The Aircraft Flash
Official G.O.C. Magazine

Vol I, NO. 4, January, 1953

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"Unidentified Aerial Objects" Receive Careful Analysis by Air Force Experts

   It is the responsibility of the United States Air Force to be aware of any-thing that does or can happen in the skies. The Ground Observer Corps shares this responsibility, since it is "the eyes and the ears of the Air Force."

   Therefore, every member of the GOC, whether he is aware of it or not, has a definite interest in the Air Force's "Project Blue Book," the reporting and analysis of unidentified flying objects.

   The organization directly charged with this project is the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Since January, 1952, ATIC has been collecting and analyzing information from every possible source concerning the sighting or detecting of these unidentified objects. Over 1,000 such reports have been received to date.

   It is the job of ATIC to attempt to answer the baffling question: "Just what are these objects that are reported?"

   The exhaustive analysis of the facts which ATIC makes in tackling the problem would do credit to the FBI or Scotland Yard. Through this painstaking process, over half of the reports have been found to be caused, possibly or probably, by identifiable objects or phenomenon. The rest are either unexplainable, unknown or insufficient information was available for accurate evaluation.

   The percentage breakdown for all reports received so far is as follows:


1. Balloons, possible and probable 21.3%


2. Aircraft, possible and probable 16.0%


3. Astronomical phenomenon, possible and probable 20.0%


4. Other unexplainable phenomenon, possible and probable 5.7%


5. Unknown 21.0%


6. Insufficient data for evaluation.. 16.0%

   The sources of these reports have been categorized into the following groups:


1. Civilians 57.0%


2. USAF pilots 11.02%


3. Airline pilots 2.00%


4. Airport tower operators .86%


5. Balloon observers 1 00%


6. Technically trained personnel 3.29%


7. Civilian pilots 4.14%


8. Military personnel (ground observation) 18 03%


9. Radar observers 2.58%

   Since the outset of "Operation Skywatch" in July, 1952, another special category, "GOC Observers," - has been added.

   To assure uniformity in reporting unidentified objects, the Air Defense Command has distributed ADC Regulation 55-31, entitled "Ground Observer Reporting of Unusual Aerial Activity," to all Ground Observer Detachments.

   These instructions are the result of much past experience on the part of ATIC in handling such reports. There is a significant reason for every little scrap of the information requested. Adherence to the system has been a major factor in assuring an excellent standard of reporting.

   Upon receipt of a report, ATIC begins preliminary screening in an attempt to explain the sighting in the light of known phenomenon. The first step is to enter the essential facts on a master file card.

   The report is then screened against all known data which possibly could have caused it. ATIC maintains a complete file of weather balloon launching locations and times, for example, which often gives an important clue to the nature of the sighting.

   Other comparisons are made between the report and known astronomical data (meteors, meteorites, etc.), as well as known data on aircraft in the area. Weather and winds aloft conditions present at the time and place of the sighting are also considered, as are the flight tracks of "Skyhook" type balloons (see illustration), migratory birds and anything else that could have been in the air at the time.

   In the majority of cases, the answer to what caused the sighting lies within the data compiled.

   In analyzing any report, the two most important factors are time and place of sighting. These must be exact and specific as the local time, Georef positions, altitudes, directions, etc., since they often represent the only undeniably factual information.

   This is not meant to imply that accurate, descriptive, visual impressions of the observer are not important. However, the fact remains that atmospheric and other conditions often fool the human eye, as they often fool electronic and mechanical devices.

   Let's consider a hypothetical case. At 0901, MST, at Georef position 150? a GOC observer reports an unidentified flying object to his filter center through an Aircraft Flash message. Almost simultaneously, a radar unit in the area obtains a target and vectors an interceptor aircraft toward it.

   The target is clearly visible to the pilot but he is unable to climb to the altitude of the target. However, he does make gun-camera runs on it.

   The sighting just described would be the equivalent of a jackpot on the dollar machine, since it contained ground-visual, ground-electronic and air-visual detection as well as camera coverage.

An Air Force intelligence officer interrogates all persons who observe an object, prepares a report and forwards it to ATIC. Then begins the long process f collection and analysis of background information.

The first factor to be established is whether or not all eyes and antenna were fixed on the same object. In this case, time and position factors establish this fact positively.

A check of meteorological data reveals nothing unusual, except that the targetís movement (as calibrated on the ground radar set and verified by the GOC observer) corresponds to that of the winds aloft

The possibility of the object being an unknown aircraft is ruled out because of the altitude factor. In addition, consultation with astronomers reveals no clue as to the targetís identity.

Having ruled out these possibilities, ATIC, through established channels, contacts the organizations which launch "Skyhook" type balloons. The answer comes back: "At 0901, MST, a large plastic polyethylene balloon was over Provo, Utah, at 70,000 feet."

Analysis of the films reveals a balloon-like object.

All the pieces of the jigsaw are now fitted together. But had one or two seemingly insignificant details been different, the analysis could well have been entirely changed.

"Skyhook" balloons carry aloft a metal box crammed with instruments to record weather data at extremely high altitudes. When the balloon descends. below 30,000 feet at the end of its journey, the box is automatically released and parachutes to earth. Persons who find the box receive a $25 reward for returning it to the Air Force. The plastic balloon, however may be kept by the finder. It has a multitude of uses, including wrapping deep freezer packages, covering machinery, etc.

   In addition to improving present reporting techniques and analytical methods, ATIC is considering proposals for an intensive instrumentation program. Plans call for increased camera coverage of the skies, new and improved triangulation devices, astronomical type telescopes and other mechanical devices which will increase the accuracy and validity of reports.

   Despite these new instruments, however, the bulk of reports will still come from individuals. GOC observers, whose job it is to keep their eyes on the skies, will continue to be a most important source of these individual sightings.

   Past experience has shown that the GOC has approached the situation with alertness, diligence and willing cooperation. Through the increasing quality of their reports, ground observers are performing another valuable service for their country.

A frequent cause of "unidentified aerial object" reports is he sighting of "Skyhook" balloons at high altitudes. The huge balloons (73 feet in diameter and 129 feet long) ascend to altitudes as high as 100,000 feet. The translucent polyethylene plastic of which the balloons are made gleams brightly in the sun. At higher altitudes, Skyhook balloons tend to lose their spheroid shape and undulate slowly in air currents, often assuming the shape of eggs or discs. Skyhook balloons are released regularly from west coast launching sites by the Air. Force under Project "Moby Dick." They have been known to drift across the entire United States on their mission of obtaining weather data in the upper reaches of the earth's atmosphere. The launching of one of these sky monsters is shown in the photo at left. At right is a Skyhook balloon depicted shortly after the launching as it begins its long trip skyward. The smaller spheres to the left are three-foot weather balloons which are used to compute winds aloft.

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