Although the episode had the underpinnings of the Green Fireballs, the lights displayed on the screen bore little resemblance to the real thing. The TV lights acted more like the Foo Fighters and other displays of nocturnal lights. This was probably intension on the part of the series creators.
|Some believed the Green Fireballs were|
There is a thread developing in the show that began with the Fuller (Gorman) dogfight, in which he was chased or chased an object that was more fuzzy light than structured craft. The Lubbock Lights episode kept that alive while the Flatwoods Monster concentrated more on the creature than the object, which was not clearly defined.
We know, based on the previews, that we’re going to be treated to the Florida Scoutmaster case. He saw an object, approached it and was “attacked” by something from inside the craft. Three boy scouts were also there and provided information for the Project Blue Book investigators. I suspect that we’ll have another display of lights in the night sky like we have seen in previous episodes.
We also know that coming up are the Washington National sightings, which again, will deal with lights in the sky. During those sightings, however, there were radar observations and intercept attempts by scrambled jet fights. But these sightings took place at night and involved lights rather than structured craft.
But, since they brought up the Green Fireballs, I thought this would be a good time to explore this thoroughly. Following is part of the information that appeared in The Government UFO Files. That book also provides a deeper look at some of the other cases that have been explored on Project Blue Book.
It might be said that the story of the green fireballs began in Albuquerque in November, 1948, when a number of people reported flashes or streaks of green low on the eastern horizon. Or it might be said that it began on December 20, 1948, with a sighting when four observers, two each at separate locations reported a bright light falling slowly toward the ground. But it seems the first sighting of a green fireball took place in Phoenix on October 24, 1948 when Ellen Peterson watched a bright green object cross the sky.
From the Project Blue Book files, and the subsequent reports on Project Twinkle, the study to learn the identity of the green fireballs, Peterson’s report is often the first one mentioned. She sent a letter to Dr. J. Hugh Pruett who was a professor of astronomy at the University of Oregon who eventually forwarded the information to Dr. Lincoln La Paz at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
In the letter, dated November 3, 1948, she wrote, “On October 24th I noticed a very strange star or fireball in the Eastern sky. It was green and my first impression was that it was a plane. It moved very slowly South and slightly North as if it wasn’t certain of which way to go… It took at least 75 minutes to cross over Phoenix. The star seemed to be drawn to other stars, and when it came close to them, it would become very bright… Every time the star would light up and leave the other star, it would be dimmer. Finally, we could hardly see it. When I thought it had completely disappeared, it suddenly became very bright and fell apart.”
This sighting would be of no importance, except that it was the first mention of a green object and fireball in the same communication. The Air Force, in the Project Blue Book files, though the sighting took place when the project was known as Sign, reported, “This incident as described is not amenable to any astronomical explanation. The object took 75 minutes to cross the sky. The witness is not a very critical observer (…there could be no possible connection between the object’s bright and it apparent distance from a star) … The object could have been a lighted balloon; speed and maneuvers check.”
In the world of Air Force investigation that meant it was a balloon. The official explanation is “balloon,” but the evidence for that seems thin. Had the original letter not ended up with La Paz, there probably would be no sign of the case at all.
Ed Ruppelt, who was the chief of Project Blue Book in the early 1950s, reported in his book, “The green fireballs streaked into UFO history late in November 1948, when people around Albuquerque, New Mexico, began to report seeing mysterious ‘green flares’ at night. The first reports mentioned only a ‘green streak in the sky,’ low on the horizon. From the description the Air Force Intelligence people at Kirkland AFB in Albuquerque and the Project Sign people at ATIC wrote the objects off as flares.”
These sightings began to evolve. Another of the reports found in the government files about the green fireballs, but seems to have little to do with them came early in November. Colonel William P. Hayes reported, “On November 3 or 4 1948 at approximately 2150 hours, I observed a ball of light, reddish white in color, 1 foot in diameter, falling vertically. The ball burst 100 – 300 feet from the ground in a spray of reddish color which extinguished before reaching the ground… The location is approximately 10 miles east of Vaughn, New Mexico, on Highway 60.”
About three weeks later, Hayes had another sighting in about the same place. The description of the light or object was the same as that seen earlier and it reacted in the same way. Hayes thought it might be some sort of secret experiment but the Air Force wrote it off, again, as “flares.”
These sightings, all found in the Project Blue Book files that deal with the green fireballs, would have gone virtually unnoticed had it not been for a multiple witness sighting of something more than just a streak of light in the distance. On December 5, 1948 a brilliant green object flashed by a military C-47 transport enroute from Lowry AFB in Denver to Williams AFB in Chandler, Arizona. The pilot of the military aircraft, Captain William Goade, reported he, along with his crew including Major Roger Carter, had seen a green flash just west of Las Vegas, New Mexico. They believed, at that time, they had seen a meteor.
