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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

The Three Times That the U.S. Air Force Studied UFOs (and Found Nothing)

Conspiracy theorists suggest a link between the government and UFOs. Though the link is not as they argue, it does exist and is equally confusing.
The UFO, or Unidentified Flying Object, is a mysterious phenomenon that seemingly cannot be explained. Although some claim that UFOs are simply mistaken weather balloons, astrological occurrences, or simply hallucinations, others claim that they are proof of extraterrestrial aliens. (Photo Credit: George Stock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ohio State is an extraterrestrial hospital-turned-cemetery. The invisible graves hold buried guests of interstellar origins with seeming finality. Once upon a time, these spacefaring guests were patients who eluded medical professionals, not with their sickness, but with their unlikely existence. Then, as quickly as these medical professionals decided that that they never had any patients to begin with, they packed the plots in their small hospital graveyard until it inevitably became a cemetery.

I lied. In truth, this saprotrophic cemetery and the decaying hospital it overwhelms never existed. The stage was rather a research facility, save for the scientifically precise connotation. And the professionals who worked there were misnomers: professionals in astrophysics and psychology, but not workers in the real healthcare industry needed to hypothetically cure their galactic patients. Consequently, their existential realization was more inferential than factual. Therefore, despite controversy against their entire being, the unidentified patients are impossibly the only semblance of reality in this strange tale. Given that they developed this fanciful narrative, the United States Government dutifully named this event “Project Blue Book.”

The name is an inferior imitation; Project Blue Book already existed following a prior request by the United States Air Force to systematically investigate UFOs during the late twentieth century. Moreover, Project Blue Book is merely a name of convenience, as the inherent intrigue of these investigations is rivaled only by the frustratingly minor marginalia. Nearly annually, the investigation refocused on a nuanced whim and thereafter adopted a new, reflective name. Perhaps this marginalia is better called a curse, for in spite of a seemingly consistent schedule, the investigations are as elusive as the UFOs, after spending seventy years chasing them.

As the namesake, Project Blue Book is the most well-known UFO investigation. Its predecessors Project Sign and Project Grudge (1) share some of this fame. Thus, these three have the most accessible records. According to the All-Domain Anomaly Resource Office (AARO), there were ten total investigations during this time period: Project Saucer, Project Sign, Project Grudge (1), Project Twinkle, Project Grudge (2), Project Bear, CIA Special Study Group, The Robertson Panel, The Durant Report, and Project Blue Book. There may also exist a Project Stork and Project Henry, among others.

This article will focus on the Project Saucer, Project Sign, Project Grudge (1), Project Grudge (2), Project Bear, The Robertson Panel, and Project Blue Book investigations of UFO reports.

Saucers Were the First Sign

It was easy to dismiss the occasional UFO report from normal denizens, for they lacked strengthened reliability. However, Kenneth Arnold was not a normal denizen. And though it would be easy to ignore a report from a businessman and experienced private pilot flying past Mount Rainier, Washington, it would not be wise.

To ease deliberation, Arnold’s report was more detailed than most. Little earlier than 3:00 p.m. on June 24th, 1947, nine northeastern circular objects possessing a diameter of 100 feet and their explosive echelon formation made themselves known. They produced strong glares and traveled at 1,200 mph. As humans would first exceed the roughly 770 mph speed of sound later that October with the Bell X-1, Arnold’s report was decidedly acknowledged.

The publicity from aviator Kenneth Arnold’s infamous UFO report in 1947 contributed the term “flying saucer” to ufological jargon, allowing numerous subsequent reports to be submitted. Arnold’s sighting is depicted above through an artist’s rendition. (Image Credit: Merikanto, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

The press was first to acknowledge it. From this tale they excavated the term “the flying saucer.” Arnold denied the use of such a term, but that was irrelevant; this new ufological jargon would soon be used to facilitate numerous incoming reports.

The government was arguably second to acknowledge it; however, their acknowledging Arnold’s report did not ensure their doing so conventionally. Past the jade-tinted glasses of the United States Air Force, a newfound increase in “flying saucer” reports evoked not daydreams of otherworldly life, but a potential threat to national security. After all, these were possible incidents involving foreign aerial technology in American territory. Ever anxious, the Air Force established Project Saucer in 1947 and investigated these reports, finding no evidence of extraterrestrial technology by January 1948. Yet, ostensibly in their vulnerable ado, the Air Force lost Project Saucer’s, and subsequently all those regarding Project Blue Book’s, birth certificate(s). Project Saucer may have begun in 1946, one year before Arnold’s report. Project Saucer may have the working title for Project Sign.

