This article originally appeared in UFO Magazine (Mar-Apr, 1996) and has been revised and slightly updated for this website:-


Project 1947: A Progress Report

Jan L. Aldrich


Project 1947, an examination of the beginning of the UFO era, had as its main goal screening 1,000 North American and 400 foreign newspapers during the main concentration of UFO activity in 1947, 24 June through 15 July.   Clues from the first recognition of the UFO mystery in 1947 might gives us a better idea of what is happening now.   During the previous 47 years researchers looked at over 850 newspapers from this era.   Much of this research existed in nearly forgotten files or out of print publications.  Although there were well over 1,000 incidents documented, the indications were that thousands more cases were waiting to be found.

     Since this project started in February of 1995, thousands of cases have turned up.   The number of 1947 newspapers screened worldwide is now well nearly 5000!   This is not all.   The project had other goals: find UFO like reports before 1947, look for early official and scientific interest in the subject, and fill in the gaps in UFO coverage during the 1940's and 1950's.   What was original supposed to be a one person research effort with some expense money to visit libraries and archives became a huge collection effort of over 30,000 pages of clipping, investigative reports, personal accounts, and copies of scrapbook from sources all over the world.  Many people and organizations not only donated reports, newspaper clippings, and rare out of print newsletters, but some researchers also visited libraries and dug out other accounts from newspapers.  Some screened one or two papers in their local area while other went through hundreds.

     Interesting things started to show up. Dr. Thomas Bullard, folklorist and writer on historical UFOs and the abduction phenomenon, and others thought that there was a UFO flap during World War I.  Dr. Bullard had found a number of accounts of phantom "Zeppelins and airships" in World War I era newspapers from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Alaska.  Found in the material sent to Project 1947 were World War I-era clippings or accounts.  Maybe one or two reports were submitted by one individual and a few from another person's file -- but when added together and combined with] published material the total cases came to over 100 reports.  Confirmation of this World War I flap came from a town historian in New Hampshire.   Doing research into the history of local towns he found accounts of mystery airships in 1917 -- even an incident in which guards at the Portsmith shipyard fired on an aerial intruder.

     One of the most interesting accounts from this era was found by Dr. Bullard.   Here is probably the first sighting of a UFO from an airplane. On the 31st of January 1916, Flight Sub-Lieutenant J. E. Morgan, had taken off from Rochfort, England to patrol for German Zeppelins.  At about 8:45 p. m. while flying at 5,000 feet he saw a little above his own level "a row of what appeared to be lighted windows which looked something like a railway carriage with the blinds drawn." Morgan thought he had sighted a hostile airship about 100 feet away so he fired his Webley Scott pistol.  When he did, the lights rose upward rapidly and disappeared.   There were no German Zeppelins over England at this time.   The account can be found in the book The German Air Raids on Great Britain 1914-1918 by Captain Joseph Morris.   Here is the first sighting of a UFO from a powered aircraft and the first firing on a UFO from the air.

     Another source of interesting accounts is a Project Blue Book file entitled "Response to the April 1952 LIFE magazine article."   This file, about 3000 microfilmed pages of letters to the USAF after a LIFE magazine article on flying saucers, is not part of Project Blue Book records at the National Archive or Maxwell Air Force Base.   Along with about 32 rolls of microfilm of UFO newspaper clippings (over 60,000 clippings) from a national newspaper clipping service the USAF hired from April to September 1952, this file was given to a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado.  Several hundred letters related UFO to experiences which did not become cases in Blue Book files.

     Some of these letters related truly strange events.  A hotel owner in Mexico wrote to Project Blue Book on 30 April 1952 about a highly unusual sky phenomenon.  After sunset on the 17th of February 1940, at Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico, he and over 100 people witnessed a green ball in the western sky.   The sky was still light.  The ball appeared about the size of the moon.   It moved slowly down, suddenly moved 90 degrees to the side and then down again.  The light seemed to disintegrate slowly, leaving in view a snake-like trail of intense green light which vanished slowly over the next hour.  Many people cried, fell to their knees and prayed during the event.   Later the writer spoke to some people who had motored from Culiacan and related that they had seen the same thing at the same time when they were about 100 miles south of Guasave.  Certainly this was not a meteor.

      Another account from the same Blue Book file tells of an incident shortly after Kenneth Arnold's sighting.   A retired Army officer with his wife and children at Fort Collins saw eight silver discs moving on a southward course toward Denver.   They moved with a slight rocking motion.   They seemed to "follow the leader" as if attached by a string.   They zig-zagged along a straight course and were in sight for about a minute.

