Wednesday, March 23, 2022

How the Battle of Los Angeles Became a UFO Story


Before the Roswell incident, there was “the Battle of Los Angeles,” and both were big 1940s military-related newspaper stories later resurrected as major UFO cases. Our examination is not about primarily about what was in the California night skies in February 1942. Rather, we ask:

How, when, and why did this incident become associated with UFOs?

The Battle

The basic story is that during the early days of World War II, the “battle,” started with a plane being detected by radar off the coast of California, and the city of Los Angeles being blacked out. There was a very real fear that a second attack from Japan was coming, and it caused a panic. Searchlights roamed the sky while anti-aircraft artillery shells were fired at flying phantoms. The events were covered by the Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 1942:

"SEEKING OUT OBJECT - Scores of searchlights built a wigwam of light beams over Los Angeles early yesterday morning during the alarm. This picture was taken during blackout; shows nine beams converging on an object in sky in Culver City area. The blobs of light which show at apex of beam angles were made by anti-aircraft shells.”
Witnesses described seeing many things; blimps, balloons, strange lights, squadrons of planes in formation, while others saw nothing besides the searchlights.

A less dramatic photo appeared in
Life magazine March 9, 1942, in the article, “Japanese Carry War to California Coast.”

No Japanese aircraft were found to be involved, so in the aftermath of the battle, there was a controversy due to the uproar and damage caused by firing the artillery shells. People wanted to know: What was the Army shooting at, and if nothing, why? No one seemed to want to take responsibility for the mistake, and in that sense, maybe there was a coverup. In any case, the Martians were not suspected – yet.


Spaceships and Saucers

Spaceship in searchlights from Astounding, May 1940.

Ray Palmer was the editor of the science fiction and fantasy magazine, Amazing Stories, where he published the stories of Richard Shaver as nonfiction. Billed as the “Shaver Mystery,” the tales revolved around ancient spacefaring extraterrestrials, the Atlans, Titans, and “the deros,” their degenerate devilish descendants who lived in subterranean caverns beneath the earth.

Amazing Stories Feb. 1946 had a cover illustration reminiscent of the Battle of Los Angeles photo. Editor Ray Palmer, and AS June 1947

Carrying a cover date of June 1947, Palmer put out a special all-Shaver Mystery issue, released weeks ahead of the flying saucer sightings of Kenneth Arnold. In his editorial, Palmer presented the 1942 Los Angeles incident as sightings of spaceships, evidence in support of Shaver’s tales:
“Communication between these underground races (because they have the mechanical means to do so) and peoples who travel space in space ships, and sometimes venture near a sun-planet for raiding purposes (to steal ancient machines and supplies and to procure slaves), is postulated by Mr. Shaver, and borne out by the incredible number of reports we have and have had in the past, of visiting ‘ships’ in the sky (such as the mysterious ‘air raid’ suffered by Los Angeles during the war, and which the army now reveals has never been explained, except that it was no private or military plane of our own, and none of the Japs or any foreign power, but was certainly tracked by radar, and observed by many people to ‘appear to be rocket ships’ from three to five in number).”
The flying saucers sightings began shortly afterwards. Covering the controversy, the Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1947, ran an editorial article, “Have You Reported Your Flying Disk?” It skeptically suggested that UFOs sightings might be caused by disintegrating meteorites or a quirk of reflected light, and “From then on, autosuggestion is sufficient to carry it, as was the case with the 1942 ‘Battle of Los Angeles,’ when anti-aircraft bursts caught in searchlight beams were magnified into 27 twin-engined Japanese bombers, majestically flying in formation.”

Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1947

Into the 1950s

Ray Palmer left Amazing, but he launched a new similar magazine. Other Worlds Science Stories, January 1951 featured cover art by by James Settles for "Courtesy Call" by Roger P. Graham, writing under the house name, A. R. Steber. It was a first contact story, where a signal from space heralded the arrival of an extraterrestrial ship. 

A delegation of US authorities gathered on the coastline to meet the visitors, and the narrator said:
“I got out of the car and looked over the water. Here and there broad pillars of light climbed upward into the sky, searchlights seeking for the first glimpse of the space ships. Even as I looked the first beam caught one of them. At once a dozen of them swung over to fix it and follow it in its lazy downward swoop. It seemed cigar shaped, a typical science fiction conception of a space ship with its large stern rockets, until it banked. Then its full proportions were revealed, a gigantic discus that could have perched over the financial district, resting on the spires of skyscrapers.”
Its cover illustration was evocative of the Battle of 1942, but in this instance, there were only spotlights aimed at the skies, not artillery shells.

LIFE magazine May 21, 1951 featured a long article by Winthrop Sargeant that seriously discussed Science Fiction, but also discussed the trashy side, things like Bug-Eyed Monsters and the Shaver Mystery. Describing Ray Palmer’s publication of the Shaver tales, Life said:
“The deros were responsible for much of the evil in the world… [behind] virtually every mysterious or unexplained occurrence reported in the news. They were held responsible for the disappearance of Justice Crater, for the mysterious ‘air raid’ over California just after Pearl Harbor, for the reports of flying saucers.”

The 1942 shelling and the topic of saucers were mentioned together again, in the Los Angeles Times, Aug. 1, 1952, but as an argument against the reality of UFOs. Veteran columnist Bill Henry referred to "the great ‘Battle of Los Angeles’ of 1942 in which something resembling a flying saucer — it was really an errant weather balloon — touched off the gosh-durndest artillery barrage that our community has witnessed before or since."

Los Angeles Times, Aug. 1, 1952

The Air Force files of Project Blue Book contains letters received with reports of flying saucers, both new and old, but none of them mentioned the Los Angeles events. It wasn’t part of UFO history.

The 1960s: The Battle Enters UFO Lore

Ray Palmer had tried to bring spaceships into the story, but it didn’t take. About 25 years later, the Battle was finally adopted by ufology. The 1960s saw a resurgence of public interest in flying saucers and several authors were looking at old wonders in the sky to present as UFO cases. That may have prompted the rebirth of the Los Angeles story.

The first known direct association of the 1942 incident with UFOs comes from M. A. McCartney’s letter to National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) dated Jan. 10, 1966. McCartney had been a 23-year-old air-raid warden, and he reported seeing a brightly glowing, spherical red object over Hawthorne (southwest of L.A.) As quoted in The UFO Encyclopedia Volume 2 by Jerome Clark, 1992: 
“It traveled horizontally a short distance very slowly and then made an abrupt 90-degree [turn] rising abruptly,” he said. “Again it stopped and remained motionless.” 
Summarizing McCartney’s account, Clark wrote, “After a few minutes it flew away and was lost in the distance.” NICAP did not publish the letter at the time, so it didn’t play a public role in popularizing the story. However other people were on the verge of making the connection to UFOs.

Kenneth Larson wrote about the 1942 incident and published “The Los Angeles UFO’s” in the fanzine, Saucer Scoop Dec. 1966, while it didn’t include a photo, but mentioned it:
“The next morning, the Los Angeles Times printed several articles on the matter and even displayed a photograph showing the unidentified flying object in the sky. The article said that the Army’s Western Defense command insisted the blackout was the result of unidentified aircraft sighted over the city."
Only a few buffs read it, but in 1967, a new 5-page article by Kenneth Larson, “First Authentic Flying Saucer Photo” appeared in Flying Saucers Pictorial - The world's largest collection of UFO Photographs!, a magazine format volume edited and published by Max Miller. It was carried in newsstands and reached a general audience. It was the first presentation of the 1942 picture as something anomalous, and Larson concluded that since what was fired at could not be shot down, “It seems obvious that these objects that flew over Los Angeles in 1942 were UFO’s.”

