Project Blue Book and other Fairy Tales — Part 2

The Robertson Panel

In July 1952, after hundreds of sightings over the previous few months, a series of radar detections coincident with visual sightings were observed near the National Airport in Washington, D.C. Following much publicity, the Central Intelligence Agency created a panel of scientists headed by Dr. H. P. Robertson, a California Institute of Technology physicist.  The panel included physicists, meteorologists, and engineers.  Their first meeting was on 14 January 1953.

Captain Ruppelt, Dr. Hynek, and others presented the best evidence that Blue Book had collected, including movie footage.  After spending 12 hours reviewing six years of data, the Robertson Panel concluded that most U.F.O. reports had straightforward explanations.  In the panel’s final report, members stressed that low-grade, unverifiable U.F.O. reports were overloading intelligence channels, with the risk of overlooking a genuine conventional threat to U.S. national security.

The panel recommended, with C.I.A. approval, that the U.S.A.F. de-emphasize the subject of U.F.O.’s and begin a debunking campaign to lessen the public interest.  They wanted the cooperation of national media, including Walt Disney Productions, and employing psychologists, astronomers, and celebrities to ridicule the notion of extraterrestrials so that the public would eventually think the idea was silly.

Robertson recommended a government program to control public opinion through official propaganda and spying.  Robertson also shaped official U.S. Air Force policy regarding U.F.O. studies — an impact that continues today.  Step One: controlling the leaks.  In December 1953, DoD Regulations made it a crime for military personnel to discuss U.F.O. reports with unauthorized personnel.  Violators faced two years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.

U.F.O. Reporting

In his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Ruppelt described the demoralization of the BLUE BOOK staff after the Robertson Panel/Air Force stripped them of their investigative authority.  The consequence of the Robertson Panel was Air Force Regulation 200-2, which authorized U.S.A.F. officers to discuss U.F.O. incidents only if judged to have been resolved and to classify (with a high classification) all unsolved cases as a way of keeping them out of the public conversation.

In February 1953, responsibility for U.F.O. investigation was handed off to the 4602nd Air Intelligence Squadron, Air Defense Command — but only the “most important” cases.  These were cases deemed those with national security implications.  All of the least important cases remained with BLUE BOOK.

In 1954, General Twining was Air Force Chief of Staff.  He ordered an update to AFR 200-2 directing the 4602nd to consider any airborne object that, by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type and cannot be positively identified as a familiar object.  Again, the Air Force directed that the investigation of the U.F.O.’s was for national security and reiterated that Blue Book could only discuss U.F.O. cases with the media if they had a conventional explanation.  If they were unidentified, the press was to be told only that the situation was under investigation, and to ensure this worked out to the Air Force’s advantage, the hierarchy ordered BLUE BOOK to reduce the number of unidentified objects to a minimum.

All this work was secret.  The public face of BLUE BOOK continued to be the official Air Force investigation of U.F.O.’s, but the reality was that beyond its public relations value, it was an empty office.  By the end of 1956, the number of cases listed as unsolved had dipped to 0.4 percent.  After Ruppelt’s resignation, the Air Force replaced him with a low-ranking noncommissioned officer.  Later, when an officer resumed the leadership of BLUE BOOK, they invariably exhibited apathy or hostility to the subject of U.F.O.’s.  Why?  Because it was a dead-end job — a career-ender.

The Mouseketeers (1954 – 1964)

Captain Charles Hardin assumed command of BLUE BOOK in March 1954.  He was bored with U.F.O.’s and anyone interested in them.  By the time Hardin was due for reassignment, the number of U.F.O. cases had dropped to 1% of the former.

Captain George T. Gregory took over as BLUE BOOK director in 1956.  If Hardin was anti-U.F.O., Gregory was out in the left field.  Responsibility for U.F.O. investigations was reassigned to the 1066th Air Intelligence Service Squadron, where no studies occurred.  If a witness came forward to report an observation of an unusual balloon-like object, BLUE BOOK usually classified it as a balloon — with no research or qualification.  These became standing procedures for BLUE BOOK.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert J. Friend took over BLUE BOOK in 1958.  He tried to reverse the project’s direction, but the Air Force reduced BLUE BOOK’s budget to the point where the office couldn’t order typing paper.  Dr. Hynek was heartened by Friend’s efforts and suggested that the Air Force reconsider its files, but the Air Force gave none of his suggestions or efforts its approval.  Friend even suggested that BLUE BOOK be assigned to another Air Force agency.  That didn’t work, either.  The Secretary of the Air Force wanted this U.F.O. business to “go away.”