Project Sign

It was as if the necromantic Air Force had forced a revenant Project Saucer to feign the identity of one Project Sign; just after Project Saucer’s end, Project Sign came forth and presented the same concerns of UFOs’ being an extraterrestrial threat to national security. Moreover, according to Dr. Josef Allen Hynek, who worked on Project Sign, Project Grudge (1), and Project Blue Book, the Air Force had “satisfied itself rather quickly [emphasis added] that UFOs posed no threat to the United States, and…decided that there was no compelling evidence that UFOs were extraterrestrial.” Notwithstanding under which project, the Air Force had finished evaluating UFOs by 1948, so to speak. The UFO reports, though, did not care. In turn, neither did the Air Force.

Reports of “flying saucers” perpetually made their way to the Air Force’s offices. Because the Air Force had hitherto convinced itself that its duties regarding defense were fulfilled, they began redirecting these reports to the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio to assume the somewhat more scientific half of Project Sign. There, a combination of stubborn elitist disbelief and near-illegible data forced the scientists to conclude, “It can’t be, therefore it isn’t.” Therefore, in February 1948, scientists such as Dr. Hynek were asked to provide reasonably astronomical explanations for UFO reports. And, as considerable UFO reporters truly were mistaken, this was initially a fair task. Dr. Hynek shared one such experience: “On March 7, 1948 USAF [United States Air Force] soldiers in Smyrna, Tennessee, watched an oval object in a direction WNW [West-Northwest] from Smyrna. It was yellow-orange in color and moved very slowly until about five degrees above the horizon. They watched it for about forty-five minutes until it faded away. My evaluation stated: ‘The object sighted here was undoubtedly the planet Venus. The stated position checks exactly (within allowable observational error) with the computed position of Venus. Description of color, speed, and setting time all check closely.'”

The planet Venus (the small white dot on the bottom-right of the larger white dot) has been so often mistaken for a UFO that it has become almost comical. As a result, the National UFO Reporting Center now lists Venus in its disclaimer of “Commonly Misidentified Phenomenon.” (Photo Credit: Grant McIver / Unsplash)

The planet Venus was so commonly reported that the National UFO Reporting Center now lists it under “Commonly Misidentified Phenomenon – Please do not Report These.” Yet, not all UFO reports could be easily excused for heavenly bodies, human creations, or hallucinations. That made little difference to the Air Force; the ATIC scientists were responsible for providing scientific explanations, and they had already proven faithful to the credo, “it can’t be, therefore it isn’t.” Currently a nonbeliever of UFOs, Dr. Hynek simply made guesses to that end: “In my report to Sign I wrote: ‘There is clearly nothing astronomical in this incident. Apparently it must be classified with the other bona fide disc sightings. Two points stand out, however: The “sky blue” color and the fact that the trees “spun around on top as if they were in a vacuum.” Could this, then, have been a rapidly traveling atmospheric eddy?'” The Air Force was only too happy to accept my conjecture: ‘It seems logical,’ the Project officer wrote, ‘to concur with Dr. Hynek’s deduction, that this object was simply a rapidly moving atmospheric eddy.’ The fact that I have never seen such an “eddy” (or as far as that goes, never even seen one described in books) and that I blithely discounted other pertinent evidence, haunts me to this day.”

One can only assume that the supernatural UFOs that these scientists were indirectly exposed to had inevitably twisted their thoughts. It is a mystery why Project Sign reneged by its return in February 1949 with almost 10% of its 243 domestic UFO reports confirmed unidentified and the antithesis of their creed: “No definite and conclusive evidence is yet available that would prove or disprove the existence of these unidentified objects as real aircraft of unknown and unconventional configuration.”

To Bear a Grudge (Taken Around)

If Project Sign was a criminal scandal, then Project Grudge was the hasty cover-up. As the eponym of the Air Force’s evident dissatisfaction with Project Sign, Project Grudge immediately began after Project Sign’s termination and assumed an “anti-UFO policy.” The apparent curse of the Blue Book investigations, however, remained indifferent. Project Grudge investigated 244 reports in less than a year, meeting its doomed end on December 27th, 1949. 23% of its reports could not be identified, a performance worse than its predecessor. A godsend came from Project Grudge’s convenient suggestion of de-escalating UFO investigations, as their very existence summoned mass hysteria and UFO reports. This failure was forgotten by both the Air Force and the public, except Captain Edward James Ruppelt.