But, twenty-two minutes later, at 9:37 p.m. they decided it was something else. Goade said he had seen an intense green light rise from the east slope of Sandia Peak. It climbed to about 500 feet and looked like the “flare” he had seen before. That would seem to rule out a meteor as the answer.
|Some believed the Green Fireballs were lights in the|
sky like the Foo Fighters of the Second World War.
At 11:00 p.m., the pilot of a Pioneer Airlines flight that was making its way from Tucumcari, New Mexico to Las Vegas, New Mexico to Albuquerque and then onto Santa Fe and Alamogordo said that he had seen a green “light” just west of Las Vegas. When they landed at Albuquerque, they were interviewed by the Control Tower crew. The pilot, Captain van Lloyd, said that he had seen a pale green light that seemed to be coming straight at him. According to him, he jerked the aircraft to avoid a collision. The light and its tail then curved down and away and disappeared a few seconds later.
The same evening, another report, this one from a civilian, Harold M. Wright, who had been driving along Highway 60 near Blanca, Colorado, (east of Alamosa, CO) spotted a green fireball. According to the report in the Project Blue Book file, “… [It was] moving horizontally and westerly, at a very fast rate of speed, it once more appeared to be a bright green. Wright stated that the ‘fireball’ seemed closer and more brilliant than previously.”
The comment referred to a sighting by Wright made on September 12, 1948. Wright was with a teacher from the Moffat, Colorado, high school who was identified only as Mr. Funk. Wright said that the object “appeared to be a bright green falling star.”
But that wasn’t Wright’s last sighting. On December 12, while near Monte Vista, he saw another object he described as a bright green falling star. He was with Charles Elliott. Wright was unable to give precise details about the size, shape or location, but the Air Force investigator noted, “…Wright was above-average in intelligence and that the ‘fireball’ was not a figment of his imagination.”
Wright, like Colonel Hayes, was a repeater, meaning he saw the lights, the green fireballs, on more than one occasion. That might have been enough for the Air Force to discount his sightings, except that there were other witnesses to each of those events, and many of those who reported the fireballs had more than one sighting of them.
None of the sightings were too spectacular except for one fact. The lights, objects, fireballs, were all traveling through an area where there were a number of secret research facilities and near bases that had highly classified missions. Lt. Col. Doyle Rees, commander of the 17th District of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, decided that these reports required additional investigation.
Rees assigned two officers, Captain Melvin E. Neef and Captain John Stahl to interview those at every agency or operation who might know something about the lights. The wanted to be sure that the lights were not the result of a classified project. When that failed to produce results, Neef and Stahl decided they needed to check the terrain. Both were rated, meaning both were pilots and they took a T-7 out of Kirtland early one evening.
According to his report, available through the National Archives, Stahl said:
At an estimated altitude of 2,000 feet higher than the airplane… a brilliant green light was observed coming toward the airplane at a rapid rate of speed from approximately 30 degrees to the left of course, from 60 degrees ENE, to 240 degrees WSW. The object was similar in appearance to a burning green flare of commonly used in the Air Forces. However, the light was much more intense and the object appeared to be considerably larger than a normal flare. No estimate can be made of the distance or the size of the object since no other object was visible upon which to base a comparison. The object was definitely larger and more brilliant than a shooting star, meteor or flare. The trajectory of the object when first sighted was almost flat and parallel to the earth. The phenomenon lasted approximated two seconds at the end of which the object seemed to burn out. The trajectory then dropped off rapidly and a trail of glowing fragments reddish orange in color was observed falling toward the ground. The fragments were visible less than a second before disappearing. The phenomenon was of such intensity as to be visible from the very moment it ignited and was observed a split second later.
The description sounds like a meteor, and if it was coming toward the aircraft, would have seemed larger than it was. Military pilots with combat experience should have been aware of this. Tracers, fired by enemy gunners often looked larger and closer than they were.
To make matters worse, if possible, on December 6, a security officer with the Atomic Energy Security Service, Joseph Toulouse, saw a “greenish flare” on the Sandia Base at Kirtland. He said the light was about one-third the size of the moon, was visible for three seconds before it arced downward and vanished. Given the nature of the base and the highly classified work being done there, Rees thought there was a possibility that some sort of sabotage or espionage was going on.
