Friday, April 14, 2023

Alex Tremulis, Flying Saucers and Aliens

Alexander Sarantos Tremulis (1914-1991) started his 45-year tenure as an industrial designer in the automotive industry in 1933, where he worked for renowned companies such as General Motors, Tucker, Kaiser-Frazer, and Ford. However, Tremulis' career took a detour in 1941 when he joined the U.S. Army Air Force at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio during World War II. At Wright Field, he utilized his design skills to aid in aircraft development and refined his sleek aerodynamic designs by testing his models in wind tunnels.

After the war, he returned to automobile design, and brought some of the same principles forward, striking aerodynamic forms for the roadways. 

However, our focus here is on the early flying saucer era and how Tremulis was part of it.  The Dec. 1983 Road & Track magazine featured a retrospective of Tremulis’ career: 

“While he was at Wright Field, Alex made the first drawings of a proposed flying saucer, and it resulted in considerable consternation. A rumor started to the effect that a flying saucer had crashed in Mexico and two bodies measuring 29 in. had been removed from the wreckage and taken to Wright Field. This was nonsense, but it started all the flying saucer interest that has lasted to this day.”

Tremulis became involved in the UFO topic before any of the books about flying saucers were published, and the closest thing to magazine on the subject was Fate from Ray Palmer. Until Frank Scully published Silas Newton’s hoaxed Aztec flying saucer crash story in late 1949, there wasn’t much talk about saucer occupants or depictions of them in them outside of science fiction. However, when the news of "little men" from Venus surfaced, it received significant media attention, and Tremulis, like many others, believed there was some truth to the story. The saucer men in the Aztec story were just miniature humans, but Tremulis imagined the occupants would have to be far more alien. He put some thought into it and made illustrations of what a spaceship and first contact with the race who flew them would look like. He wrote the article, “Maybe We Are Being Shot At – Who Knows?” (reprinted at the Gyronaut X-1 site). 

Tremulis started the article by mentioning that on March 9, 1950, he heard a radio broadcast about a saucer crash landing and a midget pilot. He also showed familiarity with early UFO events, such as those chronicled by Charles Fort.

“I, for one, have never been of the opinion that we earthlings enjoyed a monopoly of all the brains in the solar system. Many strange happenings dating back as far as 1870 have not been thoroughly explained to my satisfaction. 

… From the fragmentary evidence that I have at my disposal, mainly reports in the newspapers, I have attempted to sketch my conception of such a space vehicle. … In my opinion, there is nothing wrong about the configuration of a so called disk that does not apply to good aerodynamic law. ... The propulsion units must no doubt be of a highly developed form of nuclear energy in order to have the apparently limitless range of millions of miles.”

His sleek disc had a thin body propelled by rocket thrusters. In the center of the disc, an alien pilot sat at the controls in a dome with an antenna on top.

As for the saucer’s occupants, he speculated:

“Perhaps these strangers at the moment on their reconnaissance flight are afraid of us and are reluctant to land. … They no doubt at our first meeting will have facilities in the way of unique instruments where our first words will be instantly decode into their language.”

His illustration showed two human men, perhaps a scientist and Air Force officer seated at a large table. On it stood two small humanoids, distinctly alien figures, one wearing a device on his head, part of the translation machine the other helped operate. From the machine produced something like a ticker tape for the humans to read. Joel Carpenter had this to say about Tremuilis’ pioneering illustration of aliens:

“The facial features of the ETs are extremely intriguing. To modern eyes, they look exactly like the ‘standard Grey alien’ described in recent abduction literature, with their large heads and wraparound eyes. Their boot-belt-and-tunic outfits are dated and science-fiction-clich├ęd, but the overall impression is rather arresting.”

Tremulis submitted his saucer artwork to The Chicago Tribune. It was published and syndicated to papers across the U.S. in March of 1950.

Kaiser-Frazer featured his spaceship concepts in K-F News, June 23, 1950, with further details about Tremulis’ thoughts on the saucers and the little men. “[T]he reason many people figure the disks are piloted by small men, he says, is because normal size human beings could not withstand the strain of such violent maneuvers as the discs reportedly go through.” As for his saucer design, he said it was more than a fantasy:

“The flying disc which he sketched from the witnesses’ description is capable of flight. In fact, he says he could make a scale model of it that would fly. The tapered surfaces are not unlike those of some of our latest jet aircraft and the saucer shape would make hovering in a stationary position possible.”

