Project Blue Book Part 1 (UFO Reports)

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In late 1975, OSI declassified their investigative files of reported Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings and sent them to the National Archives for processing. The reports revealed that OSI agents documented and investigated UFO sightings from 1948 until the late 1960s. Although some pilots enjoy the joke that the world has a big sky and it belongs to the Air Force (in reference to air superiority), during the years of Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book, the U.S. government charged the Air Force with the responsibility to monitor air space. Contemporary strategic thinkers did not necessarily consider the possibility of alien life, but rather that the craft could be of Soviet origin. During the Cold War years, Soviet aggression and espionage were definitely issues concerning the Air Force.

Project Blue Book’s records can now be accessed at a reading room in the National Archives, but many of the reports have also been digitized. In mid-1947 a civilian pilot reported he saw nine flat saucer shaped objects approaching Mt. Rainier in Washington state, and from there the name “flying saucers” was born. Later that year, the crash of what was reported as a weather or nuclear test surveillance balloon near Roswell, N.M., ignited conspiracy theories that persist to this day. The National Archives has been unable to locate any documentation among the Blue Book records that discuss the incident in Roswell.

At the inception of Project Sign, Air Force Materiel Command had primary responsibility for UFO reports. However, shortly after its creation in 1948, OSI took over this responsibility under the name Project Grudge. Although all detachments received and documented UFO reports, most were investigated by District 17 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. One investigation, opened in 1948, came from reports by two commercial airline pilots flying over the southwestern U.S., that reported seeing “green fireballs.” Agents consulted a scientist from the University of New Mexico whose specialty was meteorites. 

The investigations were inconclusive, but continued to be intensive over the next two years.  District 17 agents presented findings to researchers at Sandia Base and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in early 1949. Other participants included the University of California Geophysics Institute, the Atomic Energy Commission, Armed Forces Special Weapons Project and other federal agencies. Initially, the Air Technical Intelligence Center analyzed the evidence collected.

In April 1949, a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board reviewed evidence collected by District 17 over the last five months, which revealed a large number of reported UFO sightings. He recommended that the district establish a temporary observation post northeast of Albuquerque on the crest of the Sandia Mountains. Agents manned spectrographic photo surveillance equipment 24 hours a day, and there was even a story of uncertain credibility that the district commander (also a pilot) pursued a UFO until losing sight of the craft or phenomenon.

OSI Letter Number 85: Unconventional Aircraft-Special Inquiry (classified No. 24-185) reported the results of many of these inquiries. Agents continued to investigate UFO reports and even revised and detailed the type of information required for sufficient investigation, including a detailed description of the appearance, direction of flight, tactics, maneuvers conducted by the craft and an exhaustive examination of the observer’s credibility. They collected this information in earnest under Project Grudge beginning in 1949.

In 1951, UFO investigations continued under the newly named Project Blue Book. The parameters included much more technical data and attempts to verify the veracity of the reports and the observers. In 1967, agents briefed a scientific group on Neutron Activity analysis and sent a piece of an alleged UFO to the FBI Crime Laboratory. The lab concluded that while the item was unusual, there was no evidence that it belonged to an alien craft. Project Blue Book continued until 1969. A total of 12,618 sightings were reported to Project Blue Book, with 701 remaining “unidentified.” 

Eventually, analysts of Project Blue Book reports concluded that there was:

No indication of threats to U.S. National security;

No evidence of unexplained advanced technology; and,

No evidence that the reports were extraterrestrial vehicles.

These results, as you might imagine, were controversial and remain so to this day. However, agents’ attention to detail and commitment to excellence with any task assigned was evident, and their work remains a worthy component of our national story.