Friday, August 24, 2018

Project Blue Book: UFO, the Motion Picture

The story behind the story may seem familiar. A Pentagon employee takes a new assignment with a government agency secretly studying UFOs. He becomes fascinated with the topic and wants to do more, but frustrated by the government’s stance, he resigns. Shortly afterward he works with an entertainment company, helping them expose two previously classified UFO films to the public. That’s the story of Al Chop, who became the focus of the first factual motion picture about UFOs.

Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers was released May 1956, and its purpose was to tell the authentic story of the UFO phenomenon and its investigation by the United States Air Force. Movie producer Clarence Greene became interested in UFOs after his 1952 sighting, persuading his partner, Russell Rouse, to make a film examining the topic. In the press for the film, Greene wrote how they got started in 1954:
“I learned that Albert M. Chop, who had been the Press Information Specialist for the Pentagon, handling all flying saucer news, was on the West Coast. I had several meetings with him. … 
Through Chop and certain newspapermen, a meeting was arranged with Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, USAF Reserve, former director of Project Bluebook. Together, we went into a lengthy and exhaustive study…” 
The movie took form as docu-drama, factually covering flying saucer events and investigation, using the story of Al Chop’s transition from skeptic to believer as a narrative device. Chop and Ruppelt were technical advisors and script consultants, but they did not receive screen credit, only mentions in the press. Both appeared as characters in the movie, Chop played by a non-actor aviation writer Tom Towers, while Ruppelt was played by actor Robert Phillips. 

Screenwriter Francis Martin with Albert M. Chop & Edward J. Ruppelt

What the film did not have was the participation or approval of the Air Force. They thought it was poison. Captain George T. Gregory of Project Blue Book wrote a memo on May 17, 1956 stating the concern that the UFO movie could be incendiary, and called meeting with Dr. J. Allen Hynek and others review the AF explanations for the UFO cases featured in the movie: 
This film may stir up a storm of public controversy similar to that which USAF was subjected to in 1952 with regard to UFOs, as a result of the unwarranted sensationalism generated by so-called “UFO experts”, writers and publishers...
In conferences held with Lt Col Johnson of General Samford’s office, Dr. Hynek, Prime UFO consultant, Scientific Advisor’s office and other pertinent personnel, it was agreed by all that ATIC should review this film before any wide-scale release to the public, for purposes of “countermeasures", that is, the preparation of some official comment to be kept in readiness to queries which will undoubtedly arise.
The 40-page file in Project Blue Book relating to the UFO movie contains a range of documents from news clippings and reviews of the film, to internal AF correspondence and relevant UFO case summaries. Captain Gregory’s position was that the film was deceptive by ignoring the investigations and explanations, and instead was exploiting solved cases as UFO mysteries. In a memorandum to the Scientific Advisor dated May 21, 1956, Capt. Gregory wrote:
In each instance of the portrayal of a case, the film dramatically, and with great suspense, presents the incident and circumstances surrounding the sighting, then abruptly drops the matter… calculated to let the viewer form his own (influenced) conclusions.
The firestorm Captain Gregory expected fizzled, partly due to the low-key approach of the film. UFO was modestly successful commercially, but it didn’t rally the public like he’d feared. The press covered it, but reviews were mixed.

The Cincinnati Enquirer May 27 and 29, 1956

Excitement and expectations in the UFO community were high, particularly in regards to the evidence represented by the declassified UFO footage. The UFO Newsletter #4, May 12, 1956, from the North Jersey U.F.O. Group reported:
Most important things in the film are the two actual COLOR FILMS OF UFOS which were kept "top secret" for some time (UTAH AND MONTANA FILMS) and which, with the official assurance that they are not normal objects, are CONCRETE PROOF FOR THE EXISTENCE OF 'SAUCERS.' ...This film is the break saucerdom has needed; it should do the trick, with proper support by those of us who are more interested in the field.
The general public and some reviewers were less impressed with the disclosure of the films.

