There is no doubt that many balloons of all sorts contributed to reports of flying saucers. General Mills was launching scientific experiments since 1947, but weather balloons had been aloft in the skies since the 1890s. There were also balloons being flown by the US government of of a more secret sort. Before spy planes and satellites took over the job, balloons were used by military intelligence to collect data on our enemies, and even as a means to distribute propaganda leaflets.
Some of these balloon flights, covert or otherwise were reported by witnesses as unidentified flying objects.
The Times News (Idaho) ran a story on April 20, 1950:
Wyoming Ranch Hand Discovers- "Saucer" Unreal
Other papers used headlines for the same story such as: "Western Flying Disc Turns Out To Be A Balloon" and "Cowpuncher Finds 'Flying Saucer' Just Navy Balloon"
DOUGLAS. Wyo.. April 30 (UP)— A Wyoming cowpuncher thought he had latched onto a real flying saucer but learned the object was merely a balloon for measuring cosmic rays. Ranch Hand Everett Fletcher sighted the object In the sky 32 miles north of here and followed it to the ground. "It scared me," he said. "I thought it was an honest-Injun saucer.” Stamped on a nameplate was 'This scientific apparatus is the joint property of the US. Navy and the University of Minnesota.” A telephone call to Minneapolis identified the ball as a navy instrument apparently used for measuring cosmic rays."Don't open it," a navy officer warned. "Don't fool with the thing. Ship it here Immediately." The air force and other defense agencies have said repeatedly their investigations have found no evidence on the existence of so-called “flying saucers.”
Saucer Scares: 1954
Holland Evening Sentinel, May 26, 1954
|Jefferson City, MO Daily Capital News June 2, 1954|
|Mckinney Daily Courier Gazette June 3, 1954|
The Army's Flying Saucers
BALLOON OR FLYING SAUCER? — Many reports of flying saucers across the country have actually been these Army weather balloons, shown in closeup here with Pvt. Robert F. Kennedy (left) and Lt. John Schwartz. The two weathermen are inflating; the white six-foot rubber balloon which may go as high as 20 miles above the earth.
READY TO FLY — All the recording data goes up into the stratosphere in the little radio boxheld here by Pvt. John Schwartz (right). Pvt. Robert F. Kennedy and Sgt. Gerald Levy prepare to launch the balloon. (Meteorology photos: all U.S. Army photos by Pfc. Paul Caponigro).
Note: No, this was a different Robert F. Kennedy, not the politician, but the Army photographer Paul Caponigro became famous, when he turned to other subjects after leaving the service, and has made a success of it. https://pointlight.com.au/artists/paul-caponigro
THAR SHE BLOWS — Taking off on its 20-mile-high flight, the rubber weather balloon, filled with hydrogen, is released in the Research and Development area at Yuma Test Station. A radio transmitter hanging from the balloon keeps the ground crew informed of its whereabouts at all times.
Reports of Strange Craft from Outer Space
Lowell Massachusetts had a population of 95,000 in 1954, and about 275 of their citizens made phone calls to the newspaper one August night to report an unidentified flying object.
|Lowell, MA Lowell Sun, Aug 19, 1954|
|Bakersfield Californian Oct. 5, 1954|
|Cedar Rapids Gazette Oct. 17, 1954|
As aerospace technology advanced, the dependence on balloons for scientific experiments diminished. Likewise, satellites and planes eventually eliminated the need for so many spy balloons.
What happened to those who had so dutifully worked to construct these magnificent balloons? Some must have been assigned to other duties, but undoubtedly some were out of a job.
. . .
For further reading on balloons as UFOs, and the associated controversy, see:
Exotic Balloons and the UFO Phenomenon – An Intertwined Puzzle by Joel Carpenter.