"Secret" Air Force Study Says UFOs Are Real

Friedman, Stanton T.Slate, Ann: Saga's UFO Report, p. 28, vol. 1, n° 5

In 1953, the U.S. Air Force quietly contracted a noted research group to analyze more than 2,000 flying saucer sighting reports collected in Air Force files. The final report of this intensive two-year study was called Project Blue Book Special Report #14, and it indicated that UFOs weren't the mirage the Air Force hoped they were.

Rather than accept the grim conclusion that a high percentage of the strange objects in our skies could not be identified, the AF attempted to make PBBSR #14 "disappear," first by distorting the results in official press releases and then by making the report unavailable.

These tactics might have succeeded were it not for the tenacity of Dr. Leon Davidson of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory who believed that the public had a right to read the unexpurgated version of Report #14. What he was up against is best illustrated by reviewing the history of the UFO problem.

During the year before Kenneth Arnold's 1947 sighting over Mount Rainier, which resulted in the term "flying saucer," Sweden had reported a flurry of unidentified aerial objects. Because Sweden was near the Soviet Union, official concern was that UFOs might be a new foreign military development similar to that of the German V-2 rockets of WW II. The investigation was turned over to the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

The primary mission of ATIC was to synthesize existing scientific developments overseas on the basis of published technological literature. These syntheses then were projected into a meaningful picture of the technical capabilities of other nations. ATIC, for example, later did the best job of predicting when the U.S.S.R. would come up with the A-bomb (they correctly stated it would be in 1949).

The UFO project was given the code name SIGN, which was later changed to GRUDGE, and finally to BLUE BOOK. It collected and evaluated all available facts concerning flying saucer reports. Since no one was thinking seriously in terms of space travel at that time, it was logically assumed that these strange vehicles might be foreign military devices.

One such puzzling case was a sighting by a DC-3 pilot and copilot during a flight in July, 1948. Heading toward them was an object without wings. As it passed to the starboard they saw two rows of lighted windows and a 50-foot trail of fire out behind it. The object suddenly went into a steep climb and disappeared into the clouds. The craft was also observed by a passenger on board the DC-3.

After a compilation of the first series of reports, ATIC ruled out the probability of UFOs being foreign military devices because of the extreme variance in their characteristics. To quiet the concerned public, AF press releases became fairly standard. The only essential changes were the dates.

According to the AF, all evidence and analyses indicated that reports of UFOs were the result of:

While it was officially admitted that a number of reported sightings had remained unknown and did not come under any of these three major headings, the AF attitude was that if more data had been obtained, these sightings could be associated with familiar things such as meteors, light aberrations, etc.

In Spring, 1953, an AF form letter released by the Office of Public Information in Washington, D.C., stated the following under a paragraph headed, "What Saucers Are Not."

"The Air Force has stated in the past, and reaffirms at the present time, that these unidentified aerial phenomena are not a secret weapon, missile or aircraft developed by the United States. None of the three military departments nor any other agency in the government is conducting experiments, classified or otherwise, with flying objects which could be a basis for the reported phenomena. As far as is known there is nothing in them that is associated with material or vehicles that are directed against the United States, from another country or from other planets."

Thus the official tone was set, a neatly tied package for the taxpayer, that explained in effect that there wasn't really anything of significance zooming around overhead. If a "few" unknowns had sifted to the bottom of the bucket, they could be discounted. That, anyway, was the public statement.

But a classified AF regulation known as AFR 200-2, titled INTELLIGENCE, was issued in 1954 and was followed by four pages of methodology on UFO reporting. The paragraph titled, "Release of Facts," reads:

"Headquarters USAF will release summaries of evaluated data which will inform the public on this subject. In response to local inquiries, it is permissible to inform news media representatives on UFOs when the object is positively identified as a familiar object. . .

This same section concludes with the order that if the object is not explainable, the only information to be released is that ATIC is analyzing it.

ATIC was still trying to analyze the 1947 case of a farmer and his two sons who'd seen a blue hat-shaped object hedge hopping along the ground, shooting flames. The details of the 20-foot diameter craft were extremely clear as they viewed it against the backdrop of a canyon wall at the close range of 300 feet. The "hat" made a swishing sound as it followed the contour of the ground and then took off, disturbing the trees as it passed overhead.

