Thursday, June 18, 2020

Project Blue Book Investigation: 1948 Crashed Unidentified Aerial Object Photo

70 years ago, a letter launched the Air Force investigation of an “Unidentified Aerial Object.”

Martin W. Peterson lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, but held a seasonal job as a summer school metal shop teacher in Warren, Minnesota. While there in 1948, his friend Walter Sirek found a strange object embedded in the ground behind Nish’s Tavern. It was a metal disc-like object with fins like a rocket. When they examined it, they found it to be about two feet in diameter, and the fins on either side of the jet or rocket exhaust port had scorch marks. Peterson photographed Sirek holding the object but did not report the discovery to the authorities. 

After the 1950 publication of Donald Keyhoe’s book, The Flying Saucer Saucers Are Real, the resulting publicity caused a friend to suggest to Peterson that he should submit his evidence to the US government. In his letter dated June 19, 1950, Peterson sent in a short letter reporting the saucer discovery:

Dear Sir:
I am anxious to know what this contraption is. It was found with its point buried in the hard ground in my home town some time ago.

I have enclosed my return addressed envelope for an answer and the snap shots.

Yours most sincerely,
Martin W. Peterson

Enclosed were four snapshots, which were subsequently labeled exhibits A - D.

Only three of the four photos were collected in Air Force files, each with Sirek's face obscured.

The two versions found in published versions of Project Blue Book Records.
On the lower set we've superimposed Sirek's photo from Cosmopolitan.
The Air Force launched an extensive inquiry that involved an analysis of the photographs object which included dispatching agents from the Chicago Office of Special Investigations to check on the credibility of Peterson and to interview him and any other witnesses.

National Press

The newspapers first got word of the story when Air Force files were opened to columnist Bob Considine. As a result, Considine wrote a four-part series on flying saucers, and in the final installment prominently discussed the Minnesota saucer, exposing it as a fake, apparently an unintentional hoax. The story as printed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) Nov. 19, 1950:

Hoax Aspect of Flying Saucer Story
Practical Jokers Keep Air Force Busy Solving Their Fakes

Link to complete article.

Drew Pearson also mentioned the episode in his nationally syndicated “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column on Nov. 25, 1950.

For Cosmopolitan magazine, January, 1951, Bob Considine repackaged his saucer series into a long article, The disgraceful flying Saucer hoax.” The excerpt on the saucer rocket:

On June 19, 1950, the Air Materiel Command received a letter from one Martin W. Peterson.  Enclosed were four snapshots of a friend holding an odd object with a saucerlike body. From its thin sides, there protruded what appeared to be the tip of a spear and the fins and exhaust-pipe assembly of a miniature V-2.
Peterson was located in Warren, Minnesota.  So was his friend, the saucer man — Walter Sirek, a gas-station attendant.  Sirek told the investigators that he had found the strange device two years before, imbedded in the earth behind Nish’s Tavern, in Warren.  He had figured, he said, that it was the work of a local tinsmith named Art Jensen.  Jensen, when questioned, remembered putting something of the sort together at the request of a Warren hardware man named Ted Heyen and a radio repairman named Robert Schaeffer — as a gag entry in a local newspaper “saucer contest.”  An acetylene torch had been played over the tail surfaces to give them the appearance of having been scorched by gases escaping from the hauntingly familiar “engine” encased in the saucer.
Heyen and Schaeffer tired of their gadget after a time and threw it away.  Sirek found it.  Peterson, visiting Sirek shortly thereafter, took snapshots of Sirek holding the contraption — and two years later sent them to the Air Materiel Command.
It took this particular investigative chain reaction from June nineteenth to September twenty-seventh to run its course.  Agents had to be transported from Wright Field, Washington, and elsewhere to the points of inquiry, fed, housed, and paid.  The fruits of their labors were a few apologies and the saucer — which had been made of the lid of an automatic washing machine, a sawed-off curtain-rod spear, tin tail assembly, and an “engine” composed of a disemboweled midget radio and an old insecticide bomb.
More malicious gagsters have taken the trouble to buy and crudely assemble mounds of scrap steel and iron, burn the junk into an unrecognizable tangle, and report to the Air Force that a saucer had crashed and burned on their property. However plain the hoax, the Air Force often feels that it must take samples of the "wreckage" for study in its Wright Field laboratories or in other metallurgical centers.

And nothing can be done about such frauds. A man who pilfers a three-cent stamp from the Post Office Department can be fined and sent to a Federal prison. One who turns in a false alarm that routs out the local fire department on a Halloween night can also be jailed, as can a man who writes a check for a dollar when he has no bank funds to cover it. Yet the most callous and cynical saucer-hoaxers will continue to go scot free, with a cackle of delight, until a penal act is created to check such offenses.

