Air Force reports on the Roswell UFO incident

Air Force reports on the Roswell UFO incident

The two Air Force reports on the Roswell UFO incident, published in 1994/5 and 1997, form the basis for much of the skeptical explanation for the 1947 incident, the purported recovery of aliens and their craft from the vicinity of Roswell, New Mexico.

The first report, “The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert,” identified a secret military research program called Project Mogul as the source of the debris reported in 1947. The second report, "The Roswell Report: Case Closed” concluded that reports of alien recoveries were likely misidentified military programs or accidents.

The 1994/5 Air Force report

By the mid-1890s, the Roswell UFO incident, the alleged crash and recovery of aliens and their spacecraft near Roswell, New Mexico, USA in 1947 had generated a mini-industry, with numerous books suggesting an alien cover-up and Roswell itself transformed into a popular tourist destination centered on UFO-related attractions.

Polls, like a 1997 CNN/Time poll, suggested that a strong majority of Americans believed that the government was hiding evidence of the existence of aliens, and specifically, that the Roswell incident involved the recovery of aliens. [ [ Poll: U.S. hiding knowledge of aliens - UFO Evidence ] ]

In that context, many were demanding answers from their government on what really happened at Roswell in 1947, so in January 1994, Congressman Steven Schiff requested that the United States Congress’ investigative branch, the General Accounting Office (GAO), look into the matter. [Washington Post “GAO Turns to Alien Turf in Probe,” January 15, 1994] The next month, the Air Force was informed of the GAO’s planned formal audit. The Air Force was not the sole agency to be investigated, but it was the focus of the investigation as it had been consistently identified as most involved with the alleged cover-up. (The US Army Air Forces became the US Air Force in September 1947 and inherited all personnel, equipment, records etc.) The Secretary of the Air Force subsequently ordered an investigation to locate any information it had on the incident. ”The Roswell Report: Fact verses Fiction in the New Mexico Desert,” Col. Richard Weaver and 1st Lt. James McAndrew, Headquarters United States Air Force, 1995,] (pp.1,10-11)

The result, published in 1994 and 1995 was a near-1000 page report entitled “The Roswell Report: Fact verses Fiction in the New Mexico Desert.” [] The report was significant for identifying for the first time a likely source of the debris found on the Foster ranch: the remnants of a balloon train from a secret military program called Project Mogul. Though several others had suggested a Mogul program balloon as a possible candidate previously, the report had specific information that had never been revealed before about the program that led many to conclude that the “incident” had been explained.


The investigative method was to systematically search Air Force records from the offices where relevant records would likely be contained, based in part on the claims and accounts from the numerous books on the subject, which, the report noted, were almost exclusively claiming a cover-up. (p.15) Some skeptical articles and authors were also consulted.

It was decided that it was pointless to attempt to refute point-by-point all the various claims, as many of these claims appeared to be “hearsay, undocumented, taken out of context, self-serving, or otherwise dubious” and many were disputed even amongst the authors themselves. (p.16)

As an example of the difficulty in assessing claims, it cited an investigation of a cover-up claim which stated that “over two dozen” personnel stationed at Roswell who researchers sought records for via name and serial number could not be found by the military, despite the researcher’s assertion that they could “document that each served at Roswell Army Air Field.” When Air Force investigators searched for the 11 names the authors had listed, they said they easily found records for eight, using only their names as the authors did not list their serial numbers, and the other three had common names with multiple possible candidates. It further noted that one of the eight found had died in 1951 even though the authors claimed to have interviewed the same person, or someone with the exact name, many years later.

Witnesses who could answer questions about the incident were also sought. Since 47 years had elapsed, many who were involved were now dead, and only one person universally agreed to have been involved with the actual recovery of debris – Sheridan Cavitt – was still alive. He was interviewed, as were others. To ensure that anticipated accusations of “cover up” were addressed, interviewees were given authorization from either the Secretary of the Air Force (SAF) or the Senior Security Official of the Air Force to discuss any classified information they might know. No attempt was made to contact each and every witness listed by authors, unless they could answer specific questions raised by the research being carried out. In some cases, survivors of deceased witnesses were contacted, if they had custody of records useful for the investigation.

The SAF also directed current Air Force elements to reveal records of the “highest classification and compartmentalization,” particularly related to anything of an extraordinary nature. (p. 17) Since the recovery of aliens and or spacecraft would presumably be subject to the enhanced security and control protocols of a Special Access Program (SAP), any SAPs which may have existed were ordered to be revealed. None existed, it was reported. The report notes that if these programs existed in secret, they would not have been funded through the Air Force without superior officers being aware of them, or paper trails recording their existence. (p. 18)

The negative response to the existence of these programs focused attention on archival and records research in various locations where it would be assumed such records might be found. The researchers were assisted by archivists and historians who could guide them through the complexities of the archival systems.

