Saturday, September 29, 2012

Revisiting Project Blue Book & Edward Ruppelt

From the movie, "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" 1956
I've been rereading The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt from 1955.

Ruppelt was the first guy in charge of Project Blue Book, the military organization assigned to collect and investigate UFO reports in the early 50s. He also was quite familiar with Project Grudge, which came before Blue Book in the late 40s.

After 57 years, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects is still a good read, although the reports get a little redundant after awhile. Ruppelt wrote in a very direct and often blunt, common-sense sort of manner, and he seemed to hold the line between debunkery and true belief really well.

His method at the time was to try to explain each sighting some other way, and if that turned out to be impossible, to classify it as 'unknown'.

That strikes me as good practice.

Anyway, a few things stand out about this book after all these years, and I thought I'd just note them here, because they're kind of unexpected.

  • Ruppelt never even mentions Roswell. Today, most people have the impression that Roswell was the grandaddy of all UFO reports, the mother of the myth, the beginning of a grand conspiracy. And yet, even though Roswell happened in 1947, you wouldn't know it even happened at all from reading this book from 1955. 
  • Ruppelt DOES talk about the Maury Island Incident a.k.a. the 'Roswell before Roswell'. Just before Roswell, a weird incident took place near Tacoma, Washington at Maury Island, involving the supposed sighting a several UFOs by some men on a small fishing boat. One of the UFOs was having trouble and supposedly leaked molten metal that burnt one of the fisherman's sons. This incident has been almost completely forgotten. It is significan't because 1) the writer gathering facts about the story was Kevin Arnold (although Ruppelt doesn't name him in 1955 out of courtesy) and this incident took place BEFORE Arnold's famous first sighting of 'flying saucers', 2) the whole thing was hoaxed by a guy who was almost certainly CIA, and last but not least 3) the plane carrying the supposed melted saucer bits (it was just slag) crashed, killing both of the investigators aboard. 
  • Most of the 1950s UFOs are anomalous lights in the night sky. Unless you read Ruppelt's book you don't get a sense of how dramatically UFO sightings have changed in just 50-odd years. Although a few sightings recounted in this text took place in the daytime and involved silver-grey craft, most were just lights in the night sky that moved oddly and sometimes showed up on radar. A few pilots saw UFOs close up, but even these mostly only saw a glowing red flash, not a craft. 
  • It is obvious that a sizable number of high-placed military officials took UFOs dead-seriously, and that most of them felt they were interplanetary. The official attitude of the US government today (if indeed there is one) has gone quite cynical, yet you do get the sense reading this Blue Book text that a sizable number of generals wanted serious research done out of the public eye. Ruppelt never says this outright, but he talks about this internal disagreement fairly openly. 
  • About 25% of the very excellent sightings by military and civilian pilots and other experts remain unsolved to this day.  When people talk about UFOs today, usually in a sarcastic or ridiculing manner, they sometimes point out that only a small percentage of sightings are true unknowns. This is just inaccurate. The correct figure is closer to a fourth of all sightings, which is nothing to sneeze at, considering that even back then people were discouraged from reporting anything. Ruppelt estimated that in 1955 only about one in ten sightings was ever reported, and the number is almost certainly lower today. (The US government no longer even accepts UFO reports.)
I'm astonished that in 1955 the first head of Project Blue Book doesn't even mention Roswell, but by 1987 Phillip Corso, a known intelligence operative for the US, is writing about how he collected alien technology from the crash and sent it to Bell Laboratories to be reverse engineered. This is an obvious and bald-faced lie that can be easily dispelled with a little research into Bell Labs and the technologies Corso claimed came from aliens, so why did he write that crap?

Clearly at some point US intelligence thought that hyping UFOs and feeding the UFO community disinformation provided some kind of useful cover for something or the other.

The question is, what?

UFO conspiracy theorists would say that this was done to cover up the truth about UFOs.

I personally think it was done for more generic reasons--to distract the public from nuclear weapons testing and other weapons programs; to cover up test flights of experimental military aircraft; to practice 'psy-ops' on a small sector of the US public to see what works; and so forth.