Considine got one fact wrong. The Air Force’s analysis of the object was based only on the photos, the object itself was never recovered. The file notes than in light of the confession, “no attempt was made to locate the ‘aerial object.’ …the large amount of junk at the city dump… is periodically covered over by earth by a bulldozer.”

Walter Sirek and the “Unidentified Aerial Object.”
While this man-made saucer was not created for a hoax, it ended up sending the Air Force on a wild goose chase. Nevertheless, it provides a good example as to the kind of work put into saucer investigations, and reveals how much was often spent chasing so little.

For more details on the Air Force’s investigation, see the file in Project Blue Book.

 . . .

Trivia Across Time

Two familiar names coincidentally pop up in the story. Coast to Coast hardware employed Ted Heyen, and his saucer building partner was a radio repairman named Robert Schaeffer. In more recent years, Coast to Coast A.M. is a radio show is broadcasting wild UFO stories, the sort which are often debunked by skeptic Robert Sheaffer.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Dashiell Hammett and Flying Saucers

What did Dashiell Hammett have to do with flying saucers? Nothing, but the characters he created are a different story. One of them is remarkably similar to the legend of the alien bodies record at Roswell, New Mexico. 

Dashiell Hammett is best known for his 1930 detective novel, The Maltese Falcon, which was later made into the classic 1941 film starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. A few years later, The Adventures of Sam Spade radio program that ran from 1946 - 1951. The sponsor was Wildroot Cream-Oil, who also used Hammett’s character in a series of single-page advertisements in newspapers and magazines disguised as comic strips.

 Although he had nothing to do with the ads, the comics were called, “Dashiell Hammett’s Adventures of Sam Spade,” and the March 19, 1950 episode was titled, “The Case of the Flying Saucer.”

Click here for enlargement
Later the same year, another of Hammett’s characters was drawn into an even bigger story, one about a captured flying saucer and alien bodies - both dead and alive. But first, let’s skip ahead for a moment to 1958.

The Thin Man

Hammett’s 1934 novel The Thin Man had several movies based on the characters, Nick and Nora Charles, and was later the basis for a television series on NBC from 1957–59, starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk.

Opening credits to The Thin Man

Like with Hammett’s other characters, the series was mostly detective stories, but once again, flying saucers entered the picture. Episode 32 of season one was titled, “The Saucer People.” From a newspaper listing from Aug. 29, 1958:

The Thin Man, starring Peter Lawford. Nick and Nora Charles investigate“The Saucer People.” A scientist claims he has been riding in a flying saucer – thereby hoping to devise a scheme for fleecing thousands from their life savings. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to locate a copy of the episode itself.

Secret Agent X-9 and the Captured Saucer of 1950

Along with artist Alex Raymond (the creator of Flash Gordon), Dashiell Hammett created the Secret Agent X-9 newspaper comic strip in 1934.

Hammett left the series after the first year, but it continued a successful run in the hands of other writers and artists until 1996. From 1945 to 1960, the series was written and drawn by Mel Graff, who finally gave X-9 a name, Phil Corrigan. In May to July 1950, Graff featured a story where X-9 was drawn into a sensational case involving a captured flying saucer and the aliens found inside.

STTF reader ISleepNow posted a video on YouTube titled, Secret Agent X-9 "The Day After Aztec," saying, “These panels of the Secret Agent X-9 comic strip… were originally published in May through June of 1950 making them the earliest significant flying saucer story as far as newspaper comic strips were concerned. But of greater concern was the possible truth lying behind them.”

The final strips were not included, but we've located some key selections to finish X-9's saucer adventure.

In the final episode, X-9 is briefed on the astonishing truth about flying saucers, but we readers lacked the security clearance to be included.

Mel Graff's story about little alien men was very much influenced by Frank Scully's 1950 book, Behind the Flying Saucers, and the hoax on which it was based. The book was also the basis for the legends of Hangar 18 and aliens found in crash near Roswell,

X-9 was back to dealing with more traditional spy business, but later there were at least two other UFO episodes. In Sept. 1966 by Robert Lubbers (aka Bob Lewis), the strip below shows X-9 with "Tracking Control" monitoring a UFO’s entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

In the hands of writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson, in 1978, the series featured another UFO storyline, with Corrigan investigating the abduction of the USA's top scientists.

The Stuff that Dreams are Made of

No, Dashiell Hammett didn’t write about saucers, but his novel The Maltese Falcon was about a struggle over a priceless relic that turned out to be a counterfeit. That’s something very similar to the situation ufologists often find themselves in, and a bit like the ending of the Humphrey Bogart movie version of Hammett's s novel.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Texas UFO Crash Debris Photo from July 1947

A Robertson Panel of another sort, the Texas UFO mystery metal of 1947.