Dr. Leon Davidson had gotten in on the UFO ground floor, about the time the "green fireball" wave of 1948 hit the Southwest. Employed at Los Alamos Laboratory, he joined an informal group of scientists and engineers there who were studying the UFO problem. This group, called the Los Alamos Astrophysical Association, had official support and had access to the classified Project GRUDGE files and reports.

It wasn't long before Davidson was believing that the AF investigation of saucers was a cover-up. Later, as a volunteer in the White Plains, N.Y., Filter Center of the Ground Observer Corps, he was dismayed by the treatment accorded to reports of strange objects. He began writing to the Secretary of Defense and other officials.

"I pointed out that the Air Force's attitude of ridiculing and operationally ignoring all saucer sightings could allow an enemy to send aircraft or missiles through our defenses easily, merely by putting enough flashing. lights on them to cause them to be reported as flying saucers," Davidson said.

Suddenly, in 1952, there was an unprecedented increase in UFO sightings. An alarmed public wasn't going to accept officialdom's opinion that the odd-shaped craft with pulsing lights, making right angle turns at tremendous speeds, were just the product of their over-stimulated imaginations.

An instrument technician driving toward an AF Base at 7 p.m. was especially certain he wasn't imagining the crazy gyration of the disc he stopped to watch for 15 minutes in December of that year. It made 45-degree turns, darted back and forth and then took off in level flight at high speeds, rolling three times and showing alternate white and red sides. Project Blue Book sightings jumped from a reported 169 in 1951 to 1,501 in 1952.

ATIC took the problem to nearby Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. This is a well-respected nonprofit contract research and development agency that employs a broad range of technologists. Although most noted for developing the Xerox, BMI primarily does contract work for industry. Because it's accustomed to handling a volume of data and a variety of problems, the mating between BMI and ATIC was a natural one.

The outcome of this study was to be called Project Blue Book Special Report #14, a review and conclusion drawn from all the preceding classified progress reports of the project called Blue Book Reports 1 through 12, along with other AF data on UFOs.

By setting up precise criteria and processing them through a computer, ATIC hoped the analysis of AF sightings from 1947 through 1952 (a total of 2,199 cases) would fall into some neatly reassuring and explainable categories. This anticipated result never occurred! Battelle kept playing with the data to make it come out right so the AF would be happy, but still it wouldn't fit.

It should be noted that this independent analysis represents the largest and most comprehensive scientific and official study on flying saucers ever made. While the data is old, is has never been superceded.

BMI didn't study reports that mentioned aliens associated with UFOs because there weren't any. Edward Ruppelt who managed the ATIC Blue Book Office admitted he'd literally thrown out all sightings that mentioned "creatures." No one knows how many sightings of this type were disposed of but this clearly was an inappropriate thing to do. In a statistical analysis, the percentage of unidentified unknowns from this segment of the reports might have proved much higher than in the non-humanoid category.

Another requirement discovered after the study was well under way was the need for defining a factor that related to the maneuvers of the unknown objects. By ''maneuvers'' was meant the well-known characteristics of hovering, sharp turns, rapid speed changes, wobbly flight, pendulum-like descent, etc. While Battelle determined this factor to be critical, they found it impracticable to go back and reevaluate all the original data already processed. Therefore, no code for maneuverability was included, which automatically omitted antics such as were witnessed by a flight sergeant in Korea on June 6, 1952. The UFO appeared over an Air Force Base at eight in the morning, spinning, tumbling, leveling out only to stop momentarily and then shoot straight up. As the sergeant watched with another observer, it disappeared into the sun, only to reappear and fly back and forth across the sun.

While it looked like the AF held several good cards in a stacked deck, the impartial IBM computer kept raising the bet.

The research group set up certain precise categories of identification by which to sift out the unknowns. These were:

The category designated "Other" included birds, clouds, kites, rockets, psychological manifestations, etc.

Qualité Nombre % du Total
Excellente 213 9,7
Bonne 757 34,5
Douteuse 794 36,0
Médiocre 435 19,8
Total 2199 100,0

Sightings were further classified according to the experience of the observer, and the consistency, completeness, and quality of the report. Therefore, reliability ratings of Excellent, Good, Poor, and Doubtful were assigned. For a sighting to be labeled Excellent meant it involved a good observer, under optimum conditions, who saw something more than just a light flashing by in the sky.