The Los Angeles Times May 10, 1956

Conspiracy-minded Frank Scully, author of Behind the Flying Saucers, included a mini-review of UFO in his rambling column, “Scully’s Scrapbook,” in the June 13, 1956 issue of Variety.
Variety June 13, 1956

The flying saucer phenomenon was only seven years old when the film went into production, and the story takes us from Kenneth Arnold’s sighting up to the aftermath of the 1952 Washington, DC radar flap, with its “credible observers of relatively incredible things.” UFO takes an interesting approach to the history of the topic by letting us see it through the eyes of US Air Force press officer, Al Chop as he’s drawn into the flying saucer controversy. It’s a drama based on real events, with sequences featuring actual witnesses Delbert Newhouse and Nicholas Mariana recounting the stories of how they filmed UFOs. It’s not a documentary, classified as a docu-drama, dramatized re-enactments of actual events. 
The Cincinnati Enquirer May 30, 1956

The producers, Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse tried to make the film as genuine as possible, and avoided something that would have excited viewers more, seeing flying saucers in the re-enactments of UFO sightings. The closest thing we get is the scene depicting the 1952 Washington, DC, events, and in it, all we see are blips on a radar screen, not flying saucers. Due to this choice, a lot happens off-screen, including the UFO sighting and plane crash that became the centerpiece in the film’s advertising campaign, the fatal flight of Captain Thomas Mantell.

The Original UFO screenplay

A copy of the screenplay for UFO by Francis Martin was included in the papers of retired Blue Book head, Capt. Ed Ruppelt. It was written in 1954, but included revisions, “final changes,” dated March 7, 1955. It's from that draft the passages below are taken. Ruppelt along with Al Chop and were consulted for the film to make it as authentic as possible.

UFO Producer Clarence Greene with radar consultant Wendell Swanson and Edward J. Ruppelt.

One thing the Air Force should have been thankful for is that Al Chop and Ed Ruppelt omitted any mention of their nemesis, pioneering ufologist, Donald Keyhoe. But perhaps Keyhoe was being referred to in this narration:
The Air Force was forced to take official cognizance of the "flying discs" because of increasing demand from the public for an explanation, and as a result of certain publications persisting in using a sensational approach, in reporting such items.
Also absent is Keyhoe’s key claim, that there was a UFO cover-up conspiracy by the Air Force. The only thing resembling a cover-up is in the scene where Chop hears the truth about what the public had been told about the closing of Project Sign. It's depicted as typical military secrecy: “We switched the code name to Project Grudge and the investigations continued.”

Dr. J. Allen Hynek is another prominent UFO figure that’s not depicted or mentioned by name, but he is referenced in the film. Dr. Hynek's role in Project Blue Book is presented accurately, and it’s in the scene where Ed Ruppelt introduces Al Chop to Project Blue Book and describes the investigation of a multi-witness UFO sighting:
We now checked with our contract astronomer at a leading university... Our astronomer reported that at the time of the observation, the planet Jupiter was fifteen degrees above the horizon and on the range and bearing of the object. There's no doubt about it. What all these people saw was Jupiter.
Dr. Hynek did become involved with the film, but only in the Air Force’s defense against it, reviewing the cases presented, double-checking the debunking of them.

The movie’s story focuses on the credibility of the witnesses and evidence, not on the origin of the UFOs, but there were a few scenes in the original script suggesting the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs. An early scene has Mrs. Chop asking her skeptical husband about his new job and flying saucers:

DEE: “I'm sorry. But do you really think they might be from Mars, or someplace?”
AL: “Look, honey, don’t you get like the rest of those screwballs that I have in my hair all day. Every time some kid flies a kite, fifty different people see space ships. Come on, let's get to bed.”
Another scene is unspoken, a shot of the Life magazine cover (replica) with the title, “There is a Case for Interplanetary Saucers.” 

The real Life magazine, and the movie’s more dignified stand-in. 