Leonard Robertson of Perryton, Texas, witnessed a UFO explode in late July 1947, and afterwards he was able to recover a large fragment of it. The incident occurred shortly after the flying disc story in Corona and Roswell, New Mexico, only about 250 miles away. The Texas news appeared on the front page of the Amarillo Daily News on August 6, 1947:

Perryton Man Displays Proof of Saucer Story

PERRYTON, Aug. 5 - Leonard Robertson, former Perryton city marshal and now with O. A. Schuster of the Perryton Gas Company, has proof that he really saw something flying through the air recently.

Robertson just realized today that he might be in possession of a flying disk or something odd that flew through the air with the greatest of ease - until it exploded almost in his face. He took his find to Mr. Schuster and Sheriff W. H. Lance, but they haven't been able to help him.

Here's Mr. Robertson's story:

"I was riding my motorcycle south into Dumas - I believe it was July 25 - when something bright in the sky to my left attracted my attention. I pulled off the road and saw a strange object floating over a field about a mile away. It was kind of oval and looked to be about 15 or 20 feet in circumference. It looked something like a big bubble.

"While I was watching it, the durned thing exploded. I saw pieces falling in all directions. I decided to see if I could find some of the pieces so I rode down a side road and walked into the field where I thought the thing fell. This is what I found."

Mr. Robertson displayed a piece of what looked like aluminum, but was much lighter. It was about 30 inches long and 24 inches wide and slightly curved. There were two small holes in it and the center appeared to have been burned. Two of the edges showed where they had overlapped another piece.

There was neither number nor name of any kind on the piece of material.

Mr. Robertson plans to go back and see if he can find more evidence to back his saucer story.

Amarillo Daily News, Aug. 6, 1947

A photograph of the UFO debris taken by Sheriff W. H. Lance appeared in the follow up story on page 5 of the Aug. 9th paper:

Salvage From Mystery Blast

What is it? Leonard Robertson of Perryton discovered this strange object in a field near Dumas recently. He says it is part of a strange object he watched explode near where he was riding his motorcycle. The material is lighter than aluminum and it has two small holes and a burned spot in it. Mr Robertson said the object appeared to be globe-shaped. He couldn't find any other pieces. 

Amarillo Daily News, Aug. 9, 1947

We could wish for a more detailed description of the fragment. "Lighter than aluminum," but rectangular and "slightly curved," does not sound like foil from a rawin target, or part of a balloon. Like Mac Brazel before him, Robertson didn't put much significance on the debris until he, "realized today that he might be in possession of a flying disk or something odd..." 

While it's possible that the report might have been a joke or a hoax, it seems unlikely that Robertson would target his employer and the local sheriff. Robertson’s report apparently went no farther than the local sheriff, and there is no mention of the incident in Project Blue Book files. There was no subsequent press on the UFO incident, and the debris truly can be said to have come from a saucer that time forgot. 

If there are any readers in the Amarillo area, we ask you to make inquiries to find out what became of this physical evidence.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

UFO Study Programs and US Military Technology

In the aftermath of the disclosure of the Pentagon's Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, (AATIP), a new UFO investigation was launched, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force. In July 2020, spokesperson Susan Gough issued a statement to the press describing its purpose:

" gain knowledge and insight into the nature and origins of UAPs, as well as their operations, capabilities, performance, and/or signatures. The mission of the task force will be to detect, analyze, catalog, consolidate, and exploit non-traditional aerospace vehicles/UAPs posing an operational threat to U.S. national security and avoid strategic surprise."

Exploit? Yes, and that mission began long ago.

From the moment flying saucers were first seen in 1947 there’s been an effort to understand them and duplicate the reported flight performance. There have been many independent efforts ranging from the sincere to the fraudulent, but that’s not what his piece is about.  This is an examination primarily of US military sponsored efforts to study UFOs for technological advancements.

When Kenneth Arnold spotted a formation of nine unidentified flying objects in June of 1947, the notion that they had come from outer space was not given much serious consideration. The main possibility discussed was that the objects were new military aircraft, and since the US wasn’t claiming them, the fear was that the saucers belonged to the Soviet Union. If so, that meant the Russians had developed supersonic craft with great range and unconventional maneuvers capable of outflying anything known to man. The US military response to this was essentially, “If these things are real, we’ve gotta figure ‘em out and learn how to fight ‘em.” The Cold War was on, and if the Reds had saucers, we wanted some too. For this purpose, the US set up an advanced aerospace threat identification program to study these alleged enemy weapons systems. 