After a preliminary identification, a second identification was made by another member of the panel composed of two BMI consultants and two from ATIC. If two members labeled an object a Known, the IBM card was then category-coded. It took agreement of all four members to code an object as an Unknown.

One case, from March 1950, judged Unknown and listed as Serial 1550.00, concerned a AF Reserve captain and an airline captain who were piloting a commercial plane. Both crew members watched a circular object pass in front of their plane a half-mile away. A brilliant light blinking at three flashes per second was sighted on the top of the strange craft and a fluorescent purple glow appeared through each of the nine to 12 portholes on the bottom. Visibility was excellent and the object's speed was judged to be more than 1,000 miles per hour.

Table 1 - Categorization of UFO Sighting Reports
Category Number %
Astronomical 479 21,8
Aircraft 474 21,6
Balloon 339 15,4
Other 233 10,6
UNKNOWN 434 19,7
Insufficient Information 240 10,9
Total 2199 100 %

It's important to note that the Unknowns were not those sightings where data was missing. Insufficient Information was a separate and distinct category.

Tableau 2 - Quality Distribution of UNKNOWNS
Quality UNKNOWNS % of Group
Excellent 71 33,3
Good 188 24,8
Doubtful 103 13,0
Poor 72 16,6
Total 434 19,7 %

If you refer to Table 2 of the Distribution Chart, reproduced exactly from Report #14, you'll note that in the Excellent rat ing, comprising 213 reports, there are a staggering 71 Unknowns-33.3 percent of the best sightings! In the Good rating, Un knowns claimed a total of 24.8 percent! The better the quality of the sighting, the more likely it was to be labeled Unknown!

Everyone but the computer was astonished. Other charts were constructed showing the frequency of object sightings in relation to the sun. It was hoped some of the Unknowns might have been caused by an atmospheric phenomenon known as a mock sun. But the histogram dramatically showed no increase of Unknowns relative to the Knowns near sunset or sunrise, ruling out that possibility!

The panel decided to dig deeper but using the statistical method known as the Chi Square Test, reasoning that if some of the characteristics of the Unknowns were the same as those of the Knowns, it then would be safe to say that the Unknowns essentially had been the same objects as the Knowns. Thus the flying saucer would no longer be a topic of conversation.

Cross-checking was done on the following factors:

Blue Book Report #14 states: "In five of the six cases, the probability is less than one percent that the distributions are the same."

This means that it was highly unlikely (less than one percent) that the Unknowns came from the same population of sighting reports as the Knowns. The Unknowns continued to defy conventional explanation! (Light brightness had been ruled out as too nebulous to be of any real value.)

The completion of Report #14 presented the AF with a problem. The AF had been selling the public quite another bill of flying saucer goods! While the cut-off date on the project was to be Dec. 31, 1952, it was decided to process sighting reports for 1953, 1954, and the first six months of 1955. During this last six-month period, Unknowns ranked three percent and that three percent is the only figure ever stated officially by the USAF with regard to the entire study!

All previous BB Reports had been classified, but the AF did not classify Report #14. This probably was a psychological maneuver on its part to give the illusion that the government wasn't hiding anything about flying saucers. What they did, however, was to make the report unavailable.

In October, 1955, a cleverly phrased, widely-distributed press release from the Department of Defense was issued, completely distorting the Battelle findings.


"The results of an investigation begun by the Air Force in 1947 into the field of Unidentified Aerial Objects (so-called flying saucers) were released by the Air Force Today.

"No evidence of the existence of the popularly-termed 'flying saucers' was found.

"The report was based on study and analysis by a private scientific group under the supervision of the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Dayton, Ohio. Since the instigation of the investigation more than seven years ago, methods and procedures have been so refined that of the 131 sightings reported during the first four months of 1955, only three percent were listed as unknown. (A summary of the report is attached.)

"Commenting on this report, Secretary of the Air Force Donald A. Quarles said: 'On the basis of this study we believe that no objects such as those popularly described as flying saucers have overflown the United States. I feel certain that even the unknown three percent could have been explained as conventional phenomena or illusions if more complete observational data had been available.' "

Quarles then discussed aircraft of unusual configurations, such as the disc-shaped aircraft on the drawing board at AVRO in Canada and other vertical-rising planes being developed, which should not be mistakenly reported as flying saucers.