Elimination of aliens as an explanation for incident

Based on the evidence which could be gathered, the report concluded that the 1947 incident was not an airplane crash, a missile crash, a nuclear accident, or the recovery of an extraterrestrial craft. Obviously, the latter conclusion was the key one. “…the research indicated absolutely no evidence "of any kind" [italics in original] that a spaceship crashed near Roswell or that any alien occupants were recovered therefrom, in some secret military operation or otherwise.” (p. 20) The overwhelming focus of the military at the time was on something more down-to-earth, the report noted: “All the records… indicated that the focus of concern was not on aliens, hostile or otherwise, but on the Soviet Union.”

While the report acknowledged that there would be some who would label the report itself as part of the “cover up,” and would probably assert that evidence corroborating alien recoveries at Roswell or nearby remained hidden or was destroyed, an assertion nearly impossible to disprove, evidence showing the increased activity which would surely be associated with a cover up operation of such a seminal event was also completely lacking, making the assertion that something was being hidden extremely unlikely. “There were no indications and warnings, notice of alerts, or a higher tempo of operational activity reported that would be logically generated if an alien craft, whose intentions were unknown, entered US territory.” The report also refuted claims that several specific high-ranking military personnel were engaged in activities surrounding a recovery of aliens and a cover-up during the time in question by tracing their actual documented activities.

In eliminating an alien recovery as the source of the incident, the report concluded: “… if some event happened that was one of the ‘watershed happenings’ in human history, the US military certainly reacted in an unconcerned and cavalier manner. In an actual case, the military would have had to order thousands of soldiers and airmen, not only at Roswell but throughout the US, to act nonchalantly, pretend to conduct and report business as usual, and generate absolutely no paperwork of a suspicious nature, while simultaneously anticipating that twenty years or more into the future people would have available a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act that would give them great leeway to review and explore government documents. The records indicate that none of this happened (or if it did, it was controlled by a security system so efficient and tight that no one, US or otherwise, has been able to duplicate it since. If such a system had been in effect at the time, it would have also been used to protect our atomic secrets from the Soviets, which history has showed obviously was not the case). The records reviewed confirmed that no such sophisticated and efficient security system existed.” (pp.21-22)

Identification of Mogul as source of the debris

Once the report eliminated candidates for what the debris wasn’t, it identified what it believed the evidence indicated the debris was.

It noted that the contemporary newspaper accounts and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) telex suggested a balloon-type object. And it also noted that when it came to sworn affidavits, such as the ones appearing in “The Roswell Events” [”The Roswell Events,” edited by Fred Whiting, sponsored by the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR)] (as opposed to authors relating what they said witnesses said), the descriptions also were often consistent with balloon-type debris. “Although many of the persons… expressed opinions that they thought there was something extraterrestrial about this incident, a number of them actually described materials that sounded suspiciously like wreckage from balloons.” (p. 22) The cited witness statements came from Jesse Marcel Jr., Loretta Proctor (a neighbor of Mac Brazel), Bessie Schreiber nee Brazel, Sally Strickland Tadolini (another neighbor) and Robert Porter. The investigators additionally interviewed Sheridan Cavitt who also described balloon-consistent material, and Irving Newton who described what he saw at Fort Worth.

Since the scope of the GAO inquiry included “weather balloons,” references to such programs were also sought, and documents on Project Mogul quickly surfaced. They were of interest because they involved a secret program using balloons launched from Alamogordo AAF (now Holloman AFB) and White Sands during June and July 1947, the time-frame in question. Project Mogul was a research project designed to assess the feasibility of detecting Soviet nuclear tests by monitoring low-frequency acoustics in the upper atmosphere. The project was run by a joint New York University/Watson Labs team. Key figures in the research, it was soon determined, were still alive: Director of Research, Dr. Athelstan F. Spilhaus; the Project Engineer, Professor Charles B. Moore; and the military Project Officer, Colonel Albert C. Trakowski. They were all interviewed for the report.

Project Mogul was a highly compartmentalized program, with many participants unaware of the true nature of the research. Professor Moore himself was unaware of the project’s name until shortly before the report was compiled.

From the report: “Professor Moore, the on-scene Project Engineer, gave detailed information concerning his team's efforts. He recalled that radar targets were used for tracking balloons because they did not have all the necessary equipment when they first arrived in New Mexico. Some of the early, developmental radar targets were manufactured by a toy or novelty company. These targets were made up of aluminum ‘foil’ or foil-backed paper, balsa wood beams that were coated in an ‘Elmer's-type’ glue to enhance their durability, acetate and/or cloth reinforcing tape, single strand and braided nylon twine, brass eyelets and swivels to form a multi-faced reflector somewhat similar in construction to a box kite. Some of these targets were also assembled with purplish-pink tape with symbols on it.