Now there was some confirmation the events with two of the intelligence officers spotting a green fireball themselves and the report from the security officer at Sandia. But there was also the possibility, however remote it might have seemed that the green fireballs were meteors. On December 9, Neef contacted Dr. Lincoln La Paz, at the time one of the foremost experts on meteors. As a bonus, La Paz already held a top secret clearance and had been consulted by the Air Force on other matters relating to unidentified flying objects.
Neef said, during a March 1949 classified meeting called “Conference on Aerial Phenomena:
It all started back in December, 1948, when we first received some reports from some airline pilots that these green fireballs were sighted. At this stage we had no idea what to do with it or what it was. We approached Dr. La Paz who has been assisting us, gratis, since that date. Almost over two months now that he has been assisting us, so in order to have you get the facts as they are to a scientist.
La Paz, then, began to study the green fireballs. On December 12, 1948, La Paz, along with several companions, was driving near Bernal, New Mexico, when they spotted one of the green fireballs heading from east to west, low on the horizon. The others, identified in the Blue Book files were Major C. L. Phillips, an Air Force – CAP liaison officer; Lieutenant Allan Clark with the New Mexico Wing of the CAP, and Inspectors Jeffers and McGuigan, AEC Security Service at Los Alamos.
La Paz, having been introduced at the March conference by Neff, then went on to describe the December 12 event for the others there. He said:
It is the only one of the incidents that I am in a position to vouch for on the basis of experience… was not a conventional meteorite fall. It was the so-called Starvation Peak incident [Bernal, New Mexico] on the night of December 12, 1948. Time of observation around 9:02 p.m., plus or minus thirty second. The fireball appeared in full intensity instantly – there was no increase in light. Its color, estimated to be somewhere about wave length 5200 angstroms, was a hue green, or yellow green such as I have never observed in meteor falls before. The path was as nearly horizontal as one could determine by visual observation. We have a photograph which might be some liters of departure from horizontal. The trajectory was traverse at, I am inclined to believe, constant angular velocity. Just before the end of the path there saw the very slightest drooping of the path, that is the green fireball broke into fragments, still bright green.”
La Paz was asked questions and told the others that on December 12, he had been on an investigation into the sightings of the week before and was therefore somewhat prepared. He had a stop watch and a transit. He used his equipment to make various measurements so that he was not relying solely on his perceptions.
The sightings continued after December 12. What is interesting is that many of them were made by those who were tasked with investigating the green fireballs. The agents, from a variety of services including the AFOSI and the Atomic Energy Security Service, saw the green fireballs. Inspector William D. Wilson, who was with Inspector Buford G. Truett, both of the AESS, saw something. In an official report, the incident was described this way:
At 2054 [hours], 20 Dec 48, we saw the object described below making a path thru the sky. It was travelling in an almost flat trajectory and its decline formed an angle with the horizon of approximately 20 [degrees]. The angle of elevation from our point of observation was approximately thirty [degrees]. The object was moving at a very fast rate of speed and disappeared behind the mountain directly northeast of Ft. Eagle. Total time of visibility was about one and one-half seconds.
An intense blue-white light about the size of a basketball. As the object traversed the sky, there was a faint trail of light behind it and two objects about the size of a baseball separated from the main body. These objects were the same color and intensity of the main body, and trailed directly in its path at even intervals of distance equal to approximately three times the diameter of the main body. The size of the main body was approximately one quarter the size of the moon.
Although this is part of the green fireball files, it seems to be of a bright meteor that broke up as it fell. It is important because it is contained in the Blue Book files and suggests the importance of this small part of the overall UFO investigation was in late 1948 and early 1949.
A similar report by Inspector John D. Hardie was made just days later. He wrote, “At approximately 0431, this date [December 28, 1948], while looking east from Station 108 towards Station 101 I noticed high in the sky what appeared to be a falling star, while in color, descending in a vertical path. My attention remained with the object when I noticed the rate of descent seemed to be slower than that of falling star. After watching it lose altitude for several seconds, I saw it suddenly disappear with a greenish-tinged flash which momentarily illuminated a small cloud between the object and myself.”
This all resulted in a report dated December 29, 1948 by Major Godsoe, who was an intelligence officer at the Fourth Army Headquarters. The first few paragraphs contain the most interesting information. Godsoe wrote:
Since the initial report of unidentified objects, described as flares or moving lights in the vicinity of Las Vegas, New Mexico, on 5 December 1948, there have been 23 reports from observers up to and including 28 December 1948. Of these reports 21 have been in New Mexico and 1 in Oregon…
The appearance of the lights are of a definite pattern. All have been of an intense white or greenish white. The trajectory or path of flight has been north to east or west to east. Altitude has been reported from 3000 to 20,000 feet above the terrain, which in this area is 5000 to 7000 feet above sea level. Speed has been undetermined except that it seems to be about the supersonic range…
It is of interest to note that at least two of the objects have been sighted over the Los Alamos AEC project. One person who observed one of the objects at Los Alamos has stated that it looked exactly the same as V2 Rockets he had seen over England during the war.