      An earlier account from the same file tells of an amateur astronomer in Boulder, Colorado on May 3rd, 1947 who after training his telescope on the moon saw a dark object hurtle across the disk of the moon in a horizontal straight line path.

      A number of 1947 accounts came from trained observers.   The Mexico, Missouri, Weekly Ledger , for 28 August 1947, told of two pilots flying in a plane at 9000 feet at sunset just northwest of Mexico.   Ralph Johnson, a former Navy combat pilot, and John Reilly, an Army veteran and seasoned flier, saw three disc shaped objects flying in a northwesterly direction.   They reflected the red of the setting sun, but appeared actually gray in color.   The discs were at the same altitude and not in any type of formation.  The pilots turned the plane to give chase.   The plane was traveling at about 140 miles per hour, but the UFOs outdistanced it.

      Other puzzling accounts turn up unexpectedly.  The Houston Press, 24 March, 1950, told of a radar sighting of a high-speed object by Humble Oil and Refining Company at Grand Isle, Louisiana.   A Humble geophysicist was testing a radar used to detect bad weather on 19 September, 1947 at 5:30 p.m.   A fast-moving object was detected for less than one minute heading in a southwesterly direction.   The speed was about 1500 feet per second or more than 1000 miles an hour.  The observation was recorded in a notebook and discussed with other company scientists.   Several explanations were considered including a meteor, or a radar ghost caused by unusual atmospheric conditions.  The scientists, however, did not report the matter to management at the time.   No visual sighting was made.   When another UFO wave occurred in 1950, this earlier report was remembered and reported.   Several other radar-only sightings were also made in the latter part of 1947 at military installations in Japan.

      A more amusing report comes from the 7th July 1947, Kansas City, Missouri, Star .  Here is probably the first use of the term "close encounter."   A young lady playing baseball near U. S. highway 24, saw a small 5-inch dark grayish colored object flying about two feet above the ground.   It flew around her several times, then flew off to the south a short distance, returned and circled her three or four times more and then disappeared.   The reporter's skepticism was shown by the failure to look for verifying witnesses, but the reporter did use "close encounter" in the headline.

      It is unfortunate the official investigator did not have the resources to follow up on all the interesting incidents.   A Welch, West Virginia Daily News of 15 July, 1947 tells of an earlier incident:

"David R. Smith, manager of Welch Air Service, Inc., said he received the following letter a few days ago from a Badshaw woman who wishes her name withheld:

"'I have just read in the Welch Daily News the article, "reports of Mysterious Flying Discs Multiply" and it brought back to my mind a day almost four months ago of sighting a strange thing in the air.   At the time of seeing it I thought it was something new in the way of flying and since I was no authority of flying ships, I mentioned seeing it to my sister, and forgot about it.

     "'I can't give you the exact date except about four months ago, and it was in the evening between 2:30 o'clock and 4 o'clock.   This strange object was round, and it was silver in color, and the speed I wouldn't think was great, because it appeared to be floating across the sky.   The sky was a bright blue with an occasional cloud, so the silver showed up clearly

      "'And that was one of the things that got my attention, I wondered why it didn't make a noise.  Airplanes at the same distance and height I could always hear their motor.   If I had not just happened to be staring at the sky from the day room, I wouldn't have noticed it at all without any sound to attract my attention.

     "'Since reading the newspaper I thought I should report it to someone as it might be important.  While watching this object various thoughts went through my mind, maybe it was being pulled by an airplane, but if it was where was the plane?  Then I thought maybe it was a balloon released by Germany during the war and was just floating around.

     " 'P. S. It appeared to be the size of a good size bathroom.   Of course, if it was nearer it would have been much larger.   When it was halfway across the sky, the sun hit it and it gave off reflections like a tin can when the sun shines down on it.  It also seemed to be silver around the sides but on top it seemed more white, like the color like white silk.  Another thing I noticed it went in a straight line across the sky.  That's all I can remember.'"

      This lady's letter was directed to an airport.  She thought by sending it there it might be investigated by someone.   While the FBI and the Army Air Force were indeed investigating these strange objects, there were too many reports and there was no procedure to gather leads.   The Air Force received some 122 for 1947.   This represents less than three per cent of the actual reports made to newspapers and other publications.   What is also very interesting is that many reports made by government officials do not show up in official records.   These reports range from military weather observers in Montana, Military Police in Georgia, technical observers involved in military tests in New Mexico, a military aircrew in flight over Texas, and a high ranking flag officer in Virginia.   Beside the military personnel a number of airline and private pilots reported seeing strange objects, but no official investigations of these incidents took place.   Sometimes there are intriguing incidents which are published years afterward.

