Kenneth Arnold saw his flying saucers over Mount
Rainier on June 24, 1947.
There, on Sept. 23, the chief of the
Air Technical Intelligence Centre (ATIC) wrote to the commanding general of
the then Army air forces in reply to a verbal request by the general to make a
preliminary survey of UFO reports.
The reply said that after such a
preliminary study it appeared the reports phenomena were real and strongly
urged that a permanent project be established. The recommendation was accepted
and the Project Sign, the forerunner of today's Project Blue Book, came into
At the time Project Sign was
initiated, wrote Edward J. Ruppelt, who later served for two years as Blue
Book chief, there seemed no doubt in Air Force ranks that UFOs actually
existed. Matched with this was a confidence that the answer could be gotten in
a few months.
The consensus was that they either
were secret Russian aircraft or were of interplanetary origin.
So seriously did the Air Force regard
the situation, according to Ruppelt, that the UFO security was tight as early
as July, 1947. A newspaperman who inquired about UFOs at that time received
approximately "the same treatment you would get today if you inquired about
the number of thermonuclear weapons stockpiled in the U.S. atomic arsenal."
What little is known about the early
history of the UFO investigation by the Air Force is contained in Ruppelt's
book, "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects," published by Doubleday in
1956, three years after its author had left Project Blue Book. In the foreword
to the book, Ruppelt called it a report - except for the style of writing,
exactly what he would have written if he had been asked to write an official
In a revised second edition of his
book, published in 1959, Ruppelt - either because of a change of conviction or
perhaps pressure of some sort - switched his beliefs on UFOs. But the greater
part of his book still stood unchanged so far as the history of the Air Force
investigation was concerned.
He took over as head of the project
in September 1951 and continued as its head until September 1953. The
memorandums and correspondence in the files at the time he took over showed
that in the early years the UFO situation was considered to be serious. The
higher echelons in the Air Force wanted an answer quickly, and a confusion
that at times amounted to panic ran through Project Sign.
By the end of 1947, however, and the
project had settled down to a routine operation.
The idea that the UFOs might be
Russian aircraft was quickly dispelled. A study showed that no man-made
structure could hang together under the rapid acceleration and sharp turns
made by the UFOs, nor could the bodies of a human crew.
In July, 1948, Ruppelt reported, an
"estimate of the situation" was drafted. The estimate said that the UFOs were
interplanetary. It started up through Air force channels, and no one stopped
it until it reached the late Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then chief of staff.
Vandenberg rejected it.
Today the Air Force denies that such
a document ever existed. But Ruppelt claimed he saw it. It was, he wrote, a
thick document printed on legal-size paper, with a black cover with "Top
Secret" printed across the cover.
After Vandenberg batted it down, most
of the copies were burned. All of them were supposed to be, but Ruppelt was
convinced that a few copies had been kept as souvenirs. It was well after all
of them were supposed to have been consigned to the incinerator that he saw a
Dewey J. Fournet Jr., who acted as
liaison officer between ATIC and the Pentagon in 1952, confirmed that such a
document did exist and said that he saw it. In a letter to Maj. Donald Keyhoe,
director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP),
Fournet said, however, that since it was classified, he was not at liberty to
reveal its contents.
By July, 1949, Ruppelt wrote, Air
Force policy had changed. The official line now was that UFOs did not exist.
Ruppelt traces this back to the "estimate of the situation." That document had
tried to prove that they did exist and had been rejected. Now the official
attitude was that they did not, which, after all, was easier to prove.
Project Sign on Feb. 11, 1949, became
Project Grudge. When Ruppelt later asked the reason for the change, he was
told that it was because Project Sign had been compromised. Just how it had
been compromised, no one said.
But the name change made no
difference in the policy. It still was based on the premise that UFOs did not
exist. Project Grudge lapsed into inactivity, and on Dec. 27, 1949, an Air
Force press release announced that the project had been closed and that a
final report would be made.
The report, when it came out, showed
23 per cent of the sightings unidentified. An appendix to the report, however,
attempted to explain most of these away.
