Lecture Five: American Government’s Very Beginning Examination of UFOs

Examining the beginning of government attention will necessarily have 2 story tracks, the second of which will get only brief mention for now and be addressed in seperate lectures dealing with crash/retrieval and mj-12 lore:

The confirmed and documented involvement of the United States Government in efforts to address the ufo mystery, and…..

The unconfirmed (to date) assertions , dating back 30 plus years, of a very secret control group (mj-12) that Truman formed in the aftermath of the so-called Roswell Incident.

Insofar as any governmental responses to the foo fighters of world war 2 or the odd 1941 “battle of Los Angeles” incident, that will be covered in the course on pre-1947 history of ufo events (or during the first half of the 20th century).

The sudden eruption of UFO sightings that began in June 1947, and which impacted both military and civilian witnesses, moved Air Force leaders to have Lt General Nathan Twining take a look at the matter of “flying discs”. Twining was head of the Air Material Command (AMC) based at Wright Field (later renamed Wright-Patterson AFB) in Dayton, Ohio.

Twining consulted with his engineers and, with his conclusions established, he responded back on September 23 1947 to the commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Force, Brig. General George Schulgen. (Weeks later, the Air Force would be an independent branch.)

After noting features of some of the observed craft (extraordinary maneuverability, disc shape, soundless), he wrote his observations regarding that, still decades later a very famous quote: “The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious”.

Twining recommended that the Air Force study these sighting reports in depth in a project with a code name and security classification. Information gathered and assessed would be shared with the othe military branches and scientific agencies and personnel connected to the government.

The recommendations were approved, the reponse coming on December 30th from the Chief of Staff for the newly established Air Force, Major General L.C. Cragie.

This effort was assigned the name Project Sign and given a 2A security classification. The Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC), a division of the Air Material Command based at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, was given the responsibility to carry out this project.

Its actual work began on January 22 1948 with most of the investigations carried out at nearest AF bases by Air Force intelligence officers. Staff from Project Sign at ATIC would go out also to investigate on important cases.

Sighting witnesses filled out a form with questions related to the event onserved which then would then be sent to the AMC’s ATIC division, and after written reports based on that were prepared, they were distributed to selected recepients elsewhere in the government.

In order to have expert help in discerning misidentifications, Project Sign hired a nearby professional astronomer, Dr. J. Allen Hynek who was director of Ohio State University’s MacMillan Observatory.

[Dont be confused by the skewed chronology presented in the History Channel’s extremely fictionalized version of all this history. For example, his association with Capt. Edward Ruppelt as head of that project in that show mistakenly puts it at the beginning in 1948 when in reality Ruppelt came to head the reincarnated version of Sign in 1952, under the name Project Grudge.]

The first case they looked at involved the death of an unfortunate Air National Guard pilot who, we now know, died chasing a Skyhook ballon that was set off the prior morning of January 6 1948. He ascended to a height that was not prudent without his O2 mask in a mad dash to get a close look at the ufo others in this area of Kentucky were reporting and which he and fellow pilots saw initially from an altitude below the object.

Four years later, Edward Ruppelt assumed directorshop of the project, now named Grudge and this famous Mantell Incident case conclusion of Venus being misidentified was revisited when an Air Force Intel officer asked Ruppelt to take another look.

The Skyhook ballon was part of a secret Navy project, something not known to those sighting it. Puzzled by the conclusion made in 1948 that Captain Thomas Mantell misidentified Venus, Ruppelt found out that Hynek offered the solution to an Air Force major back then as the answer to what Mantell and others saw. In 1952, Hynek regretted his earlier conclusion…as Ruppelt’s detailed followup did resolve most issues (especially after learning witnesses via a telescope clearly saw its nature).

Many of the other subsequent cases would be resolved as misidentifications of this or that but very puzzling cases that were well fleshed out by various forms of documentated evidence and information remained unexplained….but…..with a dominant hypothesis developing within Project Sign: extraterrestrial visitation.

This after having ruled out the Soviets as creators of the extraodinary technology being witnessed.

By the early fall of 1948, Project Sign had examined some seriously puzzling reported incidents, some key ones identified when researchers in the 1990s bought the papers of Captain Edward Ruppelt. They found the unpublished first draft of his 1956 book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. This book was written soon after his service heading Project Grudge and Blue Book (Project Sign became Grudge after February 1949).

