Wednesday, February 3, 2010

1948: Jere Boggs Destroys The Estimate and Project SIGN.

The fall of 1948 had a great deal of significance for the study of the UFO problem in the military. And this wasn't just the smashing of the extraterrestrial hypothesis of Project SIGN. Colonel McCoy had surely told higher authorities in the Pentagon that an extraterrestrial Estimate was coming by the month of August sometime. No intelligence communication "surprise" is tolerated if there is any time to avoid it. When this hit the Pentagon, wheels began turning.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
One thing should be dispensed with right at the beginning: that is the viewpoint that no such thing as an extraterrestrial Estimate ever happened. We have three intelligence operatives who are on record as having seen a copy of it {Edward Ruppelt; Harry Woo of the Photo Interpretation Center team which analyzed the Tremonton films and presented that analysis to the Robertson Panel; and Dewey Fournet, who occupied the UFO desk in the Ruppelt era}. One of these {Fournet} gave a succinct affidavit to NICAP once he was out of the service. It is reproduced [from an originally-signed copy out of NICAP files] at the left. It also mentions that he himself did a study of [details not mentioned but known elsewhere] UFO motions, which was never "published", even internally, and denied as to having ever existed by the Air Force. The Estimate was said to be ordered to be destroyed, but that word has a funny context when you are speaking about secret documents---copies may be destroyed but the reports seem to remain in files nevertheless.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
People are of differing opinions as to when the Estimate actually was written. It doesn't make any difference but gives people something to argue about. the controversy seems in part due to Donald Keyhoe remarking that he saw/heard about the Estimate being composed in August 1948. I doubt it. McCoy would likely have given the Pentagon early warning about this document that early, but the real presentation of the thing would be later. Again it's of no importance, because either way it began a mini-project in the Pentagon to counter it. Even then, there seemed to be some lackadaisical behavior in Pentagon Intel until a full-blown confrontation was imminent in the late fall. By that time Jere Boggs with help [surprisingly] from the Office of Naval Intelligence had constructed what I call the "Nemesis of The Estimate", Air Intelligence Report 100-203-79. [The title page, contents, and summary of which appear on the right.] This set up a situation in the Pentagon where two competing "estimates" [both in unfinished form] were making rounds in high places. The battle over the ETH was taking place not in one climactic confrontation but over weeks of time. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the middle of this came the October 1 Fargo, ND "dogfight" incident, known most commonly as the "Gorman case". George Gorman, national guard pilot, engaged in a tricky chase with what seemed to be a small luminous source, sphere-like in nature. Another pilot, passenger, and tower control watched parts of this as well. Gorman, rightly or wrongly, had a strong feeling that the light source moved according to some form of intelligence. Project SIGN got right on this. Their investigation had an element in it which shows just what they were thinking: they had the plane tested for radioactivity. They were looking for the advanced ["extraterrestrial"] power source which was powering the Chiles-Whitted device and the disks. They didn't find it--no excess radioactivity. Captain Robert Sneider's report stated the thinking in question form: "from the technical analysis standpoint, to what degree is it possible to draw upon rumored present-day attainments [foreign or domestic] in the fields of equipment, propulsion, fuels, electronics (radar control), atomic research, and any other applicable field, to account for the aforestated flying characteristics attributed this small missile.....Is it plausible to assume possible interplanetary visitations?" SIGN was not doubting the Gorman case. They saw it as one more example of probable ET technology. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Pentagon and the Boggs/Porter/Hearn [Hearn was Boggs' immediate boss] school were not amused. At this time probably occurred a mild form of the famous "slapping down" of the ETH for explaining the disks. The documents at the right tell part of that tale. [Hopefully you'll be able to read them upon clicking]. The letter in the upper left is from General Cabell telling SIGN what its job is. It admits that everyone has made the case that there is something really flying around that we don't understand. It specifically says that SIGN must exert more effort to find out what they are. But in a veiled threat, it says: give us an estimate that says "domestic" or "foreign". And we want a reply now. Albert Deyarmond then writes SIGN's response for McCoy's signature. This response, given the heat that they're taking over the ET estimate, is interesting. They begin by saying that it's obvious that things are flying around, and then brag about everything that they've been doing to do their job. They don't come out directly in the face of Cabell, but refuse to give up on the ET idea ["the possibility that the reported objects are vehicles from another planet has not been ignored."] But, with political-correctness in this formal letter, they say that they have no "tangible" [read: parts of a crashed disk] to prove that. They follow that remark up, however by saying that they have found a relationship between disk waves and the approach of planetary bodies. They are, in my opinion, doing everything they can to tell the Pentagon:we're not backing off the ETH. