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J. Allen Hynek on Project Blue Book

Excerpt from the book, "The UFO Experience - A Scientific Inquiry", by J. Allen Hynek

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: The popular impression through the years was that Blue Book was a full-fledged, serious operation. The public perhaps envisioned a spacious, well-staffed office with rows of file cabinets, a computer terminal for querying the UFO data bank, and groups of scientists quietly studying reports, attended by a staff of assistants. The actual situation was unfortunately the opposite.

J. Allen Hynek ,  Ph.D.

author's bio

The popular impression through the years was that Blue Book was a full-fledged,
serious operation. The public perhaps envisioned a spacious, well-staffed
office with rows of file cabinets, a computer terminal for querying the UFO
data bank, and groups of scientists quietly studying reports, attended by a
staff of assistants.

The actual situation was unfortunately the opposite. The operation was
generally headed by an officer of lesser rank. In the military the importance
attached to a mission is usually in direct proportion to the rank of the
commanding officer. The relatively low-ranking officers in charge of Blue Book
were usually assisted by a lieutenant and sometimes only by a sergeant. For one
long period of time a sergeant with little technical training was given the
chore of evaluating most of the incoming reports.

This was not exactly a first-line, high priority operation. Blue Book had much
too small a staff to do justice to a phenomenon that so often greatly concerned
the public. Compounding the problem, the staff was able to devote only part of
its time to the technical problem at hand. During my regular visits to Blue
Book across the years I observed that much of the work in the office was
devoted to peripheral matters all done at a leisurely pace.

Further, Blue Book's low-ranking officers had no leverage to initiate the type
of investigations that were needed and for which I frequently asked. The
military is entirely hierarchical; a captain cannot command a colonel or a
major at another base to obtain information for him. He can only request. As
long as Blue Book did not have at least a full colonel in command, it was
impossible to execute its assigned task properly. In reviewing cases that had
come in during the previous month, I often asked that additional, often crucial
information on a case be obtained. The results were at best minimal; officers
at other bases were generally too busy to bother to investigate further. Why
should they? They all knew it was a finger exercise anyway.

Blue Book was a "cover-up" to the extent that the assigned problem was glossed
over for one reason or another. In my many years association with Blue Book, I
do not recall ever one serious discussion of methodology, of improving the
process of data gathering or of techniques of comprehensive interrogation of

The reader may well ask at this point why I did not either lay siege to the
Pentagon, demanding action, or simply resign in disgust. Temperamentally, I am
one who can easily bide his time. I also dislike a fight, especially with the
military. But most importantly, Blue Book had the store of data (as poor as
they were), and my association with it gave me access to those data. In a sense
I played Kepler to Blue Book's Tycho Brahe.

As far as demanding action from the Pentagon, I knew only too well the
prevailing climate and recognized that had I been too outspoken, I would have
quickly been discredited, labeled a UFO nut, lost access to data, and certainly
would have lost all further effectiveness. I have always been of the turn of
mind that "truth will out" if given time; if there was indeed scientific
"paydirt" in the UFO phenomenon, as time went on and the gathering of data
improved, even the most hostile skeptics would be powerless to sweep it under
the carpet. The astronomer traditionally adopts a very long time scale.

By and large, however, Blue Book data were poor in content, and even worse,
they were maintained in virtually unusable form. With access to modern
electronic data processing techniques, Blue Book maintained its data entirely
unprocessed. Cases were filed by date alone, and not even a rudimentary cross-
indexing was attempted. Had the data been put in line readable form, the
computer could have been used to seek patterns in the reports, to compare the
elements of one report with those of another, and to delineate, for instance
the six basic categories of sightings used in this book. Since all the
thousands of cases were recorded only chronologically, even so simple a matter
as tabulating sightings from different geographical locations, from different
types of witnesses etc. was impossible except by going through, manually, each
and every report. A proposal for elementary computerization of the data in the
Blue Book files, devised by Jacques Vallee and myself and submitted by me
directly to Major Quintanilla at Blue Book, was summarily turned down.

