Friday, September 27, 2019

UFO Witness and Author: DeWitt S. Copp

From 1954 to 1960, there were three UFO teleplays by the same author, Dewitt Copp, a flying saucer witness himself, a pilot and author with an interesting career path. The bio of DeWitt S. Copp, 1916-1999 from his book, Frank M. Andrews: Marshall’s Airman, 2003:

"The name DeWitt Copp is known within the Air Force community primarily as the author of the widely acclaimed two volume series on the development of air power before and during World War II, A Few Great Captains and Forged in Fire, first published in the early 1980s by the Air Force Historical Foundation. Earlier, Mr. Copp, known as “Pete” to his friends, had served as a pilot in the Army Air Forces during World War II and afterwards wrote a number of books and films on military and civilian aviation. A onetime history teacher and global newsman, he worked in Europe and the Far East as a correspondent for the Washington weekly Human Events, and for the North American Newspaper Alliance. His novels Radius of Action and The Far Side won wide acclaim here and abroad, and his drama, The Long Flight, was featured on NBC television. He also served for several years as a member of the former Air Force Historical Advisory Committee. He lived in Manchester Center, Vermont, with his wife Susan, until his death in 1999."

Some additional information from Psychological Operations Principles and Case Studies, edited by Editor Frank L. Goldstein, Col, USAF, 1996, where Copp contributed the chapter, “Soviet Active Measures.”

“Copp has served on the staff of "Voice of America" as a writer-editor and with the United States Information Agency as policy officer on Soviet disinformation.”

Copp’s obituary in the New York Times provided many additional details of interest:

"Mr. Copp wrote more than 30 books, fiction and nonfiction, and many articles about the cold war and espionage, as well as another passion, aviation. A flight instructor and pilot, he served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Later as the international marketing director of the Weather Engineering Corporation, he helped develop equipment that created artificial rain by using airplanes that dropped silver-iodide crystals into clouds."

After discussing some of his non-fiction works, there’s a casual mention of some of his other jobs:

"Mr. Copp also taught history and civics at St. Luke's School in Wilton, Conn., and worked for the Central Intelligence Agency."

Exactly when the CIA work began they did not say. In the early 1950s, Copp was having a good run selling teleplays to the networks. He also did volunteer work with the Ground Observer Corps. Due to the Soviet menace, once again civilians were asked to watch the skies:

Ground Observer Corps was reformed during the Cold War as an arm of the United States Air Force Civil Defense network which provided aircraft tracking with over 200,000 civilian volunteers... established in early 1950... By 1952 the program was expanded in Operation Skywatch with over 750,000 volunteers... The program ended in 1958 with the advent of the automated 1959 USAF radar network...

(From the description of the Civil Defense Ground Observer Corps film, “The Sky is Your Target,” by PeriscopeFilm.)
Illustrations from LIFE magazine, Feb 8, 1943.
New Canaan, Connecticut, is a residential suburb just forty miles from downtown Manhattan, and it housed a Ground Observer Corps tower, with a glass enclosed platform from which volunteers could operate. On Dec. 30, 1955, DeWitt Copp was on watch there when he spotted something spectacular:

 The Kokomo Tribune, June 20, 1956
“TV-Radio Highlights” by Margaret Burhman


Perhaps by chance, Copp had written an episode of a television crime show featuring a flying saucer that was broadcast the year before. It was a fictional story, with a premise similar to his own sighting, a volunteer skywatcher who’d seen a flying saucer.

“Man Against Crime” (later syndicated as “Follow That Man”) was a half-hour crime drama featuring the adventures of hard-boiled detective, Mike Barnett. Copp’s episode aired in early 1954, and was titled, “U.F.O.”

The Honolulu Advertiser March 14, 1954

'Man Against Crime’ Concerns Flying Saucer
Mike Barnett, played by Ralph Bellamy, becomes involved with a flying saucer and other unidentified flying objects during “U.F.O.” episode on the NBC-TV “Man Against Crime” series tonight on KONA Channel 11. at 9:30.A high school professor reports a flying saucer during his turn as an airplane spotter, but is ridiculed by the townsfolk. Barnett is asked to investigate.The search starts with the finding of mysterious footprints and a dead man. Barnett solves the death in a surprising finish, but still wonders about flying saucers.
The episode itself is rare, but the best later description of it seems to be from The Early Shows: by Richard Irvin, 2018: “Mike Barnett and journalist Ed Butler investigate a reported sighting of an unidentified flying object. They find that two men — Phil Rice (Phil Lipson) and Tom Gorman (Jim Boles) were attempting to prank a professor into thinking he witnessed a UFO.”