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SIGN in their "optimism"/stubbornness was really naive. Can you imagine what Cabell was thinking when he thought of going to Vandenberg and telling him: oh, Van, we've concluded that flying disks are from other planets, and it's your job to decide how you're going to break it to the President and the rest of the military. And, uh, we don't have any tangible evidence to back that up, like a little alien in a jar. To think that the Pentagon would accept such an estimate [even if it seemed correct--and there was plenty of room to debate] was, in a way, stunning. Still, SIGN was making it obvious that they were not going to cave in. This caused there to be scheduled on November 12th, at the National Bureau of Standards, a gunfight at the OK corral, between SIGN and the analysis division of the Pentagon. We don't know who attended except that Robert Sneider brought the case for the defense [with, doubtless, the formally written-up ET Estimate in hand] and Jere Boggs brought the case for the prosecution [with AIR-100-203-79 in hand]. As we know, SIGN lost. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This defeat [probably in front of many of the players that we've been mentioning--McCoy, Clingerman, most of SIGN, USAF Collections {Garrett, Taylor et al}, USAF Analysis {Moore, Porter, Hearn et al}, Charles Cabell, and very probably, Vandenberg himself. ] was the likely moment when Vandenberg did the famous and final "slapping down". This "Slapping" was a hard slap indeed. It came with the requirement that, from now on, SIGN would have to send all reports on to other areas of Air Force Intelligence [ex. the Scientific Advisory Board, in the person of George Valley of MIT, bottom left] AND to the Office of Naval Intelligence [from where it would get to the Office of Naval Research and to our favorite idiot there, Urner Liddel]. How embarrassing can it get! SIGN was being told: you can not be trusted to make a proper estimate, and we are assigning "adult supervision" to you. After the holocaust was over, Alfred Loedding had reason to visit SAB advisor Irving Langmuir [In the collage at the upper right] and was given an ego-spanking there too. Loedding said years later: "my stock in Washington was never so low". ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The effect at SIGN was dramatic. Whether all of these things had direct connection to the battle at the NBS or not, every senior member of the intelligence stack relating to SIGN shortly was removed. Both McCoy and Clingerman were given "school" assignments, and afterwards never returned to Wright-Pat in any capacity. Loedding, Deyarmond, Truettner stayed at AMC but were removed from the project. Project officer Sneider disappeared from my radar, but I know that he no longer had anything to do with the project. In a few months only the two lowest ranks on the team were left to head the new Project Grudge. George Towles was a civilian. The military "chief" was Lieutenant Howard W. Smith. SIGN's demise was probably inevitable, but it brought down the most talented group of people ever assigned to the Air Force's UFO beat. As engineers they, even if you feel they got it wrong, tried to analyze things scientifically/technically and this was rarely ever done again. From this point forward, "sympathy" towards UFOs was hard to express at Wright-Pat [although during the 1952 year one could do so in the Pentagon]. And---the Pentagon had left the situation in an unstable position, for the winning side had promulgated a doctrine that the disks were real, and likely or at least possibly the products of advances on the aeronautical thinking of people like the Horten Brothers [of Germany in WW2---a picture of Reimar Horten is below.] That hypothesis could not stand as time went on, even though the AF kept giving it a try. Lieutenant Smith [seen as a cocky lieutenant during WW2 in the bottom picture] was called to Washington in 1949 or 1950 to brief people on UFOs and was in a meeting with Colonel Hearn. Hearn showed him the "Nemesis" and asked Smith what he thought of it. Smith said that he thought that it was worthless and illogical. That turned out to be the right answer. Smith wrote the Grudge report saying that there was really nothing to UFOs--neither as to ETs nor to Russians. Smith retired a Colonel.