All that was interesting, and the letters being passed around at the time suggested that the various intelligence agencies, those in charge of the secret research projects, and the military were stumped by the sightings. They were during everything they could think of to identify the green fireballs, but all that was about to change.
On February 11, 1949, Paul L. Ryan, in the AFOSI 17th District at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque wrote a report about “Aerial Phenomena, that had been observed on January 30. He wrote, “…Mr. Charles Naffziger, Administrative Supervisor, advised that a peculiar light or aerial phenomena had been objected at 1755 hours, 30 January 1949, in the vicinity of Walker AFB, Roswell, New Mexico, and that Sgt. Edward P. McCrary, a tower control operator of Walker AFB be contacted.”
I interviewed one of those witnesses, Sergeant Raymond D. Platt, more than forty years later. He told me he, “didn’t believe it was a flying saucer. He believed it to be a meteor.” Back in 1949, he was “interrogated by base personnel, the CIC and the FBI.”
He said it was flying very slow, was very bright and it exploded into six or seven pieces. It was travelling at a very shallow angle, going from north to south and was bright white and blue. It burned out after it exploded, which is why he lost sight of it.
There were other reports of this object from other areas around Roswell. In Alamogordo, Major James C. Petersen, said that he had sighted a single bright green object looking to the east. He said it was a bright green fireball of flame travelling in a southerly direction, without evidence of smoke or trail of any kind. He lost sight of it when it, according to him, seemed “to fizzle out.”
Also, in Alamogordo, Wilfred T. Martin, who worked as a technician for the Boeing Aircraft Company, said that about six in the evening, he saw a single green fireball to the east and travelling to the south. He saw no signs of an exhaust; he watched for about ten seconds and said that it did not explode.
Martin was with Sergeant Maurice C. Anthon at the time and who was also interviewed about the sighting. He said, “I observed an object that appeared to be travelling diagonally across in front of me… Its distance seemed very close and appeared to be travelling very slowly… Gentle downward glide, bright burning (Green and yellowish light) a fizzling out and then a bright burning, and then appeared to die out. This could have been the effects of its passing beyond my view.”
PFC Ira W. Vail, assigned to the weather detachment at Holloman AFB in Alamogordo told investigators that he had “seen a green ball of flame with a trail of some kind in an Easterly direction. Vail described the object as traveling in a Southerly direction and added that the object was visible for approximately six seconds. Vail described the object as bright green and disappeared without exploding.”
South of Alamogordo, near the White Sands National Monument, two women identified in the official report as Mrs. Edgar J. Bethart and Mrs. Robert R. Johns, reported they had seen an object just a few minutes before six on January 30. It was a bright burning green and had a gentle downward glide and seemed to “fizzle out with the light becoming less intense and finally disappearing altogether.”
There were other, similar reports coming from other parts of New Mexico and west Texas. The track of the object, or the green fireball, could be plotted based on the observations of all these witnesses, and the investigators took many of them to the places where they had seen the fireball to get accurate measurements suggesting height and direction. Using the information gathered from more than 100 witnesses, Dr. Lincoln La Paz set out in an attempt to find where the object came to earth, if it was an ordinary meteor.
According to the report, “Special Agent [Lewis] Rickett] a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps stationed in Roswell] continued the search throughout Southeast New Mexico and West Texas from 1400 hours, 2 February 1949, to 2400 hours 8 February 1949, in the company of Dr. Lincoln La Paz of the University of New Mexico. All information obtained during this part of the investigation was retained by Dr. La Paz and will be incorporated into his report.”
A verbal report of that activity was made to the Scientific Advisory Board Conference of February 16, 1949. La Paz said:
In the case of the January 30th fall, due to the fact that there had been a large number of military personnel alerted, we were able to obtain observations within a minute after the fall occurred and pursued the investigation over a distance of 1,000 miles – in Texas mud primarily – in some ten days’ time interviewing literally hundreds of people, we saw not one substantial account of noise produced by the meteorite fall…
These lines are drawn [on a map of observers’ sightings, giving direction of the object from the observer and the direction of travel] from the points of observation. The center… of the points of appearance is somewhere Southwest of Amarillo. The disappearance point is in the vicinity of Lubbock, Texas.
