A History of Civilian UFO Investigations

A History and Reference Resource of UFO Investigations by Citizen Group and Freelance Efforts

A briefing for journalists, academics, politicians, and other public communicators, following on the heels of the December 16 2017 revelation of a Pentagon UFO study (formally in existence from 2007 to 2012).

This briefing is designed to aid those in the public communications sector who will now begin examining this subject, given that some significant confirmation of UFO reality has emerged into the public’s awareness through widespread media coverage.


“Ufology” is the study of ufos and the unknown beings associated with them. Those who have been involved in a focus on the UFO subject, either as active investigators and analysts or as consumers of the work products from those efforts, comprise what is known as “the ufo community”, or simply “the ufo field”.

That community encompasses a broad spectrum of views about what it all means, with variant creeds advocated and strongly adhered to. It also includes a segment of people who hold off on establishing a conceptualized picture and belief system.

This briefing will not focus on a history of reported ufo events and encounters with unknown beings but instead detail the work of private citizens to unravel the mystery. It is intended to assist those now moved to examine this subject, seemingly a long time taboo one among journalistic, scientific, and academic circles.

The First Ufologist

Charles Fort was born in Albany, New York in 1874 and between 1919 and 1931 published three works that would become famous, and the first, compilations of
reported UFO events and unknown beings.

He is also the first writer to present widely the extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis to a growing public audience. That idea, though, had been proposed in passing in newspaper accounts of the late 1800s and early 1900s reporting ufo sightings (with “ufos” then often referenced as “airships”). Some of these reports were fabricated, especially exciting tales of crashed vehicles and strange beings, to boost sales. In the United States, real “airship” sightings during 1896 and 1897 received attention in the papers, and when these mysterious sightings expanded worldwide during 1909, the pattern of straight reporting mixed with tall tales played out in the international news media. Extraterrestrial visitors were more commonly presented in newspapers as the explanation for the 1896-97 American wave of sightings whereas in 1909 the notion that spies or secret inventors were responsible was more often presented as the possible explanations in the papers abroad.

Charles Fort set out early in life from an oppressive home life, which had set the bright young man on path of studious absorption in the world of books. He worked at some newspapers in New York City and Long Island, then traveled abroad quite extensively in order to gain experiences to inspire a writing career. After traveling to many places, he got very sick in South Africa and came back home, where he was nursed back to health by the woman to become his wife.

Essentially not achieving success for some time as a writer, even though his work was respected in literary circles close to him, he and his wife lived on the edge financially. During this time, Fort spent his time researching at the library and compiling stories of all sorts of odd things happening.

In 1916 he inherited some wealth and this enabled him to focus on presenting his long research and compiled notes in works that would be successfully published to wide acclaim.

UFO historian Jerome Clark describes these works:

“After these two failed efforts [to submit his works] Fort found his own voice in The Book of the Damned (1919), written with the distinctive blend of mocking humor, penetrating insight, and calculated outrageousness that soon would be described as ‘Fortean’. In this and 2 other books, New Lands (1923) and Lo! (1931), as well as in correspondence with readers and in letters to newspapers, Fort outlined his evidence for otherworldly visitation.

Visitors from a multitude of worlds, Fort wrote, have come to earth over the centuries, possibly—certain enigmatic archaeological artifacts may hint—even longer.
Conceivably alien intelligences helped direct the course of evolution. In ancient times such visitors may have been mistaken for gods, demons, or phantoms. These beings have different motives and missions. Some are more interested in the human race than others. Some are just passing through. Others have a longer-term concern with our planet and its inhabitants. Secret societies of esoteric nature may be in communication with extraterrestrials, while other alien civilizations may seek open contact with all humans. Alien ships have been seen on or under the ocean surface and sometimes mistaken for sea serpents. Aliens may be responsible for mysterious disappearances of people and ships. Some of the strange forms seen in the atmosphere are themselves living entities.

Fort’s notions about otherworldly visitation are not presented in any clearly developed fashion but are scattered through the 3 volumes, mostly in asides. His habitual jokiness sometimes obscures his meaning. His occasional letters to newspapers, composed in more straightforward style, indicate, however, an authentic conviction that extraterrestrial craft, artifacts, beings, and creatures have been and are present on earth.”