The Kinross Incident

DeWitt Copp had his own UFO sighting in Dec. of 1955, but the same month an important book was released. In it, Donald E. Keyhoe introduced the Kinross incident as a UFO case in The Flying Saucer Conspiracy:

"It was the evening of November 23, (1953) and wintry darkness had settled over Michigan. At an isolated radar station Air Defense operators were watching their scope in a routine guard against possible enemy attack. Suddenly the "blip" of an unknown machine appeared on the glass screen... In less than two minutes an F-89 from Kimross (sic) Field was streaking toward the locks. At the jet's controls was Lieutenant Felix Moncla, Jr., a veteran at 26. Behind him was Lieutenant R. R. Wilson, 22-year-old Oklahoman, acting as radar observer. ... the strange craft changed course... The UFO, flying as fast as a jet airliner, was heading toward Lake Superior... the F-89 raced after it... Nine more minutes ticked by... The two blips had suddenly merged into one... locked together, as if in a smashing collision...  boats joined the hunt as American and Canadian flyers crisscrossed a hundred-mile area. But no trace was ever found of the missing men, the F-89--or the unknown machine..."

The Air Force did not consider the missing plane a UFO case, and had no file for it in Project Blue Book. There’s brief mention of it in another case file, though.
PBB: The Kinross Incident

Donald Keyhoe made the incident famous, a staple of  UFO literature, and there’s no doubt that Dewitt Copp was influenced by it. Fran Ridge’s NICAP site hosts a page with an excellent collection of links to coverage of the controversy: UFO Intercept/Missing F-89 Case, November 23, 1953, Kinross AFB, Michigan

Keyhoe’s book also introduced many to “angel hair,” supposedly dropped by UFOs. “A mass of a strange white substance... Apparently the ‘angel's hair’ was some kind of a fuel exhaust confined specifically to the cigar-shaped saucers.” He described how in one case, the witnesses reported a saucer that “left a 3-mile trail of milky-white asbestos-like strands which settled over trees, bushes, and telephone lines.” They recovered a sample. “When they pulled one strand into a thread... it could hardly be broken. But a few moments after they had touched it, the substance disappeared.”

Flying Object At Three O'Clock High

After his own sighting in 1955, Copp was driven to write a teleplay about UFOs. To do so, he conducted some research and worked some UFO cases and terminology into the script.   Besides Keyhoe’s book, he was reading ORBIT,  the monthly newsletter by Leonard Stringfield of Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects (CRIFO)

Instead of appearing in a science fiction program, Copp’s story reached a mainstream audience on a well-respected NBC program. Kraft Television Theatre was an anthology, broadcast live, presenting a different teleplay each week. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that NBC chose to highlight the author in the promotion of the episode, particularly in regards to the fact that he was an experienced aviator - but especially the part about Copp being a UFO witness himself.

The Indianapolis Star June 20, 1956
The Pittsburgh Press June 20, 1956
From a period newspaper listing for the show, which neglected to mention the role played by actor George Peppard, who also appeared in it, one of his earliest screen roles:

"Kraft TV Theatre — Everett Sloane, Biff McGuire, Robert Simon in 'Flying Object At Three O'clock High,' story of an Air Force investigation of a collision between an unidentified flying object and a plane carrying secret data to Washington, WRCA-TV (4), 9 p.m."

The story opened with two radar operatives watching in horror as a UFO swallowed up an F-101 on their screen. Jets were scrambled to pursue the UFO, but were unable to catch it. Biff McGuire played the reporter trying to cover the story, while Everett Sloane played the Colonel protecting the Air Force’s deep secrets about flying saucers. The episode was well-received, and both the UFO community and the Air Force had something to say about it. The New York-based Civilian Saucer Intelligence wrote in CSI News Letter, June 24, 1956:

"UFO Fiction on TV: On Wednesday, June 20, at P.M., Kraft Theatre (Channel 4) presented drama called 'Flying Object at 3 O'clock High', by DeWitt Copp. The plot concerned the "kidnapping" of an Air Force jet by UFO, and the Air Force's attempts to hush up the affair. Although the play went off the deep end during the last act, showing the pilot returned by the UFO in dying condition, up to that point it was outstanding in its adherence to reality. The Kinross case and the angel-hair phenomenon were referred to. The Air Force was depicted (following Keyhoe) as knowing all about the extraterrestrial nature of the saucers, but paternalistically keeping it from the public's knowledge. The acting was on decidedly more convincing level than that in (Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers) the Greene-Rouse film. Mr. Copp and Kraft deserve our thanks for well-done job showing knowledge and taste. Probably its qualities were lost on the public at large, if we may judge by Jack O'Brian's review (N.Y, Journal-American): he found it 'an extended Space Cadet caper.'"

