UFOs as a US Air Defense Issue
Part 1: The 1950 "Blue Book Plan"
In 1948, when America was the world's only nuclear power and looked to be so for years to come, its air defense network was a remarkably primitive apparatus. Not counting small war-surplus mobile units, it consisted of a paltry nine permanent military radar stations: four in Washington state (the closest portion of the country to the Soviet Union, and home to the strategic Boeing bomber plant and the Hanford nuclear facility), one in Oregon, one in California, two in New Jersey, and one on Long Island. Incredibly, most of these radars did not even operate on a 24-hour basis.
Fighters dedicated to air defense were mostly leftover WW II types - propeller driven Northrop P-61 Black Widows and, later, a few P-82 Twin Mustangs equipped with primitive airborne radar and armed with light machine guns. The majority of these planes were deployed close to the radar sites in the Pacific Northwest. Their performance was so mediocre that they could barely reach the cruising altitude of the average bomber. A senior air defense officer expressed the opinion of many Air Force officials when he called them "practically worthless" as serious weapons. Only three years after the end of World War II, American defensive airpower was a travesty.
US strategic air doctrine favored a strong offense, and the Air Force had come out of World War II with an unparalleled wealth of experience in massive long-range bomber operations. Strategic Air Command (SAC) dominated the post-war military infighting over nuclear resources. The pervasive feeling in strategy circles was that the next war would be deterred not by vowing to stop an enemy strike in its tracks, but by the threat of overwhelming counterattacks on the aggressor's vital military, industrial, and governmental centers. Based on their World War II experience, the generals commanding SAC strongly believed that no matter how well-organized the opposition, the bombers would always get through, and when they carried a nuclear payload, this meant that their targets would most likely be destroyed. SAC was by far the most politically powerful branch of the Air Force and consumed the lion's share of funding, and consistently resisted proposals to organize a serious air defense arm. But even the staunchest believers in offensive airpower acknowledged that some type of functional air defense system would be necessary for the United States.
A continental air defense system, as envisioned in the late 1940s, would serve three basic functions. Pragmatically, the Air Force and the Truman administration recognized the need to reassure the public that it had some type of protection against enemy air attack. Second, a radar warning network would be essential to alert SAC to enemy penetrations of US airspace which might be the prelude to a full-scale attack, giving the bomber force time to prepare to counterattack. Finally, although there was skepticism within the Air Force over the ability of interceptors to blunt a major Soviet strike, at least a degree of damage limitation for vital military and urban sites could be provided by defensive fighter forces.
In December 1948, the Air Force submitted a plan for an interim air defense radar network composed of any equipment and communications links that could be made available in the shortest possible time. The system, appropriately named "Lashup," was built from off-the-shelf World War II heavy radars and a limited number newer radar units that were just becoming available. The deficiencies of Lashup were well understood by CONAC, the Continental Air Command, the organization in charge of air defense, but while the network would have little effectiveness against future high-speed jets or evasive intruders using electronic jamming, it would be barely adequate to give warning of a massed attack by current propeller-driven Soviet bombers. One of the most glaring defects of Lashup was its limited coverage, both in area and altitude. The network consisted of only 44 fixed sites, and even the so-called Permanent System intended to succeed Lashup would have only about 85 fixed sites. The airspace of the continental United States was simply too vast to be effectively guarded against incursions by enemy aircraft at all altitudes with the technology available in the late 1940s.
Since radar is generally a line-of-sight device, the curvature of the earth and other technical factors set limits on the minimum altitudes a radar site could scan. Below these limits, aircraft had a good chance of sneaking through a radar network undetected. Lashup's old AN/CPS-5, and even its newer General Electric AN/CPS-6B surveillance units, were unable to paint targets below roughly 5,000 feet, an uncomfortably high base which could allow a large aircraft to approach a target undetected. As Lashup went operational, the Air Force began the long process of designing a permanent, full-coverage continental radar network.
