Thursday, May 11, 2023

Flying Saucers 1952: Product Engineering

Product Engineering was published by McGraw-Hill, with the focus was on technological developments in the field of Design and Engineering. 

In 1952, the UFO controversy made national headlines, and editor George F. Nordenholt included one article strayed from their usual topics, addressing the saucer flap and the prevailing theories about it. The original article was not sourced or illustrated, so we’ve gathered some pictures and references to flesh things out.

From Product Engineering, The McGraw-Hill magazine of design engineering, Oct. 1952, pg. 199:

Cool Weather Chills Flying Saucer Reports

WASHINGTON— The passing of summer's hot humid weather put a temporary end to the flood of flying saucer reports and gave added impetus to the belief that the unknown phenomena sighted in many parts of the United States are the result of temperature inversion in the air. 

The Truth About Flying Saucers by Dr. Donald H. Menzel, Look magazine, June 17, 1952

Harvard astronomer Dr. H. D. Menzel suggests that the flying lights are caused by the total reflection of ordinary light sources such as headlights. He explains that normally the temperature of the air declines about 3.5 F per thousand feet of altitude. But under certain conditions, layers of air at higher temperatures get sandwiched into the cold air, causing what is known as temperature inversion. Because of the difference in density, the inversion layer has a different index of refraction than the cooler air, and lights from the ground are totally reflected back down by the layer. As a result, observers away from the source see the lights apparently in the sky; and since both the layer and the source may be moving, the flying saucers perform incredible movements. Menzel has built a laboratory apparatus in which he can set up an inversion layer of air and make phenomena similar to flying saucers.

Ionization Theory

Another explanation was propounded by a scientist at the Fort Belvoir Engineer Research and Development Center. He reported that when ionized balls of air are injected into rarefied air, the balls glow. In addition, they move about in an eccentric manner at high speed. Again, he was able to build a laboratory apparatus that would produce this phenomenon. It's quite likely that both of these theories are required to explain all the flying saucers that have been reported by credible observers. Most scientists who have studied the problem feel that the blundering manner in which the Air Force attempted to pass off the reports as imagination only added to the confusion and convinced the public that the Air Force was trying to cover something up.

The Daily Courier, Aug. 8, 1952

Physicist Noel Scott - Newsreel footage

When August dogdays hit Washington, a flood of visual and radar flying saucer reports forced the Air Force to tell all they know about the subject. 

The solid official viewpoint was expressed by Major General John A. Samford, Chief of Air Force Intelligence. General Samford said, "We have received many reports of incredible things from credible sources. But there is nothing to indicate that the things seen or reported to have been seen in the skies are vehicles, material things, missiles, or anything else that might comprise a threat to this country." The chief of intelligence added that about 20 percent of the reports cannot be explained. The remainder can be associated with jet planes, balloons, or some other object. Now the Air Force admits that the unaccounted-for 20 percent of the flying saucers are not imagination; they claim they are optical, climatic, or atmospheric phenomena.

Old Stuff

According to saucer experts, the non-existent flying objects are not new. They have been reported since biblical times. There was a similar rash of reports in this country about 1846 and nothing came of these flying mysteries at that time. The Air Force has been investigating the current version since 1947. To date, nothing tangible has come from them since nothing has ever been recovered from a crash. 

The San Francisco Call, Nov. 23, 1896

Recent radar sighting of flying saucers adds little information to that already gathered, because radar experts are used to their equipment picking up ghosts. Best example: During World War II a Navy task force off the coast of Alaska fired over 1,000 rounds of ammunition at an enemy picked up on radar. When the enemy didn't fire back, the Navy discovered their radar had picked up reflections from fog banks. Some specialists feel that radar waves can be reflected by the inversion layer just as light waves are; this would produce pips on radar scopes where no pips should be. However, the flying saucer mystery has not been dispelled to the satisfaction of everybody. People still hold on to their pet theories, such as: 

1. One investigator, a chemical engineer by profession and a saucer expert by avocation, claims that the saucers are actually guided missiles that belong to the Navy. His reasoning: most reports come from areas close to naval installations and the saucers travel courses of established radio lanes where radio beams would be helpful to Naval Scientists in flight control.

Visitors from Space?

2 Another expert figures that the saucers are from outer space, visitors from another planet. 

George Adamski, Mothership, March 5, 1951

In his opinion, they are guided missiles controlled from a mother space ship that operates in outer space— much like our idea of a satellite vehicle. Reason: reports of saucers seem to come in groupings that have a frequency of about every six months. Something that indicates the earth is in the correct phase of its orbit that would permit a space ship to approach. The same expert claims that the saucers are unmanned and are therefore capable of sudden terrific changes in direction and speed that would certainly crush a human through "G" forces. 

3. Still another school of thought tries to explain the larger flying saucers like the one sighted by an airlines pilot a couple of years ago. Explanation: manned scout ships from a main space vehicle.

Chiles-Whitted Case, July 24, 1948, Montgomery, Alabama

The airlines pilot (on an Atlanta run) described the object as "a long cigar-shaped vehicle with a double row of lighted windows." 

4. According to another former flyer who has made a study of saucer reports, the so-called saucers are not really saucer-shaped. They have the configuration of an egg and fly with the larger end forward. 

Revised illustration from Fate magazine, Nov. 1954

5. A Los Angeles engineer and former Air Force pilot reported seeing a flying saucer that split in half and both halves kept right on flying. He estimated that the saucer was cruising at about 30,000 ft. when the fission occurred.

Air Force Says No

The Air Force counters space traveller claims with the observation that the objects do not follow a reasonable pattern and they fly in a haphazard manner apparently without purpose. Therefore, they could not be intelligently controlled. Saucer hunters expect that there will be more reports of the flying oddy-gwoddies, probably when the temperatures start rising again. 

Time magazine and The Times (Shreveport, LA)  July 31, 1952

General Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff warns against auto-suggestion. He feels that many people see flying saucers because they want to see them.

.  .  .

Project Engineering did not explore the UFO topic any further. The author of the article was not identified, its possible he pursued the topic elsewhere.


  1. Commenter Leon Davidson later went on to an epic struggle with the CIA. He insisted that they were using their high tech to create bogus 'flying saucers'. I read somewhere that, in a certain time frame, Davidson wrote far more letters about UFOs to the CIA than everyone else combined!

  2. What are oddy-gwoddies? I googled but absolutely no hits. Slang lost to history?

    1. It seems to have been invented by the author. Sounds like a bit of British silliness to me.


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