“According to the log summary of the NYU group, Flight A through Flight 7 (November 20, 1946-July 2, 1947) were made with neoprene meteorological balloons (as opposed to the later flights made with polyethylene balloons). Professor Moore stated that the neoprene balloons were susceptible to degradation in the sunlight, turning from a milky white to a dark brown. He described finding remains of balloon trains with reflectors and payloads that had landed in the desert: the ruptured and shredded neoprene would ‘almost look like dark gray or black flakes or ashes after exposure to the sun for only a few days. The plasticizers and antioxidants in the neoprene would emit a peculiar acrid odor and the balloon material and radar target material would be scattered after returning to earth depending on the surface winds.’ Upon review of the local newspaper photographs from General Ramey's press conference in 1947 and descriptions in popular books by individuals who supposedly handled the debris recovered on the ranch, Professor Moore opined that the material was most likely the shredded remains of a multi-neoprene balloon train with multiple radar reflectors. The material and a ‘black box,’ described by Cavitt, was, in Moore's scientific opinion, most probably from Flight 4, a ‘service flight’ that included a cylindrical metal sonobuoy and portions of a weather instrument housed in a box, which was unlike typical weather radiosondes which were made of cardboard. Additionally, a copy of a professional journal maintained at the time by A.P. Crary, provided to the Air Force by his widow, showed that Flight 4 was launched on June 4, 1947, but was not recovered by the NYU group. It is very probable that this TOP SECRET project balloon train (Flight 4), made up of unclassified components; came to rest some miles northwest of Roswell, NM, became shredded in the surface winds and was ultimately found by the rancher, Brazel, ten days later.” (pp.26-27)

The report noted that several other researchers had independently come to the conclusion that Mogul was the source of the Foster ranch debris, one being Karl Pflock who published this opinion shortly before the Air Force did. However, Pflock also concluded that a simultaneous incident occurred several miles away where alien bodies were recovered. The report noted that it found no information to corroborate this “incredible coincidence.”(p.28)

In conclusion, the report stated: “The Air Force research did not locate or develop any information that the ‘Roswell Incident’ was a UFO event. All available official materials, although they do not directly address Roswell per se, indicate that the most likely source of the wreckage recovered from the Brazel Ranch was from one of the Project Mogul balloon trains.”(p.30)

As for the near-absence of a mention of aliens in the report, five points were made: There were no alien passengers of the Project Mogul balloon; Those who say there were aliens at Roswell can’t agree on what, where and how many aliens were supposedly recovered, and many of those claims have been proven to be hoaxes; Claims of aliens are often made by people under pseudonyms; Many of those making the biggest claims about aliens also make a living off of the incident; The long span of time has likely caused witnesses in good faith to misinterpret past events. (pp.30-31)

Critiques of the report

Critics, like Kevin Randlecite book
last = Randle
first = Kevin D.
title = Conspiracy of Silence
date = 1997
publisher = New York, Avon Books
id = ISBN 0-380-72691-2
] (p.214) and Stanton Friedman, pointed out that this “1,000-page report” was in fact a 23-page report with copious supporting documents including “more information about Project Mogul than anybody would ever want.”cite book
last = Friedman
first = Stanton T.
title = Top Secret/Majic: Operation Majestic-12 and the United States Government's UFO Cover-up
date = 1996, 1997
publisher = New York, Marlowe & Company
id = ISBN 1-56924-741-2
] (p.113)

Friedman described the report as being "loaded with false information and [using] the standard tactics of the propagandist: selective choice of data, name-calling, and false reasoning sic|ad nauseum." (p.112) Randle described the report as being "speculation based on a limited review of the evidence available and limited interviews conducted with a mission in mind. It is, in fact, just another page in the book of the conspiracy of silence." (p.222)

There were several specific areas of the report seen as defective by critics:

No documentation for Mogul: For all its stated reliance on documented facts, critics pointed out, the report concluded Mogul was the likely explanation even though no documents linking Mogul to the incident were discovered, and no Mogul equipment was produced to match the contemporary descriptions. Mark Rodeghier and Mark Chesney said: “It is clear… that the Air Force couldn't find any physical evidence that proves or documentation that clearly states that a balloon fromProject Mogul was recovered… Second, the Air Force has no Mogul balloon material from 1947 to show to witnesses to provide a positive identification.” [ [ Analysis of Air Force Report on Roswell ] ] Randle makes a similar point.(p.222)

Mogul material not like the debris reported recovered: Whatever was recovered in 1947, it didn't match the Report's descriptions of Mogul material, as described by many witnesses, said some critics. "The retrieved material, unlike components of Mogul Balloons, had very special properties including very light weight and very great strength,"cite book
last = Friedman
first = Stanton T.
title = The Roswell Incident, The USAF and the New York Times
date = Sept. 26, 1994
publisher = Stanford T. Friedman
] (p.4) said Friedman. "There is no way all this [Mogul] junk... could have been thought worth a long trip to Roswell [as farmer Mac Brazel did] " said Friedman (p.7)