Flying Saucers Pictorial

More exposure came when Brad Steiger and Joan Whritenour picked up on Larson’s story in Saucer Scoop and summarized it in their 1967 book, Flying Saucers are Hostile. (No photo was included.)
John P. Bessor (originator of the 1947 hypotheses that UFOs are celestial animals), had a letter published in Fate magazine April 1967, warning against the cruelty of exorcising of ghosts, since they might be banished into space and bothered by things like satellites and UFOs. He closed with a tangential question:
“Incidentally, has anyone the full story on the torpedo-shaped objects that hovered for more than an hour over Los Angeles one night in January or February, 1942 — drawing considerable anti-aircraft fire? — J. Bessor, Pittsburgh, Pa.”
Gordon Lore and Harold Deneault of NICAP focused on pre-1947 UFO events in their 1968 book, Mysteries of the Skies: UFOs in Perspective. Chapter 6 (pages 74-87) was titled “The Battle of Los Angeles,” and their primary source was “Raymond Angier, an aircraft worker who did double duty as an air raid warden.

Angier provided extensive notes he had compiled after the sighting and told the story behind the story of February 25, 1942.” Their examination was of the reports of the “unidentified lights” and the “flares and blinking lights” described as hovering near defense plants that night. The famous searchlights photo was not discussed or reproduced. The authors concluded, “Although it cannot be proved beyond a doubt that no planes were over Los Angeles on the morning of February 25, the evidence is more in favor of unidentified flying objects.”

“The UFOs of 1942” by Paul T. Collins appeared in Exploring the Unknown, September 1968, and later reprinted in Flying Saucer Digest No. 19 in 1972. Collins included his personal testimony, over 25 years after the events, saying he: “noticed a strange pattern of movement in certain bright red spots of light in the sky over Long Beach. It was a pattern which could not possibly have been made by any man-made object, or by beams of light, either from the ground or from aircraft.”

NICAP issued a UFO calendar in 1972 of historical highlights, and for Feb. 24, it featured the “Battle of Los Angeles.”

Ralph and Judy Blum mentioned the story in their 1974 book, Beyond Earth: Man’s Contact with UFOs, chiefly from the perspective of Ralph’s childhood memories of the shelling incident.

The Rest is History

The Battle of Los Angeles gradually was cited more frequently in books and magazines as an early flying saucer case, and it slowly entered the UFO canon. Above Top Secret by Timothy Good, 1987, featured a section, “The Los Angeles Air Raid, 1942,” and the books’ illustrations included the photo.

Exposure peaked around 2010 due to the exploitation of the 1942 story and photo in the marketing of the 2011 Columbia Pictures science fiction movie, Battle: Los Angeles. The promotion of the film was aided and abetted by several ufologists, cementing the UFO connection in popular culture.

It was also around this time that it was revealed that the flying saucer ufologists were seeing in the convergence of the searchlights in the LA Times photo was man-made. In 2011, Reporter Larry Harnisch located the print used in the Times and said,
“much of what you see in this photo is painted: The beams from the searchlights are airbrushed. The supposed bursts of antiaircraft shells are blobs of paint… [the] darkened skyline, is a combination of black paint outlined with the faintest edge of airbrushing.”

Los Angeles Times file photo

Tim Printy wrote a skeptical examination of the photo and story as UFO evidence in his online magazine see SUNlite vol. 1, “The Battle of LA UFO story.” Printy also located The Antiaircraft Journal, Volume 92, Number 3, May-June 1949, which featured “Activities of the Ninth Army AAA” by Col. John G. Murphy, CAC.

“L.A. ‘Attacked,’" was Murphy’s eyewitness testimony and explanation of the events:
“Roughly about half the witnesses were sure they saw planes in the sky. One flier vividly described 10 planes in V formation. The other half saw nothing. … Once the firing started, imagination created all kinds of targets in the sky and everyone joined in. Well after all these years, the true story can be told. One of the AA Regiments (we still had Regiments) sent up a meteorological balloon about 1:00 AM. That was the balloon that started all the shooting! When quiet had settled down on the ‘embattled’ City of the Angels, a different regiment… sent up a balloon, and hell broke loose again. (Note: Both balloons, as I remember, floated away majestically and safely.)”

"Necessity is the Mother of Invention”

Ray Palmer got there first, and he knew something about how to attract readers, and he certainly helped get the UFO business rolling. Since 1947, there has been a public appetite for new UFO cases, one that can’t be satisfied by the pace of genuine sightings. By mining historical events, enterprising ufologists can discover or manufacture “new” UFO cases for their audiences.
(Spurious ufologist illustration)

Particularly rich ore can be found in the ambiguity of events clouded with confusion and contradictory witness testimony. With some selective editing, old stories can be recast into something phenomenal.

. . .


For Further Reading 

To go beyond our summary of the incident, see the original news coverage at the Los Angeles Times.

The Battle of Los Angeles at Saturday Night Uforia, is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to examine the events and what followed.

Another good collection of photos and information is The Battle of L.A., 1942 by Scott Harrison at Los Angeles

Thanks to Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos, Isaac Koi, and Tim Printy for research materials and resources used in this article.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Project Saucer: The Movie

There was a great UFO movie from the early 1950s that was never made – until the 1960s. The story centered on the capture of a flying saucer and the exploitation of its technology – the intriguing concept behind the Roswell crash story and many other UFO legends. 

The investigation of unidentified flying objects by the United States Air Force was officially known a Project: Sign, then Grudge, then Blue Book, but originally more famous under the nickname of Project Saucer. One Hollywood producer thought that’d make a catchy name for a motion picture. Box Office magazine, September 16, 1950, carried an announcement for a new movie on page 28:
Jerry Fairbanks Plans Flying Disc Subject

“Better move over, Buck Rogers… Hollywood’s filmmakers are adding space sagas to their dockets. Latest of the movie moguls to probe an explanatory finger into the subject is Jerry Fairbanks, producer of commercial and industrial subjects and video films, who is planning Project Saucer as a feature length entry for theatrical release. He has booked Rip Van Ronkel (who scripted Destination Moon to prepare the storyline and will shoot the opus in color starting this winter, with distribution arrangements yet to be set. Data to be incorporated in the film, Fairbanks said, has been compiled by his research department for the past three years.” 

Another mention came in the Oct. 13 column by Dick Williams in the Los Angeles Mirror:

“Jerry Fairbanks is planning ‘Project Saucer’ based on the official Air Force investigation group (which persistent reports indicate is still busy at work at Wright Field, Dayton, O., under Central Intelligence). Variety says Warner Bros. is interested in ‘Behind the Flying Saucers.’ Republic will start work on ‘Flying [Disc] Men from Mars’ next month.”

The project stalled, but another attempt at making the film was announced in Broadcasting Telecasting, April 5, 1954: 

Broadcasting Telecasting, April 5, 1954

Catalog of Copyright Entries, Jan-June 1954

The timing or the money wasn’t right, and it stalled again. In 1964 Jerry Fairbanks revived Project Saucer, but it took two years to get the cameras rolling. Fairbanks was quoted promoting it in an April 11, 1966, Daily Variety, stating that the script for Project Saucer was written by Rip Van Ronkel “over a decade ago when flying saucers first became the rage in the U.S.” (Sadly, Van Ronkel had died the year before at the age of 56.)
The screenplay was submitted to the U.S. Department of Defense, but they objected to how the Air Force and the CIA were portrayed, and they requested a few changes. See the letter to Jerry Fairbanks dated 12 April 1966 in the CIA files.

