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UFO Events Since 1938

          1938 October 30: Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcasts an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, presented vérité-style — that is, mimicking the presentation of an actual newscast about Martians attacking Manhattan. Across the country, listeners believe that what they are hearing on the radio is really happening.


          WWII: Throughout the War, and especially in its final years, Allied pilots regularly report that their planes are being followed at close range by glowing orbs that maintain tight formations and maneuver rapidly and intelligently, though without evident aggression. The widely observed objects are dubbed “foo fighters.”


          1945 July 20: The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff establish Operation Paperclip, a long-term program to recruit Nazi scientists and grant them immunity in exchange for their work on high-clearance research. Since numerous rocket scientists are in the notorious group, Paperclip gives rise to claims (still circulating) that UFOs are black-budget tech that originated as top-secret Nazi aircraft.


          1946 February 26 - December: “Ghost rockets” – apparently self-maneuvering flying objects – are seen in the skies of Sweden, Finland, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Belgium. On July 19, a UFO crashes into a Swedish lake, but a military search recovers nothing. 


          1947 June 24: Kenneth Arnold, pilot, sees nine UFOs flying in formation over Mount Rainier, Washington. The next day, he describes his sighting to two reporters from a paper in Oregon, comparing the movement of the craft to “a saucer skipping over water.” 

          Within days, the term “flying saucer” is in newsprint.


          1947 July 7: The Sheriff of Roswell, New Mexico, calls the Roswell Army Air Field, requesting that the Army deal with debris from an alleged saucer crash at a local ranch. The Army sends in a team to recover the material. On July 8, the Roswell Army Air Field states, in a press release, that a crashed saucer has been recovered. On July 9, the Army retracts the previous day’s explanation, stating that the debris was actually from a downed experimental surveillance balloon. 


          1947 August 19: Gallup reports that nine in ten Americans have heard the term “flying saucer.”


          1948 January 7: While chasing what he believes is a UFO, Kentucky Air National Guard pilot Captain Thomas F. Mantell blacks out from the lack of oxygen and dies; although his final words are reported as being that the object “looks metallic and of tremendous size,it is widely held today that Mantell was seeing a top-secret Navy Skyhook balloon.


          1948 October 1: Above Fargo, North Dakota, George Gorman – a Second Lieutenant in his state’s National Guard – engages a UFO, flying above and below it, as it appears to taunt him with its superior technical capabilities.


          1948 November 4: A United States Air Force Europe memo states: “For some time, we have been concerned by the recurring reports on flying saucers… [D]uring the last week, one was observed hovering over Neubiberg Air Base for about thirty minutes. They have been reported by so many sources and from such a variety of places that we are convinced that they cannot be disregarded… When officers of this Directorate recently visited the Swedish Air Intelligence Service… their answer was that some reliable and fully technically qualified people have reached the conclusion that ‘these phenomena are obviously the result of a high technical skill which cannot be credited to any previously known culture on earth.’”

          1948 is the year the Air Force first establishes a program for the study of UFOs, which are then being called flying saucers. Project Sign lasts only the year.


          1948 December 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, 20, 28: Flying green fireballs are witnessed by plane crews in New Mexico, in the vicinity of the Los Alamos and Sandia atomic-weapons laboratories. Among the proposed explanations are “fallout debris associated with top-secret atomic testing,” ball lightning or “buoyant balls of plasma,” and probes “projected into our atmosphere from a ‘spaceship’ hovering several hundred miles above the Earth.” 


          1949 February: Project Grudge succeeds Project Sign as the Air Force’s internal unit for UFO investigation; Grudge will in turn be replaced by Project Blue Book in 1952. In the only report it ever issues, Grudge argues that all UFO sightings are due to hoaxes, mass hysteria, and misidentification of conventional phenomena.


          1949 March 6: A wave of sightings begins at Fort Hood, outside of Killeen, Texas, and continues into early June. 


          1950 March 24: Professor Giuseppe Belluzzo – a mechanical engineer who had served as Minister of the National Economy, and then of Public Education, under Mussolini – writes, “[T]ypes of flying discs were designed and studied in Germany and Italy as early as 1942… [S]ome great power is launching discs to study them.”


          1951 May: American soldiers are unleashing bursts of artillery upon a North Korean village, when an object that they describe as looking like a jack-o-lantern zooms toward them from a mountain chain and into the midst of their bullets. These audibly strike the object, but do not appear to damage it. The craft emits waves of rays, which sweep back and forth across the soldiers, and then shoots off at a forty-five-degree angle. Many of the soldiers later develop dysentery, excessive white-blood-cell counts, severe weight loss, and other apparent effects of radiation exposure.


          1952 March: Air Force Major Gen. Charles P. Cabell orders the creation of an internal commission, Project Blue Book, to analyze data from UFO sightings, and appoints Captain Edward J. Ruppelt as Director. 

Ruppelt claims to have coined the term “Unidentified Flying Object,” with the intention of replacing “flying saucer” as the descriptor of popular usage.


          1952 July 14: Two pilots on a Pan Am flight from New York to Miami witness a configuration of six UFOs, described as fast, circular and clearly outlined, glowing red-orange, and many times more brilliant than the lights on the ground below. The saucers flip on their edges and fly sideways; they pass beneath the wings of the plane, and zoom off into the sky, falling in and out of formation, and finally blinking off, like lights.