In 1960, Congress conducted hearings on U.F.O.’s.  Since the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (N.I.C.A.P.) was one of the loudest voices calling into question Air Force corruption and an Air Force coverup of U.F.O. evidence — Congress subpoenaed the agency to testify.[1]  At the time, N.I.C.A.P. probably had the most visibility of any American non-military U.F.O. group and, arguably, had the most mainstream respectability.  The presence of several prominent military officials as members of N.I.C.A.P. brought a further measure of respectability for many observers.[2]

N.I.C.A.P. demanded a transparent scientific investigation of U.F.O. phenomena — but at the same time, they maintained skepticism of those reporting contact with aliens.  Until the mid-1960s, N.I.C.A.P. gave little attention to the so-called close encounters of the third kind (defined as animated beings sighted in connection to a U.F.O.).  However, longtime N.I.C.A.P. member Richard H. Hall claimed that the organization’s position was more about how to handle the question of U.F.O.’s and alien contact than a strategy of embracing outlandish claims and possibilities.[3]

Due to congressional interest in alien research, the Air Force added three staff members to BLUE BOOK operations and increased its budget.  This mollified some critics, but it was only a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.  When Colonel Friend was transferred in 1963, he believed the BLUE BOOK was useless.  Indeed it was — which is why the criticism continued.

Major Hector Quintanilla replaced Colonel Friend as the BLUE BOOK director.  Under his leadership, public criticism increased — some said the project had no credibility with anyone.  Dr. James E. McDonald of the University of Arizona was one of Major Quintanilla’s fiercest critics — claiming that the officer was incompetent as an investigator and a scientist.  McDonald added that it wasn’t Quintanilla’s fault: the Air Force chose him for that reason.[4]

And then, the Air Force treated the American public to its conclusions from the famous Portage County U.F.O. chase in April 1966.  The chase began at around 5:00 a.m. near Ravenna, Ohio.  Police officers Dale Spaur and Wilbur Neff observed what they described as a disc-shaped, silvery object with a bright light emanating from its underside traveling at about 1000 feet in altitude.  They followed the object, along with police units from several jurisdictions — the chase ending around thirty minutes later, eighty-five miles distant.

The chase made national news that ran the story for several days.  Meanwhile, police officials submitted detailed reports to the Air Force.  Five days later, BLUE BOOK interviewed one police officer (but no ground witnesses).  A few days after that, Major Quintanilla announced his conclusions that the police officers (trained as observers, one of whom was a former Air Force gunner during the Korean War) were mistakenly following a communications satellite and then shifted their attention to the planet Venus. 

But Robert Riser, the Oklahoma Science and Art Foundation director, reached a point where he could no longer abide BLUE BOOK’s incompetence and publicly rebuked the Air Force’s U.F.O. effort.  The problem, as he and others pointed out, was that the Air Force’s absurd pronouncements only made the issue of the Air Force’s competence worse.  Even the barely informed public knew that radar doesn’t have anything to do with the position of planets and stars and that communications satellites don’t travel at such low altitudes.

Despite Quintanilla’s incompetence, the Air Force promoted him to Lieutenant Colonel.  He was kind enough to document his perspectives about the Blue Book Project in his manuscript, U.F.O.’s: An Air Force Dilemma.  Quintanilla wrote the manuscript in 1975, but it was not published until after he died in 1998.

The Sightings Continue

In 1966, a string of sightings in Massachusetts and New Hampshire provoked Congressional Hearings by the House Committee on the Armed Forces.  In the first round, the Air force testified that the sightings were part of an area training exercise. N.I.C.A.P. contradicted that testimony, submitting proof that no planes were flying at the time of the sightings.  Raymond Fowler told of his investigation and interviews with local citizens.  According to their testimony, Air Force officers confiscated newspapers carrying the story of U.F.O.’s and ordered them not to report what they’d seen.

Two police officers, Eugene Bertrand, and David Hunt, communicated with Quintanilla — and they were not pleased.  Air Force Secretary Harold Brown explained that BLUE BOOK consisted of three steps — investigation, analysis, and the distribution of information.  With Brown’s permission, the Chairman invited press members into the hearing.  Brown stated, for the record, “I know of no one of scientific standing or executive standing with a detailed knowledge of this in our organization who believes that they came from extraterrestrial sources.”

Dr. Hynek, the Project Blue Book scientific advisor, stated that he had not seen any confirmation of the existence of extraterrestrials, knew of any scientist that had, or knew of any scientist that believed in the existence of any extraterrestrial intelligence. 

Criticism of BLUE BOOK continued through the 1960s as N.I.C.A.P.’s membership ballooned.  These were people who loudly accused the Air Force of corruption.  Following Congressional hearings, the Air Force funded a committee of its own through the University of Colorado U.F.O. Project (1966 – 1968). Its director was Edward Condon — it became known as the Condon Committee, whose work he published as the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (1968).

After examining hundreds of U.F.O. files from BLUE BOOK, N.I.C.A.P., and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (A.P.R.O.), the committee determined that studies of U.F.O.’s were unlikely to produce any significant scientific discoveries. Still, the findings received a mixed reception from scientific and academic journals — and to some extent, explain the relatively low-interest level in U.F.O. activity in the academic world. One wonders at this point how much money the Air Force spent reaching this “obvious” conclusion.

The U. S. Space Force

The U.S. government released its report on U.F.O.’s in 2021.  For many, it was anti-climactic — because the government could not explain 143 out of 144 “sightings” of unidentified flying objects.  In the one explained case, the government determined that the object was a large deflating balloon.  The public wondered, “Where are the aliens?”