As a result of the negative reaction from the DOD, Fairbanks, director Frank Telford and “a new team of writers” updated the screenplay, changing the story away from being a Project Blue Book investigation. As it was retooled, the Vietnam-era anti-war sentiment influenced the script and probably the location of the action. The organization sponsoring the UFO retrieval was not named as the CIA. Also, the role of the Air Force was virtually eliminated from the story and more of the characters were changed to civilian specialists.

From the revised screenplay

To save on the budget, the movie was set to be filmed in Spain, but Fairbanks was able to strike deals to make it for the same cost and began production in Hollywood in the fall of 1966 with National Telefilm Associates (NTA). When completed, Project Saucer sat on the shelf for over a year until a distributor could be found, finally released in early 1968 as The Bamboo Saucer. The title was a play on the Cold War phrase, “Bamboo Curtain,” itself a variant of “Iron Curtain” for the demarcation between the Communist and capitalist states of East Asia, particularly the People's Republic of China.

The plot of the movie was slightly similar to Mikel Conrad’s 1950 film, The Flying Saucer, with rival teams from the US and Soviets out to capture a flying saucer for their nation. The 1950 film was about a secret terrestrial weapon but this time, the saucer was of extraterrestrial origin. Otherwise, there were no science fiction elements, the story was based on UFO lore from the genuine – the saucer-related death of Captain Thomas F. Mantell on January 7, 1948, to the fantastic - Frank Scully’s magnetic spaceships from Behind the Flying Saucers.

In advance of its release, The Bamboo Saucer was promoted via the flyer pictured above at George van Tassel’s famous flying saucer Contactee convention in October 1967: 

“N.T.A. salutes the 14th annual Spacecraft Convention at Giant Rock, and respectfully directs your attention to the exciting new motion picture…” 

The copy teased the story:

“From deep inside Red China a peasant’s drawing of a terrifying object from outer space spurs a dramatic search with international significance, terminating in an incredible flight through infinity!”

 The actual theatrical movie poster for The Bamboo Saucer said:

"’IT LANDED HERE...IN RED CHINA!’ These words trigger the most incredible life-and-death struggle between RUSSIA and the UNITED STATES...who would be first to find this fantastic machine from outer space and unlock its awesome secrets!”


The Depiction of UFO Concepts in the Movie

Our summary of the film skips many of the plot elements and drama to focus on the UFO aspects of the story. If you wish to watch the movie before reading, I can be viewed on YouTube

While flying the experimental X-109, test pilot Fred Norwood encounters a UFO, a large blue disc with a domed top, no ports or windows. The saucer does not rotate, but pulsing lights around seem to spin around its rim. It flies with great speed and makes erratic turns and maneuvers. The title and the opening credits roll, then this text introduction appears on the screen:

“Grateful acknowledgement is made to all the nationally recognized organizations and publications whose research and records have formed the basis for this story. To the more than 5,000,000 persons who claim to have actually seen Unidentified Flying Objects, no explanation is necessary. To all others no explanation is possible. 

When Norwood lands, he describes the saucer to the flight control as, “Disk-like maybe 40 feet in diameter. Shiny, metallic.” However, there’s no proof; the UFO disabled ground radar, and they tell him all he saw was an illusion caused by a temperature inversion. Norwood is fired from the project, but tries to pursue the UFO independently, and it results in his friend being killed in a crash reminiscent of the tragic incident with Captain Mantell. We aren’t told that the UFO is hostile, but both incidents depicted show the saucer interfere with the flight of our aircraft, the second time with deadly results.

Sometime later, Norwood is summoned to the Washington, D.C. to meet Mr. Hank Peters of an unnamed US government agency with an office door marked, “Security Personnel Only.” Peters shows him a sketch that matches Norwood’s saucer and tells him it’s of a UFO was that was recovered in Red China and hidden in an abandoned church:
“It landed there… the bodies of two – uh – creatures were found nearby, human-like and yet different… The remains decayed very rapidly, and the peasants cremated what was left. …that thing could be so scientifically advanced as to make our technology obsolete and if the Red Chinese get their hands on it, the free world is obsolete.”

Peters recruits Norwood and two other civilians for the US team, and they parachute into China with the mission to clandestinely evade the Chinese Army to capture or destroy the saucer. On the way to the UFO’s location, they encounter their counterparts, a team from the Soviet Union and they face each other with guns drawn.

Both teams are composed of scientists and technical experts but led by government men with a military agenda. It turns out the Soviets are also operating in secret, and the two teams reluctantly agree to work together for mutual survival, and to prevent the Chinese government from getting the saucer.

Cast from left to right: Bernard Fox (as metallurgist Dave Ephram), Bob Hastings (as electronics wizard Jack Garson), Lois Nettleton (as USSR electronics engineer Anna Karachev), Vincent Beck (as USSR metallurgist Zagorsky), Rico Cattani (as Comrade Dubovsky, Soviet team leader), Dan Duryea (as Hank Peters, USA team leader), and John Ericson (as test pilot Fred Norwood).

When they finally find the saucer, the scientists determine it is made from an unknown metal stronger than anything known. Entering the cabin, they find it full of consoles, screens, and instruments designed to be operated by human-like beings.

Portions of the dome are transparent, like four one-way windows, undetectable from the outside. There are no seats or restraints, and they decide the ship produces its own gravity field which allows the occupants to withstand the extreme maneuvers the craft performs. They briefly activate the propulsion and determine its technology operates by “universal lines of magnetic force.” The Russian metallurgist Zagorsky says:
“If we could utilize this principle, we could exploit literally limitless fields of energy. We could irrigate deserts, desalt oceans, increase production of food, of everything, one-hundred-fold.” 
Norwood, replies, “We could also manufacture one hell of a super-weapon.”

The Chinese army discovers their location and each team’s hawkish leader takes their men to (G-rated) war. Three of the teams’ members narrowly manage to escape with the saucer, but they lose control, and it flies into space. 

As it approaches light speed and heads for a crash into Saturn, working together they literally turn things around and return to earth, deciding no one nation should be given such power.

They head for neutral territory, and on the way, Fred Norton delivers the moral of the story:
“You know, when the world sees this ship, everybody's gonna have to realize there are other intelligent beings in the universe. They will have to meet them face to face one day. All the nations of this earth better be ready to stand together.”

The story was influenced by Silas Newton’s Aztec yarn depicted in Behind the Flying Saucers by Frank Scully, where landed saucers and dead crewmen were captured by the US military. 

Frank Scully and Silas Newton (seated).

Another element from Scully’s book is the magnetic powers source which can be used to provided free energy or used as a lethal weapon. The screenplay eliminates the aliens from the story and only the saucer itself is left as a technological mystery and prize for the nation who captures it. The final message is similar to that of the Contactees like George Adamski, that Earth’s nations should unite in brotherhood.

The Crash of a Flying Saucer Film

 The Bamboo Saucer is a little-known film that it was overshadowed by the release of two science fiction classics the same year, Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film was produced by a minor studio, a low-budget B-feature exhibited mostly at drive-in theaters. While

The Bamboo Saucer has its flaws, it is worthwhile for how it examines some UFO concepts. It might be regarded as a classic if it had been completed in the 1950s alongside The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The screenplay was ahead of its time, but by the time it was filmed a decade and a half later, even television had been churning out saucer and alien stories for years.

The Bamboo Saucer was translated and issued abroad. In 1969 it was re-released, cut from 103 to 90 minutes under title Collision Course and later televised under that name.

The end of the 60s were bad for the UFO business in fact and fiction. On television, Star Trek was cancelled on Feb. 18, 1969, and months later Project Blue Book closed shop on investigating UFOs. Except for the Planet of the Apes franchise, not much was happening for science fiction and space films in the cinemas. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s, when a sf resurgence led to mainstream blockbusters like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The Bamboo Saucer was either behind or ahead of the times. It’s worth picturing it as an anachronism, and with a healthy sense of wonder and imagination - for what might have been.