Tremulis’ art was featured in not only in newspapers, but reprinted in magazines, and in The Coming of the Saucers by Kenneth Arnold and Raymond Palmer, 1952, on  page 187.

Flying Saucers for Automobiles

On January 27, 1951, Tremulis filed a design patent application for an automobile hood ornament based on his flying saucer illustration. It was granted on Sept. 4, 1951, to Alexander S. Tremulis, and to Peter S. Pagratis & Associates.

The body of the saucer was chrome, the dome was either yellow, green, or blue, lit by an electric light bulb. The product was a hit and sold well for about two years. Fortune Manufacturing sold about 4,000 of the saucer ornaments, before ceasing operations, 146,000 short of the goal. The site, Automobilia: “It Came From... Alex Tremulis?” features the story from his partner about how their saucer product came to be - and how it all came to an end.

In 1950, Peter S. Pagratis was “a struggling engineering student at the Illinois Institute of technology,” new to the automobile hood ornament business. He set out to design one to capitalize on the flying saucer fever but was having trouble. 

“One day however, there was a full page rendering of Alex Tremulis' flying saucer in the Chicago Sun Times. … I phoned Alex and said: ‘if you want to be a 50%-50% partners, I will have your Flying Saucer design made into an automobile hood ornament.’ We became partners and I sold the design on a cash & royalty basis to Fortune Mfg. Co. in Chicago, who were thrilled with the design. 

The Flying Saucer hood ornament became such a huge hit, the Mfg. put on a second shift to keep up with sales demand. Things were looking great when I received a distressed phone call from the Mfg. owner lamenting ‘We are out of Business!’ The Korean War had just started and the US Gov. just allocated Chrome and Zinc to the war effort (the principle components of hood ornaments). What a let down that was for us all! It was such an unexpected and abrupt end to Flying Saucer Hood Ornaments.”

You Can Take the Boy out of the Saucer…

In 1952 Tremulis had left Kaiser-Frazer and was designing futuristic show cars for Ford, For Christmas, he added hieroglyphics to the bottom of his alien drawing and translated the ticker tape for us: 

“All Space Beings Send Xmas Greetings To All Ford Employees. [signed] Gort.”

The front page of The Des Moines Register, October 11, 1953, featured an excerpt from by Donald Keyhoe’s book, Flying Saucers From Outer Space. The illustration to accompany it?  Tremulis’ flying saucer.

In the UK, his artwork was among the material under examination by the British Flying Saucer Bureau.

The Bristol Evening Post, Nov. 20, 1953

Columnist Inez Robb’s Oct. 18, 1956, article said the Ford Motor Co. had not built a flying saucer yet, but they had a “Buck Rogers division” and its “chief ‘space man,’ dreamer and Buck Rogers” was Alex Tremulis, who was developing “Nucleon, the projected atom car.”

There’s a passage on flying saucers from the 20011 book, by Arvid Linde, Preston Tucker and Others: Tales of Brilliant Automotive Innovators and Innovations. We were unable to find anything to confirm it but did find supporting evidence that proves Alex Tremulis worked with models in his career, owned a camera, and had a sense of humor.

“Tremulis was a bit of a jester, and enthusiastic ufologist, too. ... It is rumored that a certain amount of UFO photographs that were ‘leaked’ to the press, were actually the creative work of cheeky Alex Tremulis. He often authored photo-collages that depicted UFOs over popular places in America. It is just possible that Tremulis is one of those responsible for the UFO-mania of the 1950s, and the hobby ufologist who still keep old newspaper cuttings with information about odd flying objects are simply naive victims of the fun-loving Tremulis.”

After the hood ornament venture, Tremulis was out of the flying saucer business. Nevertheless, he had permanent influence on the way we visualize UFOs and aliens. Some people have speculated that his space disc design inspired that of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek. Whatever the case, Tremulis continued to design futuristic vehicles that looked like they could have come from outer space.