La Paz explained that his plots suggested that the meteorite, if that was what it was, should have struck the ground near Lamesa, Texas, which is to the south of Lubbock. Working with a team, including military men such as Rickett, Platt and Neef, they searched the area for several days without results. La Paz was puzzled because in similar cases of large, bright meteorites, he had had great success in recovering fragments.
Or, in other words, using the techniques that had worked in the past, interviewing the witnesses, getting their directions of flight, La Paz, with his crews, were able to follow the meteorite fall to its impact location. This wasn’t the only time that La Paz had had success in tracking down the remnants of a meteoric impact. His methods had been tested over time.
Toward the end of the Advisory Board conference, La Paz was asked about the locations of the sightings. They were only being reported over the southwest, and most of the sightings were made in New Mexico. Some believed that this was an usual circumstance. Why would people in New Mexico or the desert southwest see these usual green meteors if they weren’t being seen by others around the country?
In fact, one of the participants, Dr. Holloway of the University of California, asked, “How much interest would the military have if they found out these things were landing all over the country, Canada, Hawaii…”
La Paz then said, “Most of them [others interested in meteors such as the President of the American Meteor Society]… I think that if anyone at UCLA Institute Geophysics had been observing, it would have gotten to Kaplan’s ears [Joseph Kaplan at UCLA].”
La Paz goes on to say that they have had clear skies over the southwest in the previous weeks. He was not suggesting that this was a reason that the green fireballs seemed to be seen only in that area. It was just an observation about the weather conditions.
Commander Mandelkorn, representing the Naval interests, asked, “Well, wouldn’t the phenomena of this nature have been reported to the Society, no matter where they occurred?”
La Paz said that he had been through the records carefully and that he had found just a single case of a fireball in which the observers mentioned a green color, but not the green that was mentioned by so many other observers in New Mexico.
He also said that the observing conditions around the country were such that if green fireballs were falling in those regions, then they would have been seen. He said, “To my knowledge… these were nothing out of the normal in the East, and in the South, shall we say as far up as White Sands.”
Toward the end of the conference, La Paz had explained that the green fireballs seemed to be regional in nature, that the sound associated with them, when reported was unlike that reported in other meteor falls, and that La Paz had been unable to find any fragments, even when he had more than a hundred witnesses to the event. He said, “You see why I’m puzzled… Nothing like this, to my knowledge, has ever been observed in the case of meteorite drops.”
Doyle Rees prepared a transcript of the meeting and with a cover letter dated March 29, 1949, forwarded it to the commanding general at the Air Materiel Command. The letter gave away little, other than to warn that “There are numerous errors in the minutes, due to the fact that they were transcribed from a recording of the conference. The combination of a jack hammer outside the window and the number of persons speaking made accurate transcription impossible.”
He asked didn’t ask for help or guidance, and said that the investigation would continue. There was no real response from AMC about the reports of the fireballs, or the effort by AFOSI to investigate them.
On April 23, Captain Roger Groseclose and Lieutenant Howard Smith were sent from AMC in Ohio to Kirtland. On April 24, there was a meeting held with Neef, La Paz, Jack Boling and Godsoe in an AFOSI office. Godsoe suggested that the AFOSI was wasting its time investigating the fireballs because AMC was ungrateful for the effort. The AMC officers shot back that it wasn’t the business of Army officers to worry about fireballs.
That argument escalated with Godsoe storming out of the room, which left La Paz exposed. The AMC officers had a list of complaints including that La Paz had sent them raw data rather than his finished analyses. This seemed to annoy La Paz who said that he had been working on this as a volunteer and he had to return to his regular job. Any further request for his assistance had better come with a contract.
But not all of the meeting was quite that acrimonious. Everyone agreed with Godsoe’s recommendations that there should be a network of observation posts with cameras, surveyor’s transits and trained observers. There should be another search, both on the ground and in the air, for fragments from the green fireballs. All this was necessary because it seemed that the fireballs were seen only in a limited area of the southwest, and they were seen over some of the most sensitive installations in the country.
Had the green fireballs evaporated at that point, nothing would have been done about them. They would have been seen as an anomaly, and probably written off as meteors. But the sightings continued, and while few were as spectacular as the January 20 fall, the others fit into the category of “green fireball.”
On February 27, 1949, Lieutenant H. E. Dey, in an official report, wrote, “I was returning from station 101 to station 100. While on the straight strip of road adjacent to the airstrip I happened to glance toward the north at which time I observed a greenish colored light moving across the northern sky toward the east. It was visible for approximately two seconds. It did not appear to travel beyond my range of vision, but suddenly disappeared as I was watching it. It did not leave a trail in the sky nor did it appear to have a tail like a meteor.”