Only five witnesses interviewed, and non-credible witnesses: The Air Force sought interviews with only five witnesses, and three of those were involved with Mogul, which further suggested to the critics that they were seeking corroboration of a preferred theory. Rodeghier and Chesney: “We surely couldn't expect the Air Force to interview every person named in the literature on Roswell, but to have interviewed only five persons calls into question the serious intention and true goal of the investigation.” [ [ Analysis of Air Force Report on Roswell ] ]

Critics focused on the testimony of several of those witnesses interviewed and cast doubts on their credibility, in particular Sheridan Cavitt’s. Friedman describes Cavitt’s account of a small amount of debris consistent with a weather balloon, with no sign of a heavy-object impact as “ [s] imple, straightforward, and certainly false” (p.114) based on previous interviews Cavitt gave to himself and other researchers. Randle said that to believe the Air Force conclusion, “ [w] e must believe that Cavitt, having the answer to the Roswell riddle, sat on that answer, even though he was interviewed by various UFO researchers many times.” (p.222)

Witnesses with important information ignored: While acknowledging the fact that most witnesses, by 1994, were dead, a great many witnesses who had what critics termed important information were alive and were ignored. Rodegheir and Chesney called into question the true intent of the Air Force for this omission (see above). Randle noted that there was a body of first-hand evidence “suggesting that both military officers and civilians were sworn to secrecy and the material was not consistent with that from a Project Mogul balloon. [Report author Richard] Weaver had access to all this data, but refused to review it.” Recorded interviews, where statements could be heard within the context they were made, were available, as were several of the witnesses for in-person interviews, yet “ [Weaver] rejected it out of hand because it would show the weakness of the Project Mogul explanation.” (p.221-2)

No military personnel seemingly punished for “misidentification”: If the “misidentification”, as critics put it, was merely an “over-reaction by Colonel Blanchard and Major Marcel” (p.30) as the Report describes, then why did the careers of some of these personnel not suffer as a result of this blunder? Rodegheir and Chesney: “Over-reaction indeed! Now there's an understatement… This explanation is made even more ludicrous by the successful careers that Marcel, and especially Blanchard, had in the Air Force after this monumental blunder, which should have resulted in instant demotion for them if their actions were what the Air Force is now claiming.” [ [ Analysis of Air Force Report on Roswell ] ]

Documents destroyed: Congressman Steve Schiff, who sparked the inquiry, also had problems with the report. Important documents, which would likely have shed more light on the incident, were reported destroyed, he pointed out.

"The GAO report states that the outgoing messages from Roswell Army Air Field for this period of time were destroyed without proper authority.” These messages would have shown how officers explained the incident to their superiors at the time, Schiff said.

"It is my understanding that these outgoing messages were permanent records, which should never have been destroyed. The GAO could not identify who destroyed the messages, or why." [ [ The GAO Roswell Report ] ]

Despite these critiques, other pro-ufo researchers concluded that Project Mogul was the best explanation for the 1947 incident ["PFLOCK NOW BELIEVES THAT NO FLYING SAUCER CRASHED IN NEW MEXICO IN 1947" (article), "The Klass Files", from "The Sceptics UFO Newsletter" (SUN) #43, January 1997,] ["Another Major Roswell Crashed-Saucer Proponent 'Abandons Ship'" (article), "The Klass Files", from "The Skeptics UFO Newsletter" (SUN) #44,March 1997,] ["STOP THE PRESSES!" (article), "The Klass Files", from "The Sceptics UFO Newsletter" (SUN) #47, September 1997,] and a further reconstruction by Charles Moore of one of the lost Mogul balloon launches confirmed for many the likelihood that the Air Force conclusion was correct.

Mogul flight 4 reconstruction

Soon after the release of the Air Force report, Charles Moore, who was on the Mogul launch team back in 1947, decided to attempt to reconstruct the probable flight path of Project Mogul flight 4, which was lost and never recovered, and which was identified by the Air Force as the probable source of the debris recovered at the Foster ranch.

Some researchers such as Kevin Randle had suggested that the wind directions on the day of the Mogul launch eliminated that flight as a possible candidate, [ [ The wayward journey of NYU project flight #4 ] ] but Moore knew that wind directions and therefore balloon flight paths are not so easily deduced because these balloons rose into the stratosphere. While winds in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) would vary, upper atmosphere (stratosphere) wind direction was constantly from the east in the summer, Moore knew from experience.

The difficulty in reconstructing flight 4 was that aside from a diary entry, there was little information on where it flew, and only hints as to what tracking devices were on the flight. The latter was important, as radars, sonobuoys and theodolites were used initially for tracking Mogul flights, only to be later discarded in favour of radiosondes as flights proved to drift well beyond the circa 40-mile tracking range of radar. Records for other flights exist, and they show that flight 2 had rawin reflectors for radar tracking, but flight 5 had a radiosonde. Moore deduced that the fact that flight 4 was lost strongly suggested that flight 5’s use of a radiosonde for tracking was a direct result of the inability to track flight 4 with radar. Of course, if flight 4 didn’t have radar reflectors, it could not have been the source of the debris on the Foster ranch.