The original theatrical version can be seen at the Internet Archive or watched on YouTube.

The Bamboo Saucer

A Jerry Fairbanks Production

Writer/Director: Frank Telford

Original Story: Rip Van Ronkel, John P. Fulton

Photography: Hal Mohr

Special Effects: John P. Fulton, Glen Robinson, Deon Hanson

Music: Edward Paul

The American Film Institute site reports that one contributor died shortly before movie and another shortly after its release. “On 1 Jul 1966, in the midst of pre-production, writer and special effects man John Fulton died of a blood condition... The Bamboo Saucer also marked the final feature film role for Dan Duryea, who died of cancer on 7 Jun 1968.”

. . .

Special thanks to Ricky Poole for introducing me to this The Bamboo Saucer and the story behind it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

UFOs, Aliens, & U.S. Air Force Academy Textbooks

On December 17, 1969, the Secretary of the Air Force announced the termination of Project Blue Book, the USA’s program for the investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena. The closure was based on the "Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects," a report prepared under the direction of Dr. Edward U. Condon at the University of Colorado. Condon concluded that little had “come from the study of UFOs in the past,” and further study was “not justified.” The Air Force agreed. Months later, contradictory news surfaced.

Controversy erupted with the disclosure that UFOs and aliens were the subject of a textbook at an accredited four-year university, the United States Air Force Academy. The publicity caused the US government great embarrassment, and news stories subsequently reported that the textbook was withdrawn, the UFO studies canceled. The facts are now in, and the real story can be told, including how the author of the book went on to explore eternal youth, ghosts, and measuring the mass of paranormal entities and human souls. 

There are three main sections to this virtual booklet:

  • The Textbook… and The UFO Scandal
  • The UFO Chapter, an Official Disclosure?
  • Professor Carpenter’s Path to the Paranormal Afterwards, documents and references:
  • PDF of the 3 USAFA Textbook UFO Chapter Versions and Related Documents
  • Acknowledgements, Sources, and Resources
  • Donald G. Carpenter’s Published Works

Join us now in the history of another one of…

The Textbook 

Donald Gilbert Carpenter went to college, joined the Air Force, earned a Ph.D. in Physics, then became a professor for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA or AFA). Carpenter worked under Colonel Anthony J. Mione, who became the head and first permanent professor of the physics department at the USFA in 1966. 

Under Mione’s watch in 1968, the Academy taught a course for third-year cadets, Physics 370, using Introductory Space Science, the textbook edited by Major Donald G. Carpenter. The book’s 33 chapters were written by Carpenter and other Air Force experts, published for the course’s 1968 Fall semester. As later described by the Air Force, it was “a 470-page textbook printed by the AFA, [it] is used by approximately 20 cadets each semester who are enrolled in Physics 370, a small elective course.” The AFA reportedly printed 200 copies, to be used exclusively by the class. The book consisted of two spiral-bound volumes with a total of thirty-three chapters. It was the final section that caused a news flap when the word got out, “Chapter XXXIII Unidentified Flying Objects.” 

Why was the UFO topic included in the Air Force’s Physics class on space science? The introduction only indicated it was a problem:

“The literature on UFO's is so vast… we can only present a sketchy outline of the subject… [including] description classifications, operational domains (temporal and spatial), some theories as to the nature of the UFO phenomenon, human reactions, attempts to attack the problem scientifically, and some tentative conclusions.” 

The Air Force traditionally discussed UFOs in terms of mistaken identification, but Carpenter spent only about a sentence on that, saying instead, “What we will do here is to present evidence that UFOs are a global phenomenon which may have persisted for many thousands of years.” There was little in the 14-page chapter about how UFOs might relate to concepts of propulsion or space travel, but it said our laws of physics might not apply. “We should not deny the possibility of alien control of UFOs on the basis of preconceived notions…” Carpenter briefly discussed aspects of reported UFO and alien encounters, lingering on the 1957 attack on the Sutton family near Kelly, KY, the 1964 Lonnie Zamora incident, and the 1961 abduction story of Barney and Betty Hill. While Carpenter attempted to be balanced, the reader was left a bit whipsawed: 

“The entire phenomenon could be psychological in nature but that is quite doubtful...  The phenomenon could also be entirely due to known and unknown phenomena (with some psychological ‘noise’ added in) but that too is questionable in view of some of the available data. This leaves us with the unpleasant possibility of alien visitors to our planet… three and maybe four different groups of aliens… A solution to the UFO problem may be obtained by the long and diligent effort…However, even if such an effort were made, there is no guarantee of success… there may be nothing to find…”
 (We will continue the examination of the contents of the chapter in another section.)

Following Carpenter’s conclusion, he presented a list of 18 books and articles on UFOs, references “to read further in this area.” 

The Academy used Carpenter’s textbook through the Fall and Spring 1968-69 and 1969-70 semesters. Shortly after the 1970 semester began, national media carried the news that the Air Force was teaching its cadets about UFOs and aliens.


The UFO Scandal

The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization’s APRO Bulletin May-June 1970, was aware of the USAFA textbook, saying it had “caused quite a stir in UFO circles in the first half of 1970.” That was nothing compared to the stir that came a few months later when, thanks to ufologist Earl J. Neff, the tabloid press got a hold of the story in late September. The National Enquirer dated Oct. 11, 1970, carried a cover headline breaking the news, and the opening line stated:

"A textbook used by the Air Force Academy to teach cadets warns them that Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) could be real spacecraft operated by alien peoples who are closely watching the world.” 

The mainstream press subsequently picked up the story and it was covered widely in newspapers: 

Miami Herald, Omaha World-Herald, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, UPI, Oct. 1-2, 1970 

Lawrence Fawcett and Barry J. Greenwood discussed the 1970 textbook drama in pages 13-14 of their 1984 book, Clear Intent: The Government Coverup of the UFO Experience: 

“The whole [UFO] section came as something of a jolt to outsiders. Here was a very clear admission that UFOs were a difficult problem and warranted extensive scientific study. And this was being taught to Air Force cadets! It made the entire Blue Book effort seem rather hollow and unsubstantial.” 

The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) said in their UFO Investigator, Oct. 1970, “NICAP obtained a copy of the textbook's UFO chapter in October 1969. No attempt was made to publicize it…” The author had spoken to Carpenter and obtained a rare quote; introducing it, NICAP said: 

“The chapter was written in 1968 by Major (now Lt. Colonel) Donald G. Carpenter… at the request of his superiors, who wanted to update educational material being used by the Physics Department, Carpenter was under no obligation to seek clearance work from the Pentagon or other high Air Force office. He did submit the textbook to the Academy’s public information office, but no objection was raised to the UFO chapter.

In speaking recently with Carpenter (who no longer teaches at the Academy), NICAP asked his personal opinion on the subject of UFOs. ‘I have no firm conclusions,’ he said; ‘I can see merit in more than one point of view, and I find the data exceedingly interesting.’ He went on to explain that his purpose in preparing the UFO chapter was not to stress one hypothesis or take a particular position, but to give the students an overview of the problem.”


The New Chapter 33: U.A.P. 

 NICAP’s UFO Investigator, Dec. 1970, reported:

“Air Academy Replaces UFO Text: Switch Comes After Fuss Over Old Version.”