In the fall of 1949, in the wake of the detection of the first Soviet nuclear test, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General Muir Fairchild assigned the task of defining an adequate air defense radar network to General Samuel Anderson, Director of Plans and Operations. Anderson appointed his deputy, Colonel T. J. Dayharsh, to head a study group on the problem. The study group's proposal was to be known as the "Blue Book plan." First presented at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on March 2, 1950, the "Blue Book" air defense plan envisioned a functioning permanent national radar network to be put in place by July 1, 1952. However, this date was also thought to represent the "critical date when the Soviets would pose a dangerous threat." The Air Force's Director of Intelligence, General Charles P. Cabell, projected that by that time the USSR would possess as many as 90 nuclear bombs and enough Tu-4 bombers - copies of the Boeing B-29 - to carry them to US targets. The Blue Book plan recommended that squadrons of radar-equipped jet interceptors be put on alert at the earliest opportunity to guard the nation's most vital facilities. In order of priority, the air defense Blue Book identified SAC nuclear weapons facilities; the Hanford nuclear plant; Washington, DC; New York, and other major cities as primary sites to be guarded by fighters.
Dayharsh's Blue Book team strongly suggested that a coordinated, interservice air defense structure would need to be implemented to give the United States a reasonable chance of confronting a Soviet attack. To help give sufficient early warning of incoming intruders, radar-equipped naval patrol craft off the coasts would have to transmit radar tracking reports to Air Force control centers. Army anti-aircraft gunners likewise would have to work closely with their Air Force counterparts. This would require more than just planes and electronic systems, it would mean a change in national consciousness about vulnerability to air attack. Furthermore, until greater numbers of improved radars could be installed, the Air Force had no choice but to turn to the public to help fill Lashup's low-altitude gaps. Until more radars could be put in place, CONAC proposed boosting the number of spotters in the ranks of the largely inactive Ground Observer Corps, the civil defense organization responsible for keeping a lookout on American airspace.
The Ground Observer Corps was something of a political hot potato. There was a general reluctance to incorporate a civilian organization into the military chain of command, and the Defense Department worried correctly that a sudden urgent request to watch for enemy aircraft would create public unease. Moreover, the poor performance of civilian observers in their one operational test during World War II - "Sunset Project", the defense against the Japanese Fu-Go balloons - gave little encouragement to Air Force officers who might have to rely on them to detect a nuclear sneak attack. Despite these drawbacks, the service felt that it had no choice but to reactivate the GOC until greater numbers of more capable radars became available. There had been 6,000 GOC posts at the height of WW II operations, but after the surrender of Japan the organization had been mothballed. Until the announcement of the existence of the Soviet bomb in 1949, response to requests for GOC volunteers was apathetic. In February 1950, in spite of the mediocre performance of test units of the GOC, Air Force Headquarters authorized planning for the activation of a full-time, permanent GOC as an arm of the air defense system.
As the Air Force was unwilling to play up the idea that the country was at risk from Soviet attack, the public remained largely unresponsive to calls for GOC volunteers. By mid 1950, only five percent of the desired posts had been staffed. The outbreak of the Korean War, coupled with increased publicity, helped somewhat, and at the end of that year, 26 filter centers and several thousand observers were trained and operational on a part-time basis. The seeds of trouble were sown as early as June 1950, when Flying magazine ran an article soliciting GOC observers, titled "Wanted: 180,000 Spotters." The cover story of the same issue was "Flying Saucers -- Fact or Fiction?" by Curtis Fuller, Flying's editor, who also wrote for Fate, Raymond Palmer's flying saucer pulp. The cover plane was the Vought V-173 "Zimmer Skimmer."
As proof of this, it should be noted that the "GOC Guide," the training manual for GOC observers, contained no illustrations of the Tu-4 bomber that was considered the only Soviet aircraft capable of reaching the US. It may have been considered futile to train the GOC observers to search for planes that were essentially indistinguishable from the still ubiquitous US B-29 -- overeager observers probably would have reported every US plane as a Soviet intruder.
As in World War II, the observers would submit aircraft sighting reports over commercial phone lines to military-staffed air filter centers, where controllers would manually plot reports of target motion and compare them with flight plans of known air traffic. These "screened" tracks of suspicious objects would in turn be passed to interceptor control centers, which would use Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) radars to guide fighters, by voice radio command, to the vicinity of targets. Once close to the target, the fighter would hopefully acquire the object either visually or with its own radar. It was a slow, cumbersome procedure that seems turned on its head by modern standards, its inherent flaw being that it necessarily placed great emphasis on early warning from visual observers and used radar primarily to direct fighters.