Within a short time, a letter came
from the office of the director of intelligence, pointing out that there had
been no order to end the project. The answer was that Grudge wasn't actually
disbanded but that UFO reports now were being processed through normal
The situation went along comfortably
until September, 1951, when a report on a particularly intriguing sighting
aroused the interest of Gen. C. 0. Cabell, then director of intelligence.
Cabell asked ATIC for a personal report on the sighting. Learning, during the
course of the report, the condition of the investigation setup, Cabell asked
for a review of the last 18 months of its operation. Ruppelt was called on to
put the report together.
Project Grudge was re-established
Oct. 27, 1951. Because he had been assigned to review the project, Ruppelt was
the UFO "expert" and was assigned as the new project head. His orders: Do the
best job he could tracking down the UFO reports but make no wild speculation.
Staff Of 10
Ruppelt at that time had 10 men on
his staff, as compared to the three cited in 1966 by the ad hoc committee that
recommended the formation of the university teams to aid in UFO studies.
The name of the project was changed
to Blue Book in March 1952.
At that time, some sentiment
apparently was building up in the Air Force for a more serious consideration
of the problem. One group of officers, Ruppelt reported, urged official
recognition that the UFOs were real and that they were not from earth.
They also urged that the security
classification of the project be raised to top secret until the Air Force had
all the answers, at which time the information would be released to the
public. The recommendation was not acted upon.
The Air Force convened a panel of
scientists on Jan. 12, 1953, to weigh the UFO evidence thus far accumulated.
When the panel finished its work, no conclusion was made public. Since then,
two conflicting versions have been put forward.
In 1958, five years after the panel
convened, the Air Force put out a summary of its recommendations. According to
the summary, the panel concluded that the UFOs offered no physical threat to
national security. There was no evidence of "foreign artifacts capable of
hostile acts" and no need for revision of current scientific concepts. The
panel suggested "an integrated program to reassure the public of the total
lack of inimical forces behind the phenomena."
Ruppelt, in his book, said that the
panel recommended that the project be expanded, the investigative force
quadrupled in size and staffed by trained experts, that tracking instruments
be set up in various parts of the country and that the public be told every
detail of the investigation.
NICAP claimed that the 1953 panel was
called by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although it had no proof of
this. This was in line with the belief of some other private UFO investigators
that the CIA and possibly other governmental agencies were [as?] interested in
the UFOs as the Air Force.
A few months ago it became apparent
that the CIA was involved at least in the 1953 panel. At the request of John
Lear, science editor of Saturday Review magazine, Maj. Hector Quintanilla,
director of Project Blue Book, asked declassification of the panel's minutes.
The request was granted by the CIA which, it then turned out, had summoned the
The minutes, as released, were
edited. It is impossible to know how much or how little editing was done. The
minutes, as declassified, made it apparent that the Air Force 1958 summary was
a more accurate statement than Ruppelt's. They also made apparent that the
panel members were far from unanimous in their assessment of all phases of the
A few weeks after the panel had
completed its work, Ruppelt said that he got word that the recommendations
(his version of them) would be carried out. They never were. When he tried to
build up his staff, no personnel was available. Plans for manned tracking
stations and for the use of cameras, tied in with radar, to track the UFO's
There was a new policy: Don't say
No new historian has come forth to
replace Ruppelt, so detailed information such as he furnished is lacking after
Since that time, the Air Force seems
bent on reassuring the public that there is nothing to fear from the UFOs. For
the most part, public relations are cordial, but not much meaningful
information is available. This, explains the Air Force, is because there is no
information. Almost all of the sightings are being explained as conventional
Critics complain that many of the
explanations are simply that, statements designed to explain the UFO
sightings, without any real attempt to investigate them.
Time Will Tell
Ruppelt ended his book by saying that
only time would provide the answer. The UFOs might be simply unidentified
objects, or they might be interplanetary ships.
That was in 1953. In 1959, Doubleday
issued a second edition of the book. Ruppelt added three new chapters and in
those chapters argued that all UFOs could be explained in conventional terms.
Why did Ruppelt do it? No one can
know. He died a short time later.
Critics of the Air Force cried
"pressure." But that is sheer speculation. No one knows the answer.
Next: William Van Horn explains his
theories on UFOs.