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