Monday, May 27, 2024

Car Stalling and a Bungled Project Blue Book Investigation

Here’s a journey that began similarly to the chasing footnotes that I sometimes do on this blog. I was looking at a Project Blue Book report that suggested two men observed an Unidentified object on March 29, 1952. The close approach of the UFO stalled their car but when the object shot off into the distance, they were able to restart it.

According to the Blue Book file, those two men whose names were redacted were George Tyler (though in the in the Blue Book index he’s identified as Taylor) and Donald Stewart. A somewhat comprehensive report was prepared for General John Ackerman, the Deputy Director of Air Force Intelligence and the incident was given a top priority.

The "Dear General" letter from the Blue Book files.

Page 2 of the letter.

Page 3 with the redacted signature block.

Tyler and Stewart were driving toward Baltimore when they heard a roaring noise overhead. They saw a disk-shaped object that the driver, apparently Stewart, said was pancake shaped. The object dived toward them at high speed and stopped about 200 feet overhead. The UFO was fifty feet in diameter and according to the report that started this investigation had “a bubble-like aperture, and that its edges were a pale green luminescence and a luminous after trail [that] pulsated.”

The important point here is that as the UFO hovered over the car for about two minutes, the car engine stalled. According to one of the witnesses, probably Stewart, there was another car that was also stalled. Either Tyler or Stewart shouted at the witnesses but they rolled up their windows and locked their doors. When the UFO suddenly disappeared flying toward Annapolis, those other witnesses were able to drive off. At that point, Tyler and Stewart were able to start their car.

According to this report, the Air Force investigation revealed that there were other witnesses who heard the strange noises that night, but none had gone outside to identify the cause.

That investigation also led to other witnesses who knew the driver whose background was shady. Some believed him and others thought that he made up the story and there were indications that Tyler hadn’t seen anything.

This was, according to that original source, the first Project Blue Book case in which a stalled car was reported. That seemed to suggest that the story was a hoax, though there were independent reports of UFOs acting in a similar fashion to the one described by Stewart on other occasions. That is the vertical, high-speed dive toward the ground that stopped abruptly.

The first thing to be done, because this was a case reported to Project Blue Book, was to check that file. The investigation was detailed in a long letter written on April 24, 1952. It began with “Dear General,” and mentioned that it was about Flying Saucers. It listed a witness but the name was redacted effectively enough that I can’t be sure which witness this was. Information in another report in the file suggests that redacted name was Stewart.

According to the letter, the sighting was made late on Saturday, 19 April 1952 (which we know is incorrect and there was a parenthetical statement correcting the date to 29 March 1952, which is also incorrect). Later information suggested the true date was March 15, 1952. That’s based on a newspaper article that appeared in the Baltimore American on March 16. I’m not sure why this wasn’t picked up by Blue Book because Ed Ruppelt, the chief of Blue Book, subscribed to a clipping service that allegedly provided him with all the newspaper articles about UFOs that were being published in the United States.

That letter continued laying out the initially reported details of the sighting. It said:

He [the driver, Stewart] heard a roaring sound overhead like a huge vacuum cleaner gone wild. Looking out he saw overhead a great disk “high” shaped like a pancake. Suddenly it turned on edge and with great speed it plummeted down till it reached about 200 ft. over the car. The disk, seen from its ends, had a large bubble with an aperture like porthole. Witness was too frightened to observe any faces. The edges were ‘pale green luminescence and a luminous aftertrail [sic] pulsated”. The object hovered about two minutes over the automobile which in the meantime had become immobilized. Suddenly the disk took off in a rapid flight “toward Gibson Island or Annapolis”. Opposite a yellow automobile proceeding toward Annapolis was similarly immobilized. Witness shouted at the occupants, a young man and woman who closed their windows and appeared to lock their doors, but a minute or so later started their engine and took off. Witness interviewed by Lou Corbin, a radio station (WFBR) announcer. Corbin is a reserve CIC officer and up to date in keeping the story. Corbin first phoned a technical friend at Glen L. Martin’s and received an impression that he took the story seriously but did not give any logical explanation. Corbin intends to go over the car engine with a Geiger counter because the car now gives off a “rough rattle and a garage mechanic said that the metal appears magnetized.

With that, the writer of the letter, whose name had been redacted as well, turned to recommendations. It was simply that Corbin be present when the witness was interviewed because he “can be trusted to keep any investigation a secret.” I’m not sure why that ability would be important and why it meant that Corbin should be included in the investigation. Corbin, I believe is a retired colonel, which might explain that.

In a- later longer report written by Special Agent Boyce Royal, we do learn more about this aspect of the investigation. The name of the man who conducted the examination of the car was redacted but a Routing and Record sheet suggests that it was Royal.

An engineer employed in the Engineering Department Radioactive Detection Division, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, who was interviewed on May 10, 1952, provided additional information:

… during the latter part of April 1952 he examined the automobile described in the above paragraph [that is Stewart’s car] with a geiger [sic] counter and could detect no radioactive reaction. He also stated that he examined the engine and all working parts of the automobile and was unable to detect any unusual defects or characteristics. He stated that the automobile had been repainted and that he was inclined to disbelieve the incident as it was related to him.