Air Defense Challenges
The Lashup network and its successors would be impotent without weapons to deploy against intruders. The job of defending the US against air attack fell to a relatively small cadre of pilots and ground controllers who were forced to work under highly taxing conditions. First generation jet interceptors were a far cry from the computerized supersonic killing machines of the late 1990s.
The famous North American F-86A Sabre, though a successful dogfighter in the Korean theatre, was subsonic, lacked radar and carried only machine gun armament. Capable as the Sabre was, it was a visual-conditions airplane and was unsuited for night or bad-weather missions.
For the bulk of its bomber interceptor force, until the supersonic fighters it desired became operational, the Air Force pinned its hopes on Jack Northrop's F-89 Scorpion, a heavy, subsonic twin-engine jet with a battery of 20mm cannon in its bulbous, radar-equipped nose. But the two-seat F-89, ordered in 1945 as a successor to Northrop's WW II-era P-61Black Widow, was plagued with development problems. Only a few dozen would enter service by the beginning of 1952.
Anticipating problems with the Scorpion, the Air Force in early 1948 turned to a designer with a track record for quick service: Lockheed's Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. Lockheed's "Skunk Works" - a small team of talented advanced development designers under Johnson's direction - had developed the first US jet to see service, the P-80 Shooting Star, in less than six months. A two-seat trainer version of the P-80, the TP-80 (better known by its later designation, T-33), appeared to be a candidate for the night/all-weather intercept mission. Modified with an afterburner and equipped with the Hughes E-1 fire control system intended for the Scorpion, the Lockheed fighter would be somewhat slower and shorter-legged than the Northrop bird, but would be available much sooner. The first Lockheed F-94 was delivered to the Air Force in December 1949, and two squadrons soon went into service at McChord AFB and Moses Lake AFB in Washington. The F-94A and B models, as interim substitute for the F-89 (itself considered a barely-acceptable interim aircraft), based on a trainer version of a first-generation jet, were far from ideal front-line interceptors. Combat radius of the F-94B was a mere 240 miles, permitting one pass at a high-altitude target in most cases. With an obsolescent engine and a top speed of under six hundred mph, early F-94s were armed with just four light .50 calibre machine guns. The cockpit was cluttered, uncomfortable, and noisy. The 50-kilowatt Hughes AN/APG-33 vacuum-tube radar unit, a derivative of a system originally intended as a tail-gun-aiming radar for the B-36 bomber, was primitive and unreliable, and its lock-on could be broken by a maneuvering target. Air-to-air guided missiles were still laboratory trinkets in the early fifties, and even the unguided rocket batteries intended for later versions of air defense fighters were not yet widely available to service units. As a result, the F-94's crew would have to position their fighter quite close to a target before attempting to fire a burst of machine-gun fire at it. This meant constant verbal communication between the ground controllers, the radar observer in the rear seat of the F-94, and the busy pilot.
The air defense assignment was difficult for ground personnel and aircrew alike. Of necessity, many Lashup radar centers and interceptor bases were located in isolated, rural areas. Stress was high. Concern over possible sabotage drove the Air Force to put the fighters under constant armed guard on lighted alert pads. Pilots standing duty often had to sleep in trailers next to their planes, and aircrews were ordered to carry a .45-calibre sidearm at all times while on alert. Since many tactical pilots were assigned to combat squadrons in Korea, air defense forces faced a perennial shortage of trained crewmen; consequently duty was long and fatiguing. At some interceptor bases, crews rotated through 24-hour alert cycles. Air Defense Command (which became a separate entity on January 1, 1951) commander General Benjamin Chidlaw noted that alert pilots could be on base as much as 100 hours a week. "Add to this the sleeping time and [commuting time] required, and you get a picture of just how little time they have left for recreation or to spend with their families. This is an acute morale problem..."
Ground controllers had it just as hard. Radarmen might spend hours in a darkened shack peering at the relentlessly rotating glowing needle on a scope display. Air defense alert duty was an odd compound of boredom and nagging anxiety. At any moment of the day or night, the probing radar beam might illuminate a Soviet bomber determined to destroy some large city. The contradiction between the banal routine of watching the scopes and the frantic effort necessary to protect the country from a nuclear attack took its toll on controllers. Promotions in ADC ran far behind other Air Force branches, and job dissatisfaction was widespread: controllers opted out of their jobs at a high rate. The fast turnover meant that few controllers had long-term experience. Even ADC considered fully half its controller force unqualified for its mission.