NICAP suspected a cover-up. At the time of the news blitz, the USAFA instructor of Physics 370, “Captain Edward Peterson offered to send an ‘Errata and Addenda’ sheet to NICAP to show how the UFO section had been updated, not replaced.”  However, “Following widespread news stories that played up the text’s liberal treatment of the UFO controversy, the Academy substituted a much abbreviated, ‘revised’ version of the 14-page textbook chapter, contending that the old version was ‘out of date’…” NICAP identified Capt. Peterson as the author of the new chapter, and acknowledged that “the revised text retains a large measure of the objectivity of the old chapter.” 

A more thorough official explanation of the chapter replacement came from Col. James F Sunderman, USAF, Director of Information, Nov. 4, 1970: 

“In light of [recent] developments, the in-class content of the course was changed to present orally the conclusions of the Condon report and the reasons why the Air Force cancelled Project Blue Book. It was considered uneconomical to reprint the entire second volume for such a limited number of students until the fall of 1970. Beginning with the 1970 fall semester, a revised updated chapter entitled 'Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ has been substituted for the old chapter so that the text now follows the oral in-class presentation on this subject.”
 Captain Edward A. Peterson’s new 7-page chapter, “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” also favored the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs, but it attempted to be a balanced overview, concluding in part:

“Based on the conclusions of the Condon report and its own twenty-year UFO experience, the Air Force terminated Project Blue Book… Criticisms of the Condon report include the contention that the conclusions reached are not supported by the bulk of the evidence in the report itself and that the firing of two staff members for ‘incompetence’ before the completion of the final report raises questions concerning the objectivity and completeness of the study.

…It is unlikely that any new official scientific studies will be forthcoming... The UFO problem must now compete on its scientific merit with all the other pressing scientific problems facing mankind.” 

That was supposedly the end of it. Most people thought the Air Force Academy stopped teaching about UFOs. Not so. 


1972: The UFO Mystery 

The extent that Donald Carpenter corresponded with ufologists is largely undocumented, but the archives of prominent Canadian researcher Arthur Bray contain an item believed to be from 1968: “an unpublished chapter entitled ‘Unidentified Flying Objects’ from the book ‘Introductory Space Science: Volume II’. The chapter was sent to Arthur Bray and signed by the author.” 

In 1970, Maj. Carpenter made a complete revision of his original chapter 33, preserving the original tone, but reordered, corrected, and updated. It also incorporated data from the 7-page Fall 1970 semester substitute by Capt. Peterson. Copies of the 28-page manuscript were privately circulated, and one reached the hands of Dord Fitz, a traveling art teacher with an interest in the paranormal. 

In 1972, Environmental Space Sciences was published in Northbrook, Illinois, by Whitehall Company, a revised version of Carpenter’s 1968 textbook. In the acknowledgment section, Carpenter thanked those who had helped him, including Captain Edward A. Peterson, and said, “strong encouragement was offered by Col. Anthony J. Mione, Permanent Professor of Physics at the United States Air Force Academy.” 

Instead of excising the UFO material, instead it was given greater prominence. The back cover stated, “This book provides some of the essential information needed… [for] the whole new and fascinating field of Space Science, including the problem of the UFO.” The title of the revised 26-page chapter 33 was “The UFO Mystery.” 

The UFO chapter’s list of references grew from the original 18 to 23, adding: 

  • Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects by Dr. E. U. Condon, 1969.
  • “More on UFOs,” a letter by Stanton Friedman, Physics Today. January 1971.
  • UFOs? Yes! by David Saunders and Roger Harkins,1969.
  • “UFOs: Greatest Scientific Problem of Our Times?”, paper by James McDonald, 1967.
  • Flying Saucers: Hoax or Reality? by Jerome Stanton, 1966.

Carpenter discussed several UFO cases as before, but he dropped the sketchy unverified tale of two sentries burned by a UFO on Nov. 4, 1957, at Fort Itaipu, Brazil. He again presented the “Book of Dzyan” story, but as an example of the misinformation so often found in UFO lore.

“The reason for including this hoax at this point in this chapter is to show you, in a way that you will remember, that just because someone tells you that something is true does not make it really true. You must be skeptical of all information presented both by UFO buffs and UFO detractors. As of right now there is no conclusive evidence for either side.” 

In the section, “Medium Scale Scientific Efforts,” Carpenter discussed the flaws in the Condon UFO Study and said, “The Condon Report conclusions may well be correct . . . but they may also be quite wrong.” He retained the closing of the original chapter 33, advising readers to “to keep an open and skeptical mind.” 

The full text of the original manuscript of “The UFO Mystery” and the version published in the textbook are both included in our PDF at the end of this article, without omissions or embellishments, for the first time since the 1970s. 

Environmental Space Sciences was published for use as a textbook by schools and colleges, and the magazine The Science Teacher, Nov. 1973, carried a review of it.

How many educational institutions used Environmental Space Sciences is difficult to determine, but there was an important one. The United States Air Force Academy purchased it for Physics 370, and just like magic, there was a UFO chapter back in their textbook, but this time carried a disclaimer. “This book is not a United States Government publication.” 

ESS flew under the radar and escaped a new media storm. However, the press was still churning the old story.

An erroneous story on the old textbook surfaced in the tabloid Midnight, Nov. 5, 1973:

“The US Air Force Academy has withdrawn from use a textbook which warns cadets of the existence of Unidentified Flying Objects, apparently because of fears that the textbook's contents would become public knowledge.” Later it said, “MIDNIGHT's UFO expert, Hayden Hewes, says that despite all the solid information contained in the textbook, the Air Force decided to withdraw it from classroom use when word of the book's existence began to leak out to the public.”
(The tabloids revived the story every few years, as if it were a new discovery.)

Col. Mione's support of UFO Studies 

Asked about the Air Force Academy’s textbook chapter on UFOs, on December 13, 1973, Col. Anthony J. Mione, wrote back to William Gordon Allen, saying they were still teaching the topic as part of Physics 370: 

“As a general response, we are continuing to present essentially the same material covered in the draft that you have. However, we now use the commercially published version Environmental Space Sciences published by the Whitehall Company… In this text an expanded section on UFOs and extraterrestrial life is included. The section attempts to provide a hopefully unbiased summary of UFO information and concludes, ’the best thing to do is to keep an open and skeptical mind and not take an extreme position on any side of the question.’ 

To further expand on the background we hope our graduates will have, we invited and had Dr. Stanton Friedman visit with us last April. During his visit he presented two large audience lectures and two seminars essentially in support of his subject, ‘Flying Saucers are Real.’ 

I hope you gathered that we do make a continuing and real effort to provide our students with all views of current topics. They are expected to come to their own mature conclusions based upon the broadest foundation of knowledge and information that we can provide. 

Yours truly, Anthony J. Mione, Colonel, USAF,
Professor and Head (of the Department of Physics)” 

William Gordon Allen reproduced the letter in his 1974 book, Overlords and Olympians, and featured it in his rather imaginative documentary, Overlords of the UFO, 1976. (Virtually everything from Allen besides the text of the letter from Col. Mione should be disregarded.) Here’s a clip from Overlords of the UFO with the section on the USAFA and Col. Mione’s letter. 1977-03-08: UFO Col Anthony J Mione. 

Col. Mione mentioned ufologist (not Dr.) Stanton Friedman lecturing for his cadets. We couldn’t find any documentation on that, but Friedman was lecturing about 120 miles away at Colorado State University on April 19, 1973, so he was close enough to speak at the Academy as well that month. 

Fort Collins Coloradoan, April 19, 1973

In the National Enquirer article, March 14, 1978, “Air Force Academy has One of Largest UFO Libraries,” by Charles Cobb, Col. Mione said that the USAFA used Carpenter’s revised textbook in the Physics 370 course from 1972 until 1974. The article also mentioned an incident from the chapter, an F-86 jet firing on a saucer. “The book, "Environmental Space Sciences" edited by retired Air Force Col. Donald Carpenter does not disclose where and when the encounter took place. Carpenter, now of North Granby, Conn., told The ENQUIRER that he no longer has the documents that would enable him to pinpoint the location and date of the incident. Carpenter once taught the space science course, which was replaced by an astronomy course in 1974.” 

