Friday, September 14, 2018

The Ohio UFO from Project Michigan

(Approximate, the flight actually crossed Lake Erie.)

Secrecy, UFOs and Secret Military Projects

On June 22, 1955 a UFO flew over a major metropolitan city and was witnessed by thousands, reported by many as a flying saucer. The object posed a danger to air traffic, and Air Force planes were scrambled to intercept it. In truth, it was a military experiment that got out of control.


The next day, United Press news service carried a short illustrated story:
A big plastic balloon flowed across Cleveland and Eastern Ohio Wednesday and set off a wave of flying saucer reports from citizens. Two men are in it. The University of Michigan later reported that the balloon was a science project. It carried a crew of two men and was equipped with a radio transmitter, A helicopter caught this picture of the balloon over Middleburgh Heights, Ohio.
(A much clearer copy of the press photo can be found at HistoricImages. ) 
The Daily World, June 23, 1955
The UFO was a bust, an IFO or Identified Flying Object, but there was an air of mystery about the scientific experiment behind it. United Press also released a more detailed story that was carried in papers across the USA under various titles such as: 
Balloon From Mars
‘Flying Disc' Explained
Balloon Starts Saucer Reports
'Men from Mars' Worry Ohioans
‘Saucer' Is Just Balloon
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (U.P) — A mysterious balloon that startled and frightened northern Ohio residents and caused a rash of reports about "flying saucers' and "spacemen" was en route today to its home base, the Willow Run research center near Detroit. The strange craft, carrying two men and scientific instruments, was identified by Michigan University officials as part of “a highly secret research program on battlefield surveillance."
The plastic, pear-shaped balloon was sighted first by a Ground Observer Corps member yesterday as it drifted over Cleveland. Later, Air Force officials here reported the craft landed near Hartford, O, in the afternoon. But not before frightened householders swamped newspapers and radio stations with calls about "flying saucers" and "men from Mars.
Air Force planes from Youngstown were dispatched to intercept the craft. The two passengers paid little attention to the planes and were just as noncommittal when the balloon landed near Hartford. They placed the deflated balloon and instruments into a station wagon that had been following the balloon's progress and headed for Detroit and the research center.
There's no Project Blue Book file on the incident, but further details on the landing and recovery were published in The Michigan Alumnus, July 9, 1955:


Project Michigan

The "flying saucer" incident threatened the secrecy of Project Michigan, but the associated goofiness of it also helped it get laughed off and forgotten. Fortunately for them, there were many secret military balloon projects that that had been mistaken for UFOs, and they were only worth one day of news. Project Michigan was one of many Cold War military enterprises in the arms race against the Soviets for technological superiority.

While the exact nature of the balloon experiment is unknown, we now know a lot about the army project it was being conducted for. The Army Research and Development Newsmagazine, July 1964 described the program:
“Project Michigan, which is conducted for the Army by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is a continuing research program devoted to combat surveillance.” What they don't emphasize is this was aerial surveillance, radar development and also combat targeting apparatus.


Here's a photo of some of the US Army's players at the university from the Ann Arbor News, July 9, 1957:
MILITARY BRASS ASSEMBLES HERE: Attending sessions concerning the University's secret military research program, Project Michigan, are a number of top military leaders. From left to right are Dr. M. M. Flood, associate director of the University's Engineering Research Institute; Maj. Ben J. D. O'Connell, chief signal officer for the U. S. Army; Brig. Gen. F. W. Gibb, commanding general of CDEC (Combat Development Experimentation Center); Brig Gen. William H. Thames, commanding general of the U. S. Army Combat Surveillance Agency; Col. G. M. Wertz, deputy to the commanding general of the Surveillance Agency; and Dr. R. G. Folsom, director of the U-M Institute.

The report on Project Michigan made to the board of the University of Michigan,
The President's Report for 1957 - 1958, provides more details on the scope of its investigations under contract with the Army Signals Corps. 

Army Lineage Series: Military Intelligence by John Patrick Finnegan Lineages, Center of Military History United States Army Washington, D. C., 1998, provides a look at the overall project, and what was accomplished:

In 1953 the Army became involved in Project MICHIGAN, a research and development effort in which civilian scientific personnel explored the possibilities of using various types of manned aircraft, drones, balloons, and missiles carrying television and other sensors to allow surveillance and target location up to 200 miles behind enemy lines. The new technologies under development would have profound consequences for the structure of Army Intelligence in the years that followed.

UFOs and Mixed Messages from the Military 

The public has often been assured that the military does not fly UFO-like craft, it's just that people often mistake aircraft or balloons for flying saucers. If not for the photograph and documentation of the balloon in flight, the sightings this incident generated might have spawned a classic UFO legend. Military secrecy leaves an information void, and inevitably fuels rumors and speculation.


The public has also often been assured that the military does not conduct experimental test flights over populated areas. The Project Michigan "flying saucer" incident is just one of many examples that proves that it happens.

. . .

Bonus:

Another balloon item from June 1955:

"Flying Saucers? Who looks at them when I'm aloft?"
Maidenform bra ad, June 26, 1955 from Parade magazine.

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