Project Blue Book

ufos by paul r hill

Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the United States Air Force. It started in 1952, and it was the third study of its kind (the first two were projects ‘Sign’ in 1947 and ‘Grudge’ in 1949). A termination order was given for the study in 1969. Project Blue Book had two goals: To determine if UFOs were a threat to national security, and To scientifically analyze UFO-related data. Thousands of UFO reports were collected, analyzed and filed.

As the result of the ‘Condon Report’ (1968), which concluded there was nothing anomalous about UFOs, Project Blue Book was ordered shut down in 1970. Ultimately, Project Blue Book stated that UFOs sightings were generated as a result of: hysteria, fraud, hoaxes, and misidentification. The Air Force continues to provide the following summary of its investigations: ‘There was no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ were extraterrestrial vehicles.’ 

By the time Project Blue Book ended, it had collected 12,618 UFO reports, and concluded that most of them were misidentifications of natural phenomena (clouds, stars, etc.) or conventional aircraft. According to the National Reconnaissance Office a number of the reports could be explained by flights of the formerly secret reconnaissance planes U-2 and A-12. A small percentage of UFO reports were classified as unexplained, even after stringent analysis. The UFO reports were archived and are available under the Freedom of Information Act, but names and other personal information of all witnesses have been redacted.

The name was selected to refer to the blue booklets used for testing at some colleges and universities. The name was intended to indicate the study of UFOs was as important as a college final exam. Captain Edward J. Ruppelt was the first head of the project. He was an experienced airman, having been decorated for his efforts with the Army Air Corps during World War II, and having afterward earned an aeronautics degree. He officially coined the term ‘Unidentified Flying Object,’ to replace the many terms (‘flying saucer,’ ‘flying disk,’ etc.) the military had previously used; Ruppelt thought that ‘unidentified flying object’ was a more neutral and accurate term. Ruppelt implemented a number of changes: He streamlined the manner in which UFOs were reported to (and by) military officials, partly in hopes of alleviating the stigma and ridicule associated with UFO witnesses. Ruppelt also ordered the development of a standard questionnaire for UFO witnesses, hoping to uncover data which could be subject to statistical analysis. He took great care to keep the project impartial. In his memoir, he reported that he fired three personnel very early in the project because they were either ‘too pro’ or ‘too con’ one hypothesis or another.

Ruppelt sought the advice of many scientists and experts, and issued regular press releases (along with classified monthly reports for military intelligence). Each Air Force Base had a Blue Book officer to collect UFO reports and forward them to Ruppelt. Under Ruppelt’s direction, Blue Book investigated a number of well-known UFO cases, including the so-called ‘Lubbock Lights,’ and a widely publicized 1952 radar/visual case over Washington D.C. He started the trend, largely followed by later Blue Book investigations, of not giving serious consideration to numerous reports of UFO landings and/or interaction with purported UFO occupants. Astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek was the scientific consultant of the project, as he had been with Projects Sign and Grudge. He worked for the project up to its termination and initially created the categorization which has been extended and is known today as ‘Close encounters.’ He was a pronounced skeptic when he started, but said that his feelings changed to a more wavering skepticism during the research, after encountering a minority of UFO reports he thought were unexplainable.

In 1952, after a build-up of hundreds of sightings over the previous few months, a series of radar detections coincident with visual sightings were observed near the National Airport in Washington, D.C. Future Arizona Senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain is alleged to be one of these witnesses. After much publicity, these sightings led the CIA to establish a panel of scientists headed by Dr. H. P. Robertson, a physicist of the California Institute of Technology, which included various physicists, meteorologists, and engineers, and one astronomer (Hynek). The Robertson Panel first met in early 1953 to formulate a response to the overwhelming public interest in UFOs. Ruppelt, Hynek, and others presented the best evidence, including movie footage, that had been collected by Blue Book. After spending 12 hours reviewing six years of data, the Robertson Panel concluded that most UFO reports had prosaic explanations, and that all could be explained with further investigation, which they deemed not worth the effort.

In their final report, they stressed that low-grade, unverifiable UFO reports were overloading intelligence channels, with the risk of missing a genuine conventional threat to the U.S. Therefore, they recommended the Air Force de-emphasize the subject of UFOs and embark on a debunking campaign to lessen public interest. They suggested debunkery through the mass media, including Walt Disney Productions, and using psychologists, astronomers, and celebrities to ridicule the phenomenon and put forward the mundane explanations. Furthermore, civilian UFO groups ‘should be watched because of their potentially great influence on mass thinking… The apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind.’

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