Taking a break from the recent “balloon wars” that seem to be dominating the current debate over the UFO topic, let’s take another walk down memory lane to a time when the government was collecting information on objects in the skies that at least in some cases were most definitely not balloons or “balloon-like entities.”
Over the course of projects Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book, stretching from 1947 through 1969, the United States Government amassed a vast library of reports involving anomalous sightings, cataloged as “incidents.” Some became legendary, such as Incident 17, better known as the Kenneth Arnold sighting. Several others have served as the basis for numerous documentaries and books.
But not everyone is aware of the sheer volume of reports that were investigated. A total of more than 7,200 incidents are stored in the National Archives and an unknown number of other reports were lost over time. (You can browse and search the full catalog here.) Many were so thin in terms of details that they barely merited the attention of the military, while others simply seemed silly. (It’s surprising how many people submitted reports of what were obviously meteorites and shooting stars.) But the government dutifully recorded them all.
If you spend an obsessive amount of time combing through the records, however (as we do), you can find a number of hidden gems. And some of the reports are quite strange. We’ll take a look at few of those here today.
SAUCERS, SAUCERS EVERYWHERE
No report of UFO sightings from the late 40s and early 50s would be complete without some sightings of flying saucers or “flying discs,” as they were sometimes called. After all, 1947 wasn’t called the “Summer of the Saucers” for nothing. Many of these reports came from highly credible witnesses, including both civilians and military professionals. And they didn’t all involve sightings near military exercises or sensitive weapons facilities.
For one example, take a look at Incident 337 from Tuscon, Arizona in May of 1949. A professional flight engineer and former military pilot was relaxing in a lawn chair outside his home when he saw two round objects pass directly overhead. Their shape might have been mistaken as balloons until they executed a turn in formation, banking in the process. At that point, he could clearly see that they were flat and he estimated them to be roughly 25 feet in diameter. Also, he estimated that they were traveling between 750 and 1,000 miles per hour. (Faster than anything should have been flying back then.) They made another course correction and continued on until they passed out of sight over the nearby mountains.
There wasn’t much they could do with that account, so the tale comes to a close. But another interesting sighting from the same period is found in Incident 325. In May of 1949 in St. Louis, a husband and wife were similarly sitting outside their home when they saw a strange craft fly over their location. It wasn’t exactly a “saucer,” but was described as being more triangular in shape. They both described it as being a ruddy brown or red color and it was shaped like a stingray, except without the typical stinging tail. It flew rapidly and seem to oscillate from side to side. Investigators eventually wrote that sighting off as “probably” being an aircraft, despite the fact that no record was found of any commercial or military aircraft flying over their home at that time. But the investigators ruled that they couldn’t prove that it wasn’t an aircraft.
GLOWING PURPLE ORBS AND FLYING MEGAPHONES?
You’ll find plenty more saucers and flat, flying objects in that section of the files, but some of the reported sightings were far stranger. Incident 314 is one of the more curious ones and it took place in April of 1949 outside of Camp Hood in Texas. Four soldiers were standing guard outside the gate at roughly 9:30 pm. The group included one officer and three enlisted men. They noticed something hovering above the road a short way away because it suddenly lit up as if a light had been turned on. They described a purple or violet “orb” the size of a beachball floating in the air approximately six or seven feet above the road. When they attempted to approach it to investigate, it suddenly zoomed away down the road at a high rate of speed before the light shut off and the object disappeared. All four men offered the same description. Amazingly, the investigators marked up the file with a possible explanation of “birds.”
An almost equally strange report is found in Incident 233, which took place in Jackson, Mississippi in January of 1949. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. Rush were flying with another couple into North Jackson Airpark in a private plane owned by the other couple. As they were approaching the airstrip at an altitude of less than 2,000 feet, they saw something fly across their path in front of them. But rather than another plane, they observed what they first described as a “cigar-shaped” object without wings that was either dark blue or black in color. But their full description and the drawing they provided show that it wasn’t shaped like a Tic Tac. It tapered from a diameter of roughly ten feet at the “front” end to four feet at the trailing end. It was shaped like a megaphone.
Mr. Rush was a former military pilot and both he and Mrs. Rush were civilian pilots with plenty of experience with aircraft. The object passed approximately 500 feet in front of their plane flying at an estimated 200 miles per hour. Mr. Rush said he initially thought it looked like a tow target, except there was no other plane towing it. It was flying on its own. After passing in front of them, the object made a turn to the southwest and shot away with a remarkable burst of speed which Mr. Rush guessed to be 400 miles per hour. J. Allen Hynek reviewed this case and classified it as “Non-astronomical. Lack of evidence precludes explanation.”
One interesting footnote to Incident 233 is found in the correspondence between the investigators. In a memo sent to Wright-Patterson, the Chief of the Air Weather Services recommends an edit to the “Guide to Investigation of Unidentified Aerial Objects” as a result of the findings of this incident. The Debrief has requested a copy of that guide if there are any copies still in existence. We’ll let you know if we strike paydirt.