The Air Force’s Air Technical Intelligence Center was put on the job, and the nickname for it was Project Saucer, but officially Project Sign, then later Grudge and Blue Book. “During World War II the organization that was ATIC's forerunner, the Air Materiel Command's secret ’T-2,’ had developed highly effective means of wringing out every possible bit of information about the technical aspects of enemy aircraft. ATIC knew these methods, but how could this be applied to spaceships?” From The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt, 1956

Spaceships were actually on a lot of people's minds well before saucers entered the picture. Not only were some science fiction writers also engineers, some scientists were in turn inspired by the fantasy. They were already reaching for the stars, but the saucers made things an immediate non-abstract military problem.

"The Air Technical Intelligence Center is responsible for the prevention of technological surprise." From the Air Force Manual dated May 1953, AFM 200-3, Chapter 9, Page 3.

The Twining Memo and the Engineering Challenge 
 On September 23, 1947, Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining, the Air Materiel Command commander replied to Brigadier General Schulgen’s request for Technical Intelligence Division's analysis of “flying discs” to date. It’s chiefly remembered for Twining stating that “The phenomenon is something real and not visionary or fictitious.“ Less attention has been given to his thoughts about how we could build our own saucers:
“It is possible within the present U.S. knowledge—provided extensive detailed development is undertaken—to construct a piloted aircraft which has the general description of [a metallic flying disc] which would be capable of an approximate range of 7000 miles at subsonic speeds.”

 Alfred Loedding

Circular aircraft had previously been flown to varying degrees of success, though nothing that speedy, so it did seem possible. One of the engineers brought in by Air Force’s Project Sign to study the sucer puzzle was Alfred Loedding, who specialized in low aspect ratio aircraft, such as flying wings, delta and swept-wing planes. The study looked at previous craft and made extrapolations, but concluded that even though a disc might be flown, no known power source could provide the control or propulsion needed to mimic the UFOs. Loedding left the program early on, but interestingly, he filed a patent for a saucer-like plane in 1948, however it never went beyond the model stage. There were many subsequent projects over the years that used a lenticular or disc-shaped platform due to the efficiency of the form, but our focus is on the military tech based on performance, not just the saucer shape.

Donald Keyhoe quoted “the chief design engineer of a major aircraft manufacturing company” in his article and book, The Flying Saucers are Real:
“Certainly the flying saucers are possible,” he said.  “Give me enough money and I’ll build you one.  It might have to be a model because the fuel would be a problem.  ...they may be powered by atomic energy… or by some other fuel or natural force that our research hasn’t yet discovered.  But the circular airfoil is quite feasible. It wouldn’t have the stability of the conventional airplane, but it would have enormous maneuverability — it could rise vertically, hover, descend vertically, and fly at extremely high speed, with the proper power.  Don’t take my word for it.  Check with other engineers."

Other engineers were on the job. The New International Year Book: A Compendium Of The World's Progress For The Year 1950, reported: “Rumors and reports of ‘flying saucers’ were rampant throughout the year of 1950… One thing accomplished by these stories, though, was that they prompted considerable research along the lines of new airframe types with more lift and less parasitic drag. Among the new developments which were accomplished during 1950 in connection with military aviation research was that of a new lightweight titanium alloy, as strong as high-strength steel and only half as heavy, for use in new jet planes.”

Saucers prompted developments in other areas as well. Since an early hypothesis was that saucers were remotely controlled unmanned probes or missiles, it likely reinforced the importance of testing in this area. An unmanned aerial vehicle could fly faster, higher and farther without the burden of supporting a human pilot. White Sands Proving Ground was working on the “development of a tactical supersonic missile with the remote control and which would intercept flying aircraft at speeds up to 700 mph at altitude between 8000 and 60,000 feet.”

If nothing else, the threat of flying saucers pushed the US military to develop faster planes and better radar to detect them. The saucer’s  provided other inspiration, the stealthy low profile,  reconnaissance capabilities and vertical take off and landing. As for the propulsion, considerable effort went into attempts to develop nuclear energy and anti-gravity as power sources for flight. On another front, saucers awakened the worry of the vulnerability of an attack from outside the atmosphere, so that made space exploration a national priority.

Lockheed and Flying Saucers

Clarence "Kelly" Johnson of Lockheed’s serious UFO interest can be documented going back at least as far as 1949. He was their chief research engineer and wrote the Air Force on behalf of one of his employees who’d witnessed two flying discs. Evidence suggests that his interest in saucers played a role in aerospace research and development. 

In the early 1950s - Lockheed’s Nathan C. Price designed a VTOL saucer, and applied for a patent in Jan. 1953. While never developed, he described it as a supersonic aircraft “designed not only for vertical ascent and descent to facilitate landing and taking off at small fields or landing areas but also for long range flight at a Mach number of, say, 4, and at altitudes in the region of 100,000 ft.”