On March 3, D. M. Rickard, who was a sergeant with the Atomic Energy Security Service reported, “I was sitting in a chair facing East and talking to Lt. Buckley. A bright green light fell almost straight down, East-North-East of Station 101. This light was bright all the time that I observed same.”
From Albuquerque, on April 30, an observer reported a “round blue-green object. It was very bright and heading West. It simply went out after about two seconds.”
Even with the sightings continuing, and La Paz providing reasons that the green fireballs were not natural, in Washington, that was the conclusion. These were not meteors, but some sort of “auroral effect,” although he acknowledged that the distances so far from the magnetic poles and their rapid, horizontal motion was difficult to explain. Air Force intelligence “tentatively accepted” the explanation and Air Force Headquarters began a review of the reports.
On June 2, again at Los Alamos, “Observers saw a ‘ball of light’ descending East to North. Had a long unbroken trail same width of object. Green color.” And, according to the information was only in sight for about one second.
A few days later, on June 11, there was another sighting. According to the Blue Book file, “Object appeared as a star or light. Object green, then red at end of flight, with short red tail. Appeared to climb then fell almost straight down.”
And on June 20, at Los Alamos, it was reported that “Object was round, turning green to orange before vanishing. Object went through 90 deg [sic] of arc and disappeared as though it was extinguished.” This sighting lasted for three seconds.
These, and more than a dozen additional sightings were reported in New Mexico, many from around the secret laboratories at Los Alamos, which worried the security people, and all were eventually written off as “Astro (METEOR).” But that answer was applied later, when the Air Force began to push for solutions to sightings. In fact, on September 1, 1949, Colonel John W. Schweizer, of Air Force intelligence wrote, “…reports that fall in the ‘fireball’ category will no longer be included in Hq. Air Materiel Command and Directorate of Intelligence, Hq. USAF, investigative activity on unidentified aerial incidents.”
Early in 1949, the green fireballs had alarmed those responsible for the security of the secret installations but by the middle of the year, they seemed to be of no consequence. They weren’t paying much attention to the reports even though La Paz had suggested the fireballs might be some kind of controlled craft or probe.
On July 24, one of the green fireballs was seen falling near Socorro, New Mexico. The next morning Dr. W. D. Crozier, of the New Mexico School of Mines collected dust samples from around the campus in Socorro. Crozier relayed his findings to La Paz who wrote to Rees on August 17, 1949, “These collections, to Dr. Crozier’s evident surprise, were found to contain not only the first copper particles he had found in air dust collections but these particles were of unusually large size – up to 100 microns in maximum dimensions.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, of course. Crozier thought that the copper might have come from the roofs and the gutters of the buildings on campus. If the copper was found away from the campus, then the finding would be significant, but when the copper turned up far from the campus, Crozier seemed to be unimpressed, calling the results, “unimpressive.”
La Paz, again, disagreed. He wrote to Rees, “I wish to emphasize most emphatically that if future more detailed work shows that the numerous copper particles found by Dr. Crozier and Mr. [Ben] Seely [Crozier’s assistant] are indeed floating down from green fireballs, then the fireballs are not conventional meteorites. Copper is one of [the] rarest of the elements found in meteorites… In fact, I know of no case in which even the tiniest particle of copper has been reported in a dust collection supposedly of meteoritic origin.”
To understand this, it is important to note that Crozier had been collecting the dust samples over a period of time so that when the copper appeared in the samples after the July 24 fireball, it could be suggested that the particles were from the fireball. When copper was found over a large area that added to the belief. La Paz was saying that if the copper came from a fireball, that made it unique as a meteorite. Copper is not found in meteorites. Therefore, the fireballs were not meteorites and deserved further investigation.
Although those in Washington seemed to have answered the questions about the green fireballs to their own satisfaction, those in New Mexico weren’t happy. Sightings of the fireballs continued, though now, according to Rees, they seemed to be falling vertically and he noticed that there were more reports on the weekends, especially on Sunday. It was also around this time, summer 1949, that Joseph Kaplan met with Norris Bradbury, who had been at the February conference. Bradbury thought that a classified scientific study of these aerial phenomena should be made and suggested a conference to discuss it.
