UFOs over Afghanistan? Flying Bottles?
In the famous "Studies in Intelligence" article "A Die-Hard Issue: CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90," Agency historian Gerald Haines states that
As noted in the introduction, the "Calendar of Events: Growth of Soviet Russia's Military Capability (1947-56)," issued by the Airpower Readiness Subcommittee, Senate Committee on Armed Services, on June 28, 1956, contained this item:
The "new US 'Flying Platform'" referred to was the Hiller VZ-1 Pawnee, a one-man, mini-helicopter device sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and directly based on the concepts of "Flying Flapjack" designer Charles H. Zimmerman.
But what was this strange "neckless bottle" with "pins?"
The story seems highly garbled, and is especially odd since the date of the United Press story is given as the same day as the Russell sighting in Azerbaijan, which was clearly impossible - how could the Russell story have leaked to a wire service that very day? Or did Russell read the UP story in Baku on the 4th - and if so, did it influence his perception of what he saw later that day?
A possible scenario: if it was suspected that the devices Russell saw were genuine VTOL aircraft on military maneuvers, they were probably assumed to be similar to other contemporary VTOL concepts which were generally much more primitive than the complex Avro saucer. The US had a such a jet VTOL aircraft project, the Ryan X-13 Vertijet, which was based on several years of test-rig development and was about to begin flight testing in late 1955. The X-13 was in fact referred to by Air Force Secretary Donald Quarles in his post-Russell press release on October 25.
The British had been flying the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measurement Rig, or "Flying Bedstead" VTOL technology demonstrator in free flight since 1954, so its basic feasibility was proven:
In addition, in 1955 the French aero engine company SNECMA had just started a test program with its own VTOL test rig. Called the "Atar Volant" ("flying Atar"), this device consisted of an Atar jet engine, enclosed in a simple fairing, standing upright and equipped with a vectoring nozzle and four landing legs. Suspended from a gantry, the Atar Volant could be flown remotely by an operator in a control booth:
When the system was proven to be more or less reliable, a crude cockpit was installed on top of the engine and the device was flown by a pilot:
It certainly looked like a "neckless bottle." It would not have been extremely unreasonable to think that the Soviets would have a counterpart to this device.
The "Afghanistan" aspect of the story requires further investigation.