Ford Gyron (1961)

Tremulis died December 29, 1991, at the age of 77. His impact on the perception of UFOs as being structured spacecraft from other worlds has been under-appreciated. However, when he was honored in a tribute by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), freelance writer Deke Houlgate asked:

"Do we have Alex Tremulis to thank for 40 years of speculation over space visitors?"

. . .

For Further Reading

Alexander Sarantos Tremulis (1914-1991) Obituary - Bio

Alex Tremulis Automotive Hall of Fame Induction Video

Joel Carpenter’s site, UFX: Archetypal Engineering: Alex Tremulis: Saucer Designer 

Gyronaut X-1 site: Alex Tremulis' Flying Saucer: Catalyst for the 1950's UFO Craze

Thursday, March 2, 2023

1947: The Unsolved Mystery of Discs Over America

A U.S. dollar in 1947 had some nice purchasing power. A buck could buy a couple of movie tickets, dinner out for one, or a sack of groceries. Another option was to spend it learning about the secret behind flying saucers.

(Photo borrowed from the unrelated Rhodes Photo Case of July 7, 1947.)

An item was widely circulated in newspapers in several states across the USA during August and September of 1947. It looked like a short news article about an organization located in Illinois, but was actually an advertisement.


The most amazing event in history is the appearance of unexplained discs over America. Their explanation is necessary to every Man and Woman in this country. 

The amazing explanation involves not only the discs alone . . . but it answers the greatest and most potent of mysteries,— 

Why do anthropoid apes sit spellbound before two crossed sticks? 

Why do children draw an arc one third of the way up a sheet of paper when confronted with the idea of death? 

What is the meaning of the twenty eight fires that struck at the exact center of the American population? 

The answer to these questions is the most important information you have ever received. Send one dollar now for your copy of the survey “Discs Over America.” Mail to des Arc Foundation, Lake Forest, Ill.  

States where the advertisement is known to have been published.

After the run of that ad, there was nothing else. We were unable to locate a copy of the pamphlet or whatever “Discs Over America” was. The tone of the text sounded like it was from a New Age  religious organization. We’ve contacted UFO historians and religious scholars, but no information on  "des Arc Foundation" has been found anywhere, and there’s no mention of the publication anywhere else. However, some valuable information was located, thanks to TK of the Kook Science Research Hatch, material presented in our next section.

The FBI and the United States Post Office

While the ads were still circulating, Chicago Post Office Inspector T. H. Barkow sent a note to the FBI on September 19, 1947, asking for any information on “[Redacted], formerly of Lake Forest, Illinois, who may also have given a Chicago address at various times," in connection with an "Alleged violation of Section 2350, P. L. & R. by des Arc Foundation, sale of information on flying discs." 

The FBI responded saying they could not help without more data about the suspect. “You are advised that an effective search cannot be conducted... on the basis of the name only. If you are able to furnish the physical description of [Redacted ] or other means of identification... a search will be conducted in an effort to furnish you with the information desired.”

See the FBI file on pages 8-9 of this collection.

The FBI records show nothing else. Postal Statute Section 2350 related to schemes “to defraud or to obtain money by means of false or fraudulent representations.”  

It may be that the U.S. Postal Service stepped in and shut down the “Discs Over America” enterprise for fraud.  Hoping to the Post Office had files with further details, I submitted a FOIA request. Sadly, the response was unfavorable: 

“We regret to advise that any investigatory records which may have existed during the period 1947 regarding the individual in question would have been destroyed in accordance with the prescribed records retention schedule of the U.S. Postal Service.”

The Unsolved Mystery of des Arc Foundation

What was des Arc Foundation? The bit about “anthropoid apes sit spellbound before two crossed sticks” sounds like a dig at Christianity. The part about children drawing an arc “when confronted with the idea of death” sounds like it had a religious or metaphysical message. As for twenty-eight fires “that struck at the exact center of the American population,” we at least know what event was being described, one from June 21, 1940, at Odon, Indiana. The Buffalo Evening News, (New York) Dec. 6, 1941, carried a story on freak accidents, noted, “At Odon Ind., the farm home of William Hackler caught fire 28 distinct times in one day.”