Naturally the public was left to conclude that only three percent of all evaluated objects sighted proved to be unidentified since no other statistic was given. Yet the truth was that highly-qualified scientists using the best data processing methods didn't know what 19.7 percent of UFOs really were! The fact that BMI had set up an Insufficient information category flatly contradicts Quarles's statement that all that was needed to fully explain away flying saucers was more data.

The press release stated that a summary of Report #14 was attached, not the unclassified full report itself. Battelle's conclusions were equally misleading; the last paragraph of its summary reads:

Therefore, on the basis of this evaluation of the information, it is considered to be highly improbable that reports of unidentified aerial objects examined in this study represent observations of technological developments outside of the range of present-day scientific knowledge. It is emphasized that there has been a complete lack of any valid evidence of physical matter in any case of a reported unidentified aerial object.

While those gentlemen might have wished to examine a piece of fuselage, a jettisoned propulsion system unit or a crashed UFO itself, this contradicted their statement that the lack of physical matter was not assumed to be concrete proof that flying saucers didn't exist. It should further be noted that propulsion systems capable of traveling to the stars are not outside the range of present day technology, we just haven't built them yet.

This kind of faulty reasoning is similar to the statement that because more than 99 percent of the naturally-occurring isotopes are incapable of supporting a nuclear chain reaction by themselves, it can be concluded that the process of nuclear fission is impossible. In reality, only one naturally-occurring isotope, U-235, can be used by itself to create a nuclear chain reaction. If you find one white crow, it's safe to assume that not all crows are black. Report #14 statistically provided an entire flock of white crows but because the birds didn't leave feathers all over the ground, seeing them flying overhead didn't count as evidence of their existence.

Dr. Leon Davidson wanted to see a copy of Report #14, which was now nowhere in unclassified sight. After months of correspondence with governmental agencies, he was told that the report was not generally distributed because the cost was prohibitive. If he wished to see a copy, he could view it at AF offices in Washington, New York or Los Angeles.

This official excuse about the high cost of reproducing the 315-page report is meaningless to anyone who has reviewed catalogs of U.S. government publications. The U.S. government is the world's biggest publisher. A comprehensive report on UFOs, because of the great public interest, should have at least ranked along with the widely-distributed How to Get Rid of Bedbugs catalog.

After Davidson had studied Report #14 and noted the obvious subterfuge in the concealment of its real findings, he decided to reprint the report at his own expense as a public service. He wrote to more government agencies until, finally, a rather terse note from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense indicated he was getting somewhere.

It read in part, "Regarding reproduction of the Blue Book, the Department of Defense considers this to be your own private affair and neither denies nor approves your plan. I trust this satisfactorily answers your questions."

It did. Davidson photocopied PBBSR #14 and made it available to the public.

Since its publication there has been a total lack of reference to the report by UFO authorities. Dr. Donald Menzel, well-known astronomer and astrophysicist, formerly head of the Smithsonian Observatory at Harvard, is decidedly anti-flying saucers. He's published two books and several articles trying to explain away UFOs. In his second book, published in 1963, he attributes about 30 classic sightings to atmospheric phenomena. He claims he had full access to all the AF and Blue Book files. Yet he never mentions Report #14 or the 434 Unknowns or even the 71 Excellent Unknowns. This is unfortunate because his books have turned off a lot of scientists once curious about the UFO problem.

Dr. J. Allen Hynek, head of the Astronomy Department at Northwestern University and former AF UFO consultant began to take a more active interest in flying saucers in 1966, trying to re-stimulate scientific focus on UFOs, yet in his many printed articles and professional and congressional testimonies, the only time Hynek referred to Report #14 was in a critical review of the Condon Report. It appeared in the April, 1969, issue of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, where, after expressing the hope for a more effective study of the perplexing UFO phenomenon, he concludes:

"To this end, care should be taken that the files of the Condon Committee not be destroyed, as reportedly were the data in a 1953 investigation of UFOs by another Air Force contractor whose identity was classified and whose data led to Report No. 14 of Project Blue Book"

he last AF-sponsored UFO effort resulted in the quasi-scientific University of Colorado Study in 1966. Because of the large sum of money involved, this contracting should have gone out on open-bidding; it never did. Dr. Edward Condon, who headed this research group was advised of the significant findings of Report #14. He said he read the data with great interest, but never again referred to it. Condon publicly mentioned BB Reports 1 through 12 in the Colorado report and devoted an entire chapter to government involvement in the study of UFOs. The Condon Report covered 117 cases in contrast to the 2,199 sightings covered in Report #14.