Project Blue Book mentioned the show in passing in a report from Colonel H.K. Gilbert, dated 16 October 1956, “ Subject Analysis of Material Allegedly from Flying Saucer.” He notes that:
“In August of this year, the Kraft TV hour, among others, gave this so called “angels – hair” nationwide attention in a science fiction drama whereby this gossamer-like substance is shown vanishing without leaving any residue before the eyes of ATIC chiefs.


Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond was a half-hour ABC anthology series, and its specialty was stories of the occult or the paranormal. UFOs were a bit out of their range, but Copp wrote an atmospheric piece that fit well with the mood of the series.

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond  “Encounter” April 12, 1960
From the newspaper description of the episode:
"An airplane pilot is mysteriously abducted out of the sky, disappears for days, then suddenly reappears minus his plane 1,000 miles from his last known position in "Encounter." The pilot had taken that 'one step beyond.' Robert Douglas, a fine character actor, lends his talent to this strange tale. He has the role of the pilot's boss."
Fortunately, this broadcast is much more readily available than Copp’s other UFO shows, and can even be found on YouTube

All the UFO action takes place offscreen, but there’s a discussion of flying saucers, the Kinross case, in particular, and once again, “angel hair” is a big part of the story. When the missing pilot somehow reappears days later a thousand miles away, the team flies to pick him up. On the way, Blake, the pilot, muses about flying saucers, “We’re on the verge of space exploration ourselves. Why is it so hard to believe that others may have beaten us to it?”

Copp's plot sounds like it was another take on his earlier story for Kraft, the abduction of a pilot by a UFO, but minus the military cover-up angle. It also bears a a great similarity to Graham Doar’s “The Outer Limit,” but as if it were told solely from the point of view of the people on the ground, not from the pilot. The mystery that “proves” the involvement of aliens is the same, though; the return of a vanished pilot long after he should have perished due to his plane running out of fuel.

“Encounter” seems to be Copp’s last UFO story, though. He wrote one other TV show in 1963, but otherwise focused on his books which were chiefly about aviation, espionage and war. about the closest thing to UFOs would be his 1978 book, A Different Kind of Rain, which was fiction, but based on Copp’s own experience of weaponizing weather by seeding clouds.

DeWitt Copp, died at the age of 80 in Burlington, Vermont on Nov. 29, 1999.


Maybe this is one for the weird coincidences department, but Dewitt Copp had an interesting association with a notable government figure with ties to the intelligence community and to UFO studies. When Captain Edward J. Ruppelt was preparing his 1956 book, The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects, he made notes on the significant players, including the ones behind the scenes. One of them was Dr. Stefan T. Possony:

"Steve Possony was the acting chief of the D/I (Directorate of Intelligence) special study group and he had a direct channel to (General John A.) Samford. Steve was pretty much sold on the whole thing. He did a lot of investigating on his own hook and he had Father Hayden (Francis J. Heyden), the astronomer, as his special consultant. Steve and his crew used to cruise all over the U.S. and Europe and during these travels they picked up a lot. Steve was behind (Dewey) Fournet 100% and tended to push him. He was smart enough to know that the UFO situation was hot so he used Fournet, who was a reserve and didn’t plan to stay in the Air Force any longer than he had to, to try out his ideas. Possony didn’t much care what he said, however, and he used to go to battle with any or all of the more vocal skeptics. He really got teed off at (Dr. Donald Menzel)  and went to all ends to find out everything about the man. It turned out to be very interesting. Possony had a good reputation in the Air Force. Besides being a fairly sharp intelligence man, he is a professor at Georgetown University and he has written quite a bit on strategy and concepts of airpower."

Here’s a clipping showing Copp and Possony together on the staff of the American Security Council: Washington Report, a right-wing anti-communist organization.

In the introduction to his article, “The Invisible Hand of Strategy. A Brief Introduction to Psychology Strategy”, Defence and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy. No. 1, January 31, 1996, they described him in this way:

"DR STEFAN T. POSSONY, one of the founders of both Defense & Foreign Affairs publications and the International Strategic Studies Association, was called "the greatest strategic philosopher of the 20th Century". But he was also one of the very few people who looked at the overall discipline of "psychological strategy", and all of its component parts, including propaganda, disinformation, psychological warfare, psychological operations: however they are defined."