Kelly Johnson went on to develop the U-2 spy plane for the CIA, which (though exaggerated) was responsible for generating many UFO reports. For more on Kelly Johnson, Lockheed and flying saucers, see The Lockheed UFO Case by Joel Carpenter. (We have a bit more on Lockheed later on.)

Government Contractors Studied Saucer Tech

According to author Donald E. Keyhoe, following a Sept. 24, 1959 incident near Redmond, Oregon, where a UFO exhibited gravity-defying maneuvers, Air Force “headquarters persuaded scientists, aerospace companies and technical laboratories to set up anti-gravity projects, many of them under secret contracts. ...In 1965, forty-six unclassified G-projects were confirmed to me by the Scientific Information Exchange of the Smithsonian Institution. Of the forty-six, thirty-three were AF-controlled. The Navy had three; the Army, one; the Atomic Energy Commission one; NASA, two, and the National Science Foundation, six. In addition, there were at least twenty-five secret contracts which could not be listed.” (Aliens from Space, 1973)

Engineering interests went back much earlier than that, and several prominent figures in the aerospace industry were involved.

Paul Hill of NASA (then National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Collection, NACA) had a UFOs sighting on July 16, 1952, which was reported to Project Blue Book. It ignited his lifelong interest in UFOs, and some of his research in the topic was supported by NASA, such as“Flight Tests of a Man Standing on a Platform Supported by a Teetering Rotor,” which explored his notion of how saucer maneuvered in flight. 

The Douglas Aircraft Company conducted a study of "Unconventional Propulsion Schemes/Systems" for the US Air Force’s ATIC from 1954-55, headed by Dr. Wolfgang B. Klemperer. Exactly how the research was used is unknown. For further information, see: Documents located from that 1955 "secret" UAP study by Douglas Aircraft Company by Keith Basterfield.

Aviation executive and inventor William P. Lear announced his belief in the existence of flying saucers in 1955, stating that he believed they originate from outer space and “serious efforts are now in progress to prove the existence of anti-gravitational forces..."

“Guided missile… or flying saucer, AC is ready now!”
AC/General Motors ad, Air Force Magazine, May 1956.

Douglas Aircraft Corporation had an independent study that is well documented. From 1967 - 1969, Robert Wood and a small group of engineers at Douglas Aircraft took UFOs seriously and studied them in detail, with a view to developing a new method of propulsion. 

See the collection of files at Douglas Aircraft - UFO Research Documents

The US Preparations for Man-made Saucer

Throughout the 1950s the media continued to speculate that flying saucers were a secret weapon of the US military, but officials regularly denied it. The Air Force was doubtful that anyone else had them, but they were a little worried. Project Blue Book’s Capt. Ruppelt wrote in 1952:
“It should be stressed that USAF intelligence has no indication that any foreign nation has a super-weapon capable of flying anywhere in the world it will, nor that craft from outer space are coming near our planet earth. It would be foolish, however, to say that either is impossible, no matter how highly improbable it may sound. Fifteen years ago, the atomic bomb was highly improbable.”

There were efforts in the US and abroad, though. By 1952, the Central Intelligence Agency realized there was the potential to use flying saucers as a psychological weapon of some sort. Manipulating the enemy into a state of confusion may have been what they had in mind, and one way to do that was to make UFOs appear on enemy radar. By the early 1960s, the CIA’s Project Palladium was capable of creating ghost radar targets to distract the enemy and provide cover for flights of spy planes.

As for physical flying saucers, there were plans. Air Force Regulation No. 200-2, Aug. 18, 1954 stated their UFO objectives, including:
“Air Force interest in unidentified flying objects is twofold: First as a possible threat to the security of the United States and its forces, and secondly, to determine technical aspects involved. ...Technical. ...To measure scientific advances, the Air Force must be informed on experimentation and development of new air vehicles ...The possibility exists that an air vehicle of revolutionary configuration may be developed."

Air Force Intelligence Digest, Dec. 1954 carried the article, "The Flying Disc,” discussing the possible development of: “New type of jet aircraft, powered by a turbine larger than any now in use, is expected to take off, land vertically, and be able to hover. It may cruise at 1,500 knots and have a range of 15,000 nautical miles.” It also gave readers something to worry about:
“One of the big questions now facing the United States is this: What are the Soviets doing in the disc-aircraft field? ...If the Soviets now have such an aircraft in operational use, would the United States air defense system be able to detect, identify, intercept and destroy a bomber or reconnaissance aircraft moving at a 1,500 knot clip at an altitude of 65,000 feet?”