The 2019 story, “The 28 Fires of Odon” by Dale M. Brumfield, has more details about the Hackler incident. Some newspapers reported on Fortean-type speculation that the fires were caused by the house's position in "the center of a strong magnetic field where static electricity prevailed.” The Hackler story was exploited in an advertising campaign by the Travelers Insurance Company, appearing in papers and Collier’s Magazine, April 19, 1941:

Was des Arc Foundation genuinely investigating the flying saucer mystery, and “silenced” by the government? Or was it a bogus organization by a charlatan to capitalize on UFOs to peddle some spiritual hokum? Without more information, we’re left guessing.

If you have any leads on des Arc Foundation, “Discs Over America,” or the person or organization behind it, please contact us at The Saucers That Time Forgot

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Engineering Flying Saucers


There were circular winged aircraft before the sighting of flying saucers in 1947. At least two of them were later the cause of some confusion. 

Jonathan E. Caldwell invented the Roto-Plane around 1937, but after the crash of a test flight he abandoned the project. Later the prototypes were found in a barn and mistaken for flying saucers.

In 1942, Charles H. Zimmerman built a single-wing circular airfoil, the Chance Vought V-173, nicknamed the Flying Flapjack (or Pancake). This propeller driven disk-shaped plane was tested in 190 flights up until March 1947. 

The Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1947

Daily News, July 5, 1947

After the reports from Kenneth Arnold and others of disc-shaped unidentified flying objects, many inventors were inspired, challenged to build their own flying saucers. Here’s some notable examples from our files. 

Engineering Flying Saucers: The First Ten Years

Dr. Kay’s Revolutionary Disc

Dr. Eugene W. Kay was a Russian-born inventor and aeronautical engineer who lived in Glendale, California. He and a partner applied for a helicopter patent in 1946. 

Saturday Night Uforia included Dr. Kay’s press coverage extensively in the 2015 article, Saucer Summer Reading Fest (part five), but below are some of the highlights.

A nationally syndicated photo in January 1950 debuted Dr. Kay’s invention:

“… a flying saucer that he built himself and that he believes will revolutionize aviation. His 41-inch, 20- pound test model rises from the ground and spins in a 36-foot circle... U.S. Air Force officials recently watched a test flight of Dr. Kay's revolutionary disk.”

The Orlando Sentinel Jan. 16, 1950 

More press followed. Parade magazine, April 9, 1950, ran a pictorial feature on his invention and reported: “The Kay ‘saucer’ is actually a 41-inch circular aluminum disk with eight slotted vanes like fan blades. A midget motor spins the vanes and also powers a propeller for forward motion.”

Then in May, Flying magazine and Popular Mechanics.

Flying magazine, May 1950 

Popular Mechanics, May 1950 

That was the end of the press for the invention, partly due to the research being cut short. Dr. Kay died on Oct. 8, 1951, at the age of 66. The last we could find of Dr. Kay’s saucer was in Billboard magazine, Dec. 5, 1953. William Shilling was a booker in New York supplying talent and exhibits (like Hitler’s limousine) for sportsmen's shows. Kay’s flying saucer was added to his collection of attractions, but Shilling died of a heart attack in 1956. Its final fate is unknown.

The Flying Saucer Air Bus

A stunning color illustration of a flying saucer was published in October 1950, for Science and Mechanics magazine, Dec. 1950, painted by Arthur C. Bade. It was for the cover story, a three-page article written by George F. Miller, “Will ‘Flying Saucer’ Buses Lick Traffic Congestion?” The article began:

"Designed as a practical approach to some of tomorrow's transportation problems - especially through crowded cities and suburbs - the Air Bus, shown on the cover of this issue and the accompanying photos, incorporates a number of features regarded by aviation authorities as highly desirable. For commuting by air, it offers many advantages."

Miller briefly discussed the reality of UFOs:

“At first glance, today's skeptic would say, perhaps, “Oh that's just another wild dream resulting from too much talk about ‘flying saucers!’ That is untrue. Many authorities still do not admit the existence of flying saucers, even where good descriptions have been supplied by persons who have claimed to see the strange craft. But no one can deny that the reported shape of a flying saucer would be airworthy if properly designed. We believe the air bus design, on which patents are pending, would be flyable and qualified aeronautical engineers who have checked our calculations agree.”