     The following published as a letter to a UFO magazine in the 1960s.   It is an interesting story, but considering where and how it was reported, it must be viewed with caution.   It appears that this was never followed up officially or by any civilian investigators.

"Air Battle"

    "Your report on air battles with UFOs in the early days of the flying saucer phenomenon recalled for me a vivid and upsetting experience.  As a young lieutenant in a postwar fighter squadron, I was making a cross-county flight near Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1947.   I was flying an AT-6 trainer, a reliable but slow aircraft not designed for getting the heck out of a place after you've received the scare of your life.  A flashing red light pulled up behind me, made a complete circle around my aircraft, and then matched my flight course, hanging off my starboard wing.

         "I quickly ruled out all the obvious possibilities -- canopy glare, a reflection, a weather balloon.   This murky 'thing' was very definitely real, and it scared me profoundly.   When I tried to increase speed, the object easily did the same.   It stayed with me for about 20 minutes before peeling off and flying away to the south.

          "I have known since that time that I'm among the ranks of a rare group of Americans -- UFO witnesses.   I applaud you for telling the UFO story like it is."

    Lt. Col. Richard Shoesmith
    USAF (Ret)
    San Francisco, California

      Very little could be done now or in the 1960's, to check into this report.  The retired rolls could be checked for LTC Shoesmith.   His assignment records could be checked to find out what unit he was in during 1947.   However, unit records might have no record of this encounter.   He might have, or his heirs might still have, his flight log, but this is unlikely.   If the date where pinned down, newspapers could be checked.   Here again, the possibility of finding anything is unlikely.   This type of investigation is generally beyond the scope of Project 1947.

      The Houston (Texas) Chronicle for 18 March, 1950 carried a story which is more in line with ability of Project 1947 to follow up. A lead attached to the end of the story:

    "Another report of a round moving object sighted in the air came from Wichita Falls.

          "Pilot Lem Willis said he and a passenger saw a wingless object about 6:12 p. m. Friday near Bridgeport Lane and watched it for 10 minutes.

          "'I don't claim I saw a flying saucer,' Willis said, 'But I did see a moving object with no wings making a very erratic flight pattern.'

          "He said it was flying at about 4400 or 4500 feet at an estimated speed of 210 miles an hour."

      It is possible to note the date and try to find more detailed accounts in the press or perhaps in a UFO organization's files.   Many times it is possible to track down the original and supporting accounts in the press.  Project 1947 has hundreds of such leads.

    The Houston (Texas) Press for 1947 illustrates another possible lead that could be followed up in its 8 July 1947 edition:

    "He Saw Them First--40 Years Ago

    "Flying discs are nothing new says J. I . Mackrell, Baytown tinner and roofer. He saw some more than 40 years ago.

    "Some time about 1906 or 1908, father and I were going home about dusk, crossing the S. P. tracks on Hardy street when we noticed two white balls, like small moons, traveling northwest," Mr. Mackrell recalls.

    "They looked like toy balloons but they were traveling faster than any plane of today, just gliding along.   I haven't seen any since then, though."

      Sometimes reports like this when put together with others from the same time period indicate, as in the War World I flap, the wave of sightings.  Perhaps sightings point to a general time period that can be examined instead of a "needle in the haystack" search for one incident.

      Close investigation of the early UFO era will bring the events taking place today more sharply into focus.   It may indicate how many beliefs grew up about the phenomenon and why things happened the way they did.

      What about the results of Project 1947?   Will they just languish in another file draw somewhere?   Some preliminary results of the 1947 search will be published and released on the fiftieth anniversary of Kenneth Arnold's sighting.   Recent talks with some people indicate that they would like to see some of the raw data collected so a scrapbook-like collection of newspaper clippings will also be published.   Later a more detailed report will be available.  A collection of pre-1947 sightings should come out shortly thereafter.  Other material collected involving sightings and reports from every year in the almost last 50 years will also be available.   The large amount of material collected so far is nothing compared to the huge amount waiting to be found.   Very few people have any idea of the tremendous mountain of printed accounts hidden away in old newspapers or other media.   Any help in the task of digging it out is greatly appreciated.   Library research, copies of old scrapbooks, clippings and reports are most welcome at:

Project 1947,
P. O. Box 391,
Canterbury, CT 06331,



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