As there was much public concern about UFO secrecy in government at that time, the AF got off the hook by cleverly passing the buck for review of the Condon Committee findings to the National Academy of Sciences. It should be pointed out that the erudite Academy elects its own members (usually older outstanding scientists) and maintains a closed membership of less than 1,000. New members usually are invited to join only when a "chair" is vacated following a death.

While it is doubtful that this scholarly body would be influenced by official AF opinion regarding flying saucers, it is noteworthy that both Condon and Menzel are Academy members!

The Academy appointed an 11-man panel (average age 65) and handed it the 1,465-page typewritten Condon Report on Nov. 15, 1968. The panel had to rapidly familiarize itself with the UFO subject. It did so by reviewing the scientific publications authored by its fellow Academy member, Dr. Menzel, along with several other points of view published by persons they considered technically trained. The statistical computations of Report #14 are not referred to in the listed references of their crash course on UFOs.

On Jan. 6, 1969, the panel met and agreed with the methods and approach used by the Condon Committee, concluding that continued study of UFOs was not likely to benefit science. Then they went one step further.

"On the basis of present knowledge the least likely explanation of UFOs is the hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitations by intelligent beings."

Considering the panelists' lack of prior scientific contact with UFO data, the bulky study, which had to be read, and the social demands over a busy holiday season prevented any cross-checking of Condon's cases. The Academy endorsement seems as hasty as the Colorado study itself was superficial!

The world's largest scientific organization concerned with space exploration, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) stated it couldn't find a basis for Dr. Condon's appraisal of the flying saucer as a non-contributor to scientific research. After carefully studying the Colorado data, the AIAA noted that 30 percent of the 117 cases examined in detail could not be identified. The AIAA said: "The opposite conclusion could have been drawn from the content of the report, namely that a phenomenon with such a high ratio of unexplained cases should arouse sufficient scientific curiosity to continue its study."

The group also found no convincing basis for Dr. Condon's assumption that no intelligent life from outside our solar system would visit Earth for the next 10,000 years.

Until a few years ago, the U.S. Air Force Academy included a rather good chapter on UFOs in the text used for the Physics 370 course. Along with a review of the existence of flying Saucers in ancient legends, several modern day sightings were described, including the Zamora case in New Mexico and the Barney and Betty Hill incident. Students were urged to keep an open mind and not to deny the possibility of alien control of UFOs on the basis of preconceived notions. Suggested reading in the references had included David son's privately published edition of Project Blue Book Special Report #14.

But cadets taking the Physics 370 course at the USAF Academy in the Fall semester of 1970 received a revised UFO chapter in their text that was totally different than the former one. It was based essentially on Dr. Condon's conclusions and the findings of Project Blue Book as determined by the official press releases. Conspicuously absent was any reference to Report #14. Obviously the line of reasoning Condon employed when presenting his views in the December, 1969, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had been adopted by the AF, Academy.

Where corruption of children's minds is at stake," Condon stated, "I do not believe in freedom of the press or freedom of speech. In my view, publishers who publish or teachers who teach any of the pseudo-sciences as established truth should, on being found guilty, be publicly horsewhipped and forever banned from further activity in these usually honorable professions. Truth and children's minds are too precious for us to allow them to be abused by charlatans."

Condon has further quipped that we need a National Magic Agency which might include the future scientific study of UFOs, "if any."

We've seen enough seduction of the public into believing that further investigation into UFOs would be of no consequence. We've been beguiled into accepting the AF line rather than seeing the actual data, which has been deceptively concealed.

Of the many millions of dollars appropriated to the AF to examine the flying saucer problem, only one study, PBBSR #14, was scientifically performed, and this was the one the AF tried to hang in the closet along with some other "family" skeletons, until Dr. Leon Davidson peeked through the door. And while Re port #14 has revealed what UFOs were not, it's about time we found out exactly what they really are!