The Air Bus was designed to be 65 feet in diameter and 10 1/2 feet high, and weigh from 80,000 to 110,000 pounds. It would fly passengers at 90 to 175 miles an hour, lifted by three counter-rotating pairs of 14-foot diameter rotors. Each rotor pair would be driven by a pancake-type 2,400 horsepower engine. 

Newspapers picked up on the story and widely printed a black and copy of Arthur C. Bade’s painting with a summary of Miller’s article. 

CITY "SAUCER" The "flying saucer" will come into its own one day as the solution to traffic congestion in most U.S. cities, thinks designer George F. Miller of Chicago. Above is Miller's conception of a saucer-shaped, 100 passenger air bus that would carry city commuters at 90 to 175 miles an hour. Miller's idea was presented in Science and Mechanics magazine.

We had no luck find a patent for the Air Bus, but George Francis Miller did file a copyright for his article.

The First Sports Model

In November 1950, U.S. newspapers carried an exciting photo of a dynamic disc-shaped object built by aviation engineer, Nick Stasinos.

“Non-Flying ‘Flying Saucer’ - This model ‘flying saucer’ was built by Nick Stasinos of Inglewood, Calif., on order for a New York museum. The craft, called the ‘Experimental NS-97,’ shows two main jet installations in the center section and eight turbo-jet ports on the outer revolving disc. Considered aerodynamically practical, the saucer is not scheduled for production now"

The unnamed customer was Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum in New York City. Like many others, the final fate of Stasino’s saucer is unknown.

Flying Further into the Fifties

In Frankfurt Germany, a propeller-driven flying saucer was designed by Walter Otto Galonska, as shown below in this 1951 news photo.

The Press and Sun-Bulletin, Jan. 2, 1951 - via Acme Telephoto

Engineers and artists had some high-flying expectation for man-made saucers, but the product never quite lived up to their dreams. Alexander Leydenfrost was an illustrator for pulp science fiction magazines before going to work for Life magazine. His work there rarely gave him the opportunity to revisit spaceships and such until Life magazine, May 31, 1954.

“The U.S. is seriously considering building a flying saucer… designed by a shy, 35-year-old English-born engineer named John C. M. Frost… It is the outgrowth of a saucerlike craft called ‘Project Y’ which Frost designed for his employers, A. V. Roe Canada Ltd.”

Life magazine, May 31, 1954

At Fort Hood, Texas, the U.S. Army's private Larry G. Anderson was building and launching his own flying saucers.

Chrysler’s Saucer Spaceship

Lovell Lawrence Jr, an assistant chief engineer at Chrysler Missiles Operations, publicized his concept for a nuclear-powered “flying saucer.” It was featured in an Associated Press story carried in The Bridgeport Post, Dec. 30, 1956. Lawrence was confident the spaceship could be built and said, “Space travel is inevitable, and the only question is when.” 

San Bernardino Sun,  March 1957

Check the links below for further information on Lawrence's concepts.

The Bridgeport Post, Dec. 30, 1956: …Space Ships May Make it Possible

Aerospace Projects Review Blog: The Chrysler Saucer

That concludes this look at plans and attempts to build man-made flying saucers. Be sure to check our past articles for more disc engineering attempts, and keep watching the skies.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Flying Saucers from Montana: The Leonard Grayson Story


On Feb. 22, 1966, a call alerted authorities to the discovery of a flying saucer in a wooded area near Shelton, Washington. The “Thing” was left in place, but photographed and examined. Guesses ran wild as to what it was, where it came from, and why it was there. 

The object was a strange craft, about as tall as a person, with a diameter of over 12 feet. Reserve Sheriff Deputy Chuck Shelton examined the object and reported that it sat on a pair of steel rails and was powered by a Ranger aircraft engine, equipped with two acts of rotor blades, 12 to a set. “In paint partly obliterated are the words Grayland (or Grayson) Aircraft Manufacturing Company.” The saucer was apparently made in the U.S.A. The Daily Olympian, Feb. 23, 1966, playfully asked:

“How did the Thing get where it is in the woodlot of A. D. Hunter who lives part of the time in California and the rest of the year on his Matlock Ranch? Did it fly? Was the pilot a man – or a jolly green giant?” The story went on to say that there was a shortage of information; the Sheriff and his deputy were both out of town, and Mr. Hunter hadn’t been heard from. “So there it sits. A Thing from Detroit, or Disneyland - or Outer Space.”