Kaplan suggested to the AFOIN director, General Charles P. Cabell that they should attempt a scientific study of the green fireballs, but Cabell could not support it, meaning he didn’t have the budget to do it. Kaplan, during a visit with the AMC’s Cambridge Research Laboratories in Boston tried to learn what could be done to facilitate the research. Finally, on September 14, 1949, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg ordered the then commander of AMC Lieutenant General Benjamin Chidlaw to evaluate the sightings in New Mexico and Texas.
The meeting that Kaplan wanted was held on October 16, 1949 and included representatives of AFOSI, the Air Materiel Command, the AESS, the Fourth Army, the FBI and representatives from Los Alamos including Edward Teller. Unlike other conferences held about UFOs, in this case, everyone agreed there was a real phenomenon out there. They just couldn’t agree on what it was.
Kaplan took his plan to AFSAB, and after review by the Defense Department’s Research and Development Board, it was approved. By February 21, 1950, Project Twinkle began with an outpost manned by two observers who scanned the sky. They had a theodolite, a telescope and a camera. As Ed Ruppelt noted, “If two or more of the cameras photograph the same object, it is possible to obtain a very accurate measurement of the photographed object’s altitude, speed and size.”
Ruppelt then wrote, “Project Twinkle was a bust. Absolutely nothing was photographed. Of the three cameras that were planned for the project, only one was available.”
It had been noted by the Houston Chronicle, when talking about Ruppelt’s book, “Others who have written on this subject have intimated they were conferring with officials in the inner sanctum. This book, which may well become the bible of the UFO devotees, makes it clear that Ruppelt is the inner sanctum.” But it is not clear if Ruppelt was in on everything that was happening, especially those other projects that were not directly part of Blue Book.
But the Project Twinkle Final Report, written by P. H. Wyckoff, Chief, Atmospheric Physics Laboratory wrote, “Some photographic activity occurred on 27 April and 24 May , but simultaneous sightings by both cameras were not made.”
According to the Blue Book files, there is very little information about these two cases. The April 27 case has no project card. There is a letter dated May 31, 1950 that said:
Per request of Dr. A. C. Mirarchi, during recent visit to this base [Holloman], the following information is submitted.
Sightings were made on 27 April and 24 May 1950 of aerial phenomena during morning daylight hours at this station. The sightings were made by LAND-AIR, Inc., personnel while engaged in tracking regular projects with Askania Photo theodolites. It has been reported that objects are sighted in some number, as many as eight have been visible at one time. The individuals making these sightings are professional observers there I would rate their reliability superior. In both cases photos were taken with Aaskanias.
The Holloman AF Base Data Reduction Unit analyzed the 27 April pictures and made a report, a copy of which I am enclosing with the film for your information. It was believed that triangulation could be effected from pictures taken on 24 May because pictures were taken from two stations. The films were rapidly processed and examined by Data Reduction. However, it was determined that sightings were made on two different objects and triangulation could not be effected. A report from Data reduction and the films from the sighting are enclosed.
The same letter appears in the May 24 file, but there is a project card for it. That says, “Photos taken by two stations on Videon Camera. Two different objects and triangulation could not be effected [sic]. Photos sent to Dr. Marichi at Cambridge. File incomplete.”
The enclosures with the letter included a number of films of the objects. Both files were labeled as “Insufficient Data.” That label was used when the officers at Blue Book didn’t want to call a case “Unidentified,” but were required to put some kind of label on it.
What this means here is that either Ruppelt paid no attention to the final report on Project Twinkle, which mentions these two cases, or he knew about them and for some reason ignored them. No matter which explanation is correct, Ruppelt was wrong when he suggested that “Project Twinkle was a bust. Absolutely nothing was photographed. Of the three cameras that were planned for the project, only one was available.” The evidence in the Blue Book files, to which he had access, suggests otherwise.
In fact, the final report on Project Twinkle was less a scientific document than it was a public relations tool. It was created to explain the green fireballs in the mundane and ignore the data recovered during the various studies, investigations and searches.
Elterman, the author of the report that in early 1950, had been told to investigate “peculiar light phenomena” and that Project Twinkle was established to do so. Like Ruppelt, Elterman wrote, “The gist of the findings is essentially negative… There has been no indication that even the somewhat strange observations often called ‘Green Fireballs’ are anything but natural phenomena.”
He broke the report down in what he labeled “Contractual periods,” the first from April 1, 1950 to September 15, 1950. In addition to the sightings on April 27 and May 24, he noted that “On 31 August 1950, the phenomena were again observed after a V-2 launching. Although much film was expended, proper triangulation was not effected [sic], so that again no information was acquired.”
Although they had the photographic theodolites, the “grating cameras” functioned only periodically, the military personnel who operated them had been reassigned because of the Korean War. He was offering excuses for the failure.