(The source for the F-86 story will be resolved in our next section.) 

It seems no one paid any attention, but at least twice, Col. Mione disclosed that the UFO subject had continued to be taught to Air Force cadets. We asked US Air Force Academy Research Librarian Joseph Barry, who provided confirmation by email: 

“For Fall 1972 the Department of Physics used the updated and retitled textbook [Environmental Space Sciences] by Lt Col Donald C. Carpenter for Physics 370.  They ordered 50 copies for that semester with delivery from the Whitehall Company.  Volume I of older edited edition by Carpenter, Introductory Space Science (two volumes) was still made available for the Fall 1972 semester because the Department of Physics did not have it in sufficient quantities. I believe the text Introductory Space Science (Vol I and II) was published in 1966 but reprinted and updated in 1968.  By Fall 1974 semester, a new text was selected to replace Space Environmental Sciences entitled Astronomy Fundamentals and Frontiers by Jastrow and Thompson.”

The Air Force estimated “approximately 20 cadets each semester” for Physics 370, and with the Fall and Spring sessions from the 1968-9 to 1973-4, that would equal at least 240 students enrolled. The United States Air Force Academy’s Physics 370 included UFOs in their studies for at least six years.


The UFO Chapter, an Official Disclosure?

The Air Force Academy textbook’s chapter 33 was an overview of the UFO topic and attempted to present a balanced view of the topic, but… Looking at Carpenter’s references/bibliography for the chapter, we can see he was drawing from some shaky sources, mostly flying saucer books from the popular press. As a result, he repeated some far-out speculative notions from them, unwittingly including some hoaxes and tall tales as if genuine. 

Carpenter used Frank Edwards Flying Saucers - Serious Business, 1966 as a source, and from it he pulled a several bits, including an ancient legend recounted from “the Book of Dzyan,” about a flying huge shining metal vessel that unleashed fire on a city, and burned and blinded the people below. From it also came the story of Alexander Hamilton, who swore a strange cigar-shaped flying machine had stolen his cow. For the 1972 book, Carpenter corrected the Book of Dzyan gaffe, but it wouldn’t be until the mid-1970s that the cow hoax was straightened out. Jacques Vallee had brought the Alexander Hamilton cow-knapping story into UFO lore in Anatomy of a Phenomenon, 1965, and it was widely circulated as genuine until 1976/7 when researchers received testimony and uncovered Hamilton’s old confession of the hoax. (Jerome Clarke’s Extraordinary Encounters: An Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrials and Otherworldly Beings, 2000.) 

From the cover illustration: Flying Saucers and the U.S. Air Force by Lawrence J. Tacker. 

One of the most dramatic parts of Carpenter’s chapter was the story of a US military encounter with a saucer-shaped UFO:

“About ten o'clock one morning, a radar site near a fighter base picked up a UFO doing 700 mph… two F-86's were scrambled to intercept. …The UFO began to accelerate away but... the pilot armed his guns and fired… the UFO pulled away rapidly, vanishing in the distance.”

The tale was neither a new disclosure, nor even secret. It was originally featured in the very first line of the 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, by Captain Edward Ruppelt:

“In the summer of 1952 a United States Air Force F-86 jet interceptor shot at a flying saucer.” 

Several months before the textbook story went viral, the APRO Bulletin May-June 1970, said that the excitement of ufologists was unwarranted, because the material published was not “of an official nature,” and it leaned “heavily on published material from the field of civilian UFO research and reach[ed] no conclusions.”

APRO got it right, but few paid any attention. The chapter was not drawn from original UFO data or investigations, it was written without any input from Project Blue Book. Carpenter made a good faith attempt to survey the body of knowledge on UFOs. His mistake was including material from books written by some careless and imaginative authors in the popular press. 

The most sensational aspect of the story was Carpenter’s discussion of aliens, whom he suggested might come from civilizations on our neighboring planets.

“…what questionable data there are suggest the existence of at least three and maybe four different groups of aliens...  It implies the existence of intelligent life on a majority of the planets in our solar system, or a surprisingly strong interest in Earth by members of other solar systems.” 

Carpenter listed four types of commonly described aliens (paraphrasing):

1. Little men, 3.5 feet tall, with a round head, long arms, wearing space suits/coveralls.
2. A humanlike species.
3. The Hill’s species, short with wrap around eyes, and mouths with very thin lips.
4. Hairy dwarves, about four feet tall, covered with thick hair or fur.  

The Aliens by Hayden Hewes, 1970. Illustrated by Hal Crawford.

A few years later, Ufologist Hayden Hewes’ article, “Alien Coincidence?” in Flying Saucers: Mysteries of the Space Age, June 1976, noted that the textbook appeared seven months after the publication of Hewes's booklet The Aliens, which contained similar (illustrated) descriptions of four alien species. Carpenter and Hewes may have just been reading the same speculative 1960s literature on alien species. 

Speaking of unreliable sources, repetition of old tales can cause a misinformation loop. In late 1973, Donald Keyhoe’s final UFO book was published, Aliens from Space: The Real Story of Unidentified Flying Objects. Throughout it, Keyhoe repeatedly cited and quoted from Introductory Space Science chapter 33 as if it contained genuine disclosures and, “damaging admissions” from the U.S. government. Keyhoe was proud that his own books were cited as chapter 33 sources, but he failed to realize that it showed Carpenter was merely summarizing concepts and tales from UFO literature. 

Fortean author John Keel gave a savage review of Keyhoe’s book (and Carpenter’s chapter 13) in Caveat Emptor, March-April, 1974.

Aliens From Space is primarily a paste-up job, many sections lifted intact from the pages of NICAP's newsletter… There are a great many distortions of fact, some of them apparently deliberate; and tragic omissions… He even drags in the Book of Dzyan, by quoting the celebrated Air Force Academy UFO text which, incidentally, was composed by a flying saucer zealot and did not represent that agency's position at all. The Book of Dzyan is not an ancient document but was composed by dear old Madame Blavatsky in the 19th century. Keyhoe just quotes the AF Academy rubbish which, he must have known, was lifted almost entirely from Frank Edwards.”

Donald Keyhoe apparently thought that having the Air Force publish bogus stories in a textbook made them authentic, and he repeated them without research or verification. Keyhoe was just one of many ufologists who recirculated Carpenter’s UFO chapter as proof of the Air Force’s cover-up about their true knowledge of extraterrestrials and their spacecraft. Generations since have carried on the tradition.


Professor Carpenter’s Path to the Paranormal 

Donald G. Carpenter was born in Connecticut on May 23, 1927. The timeline of his military career and education below is based on Who's Who in the West for 1972 and contemporary media reports. Carpenter served in the Navy as Seaman 1st Class in World War II, and afterwards began his college education. 

1950: Joined the USAF as a combat analysis at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.
1951: B.S. degree in physics in 1951 from the University of Maryland.
1952-54: Electronic design at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.
1955-62: A senior pilot at Otis AFB, MA, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, and Offutt AFB, NE.
1960: M.S. degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
1962: Ph.D., Physics, Iowa State University of Science and Technology.
1962-67: Became an associate professor of physics at the US Air Force Academy.
1967-68: Research associate professor, USAFA.
1968-69: Head of Environmental Science Div.
1969-71: Space systems analysis with the 14th Aerospace Force, Ent AFB, Colo.
1971-72: Commander of the 16th Surveillance Squadron at Shemya AFB, Alaska. 

