|The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects — Edward J. Ruppelt
Comments and background on the research into LIFE Magazine's article "Have We Visitors from Space?" from Edward Ruppelt's The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (pages 86-88) and from his personal papers. Additional comments or items from Ruppelt's papers are shown in brackets [ ].
A belated UFO report had come in from Africa. One of my friends was reading it, so I asked him if I could take a look at it when he had finished. In a few minutes he handed it to me.
[ No doubt this case was the UFO observation made from an airliner near Mt. Kilimanjaro which was filmed during the incident. It appears that the USAF did not obtain a copy of the movie, however, a 1952 newspaper story said that Frank Edwards had a copy. Edwards' material was sold to Dr. Frank E. Stranges (deceased) and the whereabouts of the collection are unknown. ]
When I finished with the report I tossed it back on my friend's desk, with some comment about the whole world's being nuts. I got a reaction I didn't expect; he wasn't so sure the whole world was nuts — maybe the nuts were at ATIC. "What's the deal?" I asked him. "Have they really thoroughly checked out every report and found that there's nothing to any of them?"
He told me that he didn't think so, he'd been at ATIC a long time. He hadn't ever worked on the UFO project, but he had seen many of their reports and knew what they were doing. He just plain didn't buy a lot of their explanations. "And I'm not the only one who thinks this," he added.
"Then why all of the big show of power against the UFO reports?" I remember asking him.
"The powers-that-be are anti flying saucer," he answered about half bitterly, "and to stay in favor it behooves one to follow suit."
As of February 1951 this was the UFO project.
The words "flying saucer" didn't come up again for a month or two. I'd forgotten all about the two words and was deeply engrossed in making an analysis of the performance of the MiG-15. The MiG had just begun to show up in Korea, and finding out more about it was a hot project.
Then the words "flying saucer" drifted across the room once more. But this time instead of belly laughter there was a note of hysteria.
It seems that a writer from LIFE magazine was doing some research on UFO's and rumor had it that LIFE was thinking about doing a feature article. The writer had gone to the Office of Public Information in the Pentagon and had inquired about the current status of Project Grudge. To accommodate the writer, the OPI had sent a wire out to ATIC: What is the status of Project Grudge?
Back went a snappy reply: Everything is under control; each new report is being thoroughly analyzed by our experts; our vast files of reports are in tiptop shape; and in general things are hunky-dunky. All UFO reports are hoaxes, hallucinations, and the misidentification of known objects.
Another wire from Washington: Fine, Mr. Bob Ginna of LIFE is leaving for Dayton. He wants to check some reports.
Bedlam in the raw.
Other magazines had printed UFO stories, and other reporters had visited ATIC, but they had always stayed in the offices of the top brass. For some reason the name LIFE, the prospects of a feature story, and the feeling that this Bob Ginna was going to ask questions caused sweat to flow at ATIC.
Ginna arrived and the ATIC UFO "expert" talked to him. Ginna later told me about the meeting. He had a long list of questions about reports that had been made over the past four years and every time he asked a question, the "expert" would go tearing out of the room to try to find the file that had the answer. I remember that day people spent a lot of
time ripping open bundles of files and pawing through them like a bunch of gophers. Many times, "I'm sorry, that's classified," got ATIC out of a tight spot.
Ginna, I can assure you, was not at all impressed by the "efficiently operating UFO project." People weren't buying the hoax, hallucination, and misidentification stories quite as readily as the Air Force believed.
[ Ruppelt's notes give some more insight into what went on in 1951. Ginna's briefers were Red Honacker and Roy James:
…early in 1951
when Bob Ginna of LIFE magazine came out to ATIC. He met with Al
Chop of the AMC PIO officer and came over. He was introduced to
Red Honacker and Roy James. They gave him the pitch about
thoroughly investigating everything and being a top notch project.
Actually nothing was being done and they couldn't even find the
files on sightings he (Ginna) asked about. They attempted to 'snow'
him, but I found out later they hadn't done it at all. All it did
was to make him suspicious as hell.
This visit scared ATIC because when Ginna came back I was warned that he was sharp. I was also given 'inferred orders' to play down UFOs. ]
Where it started or who started it I don't know, but about two months after the visit from LIFE's representative the official interest in UFO's began to pick up.
The LIFE article undoubtedly threw a harder punch at the American public than any other UFO article ever written. The title alone, "Have We Visitors from Outer Space?" was enough. Other very reputable magazines, such as TRUE, had said it before, but coming from LIFE, it was different. LIFE didn't say that the UFO's were from outer space; it just said maybe. But to back up this "maybe," it had quotes from some famous people. Dr. Walter Riedel, who played an important part in the development of the German V-2 missile and is presently the director of rocket engine research for North American Aviation Corporation, said he believed that the UFO's were from outer space. Dr. Maurice Biot, one of the world's leading aerodynamicists, backed him up.
But the most important thing about the LIFE article was the question in the minds of so many readers: "Why was it written?" LIFE doesn't go blasting off on flights of space fancy without a good reason. Some of the readers saw a clue in the author's comments that the hierarchy of the Air Force was now taking a serious look at UFO reports. "Did the Air Force prompt LIFE to write the article?" was the question that many people asked themselves.
When I arrived at Dayton, newspapermen were beating down the door. The official answer to the LIFE article was released through the Office of Public Information in the Pentagon: "The article is factual, but LIFE's conclusions are their own." In answer to any questions about the article's being Air Force inspired, my weasel worded answer was that we had furnished LIFE with some raw data on specific sightings.
My answer was purposely weasel worded because I knew that the Air Force had unofficially inspired the LIFE article. The "maybe they're interplanetary" with the "maybe" bordering on "they are" was the personal opinion of several very high-ranking officers in the Pentagon — so high that their personal opinion was almost policy. I knew the men and I knew that one of them, a general, had passed his opinions on to Bob Ginna.
Oddly enough, the LIFE article did not cause a flood of reports. The day after the article appeared we got nine sightings, which was unusual, but the next day they dropped off again.
The number of reports did take a sharp rise a few days later, however. The cause was the distribution of an order that completed the transformation of the UFO from a bastard son to the family heir. The piece of paper that made Project Blue Book legitimate was Air Force Letter 200-5, Subject: Unidentified Flying Objects. The letter, which was duly signed and sealed by the Secretary of the Air Force, in essence stated that UFO's were not a joke, that the Air Force was making a serious study of the problem, and that Project Blue Book was responsible for the study. The letter stated that the commander of every Air Force installation was responsible for forwarding all UFO reports to ATIC by wire, with a copy to the Pentagon. Then a more detailed report would be sent by airmail. Most important of all, it gave Project Blue Book the authority to directly contact any Air Force unit in the United States without going through any chain of command. This was almost unheard of in the Air Force and gave our project a lot of prestige.
[ Ruppelt's Notes:
Soon after the LIFE and LOOK articles came out reports took a decided jump. Two factors, possibly caused this 1) The LIFE and LOOK publicity and 2) The new reporting channels. (Including Air Force Letter 200-5 just promulgated.) There were indications the good military UFO sightings were occurring all the time, but lacking a method of reporting, they never got to ATIC. Part of the rise in the good reports could be attributed to this factor.
The one bit of publicity which really stymied (?) things was the LIFE article of 7 April 1952. It concluded that UFO's were from outer space. Bob Ginna had a done a lot of researching and had dug up a lot of info. It was the best article on the subject that has been written, again, except for the final conclusion. ]
— Jan L. Aldrich