Three days later, A. D. Hunter returned and discovered there was a fuss over the discovery on his property. It turned out the flying saucer speculation was right. He was able to identify the Thing as a flying disc prototype built a few years prior by inventor Leonard. W. Grayson. Hunter was quoted as saying, “I really don’t want the hovercraft, but since it was a pilot model, my brother-in law didn’t want to scrap it, so he hauled it to my place about three years ago.” He said Grayson had moved to Montana and was manufacturing an improved version of the aircraft.

That wasn’t quite the end of the Thing, though. Or the career of its inventor. Leonard W. Grayson’s career is like many others, in that we have only bits here and there of what the media printed about him. No doubt, there’s more to the story than we’ll ever know. It’s not recorded what Grayson thought about UFOs and aliens, but it’s well-documented that he built and flew flying saucers.

A Wheel in the Middle of a Wheel

Leonard William Grayson was born on July 21, 1918. He didn’t have a degree or attend college, but he had served as a corporal in the US Army during World War II as an instrument technician. Afterwards, he returned to civilian life as a working family man in Cascade, Montana. 

While employed as a railroad agent telegrapher in 1954, he had a “Eureka’ moment:

“All at once those wheels were going around me. Just floating around me. I hadn't been consciously designing a vertical lift machine and it was amazing how the whole thing fell into place… within a few minutes… the whole design was formulated, and I drew a sketch of it.”

Working in his spare time in his garage, Grayson designed and constructed several flying disc models, assisted by his wife Lucy, their two sons, Richard, and Tom. Meanwhile, in his day job, he was employed over the next few years as a carpenter, and a civil engineer technician.

Grayson’s design featured two non-axial, counter-rotating rings, to which blades for propulsion were attached. It generated a vertical lift that acted both as a rotor craft and a jet. His first successful working model was completed in 1956, a 30-inch diameter model, powered by a 3/8 horsepower electric motor. He filed a patent for his “Disc Shaped aircraft” on Oct. 10, 1955, saying the vehicle “may be employed with equal facility as an aircraft or as a land vehicle for traveling on the highways.” The patent was granted on May 3, 1960.

Disc Shaped Aircraft (link to patent.)

While waiting for the patent, Grayson began construction of a manned 21-foot, 1,600-pound test model powered by a 165-horsepower aircraft engine he’d bought for fifty dollars. He and the family briefly lived in Shelton, Washington, and that’s where he completed the disc and conducted test flights. It flew, but only a few feet off the ground, enough to satisfy him that with the proper facilities and financial backing it could be built and even scaled up for passenger flight.

Caption for 1965 article:

“21-Footer – This 21-foot model Grace-N-Air was built by Grayson in a garage at his home in Cascade. He began building the machine in March, 1959, and had it ready to get off the ground by July, 1960. Here the vehicle is shown as it was beginning to rise off the ground in a test. The outside duet, or framework is made of aluminum. Grayson was operating this machine which was powered by a 165-horsepower airplane engine. This picture was taken in Cascade [probably Shelton, WA] in the summer of 1960. This model since has been dismantled and is stored in a Seattle garage.”
(That caption was off, as we know the location was actually a heavily wooded field, where it was discovered as the Thing.)

Around 1963, the Graysons moved back to Montana and set up house in Bozeman. By 1965, Grayson was satisfied with the performance of his smaller models and began aggressively campaigning for his invention to be noticed by private industry and the US military. 

The Billings Gazette, May 24, 1965, ran a story on the first Montana Inventors Congress. The second-most popular invention:

“…was a flying saucer built by Leonard Grayson of Dillon. Grayson said his Grace-N-Air Flying Saucer could be built with a 500-foot diameter and could carry 500 passengers. The one Grayson had on display is three feet in diameter and is powered by a five-horsepower electric motor… He said it will travel 60 miles per hour and that a larger model could go at least 300 mph.”