Moore obtained as much local weather and atmospheric information as he could, and used the data obtained from flights 5 and 6 to calibrate the likely direction of travel once flight 4 entered the stratosphere. He had to modify some of the original NYU records owing to an error he identified whereby the azimuths were altered by about 12 degrees to account for the magnetic declination of Alamogordo, an alteration that had the effect of significantly exaggerating the altitude of the balloons. He additionally took into account the time of day the balloons were launched (recorded in the diary) as this would affect the speed of ascent and factor into how long the balloons would stay aloft.

The result was a track that placed flight 4 very close to the Foster ranch. Other flights, such as 5 and 6, could not have landed anywhere close owing to the differing wind conditions on the following days. Moore’s analysis, while not proving that flight 4 was the source of the Foster ranch debris, nevertheless confirmed that flight 4 could not be eliminated as that source. [Saler, Benson, Charles Ziegler, and Charles Moore. UFO Crash at Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1997]

Others have disputed Moore’s findings as designed to confirm the predetermined landing site, but Moore’s intention was only to see if flight 4 could have landed on the ranch, not to prove that it did. In the end, the only “certainty” which could have been gained by Moore’s research was if it demonstrated that flight 4 could not have landed on the ranch in question, as reproducing precisely the journey of that flight is probably impossible.

David Rudiak has posted a detailed rebuttal to Moore’s analysis, saying “he improperly calculated his own data and hoaxed his own model. In the end, he simply force-fit the trajectory he wanted.” [ [ Mogul Flight #4 Trajectory ] ] But, as so often is the case with Roswell debates, Rudiak’s rebuttal has its own detailed rebuttal. [ [ Rudiak: Right, Wrong or just Ridiculous? ] ]

The 1997 Air Force report: addressing alien accounts

Just days before the 50th anniversary of the incident, the Air Force released a follow-up report to the 1994 one called “The Roswell Report: Case Closed.”“The Roswell Report: Case Closed,” James McAndrews, Headquarters United States Air Force, 1997] Despite the finality suggested in the report’s title, when then asked whether this would put the controversy to rest Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said: “of course not.” [ [ CNN - Air Force says of Roswell: 'Case Closed - June 24, 1997 ] ] While his assessment has proved to be true, the report nevertheless laid out in great detail how the Air Force felt alien accounts likely arose, and remains the final word on the subject from the Air Force’s point of view. It also forms the basis, along with the previous report, for the skeptical response to the Roswell UFO incident.

It concluded that UFO researchers had failed to establish accurate dates for their reports of aliens and had erroneously linked these reports to the Project Mogul debris recovery (which the Air Force identified previously as being the source of the Foster ranch debris). (p.2) Convoluted scenarios linked the various crash sites to the events at the Foster ranch and dates were fixed so as to coincide with the reported events, thus establishing a time frame and adding credibility to the alien claims. (p.12) It further concluded that alien accounts were likely descriptions of publicized military achievements and descriptions of incidents involving injured or killed military personnel. (ibid p.2)

These conclusions were greeted with incredulous responses from many, but a careful reading of the report, especially interview transcripts, revealed that in fact many of the UFO authors had ignored or omitted the prosaic explanations given by many of the witnesses themselves, as well as the witnesses’ oft-stated vagueness as to when the events they were recalling actually took place.


The 1994 report concluded that: no aliens or alien spacecraft were recovered by the Air Force; reports of aliens could not have been associated with the Mogul debris recovery as that vehicle was incapable of transporting passengers; no unusual activity was carried out by the Air Force in 1947 outside of the Mogul recovery.

In light of these established facts, the Air Force concluded that actual events, if any, which inspired alien reports did not occur in 1947 and that reports which described material associated with balloons were not connected to alien stories. They therefore eliminated from further research those numerous accounts consistent with balloon debris and its transport and were left with a relative few accounts focused on aliens.

From the remaining accounts, several working hypotheses were established: given the number and great detail of the accounts, some event or events likely did happen; due to the similarities of the two crash site descriptions and the great distance between the sites, it was likely one event formed the basis for the accounts (the Air Force focused its investigation on what seemed to be two separate crash sites outside the Foster ranch); since the alien accounts from the Roswell base shared no common elements with the crash site accounts, it was likely an event not related to the other events.

The research focused first on the crash site accounts, seeking common threads within the accounts, then if such links were found, how they were related to actual events. Finally, it was asked whether these actual events were part of government or military activities. (pp.13-14) Additionally, care was taken to determine whether these accounts were from actual witnesses to the events, or a recitation of someone else’s account. It dealt separately with the accounts of aliens at the Roswell base employing a similar method.