Compounding the problems of the air defense system in the early 1950s was the cantankerous nature of the available radar units. Second or third-generation devices, the Lashup radars were a hodgepodge of various types, vulnerable to a wide variety of technical problems, and limited in their capabilities. Early units were not capable of locating a target in three-dimensional space. Separate devices called "height-finder" radars would be needed to determine the altitude of a blip displayed on a search radar scope. If the CPS-4 height-finder was inoperative, it would be impossible for a controller to determine the altitude of an unknown object, complicating the problem of vectoring a fighter on it. Lashup radars also were prone to a malady known as "anomalous propagation," or AP. Angel and AP images were an everyday fact of life for ADC radarmen, and separating genuine targets from false images, which might or might not appear fuzzy, intermittent, or otherwise unusual, was part of the carefully honed craftsmanship which experienced operators, of necessity, learned to cultivate. There was no such thing as computer processing to help sort out the subtle electronic fingerprints -- doppler shifts, polarization, delay times -- which might characterize AP returns. The operator simply looked at his scope, which displayed everything reflected back to it. Was that strange, drifting blip a genuine unknown or a reflection from an ice cloud or a mountain a hundred miles away? Was that apparent formation of aerial objects actually a bridge sixty miles away? Was that high speed track a flying saucer moving at 1,000 mph or a distorted echo of a 500 mph jet? And since a fighter's own onboard radar might suffer similar distortions, an interceptor sent up to investigate a bogie might be as confused as its ground controllers. "This question of whether a radar target looked real is the cause of the majority of arguments about radar-detected UFOs because it is up to the judgment of the radar operator as to what the target looked like. And whenever human judgment is involved in a decision, there is plenty of room for an argument," one head of the Air Force's UFO study group observed. (See appendix C of J Allen Hynek's "The Hynek UFO Report")
Through the summer of 1951, the number of anomalous radar reports had reached unacceptable levels, and the officer then in charge of Project Grudge, Lieutenant Jerry Cummings, was growing concerned. From ADC's point of view, the problems of its radar controllers, interceptor crews and the Ground Observer Corps were serious and intractable. By its own secret estimates, in the 1951-52 period, even under ideal conditions - a high-altitude, daylight incursion - ADC's chances of detecting, identifying, engaging and downing an enemy bomber were an appallingly low three to six in a hundred. Even in Korea, a much smaller arena of operations, the Air Force found that it was impossible to achieve a leakproof air defense network. The Korean Air Defense Region was frequently surprised by formations of MiGs over Seoul and other southern cities, and even primitive North Korean PO-2 biplanes on "Bedcheck Charlie" nuisance bombing missions were able to elude radar-equipped F-94s.
Advanced Air Defense Concepts
In June 1950 the US Air Force notified its major airframe contractors that it was interested in proposals for a new generation of supersonic, radar-equipped jet interceptors. The fighters would be needed to face the Soviet jet bomber fleet anticipated within five years, and were expected to incorporate the most advanced technology available in an effort to address the glaring faults of the Lashup/ F-94/ F-89 system.
The physics of air interception dictated that in order to close on a jet bomber cruising near the speed of sound at 60,000 feet, a fighter would have to possess phenomenal performance. If the interceptor made a head-on attack, the rate of closure would be well over a thousand miles per hour, challenging the capabilities of even an electronic fire control system, let alone human reflexes. But if the fighter attempted to tail-chase the bomber, it would need high supersonic speed to gain ground. For its F-89s and F-94s, ADC developed a technique called "lead collision-course intercept," by which the fighters would attack the bomber from the side, aiming their machine guns at the point where the fighter's radar system predicted the bomber would be when it intersected the bullet's trajectory. Since the fighter's guns were mounted in its nose, this tactic put the fighter itself on a direct collision course with its target, leading ADC to consider ordering its pilots to ram the bomber as a last resort if gunfire failed to stop it. A supersonic bomber would constitute an even more difficult target. In bad weather or at night, the interceptor pilot would face great difficulty in acquiring the target in the first place. Conventional gunnery was out of the question because the target would be in effective range of guns for a fraction of second. With successful engagement and destruction of a bomber hinging on split-second accuracy, sophisticated high-speed computers coupled with guided missiles would be necessary.