More publicity followed. The Great Fall Tribune Sunday magazine, Montana Parade, June 5, 1965, cover story was “Dillon Inventor’s Disc-Type Aircraft New Flying Concept,” story and photos by Clyde Reichelt.

Grayson’s invention was not built for space travel, and he didn’t bill it as a flying saucer. In March 1966, press about the UFO sightings in Dexter, Michigan, got the flying saucer fever going again. If the press was short on UFOs stories, they could run pictures and stories of Grayson’s discs. Apparently, he didn’t discourage them. 

The Exponent, May 13, 1966

In June 1966, Montana State University film students, Tom Gordon and Don Tone made a short 16 mm color movie documenting Grayson’s aerodynamic concepts and inventions. The film included an animated sequence to illustrate the potential of the invention at a larger scale for applications such as those of conventional aircraft, including commercial transportation. The movie was granted a copyright in 1967, and Grayson exhibited the film at his public appearances and in meetings with prospective customers.

GRACE-N-AIR. Leonard W. Grayson;. 22 min., color, 16 mm.
© Leonard W. Grayson;; 8Jun67; MU7837. 

Grayson was seeking a contract with the U.S. government, but figuratively speaking, when the phone rang, it was the flying saucer people.

Saucer Clubs and Conventions

We don’t know exactly when Leonard Grayson had his first contact with UFO buffs, but he was approached by Wayne. S. Aho, director of the New Age Foundation of Seattle, Washington. Aho had been lecturing on UFOs for years and claimed to have had contact with aliens. He had become a perennial guest at Contactee conventions, first an advocate for UFO “Disclosure,” then transitioning to a more spiritual and religious figure, promoting peace and harmony through alien teachings or whatnot. Aho had been involved with some shady characters, and narrowly avoided prosecution for the sale of bogus stock in the Otis T. Carr spaceship business

The New Age Foundation held a UFO convention near Mt Rainier each year. Aho must have seen the February news about the “Thing” in the woods, and obtained permission from Grayson to have the prototype moved to Eatonville and the Flying M Ranch, the site of the convention. It was held July 15-17, 1966. The Associated Press published with some inaccurate details about Grayson and his work:

“Flying saucer fans gathered here for the fifth annual Interplanetary Age Convention... The fans also peered at a machine that once rose 15 feet… The machine, now a jumble of twisted metal and pipes was built by a Montana State University professor. Its counterrotating blades provided the lift. Wayne Aho, a retired major, believes the object will someday be enshrined in a museum.”

Instead, after the convention, thieves stole the Grayson saucer’s 165-horsepower engine. What happened to the Thing after that is lost to history.

The Billings Gazette, Aug. 20,1966

Space Research Inc. hosted a “Space Age conclave” on UFOs on Aug. 20-21, 1966, in Spokane, Washington. About 15 speakers were presented, Wayne. S. Aho, Lenora Croft, and Leonard Grayson gave a “demonstration of an earth-type flying saucer principle.”

The “Big Sky Research Group” club led by Mrs. Dorothy Hankins in Billings, Montana, invited Grayson to lecture for them and present his film as soon as it was completed.

Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph Colorado Springs, May 6, 1967

Grayson demonstrated his invention and won a 1967 inventor's prize.

"Leonard W. Grayson, Bozeman inventor of the ‘flying saucer’ which won him the sweepstakes award of the Inventors’ and Manufacturers’ exposition at Missoula Saturday. The affair opened Friday. Grayson, formerly of Antelope, now working for the railroad at Cascade."

Saucer Scoop, June 1967, reprinted a news item on Grayson’s entry into the Inventors Congress.

The Missoulian, July 17, 1968

In 1968, Leonard Grayson was billed as the main speaker for the seventh annual Northwest UFO-Space Convention held in Eatonville, WA, by Wayne Aho’s New Age Foundation. He demonstrated his saucer model and flight and showed the movie, “Grace-N-Air.”

As far as we can tell, that was Grayson's final UFO conference. 

Growing Pains

At some point, Grayson stopped using his electric motor-powered saucer and began exhibiting a 34-inch model, its blades powered by air piped in from an external air compressor. The photo below is from a demonstration on Aug. 23, 1969 in Denver, Colorado.