On Oct. 25, 1955, Air Force secretary Donald A. Quarles announced that the public should prepare to see a “new phenomenon in our skies,” man-made objects that could resemble flying saucers.

The News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) Oct. 26, 1955

Forged on Earth

John Frost of Canada had been developing a saucer-shaped craft, and the US decided they wanted it. A summary from the Wired story, “A Saucer From Mars? Nope, Canada” by Charles Mandel: 
“In 1952, Frost began work on the saucer, showing prototypes in 1953... Among the visitors who saw the first scale model... was Lt. Gen. Donald Putt, head of the research and development command of the United States Air Force. Putt gained NASA's approval to start development of a saucer prototype, providing $2 million to $3 million annually. ...This early saucer, partly funded by the CIA and known as Project Silver Bug... In the late 1950s, during testing, one of the engines misfired, leading to a complete evacuation of the testing facility.”

Overlapping Silver Bug was another saucer project in 1957. The US Continental Army Command (CONARC) wanted Frost to build a “flying jeep.” It became known as the Arocar. From A History of Army Aviation,1950-1962, section, Flying Saucer:
In 1957, “a letter was sent to the Chief of Research and Development, Department of the Army, on 22 October, stating CONARC interest in the flying saucer concept and requesting initiation of a feasibility study of a ‘manned flying saucer.’ The Chief of Research and Development replied on 21 November, advising that he had reviewed a current Air Force project with AVRO Aircraft, Ltd., of Canada, which was similar to the Aircrafts Armaments proposal and which appeared promising. … a successful flying saucer concept could revolutionize the Army's aircraft development and vehicle program and might be capable of reducing the Army's inventory of aircraft and vehicles to a minimum.” 

Here's a good illustrated dossier on the Avro Canada VZ-9 AV Avrocar.

The US Army produced the television series The Big Picture from 1950 to 1967. The 1960 episode, "A Sharper Sword and Stronger Shield," which looked to a saucer-shaped armored craft to replace helicopters on the battlefield.

The Big Picture: "A Sharper Sword and Stronger Shield"
The benefits of developing saucer-like craft were discussed in The Ground-Cushion Phenomenon: Hearings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics: U.S. House of Representatives, Eighty-sixth Congress, 1959.

The actual development of the Army saucer project fell far short of expectations. Seth B. Anderson wrote, “[NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California] was involved in wind-tunnel and flight tests of an 18-foot-diameter circular platform vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft built by the Canadian Avro Aircraft firm in the 1960s. ...In retrospect, the configuration was unquestionably ahead of its time. Certainly, it had inherent stealth features that would help defy radar detection. However, with three turbojets and a large high-speed fan, it could be heard long before being seen. ...Although appealing in an aesthetic sense, it had poor overall performance potential... In essence, it turned out to be a low-performance ground-effect machine capable of leaping over 10-foot ditches with comparative ease.” He did concede that later fly-by wire technology could have solved some of its stability problems, though.

Memoirs of an Aeronautical Engineer: Flight Testing at Ames Research Center: 1940-1970
by Seth B. Anderson, 2000.

1959: The CIA’s Flying Saucer and Area 51

In 1959, the CIA wanted a spy plane, and they wanted it to be as swift and stealthy as as a flying saucer.

Eyes in the Sky: Eisenhower, the CIA, and Cold War Aerial Espionage by Dino A. Brugioni, 2010.

Robert Widmer was asked about his work designing a replacement for the U-2 in the 1999 documentary, Billion Dollar Secret, 1999. In late 1957, Bob Widmer was the head of design at what was then General Dynamics, Convair Division, working on a program called FISH—short for First Invisible Super Hustler, to develop the B-58B, a fast-flying spy plane for the CIA, competing against Lockheed. Widmer described what they were asked to do:
“We had a program called the Super Hustler. The CIA came here and visited me one day and they said, wasn't there something I could do with this technology, so we tried to come up with an airplane that was as near as possible to a saucer... and we did... that's the Fish… but it really wasn't [saucer-shaped], it was as close as we could get it. It was always the ideal... sort of the goal that we used.”

The plane was a low-profile, delta-shaped wing design, and in some respects resembled the F-117 built two decades later. The plane that won the competition was ultimately the Lockheed-built A-12 Oxcart. It was tested at Area 51, and the necessary secrecy resulted in many new UFO legends.

Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson and his successor Ben Rich both had an interest in saucers. In the 1970s, when developing stealth aircraft, its engineers considered disc-shaped designs. In his 1994 book, Skunk Works, Ben Rich wrote, "Several of our aerodynamics experts, including Dick Cantrell, seriously thought that maybe we would do better trying to build an actual flying saucer. The shape itself was the ultimate in low observability. The problem was finding ways to make a saucer fly.” The technology available resulted in the multi-facetted arrowhead-shaped F-117 Nighthawk. Once again, Lockheed’s spy plane test flights generated a number of UFO reports in the southwest.