To help deal with these realities, the Air Force defined a complex system of three components which would constitute its future manned air defense system: a high-performance radar net and ground-based electronic control system capable of locating targets and directing fighters toward them; a compact, powerful airborne radar set and fire control computer that could process data transmitted from the ground net, guide the interceptor to the vicinity of the target, automatically launch powerful supersonic radar-guided missiles, and break off the engagement; and, to carry the airborne fire control system, an advanced manned airframe with the highest performance that could be attained in a realistic time period.
The fire control radar contract was won by two young scientists at Hughes Aircraft Company. In terms of airborne interceptor radars, Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge had just about the only game in town in the late 1940s. (Frustrated by the eccentricities of Howard Hughes, Ramo and Wooldridge would later part with the millionaire to form their own high-tech company, eventually becoming the R and W in TRW). Hughes Aircraft was initially awarded a contract for several hundred E-1 fire control sets and AN/APG-33 radars for Lockheed's F-94 and Northrop's F-89. Later, its Falcon supersonic radar-guided air-to-air missile and associated computers were selected for the new interceptors. Because of the intended operational date of the system, the supersonic fighter project gained the nickname "1954 Interceptor." Its official designation was military experimental project 1554, or MX-1554. Lockheed, North American, Republic, Chance Vought, Douglas, and Convair submitted MX-1554 proposals in January 1951. In July, the first round of evaluations narrowed the field to Lockheed, Convair, and Republic.
Lockheed's submission was the L-205, a large, single-engine supersonic machine with small trapezoidal wings.The L-205 was not one of Kelly Johnson's winners, but its design would help lay the aerodynamic groundwork for one of Lockheed's most famous products, the Mach 2 F-104 Starfighter.
Since late 1945, Convair had been running studies of supersonic fighters based on Alexander Lippisch's delta wing concepts. In September 1948, the Convair XP-92A became the world's first jet delta aircraft to fly. Building on the experienced gained in the Lippisch-inspired XP-92 project and its early work on what would become the supersonic B-58 bomber, Convair designed a bigger, far more sophisticated delta fighter for the MX-1554 competition. Equipped with an internal bay for six Hughes Falcon guided missiles and propelled by a powerful Wright J-67 afterburning turbojet (a licensed copy of the British Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire), the Convair jet was expected to reach almost twice the speed of sound in level flight.
The third proposal, Republic's Advanced Project 59, was the most impressive of all. Republic, based in Farmingdale, Long Island, not far from Continental Air Command's headquarters, had spent a good deal of time running studies on bomber interception problems for the air defense branch, and was deeply involved in what would today be called "systems integration" studies for the future computerized air defense network. The company also benefited from the talents of its head designer, the legendary Alexander Kartveli, who had created the famous P-47 Thunderbolt of World War II. Like Convair, Republic had produced an early post-war rocket-boosted interceptor, the XF-91 Thunderceptor, that was heavily influenced by the Me-163.
Republic too had learned much from its early foray into supersonic airframes. Kartveli had always favored big, powerful airplanes, and this new project was no exception. He reasoned that to have a good chance of engaging high and fast targets, the 1954 Interceptor would need as much speed and range as technology could provide.
Going far beyond Convair's proposal, Kartveli's AP-59 was a Mach 3-plus juggernaut with a ceiling of 70,000 feet and a rate of climb of over 50,000 feet per minute. The powerplant for this awesome machine would be a radical "dual-mode" engine: takeoff and climbout would be performed under the power of a J-67 turbojet, as with the Convair fighter, but as the fighter accelerated to Mach 2, valves would close off the airflow to the turbojet and direct it into a huge Marquardt-designed XRJ-55 ramjet, which would blast the big fighter past 2,500 mph. The hybrid engine was designated MX-1787. The Thunderwarrior looked like an overgrown missile, with an eighty foot long, pencil-shaped fuselage, small razor-sharp delta wings, and a set of triangular cruciform tail fins.