There's also a scene with Capt. Ed Ruppelt repeating Lt. George Gorman’s testimony about his aerial “dogfight” with a UFO:
RUPPELT: “Gorman said he was sure there was an intelligence behind the movements of the lights. He stated, too, that no earth-born pilot could have withstood the G-factor inherent in the object's turns and speed without blacking out.”
There are several interesting differences between the script and the finished film, such as how far they push the ideas of UFOs as extraterrestrial. The original screenplay had the Newhouse and Mariana films shown within the story, and the script ends after the press conference with General Samford about the Washington, DC sightings. The ending narration of the screenplay leaves the nature of UFOs ambiguous, for the viewer to decide:
We shall not attempt to sway you in your judgement. You, as separate individuals, will make your own interpretations of the Newhouse and Mariana films of the unknown objects, as well as the rest of the documented evidence presented in this motion picture. But, could we be on the threshold of a new era? Could we be entering wonderful vistas where problems and fears and prejudices fall into nothingness? Could we be entering a great era of enlightenment?
The final film ditches the narration and moves the footage color UFO films to the end as a grand finale. Just before they are shown, we have a final scene of Al Chop wandering around the city at night struggling to digest all he’s experienced. Instead of the narrator’s voice, we hear Chop’s thoughts about UFOs:

I started to walk through the streets of Washington, the words remaining with me, “credible observers of relatively incredible things.” ...the evidence has crystalized, and so now, in my opinion, there was no doubt as to their existence. Now, so far as I was concerned, it was no longer a question of whether or not there were unknown objects flying in our atmosphere. For me, the only questions that remained were:
What were these objects? Where do they come from?
To me the evidence indicated intelligence behind their control, and by now, the belief that their source was interplanetary was no longer incredible.
The movie did have a pro-saucer bias, and never questions that some UFOs must be structured physical craft of unknown (likely otherworldly) origin. But on the whole, Clarence Greene's UFO was an honest attempt at a factual account, understated, steering clear of sensationalism and speculation. Yet, United Artists' advertising campaign for the movie was another story, and that’s perhaps what got Blue Book’s Captain Gregory so agitated.

The Sensational Selling of Unidentified Flying Objects

From the beginning of the industry, motion picture studios provide exhibiting cinemas with press kits with materials to help direct the market and promote of the film, from advertising campaigns to publicity stunts. Pressbooks can contain advertising slicks, suggested ad copy, and often offered additional specialized pictures, posters or three-dimensional displays theatres could buy to promote the film.

The pressbook for Unidentified Flying Objects stressed to exhibitors that the topic was dynamite, and highly marketable:

“Here’s one right down the exploitation alley” - Film Daily

The advertising made it look like a thriller, and emphasized the frightening truth of the film:

The studio's copy for station break televisions advertisements:
Now! See and hear the truth about flying saucers in actual films of unidentified flying objects… kept ”top secret” until now! See it at the Bijou… the motion picture of the century… Bijou Now!
The legitimate selling point of the movie was the inclusion of formerly “top secret” films of flying saucers. The final segment of UFO showcased color footage of the Nick Mariana 1950 film from Great Falls, Montana, and the Delbert Newhouse 1952 film from Tremonton, Utah.
From the UFO Pressbook

The print advertising almost exclusively focused on capitalizing on the death of Captain Thomas J. Mantell, who had perished while pursuing a UFO on Jan. 7, 1948.


The movie posters featured a close-up of the frightened pilot’s face, “- and then he crashed!”

Imagery on the other promotional material, from lobby cards to print advertising, also focused on the morbid angle. Some depicted saucers blasting the plane, while others showing the fatal crash itself.

It's interesting that the hostile saucers in the promotional artwork do not appear in the film itself, but they closely resemble those featured in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, which was released two months later.

Spanish language version from Mexico

The trailer shown as a preview for the movie was likewise exploitative.

YouTube trailer: Unidentified Flying Objects, 1956

Given the message broadcast by advertising and marketing campaign, the Air Force fully expected the movie itself to be “using a sensational approach.” Instead, the UFO mystery was presented by the filmmakers in a pretty realistic manner, as something elusive, and the Air Force comes out looking pretty good in Project Blue Book’s mission to understand the enigma.