It's kind of like that movie formula where a cynical horror writer who doesn't believe in ghosts makes up a bunch of stories about them and gets rich, only to up discover he lives in an actual haunted house and has no idea of how to handle it.

It's like that, only with spaceships and aliens and the US government.

Anyway, I strongly recommend reading original texts from the early days of UFOs if you can find them.

It'll get yer brain whirring.


  1. "1) the writer gathering facts about the story was Kevin Arnold (although Ruppelt doesn't name him in 1955 out of courtesy) and this incident took place BEFORE Arnold's famous first sighting of 'flying saucers', 2) the whole thing was hoaxed by a guy who was almost certainly CIA, and last but not least 3) the plane carrying the supposed melted saucer bits (it was just slag) crashed, killing both of the investigators aboard."

    The initial UFO "incident" at Maury Island was purported to have taken place before Kenneth Arnold's sighting, but Arnold didn't go there until after his sighting and it was Arnold, at the behest of magazine publisher Ray Palmer. Arnold called in Davidson and Brown, who investigated Arnold's own sighting and developed a good relationship with him, to help with the investigation and they were tragically killed in the B-25 crash on their way back home with the UFO "debris."

    1. Hi Frank! It's good to see you. Thank you for the clarification. I read it like that too in a book by Jim Marrs, who names Arnold and places the event after Arnold's sighting. It is interesting to me now that you point it out that Ruppelt has that sequence reversed. Some people today think Ruppelt was just heading a PR campaign. I don't know.

      As to Ray Palmer and Davidson and Brown, I was just too damned lazy to look up their names before I wrote this. I don't post here enough... I know that.

      Marrs makes a big deal about the box Davidson and Brown were carrying, and says the UFO 'debris' was bogus, just like Ruppelt says it. But then Marrs is a conspiracy writer so he would say that.

      What bothers me most I guess is that the spy versus spy nonsense has almost totally screwed decent UFO research in the US. It's almost like we have to start over with other nations and scientists as allies, because between the ufologists, conspiracy theorists, and the US intelligence community, you never get to the bottom of things here.

      What do you think about the Maury Island incident? Do you think something genuine happened or do you think, like Marrs, that it was a US intelligence early disinformation escapade? I think Roswell was almost certainly part disinformation.

  2. I think Maury Island is an amazing and tragic story but the consensus is hoax and I can't argue with that.

    A couple links you might like:

    You can see from the comments section, I didn't have a clear understanding of the specifics of the crash, but Randle was nice enough to clear that up for me.

    1. Great links, thank you.

      I like ufocon's discussion of Fred Crisman's personality and his other projects. There are so many people like Fred Crisman in the history of UFOs that it makes me think that deception and uncertainty are both a major part of the phenomenon, both the hoaxes and the non-hoaxed incidents. Randle makes a related point too about the Scoutmaster case that Ruppelt talks about. Everyone knew the guy was a liar and a character, but that doesn't prove anything one way or the other. The case remains an unknown because the lab determined the roots of plants beneath the 'saucer' were burnt but not the plants above ground. How does THAT happen?

      Similarly, when they talk about Marcel's impeccable credentials, it's relevant as well because either witness credentials matter or the don't, and if there was a real psy-op involving saucers at that time then of course the military would put forward impeccably credentialed witnesses who would take the real story to their grave. In that case you have good witnesses telling a fake story instead of bad witnesses telling a true story.

      So there it is, the duplicity. It's always there.

      I suspect Roswell is not the conspiracy that later caught fire and continues to this day, but I don't know. I hope Randle does do a deeper investigation about Maury Island and publishes it. I would buy that and read it.

    2. One thing I can say with some confidence is that a number of UFO sightings have been our own top secret aircraft yet at the same time I know of no case where that has ever been the official explanation for a UFO sighting, so I think it's fair to say the phenomenon has been used as a cover at times.

  3. Fleets of our secret aircraft are flying all over the world!