To reduce drag, the cockpit windows were flush with the fuselage skin and forward vision was provided by a small periscope. The entire nose was occupied by a large radar dish. Six Falcon guided missiles (potentially nuclear-tipped) and a battery of unguided rockets were housed in bays behind the cramped ejectable cockpit capsule. Most of the fuselage was devoted to the monster engine and its 2,200 gallon fuel supply. To cope with the searing air friction encountered at velocities exceeding Mach 3, the plane's structure would be built from titanium alloy, at the time still a rare and very expensive commodity used only in small quantities for demanding applications. While the Republic aircraft was extremely impressive, there was no chance of such a complex machine being operational in the next three years. Kartveli was told to continue development of the design, which received the official designation XF-103. On September 11, 1951, Convair was awarded the contract for what would become the F-102A Delta Dagger.
The previous day, RAND researchers had published a Top Secret paper titled "Detectability-Vulnerability Study of Pre-Hostilities Air Recce Techniques." The balloon project was obviously a development of the highest sensitivity, but it faced an paradoxical problem: the secret devices would be some of the most conspicuous objects in the sky. While the payload package could be designed to give a small radar return, the shimmering transparent polyethylene envelope was impossible to disguise. As RAND's balloon experts well knew, the Skyhooks were some of the prime generators of flying saucer reports.
Under "Project Beacon Hill," an MIT study of reconnaissance technology launched in June 1951, a doctrine for the design of covert reconnaissance vehicles was established. The Beacon Hill members concluded that far as possible, reconnaissance craft should be hard to detect, difficult to intercept, and amenable to the use of cover stories: ideally, they should pass as civilian scientific devices. Above all, they should be crewless, to eliminate the diplomatic problems entailed by the capture of a pilot. About this time, in one of the earliest known investigations of "low-observables" design techniques for covert reconnaissance vehicles, the Cambridge Research Center had made a study of shapes which could scatter radar waves, as well as radar absorbing materials (RAM) which could attenuate the radar echo of an air vehicle. The center had come to an interesting conclusion:
Gopher's designers gradually began to consider whether the arresting appearance of the devices might not be a useful disguise:
Recovery crews routinely used civilian saucer reports to police stations or newspaper offices to locate missing Skyhooks, and RAND's reconnaissance theoreticians were well aware of the balloon-generated saucer problem. Since the reconnaissance project mandated continuing secrecy concerning stratospheric balloon technology, there was little that the balloon organizations could do to explain what was really going on. While it had a humorous side, the balloon projects would continue to be a serious complicating factor in the flying saucer problem.
On September 10, the same day that RAND issued its balloon-signature study, a seemingly trivial incident would set in motion a chain of events that would lead to an an explosion of the UFO phenomenon and that would ultimately take the problem to the doorstep of the White House itself. Significantly, the incident began with a problem with radar.
That morning a group of military VIPs was touring the Army Signal Corps' radar training school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. A student operator was anxious to display the ability of his AN/MPG-1 radar set to monitor the busy airspace in the New York terminal area, and routinely began tracking a fast-moving target which seemed to be flying along the coast a few miles away. He switched the set to its full-aided azimuth tracking mode, which would normally automatically follow any target flying at conventional aircraft speeds. But for some reason, the automatic tracking mode was not capable of following the target. Flustered, the student turned to the officers and said, "It's going too fast for the set. That means its going faster than a jet!" The VIPs were understandably concerned.
A few minutes later, the pilot of an Air Force Lockheed T-33 jet trainer flying near Fort Monmouth sighted a small glittering object about 5,000 feet over Sandy Hook, turned to chase it, but lost sight of it as it disappeared out to sea. About four hours after the first radar incident, Ft. Monmouth Signal Corps technicians got an urgent message from another post to track a high-altitude object and picked up yet another strange radar target - this time at an incredible 93,000 feet. Rushing outside, some of the observers could see a tiny speck in the direction of the blip. The next day, an SCR-584 radar at Ft. Monmouth picked up another blip maneuvering with unusual speed. The Ft. Monmouth sightings jolted Project Grudge from its moribund state.
On September 12, Major General Cabell personally called Colonel Frank Dunn at ATIC and ordered an immediate, on-site investigation followed by a personal report. Lt Jerry Cummings, Grudge's project officer, and Lt Col N. R. Rosengarten, chief of ATIC's Aircraft and Missiles Branch, were soon on a plane to the east coast, where they conducted an around-the-clock interrogation of the Signal Corps technicians. On October 2, the ATIC officers flew to Washington, where they were ushered into a Pentagon conference room where Cabell and his staff were waiting.