Unmanned Flying Objects

Flying saucers were once suspected to be unmanned surveillance devices from other planets here to spy on us from afar. Part of the rationale behind that is that not only were some of the saucers were seemingly too small to contain inhabitants, but the extreme maneuvers they performed would kill anyone inside from the G-forces generated. Attempts to duplicate saucer performance also faced that problem even with the limits of conventional technology. In recent years, that’s not so much a problem since pilots are often no longer necessary, and free of that baggage, these devices come close to duplicating the feats of flying saucers.

Often referred to as “drones” remotely piloted aircraft are most commonly referred to as unmanned aerial systems (UAS) today. They’ve had a long history, but even in their adolescence the technology was capable of outperforming manned flight. On May 10, 1972, John C. Smith, commanding officer of the Top Gun school, as RADAR operator and chief tactician joined three other combat veterans in F-4 Phantom fighters versus a Teledyne Ryan Firebee remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) controlled by Cmdr John Pitzen, and Al Donaldson, who manned the remote control station. New Scientist, Aug. 10, 1972 described the outcome:

“The unmanned fighter, operating with only half the projected capability of future RPVs, executed 6g turns without loss of altitude, evaded Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles fired by the Phantom, and scored several simulated ‘kills’ against the manned aircraft.”

Technology has made huge advances since that 1972 Firbee test, and today’s UAS are manufactured in a variety platforms carrying sensors to weapons systems, and capable of covering great distances and operating at high altitude for extended periods. 

The champ in long endurance flight and altitude is the Pentagon's X-37B, which is a bit like an unmanned Space Shuttle. Setting a new record, the OTV-5 landed at Cape Canaveral in October 2019 after spending 780 days in space. 

What is its military mission? Popular Mechanics reported it conducted “seemingly mundane orbital experiments for the Air Force Research Lab... testing ‘experimental electronics... in the long duration space environment.’ Later, observers of the X-37B program discovered it also quietly released three satellites... Their purpose remains unknown.”

Saucer Weapons Systems Tests

Electromagnetic interference has been reported in saucer sightings since the early days, most famously associated with the Levelland, Texas, case in 1957 where several automobile engines were reported to have been killed in the presence of a massive UFO. James T. Westwood has an interesting background encompassing electronic warfare, unmanned aerial vehicles, cryptology and was a Sovietologist working as a military intelligence consultant. 

Westwood also had an interest in UFOs, and wrote several articles, including, “Why do the Lights Go Out?” in UFO Magazine, May/June 1994, which examined, electrical failures related to UFOs, but he also looked at microwave radiation as a weapon to produce similar effects:
“Military uses of the microwave region include: radars of many types, missile weapons control systems, navigation and electronic warfare (EW) applications that include jamming, electronic deception and passive intercept.” 

Westwood went on to state: “Since about 1980, the overall intent of military uses of the microwave region (whether of pulsed or continuous waveforms) has been for both traditional and exotic forms of electronic warfare. ...actual lethal burning (heat ‘frying’) of electronic systems; functional jamming of radar and communication receivers and spoofing of electronic systems at long ranges. Such techniques and devices exist and are tested against surrogate ‘enemy’ systems for subsequent use in combat.”

“Since about 1980…” That’s when a certain Army Lt. colonel started raising eyebrows.

John B. Alexander, UFOs, and Next Generation Weapons Systems 

While the Star Trek reference might lead you to believe UFOs were discussed, John B. Alexander’s "The New Mental Battlefield:Beam Me Up Spock," in Military Review, Dec. 1980, was about how psychotronic weapons could be developed by studying the paranormal. He discussed the remote viewing studies of Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff and their potential military applications. As for psychotronic weapons, he also saw much potential, saying, “with development, these weapons would be able to induce illness or death at little or no risk to the operator. Range may be a present problem, but this will probably be overcome if it has not been already.” As an example, he cited work by the Soviets, who have “examined the effects 
of electromagnetic radiation on humans and have applied those techniques against the US Embassy in Moscow.”

In the years since, Col. Alexander has become heavily involved with the UFO community and says he’s been interested in the topic all his life. His hobby has an influence on his business which is chiefly the development of non-lethal weapons. Col. Alexander probably knows more about military projects relating to UFOs than anyone else on earth - or anywhere else.