Two years had passed since the end of Project Sign and Project Grudge, but Captain Ruppelt was still bothered. The former leader of Project Grudge should have been glad to reject the dissatisfactory results. Yet, rejection was useless; these UFO investigations were inherently biased, and not only did Captain Ruppelt know this fact, but he saw such obfuscation as evil. Rectification was in order, and he would play judge, jury, and executioner. Captain Ruppelt reestablished Project Grudge in October 1951 with a severe lack of biased staff. In their stead, he made Project Bear, a contract with the Battelle Memorial Institute (BMI), in order to ensure a more scientific system in reevaluating the reports of Project Sign and Project Grudge.

Nevertheless, Captain Ruppelt could not be called an unsung hero, for by the end of this renewed Project Grudge in March 1952, the results of UFO investigations had become redundant. No evidence of extraterrestrial origin was found.

Between the Pages of Blue Book

While Captain Ruppelt played God, the United States government cowered. It had been nearly four years, and the United States was still wearing the same pair of jade-tinted glasses. Therefore, it was only reasonable that they saw the start of the Korean War in 1950 as a sign of communist world domination. The United States accordingly paid little attention to the continuing UFO reports. Nevertheless, this distraction would prove temporary. In the Washington Flap of 1952, July became a nightmarish outlier with its UFO reports. Washington D.C. was suddenly alive with paranormal activity and credible radar operators and pilots were reporting so. The ATIC’s scientists had no need for a beach trip that summer, for they were swimming in UFO reports.

During the Washington Flap of 1952, there was seldom a being who did not report UFOs over Washington, D.C. This contemporary comic strip’s headline, ‘Saucers Over Washington, D.C.,’ uses complete capitalization and a bolded font in order to emphasize the severity of potential foreign aerial technology over the nation’s capital. (Photo Credit: Free Use National Archive NAID: 595553)

By then, telling the masters of paranoia to calm down was futile. It was not long before the CIA believed that “enemy agents might clog military communications with a barrage of false flying-saucer reports, thus camouflaging a real attack on the country.” Now fearing UFO reports more than UFOs, the Robertson Panel began under Dr. Howard Percy Robertson on January 4th, 1953. Through five day-long meetings, scientists who still insisted, “It can’t be, therefore it isn’t,” discussed several well-known UFO reports under supposedly normal circumstances; for instance, they explained the Washington Flap of 1952 as a thermal inversion. It did not matter that that this argument made no sense logically. They hoped to calm the public, thus they asserted that UFOs posed no new scientific threat to national security and suggested that UFOs be stripped “of the special status they have been given” to reduce hysteria, and gave a “strict orders to debunk UFOs.”

Nevertheless, a morsel of disobedience was seemingly festering. The year prior in 1952, Captain Ruppelt had reappeared to investigate cumulative UFO reports with the ATIC and BMI afresh in the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. They called this presently ongoing rebellion Project Blue Book. However, there was evidently no risk of uprising; in spite of the captain’s resilience, the results had manifested in accordance with the previous investigations, indifferent to the Robertson Panel’s strict orders. By December 17th, 1969, 701 of the 12, 618 cumulative UFO reports Project Blue Book had investigated remained unidentified. The report concluded:

  1. No UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security.
  2. There has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as “unidentified” represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge.
  3. There has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as “unidentified” are extraterrestrial vehicles.

Officially, a report by the University of Colorado coupled with the results of former UFO investigations had convinced the Air Force to terminate Project Blue Book. Moreover, the Air Force insists that “no evidence has been presented to indicate that further investigation of UFOs by the Air Force is warranted,” forever burying UFO investigations. Regardless, UFO reports will customarily continue, eluding the public and private alike.

Past the jade-tinted glasses of the United States Air Force, a newfound increase in “flying saucer” reports evoked not daydreams of otherworldly life, but a potential threat to national security. After all, these were possible incidents involving foreign aerial technology in American territory. Ever anxious, the Air Force established Project Saucer in 1947 and investigated said reports, finding no evidence of extraterrestrial technology by January 1948. Yet, ostensibly in their vulnerable ado the Air Force lost Project Saucer’s, and subsequently all those regarding Project Blue Book, birth certificate(s).

About the Contributor
Kathy Le, Staff Reporter
Kathy Le is an Editor-in-Chief and Chief Graphic Designer for ‘The Observatory’ yearbook. She enjoys writing and designing her own yearbook spreads, where she enjoys adding small details and using colorful language in her articles. She is also a Staff Reporter for 'The Science Survey' and enjoys writing long form journalistic articles for it. She is amazed at how skilled journalists can describe hard truths and make them engaging. Kathy also enjoys taking journalistic photographs where life is captured in vivid ways. In her free time, Kathy likes reading and creating digital art. She wishes to keep art as a hobby and pursue the medical field in the future.