because
it was considered to be as important as a college exam (which
were traditionally written in standard blue books).
Early in 1952 Grudge was reorganized into Project
Blue Book under the direction of Ruppelt who was a Captain at
the time. Ruppelt, in general, is thought to have been one of
the most open-minded commanders of Blue Book. Also the time during
which the project was running under his command was thought to
have been its most productive.
Ruppelt started by creating the term Unidentified
Flying Object (UFO) to replace more popular but somewhat unscientific
"flying saucer" and "flying disc" terms used in the press. He
also streamlined the reporting process for UFOs and hired Battelle
Memorial Institute to create a standard reporting form that
could be used to gather information about sightings to be placed
in a computerized data base. Rupplet hoped to learn something
about UFO phenomenon by applying statistical methods.
The results of this study (which were detailed in
Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14) were very interesting.
Of the 3200 reports included in the study, 69% were thought to
be misidentifications of known objects. Nine percent were deemed
to have insufficient information to make a conclusion. Within
the "known" catogory only 1.5% were attributed to crackpot
reports and 8% fell into a miscellaneous category that included
probable hoaxes. Twenty-two percent of all reports were listed
as "unknown." Strangely enough, the better the information that
was available about a case, the more likely it was to be placed
in the unknown category. This is exactly the opposite of what
the skeptics had expected.
J. Allen Hynek started out as a UFO skeptic.
J Allen Hynek
Astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who had originally
been hired as a scientific consultant under Sign, continued on
with project Blue Book. Hynek, who was in the Department of Physics
and Astronomy at Ohio State at the time, had started out as a
UFO skeptic. He thought that all reports could be explained either
as hoaxes, cases of mistaken identity or misunderstood natural
causes. He expected that the "fad" would soon pass, thinking that
the "whole subject seems utterly ridiculous."
Hynek later admitted that in the earlier years of
Project Blue Book he saw his role as that of a debunker and sometimes
stretched possible natural explanations far beyond what was reasonable.
His declaration that witnesses at an incident in 1966 had mistaken
"swamp gas" for a flying saucer was met with much ridicule in
the national press.
Despite this, Ruppelt, thought very highly of Hynek.
"Dr. Hynek was one of the most impressive scientists I met while
working on the UFO project, and I met a good many. He didn't do
two things that some of them did: give you the answer before he
knew the question; or immediately begin to expound on his accomplishments
in the field of science."
Hynek similarly respected Ruppelt thinking that
the captain was taking the project in the right direction. When
Rupplet departed the project in 1953, Hynek wrote that after that
Blue Book became not much more than a public relations device,
noting that little or no research was undertaken using the scientific
A rash of UFO reports in 1952 caused the CIA to
convene a panel of scientists under the direction of physicist
Howard Percy Robertson to look into the problem. The panel met
for 12 hours over the course of four days. Ruppelt, Hynek and
others involved in UFO investigation presented their most interesting
cases. Despite some dissenting opinions, the panel's final report
stated that 90 percent of all UFO cases could be explained by
meteorological, astronomical, or natural phenomena and it was
likely that the last 10 percent could also if only enough time
and effort were spent on investigating them. The only threat to
national security posed by UFOs, the panel concluded, was that
the many erroneous reports coming in from the public might overwhelm
the Pentagon's communication channels and cause them to miss some
real threat to the country.
For this reason the panel recommended that the government
start a public relations campaign designed to "debunk" UFOs and
remove the "aura of mystery" from them to reduce public interest.
They also recommended monitoring civilian UFO groups as they thought
that might be used for "subversive" purposes.
Project Blue Book was soon stripped of most of its
resources and a dispirited Ruppelt left. For most of the rest
of its existence under a number of directors, Blue Book acted
only to debunk UFO reports rather than investigate them. For a
brief period between 1958 and 1963 while Major Robert J. Friend
ran the project, there was an effort to reverse this trend and
become more scientific about UFO investigations, but the Major
was frustrated by a limited budget and little cooperation.
End of Project Blue Book
In 1966 the Condon Committee (under the direction
of Dr. Edward U. Condon who was a physicist and one-time head
of the American Association of the Advancement of Science) reviewed
the work of Blue Book and recommended it be shutdown. In the final
report Condon said the effort had added nothing to scientific
knowledge and further study was probably unnecessary. Cordon also
said, "it is safe to assume that no ILE [intelligent life elsewhere]
outside our solar system has any possibility of visiting Earth
in the next 10,000 years." This estimate, given the lack of information
about life and technology outside our solar system, has been widely
By then, however, the civilian consultant hired
by Blue Book, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, had had a change of heart. While
publically continuing to agree with the Air Force line on UFOs,
Hynek had started to have his own doubts after investigating a
number of cases that resisted explanation. The Air Force's habit
of denying all reports without any investigation did not sit well
with his scientific nature. Of the period when the project was
lead by Major Hector Quintanilla he wrote, "Quintanilla's method
was simple: disregard any evidence that was counter to his hypothesis."
He added that under Quintanilla's direction, "the flag of the
utter nonsense school was flying at its highest on the mast."
After the end of the project Hynek decided to continue
the investigations by forming his own agency in 1973 with other
researchers named the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). Of the thousands
of UFO reports investigated by CUFOS, roughly 80 percent of them
can be explained while 20 percent remain a mystery.
UFO sighting report from the Project Sign era.
After Project Blue Book was terminated in 1969,
all of its files were declassified and made available to the public.
Over the course of its operation, Blue Book and its predecessors
had investigated 12, 618 sightings of which 701 remained unidentified.
The records are currently held by the National Archives.
Interestingly enough, however, other UFO-related
documents not held by Project Blue Book have remained classified.
Private UFO groups have sued to have those files opened to the
Unfortunately, Bluebook's attempt to discredit witnesses
and debunk reports has been very effective even after the termination
of the project. There is no way of knowing how many valid reports
of UFOs have been squelched because of witnesses' fears of being
labeled as "crackpots" or liars.
Despite its public stance, it is believed that the
Air Force continues to secretly investigate certain UFO reports
even to this day, if they consider the object to be a threat to
Copyright 1996-2009 Lee
Krystek. All Rights Reserved.
A Partial Bibliography
USAF Fact Sheet 95-03: Unidentified Flying Objects and Air
Force Project Blue Book http://www.cufon.org/cufon/malmstrom/UFO_A.html
Allen Hynek; The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry;
1972; Henry Regenery Company
Blum, Howard, Out There: The Government's Secret Quest for
Extraterrestrials, Simon and Schuster, 1990 Edward J. Ruppelt;
Report On Unidentified Flying Objects; London 1956