In view of the above and of the frequently contradictory and inane public
relations statements concerning UFO reports, which even the man on the street
found unconvincing, it is hardly a wonder that the charge was frequently made
that the publicly visible air force "investigation" of UFOs was merely a front
for a real investigation being carried on somewhere "higher up."

Were I the captain of a debating team whose job it is, of course, to marshall
the facts favorable to his side and studiously to avoid the other's, I could
defend either side of the argument. At no time, however did I encounter any
evidence that could be presented as valid proof that Blue Book was indeed a
cover-up operation. However, many indications, bits of information, and scraps
of conversation could be force-fitted into a yes for the cover-up thesis. Thus,
for instance, one time when I inquired into the specifics of a certain case, I
was told by the Pentagon's chief scientist that he had been advised by those at
a much higher level to tell me "not to pursue the matter further." One can make
of that what one will.

In a country as security conscious as is ours where central intelligence is a
fine art, it frequently seemed to me that very provocative UFO reports were
dismissed without any seeming follow-up - certainly an illogical if not
dangerous procedure unless one knew a priori that the report really was of no
potential information value to the security of the country (or that it was but
was being taken care of elsewhere). As an example, the report of five rapidly
moving discs, made by a member in good standing of the 524th Intelligence
Squadron stationed in Saigon and observed by him from the roof of the
squadron's headquarters, went untouched by Major Quintanilla and Blue Book on
the grounds that "the sighting was not within the continental limits of the
United States." It would seem almost inconceivable that the intelligence
officer in question would not have been further interrogated by some agency;
certainly in an active battle area his sighting might have presaged a new
military device of the enemy.

Another example, one of many, was this, on the first day of August, 1965, and
on the following two days there occurred the "Midwest flap." From several
states strange Nocturnal Lights were reported by ostensibly reliable police
officers on patrol at various places over an area of several hundred square
miles. Blue Book dismissed this event as "stars seen through inversion layers,"
although I know of no astronomer who has ever witnessed inversion effects that
produced these reported effects. Both past experience and calculations show
that such illusory effects, in which stars move over at a considerable arc of
the sky, simply cannot be produced by thermal inversions.

However, police officers weren't the only ones to report. The following is a
direct transcript of a Blue Book memo: In the early morning hours of August 1,
1965, the following calls were received at the Blue Book oifices by Lieutenant
Anspaugh, who was on duty that night:

1:30 A.M. - Captain Snelling, of the U.S. Air Force command post near Cheyenne,
Wyoming, called to say that 15 to 20 phone calls had been received at the local
radio station about a large circular object emitting several colors but no
sound, sighted over the city. Two officers and one airman controller at the
base reported that after being sighted directly over base operations, the
object had begun to move rapidly to the northeast.

2:20 A.M. - Colonel Johnson, base commander of Francis E. Warren Air Force
Base, near Cheyenne, Wyoming, called Dayton to say that the commanding officer
of the Sioux Army Depot saw five objects at 1:45 A.M. and reported an alleged
configuration of two UFOs previously reported over E Site. At 1:49 A.M. members
of E flight reportedly saw what appeared to be the same uniform reported at
1:48 A.M. by G flight. Two security teams were dispatched from E flight to

2:50 A.M. - Nine more UFOs were sighted, and at 3:35 A.M. Colonel Williams,
commanding officer of the Sioux Army Depot, at Sydney, Nebraska, reported five
UFOs going east.

4:05 A.M. - Colonel Johnson made another phone call to Dayton to say that at
4:00 A.M., Q flight reported nine UFOs in sight; four to the northwest, three
to the northeast, and two over Cheyenne.

4:40 A.M. - Captain Howell, Air Force Command Post, called Dayton and Defense
Intelligence Agency to report that a Strategic Air Command Team at Site H-2 at
3:00 A.M. reported a white oval UFO directly overhead. Later Strategic Air
Command Post passed the following: Francis E. Warren Air Force Base reports
(Site B-4 3:17 A.M.) - A UFO 90 miles east of Cheyenne at a high rate of speed
and descending - oval and white with white lines on its sides and a flashing
red light in its center moving east; reported to have landed 10 miles east of
the site.

3:20 A.M. - Seven UFOs reported east of the site.