It's interesting that two saucer buffs like Dr. Possony and Dewitt Copp wound up working together, but then, it's a small world. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Blue Ribbon UFO Panel of the National Enquirer

Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, Dr. Frank Salisbury, Dr. James Harder, Dr. Robert Creegan,
Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Mr. Jim Lorenzen. From 1975.

In the early 1970s, an elite panel of researchers from the leading UFO organizations was formed to evaluate the strongest cases of the year, and they had a specific goal: "find positive proof that UFOs come from outer space." They were called the Blue Ribbon Panel, and were assembled and financed by The National Enquirer, the tabloid magazine owned by Generoso Paul "Gene" Pope, Jr.

From 1967

It wasn't merely about the pursuit of science; the Enquirer was after selling papers, and they were putting up big money to pursue the cases and evidence. 

National Enquirer clipping from 1978

The panel was comprised of top men. Top men.

The National Enquirer's Blue Ribbon Panel members of 1974. From left to right: Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Dr. Robert F. Creegan, Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, Dr. James A. Harder, and Dr. Frank B. Salisbury (Betz Mystery Sphere in foreground). APRO (Photo from The Encyclopedia of UFOs by Ronald Story.)

In the 1997 book, At the Threshold: UFOs, Science and the New Age, Charles F. Emmons, Ph.D. discussed the magazine's Blue Ribbon Panel:
Surprisingly the National Enquirer, when its format emphasized the paranormal rather than celebrities, was one of the more "scholarly" of the tabloids, at least in regard to UFOs. James A. Harder, a pioneering ufologist with a Ph.D. in fluid mechanics from the University of California, and a retired engineering professor from UC Berkeley, reports that he, Leo Sprinkle, Frank B. Salisbury and Robert Creegan, all from APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization), and J. Allen Hynek himself formed the UFO consulting board for the National Enquirer in 1972. The publication established a reward of $50,000 for "the first person who can prove that a UFO came from outer space and is not a natural phenomenon." Not only did this statement contain the assumption that UFOs must be extraterrestrial and nonnatural, but it seemed so difficult to prove that another award of $5,000 was added for best evidence each year.
In 1975, the editors of the National Enquirer were uncertain enough about the validity of the Travis Walton case (in which Walton was knocked down by a beam from a UFO in an Arizona forest and disappeared for five days) that they decided not to publish it, although later the consulting board decided to award Walton and five other witnesses in the case the $5,000 for 1975. Three MUFON consultants were added to the board in 1978, but it was eliminated in 1979. Certainly this is an atypical chapter in the tabloid UFO story, but it also shows that mass media are not as uniform as one might think in spite of certain general patterns.
Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, Jim Lorenzen, Dr. James Harder, Dr. Robert Creegan, Dr. Frank Salisbury, and
Dr. J. Allen Hynek 

While the panel was active, it awarded $5,000 to $10,000 for the flowing UFO cases, including some now classics, but there were some that didn't make the cut.

The Panel and the Betz Sphere

In 1974, one of the cases the Enquirer panel investigated was that of a metal sphere found by Terry Matthews, an object he thought came from outer space.

The Associated Press coverage played up the hope that the submitted object might be extraterrestrial, which was the only thing the Enquirer's panel seemed to care about.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, April 17, 1974

The United Press coverage from the following week was a bit more cautious in is reporting. 

Santa Ana Register, April 21, 1974

The Betz sphere was not much of a contender for the Enquirer's prize, and the panelists concluded that though they couldn't identify the object,  it was clearly manmade, therefore not extraterrestrial.

The UFO Prize Winners

While the UFO panel was active, the magazine rewarded the following cases:

1973: Delphos Ring
1974: Coyne Incident
1975: Four witnesses in the San Antonio International Airport sighting
1976: Travis Walton and the Lumberjacks
1977: Tehran UFO "dogfight" incident
1978: Memphis Triangle
1979: Shared among several cases
1980: Val Johnson

The National Enquirer's most famous award winner: a team of lumberjacks for their 1974 UFO story.

All good Things Come to an End

The National Enquirer changed their focus a bit in 1979, when the black and white tabloid switched to color, courting a more mainstream supermarket audience with stories about celebrities. It's old press was taken over by the sister publication the Weekly World News, which also inherited most of the UFO material. The money that the National Enquirer had put towards UFO research dried up, and along with it, the Blue Ribbon Panel.

For more historical information on The National Enquirer's Blue Ribbon Panel for UFO Investigations, see this article by Isaac Koi: Consensus lists: National Enquirer Panel

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