In the End
On the whole, Unidentified Flying Objects isn’t a very entertaining movie, but it is an educational and informative one, important in spite of its flaws for the glimpse of history it provides. Despite the worries of the Air Force, UFO wound up giving us the most accurate portrayal of Project Blue Book ever put on screen. The film also gives the audience a taste of what it is like to investigate UFOs, relying on little more than the word of witnesses, blips on radar, and indistinct images on film. It’s fitting that the film leaves us with the protagonist pondering the evidence, but in the end, finds his belief.

. . .


Correcting the UFO Movie Myth-stake about Ivan Tors

Ivan Tors is widely credited as having produced the classic 1956 film, Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers, but that’s not wrong. Tors is best known today for his later adventure and family television shows such as Sea HuntFlipper and Daktari, but at the time, he was busy with his TV series, Science Fiction Theatre, which often featured UFO-related stories. We checked with Robert Barrow who has studied the film since its release, and he stated that he had found no trace of Tors’ involvement with UFO and did not know where that mistake originated.

Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries Motion Pictures And Filmstrips, 1956.

It came from the name, Ivar Productions, the name Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse used to produce UFO, and apparently it was taken from the street where their office was located. Film and Television Daily, 1959 listed their location at "Greene-Rouse Productions. Inc. 1741 Ivar Ave., Hollywood 28, Calif. Hollywood 9-0350." Checking the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries Motion Pictures And Filmstrips for 1955 and 1956 shows that Ivan Tors was producing films outside his television show, but as “Ivan Tors Films.” 

Somewhere down the line, someone confused Ivar Productions with Ivan Tors. It’s true that Ivan Tors was interested in flying saucers, but he did not produce UFO, that was Greene and Rouse.
. . .

For Further Information

Robert Barrow has written extensively on the classic 1956 film, and we highly recommend his site, UFO: The True Story of Flying Saucers:

The Sign Historical Group hosts a page about Albert M. Chop that includes an interesting interview from 1999 looking back on his days with Project Blue Book:

Edward J. Ruppelt's 1956 book, The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects, is an inside look at Project Blue Book, and a perfect companion to the movie UFO. The NICAP site hosts it free online:

For further details on the Captain Thomas J. Mantell crash, see The Mantell Incident by Fran Ridge at the NICAP site:

Project Blue Book had a 40-page file on the UFO movie and the cases it presented:
"Review of Motion Picture 'Unidentified Flying Objects'"

John Cozzoli’s blog, Zombos' Closet presents scans of the complete UFO pressbook:

The UFO Lobby Cards:

Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers can be found on YouTube, but only with the final scenes in black and white:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Calvin Girvin, Author, Alien Abductee and Saucerian Spy

In late 1956, Calvin C. Girvin began speaking about his series of flying saucer experiences. He'd recently been discharged from the Air Force where he'd served as a staff sergeant, and at the age of thirty, he was taking on a second career as a flying saucer lecturer. Girvin's tale was unique. 

While the other Contactees were invited into saucers, Girvin woke from his bed at night to be commanded to come aboard a glowing spaceship. By his account, Girvin can be considered to be one of the first reported alien abductees.

Long Beach Press Telegram, Sept. 13, 1956

Girvin spoke at Giant Rock saucer convention in 1957 in advance of his book’s release, and thereafter had a busy lecturing career both solo at local venues and alongside major Contactee figures at national conferences.  

Thy Kingdom Come - No 5. June, 1957 (PDF link)

In 1958, Girvin's book, The Night Has a Thousand Saucers was published by Daniel Fry's Understanding Publishing Co. One of the stories it told was how late in World War II Girvin had been killed or nearly killed by machine gun fire in the Pacific, but was healed and revived by alien. Girvin recovered these memories years later via automatic writing, and there’s a problem with the story, as he joined the service in November 9, 1945, when the war was already over.