[Jerome Clark, The UFO Book, 1998]

Near the very end of Fort’s life, an individual who was inspired by his works, Tiffany Thayer, announced the formation (without Fort’s impetus or guidance) of the Fortean Society. They would continue to research and publish these types of subjects, and in 1937 presented the first issue of The Fortean Society Magazine (later renamed Doubt).

Fort died in 1932 just as his final book Wild Talents (reporting on cases of unusual or super normal human capacities) was put into print.

Thayer’s magazine continued up to his death in 1959. That became inactive until 1961 when others revived the work under the handle the International Fortean Organization (INFO). While continuing to this day, it stopped publishing its journal in the late 1990s.

Their website: http://www.forteans.com

In 1991, a British based magazine named Fortean Times was launched and continues today.

Here is the blog page for their website: http://subscribe.forteantimes.com/blog


The First UFO Organizations

The husband and wife team of Jim and Coral Lorenzen, with the wife the dominant force, created the first civilian-based UFO investigative organization from their Wisconsin home (and expanded it not long later from a move to New Mexico). This is how they describe the initial formation:

“By 1952 enough had happened [UFO reports], and there continued to be a dribble of reports each month, so that Mrs. Lorenzen broached the subject of starting an information and news clipping service to at least collect and store the data. We talked it over and decided that even with caring for two young children she would be able to handle the necessary paperwork.

Mr. Lorenzen had been a professional musician until 1950 when he entered the electronics filed. We had traveled extensively and had many friends and acquaintances, some of whom were interested in astronomy as was Mrs. Lorenzen.
She contacted them, and the embryonic organization came into being. To avoid the use of the term ‘flying saucer’ she chose Aerial Phenomena as the words describing the subject of research, adding Research Organization which described the function.
It was January, and with the cold weather and the children confined to the house most of the time, she was able to achieve her goal of making contacts and planning for a publication. We realized that in order to make it work there would have to be financial support, so annual dues of $3 were instituted. For that amount the membership received a mimeographed periodical, the APRO Bulletin, which contained the most recent reports, mostly taken from newspaper accounts.”

[Coral and Jim Lorenzen, Encounters with UFO Occupants, 1976, Chapter one, The Metamorphosis of UFO Research, pgs 1-2]

Many later leading Ufologists came out of this organization. By the mid seventies, they had 37 PhDs on their biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences consulting panels, 7 MDs on their medical science consulting panel and and 5 BSs or the equivalent.

For example, still very active today in the field, with popular books and an active blog focused on investigations and analysis, is Kevin Randle. Four decades ago:

“in early 1974 headquarters received a report from Field Investigator Kevin Randle who operates out of Des Moines, Iowa, and who has been an indefatigable for many years.”

[He must have been very young! Ahead was an Air Force career, ascending to officer level at retirement]

[Quote from Coral and Jim Lorenzen, Encounters with UFO Occupants, page 195]

The Lorenzen’s were the first to cross a boundary line many early UFO organizations (like the early other giant NICAP) were reluctant to go across. While the Lorenzen’s didn’t have anything to do with the deluded and/or scamming contactee cults, often involving beautiful blondes from Venus with cliched early New Agey messages, they did investigate and report on cases involving humans sighting and encountering directly the apparent occupants of the craft. NICAP, feeling otherwise about such a focus, were impacted by the ridicule they saw inevitably ensuing from reporting on that aspect of reports.

APRO membership would grow during periods of a significant rise in UFO reports, reaching a membership of over 1500 people by 1967 at the peak of one such wave.

The Lorenzens’ had a significant public impact through the publishing and widespread consumption of their UFO books. {AND, they were by far my favorite authors. In a 1962 book, their courageous reporting of the 1957 Antonio Villas Boas case from South America actually gave me, a 11 year old lad, something of a big clue about what some “aliens” might be up to!}

Their books were numerous and portrayed in depth what was happening worldwide thanks to the development of a worldwide network. By 1976, they had representatives in 47 nations. Coral Lorenzen demonstrated in her writings very detailed attention and integrity and analytical skills.

The decline of APRO, after the earlier decline of the other UFO organization giant (NICAP), from this peak of organization began in 1969 when one of its regional officers (Walt Andrus) decided to start a rival group, and with enough supporters, started the geographically limited Midwest UFO Network (MUFON).