  1. Dear Professor,

    Fascinating stuff!

    I can understand the 'Nemesis' side of things; the objects that Arnold sighted (and the object that Rhodes photographed) had more in common with the Horten designs than with flying 'discs'.

    On the surface, it looks like someone was flying Horten-inspired aircraft. If I'd been investigating back in 47-48 I'd reach that conclusion long before I'd even consider ETH.

    However, what often gets forgotten is that the Horten brothers flew *one* jet-powered flying wing (which crashed on its third flight) and that, like all flying wing designs of the day, it exhibited lateral instabilty (pivoting around its vertical axis from left to right). There's a reason that, with the exception of the Stealth bomber, there are no flying wings today; they're too hard to fly and need pretty sophisticated computers and software to keep them stable (Northrop learned that the hard way with the XB-35 and YB-49, the British learned it with the AW-52).

    At the time in question, though, flying wings hadn't been completely ruled out due to instability and they had distinct advantages over conventional designs.

    So I'd think that the Nemesis group reached a perfectly reasonable conclusion, one that made a lot more sense *at the time* than ETH. The fact that they turned out to be wrong wasn't really apparent until much later in the game.

  2. I wonder if Edward Condon, as director of the NRB at the time, would have been involved with that meeting that slapped down SIGN. He would at least have known about it, right?

  3. Yow, I don't know why I wrote NRB. I meant NBS, of course. I might still have the RDB on my mind.

  4. To Steve: thank you for speaking of things that UFO theorists need to understand. Just a small addition: most intelligence people really didn't believe that the Soviets had advanced Horten designs [The Horten Brothers were not part of their "haul" of Nazi scientists, and were well isolated from Soviet meddling]. Mainly Horten technology was oriented towards gliders and someone would have had to put a whale of a lot of breakthroughs together to create what the USAF was seeing. Still, there it was flying, so they had to take it seriously. In early 1952, this doubtful hypothesis was still very much in the minds of the Pentagon and caused the Special Study Group to make a european trip to gather intel about it. This whole business is [to my mind] very strong "proof" that the flying disk phenomenon was/is real--the AF was seriously concerned about it for several years despite not being able to come up with a solution no matter how hard they tried. What happened was basically exhaustion. No way to solve it; yet no harm done. The brass ultimately seem to have tossed up their hands and said: we've got better things to do. -----------------------------------------------------To Eric: I don't have any way to guess about Condon. He would not have to know. But he might. My guts tell me that they wouldn't include him if they could avoid it because he was thought of as a loose cannon back then.

  5. Professor, a quick correction/history lesson: without getting into a bunch of boring aviation history, the Hortens actually built a number of powered aircraft modeled on their initial gliders (being seduced by the low drag/low 'wing loading' that a flying wing could offer). The most infamous was their jet-powered fighter which is reported to have flown well despite some instability and the use of unreliable engines (due to metallurgy problems the jet engines used by the Germans were good for roughly 20 hours of operation before needing to be replaced or failing outright). The top speed was designed to be over 600 mph.

    Additionally, the factory where the prototypes were assembled was in an area ceded to the Russians, so even though the brothers themselves weren't part of Paperclip's haul it was entirely possible that the Russians found other material relating to the flying wings.

    Additionally, Northrop had been developing the B-35/B-49 Flying Wing, part of the design process had been the construction of four single-man flying wings known as the N9M (one of which you can see in Chino, CA), and one of the characteristics of these wings was a tendency to 'hunt' for a stable flying position...which from a certain angle looks for all the world like either a porpoise OR (more importantly) as if the aircraft is skipping like a stone.

    Now this is sounding like Arnold's sighting, isn't it, especially when you realize that the estimated speed of the objects was just an estimate? To Boggs and his crew it was such a logical conclusion that somebody, somewhere, had advanced the state of the art in flying wing design that any other conclusions, like SIGN's Estimate, were seen as off-base. I think Boggs and company had already decided what the UFOs were; they were simply confused about the country of origin.