          1952 July 19-20, 26-27: On successive weekends, UFOs are seen above Washington, D.C. Their presences are confirmed on radar at both Washington (now Reagan) National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base. They instantaneously accelerate, decelerate, reverse direction, and stop and hover. When military planes are dispatched to confront them, they appear to vanish at will.

          On July 26 – across the country, in California – an encounter between an F-94 jet and a UFO is confirmed on radar.

          1952 July 28: Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends a memo to his Secretary for Air: “What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth?”

Churchill UFO Memo

          1952 September 13, 19, 20: In the course of Exercise Mainbrace – NATO-sponsored war games conducted in the North Atlantic – British, American and Danish officers sight UFOs, including a blue-glowing triangle, a silver sphere, and a “silvery, circular object.”


          1953 January 14-17: Meetings are held by a temporary, CIA-ordered study commission, The Robertson Panel, the members of which are intelligence officers and physicists. After four days of hearing from government proponents and skeptics of UFOs’ reality, “The panel” [according to notes of an attendee] “concluded unanimously that there was no evidence of a direct threat to national security in the objects sighted… [T]hey did not find [there] was any evidence that related the objects sighted to space travelers.”

          The Panel recommends “That the national security agencies take immediate action to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they have unfortunately acquired.”


          1953 March 15: The International Flying Saucer Bureau holds the first annual World Contact Day, exhorting people everywhere to concentrate simultaneously on telepathically transmitting a message to the occupants of flying saucers.


          1953 July: In Bridgeport, Connecticut, Albert K. Bender – founder of the International Flying Saucer Bureau (see 1953 March 15) and the associated journal Space Review –  is visited (he claims, years later) by three black-suited, fedora-wearing men, who telepathically warn him to “Stop publishing.”

          The story, whether apocryphal or not, is the first report of the anonymous men in black who are often alleged to appear to and intimidate those who have encountered UFOs or been abducted.


          1953 August: His authority and autonomy undermined by the negative conclusions of the Robertson Panel, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt resigns the directorship of Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s internal UFO investigative unit. 

          From this point until its termination in 1969, Project Blue Book will be headed up by UFO skeptics, and will increasingly reflect a policy of apparently deliberate neglect.


          1954 September 10: Hearing his dog barking in the night, Marius Dewilde – a rail guard in Quarouble, France – goes to check on what is happening. Later, he reports having seen “an object” on the rail tracks outside his home. A light beam from the object paralyzes him and, frozen, he watches aliens enter the craft, which then zooms off into the sky. A depression is left on the tracks, where the object landed. Within days, Dewilde and his dog suffer health issues. Three cows at a nearby farm are found dead, with the blood completely drained from their bodies. (See 1967 September 7 and 2023 April 22).


          1955 February 18 - June 10: Operation Teapot, the detonation of 14 A-Bombs at the Nevada Test Site (where Area 51 is located), occurs  – according to eye witnesses – under the observation of UFOs. “It was what they called flying saucers,” a test-site photographer later says. “They were pretty prevalent at the Test Site back then.”

          1957 October 15: Antônio Vilas-Boas, a young Brazilian farmer, is plowing fields by night, when – he later claims – a red light appears in the sky and comes nearer and nearer to him, until he discerns that it is shining from the front of an egg-shaped UFO. The UFO lands; Vilas-Boas tries to flee on his tractor, but its engine stops running. He is forcibly brought aboard the craft, where he sleeps with a beautiful alien woman. Later, after returning home, he is nauseated and develops lesions.

          1958 March 8: Former Marine Air Force Major Donald E. Keyhoe – Director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena – goes on ABC and is grilled by interviewer Mike Wallace, who reads official Air Force statements that evidence for UFOs is lacking. Major Keyhoe argues for the breadth of available circumstantial evidence, and claims that classified documents, if revealed, would prove the Air Force has no conviction in its own public position. Keyhoe cites the hysteria that arose from Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast as one justification for the Air Force’s decision to withhold evidence of UFOs from the public, and accuses a small elite group of Air Force leaders of imposing secrecy through official and unofficial censorship. Wallace, his tone sarcastic and contentious, soapboxes on behalf of reductive positions, calling all UFO sightings unbelievable – to be explained by hoaxes, imagination, misidentification – and Keyhoe’s credibility into question. 


          1959: C.G. Jung publishes Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky: “The rumour states that the Ufos are as a rule lens-shaped, but can also be oblong or shaped like cigars; that they shine in varying colours or have a metallic glitter; that from a stationary position they can reach a speed of about 10,000 miles per hour, and that at times their acceleration is such that if anything resembling a human being were steering them he would be instantly killed. In flight they turn off at angles that would be possible only to a weightless object.”


          1959 October 2: The Twilight Zone begins airing on CBS.


          1961 September 19: Barney and Betty Hill, an interracial couple, are driving back from Quebec to their home in New Hampshire, when – they will later claim – a UFO appears in the sky and eventually stops before their car. The Hills are somehow brought aboard the craft, where they communicate with aliens telepathically and are subjected to medical examinations.

          The Hills will claim that when they get home that night, it is hours later than it should be, and they are unable to remember what has happened to them. The memories of being brought aboard a ship and examined by humanlike aliens come to them months later, when – inexplicably troubled – they decide to undergo hypnosis. Barney Hill finds his own recovered memories ludicrous, and his description of an alien matches an image from a recent episode of The Outer Limits – yet he remains haunted by a feeling that something really did happen. His wife more fully believes. Their story is canonized as the first American abduction event.

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Table of Contents

UFO Events Since 1938

1     2     3

Foo Fighters
1953 March 15
1954 September 10
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