Walt Andrus would move to Texas later and there he began development of the now renamed Mutual UFO Network into a national and international network of field investigators and consultants (and subscribing members). They will be covered in the next section of this paper.

Jim Lorenzen died in 1986 and Coral Lorenzen in 1988.

The National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) was the other large UFO organization formed during the earliest days of ufology. It reached a peak in membership of nearly 15,000 during the 1967 wave of UFO sightings, and then rapidly lost two thirds of that number just a few years later after the Condon Report from Colorado University in 1969 was used by the government to officially withdraw attention on UFO investigations.

While they had an extensive network of investigators and expert consultants and even active membership and leadership from high ranking military and intelligence community officials, which led to very good work products in the form of reports and analysis, poor financial management over many years from the start turned out to be its undoing, in addition to the chilling affect of the Condon Report study and the end of the government’s Project Blue Book run by the Air Force.

NICAP was created a little over 4 years after APRO, near the end of 1956, through the initiative of scientist/inventor T Townsend Brown. He did this in Washington D.C. where people in his circle were expressing the need for such an organization. Donald Keyhoe, a USMC Major, had been approached by people (including a hotel magnate) to form such a group, and after Brown resigned a few months after NICAP’s board expressed unhappiness with Brown’s poor management, Keyhoe took over. (Board included Donald Keyhoe, already unhappy with Brown’s unconventional focus on inventing anti gravity technology via electro-magnetic forces).

Donald Keyhoe then became the leader of NICAP, as well as a prolific author of bestselling books that often focused on what he saw as, first, an Air Force coverup and then a CIA one. (The Lorenzen’s and APRO disagreed with this focus.)

Keyhoe was also a poor manager of NICAP over many years, and the 2 following directors oversaw NICAP’s final days, made a little exciting by charges of CIA infiltration and sabotage (a suspicion based on the simple fact several CIA folks wee members). But, since there was no signs of any negative doings by these members, historian Jerome Clark reports the suspicions were “baseless”).

NICAP, with the demise of its publication The Investigator in 1978, disbanded in 1980.

It’s documents were passed on to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, founded a few years before.

Today, that Center hosts an amazing archive of material, a key resource for research.



And, see the categories of material in the sidebar at this page:


During this early era of ufo civilian study group efforts, there was a smaller outfit (than APRO and NICAP) that was also significant, with its founder, Leonard Stringfield (1920-1994) leaving a lasting legacy from his work in later decades.

Inspired by a dramatic UFO sighting while in the military at the end of world war 2 in the Pacific theater, Stringfield became engaged in ufo studies and around 1954 founded Civilian Research, Interplanetary Flying Objects (CRIFO).

He published a monthly newsletter called ORBIT and allied with Keyhoe of NICAP, providing public relations help.

While his own organization, smaller in scale, did not have lasting power, Stringfield left behind a significant legacy with his published 7 status reports (from 1978 thru 1994) on his investigations into alleged crash/retrieval of ufo cases.

These reports appear to be available via Amazon:

Retrievals of the Third Kind: A case study of alleged UFOs and occupants in military custody (1978), presented as a speaker at the Ninth Annual MUFON Symposium in Dayton, Ohio, July, 1978. (Unofficially: Status Report I)

The UFO Crash/Retrieval Syndrome: Status report II: New Sources, New Data (1980)

UFO Crash/Retrievals: Amassing the Evidence: Status Report III (1982)

The fatal encounter at Ft. Dix-McGuire: A case study: Status Report IV (1985)

UFO Crash/Retrievals: Is the coverup lid lifting?: Status Report V (1989)

UFO Crash/Retrievals: The Inner sanctum : Status Report VI (1991)

UFO Crash/Retrievals: Search for Proof in a Hall of Mirrors: Status Report VII (1994)

During these earliest years, stories of UFOs were chronicled through the focusing of editor Ray Palmer (1910-1977), first in the Amazing Stories magazine (from 1938 – 1949), and when he began publishing and editing Fate Magazine.

Also, the completely independent James Moseley (1931-2012), enabled by an inheritance, took up the subject in earnest and began chronicling the ufo community and its people and doings, as well as key ufo events, in 1953.