He did note that the “phenomena activity over Holloman AFB 150 miles south of Vaughn, N. Mexico during the latter part of August 1950 was considered sufficiently significant so that the contract with Land-Air (Askania cameras only) was extended for six months.”
And when the extended contract expired, so did the research. Elterman wrote, “In summary, the results during this period were negative.”
Also important was a note in the “Post Contractual Inquiry,” that the 17th OSI District, now under Colonel Cox, had been “diligent” in forwarding copies of their reports to Elterman and his group until March 15, 1951, but after that “little attention was being given this matter. Most of the reports originated from personnel at Los Alamos.”
In an attempt to prove there was nothing strange going on in New Mexico, Elterman wrote:
Mr. D. Guildenberg, who is an assistant to Major Doty and an active amateur astronomer, commented that he has been spending several hours at his telescope almost every night for the past few years and never once observed an unexplainable object; that on one occasion, an excited acquaintance was pacified when a “strange object” showed up as an eagle in the telescope; that Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto and now engaged in activities at White Sands, never observed an unexplainable aerial object despite his continuous and extensive observations of the sky…
The problem with this statement is that it is simply not true. While Guildenberg might not have ever seen anything he couldn’t explain, La Paz, who was called into the investigation, did see a green fireball. La Paz, a leading expert on meteors didn’t believe what he had seen was a meteor, and was unsure of the nature of it.
Even worse, Clyde Tombaugh had seen something unexplainable on August 20, 1949. It is listed as case 536 in the Blue Book index, but it is not clear when the information was gathered. Although it predates Elterman’s report, the data might not have been added until later. And even if it was present, there is no indication that Elterman would have known about it. The strange thing is that he would mention Tombaugh in the report.
To be fair to Elterman, he did note that “On 28 August 1951, the subject was discussed with Dr. Lincoln La Paz, who expressed disbelief in all aerial phenomena except for the green fire-balls. The red fire-ball occasionally reported he believed was the visual after-effect of the green. Their recent origin (1947) and peculiar trajectories did not permit, according to Dr. La Paz, them to be classified as natural phenomena… Dr. La Paz expressed the opinion that the fireballs may be of our own military origin, but if not, they are a matter of serious concern.”
The conclusions are interesting in that Wyckoff suggests that many of the sightings can be explained as mundane objects such as balloons or by natural phenomena. He noted, interestingly, that photographs had been taken on 35 nights when observations were made, but none “of the photographs revealed the presence of unusual sky phenomena.”
Under recommendations, Elterman wrote:
No further fiscal expenditure be made pursuing the problem. This opinion is prompted partly by the fruitless expenditure during the past year, the uncertainty of existence of unexplainable aerial objects, and by the inactive position currently taken by Holloman AFB as indicated by the ‘stand-by status’ of the project. The arrangements by HAFB for continued vigilance by Land-Air, the weather station as well as the briefing of pilots on the problem in part relieves the need for a systematic instrumentation program.
Within the next few months, Dr. Whipple will have completed the installation of two 18-inch Schmidt cameras for meteor studies. The cameras will be stationed about 20 miles apart in the vicinity of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Since these studies will be sponsored by the GRD, arrangements can be made for examining the film for evidence of aerial object phenomena.
And with that, Project Twinkle faded away. It was caught in the crossfire between those who thought the green fireballs were meteors and those who though they were not. La Paz, the real expert in the field, rejected the idea of natural phenomena because of the limited geographic area in which the fireballs were seen, their sudden appearance in 1948, the lack of success in recovering any fragments from them, and their subsequent disappearance.
Although a satisfactory solution for the fireballs was never found, those case that made their way into the Project Blue Book files were all labeled as “Astro (Meteor).” And while that might be true for some of them, many of them were not meteors, and the gathered evidence seems to prove it.
There is a final note of importance. On February 19, 1952, Albert E. Lombard, Jr. sent a letter to the Directorate of Intelligence and to the attention of Colonel John G. Erickson, about the declassification of the Project Twinkle report, and the activities surrounding it. Lombard wrote, “The Scientific Advisory Board Secretariat has suggested that this project [Twinkle] not be declassified for a variety of reasons, chief among which is that no scientific explanation for any of the ‘fireballs’ and other phenomena was revealed by the report [emphasis added] and that some reputable scientists still believe that the observed phenomena are man-made.”
In the end, when all the files on this are examined, it is clear that the question of the green fireballs was never resolved. They stopped falling, people stopped seeing them, and no one cared anymore. They became little more than a footnote in the history of UFO research. Clearly, they deserved more than that.