Alien crash sites and recoveries

Accounts were found to follow a similar sequence of events: A witness or witnesses would be in an isolated rural area and come across a crashed aerial vehicle. Stopping to investigate, they’d see, from a distance, strange-looking “beings” who were apparent passengers of the vehicle. Soon thereafter, a military convoy with soldiers would arrive and order the civilian witness [es] to leave the area and not tell anyone what they saw. The military personnel would then commence with their recovery of the vehicle and its occupants.

Specific details of the “beings” also had common threads: Several witnesses described thinking the “beings” were “plastic dolls” or “dummies.” Other common features were that the “beings” had four fingers or lacked a small finger. They were “hairless” or “bald.” Their garb was “one-piece suits… shiny silverfish-gray color.”

Additionally, witnesses were often vague about the date of the occurrence, saying “around 1950” or “I don’t recall the date.” And, similar vehicles were described being present: “wrecker,” “six-by-six,” and “medium-sized jeep/truck” and “weapons carrier.” (pp.13-14)

The Air Force identified these common elements and attempted to find: events which from a distant appeared unusual; events with no precise date; events occurring in rural New Mexico; events involving vehicles and dummies with four fingers and one-piece suits; events utilizing numerous military personnel and vehicles including wreckers, six-by-sixes, weapons carriers, etc.

Searching records of the near-by bases and researching the vehicles and programs under development and their attendant activities quickly eliminated many candidates as sources for these events based on dissimilar activities or geographic location. Programs involving missiles, drones and aircraft research were thus eliminated.

When it came to high altitude balloon tests, however, similar properties were identified. While on many projects there was no material which could reasonably be mistaken for an alien, several projects did use equipment which could be mistaken for aliens: anthropomorphic dummies. These dummies were used in New Mexico starting in May 1950 and their use was not widely publicized initially. Today, these sorts of dummies are widely recognized, especially when used for crash tests. To the eyes of a civilian witness in the 1950s, a high-altitude balloon recovery with attendant dummies would have seemed very unusual. (p. 17)

The Air Force explored the programs using these dummies and found two which fit the witness descriptions in many respects. The programs High Dive and Excelsior used dummies to test methods of returning pilots or astronauts to earth via parachute from great altitudes. Dropped from heights as great as 98,000 feet, 43 high altitude balloons carrying 67 dummies between June 1954 and February 1959 and were recovered throughout New Mexico as the balloons tended to drift. An additional 30 dummies were dropped by aircraft by White Sands Proving Grounds in 1953, and 150 were dropped by aircraft over Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio in 1959, a location of other “alien” sightings. It was observed that a number of the recovery locations matched locations from where claims of alien recoveries emerged. (pp.23-24)

To counter claims of a “cover-up,” the report notes that these tests were not secret and were widely publicized by the mid-1950s. Articles in high-circulation publications such as Life and National Geographic appeared, as well as television shows and even a feature film. “On the Threshold of Space” was released in 1956 and features actual anthropomorphic dummies.

Dummies were clothed in standard Air Force equipment, which was a one-piece jump suit typically olive drab, gray or fuchsia in color. (p.42) Recovery operations typically involved eight to 12 personnel, arriving at the site as soon as possible after the dummy landed. There were a variety of vehicles and aircraft typically involved including a wrecker (M-342), a six-by-six (M-35), a weapons carrier (M-37), L-20 observation aircraft and C-47 transportation aircraft. This array of vehicles exactly matches the descriptions of crash site recoveries of several witnesses, the report notes. (p.30) Prompt recovery of the dummies was required for research purposes, so flares and brightly colored parachutes were often employed to enhance visibility.

Occasionally, dummies were not found. One was not found for three years, and several others were lost. Additionally, dummies were frequently damaged with many losing fingers, limbs or their head.

Dummies transported from the Holloman AFB were often shipped in wooden crates to prevent damage to instruments within the dummies. This may have contributed to reports of aliens being shipped in packing crates, the report notes. Additionally, canvas military stretchers and gurneys were often used to move them in the field and in the laboratory, perhaps adding to the impression that these were living or recently deceased beings. (p.35) Early dummy tests employed insulation bags to protect instruments from the cold, which was another detail possibly seen by witnesses.

The report also notes many other balloon programs and other vehicle testings in the New Mexico area, over the 1940s, 50s and 60s, many of which resulted in UFO reports. Tethered balloons, for example, were triangular-shaped and probably account for several witness reports of unusual activity in the area. One drawing anonymously given to one of the Roswell UFO authors is almost identical in appearance to some of the tethered balloons flown in the 1960s and 1970s. (pp.45-6)

Next, transcripts of actual witness accounts, as opposed to what UFO researchers said witnesses said, were closely examined to see if these witnesses were in fact describing the recovery operations of dummy drops.

Jim Ragsdale’s testimony was found not only to include descriptions of “dummies,” but to describe an almost perfect match with the vehicles known to have recovered dummies. “I’m sure that [there] were bodies… either bodies or dummies.” And: “It was two or three six-by-six Army trucks a wrecker and everything.” (p.56) The report asserts that this was in fact the description of a dummy recovery and not an alien recovery as the authors who selectively used his quotes asserted.