He traveled the United States, interviewed over a 100 people, including those in the fringe contactee scene of these early years, and soon began publishing a newsletter called SAUCER News.  And, then for a time was called Nexus.

Later it was finally renamed SAUCER SMEAR.  This publication, literally a newsletter only sent in the mail after Jim received a suitable “love offering” from someone, never had an online presence due to Moseley sticking to offline ways.

It ended in 2012 with his death, the longest running ufo journal.  And, a valuable one for getting into the weeds of ufo community happenings.

The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), and the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR)

By the end of the 1960s, APRO member Walt Andrus had developed a strong and trained team of highly responsive field investigators in three Midwest states.

The splitting off from APRO came in reaction to APRO responding to the 1969 Condon University report and the Air Force shutdown of its own attention (at least officially) on UFOs “by reinforcing their centralized management approach….[and since] Walt was still getting reports from the Midwest in spite of the government’s declarations nothing was going on…Walt needed the latitude to induct and train field investigators and to make decisions about how investigators conducted in his own backyard”

[Quote from article on MUFON history by John Schuessler—MUFON director from 2000-2006.  Posted at http://mufon.com/history.html ]

The organizational structure created by Andrus continues to this day and reflects the bottom up basis envisioned by him.

At the base are subscribing members, kept abreast of things via the monthly journal or magazine and other publications like the papers and talks presented at the annual symposiums.

The next level in this body consists of field investigators. MUFON has a training manual, complete with standard forms to be used in investigating and then in reports sent to central headquarters and the section and state directors.

Investigated cases of note are reported on in depth in publications and symposium proceedings. And, most recently, cases from MUFON’s overall compilation, have been graphically presented with dramatic recreations on a History Channel show called “Hangar 1: The UFO Files”. Here is the TV Guide page linking to all season 2 shows, link to season 1 accessed on this page also:

Hangar 1: The UFO Files

The most recent annual book compiling cases of note is described at Amazon:

“Product description
UFO Cases of Interest is an annual release of the best reports for further study from the Field Investigators of the Mutual UFO Network. 241 case overviews from January to December 2017 includes exactly what the witness experienced and how the case was closed by the investigator. Statistics section. And a four-part Research Index matches cases in major areas of study: Location, Object, Site and Witness. This book can be read by armchair UFO enthusiasts looking for cases near their location, or search by UFO shape or proximity to the witness. The more serious researcher can use this title to match specific case elements of interest for further study.
About the Author
Roger Marsh is a UFO writer and content developer. He is Director of Communications for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and editor of the monthly MUFON Journal. Roger was a case researcher for History channel’s Hangar 1: The UFO Files, serves as the MUFON webmaster, and is a reporter for the daily “UFO Traffic Report.” He is author of Sacred Dialogue, editor of Silent Invasion, and co-editor of Ron Paul Speaks. Roger and his wife, Joyce, live in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, restoring a 1910 Pennsylvania four-square.”

A very detailed history of this now longest running, largest and most significant (today) civilian investigative organization is published here:


Walt Andrus retired in 2000 and there have been several directors after him.

MUFON currently faces a problem, concerning its credibility, after resignations in 2017 following the annual symposium. MUFON that summer in Las Vegas had as its central theme the story of a massive secret space program of large fleets, Martian colonies, and alliances with advanced alien races. This tall tale is the creative writing work product of Michael Salla, Corey Goode, and William Tompkins (who died at an advanced age soon after that event).

Hit hard by high profile resignations, and widespread disgust after their lapse in judgement, MUFON restored in 2018 some credibility by having at its main speaker Luis Elizondo, the former Pentagon project manager for a UFO related program and now associated with the To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science.

It was another MUFON symposium staged in Las Vegas, this one in 1989, that served as something of a critical crossroads for MUFON and the ufo community as a whole. For the most part, it seems, the community accepted the notions promoted by that year’s host, John Lear (son of Lear jet founder William Lear), of a government cabal in a dark alliance with exploitive aliens. This despite the fact that a speaker there, author William L. Moore, confessed to being part of a disinformation program by an agent with the AFOSI at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico, targeting a neighbor of that base, a physicist named Paul Bennewitz.