In late September or early October 1948, under the leadership of Captain Robert R. Sneider who along with most of his team felt they had clearly found concrete signs of extraterrestrial visitation, They prepared and sent up the chain of command an Estimate of the Situation.

In volume 1 of his 3rd edition of The UFO Encyclopedia, pg 436-437, Jerome Clark quotes the material that didnt make it into the published version, which identifies some of these clear signs, here in a portion of that text by Ruppelt:

It [the Estimate of the Situation] concluded that UFOs were interplanetary. As documented proof, many unexplained sightings were quoted. The original sighting by Kenneth Arnold; the series of sightings from the secret Air Force Test Center, Muroc AFB; the report of a F-80 pilot who saw 2 round objects dive toward the ground near Grand Canyon; and a report by the pilot of an Idaho National Guard T-6 trainer, who saw a violently maneuverimg black object.

Clark notes that also it was learned in Ruppelt’s papers that even “further documentation” was included in the Estimate of the Situation:

“…The report quoted an interview with an Air Force major from Rapid City Air Force Base (now Ellsworth AFB) who saw a dozen UFOs flying a tifht diamond formation. When he first saw them they were high but soon they went into a fantastically high speed dive, leveled out, made a perfect formation turn, climbed at a 30 to 40 degree angle, accelerating all the time. The UFOs were oval-shaped and brilliantly yellowish-white.”

There is also a suggested line of evidence that was reported by long-time ufo investigator Kevin Randle in his 1989 book, The UFO Casebook, here described by UFO historian Jerome Clark (pg 436 of aforementioned reference immediately above):

“In the early 1980s, while attending one of a number of regularly scheduled meetings of intelligence officers, Kevin D. Randle, a U.S. Air Force Reserve captain who years later would investigate the Roswell incident, met a colonel who said he worked at the Air Technical Intelligence Center (which oversaw the Air Force UFO projects) in the late 1940s. The officer told Randle that the fabled estimate had been hand-delivered by courier to Vanderberg, who handed it back with instructions that two paragrapahs be removed. The informant (since deceased) said these paragraphs referred to physical evidence recovered in New Mexico.”

Another high profile incident during the flight of an Eastern Airline commercial flight on a DC-3 in the early am of July 24 1948 contribited to the move to write an Estimate of the Situation. The pilot, co-pilot and a passenger reported a close by view of a torpedo-shaped object with strange lighting and 2 rows of windows along a 100 foot length. This incident is identified by the names of the pilot and co pilot, Chiles-Whitted sighting-incident.

Convinced they had a good basis to conclude that some of these reports were suggestive of an extraterrestrial presence, project director Captain Robert Sneider and his team prepared a top secret Estimate of the Situation which then was sent to the Pentagon for consideration.

This Estimate, upon examination by the Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, was rejected. Vandenberg cited the lack of physical evidence. He then declassified the document and ordered that all copies be burned, so in the aftermath we have relied on those, like Capt Ruppelt, who read this Estimate and later relate the contents.

After the rejection of this estimate, the pro extraterrestrial hypothesis faction lost influence on the direction and focus of the project.

Jerome Clark, pg 935, volume 2 The UFO Encyclopedia:

“After this the ET faction went out of favor, and those who argued for prosaic explanations came to dominate the project. (Eventually, even the DC-3 encounter was knocked down. Noting the “sheer improbability of the facts as stated,’ Hynek suggested that the pilots must have been badly mistaken; ‘the object must have been an extraordinary meteor’ since the pilots could not have seen what they saw.)

With this new orientation and perspective, a last Project Sign report was submitted in February 1949 (“Unidentified Aerial Objects”, F-TR 2274 record group 34, National Archives).

Therein, about 20% of cases went unexplained but project staffers were confident ordinary explanations could be eventually uncovered.

This project saw a radical remaking of its staff with the departures and replacement of those who had concluded that some of their cases had an extraterrestrial visitation explanation.

And after the February 1949 report, Project Sign was renamed, now Project Grudge.

Next: 1949 to the 1969 government bowing out of public projects.



From UFO Encyclopedia article on Project Sign, pgs 934-935, vol 2, their references: