Good Old Fashioned UFO Photo Analysis

By Charles Lear

  From the early days of Project Sign to the final days of Project Blue Book, photographs played an important part in the Air Force’s UFO investigation.  On July 4th, 1947 just weeks after Kenneth Arnold’s June 24th sighting, a woman in Seattle took a picture of a UFO and this would be the very first photograph that the Army Air Corps soon to be Air Force received.  It was identified as a balloon, and perhaps it really was, but at the time, personnel assigned to the project were still figuring out how to actually approach their investigations.  They were soldiers trying to think like scientists and photo analysis in the military was historically focused on reconnaissance.  Analysis of UFO footage has different challenges and these were met by private researchers who continued investigation after the end of Project Blue Book in 1969.

The use of photography for reconnaissance didn’t become practical until cameras became small and portable following the invention of film in 1885 by George Eastman.  Aerial photography over enemy lines was the dream but with highly vulnerable balloons and kites being the only available means of flight at the time, truly effective aerial reconnaissance would have to wait.  Two inventions in the early 1900’s would change things.  The first was the well-known 1903 invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers.  The second, lesser-known invention was the pigeon cam patented in 1907 by German apothecary, Julius Neubronner.  The pigeons and the planes were both used in World War I and the planes proved more effective as they were guided by a human as opposed to pigeon brain.

By the end of the war, military planning was rarely done without photo reconnaissance.  Analysis was primarily done through the use of magnification and enlargement in concert with ground surveillance.  Accurate interpretation came from education and experience and it was often that many lives depended on it.  By the end of World War II, photo analysis had become quite sophisticated and would continue to play a part in the cold war with the advent of spy planes and long-range cameras. Read more

Sympathy For the Air Force Regarding UFOs

by Charles Lear

   How much do you really know about Project Blue Book?  Many of you may look at it as UFOlogy 101 and feel you’re beyond it.  Some may even ignore it due to its reputation as the Air Force’s means of deflecting the Press and citizenry who hounded them for information in the midst of 1950’s UFO mania.  But this is really the beginning of UFOlogy and for a brief couple of years, in its infancy, Project Blue Book was an earnest attempt by the Air Force to answer whether or not “flying saucers” were interplanetary craft.  Fortunately for us 21st century folk, there are two books and one movie that were made around the early days that were all the firsts of their time.  Taken together, they seem to present an accurate account of the investigation and provide a great jumping off point for anyone interested in the history of military UFO involvement.

   In 1950, Donald Keyhoe published a book titled “The Flying Saucers are Real.”  He was a retired U.S. Marine who later worked for the National Geodetic Survey and U.S. Department of Commerce.  He was also a writer of pulp fiction and created stories around war heroes with super powers. Keyhoe was approached by the editor of True magazine after the Kenneth Arnold sighting to see if he could get some answers from the Air Force regarding flying disks.  Keyhoe managed to gain access through contacts in Washington and wrote an article, “Flying Saucers Are Real”, appearing in the January 1950 edition of True.  He expanded the article into the book and that book was the first to be devoted to the subject.

   Keyhoe’s book is a dramatic telling of his investigation and research for the True article.  He interviews witnesses and Air Force personnel and hears incredible stories while at the same time an Air Force spokesman tells him they’ve determined that flying saucers are “bunk.”  He devoted many pages of the book to the Mantell case and during the course of his investigation the Air Force claimed Mantell died chasing Venus and then ruled Venus out. In Keyhoe’s words, “the Air Force seems divided.”  Keyhoe became convinced that flying saucers were interplanetary and that the Air Force was hiding information. He devoted the rest of his life to hounding the Air Force and others through the organization he initiated known as the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.

   In 1956, retired Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt published, “The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.”  This was the first time UFO was used in public literature and though Ruppelt is erroneously credited with coining the term, he certainly was the one to popularize it.  Ruppelt was the last director of Project Grudge and the first director of Project Blue Book. Project Grudge had replaced Project Sign on February 11, 1949 and this transition happened during Keyhoe’s investigation. Read more