In his 2011 book, UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities, Alexander described how in 1984 he began working on a project called New Thrust to coordinate next generation weapons systems, and it led to him meeting Dr. Ron Blackburn of Lockheed’s Skunk Works. Their common interests led them to form an informal UFO study, the Advanced Theoretical Physics Working Group. JacquesVallee described the ATP assembly in Forbidden Science - Volume III , 2016. He wrote that the key meetings took place under US Department of Energy supervision on May 20-25, 1985:

“… participants were Samuel Finch, Oke Shannon and John Kink of Los Alamos National Laboratory; Bill Wilkinson from CIA; Howell McConnell from NSA... Hal Puthoff and Jack Houck; Ed Speakman of INSCOM (Army Intelligence); Bill Souder and Bob Wood of McDonnell Douglas; Jake Stewart of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; Bert Stubblebine of BDM; Ron Blackburn, Milt Janzen and Don Keuble of Lockheed; Ralph Freeman, Gary Bright, radiologist Paul Tyler, Ed Dames and Lt. Col. Mike Neery."

ATP members included Ed Dames, Jack Houck, Bob Wood, Hal Puthoff and John Alexander.

Alexander stated that one of ATP’s goals was to: “Study of the UFO data could provide a potential for a leap in technology. This would not require access to a craft, but could be derived from scientific examination of the reports determining the theoretical physics required to achieve such results.”

Through Dr. Blackburn, Alexander met Lockheed’s Ben Rich (but he didn’t join ADP). “My several contacts with Rich spanned nearly a decade... Of course our mutual interests covered far more than UFOs and included work on advanced aviation concepts for military purposes.” He went on to say: “Rich was extremely attentive to what we presented to him about UFOs... In fact, he had a shopping list of technologies that he wanted to get his hands on. The top priority was propulsion, but other technologies were of interest including navigation and the means for disappearing from radar.”

Modern Government UFO Contracts

Dr. Alexander’s ATP dissolved in 1988 since no agency wanted to fund it project as an official government project. However, that didn’t exactly mean the end, as Alexander and many of the members remained interested in the UFO topic and moved on Robert Bigelow’s  National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) from 1995 to 2004. 

Beginning in 2007, NIDS was replaced by Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), with Hal Puthoff and some of the team remaining either directly or as subcontractors. BAASS was contracted by the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP) for the stated goal:
“The objective of this program is to understand the physics and engineering of these [advanced aerospace weapon system] applications as they apply to the foreign threat out to the far-term, i.e., from now through the year 2050.” The program contract directe that, “The contractor shall complete advanced aerospace weapon system technical studies” on 12 topics, such as propulsion, power generation, materials, configuration, structure and directed-energy weapons. 

Bigelow conducted UFO studies under the AAWSAP contract using the cover story that their work was for “the goal of BAASS achieving breakthroughs in commercial technology.”

AAWSAP became known as AATIP, for Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, Bigelow’s contract with the DIA ended, and then the program officially folded in 2012. Luis Elizondo was a participant in AATIP, and insists it continued as a portfolio when he resigned in 2017. 

Elizondo left to join the company created by Tom DeLonge, To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, co-founded with Hal Puthoff and Jim Semivan. TTSA’s organization boasts many ex-government figures, from former contractors to military intelligence agents. Luis Elizondo, according to the Washington Post, “chose to join the private venture because he believed it was the best way to continue the work he was unable to complete as a government employee.”

Part of that work was in military systems applications, and the TTSA press release of Oct. 17, 2019
announced their work with the US Army: “...a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command to advance TTSA's materiel and technology innovations in order to develop enhanced capabilities for Army ground vehicles,” but the CRADA title is: “Novel & Emerging Technology Exploitation.” TTSA’s CRADA FAQ  explains their position about possibly becoming a defense contractor

The US military’s basic goals remain consistent over the decades, and it seems they are still trying to duplicate flying saucer characteristics and performance. The players may change, but the game remains the same.

 We’ll close with some thoughts on the flying saucer threat from 1947, by aviation pioneer Orville Wright.

The Dayton Herald, July 8, 1947.

. . .

For Further Reading

The above article barely scratches the surface on the possibly military saucer-related aircraft projects, which also includes many other platforms from circular wing aircraft to anti-gravity projects.

John B. Alexander, UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities, 2011

Keith Basterfiled, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena - scientific research:

Thomas P. Ehrhard, Air Force UAVs The Secret History, 2010

Michael D. Hall and Wendy A. Connors, Alfred Loedding & the GreatFlying Saucer Wave of 1947, 1998

Bill Rose and Tony Buttler, Secret Projects - Flying Saucer Aircraft , 2007

The saucer-shaped missile developed by the US Air Force 1957-1961: Pye Wacket

AVRO, Project Silverbug, Project Y, and Project 1794 and John Frost:

. . .

That lurid magazine cover in our header illustration was from Man’s Life, July 1954

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