3:25 A.M. - E Site reported six UFOs stacked vertically.

3:27 A.M. - G-1 reported one ascending and at the same time, E-2 reported two
additional UFOs had joined the seven for a total of nine.

3:28 A.M. - G-1 reported a UFO descending further, going east.

3:32 A.M. - The same site has a UFO climbing and leveling off.

3:40 A.M. - G Site reported one UFO at 70' azimuth and one at 120' . Three now
came from the east, stacked vertically, passed through the other two, with all
five heading west.

When I asked Major Quintanilla what was being done about investigating these
reports, he said that the sightings were nothing but stars! This is certainly
tantamount to saying that our Strategic Air Command responsible for the defense
of the country against major attacks from the air, was staffed by a notable set
of incompetents who mistook twinkling stars for strange craft. These are the
people who someday might have the responsibility for waging a nuclear war.

For some, incidents such as the above would be prima facie and conclusive
evidence that the cover-up hypothesis was the correct one, on the grounds that
no group charged with serious defense responsibilities for the country could
have been so stupid.

On the other hand, our hypothetical debating team captain could amass an even
more impressive cache of evidence to conclude quite the opposite: that the
entire Blue Book operation was a foul-up based on the categorical premise that
the incredible things reported could not possibly have any basis in fact. After
all, science pretty well understands the physical world and knows what's
possible and what is not. Since the reported actions of UFOs clearly didn't fit
this world picture, they simply _had to be_ figments of the imagination
produced in one way or another.

All my association with Blue Book showed clearly that the project rarely
exhibited any scientific interest in the UFO problem. They certainly did not
address themselves to what should have been considered the central problem of
the UFO phenomenon: is there an as yet unknown physical or psycho- logical or
even paranormal process that gives rise to those UFO reports that survive
severe screening and still remain truly puzzling?

Such lack of interest belies any charge of "cover-up"; they just didn't care.
There is another argument for the "noncover- up" viewpoint: the underlings in
the military hierarchy (and all Blue Book officers were such - generally
captains or majors, two of which finally made lieutenant colonel but never full
colonel) looked mainly toward two things, promotion and early retirement.
Therefore, in controversial issues it was always considered far wiser not to
"rock the boat," to please the superior officer rather than to make waves.
Thus, when the superior officers, who did not know the facts but were wedded to
a rigid framework of military thinking handed down from above, let it be known
in any controversial issue (whether UFOs or not) what the "right way" of
thinking is, no underling officer was going to oppose or even question it
unless, of course he was 99 percent certain that he could prove himself correct
in the controversy - and quickly.

Since the Pentagon had spoken in no uncertain terms about UFOs, no Blue Book
officer in his right promotion-conscious military mind was going to buck that,
even if he had private opinions on the matter.

Another factor added to the noncover-up theory. Turnover in the Blue Book
office was rather high. Sooner or later the officer in charge would be out of
it, just that much closer to promotion and retirement, if he just sat tight.
From 1952 to 1969 the office was headed in turn by Captain Ruppelt (who did not
make his own views known until he was out of the air force), Captain Hardin
(who had ambitions to be a stock broker), Captain Gregory (to whom promotion
was the be-all and end-all of existence), Major Friend, and finally Major
Quintanilla, who had the longest term of office. Of all the officers I served
with in Blue Book, Colonel Friend earned my respect. Whatever private views he
might have held he was a total and practical realist, and sitting where he
could see the scoreboard, he recognized the limitations of his office but
conducted himself with dignity and a total lack of the bombast that
characterized several of the other Blue Book heads.

Thus one can have one's choice of whether Blue Book was a front or merely a
foul-up. But that there was certainly foul-up and complete divorce from the
scientific community within Blue Book was apparent. The members of the
scientific fraternity were, of course, wedded to the misperception-delusion
hypothesis (there was no need for interchange of ideas with Blue Book, which
held the same views), and some members rose to heights of vitriolic verbiage in
denouncing reporters of UFOs. This phase of the total phenomenon had many of
the aspects of a modern witchhunt.

Read more articles on this topic:

Project Blue Book