Friday, January 29, 2010

1948: Anything Happen? {SIGN, Mantell,and the Estimate}

It is with a certain degree of foolishness that anyone should venture into the hornet's nest that is "Mantell Incident" interpretation. From the beginnings of the commentaries on the case this has produced as much fire as any "old" incident. But I'd like to produce a series of posts on Project SIGN, and "Mantell" plays an early role, maybe bigger than one would have thought from 60 years' distance.
I'm not going to {much} describe the case. It's available in detail all over the place. Suffice for our use to say: an unusual object was spotted from an airfield; a group of National Guard pilots were in the air; they were asked to look and complied; one of them [war hero, Tommy Mantell] chased the thing quite high; and subsequently his plane came hurtling to earth in a rural area just across the Kentucky border in Tennessee. Mantell did not survive the violent crash, and his extremely damaged body was found at the scene. Because this accident was very public [the plane came down in someone's back yard essentially], there was no "cover-up" even though the military tried to keep this as private as possible. Because this incident had the flavor of a "flying disk" case, the soon-to-be-official Project SIGN sent someone to investigate. This someone was the same Alfred Loedding, aircraft designer extraordinaire and believer in the feasibility of disk-shaped flying machines, who had received George Garrett's files from the Pentagon, and who thoroughly believed that disks were in the air.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Explanations" for the accident began to come out quickly, but, surprisingly to we later investigators, not directly from the Air Force---the Air Force was still new at this flying disk business and had no policy in place as to how to manage public opinion on these matters. Others filled the gap by suggesting planets, balloons, and confusion. The critical piece of information was something Mantell said. While approaching the thing he radio'd, "It appears metallic object of tremendous size". This is ,of course, sensational, and many commentators have stated that Mantell did NOT say this. In that opinion they are on thin ice, however, as the official statement on the left [taken for SIGN] says that this is exactly what he said. This apparently wowed Loedding and he probably passed the "wow" on to other SIGN operatives. My reading of the project's view of this case is that they felt that this was a genuine unknown despite what has been written by later historians. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
My main reason for saying this, is that there is very good evidence that SIGN continued to rate "Mantell" as an unidentified [regardless of whether we think they were wrong--this is history we're discussing] and that upon getting another case from the same military field later in the year [which someone was identifying as Venus], both cases were being looked at together then in November. As you can read on the document on the left, Albert Deyarmond [number two engineer on the project] is saying that the Venus explanation for "Mantell" is no good and the incident must be said to be unexplained. Note that the balloon explanation isn't even being considered. My guess as to why they are not considering balloons, is that Mantell's words were considered beyond any balloon sighting, AND that they didn't know about the Skyhooks yet. As unlikely as that latter may seem, it seems that the application of the "big, secret balloon project" explanations came at least a couple of years later. Even in 1952, Ruppelt thought he and Blue Book had it figured out, but Charles Moore [much later] corrected that scenario by saying that the secret balloons weren't yet being launched from the field that Ruppelt named. [Since then a big debate rages over whether a certain launch of a General Mills Skyhook could have made it to the proper place from Wisconsin, and caused all the hullaballoo. I'm not going into that here, as it does not add to the point of this history post--what happened happened whether Mantell really chased a saucer or not. The important thing is: SIGN thought that he did.] Another reason to assume that the Mantell case was still taken seriously, as a saucer, at highest levels, is that it is mentioned straightforwardly in the document produced in the Pentagon to oppose the extraterrestrial "Estimate of the Situation" {Air Intelligence Report # 100-203-79}. this means that even the ET-debunkers at the time thought that they had to mention this case. [AIR-100, by the way, was officially published in December of 1948, after the great Pentagon war over the ET-hypothesis, but was probably in production from at least September or October.]------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I've written of this because, in a way, it is the first salvo of a set of controversial things that happened in this most important UFOlogical year. I'll try to string out this story across several posts, as I believe people have a lot of misconceptions about what was going on here. [And, as you know, I believe that only with a "calm" and accurate sense of what the Air Force was doing can we get the UFO picture clear in our minds]. Below, without commentaries, are a few pages from the project records showing the crash site, and a few newstories from the NICAP files about the event [for your "primary resource enjoyment"].


  1. Prof
    I love this stuff. Theres nothing like original documents to tell the story in "real time". It focuses our attention on the real issues. Thank you for sharing. I'll be following this.....

  2. This famous incident seems to follow an all-too familiar pattern: (1)incident occurs (2) a "positive" ID (UFO)is made by one or more experienced observers (2)confusion sets in as additional involved parties (a) ascribe sighting to some other phenom or event or (b) reverse their earlier story. Event now remains unresolved and worse, unresolvable due to contradictory testimony. What seems a constant in this pattern is that the obfuscation begins at the top.

    One could take the opinion that the ensuing controversy and contradiction is legit, or that the casting of doubt and confusion is the surest way to defuse and deflect attempts to get at the facts.

    This repetitive scenario over so many years has been highly successful in walling off this subject from serious inquiry and instead immersing it in a mishmash that seems to be beyond sorting out.

    What kind of gives the whole thing away is amount blacked out in FOIA documents.


  3. The pattern that you see is common but doesn't happen everytime. Because the phenomenon is so robust and, amazingly not all military intel people are in harmony with the idea of lying all the time, we have huge numbers of cases which have not been effectively polluted. But, because we operate in an "unthinkable" field, these cases still aren't enough to sway the establishment nor even the media, that it's a serious study. Lately we have had much better luck with non-blacking out of documents. If we get them at all, the only things which might be blacked out are civilian names. But today the technique is generally to not release anything at all.



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