The Shemya AFB stint was for Spacetrack, to provide space object cataloging and identification, “an integrated worldwide single manager system, and represents Headquarters USAF as the operational planning agency for space surveillance.” 

Through the years, Carpenter’s progress earned him advancements in rank from Captain to Lt. Colonel. In the fall of 1972 Carpenter received a prestigious award for his work, as reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology. At the Air Force Association’s annual National Convention on Sept. 17, 1972:

“Donald G. Carpenter has received the Theodore Von Karman Award for Science and Engineering in recognition of his contribution to the Air Force and the nation for ‘advancing the nation's space defense capability.’ While stationed with the 14th Aerospace Force, Col. Carpenter isolated a major cause of error bias of position calculation of satellites; from this he formulated a radically new and fundamental theory of specific space environmental effects that improved Spacetrack accuracy by a factor of ten.”

By this time Carpenter had served in the Air Force for over 20 years.  In 1977, Carpenter had retired from the USAF, and was seeking permission from Congress to teach abroad. 

That covers Carpenter’s military career, but rewinding a bit, let’s look at what else he was working on. We can’t document the origins or depth of Carpenter’s interest in UFOs, but it would have been impossible for him to serve in the Air Force at Wright-Patterson without some familiarity in the topic. His 1962 dissertation on ball lightning for his Ph.D. could be considered UFO-related, and one of his references was "Theory of the Lightning Balls and Its Application to the Atmospheric Phenomenon Called 'Flying Saucers'", Carl Benedicks: Arkiv for Geofysik (Sweden), vol. 2, p. 1, 1954. The sources and references cited for his UFO chapter and its update show that he became very familiar with the topic and followed it closely at least up until the early 1970s. 

While working on his B.S. at Wright-Patterson AFB, "In late 1959, Dr. Donald G. Carpenter deduced the theory [of extending the human lifespan] from studies of nuclear science and radiation effects." Designing the Future: The Role of Technological Forecasting by Robert W. Prehoda, 1967. 

Carpenter’s 1967 letter to Science magazine on human longevity:

“The story of Adam and Eve explains that mankind lost eternal youth through original sin, and stories of arrangements with the devil (Dr. Faustus) point the moral that the search for eternal youth is evil… Yet considerable prestige would accrue to the country that first bestows extended youth upon the rest of the world, and [it] would permit an increased rate of scientific and economic progress.”

In 1969 Carpenter wrote a scientific paper relating to youth extension, “Biological Aging as a Diffusion Phenomenon” in Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 31, 487–504. Aerospace Medicine and Biology. Jan.-Jun. 1970, included it in their bibliography of “references to unclassified report and journal articles that were introduced into the NASA scientific and technical information system during January, 1970.”

Carpenter was a reader of Analog Science Fiction and wrote several articles and letters of comment to the magazine over several decades. His article with Captain John E. Wrobel, Jr. Department of Physics, Air Force Academy) appeared in Analog, Dec. 1969,Is Biological Aging Inevitable?”

Two years later, the topic was still on his mind, and Carpenter lectured on “Extended Life” for the Ent AFB Officers’ Wives Club (Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, April 9, 1971.) Then in 1971, he spoke about longevity at a conference, receiving national media attention.

Carpenter tried his hand at science fiction, in 1973 self-publishing via Vantage Press the novel The Treacherous Time Machine under the pseudonym “Merlin Mesmer Merlino.” Written for young readers, it’s described by Goodreads as “An adventurous journey backward in time to Germany in the year 1227 A.D.” 

We were unable to locate a copy of the novel anywhere, but the McDermott Library at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado has one. 

After Col. Carpenter’s retirement from the Air Force, he stopped referring to his rank in print and identified himself as Dr. Donald Gilbert Carpenter. It was then that he began writing about ghosts, souls, and paranormal entities. 

As reprinted in Thailand 

Analog Science Fiction, Oct. 1980 featured Carpenter’s essay, “The Physics of Haunting,” which listed the seven phenomena of ghosts beginning with: 

“1. The theory believes that ghosts only appear at night. And each appearance occurs only a few seconds before fading away. 2. A ghost or spirit can glow. And will have the brightness equivalent to 1-20 lux, which is the intensity level that the human eye can see.” 

New York Times, March 11,  1907

In early 1981 Analog published Carpenter’s follow-up letter with his further thoughts about the afterlife, centering on the early 20th century work of Dr. Duncan MacDougall about measuring the weight of souls. “If dogs have souls, each dog’s soul would be at least an order of magnitude less in mass-equivalent than that of a human.”

In 1984, Carpenter’s “Weighing the soul at death: Some methodological and theoretical considerations” was published in Theta, Journal of Psychical Research 12, 14–16. Carpenter also discussed ghosts, suggesting that the energy required for a ghost to function is limited to around 60 Joules based on anecdotal reports.

From 1990 to 1994, Carpenter listed himself as being associated with the Department of Electrical Engineering, Colorado Tech. In 2000, he mentioned no affiliations, just gave his personal information and the email, "" See the appendix below for his scientific papers, and other writings, which include his work up into the 2000s.

In 1998, Donald Gilbert Carpenter published an e-book, Physically Weighing the Soul. One reader of his book said, “I especially like Carpenter's reminder that souls aren't the only spiritual beings thought to inhabit bodies. And some of the others might be messing around with the experiment.” 

Carpenter wrote about the soul masses of different animals and entities. Studying them, he concluded, "This makes me suspect that Leprechauns… are most likely discarnate humans." (As quoted by Mary Roach in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, 2005.) 


The Final Chapter 

Dr. Carpenter’s last documented activity was UFO-related. George Filer published an incomplete reprint of the 1972 chapter.

Environmental Space Sciences is a book taught at the Air Force Academy… Col. Carpenter was kind enough to send Eastern MUFON the book he edited and wrote with six other officers. Most of the book pertains to science of space, the sun, planets, plasmas, magnetic fields, radiation, meteors, planets, space dust, Cosmo chemistry, the planets and moons... All the chapters are of interest to the Ufologist, such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, but most important is: Chapter XXXIII, The UFO Mystery.”

Colonel Anthony J. Mione supported Carpenter teaching the UFO material at the USAFA, and without him, it would have never happened. Col. Mione died on May 15, 2009, at the age of 82. 

Donald Gilbert Carpenter 1927- 2011 

We were unable to locate an obituary for Donald G. Carpenter, but documentation shows that he last lived in El Paso, Colorado, died on March 27, 2011, and received a military burial. His headstone shows he received the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal. The Social Security Death Index lists some further details about his military service and final resting place:

“Carpenter, Donald G., Rank: S1C, COL, Branch: US NAVY, US AIR FORCE, War: WORLD WAR II, KOREA, VIETNAM, was born 23 May 1927, died 27 March 2011, and was buried in Section 30B, Site 149 in Ft. Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.” 

The UFO chapter in Dr. Carpenter’s textbook has become the subject of much everlasting speculation and controversy. Donald G. Carpenter made a sincere effort to present the complexity of UFO topic to students based on the best available knowledge at the time. He earned the right to be remembered for that. 


The Three UFO Chapter Versions and Related Documents 

Below is a link to a 94-page PDF of correspondence from the Air Force on the USFA Academy’s teaching of the UFO subject, and their release of the first two versions of chapter 33. It’s followed by Donald G. Carpenter’s 1970 manuscript, the 1972 book chapter, and then three related articles. 

PDF of the 3 USAFA UFO Chapter Versions and Related Documents 

. . .