    Put yourself in their shoes and it's an easy mistake to make. I'd say it wasn't even a mistake but a good guess that turned out to be wrong.

    Sixty two years later, there aren't any aviation secrets left from that time period (even on the Russian side). No one was flying aircraft like that.

    It's odd to think that if the Horten brothers hadn't designed their aircraft maybe the Estimate would have been accepted.

  6. Great blog article. It makes me think how Ruppelt did his best to lightly entertain the idea that a project's name had anything to do with its function or purpose. SIGN seems to be part of believing there might be something to these saucer reports, while GRUDGE seems to be just that - a GRUDGE, or the Air Force begrudgingly continuing to look into the mystery.
    Thanks for the blog - this definitely puts the "Estimate" in a more expanded and detailed context.

  7. Facts noted. In the documents the main reason that the Intell people were giving for not believing the "soviet threat" concept was that its behavior wasn't making sense to them [i.e. flying a new weapons system over enemy territory and risking a crash and consequently giving their secrets away--or getting shot down]. That is why their thinking turned so quickly to psychological warfare--that the disks were going to be used not as an effective weapons system [they guessed that the soviets had made only a "shadow" of a truly operative fighter or delivery vehicle and even if it crashed we'd find out not a lot to advance our own aero-tech in a military sense] but rather as a panic-producing ploy in coordination with some other kind of attack. There is no one document that states this reasoning succinctly, by the way, but there are several which indicate the pieces of it. This is probably the source/basis of the Air Force always saying that the disks pose no threat [in and of themselves] to national security, but they DO present a threat to the orderly functioning of the public.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. The above post was removed by me because I have not a clue as to what it said. I assume that it was by some whacko as who else would post a post that it was unlikely that anyone in the english speaking world could read? If I'm wrong about that, I apologize, and would only suggest that the commenter honor the language of the blog and show some courtesy. But I really believe that this is the sort of juvenile pranksterism that is the stock and trade of an individual who is incapable of producing anything worthwhile and so reverts to destructive thuggism. Pathetic and a colossal waste of all our times. Sort of like Klass and Menzel when you think about it.

  10. The real problem the Sign people and their opposers both seem to've had was their explanations for the UFOs - foreign powers, visitors from other worlds - amounted to the same thing: someone has possession of technology not only superior to current US technical capabilities but also beyond our forseeable capacity to equal.

    Given how the US'd just developed the atomic bomb, the powers-that-be maybe either had a failure of imagination conceiving anyone could've outstripped them, or an attack of hubris that such a thing wasn't possible.

    But, Prof, I'm intrigued by this observation, "[they] found a relationship between disk waves and the approach of planetary bodies", bringing to mind the new knowledge about Venus having a sun-powered plasma 'tail' which, at time, all but touches Earth, and wonder what you make of the possibility the spheres of light which behaved as guided by intelligence might be electromagnetic lifeforms, perhaps even the source of ancient accounts of djinn?

  11. To Alan: most of which you ask I'm not qualified to answer. The military at the time ,however, WAS in awe of scientists and the A-bomb project, or they wouldn't have given the "Nazi solution" the time-of-day. I believe that most of these guys came to a conclusion pretty quickly NOT that there was nothing to these sightings but that they weren't causing any trouble--at least that we could do anything about. Because of limited resources and severe budget fights, people like LeMay made the case that all of our effort must go to opposing the Soviets and the threat that we know. Only the intelligence community, which was forced by their duties to try to solve such mysteries to, as they said, "eliminate technological surprise", was lumbered with the unsolvable task of monitoring this stuff; But as time [rapidly] progressed had to do so without sufficient resources to make any difference [which it probably wouldn't have anyway, as we now know]. ---On question two: can't answer that in any intelligent way--too little facts at my disposal and not enough rein on my imagination. You know from the rest of the blog that I think that folkloric entities like Djinn have a reality basis and that would put them beyond Venusian plasma tails--but what do I know?



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