Second-hand accounts from Alice Knight and Vern Maltais show descriptions which suggest dummies again, and an uncertainty about the date of occurrence. “I don’t recall the date,” said Knight. “Their heads were hairless,” said Maltais, and their clothing was “one-piece and gray in color.” (p.58-9)

A first-hand account from Gerald Anderson similarly offered descriptions that seemingly matched dummies: “thought they were plastic dolls,” he said. He also described a “blimp,” further suggesting a misidentified military recovery operation. (p. 61) A description of a “jeep-like truck that had a bunch of radios in it” sounds very much like a modified Dodge M-37 utility truck not used until 1953, further suggesting a confusion about dates.

The Air Force report concluded: “The descriptions examined here, provided by UFO theorists themselves, were so remarkably – and redundantly – similar to these Air Force projects that the only reasonable conclusion can be that the witnesses described these activities.” (p.68)

Accounts of aliens at Roswell AAF

The report moved on to discuss a highly detailed account of alien bodies at the Roswell base itself, mostly based on the testimony of one individual, Glenn Dennis. His account (see Witness accounts at Roswell) had many specific details as to dates, events and individuals centered on the Roswell base.

The report concluded that Dennis’ account incorporated people who were there and events which occurred, but from a great span of time, and amalgamated them into a several-day period in July 1947. “When his account was compared with official records of the actual events he is believed to have described, extensive inaccuracies were indicated including a likely error in the date by as much as 12 years.” (p. 79)

A nurse who he claimed had been shipped off to England may have been a nurse who was known to have served there – but between 1952 and 1955. She left the base September 1947 owing to a medical condition. Dennis had also described a pediatrician involved in the events, but the one person who this could have been did not arrive at the claimed location – Farmington, New Mexico – until 1954.

Numerous discrepancies emerged, such as Dennis’ repeated use of the description “airman,” a term not used until 1952. (p.86) And, the references to a “black sergeant” paired with a white officer at a time when the US Army Air Forces were racially segregated, a pairing which would at the time have been highly unlikely. Further research revealed individuals who corresponded to his descriptions but who were at Roswell later. Lt. Col. Lucille C. Slattery, an Air Force nurse who went by the nickname “Slatts” and who is described by Dennis as being present, did not arrive at the base hospital until a month after the events in question. (pp.88-9)

After determining that Dennis had accounts which included individuals or composites of individuals who were present in many cases after July 1947, the report then moved to the accounts of aliens and whether there were any events at Roswell AAF/Walker AFB (Roswell AAF was renamed Walker Air Force Base later in 1947) over the same span as these individuals which might match the following accounts: corpses which were “very mangled,” “black,” “little bodies”; two doctors doing autopsies not normally assigned to Roswell/Walker; a body with an unusually large head; the involvement of a red-headed colonel; an ambulance parked nearby with canoe-like debris; heightened security.

One incident was found which involved fatalities, autopsies and severely burned bodies: a refueling accident involving a KC-97G aircraft on June 26, 1956. Eleven were killed. Striking similarities between the Dennis account and the incident are apparent. Charred and dismembered corpses of the airmen correspond to his descriptions of “very mangled” and “black” bodies, “three-and-a-half to four feet tall” correspond to autopsy reports of burned bodies with lower extremities missing. (p.97)

Also, autopsies were performed on three of the airmen, matching the Dennis account, and the autopsies were carried out at the very funeral home Dennis claimed to be employed at during the same time period. Two unknown doctors observed may have been an Air Force civilian specialist and a local pathologist who performed preliminary autopsies at the base. Heightened and heavy-handed security reported may have been in context of the procedures regarding release of information on deceased before positive identification had been determined. (p. 99)

Records of high and low-altitude manned balloon experiments in the region also revealed similarities to some accounts. A May 1959 accident of a low-altitude balloon, part of the Excelsior program, saw the three injured crewmen flown to Walker AFB. The mere fact of the accident caused consternation for the crewmen as the project was controversial and there was a very real prospect that word of the accident might lead to the program’s cancellation. The controversy surrounded the wisdom of parachuting attempts from balloons some 100,000 feet in the atmosphere. Accordingly, much secrecy surrounded the project, as can be corroborated by a 1961 book written by a participant, Captain Joseph Kittinger, “The Long Lonely Leap.”(p.109) Kittinger, redheaded and six foot one, likely was the red-headed captain Dennis referred to who Dennis claimed said “You did not see anything. There was no crash here. You don’t go into town making any rumors that you saw anything or that there was any crash.” The report asserts that Dennis was in fact witnessing the arrival of the three injured crewman and was subsequently warned to be quiet, but so as to preserve the Excelsior program.(p.110) Kittinger would go on to make those high-altitude leaps, one at 102,800 feet in 1960 still stands as the all-time record.

