Project Blue Book

Project Blue Book was not the only investigation of unidentified flying objects by the United States military but it was probably the most famous. It was commissioned in 1952 and ceased all operations by January of 1970. Over the life of Project Blue Book several important figures were associated with the study, including Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Captain Edward Ruppelt. After almost two decades of Blue Book investigations the US Air Force collected over 10,000 reports of UFO activity and were able to adequately explain the vast majority.

Before Blue Book

The modern UFO era began in June of 1947 when Kenneth Arnold reported seeing a formation of strange objects flying over the state of Washington. Days later on July 8, Roswell Army Air Force Base’s public information officer issued a statement, soon retracted, claiming that a flying disc had been recovered. Several other lesser known incidents, some near military bases, also occurred at this time which forced the United States government to take an interest in the objects being seen in American airspace. In 1947 Lt. General Nathan Twining authored a memorandum for General George Schulgen examining the available evidence. The Twining Memo, as it is known, concluded that the sightings seemed to indicate that some type of unknown objects were, in fact, flying over the United States and recommended a formal investigation. Project Sign was authorized soon after to probe the unknown aerial phenomena.

In early 1948, shortly after the Air Force formally separated from the United States Army, Project Sign began operations. By the end of 1948 it was closed, supposedly after issuing a report known as The Estimate of the Situation which concluded the objects being reported were most likely of extraterrestrial origin. The Estimate was allegedly rejected by the Pentagon and has been lost to history. Whether The Estimate of the Situation actually existed or not, Project Sign was, in fact, suddenly replaced by Project Grudge. It has been contended by many people, including Captain Ruppelt, that Grudge’s charge was to actively discourage the idea that any cases defied explanation as opposed to investigate sightings.

The Dawn of Blue Book

Project Grudge was discontinued (many maintain because it was too biased) and replaced with Project Blue Book in 1952. Its first head was Captain Edward Ruppelt, but he gradually became disenchanted with the Air Force’s faltering commitment to the project. Ruppelt would go on to author the book Report on Unidentified Flying Objects in 1955. The work discussed his time with Blue Book and several cases, including some which were unexplained. When it was released in an expanded 1960 edition three new chapters were added in which Ruppelt declared there was little to the UFO phenomena. Some have thought that the new material was added simply because the retired captain was under pressure from the government.

After Ruppelt’s departure Project Blue Book was assigned first to Captain Charles Hardin and then Captain George Gregory in 1956. During this time General Nathan Twining, now Air Force Chief of Staff, assigned most of the responsibility of investigating UFO reports to the 4602nd Air Intelligence Squadron (and later the 1066th). Project Blue Book was a figurehead organization which did little more than collate the results of investigations carried on by others. By 1960, a year which saw Congressional hearings on the subject of UFOs, Project Blue Book (under Major Robert J. Friend) came under fire from a civilian research group known as the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (or NICAP). Accusations of a lack of commitment (and competence) were made that resulted in additional resources and personnel being assigned to the group.

In 1963 Major Hector Quintanilla took over Project Blue Book. An Air Force officer with a degree in physics, he headed the investigation until it was formally closed in January of 1970. Under his tenure Project Blue Book continued to receive criticism that it was geared more towards debunking reports than investigating them. It was during this time, for example, that Dr. Hynek acting for Project Blue Book publicly explained a series of sightings in Michigan as “swamp gas,” despite multiple witnesses describing physical objects.

The Conversion of Dr. Allen J. Hynek

Astronomer Dr. Allen J. Hynek was a scientific adviser to Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book. Early on it would appear that he was interested in the phenomena but not convinced that there was any great mystery. In fact, Project Blue Book Special Report 14 quoted Dr. Hynek’s definition of a flying saucer or disc as something that “remains unexplained to the viewer at least long enough for him to write a report about it.” Over the years, however, examination of the many sightings reported to the Air Force led Dr. Hynek to change his mind and accept the theory that something, very possibly extraterrestrial or even transdimensional, was being seen by witnesses across the country. By the late 1960s he was fairly open in his criticism of Project Blue Book’s practices. After the Air Force investigation closed he established The Center for UFO Studies in an attempt to make a fair study of the UFO phenomena. Some found Hynek’s apparent conversion to be disingenuous because of his close association with the US Air Force studies for over two decades. It has even been suggested that his true purpose was to act as a disinformation agent. Despite these theories, Dr. Hynek was a well known proponent of the scientific study of unidentified flying objects until his death in 1986. He even acted as an adviser to the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Project Blue Book Reports and Conclusions

After Project Blue Book ceased operation its files were moved to Maxwell Air Force Base, which is located in the middle of Alabama. The files were made available to the public as microfilm, as was common with many official records at the time. Most are now available on the Internet as well. In addition to the files of Project Blue Book cases, there was a paper released to the public in 1955 known as Project Blue Book Special Report 14. It contains an analysis of the reports collected up until that time. It states in its summary “it is considered to be highly improbable that reports of unidentified aerial objects examined in this study represent observations of technological developments outside the range of present day scientific knowledge.” This statement has attracted a great deal of attention because it implies there is little merit to extraordinary claims about UFOs. However, many people maintain that the data contained in the report itself contradicts this conclusion!

The Air Force’s conclusions on the UFO phenomena as investigated by Project Blue Book are found on USAF Fact Sheet 95-03, “Unidentified Flying Objects and Air Force Project Blue Book.” In just over a page it states that only about 700 of the 12,000+ reports investigated by the Air Force were unexplained and that there was no evidence that UFOs were extraterrestrial, threatening or technologically advanced.

For Further Reading

USAF Fact Sheet 95-03 (Copy and paste this link):

Blue Book Archive, a searchable database of Project Blue Book related documents