Santa Cruz Sentinel Feb. 22, 1959

According to Girvin's book, the alien re-animator possessed his body, making him a forerunner of the "walk-ins."  After the war, Girvin was in contact aliens Cryxtan and Ashtar from Venus, who told him to join the Air Force so they he could spy for them to find out how much the US military knew about flying saucers - Gorvin did so, and even managed to get stationed in the Pentagon, but in food services, so his access to classified material was limited. The Venusians later commanded Girvin to write a book, and he did so, chronicling his spiritual and physical encounters. Girvin even painted the cover illustration, which depicted his encounter with the same type of flying saucer from Venus that George Adamski had described.

Girvin's book helped secure him more speaking engagements. There are many notices of his engagements, but below is one of the rare reviews of his lectures.

Pasadena Independent, Feb. 19, 1959

1959 seems to be the peak of Girvin's popularity. He was featured alongside two other famous flying saucer figures on a national television program, "People Are Funny. 

Thy Kingdom Come - No 8. March-April 1959 (PDF link)

Later the same year, he announced a second book, "In Search Of The Saucers," but it doesn't seem to have ever been published.  However, he did paint the cover for Howard Menger’s book, From Outer Space to You.

Calvin Girvin was also on hand for the (aborted) launch of Otis T. Carr's flying saucer in Oklahoma City on April 17, 1959. Girvin was interviewed about his book and experiences for the Long John Nebel radio show on WOR. Link to recording:

Gabriel Green, of the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Clubs of America was the most frequent host for Girvin's lectures, and he continued speaking throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s. Perhaps even beyond 1969, but there's little documentation of Girvin's later years. There's evidence his interest in the paranormal remained strong, though. Ingo Swann was a superstar psychic, a key player in the CIA's Project Star Gate Remote Viewing program. The University of West Georgia hosts the Ingo Swann Papers, and it contains correspondence from Calvin Girvin on remote viewing and other topics beyond conventional science:
"5 Jun 1994 typed letter from Calvin Girvin to Ingo Swann discussing his personal experiences with the paranormal and his lifelong interest in many subjects. Enclosed with an article Girvin authored “Magnetic Bra Prevents Breast Cancer” along with several notes about the biomagnetic differences between the north and south poles and their uses in energy medicine. (eight leaves), 1994"
That's the last documented UFO-related contact we could find for Girvin, and the only other information we could find was the date of his death, May 14, 2005, given as the site, Kook Science. That's the end of the story, but we saved the perhaps most interesting part for last, Girvin's early contact with the the legendary wee folk of Hawaii.

Meeting the Metahunes

Months before Calvin C. Girvin became known on the mainland for his flying saucer contact, he was in the Hawaii news for having encounters with their pixie or troll-like Menehunes. Girvin already had some rich experiences under his belt, some psychic in nature, and he had plans to write a book.

Honolulu Star Bulletin July 30, 1956

Calvin Girvin's story is full of incredible experiences, such as healing by aliens and channeling messages. Such things were not taken seriously then by ufology. Times change.

As with so many of the most interesting UFO cases featured here at The Saucers That Time Forgot, Project Blue Book has no files on Girvin's encounters.

Click this link for additional newspaper stories on Calvin C. Girvin.

. . .

Title Trivia

For the title of his book, Girvin borrowed a line from the 1873 poem "Light" by Francis William Bourdillon: 

The Night has a thousand eyes,
And the Day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.
The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Cover-Up, 1955: UFO Shot Down with Advanced Technology

A crash retrieval of a UFO by the US military. Rumors of advanced technology and small bodies in the wreckage - all followed by official denials. This is the story of something so secret, the US military shot down a craft and then ordered soldiers to jump out of planes to protect it.

There may be no aliens in this flying saucer story, but it's a true example of a cover-up by the military, and seeing it exposed may provide insight as to how the US government hides bigger secrets.

Hot Air

In mid-September 1955, there were several stories about flying saucers and how they were really only scientific research balloons launched by the Air Force.