It wasn’t the Air Force who released that information; it was the Director of National Intelligence — without any details.  The question was if there was any analysis, what it was, and who conducted the study.  After all, it had only been 75 years.  Surely someone knows something after 75 years of investigation.

That’s when the Director of National Intelligence introduced Dr. Travis Wayne Taylor (1968 – ).  Dr. Taylor’s educational credentials are brilliant.  He holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering (B.E.E.), two Masters of Science, a Master of Science in Engineering, and two post-honorary degrees.  He is an employee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (N.A.S.A.) within the U.S. Department of Defense.  He is also a science fiction writer, authored two science textbooks, a reality television personality (When Alien’s Attack), and lead investigator in the History Channel’s The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch.

The revelation of Dr. Taylor as the United States’ lead investigator of the Director of National Intelligence’s effort to analyze 75 years of U.F.O. data did nothing to warm the hearts of people who are interested in the existence of alien life forms — particularly since Dr. Taylor had made some extraordinary claims. He’s said, for the record, that he’s seen more U.F.O.’s than he can count.

Real-life astronomers can only shake their heads because appointing a clown to guide the nation’s space assessment program is a kick in the teeth for all the hard work they’ve put into such activities as the S.E.T.I. operations.  Worse, it calls into question the credibility and validity of advanced degrees awarded by the country’s prestigious universities — causing some to wonder whether this is just another aspect of the affirmative action program in the United States.

Many people fear that the government’s decision to hire a science fiction writer as N.A.S.A.’s chief analyst is simply one more silly effort to discredit any serious attempt to evaluate the likelihood of extraterrestrial life forms.  They wonder if the U.S. Air Force or Space Force is leading the American people down the path of accepting “reality television” as the nation’s best effort toward understanding deep space — and of all the platforms available to the Director of National Intelligence, the History Channel — which also produces the fictional (zero-credibility) Ancient Aliens program.

The government’s revelation tells us something else: if you are a pilot, if you observe a U.F.O., if you wish to remain in flight status, if you want to retain your credibility as an airman, you’ll keep your mouth shut.  That is unless you want a reality television program of your own. There’s more money in that than there is working at S.E.T.I.

Or, we could add the U.S. Air Force and Space Force to our growing list of government agencies, departments, and institutions with no credibility with the American people.

(End of Series)


  1. Blum, H.  Out There: The Government’s Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials.  Simon & Schuster, 1990.V
  2. Ruppelt, E. J.  Report on Unidentified Flying Objects.  Doubleday, 1960.
  3. Swords, M. D.  UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era.  Kansas University Press, 2000.
  4. Valle, J.  Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore and Parallel Worlds.  Contemporary Books, 1993.


[1] NICAP was a non-profit organization facing financial collapse on several occasions — mostly due to the ineptitude of its directors. 

[2] Major Donald E. Keyhoe, USMC; Rear Admiral Delmer S. Fahrney, U.S.N., former Chief, Navy Guided Missile Program. 

[3] There were more than a few “outlandish” claims, beginning in the mid-1940s.  One of these claims originated with George Adamski (1891 – 1965), who insisted that he had established friendships with his “space brothers” and made several space flights with aliens.  Another strange character was Truman Bethurun, who beginning in 1953, offered accounts of eleven separate contacts with alien humanoid-type beings — people who spoke colloquial English and came from the planet Clarion.

[4] Most U.F.O. reports mostly claim incidents after sunset — so one common theme is a multicolored flashing light and aerial vehicles shaped like eggs or diamonds.  The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported that air control specialists at Tinker A.F.B. tracked four U.F.O.s simultaneously with erratic behavior and altitudinal changes from 22,000 feet to 4,000 feet in mere seconds.  Kansas meteorologist John Shockley reported tracking several aerial objects traveling at a high rate of speed at around 6,000 to 9,000 feet.  In both cases (as well as others), BLUE BOOK staff concluded that witnesses mistook planets for stars or some other lame explanation.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
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6 Responses to Project Blue Book and other Fairy Tales — Part 2

  1. Phil Strawn says:

    Good read. It’s never going to change with the Air Force and our government. They believe if the common citizen knows we are not alone for certain chaos and social anarchy will break lose, which, it might. Art Bell used to have many guest on his radio program years ago, that had been involved in the area 51 projects and others, so the proof is out there, but it’s not presented to us. Myself, I do believe we are not alone and are being visited. I’m not afraid, yet, but if the little guys turn out to be like Independence Day, then I’m heading for the hills.


  2. “a government program to control public opinion through official propaganda and spying.” Some things never change.


  3. Andy says:

    The study of UFOs has been a hot mess from the beginning right up to the current day. And that’s a pity because a comprehensive, scientific investigation might be able to explain what’s occurring in the air space over this country.

    I’m not suggesting we are being visited by aliens. However, there are unexplained phenomena occurring in the atmosphere. Of this there can be no doubt. Unfortunately, the government has squandered its ability to turn these unexplained events into explained event, and that’s shameful.

    Mustang, producing this may have been one of your most difficult tasks. Trying to get your hands on facts and specifics must have felt like try to capture smoke with a butterfly net. But, once again, you did well.


    Liked by 1 person

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