Where the press is concerned, 1969 to 1973 were fairly quiet years for Grayson. Perhaps coincidentally, those were bad years for the UFO business in general.) In 1970, the Graysons moved to Hamilton MT, where they ran the Town Pump service station. 

While developing a commercial model airplane version of the saucer to promote the project and raise funds, “… he sold stock to friends and formed a closed corporation.  According to Grayson, when the friends became directors, they decided the idea was too big for one man and tried to wrest his patents away from him. The directors complained to the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) and an injunction was placed against further work on the Grace-N-Air. Grayson was cleared of charges by the SEC in 1975 but his work was held up for five years.”

U.S. Pat. No. 3,845,670; Issued Nov. 5, 1974

Grayson continued to promote the Grace-N-Air concept and film in public, for local officials, the Ravalli County Fair in Montana, wherever he could. 

The_Missoulian, Feb. 24, 1974

The Ravalli Republic, Aug. 27, 1974

The Ravalli Republic, July 30, 1976

In 1975 he began working on a 20-foot manned fiberglass model that he hoped would eventually be mass-produced for commercial vehicle sale. The Grayson Research Institute, incorporated March 1, 1976

Things picked up for the UFO biz in late 1973 with the Pascagoula abduction story, and newspapers needed saucer stories again. Grayson was featured in The Missoulian, Oct. 16, 1977, updating his business efforts, and he received some prime time television exposure.

The Montana Kaimin, May 24, 1978 (University of Montana student newspaper) reported in “Leonard Grayson’s inventions are getting off the ground” by Judy Casanova:

“Grayson is an independent inventor and he and his wife have made four trips to Washington, D.C., at their own expense, to get the military interested in the concept of the Grace-N-Air. In February, Grayson was invited to the Defense Department in Washington, D.C. to make a presentation of the Grace-N-Air. … the Grace-N-Air has received national news coverage by NBC. Grayson said, "This may open some more doors to us."

The Final Flight

Richard L. Weir also lived in Montana and was friends with Grayson. They shared similar backgrounds and interests, and Weir devised a “Rotary Foil Type Aircraft” and applied for a patent in 1957, granted in 1964. Weir owned a Cessna 182 plane and was an experienced pilot, often accompanied on flights by his wife Mary. 

On Feb. 19, 1980, Mr. and Mrs. Weir were joined by Leonard and Lucy Grayson on a fight to Mesa, Arizona to visit relatives. When they failed to arrive, their plane was reported missing. Severe winter weather delayed the search, but on Feb. 27, Civil Air Patrol and National Park Service searchers found the Cessna below the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The plane had crashed after hitting a tree, and all four aboard were killed.

Here's a link to the 
Richard and Mary Weir Memorial article. Below are the obituaries for Leonard and Lucy Grayson.

The Missoulian, March 5, 1980

We were unable to locate any information on what became of Grayson's film, "Grace-N-Air" or if copies still exist. 
Leonard Grayson is seldom mentioned in UFO literature and history. A rare exception was in the Journal of UFO History, Vol. 2 No. 1, March-April 2005, “US Patents for Disc Aircraft.”

We have to wonder, what might have happened if the U.S. government or industry had ever made an attempt to produce a fully realized Grayson aircraft. With the advances in material construction and aviation technology in the decades since Leonard Grayson’s passing, how high might the Grace-N-Air fly today?

. . .

Thanks to STTF co-founder Claude Falkstrom for the primary research on this report. Also, thanks to researchers Roger Glassel and Jeff Knox for providing supplementary material.

P.S.  Other Flying Saucer Discoveries

Most discoveries purported flying saucers turn out to be phonies or junk that never flew. Some of them have been from balloon-borne packages, intended for anything from weather study to espionage platforms. Besides Grayson’s Thing, there was one other discovery of a real disc-shaped aircraft. It was found in an old tobacco barn near Baltimore, Maryland in 1949.

UFO Information and Research - Sources & Sites

Illustration from "The Strange Shapes Seen in the Sky,"  Life magazine Dec. 5, 1955 Sturgeon's Law is the adage stating, &quo...