Belleville Telescope, KS, Sept.15, 1955

AP Wirephoto, Sept. 15, 1955

Pacific Stars and Stripes, Sept. 14, 1955

A Crash Retrieval Story

An unintentionally public operation occurred on September 12, 1955 near Fowler, Indiana. Something strange was seen to fall from the skies, and it was captured by the military. The guards said the balloon was shot down by an "electrical impulse gun," and that the mysterious cargo included valuable scientific equipment, and even live animal test subjects.

San Bernardino Sun, Sept. 13, 1955

Greensburg Daily News, IN, Sept. 12 1955

Parts of the story were true. The USA's under Aeromedical Field Laboratory (AMFL) at Holloman AFB was conducting balloon flights of test animals such as mice and guinea pigs. Interestingly, the mice were flying in saucer-shaped capsules.

From "History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics," 1958, 
author: Air Force Missile Development Center:
"Eight flights originated at Sault Sainte Marie with biological specimens ranging from radish seeds to monkeys... Another six Holloman flights in the fall of 1954 and the first part of 1955 set the stage for the last northern series to date... the series of eleven launchings from South Saint Paul and International Falls, Minnesota, which took place 18 July through 20 September 1955. Winzen Research again directed flight operations under contract, although on several occasions uninvited tracking assistance was received from jet fighters of the Air Defense Command which went aloft as a result of balloon inspired flying saucer reports."
This project tested the effects of high altitude flight on mammals in preparation for manned flight into the outer atmosphere. However, the balloon downed in Indiana was not from one of the AMFL experimental flights.

Cover-Up in Fowler

The press attention was unwelcome and the Air Force was as confused in their reaction and replies as they were in flying saucer matters. A true denial of animal experimentation:

San Bernardino Sun, Sept. 13, 1955

A true denial of the use of advanced technology, "electrical impulse gun," appeared in the September 13, 1955, The Kokomo Tribune from Indiana:

WAYWARD BALLOON -- M/Sgt. LeRoy Estes holds the main section of the Air Force weather balloon which floated to earth near Logansport Sunday. The balloon was sent up at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colo, last week and was brought to earth three days after schedule. (Tribune Photo) 
High-Flying Balloon Falls In Field Near Logansport
The main carriage of the mysterious "Fowler Balloon" floated to earth about four miles southeast of Logansport, creating a near-riot as sightseers rushed to get a glimpse of it. The Air Force revealed late Monday. The balloon, a weather research device, carrying more than $1 million of scientific equipment was released last Tuesday by the 1110th Air Support Group at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colo., according to M/Sgt. LeRoy Estes, public information officer at Bunker Hill Air Force Base. M/Sgt. Estes said the balloon had been sent aloft to gather data on weather conditions. It was to have been brought down Thursday,  but remained out of range of its electronic controls, the Air Force announced.
Part of the balloon came down near Fowler Sunday after two case filled with C-ll9s had tracked it to the area. The main section, however, remained aloft for an additional 52 miles finally, falling to earth at the site near Logansport.' It landed only a short distance from the spot where an Air Force jet trainer crashed several weeks ago. 
Early accounts of the balloon said the object had been downed by "electrical impulse guns" from the plane. M/Sgt. Estes said, however, that radio controls from the ground and from the planes brought the balloon down. He said the "Gun story" was "Buck Rogers stuff."
The balloon was spotted Sunday afternoon about 700 feet over downtown Logansport by State Trooper John Leavitt. Leavitt followed it to the area where it landed. He said there were a couple thousand spectators already at the scene when he arrived. The device itself is a large plastic balloon, over two stories high. Attached to it was a nylon parachute which opened when radio controls dropped sand ballast from two boxes on either end of a bar suspended from the balloon. Hanging from the bar was a case filled with various weather recording devices. Both the parachute and the balloon were torn in numerous places as souvenir hunters closed in on the field in which it lay. Announcement of the balloon's landing was delayed until Monday pending clearance from Air Force officials in Washington.
There was a military secret on the verge of being exposed. In The Moby Dick Project: Reconnaissance Balloons Over Russia, (1991) Curtis Peebles described the events following the parachute recovery. 
Two trucks from Chanute AFB showed up to haul away the packages. The comments sparked newspaper reports and inquiries. Winzen Research, a balloon manufacturer, suggested "electrical impulse guns" were radio control devices. Officials at Lowry denied animals were carried on the balloon flights and Chanute AFB said the balloon project was classified "and we can't talk about it." Such attention was dangerous, as it generated speculation and further leaks. To spike the rumors, the Air Force invited the press to watch the launch of a WS-119L balloon from Lowry AFB on September 14. They saw the 176-foot-tall balloon being inflated, then launched...  By being forthright about the balloons, the Air Force was able to conceal the true purpose of the program. To prevent any more "speaking out of turn," a commander's call was held to discuss "certain newspaper articles."