Acknowledgements, Sources, and Resources 

Thanks to Barry Greenwood and Isaac Koi for Air Force documents and correspondence. Isaac Koi’s entry for the USAF Academy textbook article includes a list of books discussing Carpenter’s UFO chapter. 

TK at Kook Science provided career and biographical details on Donald G. Carpenter. 

Some of the additional data for this article was located with tips from Reddit contributor “ithinkwithink” who gathered information on Carpenter and his other USAFA textbook coauthors. 

Some of Carpenter’s scientific papers were located from data from Natural Philosophers Wikipedia. 

The Natural Philosophy Database (formally a “catalogue [of] all dissident science work,” has an entry on Donald G. Carpenter and his papers and conferences attended. 

The USAF response to MUFON’s inquiries about the USAFA Physics 370 textbook, “John Schuessler Gets Prompt Reply from the Air Force,” Skylook, December 1970, pg. 4. 

Confirmation of Carpenter’s military career and education came in part from Polaris, the yearbook for the US Air Force Academy. 

US Air Force Academy catalogs circa 1955- 1986 are archived by the HathiTrust Digital Library. 

The text of both the 1968 and 1970 versions of Chapter 33 of Introductory Space Science has been hosted at The Computer UFO Network site (CUFON) since the early 1990s. Introductory Space Science – Vol. II, Chapter XXXIII: Unidentified Flying Objects 


References for the 1974 Chapter 33, “The UFO Mystery” 

33 - 1. Condon, E. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam Books, 1969. 

33 - 2. Davidson, L. Flying Saucers: An Analysis of the Air Force Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14. (Third Edition). Ramsey, New Jersey: Ramsey-Wallace Corp., July 1966. 

33 - 3. Edwards, F. Flying Saucers - Serious Business. New York: Bantam Press, 1966. 

33 - 4. Friedman, S. “More on UFOs,” Physics Today. January 1971, 97. [Letter] 

33 - 5. Fuller, J. "Flying Saucer Fiasco" Look. 14 May 1968, 58. 

33 - 6. ______. The Interrupted Journey, New York: Dial Press, 1966. 

33 - 7. Hall, R. (editor). The UFO Evidence. Washington, D.C.: National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, May 1964. 

33 - 8. Jung, C. Flying Saucers; A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. Translated by R.F. Hull. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959. 

33 - 9. Kehoe, D. The Flying Saucer Conspiracy. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1955. 

33 - 10. ____. Flying Saucers: Top Secret. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1960. 

33 - 11. Lorenzen, C. The Great Flying Saucer Hoax. New York: William Frederick Press,1962.  

33 - 12. Markowitz, W. "The Physics and Metaphysics of Unidentified Flying Objects," Science. 15 September 1967, 1274. 

33 - 13. McDonald, J. UFOs --- Greatest Scientific Problem of Our Times? Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219, 1967. [Paper.] 

33 - 14. Menzel, D. and L. Boyd. The World of Flying Saucers: A Scientific Examination of a Major Myth of the Space Age. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1963. 

33 - 15. Michel, A. Flying Saucers and the Straight Line Mystery. New York: Criterion Books, 1958. 

33 - 16. Ruppelt, E. The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1956. 

33 - 17. Saunders, D and R. Harkins. UFOs? Yes! New York: Signet Books, 1969. 

33 - 18. Stanton, L. Flying Saucers: Hoax or Reality? Princeton, New York: Belmont Books, 1966. 

33 - 19. Tacker, L. Flying Saucers and the U.S. Air Force. Princeton, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand, 1960. 

33 - 20. Terry, D. "No Swamp Gas for Him, Thank You," St. Louis Dispatch, 2 June 1966, 4F. [Charles Fort article by Dickson Terry] 

33 - 21. Vallee, J. Anatomy of a Phenomenon: Unidentified Objects in Space - A Scientific Appraisal. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965. 

33 - 22. ______, J. and J. Vallee. Flying Saucers a Challenge to Science. New York: Henry Regnery, 1966.  

33 - 23. Whitney, D. Flying Saucers. New York: Cowles Communications, 1967. [Look magazine special]


Donald G. Carpenter’s Published Works 

1960 Thesis, Air Force Inst. Of Tech., Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, Earth’s Geomagnetically Trapped Corpuscular Radiation. 

1962 Dissertation, “Plasma Theory Applied to Ball Lightning,” Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ph.D., 1962, Physics.

1965 “Reactivity Approximation” American Journal of Physics 33, 961 (1965);

Trapped Electron Component from Orbiting Reactor Neutron Decay,” Journal of Geophysical Research, V70, N23, pp. 5831-38 (Dec 1965). (With Donald A. Cohen.) 

1968 Carpenter, Donald G. “Research on Aging: A Proposal.” Science, vol. 160, no. 3828, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1968, pp. 605–605. 

Introductory Space Science was published for the 1968 Fall semester of the USAFA’s Physics 370 class.

An Integrated Theory of Aging,” Donald G. Carpenter Ph.D., James A. Loynd M.S., Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Volume 16, Issue 12, December 1, 1968

1969 – “Biological Aging as a Diffusion Phenomenon,” Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 31, 487–504 (1969).

1969 – Analog Science Fiction, Dec. 1969,Is Biological Aging Inevitable?” with Captain John E. Wrobel, Jr.

1972 – Environmental Space Sciences edited by Lt. Col Donald G. Carpenter, Northbrook, Ill.: Whitehall Co.

1973 science fiction novel – The Treacherous Time Machine under the pseudonym “Merlin Mesmer Merlino.” Self-published via Vantage Press, 1973. 

1980 – Analog Science Fiction, Oct. 1980, Carpenter’s essay, “The Physics of Haunting.” 

1982 – NASA’s Aerospace Bibliography, 7th ed., 1982, “an annotated and graded list of books and reference materials,” included Carpenter’s 1972 book, Environmental Space Sciences. 

1984 – “Weighing the soul at death: Some methodological and theoretical considerations,” Theta, Journal of Psychical Research 12, 14–16.

1985 – Analog Science Fiction, May 1985, featured a letter from “Dr. Donald Gilbert Carpenter” that dealt in part with the depletion of earth’s resources.

1987 – “A possible quantum mechanical source of gigahertz noise,” Speculations in Science and Technology, 10 (1):31-36

1990 – “Electron-Spin-Reversal Noise in the Gigahertz and Terahertz Ranges as a Basis for Tired-Light CosmologyApeiron, No. 6, Winter 1990 

1994 – “Cosmology and Quantum Mechanical Unstable States for Helium.

Apeiron, Nr.20 October 1994, The SRT, Quantum Mechanical Unstable States, and Cosmologywith Robert S Fritzius.

1995 – “Inconsistencies in the Derivation of the Barometric Equation. 

1998 – Physically Weighing the Soul, an e-book no longer available from 

1999 – “An Inconsistency in Sir Isaac Newton’s Derivation of the Barometric Equation,” Apeiron, 1999 Jul. – Oct. 6, Nos. 3 & 4, pp. 247- 249. 

2000 – “A Compensating Term for the ‘Side Force Component’ Term in the Barometric Equation,” Apeiron, Vol. 7 Nr. 3-4, July-October, 2000. 

Replacement of the Euler Fluid and Navier-Stokes Equations,” Apeiron, Vol. 7 Nr. 3-4, July-October, 2000. 

2001 – “A Simple Proof That E = mc2”, Telicom, V15, N6, pp. 26-28 (Apr 2001). 

Carpenter applied for a patent for an “Energy Conversion Method” in Aug. 2001. The patent was granted in 2003.

 . . .

The Professor's Message from Space

In 1952, UFO reports seemed to indicate an impending invasion by monstrous aliens: June 1952: News of Oskar Linke’s 1950 sighting of a lande...