When Moore revealed that the dark stories being fed to Bennewitz were BS, stories basicly the same as what symposium host Lear was promoting (who had a source he called “Commander X”), the audience largely reacted with outrage directed at him.

UFO historian Jerome Clark noted this about the shift in the culture, from the forward of his 1998 The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial:

“Speculations about space visitors and government concealment gave birth to the Dark Side movement, a subculture which fused unrestrained paranoia and far-right conspiracy theory into a nightmarish vision of a malevolent Washington in collusion with sinister extraterrestrials in a plot to enslave the human race.”

The influence and hold of a conspiracy mindset among a portion of MUFON, and the overall ufo community, could be seen in an episode around 10 years ago, as described by the director succeeding Walt Andrus, John Schuessler (2000-2006) in the history page at the MUFON website:

“In 2008, James Carrion, Jan Harzan, Chuck Modlin and John Schuessler met with Robert Bigelow and his team to seek ways to establish cooperation between the organizations. Later, Carrion negotiated a contract with Bigelow Aerospace that allowed MUFON to organize a funded rapid-response effort that could put investigators in the field on high value UFO cases within 24-hours. It also gave Bigelow Aerospace access to the MUFON Case Management System. Unfortunately, dissident UFO buffs quickly came up with nonsense conspiracy theories about the cooperative agreement and spread malcontent and disinformation about it across the Internet. James Carrion resigned in 2009.”

Today, we do now know that Bigelow had a contract with a small special access program within the Pentagon, related to ufo study and analysis, thanks to the ground breaking reporting of the New York Times.

In the last section of this paper, “Latter-day Ufology”, which is quite a colorful scene today enlivened by fictional creations of all sorts that misdirect many down roads to hidden tar pits, Bigelow will be seen as a key figure linked to a mix of new and old students in this 7 decade long field of study. This mix of new and old players in the field has manifested in a public benefit corporation called To The Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences.

An academic and scientific basis for examining this mystery is still the modus operandi of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (which was renamed with the addition of the founder’s name after his death in 1986).

J. Allen Hynek was for 2 decades the scientific consultant for the Air Force ufo investigation program, last known as Project Blue Book and closing down in 1969.

Hynek, a university astronomer, became famous for debunking reports but as time went by and he encountered truly puzzling cases, he became open minded and serious.  In 1973 he formed the Center for UFO Studies as a non member outfit with volunteers engaged in investigations, research, developing databases, and establishing a still surviving archival record.

And, as reported above when discussing the storing of the likewise academically and scientifically-oriented body of papers and documented cases by the NICAP organization, after its demise, by the then Center for UFO Studies, their maintenance today of this massive info archive at http://www.cufos.org will be a key asset for newcomers to this subject.

The final UFO organization of note arising in the 1970s was the Fund for UFO Research.  It was initiated from Alexandria, VA in 1979 as a research group essentially following the CUFOS and NICAP focus and models for operating.  Like CUFOS, FUFOR is inactive (since 2011) but with an important surviving body of research and investigative work available for future students of this subject.

Over the years, FUFOR issued $700,000 in research grants, yielding those work products.

Books and papers by its 3 directors (Bruce Maccabee, 1979-1992, the late Richard Hall, 1992-1998, the late Don Berliner, 1998-2011) also are important resources.

Unlike CUFOS, though, FUFOR has no surviving online archive library.

Latter-Day Ufology

At the very beginning of the 1980s two big and then promising new fronts opened up: investigations into alien abduction reports, especially after the 1980 book by New York artist Budd Hopkins called Missing Time, and the revival of old ufo crash/retrieval tales with the publishing of The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William L Moore.

Since that time, the focus has remained on these two areas.

The creative elaboration on the themes related to government cover ups and encounters with aliens has sustained many independent freelancers and new groups in this scene since the 1980s.

Years of exposure to the high strangeness factor prevalent in UFO reports has also inspired more of a focus on parapyschological processes, paranormal events, and consciousness itself as the key to the enhancing of human capacities.

In many ways, this is now a fractured scene of ideological schools (example includes the aliens are only “good” vs they are mostly bad news schools).

But, what is now also different is that the New York Times itself is assuming a prominent role in the field of study known as “ufology”.