It must be noted that there is inaccurate information in that paragraph. According to the information available, “There was no indication in the records that the car had been repainted. Mr. [name redacted, but probably Stewart] stated that the car was still the same green color; however, he could not state as to whether it had been recently repainted.”

There was the mention of other witnesses, all with their names redacted. Working from the newspaper article, the first witnesses listed are George Mason and his son John.  The street address was redacted but the city is the one where they lived and the mention of the Stony Creek Bridge is another match. According to the report, “Witnesses claim to have seen a great airborne disk about 50 ft. in diameter between 10 and 11 p.m. Saturday April 19, ‘over Stoney Creek Bridge’. Disk had luminescence edges and gave off an unsteady luminous green exhaust. Disk was seen about 200 ft. in the air and took off with the speed exceeding that of a jet plane toward Annapolis.” 

However, the date of the sighting is wrong. Both Mason and his son are mentioned in the March 16 newspaper article. That proves that the date of their sighting was not April 19 and that would complicate the investigation.

I’m not sure of the importance of those other witnesses listed after the Masons because, those sightings are reported to have happened on April 19. But we’ve seen that the whole case was originally dated April 19 and then March 29. Both of those dates are wrong for the Tyler and Stewart sighting and for the Mason and son sighting. These other sightings might have happened on April 19 and were appended here because the object seemed to be the same size, and maneuvered as the craft did in the other sightings.

In that same report provided by Royal, there is an interview with a retired colonel whose name is redacted but I suspect it might be Corbin. The problem here is that this unidentified colonel told Royal:

Col. [redated] informed the writer that he had attempted to locate [name reacted] and [name redacted, but are probably Mason and son] but had been unable to contact them. He stated that there was no street designed Yacht Club Road at Riviera Beach, Maryland, and that the nearest approximation of that name was Club Road. He further stated that there was only one residence on Club Road and that residence was presently occupied by a Mr. [name redacted] whom he was unable to contact.

Again, I’m not sure the relevance of this information. I will say that the address as given in the newspaper certainly could be inaccurate. The information seems to identify Mason and son, but the colonel (Corbin?) didn’t speak with them. Royal wrote that the interview with Corbin had taken place on May 13, which would have given the colonel plenty of time to find the men. I suspect that since he was not part of the official investigation, he made one or two attempts of contact the witnesses but simply didn’t care enough to waste any more time.

The last paragraph in “Dear General” letter said, “[Redated name], police say have had many similar incidents reported, but laugh them off. A news post telephone operator refused to be interested in Stewart’s story [Air Force censors missed this reference to one of the witnesses], said he had heard a ‘dozen similar’ incidents on Saturday evening and dismissed them all as halucinations [sic].”

This was the same response that law enforcement officers in Levelland made when the first sightings were reported there in November 1957. There were so many reports by dozens of witnesses that the sheriff along with members of the Texas Department of Public Safety eventually decided they should go out to look. They did encounter the object that was causing all the reports and there are suggestions that the sheriff got close enough that his car was stalled.

In a “Memo for Record of Baltimore Sighting,” dated May 11, there is more information. We learn something about the behind the scenes maneuvering when it comes to UFOs.  This report said that, “At 1700 hrs Lt Ruppelt [at the time the Chief of Project Blue Book] delivered a copy of the info to Col Free. [Lieutenant Colonel Free was, at that time assigned to OSI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.] Lt Ruppelt requested to accompany an investigator to interrogate the source but was unable to do so due to OSI policy.”

It seems strange that the officer whose job was to investigation UFOs would be denied permission to be present when the witnesses were interviewed… or should I say “Interrogated?” Interrogation is a much stronger word than interviewed and I wonder if the writer of the memo was aware of the difference. And it is strange that a man, probably Corbin, was allowed to participate in the investigation when the man officially charged with UFO investigation was denied permission to do so.

Anyway, Ruppelt was in contact with S/A Springer, who told Ruppelt that they had failed to locate the source though I’m not sure which source they meant. The theory was that he had taken off for the weekend and they would wait until Monday before trying to meet with him.

The Report of Investigation dated May 12, does take the investigation in a slightly different direction. Once again, the Air Force didn’t manage to redact all the names, and it seems, based on the report, that Stewart [name redacted except the “RT” of Stewart] and Tyler [fully exposed], “had observed unconventional type craft on 29 March 1952…”

Just one of the documents where a witness name is fully exposed. In
nearly every Blue Book file, you can find the names of the witnesses

Farther down, the document said, “[Redacted, but I believe on the size of the redaction and the context of the sentence, that this was Tyler] interviewed and confirmed the statement given by [name redacted but appeared to be Stewart based on the final “T” being in the clear], however, upon reinterview, Tyler admitted that he had not been with [redacted, but name begins STE] at time of the alleged sighting, and had not seen any such aircraft; advised that [redacted but obviously Stewart] had asked him to tell that story and that he had done so.”

On the second page of that report, it was noted that “FBI, Baltimore Field Office records reflect [name redacted but ends with a “T”] fired from employment… for placing a decal bearing Communist insignia on a truck belonging to firm by whom he was employed.”