For two hours the group debated the subject of unidentified aerial phenomena. It became clear that the rift between believers and skeptics at ATIC extended all the way to Cabell's level. The opinions of senior Air Force Intelligence officers on the subject of flying saucers were far less conservative than the service's public pronouncements indicated. When the ATIC representatives admitted the relatively inactive state of Project Grudge, the Generals were livid. Cabell had repeatedly requested more emphasis on reducing the incidence of unknowns; he now demanded an immediate reorganization of the project. "Who in hell has been giving me these reports that every decent flying saucer sighting is being investigated?, " Cabell reportedly fumed. "I've been lied to! I've been lied to!"
Present at the meeting at Cabell's request was a civilian described as "a special representative from the Republic Aircraft Corporation ... who supposedly represented a group of top U.S. industrialists and scientists who thought that there should be a lot more sensible answer coming from the Air Force regarding the UFOs." According to researcher Loren Gross, this Republic official was Robert Johnson, a famous WWII P-47 ace. In a real sense, the newly-minted XF-103 Thunderwarrior super-interceptor lurked in the room when Project Grudge was reborn, the only airplane on US drawing boards in 1951 that might offer even a prayer of approaching the alleged performance of the flying saucers.
Like many saucer panics, the Fort Monmouth sightings suposedly fell apart under dispassionate analysis of Project Blue Book long after the incident was over and the Air Force's attention had moved on. (In fact, the case was highly anomalous and the Blue Book explanation appears very inadequate). The initial radar incident was said to have resulted from the young Signal Corps radar operator's inexperience: the target was in fact just a standard airplane, and he had erred in his lock-on procedure. The object at 93,000 feet was an ordinary weather balloon. The reason for the urgent call from the other post was that someone who had watched the balloon being launched wanted to win a bet on how high it had gone. The odd targets the next day were the result of run-of-the-mill radar problems. Each in itself a minor incident, the reports, when taken together, seemed to indicate a pattern or sequence of activity that had menacing overtones. But Cabell and senior Air Force officials were in no mood for Blue Book's mundane explanations. With the potential onset of nuclear war hinging on the prompt detection and identification of unexplained radar and visual targets, the Air Force could not afford to permit the existence of unidentified aerial objects. It would continue to be ATIC's job to evaluate unexplained sightings for indications of advanced foreign vehicles. The ultimate purpose of the revitalization of Project Grudge would ostensibly be to develop a means for reducing the growing incidence of unidentifiable radar targets, in order to reduce confusion in the air defense system.
In January, 1951, a twenty-seven year old Air Force reserve Lieutenant named Edward J. Ruppelt was recalled to active duty and assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base. A tall, boyish Iowan with the look of a varsity football player, Ruppelt had been a B-29 radar operator and bombardier in World War II, when he had been part of the original Superfortress deployment in 1944, via the infamous India-Burma-China "Hump," and had earned five battle stars, three air medals, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses for his efforts. After the war, the young officer enrolled at Iowa State to study aeronautical engineering and continued to fly in the reserves as a transport navigator.
At ATIC, Lt. Ruppelt was attached to the technical analysis effort on a superior new Soviet jet fighter, the MiG-15, which had appeared in Korea soon after the outbreak of the war. American pilots quickly learned to respect the fast, maneuverable, and heavily-armed MiG, and ATIC was anxious for a chance to get its hands on one for study. The first example reportedly fell behind UN lines in damaged condition in 1951 when its pilot ejected and the fighter crashed in shallow water in an area accessible to US forces. The wrecked MiG was recovered, dismantled, and shipped to Wright Field for study, where officers like Ruppelt attempted to reconstruct its performance characteristics and, by studying its engine, alloys, and fabrication techniques, uncover clues about the state of Soviet technology.