The three-man Excelsior crew had been escorted by ambulances, and descriptions by Dennis closely match what would have been present that day. He reported what he thought was wreckage in the back of one ambulance which “was kinda like the bottom of a canoe… like stainless steel… with a kind-of bluish-purplish tinge to it.” This description, the report notes, accurately describes two steel panels painted Air Force blue on a converted ambulance for this mission.(p.113) Other descriptions such as wreckage all over the floor looking like “broken glass” corresponds to the clear plastic polyethylene balloon recovered from the mission.

The heightened state of security Dennis described sounds very much like the extra security which occurred upon the arrival of the Excelsior team. The very presence of the balloon crew, who had arrived unannounced, likely led many base personnel to believe they may have posed a security threat or were a team from Strategic Air Command testing the nuclear-armed facility’s alertness. Either way, the base's personnel would have been far more vigilant that day, and this may account for the heavy-handedness reported by Dennis. The balloon crew themselves were greeted by machine-gun-armed personnel upon their arrival.

One of the reports mentioned an alien with an enlarged head, which could have been a mistaken identification of one of the crew’s injuries whereby his head swelled so much that his nose barely protruded. (p.119) This crew member, Capt. Dan Fulgham, was flown to Wright-Patterson AFB on a C-131 hospital aircraft. He was led away by Kittinger, having to be escorted as the swelling blocked his vision. Fulgham’s wife was there and asked Kittinger where her husband was. “I told her, ‘Ma’am, this is your husband’ and I presented her this blob that I was leading down the ramp. And she let out a scream you could hear a mile away.” (p.120)


The report concluded that reports of aliens were in fact a compilation of many verifiable events, none of which involved the actual presence of aliens or alien spacecraft. “The incomplete and inaccurate intermingling of these actual events were grounded in just enough fact to weave a sensational story, but cannot withstand close scrutiny when compared to official records.”(p.123)

The report further noted that far from a continuation of a “cover up,” the report was based on “research [which] relied almost exclusively on the descriptions "provided by the UFO proponents themselves".” [emphasis in report]

When the actual statements of the witnesses were examined – as opposed to what various authors reported with their UFO interpretations front and centre – there was “something very wrong,” the report said. “… [I] t became very apparent that the witnesses or the UFO proponents who liberally interpreted their statements were either 1) confused, or 2) attempting to perpetrate a hoax, believing that no serious effort would ever be undertaken to verify their stories.”

While conceding that in some cases honest misidentifications likely occurred, the report was not so generous towards some others: “Other descriptions, particularly those believed to be thinly veiled references to deceased or injured Air Force members, are difficult to view as naïve misunderstandings. Any attempt to misrepresent or capitalize on tragic incidents in which Air Force members died or were injured in the service of their country significantly alters what would otherwise be viewed as simple misinterpretations or honest mistakes.” (p.125)

Critiques of the report

Critics of the report pounced on the apparent implausibility of events occurring many years later accounting for the 1947 event. “One of the silliest official USAF stories is the crash test dummy nonsense… None were dropped anywhere near the two crash sites and none were dropped earlier than 6 years AFTER the 1947 events,” said Stanton Friedman whose interviews with Jesse Marcel in 1978 sparked interest in the Roswell UFO incident. [ [ Stanton T. Friedman / Challenge to the Air Force ] ] “They used a crazy explanation for the red-headed officer observed independently at the Roswell Base Hospital, and in the Plains of San Augustin. World class pilot, Joseph Kittinger, was a redhead and was at the Roswell base hospital after a ballooning accident. But it was twelve years later! If the explanation doesn't fit, one must acquit.”

Other critics had more objections, such as using already discredited witnesses like Gerald Anderson while ignoring more compelling witnesses like Frank Kaufman. “It was, most likely, not included because it is impossible to suggest that Kaufman could be confused about events in which he participated and for which he took written notes,” said Mark Rodeghier of the Center for UFO Studies. [ [ Center for UFO Studies ] ]

Testimony of the witnesses was used selectively, critics charged. For example, Jim Ragsdale’s descriptions of an object flying at high speeds and of unusual debris is ignored. Also, for the Air Force explanation to fit, witnesses should be remembered at the recovery sites. Yet none of the witnesses can be placed at the scene at any of the dummy recoveries they were alleged to have been at. Further, dummies recovered at the sites were too large – each about six feet tall – to account for reports of four-foot tall aliens.

In reference to the Glenn Dennis testimony, it is “preposterous” he could have confused burned airmen with aliens, or have mistaken their autopsies done years after 1947 at his funeral home with the Roswell base autopsies, says Rodeghier. As for the long list of disparate events and people combined into a single “mistaken” memory, “The reader is left to judge the likelihood of all these unconsciously being combined into one event by a sane, competent witness, one who cannot even be proved to have been at the hospital in 1959, or to have known or met any of these military personnel.

“One can only conclude that it is simply another government whitewash attempt, or worse, a clear case of incompetence and waste of taxpayer money.” [ [ Center for UFO Studies ] ]


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