Following all that, was a ten-page report that covered, in more detail, much that had been reported before. This is where the file becomes confusing. The redacting of the names of witnesses including those who had seen nothing but heard strange noises, and character witnesses, along with many dates of many sightings and interviews, makes it difficult to understand exactly what is being claimed.

On page three, we learn that Corbin was not a reserve CIC officer, “…however, he related that he had been an intelligence officer with the staff of General George S. Patton in Europe and that he presently holds an inactive commission as a lieutenant colonel…”

There is another document, supplied by Barry Greenwood that is not part of the Blue Book file. The Baltimore American reported on March 16, 1952, that a “hissing” flying saucer had been sighted. The first paragraph said:

A hissing, phosphorescent “flying saucer,” which “stood on edge and rolled across the sky” was reported passing “directly over the Stoney Creek bridge” at 10.55 p.m. Saturday (March 15, 1952) by two men, George Mason and his son John, 22, of Yacht Club road, Riviera Beach.

And here is where some of the confusion comes in. They were obviously not Tyler or Stewart. The next paragraph said;

A second report of the same object, or of a similar object at the same time, was phoned to the Sunday American later by Donald Stewart… and George Tyler… who said they were driving on the Ritchie highway when they observed the “saucer.”

This article means that the date on the file is wrong and that many of those other sightings reported have nothing to do with this sighting except that it suggests something unusual in the area on those other dates.

In the longer report, it was mentioned that [name redacted] Drawbridge Operator, Curtis Bay Bridge, was interviewed on 11 May 1952 and advised that [redacted] 1600 hours to 2400 hours shift. [Redacted] stated that he was on duty on the evening of 29th of March 1952 and that he had not observed, nor ever observed, any unconventional aircraft. [Redacted] further advised that he did not make a report to the Anne Arundale Police Department of such an incident.”

This testimony would be relevant if the sighting had been made on March 15, but as seen, that date is wrong. In fact, it seems that most of the negative interviews asked about the sighting using the incorrect March 29 date.

In paragraph 21 of the long report, there is an interview with a sixteen-year-old boy that casts some doubt on Stewart’s credibility. The boy said that he had been in the area on March 29 late at night, waiting for a bus. Stewart apparently offered him a ride and then told the boy about the UFO. Stewart asked the boy “to affirm that the report because he feared that no one would believe his story. [Redacted] advised that he called the newspapers, the Sun and the Post, to find out if anyone else reported the incident. He was told that there had been several reports made. Although the boy believed the story at that time, in May, when he was reinterviewed, he believed Stewart had made it up. Given the nature of the boy’s tale, it seems he would be the George Tyler and Donald Stewart would have been the driver.

There is one feature that wasn’t pursued. In the “Dear General” letter, there is a line that said, “Witness was too frightened to observe any faces.” What does that mean? Did the witness see shapes inside the porthole on the bubble? There is no follow up on this rather intriguing comment.

And there wasn’t much about the electromagnetic component of the case. Just the reference to the stalled car and the mechanic’s claim that the metal looked as if it had been magnetized. I’m not sure how you can look at a piece of metal and tell if it has been magnetized. There are simple tests to prove it, but looking at it isn’t one of them.

In Royal’s report, there is a comment made after the discussion with the retired colonel (Corbin?) who mentioned other possible witnesses, though the date mentioned is April 19. Paragraph 14, which follows, noted, “Attempts by the writer [Royal] to interview individuals named in the preceding paragraph met with negative results.”

I’m not sure if that means he was unable to locate and interview those witnesses or if he did find them and they had nothing to say. Of course, it doesn’t really matter since the date of that sighting does not match that of the original report. It also said, “…that he had included this information in his letter to General ACKERMAN only as miscellaneous data.”

On the Project Card for this case and in the Index of the Project Blue Book files, the case is labeled a hoax. That might be the result of Tyler (if I have guessed right about him being Stewart’s passenger) saying that he had been induced to support the tale but then recanting. And I might go along with that, except there was the independent sighting by the Masons, the Air Force got the date of the sighting wrong, and much of the testimony taken was irrelevant because of that wrong date.

In other words, we have a botched investigation, multiple reliable independent witnesses, statements that suggest many other witnesses having called the newspapers while still others called law enforcement and were ignored, and finally the interaction with the environment, meaning the stalling of the car engines. Given the information in the Project Blue Book files, this was not a hoax. It does suggest some of those off-world performances that AARO (All-domain Resolution Office) and others are looking for, but it doesn’t necessarily get us there.

What we really learn from this sighting is that the Air Force attempted a comprehensive investigation that led them to a conclusion of hoax. While that wasn’t the attitude of the Ruppelt era Project Blue Book, it certainly reflects the attitude that developed months later. I suppose the correct conclusion should be “Insufficient Data for a Scientific Analysis.” There is quite a bit of data in the file, but most of it is irrelevant. Had they gotten the date of the sighting correct, and used that date in their investigation, we might be able to reach a solid conclusion. In the end, this is another case that went off the rails and no one forced it back on them. It was another missed opportunity.

I want to thank both Robert Powell and Barry Greenwood for their assistance with this investigation. 

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