Ruppelt knew little about flying saucers other than what he had read in Life, and it came as a surprise to him that ATIC was the center of the Air Force's investigation of saucer reports. After settling in and getting to know some of the veterans of previous saucer battles, Ruppelt learned that there were mixed feelings about the whole subject within Air Intelligence. A few of the officers were thoroughly skeptical, but at least one old Project Sign man who had been in on the Mantell and Chiles-Whitted interrogations was still a convinced believer in the extraterrestrial theory. Ruppelt was intrigued by the dissent. One of the ATIC analysts guardedly warned him that the winds were now blowing from the skeptical direction at the Center: "the powers-that-be are anti-flying saucer, and to stay in favor it behooves one to follow suit." ATIC's previous head, Col.Watson, the no-nonsense hero of the Project Lusty collection effort, was strongly anti-saucer. The remnants of Project Grudge were still ticking over in near-caretaker status, and little was actually being done to investigate the sightings that continued to trickle in.
Ruppelt began to steal time from his MiG project to read some of the current military saucer reports. If people were accurately describing what they saw, he thought, there must be something going on out there. Like many Air Force officers, Ruppelt assumed that when a fellow flier made a report of an unidentified object, it carried more weight than an average civilian's report. "I was convinced that if a pilot, or any crew member of an airplane, said that he'd seen something that he couldn't identify he meant it -- it wasn't a hallucination." This understandable bond of trust in the perceptual accuracy of fellow airmen, forged in combat, would be a contributing factor in the troubles to come. Ruppelt's budding interest in flying saucers was noted by his superiors at ATIC. His desk happened to be adjacent to that of Lieutenant Cummings, who would often share his problems with Ruppelt. When headquarters requested a review and evaluation of previous Air Force flying saucer studies in mid-1951, Ruppelt was given the job, and few days after the Cabell meeting, he was ordered to take over Project Grudge. Cummings, who was leaving the Air Force, laughed at him. It's all mass hysteria, he told Ruppelt. Wait till a saucer story hits the papers. Then you'll get reports.
While it is undeniable that the Air Force was concerned with unidentified aerial phenomena to the point of authorizing an expanded organization to deal with them, the relative importance of flying saucers in the scheme of Air Force priorities in the autumn of 1951 seems to be underscored by the assignment of a lowly Lieutenant to head the project. And by keeping the Project within the Air Technical Intelligence apparatus at Wright Field, the Air Force demonstrated that it continued to consider flying saucers to be a technological mystery of the same order as determining the performance of a new Russian fighter.
Why did Cabell and the Air Staff pick this particular juncture to reemphasize saucer investigation? The evidence indicates a simple answer. As Ruppelt put it, "with technological progress what it is today, you can't afford to have anything in the air that you can't identify, be it balloons, meteors, planets or flying saucers." The fierce air war in Korea was giving the United States an unwelcome taste of Soviet air technology. The MiG was hard evidence that the Soviets could build modern, effective warplanes. The Lashup radar network, the ADC radar-equipped jet interceptor force, the Ground Observer Corps were all coming on line. The MX-1554 supersonic interceptors and the futuristic computerized radar defense network were being defined. But flying saucers remained an unwelcome and potentially dangerous irritant. By Ruppelt's estimate, in a typical month in 1951 Project Grudge received about ten UFO reports, any of which might represent an incursion by a hostile air vehicle. Clearly, if Fort Monmouth, one of the centers of US radar training, was unable to quickly identify weather balloons and radar anomalies, there was trouble ahead for a national-scale defense system. If experienced and qualified sky observers were continually seeing and reporting flying objects that they couldn't identify, steps would need to be taken to understand why. Once the phenomenon was better documented, training programs could be instituted to provide air defense forces with reliable guides for quickly distinguishing bombers from balloons, planes from birds, and meteors from missiles.
And apart from all these defense considerations, it is evident that a small but influential contingent of senior Air Force officers, possibly including Cabell, continued to suspect that still-unsolved saucer cases might have been caused by genuine extraterrestrial vehicles. Several reliable observers close to Project Grudge, including Ruppelt, Hynek and Harvard astronomer and defense consultant Donald Menzel - a staunch UFO skeptic - later intimated that this was the case. As will be seen, these officers and their successors would have a powerful and lasting influence on the conduct of the official investigation of UFOs and indirectly on the growth of public belief in UFOs as extraterrestrial spacecraft.
Ironically, although there is no apparent direct connection between the two projects, Ruppelt's revived UFO investigation unit at ATIC would be given the same name as the 1950 air defense study - Blue Book.