The press coverage of the decoy performance balloon launch at Lowry AFB:

Bennington Evening Banner VT, Sept. 16, 1955

The Real Secrets

The balloon recovered in Fowler Indiana was part of the development of the US Air Force's balloon program to study the upper atmosphere was called Moby Dick.
Department of Defense Statement on Meteorological Balloons, January 8, 1956 AIR FORCE METEOROLOGICAL SURVEY EXPANDED IN NORTHERN HEMISPHERE An Air Force meteorological survey, commonly known as "Moby Dick" here in the United States, is being expanded to include other areas in the Northern Hemisphere. This research program has been in progress for the past two years to obtain meteorological research data above 30,000 feet. 
However, this was just a smokescreen for a CIA-military intelligence program. B.D. Gildenberg explained in The Cold War’s Classified Skyhook Program: A Participant’s Revelations:
"Project Moby Dick’s stated purpose was to study stratosphere wind trajectories, as defined via three-day Skyhook flights... Moby Dick was in fact a cover-up for top-secret project WS-119L. Beside the alphanumeric title, secret projects have secret names that vary for different phases. This program was called Project Gopher at our Alamogordo AFB launch site. It later accumulated titles including Grayback, Moby Dick Hi, Genetrix, and Grandson. Even the WS prefix was a cover-up, since it was not a weapon system. The actual project goal was balloon reconnaissance of the Soviet Union."
At left is a schematic drawing of the 1956 operational version of the USAF/General Mills WS-119L GOPHER/GENETRIX reconnaissance balloon payload. Right, close-up of the base of the 1.5 meter tall, 220 kg camera package. From Joel Carpenter's UFX article on Project GOPHER.
The camera package was in the gondola, and when the balloon reached a secure recovery area, the reconnaissance payload released by radio command to drop by parachute for retrieval. The airman's description of the radio-activated release spawned the "electrical impulse guns" rumor.

The domestic testing for Genetrix showed the technology worked, but the launches over Soviet territory were far less successful. The Soviets detected the ballon overflights, and the majority of the flights were shot down, malfunctioned or the cameras couldn't be recovered. The job of aerial reconnaissance was handed over to spy planes and satellites, but the spy balloon program remained classified until the 1980s. Like its successors, the balloon program was hidden in plain sight. Its existence was widely known, only its true purpose and operational details remained secret.

. . .

Further Reading and Additional Sources

The Moby Dick Project: Reconnaissance Balloons Over Russia (1991) by Curtis Peebles. 

"Observation Balloons and Weather Satellites," Donald E. Welzenbach
For more on the Aeromedical Field Laboratory (AMFL) projects, see "History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics," 1958, author: Air Force Missile Development Center.

There's some interesting reading in the AMFL report. From Part V, a discussion of the "Daisy Track," a rail track system used to approximate rocket acceleration.
"... in November 1957 the laboratory held the last, the most elaborate, and certainly the most interesting of all its yearly meetings with outside representatives on automotive crash problems. Entitled Third Annual Automotive Crash and Field Demonstration Conference, it brought over a hundred persons to Holloman for a three-day session and featured... the first use of one of the laboratory's recently acquired bears as a test subject, on a twenty-g Daisy Track deceleration run.")

Frank Edwards: Making UFOs Newsworthy

Dr. J. Allen Hynek on UFO literature (in  The Edge of Reality , 1975): “If I were to recommend anything in the popular category, I would cho...